Fr Kevin Neal
Prayer and singing are two topics I ponder often. A friend of mine, a De La Salle brother, as I was before ordination, clothed me in priestly vestments.
He had been a good friend since I was in my early 20s and was a big person in every way – big of spirit, broad of intellect and physically huge.
He was a reputable scholar of the scriptures and history and widely read. A connoisseur of classical music, he didn’t have a note in his head when it came to singing. The hymns of morning and evening prayer were a trial rather than an inspiration to him.
So when he suffered a heart attack in his small bedroom which frightened him somewhat, as these things tend to do – the pain and sense of panic were compounded by the extra indignity of the huffing and puffing and logistical challenge of moving him from his bed to an ambulance – he found that in his hour of need his memory delivered not a profound passage of scripture or inspiring prayer, but, to the amusement of all his friends, a couple of lines from a hymn from morning prayer.
These words, attributed to St Columba, he said, just played over and over in his head and kept him alive:
Alone with none but thee, my God
I journey on my way.
What need I fear,
when thou art near
O King of night and day?
More safe am I within thy hand
Than if a host did round me stand.
Not bad sentiments and St Columba seems a good source of encouragement for an Irishman. The point I’m making is that we are storing faith material for later use, even in a crisis, without knowing it. Maybe it is a hymn we don’t even much care for that enlightens us in a dark time.
Rather than being just a filler, church music should be chosen wisely on the basis of its content and singability and should be accessible to everyone present.
The hymns we teach our children are a major and enduring investment in their faith.
Anyone who has heard footy fans chanting in a stadium knows the potential power of sung words that bind people for good causes.
So let us sing well and nourish the inheritance of timeless church music with inspired new material.