Saturday, 21 July 2007

World Youth Day Song: "Receive the Power"

Sorry that it has been so long since I posted on this blog. I guess no-one reads it anyway, so you probably didn't miss me.

Anyway, while I was on holiday, the text of the World Youth Day song "Receive the Power" was finally revealed, and your correspondent was, well, frankly, under-whelmed.

You can see a video-clip and hear the song on the World Youth Day page and download the text and the music from here. Here's the text:

1. Every nation, every tribe,
come together to worship You.
In Your presence we delight,
we will follow to the ends of the earth.

Alleluia! Alleluia!
Receive the Power, from the Holy Spirit!
Alleluia! Alleluia!
Receive the Power to be a light unto the world!

2. As Your Spirit calls to rise
we will answer and do Your Will.
We’ll forever testify
of Your mercy and unfailing love.


Lamb of God, we worship You,
Holy One, we worship You,
Bread of Life, we worship You,
Emmanuel, we worship You.
Lamb of God, we worship You,
Holy One, we worship You,
Bread of Life, we worship You,
Emmanuel, we will sing forever.


Now before I go any further, I should point out that I don't particularly want to cross swords with my one time catechist and cherished friend, Bishop Anthony Fisher, who has written a masterful "theological reflection" on the song. But I will say that I wish that the song he describes in this reflection had been written rather than the one with which we are actually faced. I will get to Bishop Anthony's reflection in a minute. Let's look at the text.

Those of you who have visited this blog before have seen my "criteria" for assessing the value of a Catholic liturgical song or hymn (if not, click here and read them). Let's run the WYD song through some of these criteria:

1) Is it focused on God?Is it a song about or addressed to God rather than a song about or addressed to ourselves?

Yes, there is a strong focus on God. The song borrows heavily from the style common in evangelical/pentecostal circles, and hence is strong on "adoration" (which is worship addressed in the second person to God, as opposed to "praise" which is when we address others about the great things God has done, speaking about God in the third person). There is some lack of clarity ast to which person of the Holy Trinity we are addressing--something which only becomes clear in the "bridge" (we are addressing the Son, Jesus Christ), but at least it is a song about God addressed to God rather than about ourselves.

At least, this is the case in the VERSES. Catholic readers of this blog will be very familiar with that schizophrenic scourge of Catholic liturgical song: the song in which we pretend to be God singing to us (for an example, see the text of "Come as you are"). A slight variation is the song in which the verses are God singing to us and the chorus is us singing to God (eg. "Here I am, Lord"). "Receive the Power" falls into the latter trap. The verses are addressed to Christ, but the chorus is Christ addressing us. Bishop Anthony seems to think this is a good thing: He says:

In the chorus the Risen Christ addresses the young people of the world ...In the verses the young people respond

Only the Risen Christ isn't singing the chorus to us--we are singing it to ourselves. The old schizophrenia enters by the back doors...

2) Is it true? Does it express the Catholic faith? Is what it says about God true? Is what it says about us (and others) true? Does it name God truthfully? Does what it says agree with the Catholic faith?

Well, it's true enough. There are nice phrases in the bridge, reminiscent of the Gloria in Excelsis. But there isn't much here tht you could really build a theology on, is there? There's a lot of hints, but rather than explicitly conveying a particular theology, you really have to have your theology well formed beforehand (as Bishop Anthony certainly does) to be able to read into it all the "depths of meaning" to which it may hint (as Bishop Anthony certainly does in his reflection).

3) Is it singable?Can it be sung without accompaniment? Does it avoid difficult timing? (eg. strange or inconsistent rhythms, notes tied over bars etc.) Does it have a memorable melody?

Um. No. My guess: everyone will have completely forgotten this song by the time the next WYD comes around. Moreover, I predict that it will never, ever, ever be included in any Catholic hymnal or collection of liturgical songs. Ever. It is too slow, too "quiet", nowhere near rousing enough for a "anthem". No strong beat or rhythm. Lots of "oohs" and "oh yeahs" that have no place at all. It's a soloist's song--which is, I guess, why they have Guy Sebastian singing it. It isn't a congregation song. God knows how a crowd of 500,000 or so are going to sing it. What they will get is 500,000 people watching Guy Sebastian sing it and cheering and clapping--but as if for a performance rather than joining in. And can you really imagine Papa Benny joining in singing this one??????????

4) If the text is not a scriptural or liturgical text, does it have dignity as poetry apart from the music?
Does is avoid trite or clichéd language, bad English, inverted word order? If the text is liturgical or scriptural, does it accurately represent the original text?

Well, Bishop Anthony thinks one of its strong points is that it is "scriptural". But there is a lot more to a song being truly "scriptural" than simply cutting and pasting phrases from scripture and setting them to music. Christian Hymnody in the past--Catholic and Protestant and Orthodox--has always been "scriptural", but has been the result of meditation upon scripture, of the author of the song internalising scripture and then returning it God as adoration or praise.

5) Does the song have lasting merit? Does it show every indication that it will continue to be used? Will teaching the song be a lasting investment? ie. will it be of use for their future spiritual/communal worship lives? Indicator: is the song often included in independently edited hymnbooks and collections of songs?

I have already indicated that I think the answer to all these questions is a resounding "NO".

As I said above, I wish the song that was written was the song that Bishop Anthony describes in his "theological reflection". I think he is being incredibly charitable to this piece of music. It isn't awful. It's passable. But that's just the point. It's here today, but tomorrow it will have passed. Surely Australia could have come up with something better?


Richard Simoes said...

Sorry my bad english before.
I just want to say that the song touched me deeply, since i have linstend it in Canção Nova TV first time. It was only a piece of the song, but the effects were filled imediately. So I try google and reached your blog, which guide me towards the oficial site.
Thanks a lot. Richard. Sao Paulo, Brasil

Anonymous said...

Thank God for David Schutz! Why is Hillsong - in the form of Guy Sebastian - being inflicted on us at a Catholic Mass? Compare this garbage to the processional music sung at the 1986 Papal Mass in Sydney : I Was Glad by H.Parry.

More to the point, why is there NO discussion among Catholics about the scourge of Pentecostal music in Catholic parishes, yet Anglican web forums are full of this topic?

If the organisers think Guy Sebastian is young and groovy for the "kids", they clearly have no idea that he is already yesterday's man in Australia, and no-one has heard of him overseas.


Faye said...

Respectfully I have to say:

It is a beautiful song/hymn - and the melody and words stay there in your mind long after you have heard the song. It is a favourite amongst students at our christian school when in church, and out of church.

Guy Sebastian is a wonderful role model for young Christians and he embodies the Christian youth of today.

Young people identify with the song and the singer and the message being delivered - so that is important for World Youth Day I think.

Kind regards


Anonymous said...

I don't mind it as something to listen to, but if I'm singing a hymn written by a protestant, let it at least be Wesley!!

I think your remarks are quite right. I wish I knew what the other offerings had been like. (Maybe they were worse!!)

Anonymous said...

Why is Hillsong - in the form of Guy Sebastian - being inflicted on us at a Catholic Mass?


St. Michael said...

WHY is Guy Sebastian singing our CATHOLIC WYD theme song?? I am appalled, I just watched a VERY anti Catholic Youtube clip with none other than GUY listed on it. WHAT is the deal with this? I am insulted that he is leading all our kids in this song, and thinks the Catholic mass is blasphemous. This is a slap in every Catholics face. Shame on whomever asked this anti Catholic to sing OUR theme song. Do a search on drbible1611 or Commentary on Popes visit to Sydney or Phil Dooley Hillsong Church. After watching this clip it is clearly an insult to have Guy Sebastian singing the CATHOLIC WYD theme song. I am apalled.This is the Youtube link to the anti Catholic clip with Guy Sebastian listed...

tiger said...