Every once in a while I dust off one of the old anthems simply because the melody is so familiar and the words are filled with hope. “Holy God, We Praise Thy Name;” “Amazing Grace;” Even “Precious Lord, Take My hand” come to mind. I hear the fifty or so us morning Mass people belting out phrases like “I once was lost, but now am found; was blind but now I see.” When the community sings the old, familiar tunes, my head and heart clear so that I can pray.
However, there are times when our old songs, like lullabies, can seduce us into a state that focuses on our own comfort.
The psalmist tells us to sing new songs. I take that to mean we should sing new songs with fresh words and stirring melodies. The parish community needs to wake up to an occasional new morning song. Our hymnals contain more material than we could ever use. Some of it, not too good; but other hymns are there like coins we’ve never spent. What are we hoarding them for? Let’s sing them!
I snuck in “Precious Lord” (above) when you weren’t looking. It’s a powerful gospel hymn by Dr. Dorsey. That song has its place when we need to sing of facing up to our own destinies. “Softly and Tenderly Jesus is Calling”(again by Dorsey) is also in our parish hymnal. We never sing it. Is it too embarrassing to sing of an intimacy with Jesus that has Him calling our souls to heaven?”
“Sing a new song” means, also, that our composers need to keep working at producing contemporary
music with lyrics that are memorable and singable. We need newly created songs for communion meditation, for example.
However, when I come across the verse in Psalm 33 asking me to sing a new song to the Lord, I sometimes pray as I lift my head from my breviary, “Lord, you know I can sing. Teach me a new song. Instruct me in the melody and teach me the words.”