An ironic exercise in contrasts

I am at the moment putting together an article for The Wanderer where the original WDTPRS work was and is done.

I wanted to share this tidbit:

When Moses came from his meetings with God his face was transformed and shone with a light so great that he had to put on a veil.   Our encounters with the divinity of Christ in Mass must transform us so that people will see in us their effects, see Christ reflected.   The angel the priest requests [during the Roman Canon at the Supplices te rogamus] never does not simultaneously behold the face of God.  So much are the holy angels in harmony with the Father’s will that often in the Old Testament when angels come bearing messages there is a blurring of precisely who is speaking, the angels or God Himself.

What takes place at Holy Mass is an echo of the ongoing liturgy of the heavenly host before the throne of God.  This must affect the way we celebrate Mass, the words we speak, the actions, the setting.  What we do must reflect the deeper reality.

Consider this description in Scripture of the work of an angel before altar in heaven:

“And another angel came and stood at the altar with a golden censer; and he was given much incense to mingle with the prayers of all the saints upon the golden altar before the throne; and the smoke of the incense rose with the prayers of the saints from the hand of the angel before God.  Then the angel took the censer and filled it with fire from the altar and threw it on the earth; and there were peals of thunder, voices, flashes of lightning, and an earthquake” (Rev 8:3-5 RSV).

Otherwise,  translated into terms many parish liturgists would find familiar,

“… and the angels took up their guitars, verily the out-of-tune guitars, and thence began they all to strum the same three chords, myriads upon myriads of angels the same three discordant chords within the liturgical space like unto the VFW hall and the local cineplex.  And sang they all, unceasingly, in the sight of God’s furrowed brow, their song surpassing human speech,and sang “Yoohooooo…” (Cf. the first words of “On Eagle’s Wings”, namely, “You who…” etc. etc. etc. etc. etc. – in my own “dynamically equivalent” version).

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. SonofMonica says:

    Brilliant, as usual.

  2. Mariana says:

    This gives one furiously to think (as Poirot would have said). Novus Ordo seems rather inadequate now.

  3. irishgirl says:

    Good one, Father Z!

  4. AnAmericanMother says:

    Oh, dear.

    We were visiting at a church near my parents’ house, and the music was even worse than “Eagles’ Wings” — junky home-made pseudo-folk stuff off mimeographed sheets (words but no music), leadership composed of a screechy lady of a certain age, a guy with a grey beard and ponytail and a tambourine, and a priest who thought he could play guitar. It was not only out of tune, but the bridge or nut was misadjusted so that it buzzed and rattled. My husband is an old rocker who has converted to playing classical guitar, and I thought he was going to go over the pews and snatch the guitar – “just let me TUNE it, please!” He has perfect pitch so he was in agony. Offer it up, I guess.

  5. Sigh. It doesn’t have anything to do with “Novus Ordo”, other than the fact that the existence of the OF mostly keeps these people from doing weird liturgical things over on the EF side of the Latin Rite. If you read church history, you’ll soon run into all sorts of horrendous sacramental abuses from before the days of Vatican I, much less II. As the EF grows more popular and trendy, you will probably find these people on your doorstep, eager to do bizarre things in the name of Jesus and Mary. Enjoy your peace while it lasts.

    I’m sure if you hung out with the schismatic sedevacantists, you’d probably find all sorts of sacramental abuses running the other way.

  6. Thomas in MD says:

    Oh Father, now I have Eagle’s Wings stuck in my head. Wahhh!

  7. Can’t we just eliminate the hymns and stick to the propers? Keep the hymns for all things other than the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass…brilliant as usual Father.

  8. Elly says:

    Why why why do people hate this song so much? Isn’t it biblically based? I can see why it is not preferable to use at Mass but is it such a horrible song in and of itself? Can it not be used in other situations outside of Mass to inspire hope?

  9. Gregg the Obscure says:

    A liturgist of my acquaintance would throw a nutty over “verily”. I am filled with joy that said hippy is retiring before the corrected translation is implemented.

  10. benedetta says:

    Interesting that in the traditions of Buddhism and even I suppose in the instance of yoga, “faith traditions” which so enamor some in positions of relative authority in some parishes and “Catholic” retreat centers, at least practitioners get to carry out their “prayers” with chants and relative silence as their tradition dictates. Many of us however are not so fortunate and our supposed “zen masters” and “yogis”, self-appointed in the parishes enjoin us to sing and make merry as the 70s and 80s dictate every week. And what are we all so self-congratulatory about anyway? That we can’t permit the faithful to pray in blessed peace and quiet. Apparently the take home lesson is that “nothing” is sacred. Except going on tour to sing at the Vatican, then, since then it is only a performance, it’s ok to sing something of beauty. For the peasants back home to whom we condescend in our “ministry”, they get to have…brace yourself…well I expect this week it will be The King of Glory. We’ll bring out the tambourine. (Why not pass them around the congregation — or those little egg shakers they give out at nursery groups?) Picture linked arms dancing around at a commune, maybe around a bonfire. It has the important “themes” for this week, liturgical vocabulary words, “rejoice” and “Emmanuel”, so it has to be okay. I guess that they don’t get the humor watching Stephen Colbert liturgically dancing. And they scratch their heads and wonder, why don’t the young people come? Um, it’s because they are laughing at you! I mean, yes, “let us build a city of God”…where is this city anyway, where are the results of the earnest building? Oh yes, in my heart…since we had the equivalent of a first grade catechesis we are eternally stuck there in our development.

  11. Elly — Mostly, people dislike the song because they were forced to sing it way too often in the Eighties and Nineties. Like, every other week.

    (Also, it’s not an easy song to sing, because it doesn’t fit most people’s ranges. This defeats the purpose, when it comes to congregational use. Also, they changed the wording and scansion and harmony part at least three times I know of, and then the hymnal people said snarky things about choirs not singing it as written.)

    Outside Mass, it’s a nice little devotional song, sure, and it works best as a solo. You’ll find that most people don’t object to that – not a bit. I sang it at a funeral home for my grandfather, for instance. But most people never really get to work with devotional songs outside of Mass.

  12. The Egyptian says:

    verily I say you Father are the dynamically equivalent of snark, , I always called them the scalded cat quartet in our parish, tone deaf cats walking across a key board wouldn’t be much worse, thank Heavens they retired

  13. AnAmericanMother says:


    The words are of course a paraphrase of part of Psalm 91. But everything that is “biblically based” isn’t necessarily a good idea for Mass.

    I think the problem people have with it (aside from the fact that it’s often so poorly performed, and that the paraphrase is rather banal when compared to any number of better translations, whether Cranmer’s Psalter, the KJV, or the Douay) is that the music is so very, very bad.

    It’s a pretty good (or bad) example of exactly what the Holy Father talks about in his book on the liturgy – commercial mass-market pop music that is too ‘catchy’, emotionally frivolous, and trivial for Mass. To top it all off (as Thomas Day observed in his book Why Catholics Can’t Sing, it’s also difficult to sing, with funny intervals and unnecessary syncopation.

    Don’t see any reason why it couldn’t be sung outside of Mass, though, although it’s not the kind of music I personally like. Don’t mind folk music, but it has to be real stuff, not manufactured semi-pop.

  14. dad29 says:

    Umnhhh…yah, and the “angels” thing is relevant for choir members. Singing well, and all that.

  15. marthawrites says:

    The first Christmas card we received this season–and I immediately knew it would be my favorite–shows an angel swinging a thurible. It’s from the altar at Truro Cathedral, Cornwall.
    So thank you for that quotation from Revelation.

  16. Gregg the Obscure says:

    BTW, while “On Eagles Wings” is based on Scriptural texts, that’s not sufficient to make an appropriate song. For example, try singing the entire first chapter of St. Paul’s Letter to the Romans – or just go from v. 18 to the end of the chapter – around “progressives”. That is, if you’re seeking martyrdom.

  17. Martial Artist says:

    I can’t speak specifically to “Eagle’s Wings” as I (probably mercifully, Deo gratias) do not recall ever actually hearing that specific song. I also take nothing away from the answers already provided concerning the question “what’s wrong with it (or others of its ilk)?”

    The problem with virtually all of the so-called Christian praise music is that it is neither constructed nor sung as music for the worship of God, but rather as performance music. I offer in support of this conclusion the following empirical evidence:

    • – Because the piece in question may be new or possibly unfamiliar to some in the congregation, you will see (at least in Protestant churches) the lyrics projected on a screen or blank wall;

    • – The lyrics shown are never fully and exactly correct—various parts of most songs contain variations at the end involving repetition and faux impromptu phrasing which is not shown in the provided lyrics.

    • – Those faux impromptu phrases and repetitions are the very sort of thing which is now all the rage on American Idle Idol and a vast array of pop alleged music.

    • – Harmonized copies are never provided to the worshippers;

    • – In many Protestant settings they will actually refer to the portion of the sanctuary from which the “praise band” plays the accompaniment, as a “stage.”

    These observations are, in the main, not original to me, but were seen by me on and American Anglican blog some three or more years ago, in a comment from an American chorister (Anglican) of some 35 years. Based on her evidence, I deem that the answer to the question is determined!

    Pax et bonum,
    Keith Töpfer

  18. Girgadis says:

    I think one of the things I love most about the TLM is that the angels, especially St. Michael, are mentioned so often in the prayers, as opposed to the Novus Ordo. For me, appealing to them helps reinforce that what I am witnessing is a mystery , not a casual occurrence. That is a beautiful thought, that the angel who will take the sacrifice to God is at the same time, beholding the face of God. It’s not something I realized before, so I thank you for the reminder. It also begs me to ask why anyone would have changed “Lord, God of Hosts” to “God of power and might”. Thankfully, not for much longer.

  19. Girgadis says:

    One more thing … if anyone is visiting St. Paul’s in Philadelphia during Advent or Christmas, please be sure to see the Nativity scene at 9th and Montrose Streets containing 19th century figures made in Naples, Italy and collected over a period of time. The angels suspended above the scene are each bearing miniature censers.

  20. benedetta says:

    Just because some songs are nice doesn’t mean they are optimal for mass. I don’t really loathe “You Are Mine” (David Haas) in the same way that others here find “On Eagles Wings” inspiring and scripturally-based. These or the latest Catholic/Christian rock might work great for a youth group meeting or retreat. How about that great group L’Angelus? They have a lovely Christmas cd. All these are great to listen to in certain contexts and they are much more uplifting than most of the current crop of best-selling performers. But a lot of these 70s/80s “gathering” and “going forth” Mass songs are now so dated in genre and entire presentation that they have lost any transcendental quality or prayerful quality (if they had it ever to begin with). We have also by and large lost the collective ability to immediately recognize scriptural connection. And it is true that the themes often do seem to center on “me, myself, and I”. Or as I once read in some satire of this type of music, the lyrics are essentially written as though the writer were the Almighty (“I am the Bread of Life”). The simplistic words have become trite and have lost their meaning, again, whatever they had in the first place. What is also weird is that although these were supposedly the outgrowth of a communitarian impulse, when experienced at Mass the opposite is true. We might be joyfully singing along with the choir about dancing for our God whilst a neighbor in the next pew is grieving, struggling, anxious, offering his or her humble prayer. We just don’t know what others are experiencing and so how can we sing party songs week after week? Christian joy is important, but is it appropriate to have this feigned or forced joy, constantly with people who you run into like ships passing in the night. You get the image of the “cruise director” or camp counselor who just wants everybody to sing and loosen up. And if we are doing the communitarian thing we might as well be singing songs of penitence week after week, since we as a nation have endorsed a collective genocide on the next generation, and by and large scandalize the innocent among us via the media, even through some of these musical genres so commercially celebrated. Shouldn’t we as a people at least attempt to “sing a new song unto the Lord”?

  21. catholicmidwest says:

    ““… and the angels took up their guitars, verily the out-of-tune guitars, and thence began they all to strum the same three chords, myriads upon myriads of angels the same three discordant chords within the liturgical space like unto the VFW hall and the local cineplex. And sang they all, unceasingly, in the sight of God’s furrowed brow, their song surpassing human speech,and sang “Yoohooooo…” (Cf. the first words of “On Eagle’s Wings”, namely, “You who…” etc. etc. etc. etc. etc. – in my own “dynamically equivalent” version).”

    Love it, love it, love it. Got a good laugh. Why….this is enough to make any catholic school student take his gum right out of his mouth and plaster it to the bottom of the pew on top of all the other wads of gum down through the ages, in the time-honored traditional fashion.

    [I used to teach in a Catholic school, and trust me, those pews must have weighed twice as much as when they were built due to grime and gum UNDERNEATH the seats. Amazing. And very, very gross when your fingers were to wander over the lip accidentally and find globs of dried ex-Junior high gum. EWWWW.

  22. catholicmidwest says:

    Elly, we hate this song because it’s first line sounds like a yodel gone bad, or because it sounds like mating time in the alley cat community….

    Yoooooo-hoooooo…….don’t even have to get past the first two words to get a big snicker.

    Come on. Don’t you have ears??

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