At today’s English mass, I was in for a surprise. I heard a hymn which I like very much. It appeared as part of Beethoven’s Symphony No 9.
It was the first time I heard it sung in English. It’s goes under the name of "Joyful, Joyflul, we adore you". I like the lyrics very much. Translated into English, the lyrics goes as follows::
Joyful, joyful, we adore you, God of glory, Lord of love;
hearts unfold like flowers before you, opening to the sun above,
Melt the clouds of sin and sadness; drive the dark of doubt away;
giver of immortal gladness, fill us with the light of day!
All your works with joy surround you, earth and heav’n reflect your rays,
stars and angels sing around you, centre of unbroken praise;
field and forest, vale and mountain, flowery meadow, flashing seas,
chanting bird and flowing fountain, praising you eternally!
Always giving and forgiving, ever blessing, ever blest,
wellspring of the joy of living, ocean depth of happy rest!
Loving Father, Christ our brother, let your light upon us shine;
teach us how to love each other, lift us to the joy divine.
Mortals join the mighty chorus, which the morning stars began;
God’s own love is reigning o’er us, joining people hand in hand.
Ever singing, march we onward, victors in the midst of strife;
joyful music leads us sunward in the triumphant song of life.
The music is majestic, being all in major notes. The hymn is sung at a steady, stately and solemn tempo. When it reaches the climactic high notes, it bursts into a magnifcient resplendence. Its lyrics express all the hopes, the joys that Christ’s death has brought into this world. All the Christian themes are there, the beauty and grandeur of created nature: in the form of its fields and forests, its valleys and mountains, its meadows,and fountains,and its seas and its flowers and above them, its clouds, stars and the sun and within it, its birds and men, God’s love for man and man’s love for each other, their sins and their strife for salvation, their sorrows and their joys, their march along the path of life, the hope and confidence they need for reaching towards their goal are all there. And above all, their hopes for the triumph of their trials and their belief in the glory of God are expressed in a form most suited for the purpose: music and song. That’s why I go to church. More for its music and its rituals than for its sermons. I like to literally bathe in the resonance from that king of all instrument, the organ. Every fibre of my being resonates with it.
I think that the efforts of those who try to reach God through his words or through pure discursive reason, as is being done by all the academic Chrstian philosophers, theologians and biblical scholars, are doomed to failure. Is that not why, just before he died, the greatest theologian of the Catholic Church, St. Thomas Aquinas asked that all the books on theology which he had previously written be thown into a furnace and be reduced to ashes? He truly realizes that we came from ashes and shall return to being ashes and that all that happens in between are not really worth bothering. God is simply too great to be confined by men’s words, to be encompassed by men’s thoughts or restricted by the limit of men’s imagination. Theology seems a hopeless and may well be an untterly useless and thankless enterprise. When we face that great unknown reality which some called "God", nothing seems comparable ( as Anslem said, than which nothing is greater or more perfect) or necessary apart from our experience of it/him in quiet contemplation. What leads man to God is not his reason, but his feelings. We can never reach God through our head. We can reach him only through our heart and against all theology, our body!!
The quiestist quakers, the selectively tongueless Trappists monks and Carmilite nuns are right. I wish for nothing but silence and music in our Mass. God can only be suggested, never defined. God is an open concept, not a closed one. He is living, not dead. And the only language less unsuited for approaching God is poetry, not prose. To me, music and song are the forms most suited for expressing our feelings and our yearning for God and for that ultimate peace and satisfaction which only the contemplation of God can give and for publicly honouring him. In this respect, the people of the middle ages knew much more than we do. That’s why when I wish to worship God, I will try to do so through the beautiful hymns composed or sung by the choirs of all the various Christian denorminations. For me, there is little to surpass the Taize singers and some of the Gregorian chants by the singing monks of certain churches in Europe. I never tire of listening to them. One hymn from them is worth more than a thousand sermons!