Let’s ‘Lift the Lowly High’ in Liturgical Music

(Unsplash/Haley Rivera)

In this post, I summarize the two commentaries I’ve written in response to the decades in which church music composer David Haas continued to abuse women unchecked. My most recent commentary sees an opportunity for raising nonwhite, non-male voices, and my first commentary discusses what community accountability looks like.

Composer and theologian Tony Alonso wrote an eloquent introduction to my commentary on rethinking liturgical music after David Haas’ downfall, “Let’s ‘lift the lowly high’ in liturgical music.” When sharing the commentary, which the National Catholic Reporter published this week, Alonso wrote:

In most of the English-praying churches I attend, a quick scan of the copyrights of the worship aid or the hymnal reveals a repertoire that is overwhelmingly composed by white men in the 1980’s and 1990’s. There are, of course, historical reasons for this. But we need to do better. And we need to do better not because it’s politically correct, not even because it’s hospitable or inclusive to do so. We have to do better because without the fullness of the diversity of the people of God expressed musically in our liturgies, our language before God is theologically impoverished. This means not merely supplementing a dominant repertoire with some decorative additions. It means fundamentally rethinking the structures that led us here and actively working to change them. Publishers have their role. But it begins locally. It is all of our work. We can start small: by examining this week’s selections at our churches.

Facebook post by Tony Alonso

In this commentary, I suggest that we follow Mary of Nazareth’s call to social justice. Her prayer, the Magnificat (Luke 1:46-55), offers a two-part formula for creating equity: putting down the proud and “lifting the lowly high.” Supporting nonwhite, non-male composers and using their music in our worship embodies Mary’s prayer. We want how we worship to reflect who we are and who we aspire to be. Ideally, a church’s transition to more representative music is part of a larger diversity and inclusion initiative.

My initial blog post on the topic, “Our Accountability for Church Music Composer David Haas’ Abuse,” applies a conceptual foundation in community accountability to the unfortunate situation that is prompting a long overdue examination of the current state of church music. I wrote: “My prayer is that justice doesn’t lead to demonizing Haas—a sick man who needs help and accountability—but rather to community self-reflection. I don’t want to sing David Haas’ songs in worship anymore, not to punish him, but as a community penance in support of the women he violated and we failed. … Simply righting past wrongs can lead to a futile cycle if we don’t also create equitable churches with a culture of respect that will help prevent future abuse. Sexual and spiritual abuses are abuses of power, and unequal power leads to abuse. … Wherever we are in relation to the church, let’s challenge gender complementarianism, advocate for women’s full equality, and insist on inclusive language.”

Every writer needs an editor and I’m grateful for a good one for my National Catholic Reporter article. Executive Editor Heidi Schlumpf pushed me to include specific suggestions for liturgical composers, which significantly strengthened the commentary. I want to thank liturgical composers, Tony Alonso and Zack Stachowski, for their generous help in curating those suggestions. And I want to acknowledge my long-time liturgical consultant, the late Sr. Carole Mary Capoun, C.S.S.F., who introduced me to Sr. Anne Carter’s version of the Magnificat, which I quote in the commentary.

© 2020 Michele Beaulieux … Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License. That means you are free to share and adapt as long as you attribute to Michele Beaulieux, don’t use for commercial purposes, and use this same license. And if you do share, I’d love to know! I continue to revise, so to avoid sharing an outdated version, I recommend linking to this page, where I provide the date of the current iteration: 12.31.2020

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