Alice writes about the hymn her daughter will sing at her first communion. Here is her description of the children’s practice:
A jumble of children tumbled into three standing rows�an adorable hodgepodge of tall and small, sharp and scruffy, calm and clamorous—boys and girls with eyes and hair and faces of every description—some from Mass-going families and others who may find themselves inside the Church but rarely.
When the music began, a palpable and unifying change in expression and demeanor came over each and every one of them, and, as they lifted their voices to sing, a range of emotions could be read upon their earnest faces:
�Jesus, my Lord, my God, my All,�
�How can I love Thee as I ought?�
�And how revere this wond�rous gift,�
�So far surpassing hope or thought?”
�Sweet Sacrament, we Thee adore! O make us love Thee more and more! O make us love Thee more and more!�
Something perceptible and heartfelt had taken root in all of them, no mistake.
Understandably impressed and not a little bit surprised, the musical director blurted after one round, �You are the best First Holy Communion singers I have ever had!� The children gladly began the hymn once more, their second rendering no less heartfelt than the first.
This time, the director could not help but wheel about, hoping to find some adults catching this singular performance. Most of the moms were chatting in clusters, but I stood watching with a broad smile on my face, and she made a beeline toward me.
�I can�t believe how well they are singing,� she began happily and without any introduction. �When this song was chosen, I had my doubts. I thought it would be too hard for young children.�
�It is wonderful!� I agreed wholeheartedly. �I think the words of the hymn have inspired them!�
�I don�t know,� she said, still beaming toward the children, �maybe,� before slipping back to the front to cheer on her little band of singers.
The children resumed the hymn for the third time in a row, their faces still as alight and ardent as before. By this time, I had tears in my eyes, and, as if in silent accompaniment to the melody, the words of St. John�s Gospel rang out in my mind:
�Simon, do you love me? Feed my lambs. Simon, do you love me? Tend my sheep. Simon, do you love me? Feed my sheep.�
Our Lord�s lambs were right there before me and populating the First Holy Communion group. There they were, frisking and frolicking and kicking up their heels, having just been fed the hardy grasses of Truth and Beauty. I can only imagine how vibrant this flock will be when nourished by the Bread of Angels.
It seems to me that too often we choose over-simplified little ditties for young children, as if perk and pep would stand in for substance. For seven and eight year olds, insipid, shallow strains hold about as much spiritual significance as �I�m a Little Teapot.� But give them Truth articulated in rich and beautiful language, and their ready hearts soak it in like well-tilled gardens in April. Young though they are, children are eternal beings made in the image and likeness of God, longing�no living—to know Him. The question, �Jesus, my Lord, my God, my all, how can I love Thee as I ought?� is a challenge for all eternity and an aspiration that cannot be embraced too soon. It is the battle cry of the saints.
I frequently get frustrated at the state of music at our parish. Sometimes I even try to tune it out lest the music become an occasion of anger and distraction during mass. Things have got a little better since we stopped singing “This Little Light of Mine” and “Jesus Loves Me” but not by much. How I yearn for good music, music that soars to the heavens and gives God the praise that is his due. I pant for substance, for beauty, for truth, like a deer yearning for running streams. I strive for patience and calm and fail miserably. Because I know there is good music out there and I don’t understand why it is passed over for mediocre glurge. Anyway, I’ll stop ranting and be grateful for the good music that is out there and that occasionally sneaks its way into our parish. And I’ll keep praying that there will be more and more of the beautiful and less and less of the mediocre. St Cecilia, pray for us!