A Wretch Like Me, Who Saved And Set Me Free

This morning at liturgy, the cantor directed us to sing "Amazing Grace." (There was no other instruction). As the entire congregation began, there was a definite derailment of the community-building that happened in the song: The entire congregation, sang: Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me... The cantor, however, went with the alternate version (printed in footnoted text): Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound, that saved and set me free... The result was cacophonious to the worst extent. People felt like they were competing with the cantor, not being led by him. And while I can understand some people's reservations to the term "wretch like me", these very words were most appropos for the reading today, about Zacheus, a scandalous tax collector being forgiven of His sins. Still, there is a cardinal rule: try to stick to the words on the page--it's what we're all singing from. To be set free does not mean we are to be set free from the constraints of the parish hymnal.


I was informed by one of the

I was informed by one of the parishoners where I work that the former music director (my predecessor) refused to sing the word "wretch." His rationale was that he didn't feel like a wretch and that a majority of the parishoners weren't wretches either. My first thought was, "How could he possibly know that?" In all seriousness, if you ask one hundred random people to sing the first verse of "Amazing Grace" I would be surprised if one or two used the alternate lyrics. Considering that this text is a prayer written by a former slave trader the word "wretch" does seem an appropriate descriptor of the author. It is certainly poor form to blast an alternate, and little used text in competition with the assembly during an opening hymn. Especially if no other instructions were given such as, "By the way, we will be using the alternate words for the first stanza." Hopefully, a kind word spoken to the music director might avoid this type of dissonance in the future. St. Cecilia pray for us and all musicians in the church!

Nick- Interesting topic and

Nick- Interesting topic and as a cantor for nearly 25 years, I have found myself on both sides of the coin. While I agree to some extent that when you are leading others in song, you should use the lyrics that everyone has in front of them, but there are times when those lyrics cause more confusion and discourse throughout the congregation than if you simply sing what is familiar. Since ICEL came along, many of the traditional song lyrics have been changed to be "more inclusive"...while some aren't so drastic, other are just plain ridiculous and I will not sing them. An example being, a favorite in our congregation, "They'll Know We are Christians By Our Love".....the original lyrics were " and we'll guard each MANS dignity and save each MANS pride".......since ICEL, it was changed it to "we'll guard each PERSON'S dignity and save each PERSON'S pride".....ok that's not so bad, but now our newest hymnal reads "we'll guard HUMANS dignity and save HUMANS pride".....WHAT???? WHO TALKS LIKE THAT??? What was wrong with "person's"...aren’t all we humans people???. Since we have been singing this for years, I continue to sing what they know which is "PERSON's "and it has not been a problem. Another travesty is "The Battle Hymn of Republic" which was our recessional hymn today and probably one of the top 10 songs in which our congregation sings at the top of their lungs! The original lyrics, written during the civil war, were "sifting out the hearts of MEN"......the ICEL version became "sifting out the hearts of ALL"...ok thats not so bad, I can deal with that, but again, we have a new hymnal and the lyrics are "sifting out all HUMAN hearts"...poor Julia Howe is rolling over in her grave!!.... ENOUGH!!!..... As a cantor, I am obligated to set an example of faith through song, but I cannot and will not sing "HUMAN" when we had options that made much more sense and didnt scream ICEL!!! . I’m not against being more inclusive when it’s appropriate and makes sense, but past references to God as “He”, “Him” or “His” have now simply become GOD. Last I checked Scripture says that MAN was made in GOD’S image…...some things we simply have to preserve, regardless of ICEL!! OK..…I went away for awhile, but I’m back now :)..... Sorry for going off on a tangent but proper lyrics are one thing that I am very passionate about. Thanks for your post Nick! Peace! Sherry

I'm used to singing " And

I'm used to singing " And we'll guard each one's digniity and save each one's pride." (In the Choral Praise book) The Gather Comprehensive has it "And we'll guard human's dignity and save human's pride". I'm used to singing that also. In the Battle Hymn Of The Republic that part of the verse says "He is sifting out the human hearts before his judgment seat" (At least in the Choral version of the Gather Comprehenisve) Who knows what's in the congregational version. Ever notice how the hymnals don't seem to match? The Choral Praise never seems to have the same words as the Heritage Missal. The Gather Comprehensive Choral Edition, never had the same lyrics as the Congregation Edition. We always had to change the lyrics so that the words matched. The same is true with the Choral Praise versus the Heritage Missal. If the words are too drastically different, we sing the hymns out of the Heritage Missal. Tim English

Not my place to change anything

I agree. As a cantor, it's not my place to change anything, but to lead the congregation in the words set before us in the hymnal. We are working together as a community raising our voices in a song that unites us. The only time I would have veered from the written text--would be if that had been decided by the music director ahead of time, and the congregation informed before we began the song. Nancy <><

Yes, with a traditional song

Yes, with a traditional song like that where everybody knows the standard lyrics, you must tell the congregation beforehand if you will be using alternates. As for the men/person issue, I can't believe that whole thing even happened. Granted, I am not female, but if I were, I can't fathom taking offense at the word men pertaining to men and woman. I mean, did these same people have a problem with the word MANkind? Is personkind preferred? Dave Gawron http://www.ServantSong.com (official site) http://www.MySpace.com/ServantSong http://www.ServantSong.com/Facebook http://www.SonicBids.com/ServantSong (electronic press kit)

I remember seeing something

I remember seeing something from Zenit.org saying that the lyrics "Saved a wretch like me" are not a reflection of Catholic Teaching on the condition of our souls. Don't remember much more about it. Maybe you could search their archives if you feel so moved. As for the Gender neutral language, If we understand that "man" means all of humanity, there should be no problem leaving it where it is. We have several people in our parish, including the cantor, who insist on the gender neutral even in the Gloria, "Glory to God in the Highest and peace to GOD'S people on earth". Drives me nuts and causes, in my opinion (which is worth maybe a half a penny) is not unitive at all. We're supposed to be lifting our prayers TOGETHER, one body in Christ! I'm off the soapbox. God bless and keep you all.

I'm not a cantor but I love

I'm not a cantor but I love to make a joy-filled noise to the Lord ... I listen to Gospel music quite a bit ... and find it most uplifting. A long time ago I learned from my Mom that we were not created wretches and so learned the alternate words and sang (maybe "croaned" would be a more illustrative and entirely made up alternative) them to my children and now to my granddaughter. My children are now both cantors (LOL) so I guess the alternative words did them no harm ... but I agree the cantor should use whatever words the people of God are using! Now ... let me climb up on my soap box ... ugh , umpbh, steady now ... there ... OK cantors ... why are we hearing you above the congregation? Who's praying ... far too many cantors with beautiful voices seem to sing too loudly ... so their voice is heard either above or in conflict with those of us who can only make a joy-filled noise... not unifying, not encouraging ... whoaa ... falling off ... Thanks - that felt good. +Peace!
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