"our hearts were burning"

There Are Places I Remember

by Larry Johnson

Not to be a stiff-backed prig, but there’s something I need to vent about the selections of music played in church during the Mass.  This is particular to the church and parish that I belong to, but no doubt many Catholic churches are still and now enduring distortions of the liturgy as expressed through the music.

This past Sunday, I went to the 9:30 morning Mass, which had a more solemn or somewhat “high Mass” expression of the liturgy because it was the feast of the Body and Blood of Christ.  I must admit that I was totally knocked for a loop during celebration of the Eucharist.  With the tabernacle door open and people going up reverently to receive Communion, the pianist suddenly started playing a Beatles tune!  This was the song by Lennon and McCartney titled “In My Life.”

I don’t think that I was the only one somewhat astounded by the plunking of a pop tune into the sacred liturgy. Myself and two or three other people pretty much arrived at the same time over at the piano after Mass, and all of us had more or less the same question for the pianist:  Did you really just play what we think you just played?  She smiled and said that it was “a Lennon and McCartney meditation.”

It’s nothing like that at all.  “In My Life” is a totally secular pop song that has nothing to do with worshiping God or portraying sacredness.  The tune may have a nice Baroque and harpsichord feel to it reminiscent of Bach, but the musicality of it was a total distraction in that moment of receiving Christ in the Eucharist.  And here are the lyrics that go with the tune:

“There are places I remember
All my life, though some have changed
Some forever not for better
Some have gone and some remain
All these places have their moments
With lovers and friends I still can recall
Some are dead and some are living
In my life I’ve loved them all

But of all these friends and lovers
There is no one compares with you
And these memories lose their meaning
When I think of love as something new
Though I know I’ll never lose affection
For people and things that went before
I know I’ll often stop and think about them
In my life I love you more

Though I know I’ll never lose affection
For people and things that went before
I know I’ll often stop and think about them
In my life I love you more
In my life I love you more.”

Even Lennon and McCartney would think it’s a bit of a stretch to warp the meaning of these sentiments and apply them to one’s faith in God or love for God.  By their own account, the songwriters were literally reminiscing about actual past “lovers and friends.”  That’s exactly what most people are hearing in their heads when the song plays.  So  putting a song like this into the Mass goes against, I believe, the move to put more sacred music back into the Mass in line with the incorporation of more elegant and poetic language in the new Roman Missal.

The impression I got when this tune was played is that it was more about the pianist showing off her piano-playing “chops” than being aware of her mission of helping to elevate the sacred nature of the moment.

And I would hazard a pretty solid guess, too, that the pianist did not pay the required licensing and performance fee to the Lennon/McCartney songbook — the owners of which, by the way, are the estate of Michael Jackson and Sony.  That’s an ethical consideration all on its own.


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One thought on “There Are Places I Remember

  1. I remember a time when “liturgical music” always meant “sacred music.” God bless!

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