By Dr. Carly York | Correspondent
Terri Marino of St. Mary Parish, Middletown, strongly believes how hymns sung during Advent and the carols sung during Christmas can enhance one’s understanding and appreciation of the seasons surrounding the Birth of Jesus.
“We live in such a secular society where everything is commercialized about Christmas,” she said. “Everything we hear and see outside of church is about Santa Claus, Rudolph, the Elf on the Shelf, etc. It’s never about Jesus.”
“It’s nice to sit at Mass and sing songs about Jesus and to put all of the commercialism aside and focus on the true meaning of the season,” she said.
There are many like Marino who recognize how thoughtfully chosen Advent and Christmas hymns can help reaffirm the Church’s teaching in a joyous way and should be sung as much as possible during their respective seasons.
“When we sing liturgically appropriate hymns for Catholic worship, the congregation can reaffirm, through the powerful force or song, their Christian beliefs and faith tenets,” said Father Michael Lankford, a priest of the Diocese who assists with celebrating Masses in several parishes, including St. Catherine Laboure, Middletown; Nativity, Fair Haven, and St. Michael, West End.
Focusing on the two seasons, Father Lankford explained how the season of Advent is theologically divided into two themes with the first being the Second Coming of Christ and the other the First Coming or the Nativity of the Savior of mankind. Preferred hymns he suggested for Advent were “Lo, He Comes, With Clouds Descending” and “O Come, O Come Emmanuel.” For Christmas, his choice is“Of The Father’s Love Begotten,” a Medieval poem by Marcus Aurelius Clemens Prudentius, which was later set to music for Church worship and “beautifully expresses the Incarnational nature of the Christ.”
“For me, it is about each new generation discovering the tradition of poetry, song and liturgy that this season offers,” said Joe Moffit, musical director in Precious Blood Parish, Monmouth Beach. “Christmas music is appreciated by all, and it is up to all of us to keep that going.”
In his experience leading liturgical music, Moffit noted that Christmas music is an especially powerful element in helping to deepen the faith of Precious Blood’s congregation.
“Christmas carols have made their way into popular culture, so singing them is being a part of something so great as to resonate with all people,” he said. “The carols also have a certain combination of harmony, melody and rhythm that makes them sound like Christmas. The music, though often very simple, evokes a powerful emotional response in people.”
Faithful from around the Diocese enjoyed sharing about the Advent hymns and Christmas carols that hold special meaning for them each year.
For Karen Wojciak of St. Dominic Parish, Brick, it’s the more modern song, “Mary did you Know?”
“As a young lady, it had to be so daunting for Mary to be told that she would be having a child,” Wojciak reflected. “What an awesome responsibility! To be the earthly mother to the Son of God.” This song captures the awe and wonder of Mary, she said.
Looking to the more traditional, Moffit said his favorite carol is “O Come All Ye Faithful.”
“The repeated refrain, "O Come let us adore Him," is easy and satisfying to sing and the dynamic changes are instinctively followed by everyone,” Moffit said. “You can't help but feel welcome and together in the spirit of Christmas when this piece is sung.”
Noting that both of her daughters attended St. Mary School, Middletown, Marino said that her favorite Masses to attend during the Advent and Christmas season are the “Life Teen” Masses that are celebrated on Sunday evenings.
“I love the enthusiasm of the teen choir. I love that they play guitars to accompany the music. The music is upbeat and joyous,” Marino said.
Dorene Penny of Precious Blood Parish, Monmouth Beach, remarked on how Advent hymns can teach congregants about prophecies made by the Old Testament prophets who prophesied the Birth and the circumstances of Christ, as well as about “the sanctity of the Virgin Mary, the virgin Birth and the Immaculate Conception.”
Penny smiled as she noted that her sixth-grade daughter Abigail’s favorite song is “Silent Night” because it “starts the tranquility of the season,” and that her husband, Bob, loves the “Once in Royal David’s City,” because it reminds him of his home back in his native England. Her own favorite Christmas carol is Penny “O Holy Night” because “it sets the tone for what will come and the eagerness of the birth.”
John Hammit of Nativity Parish said he believes that music is essential for filling spirits and lifting hearts.
“Rejoicing over our Lord’s Birth would feel hollow without songs of glory allowing us to shout out with joy,” he said.