Questionable song lyrics

I’m cantoring at Mass Saturday evening. One of the assigned hymns is “See Us, Lord, About Your Altar,” Today’s Missal Music Issue #363 (OCP).

Lyrics which raise a red flag (bold emphasis added):

  1. Once were seen the blood and water: Now is seen but bread and wine;
    Once in human form he suffered, Now his form is but a sign.
  1. Wheat and grape contain the meaning: Food and drink he is to all;
    One in him we kneel adoring, Gathered by his loving call.

Now his form is but a sign: Does this deny Christ’s real presence in the Eucharist?

contain the meaning: To me this sounds like consubstantiation, not transubstantiation.

Text is written by John Greally. Does he have a Catholic understanding of the Eucharist?

I wouldn’t hesitate to switch songs if this is heretical. Or am I reading it wrong?

Thank you, passus! I had missed that thread. (No wonder, it’s five years old. I haven’t been on the forums that long. By the way, how did you find it so fast? Can you do a search for a string of words, rather than a single word?)

Some could interpret it that way.

Some could read it as heretical, others wouldn’t.

Actually, it is. The big problem is that this song is very nebulous and dubious in its theology. It downplays what the Holy Eucharist is. Measure this song by the venerable hymns that St. Thomas Aquinas wrote, Laud Sion:

Sion, lift thy voice and sing:
Praise thy Savior and thy King;
Praise with hymns thy Shepherd true:
Dare thy most to praise Him well;
For He doth all praise excel;
None can ever reach His due.

Special theme of praise is thine,
That true living Bread divine,
That life-giving flesh adored,
Which the brethren twelve received,
As most faithfully believed,
At the Supper of the Lord.

Let the chant be loud and high;
Sweet and tranquil be the joy
Felt to-day in every breast;
On this festival divine
Which recounts the origin
Of the glorious Eucharist.

At this table of the King,
Our new Paschal offering
Brings to end the olden rite;
Here, for empty shadows fled,
Is reality instead;
Here, instead of darkness, light.

His own act, at supper seated,
Christ ordained to be repeated,
In His memory divine;
Wherefore now, with adoration,
We the Host of our salvation
Consecrate from bread and wine.

Hear what holy Church maintaineth,
That the bread its substance changeth
Into Flesh, the wine to Blood.
Doth it pass thy comprehending?
Faith, the law of sight transcending,
Leaps to things not understood.

Here in outward signs are hidden
Priceless things, to sense forbidden;
Signs, not things, are all we see:-
Flesh from bread, and Blood from wine;
Yet is Christ, in either sign,
All entire confessed to be.

They too who of Him partake
Sever not, nor rend, nor break,
But entire their Lord receive.
Whether one or thousands eat,
All receive the selfsame meat,
Nor the less for others leave.

Both the wicked and the good
Eat of this celestial Food;
But with ends how opposite!
Here 'tis life; and there 'tis death;
The same, yet issuing to each
In a difference infinite.

Nor a single doubt retain,
When they break the Host in twain,
But that in each part remains
What was in the whole before;
Since the simple sign alone
Suffers change in state or form,
The Signified remaining One
And the Same forevermore

Lo! upon the Altar lies,
Hidden deep from human eyes,
Angels’ Bread from Paradise
Made the food of mortal man:
Children’s meat to dogs denied;
In old types foresignified;
In the manna from the skies,
In Isaac, and the Paschal Lamb.

Jesu! Shepherd of the sheep!
Thy true flock in safety keep.
Living Bread! Thy life supply;
Strengthen us, or else we die;
Fill us with celestial grace:
Thou, who feedest us below!
Source of all we have or know!
Grant that with Thy Saints above,
Sitting at the Feast of Love,
We may see Thee face to face. Amen

You cannot get a more clear nor concise theological perspective of the Holy Eucharist than from the Angelic Doctor himself. There are no ambiguities here. St. Thomas tells it like it is. I cannot say the same for the questionable song that the OP referenced.

Yes, St. Thomas is more explicit. No doubt.

Well, if there’s a chance that even one person in the congregation would be confused or gain a wrong understanding of the Eucharist, I don’t want to take that risk with people’s faith. I don’t want to be responsible for weakening anyone’s faith in the Eucharist by using song lyrics that are, at best, ambiguous.

I really don’t understand why the bishops allow some of the songs to be sung in Mass. If the bishops would make a stand it seems like OCP would be forced into a reform of their hymnals, so they wouldn’t lose business to other publishers. :shrug:

I agree hymns like this can cause confusion amoung those that are poorly formed in what the Church teaches. As to the song mentioned in the OP, who wrote it? It sounds like he or she might be Luthern.

I know you and others love this song. But benedictgal, friend, dear–the language is too high for most Americans to understand. So, IMO, it leaves people just as confused as the more contemporary song.

Studies show that the average American reads at a sixth grade level. Some people say that I should stop assuming that people are unable to understand. Well, it’s the truth, it’s not my opinion.

Just because you and your friends understand it doesn’t mean that everyone else does. You simply have to think of others and come down to their level. As much as you want it to be true, you cannot assume that most other people read and think at your level.

Most children would be utterly lost with this song. And the teenagers I know that would understand it are the goth and theater types, and some of the science nerds. The average teen would not be able to get past the word “breast.”

Now I said “the average teen.” Any teen who is a regular on Catholic Answers Forums is hardly the “average teen.” Most “average teens” are too busy with Facebook and twitter to give old-fashioned online forums like this a look, let alone post on them.

Again, Catholic teens, too, have to deal with the “average teen” and not assume that all other teens are like them, smart and interested in antiquities.

A few weeks ago, I read the wonderful book, Before Green Gables, a prequel to the Ann of Green Gables series. Well, I loved the book so much that I was talking about it at work to all my co-workers. Not ONE of them has ever read the Green Gables books! One of the ladies told me that her mother forced her to read the first book when she was in 7th grade and she thought it was stupid. Most of the women I work with have never heard of the Green Gables books.

I was utterly crushed, and found myself asking what kind of black hole I was working in when people disdained the Green Gables books.

And then I realized that just because I and my daughters love these books (and many other girls and women in the world), that doesn’t mean that the majority of people like them, too.

And that doesn’t mean that these other “non Green Gables” women are inferior to me or deprived in any way, although I have to admit I seriously wonder how anyone can go through life without getting to know Anne Shirley.

Here’s my question–why not songs that explain the theology of the True Presence of Christ in the Blessed Sacrament correctly, but in modern language written at 6th grade level that most Americans can understand? What’s wrong with that? I’m not saying that we should toss the ancient hymns, especially those by St. Thomas Aquinas. And I’m not saying we should re-write the old hymns into “jive” or use the latest slang.

But why not write some new hymns using the beauties of modern language and making them completely comprehensible to modern Americans?

Since Catholics don’t generally sing, is it a big issue? :smiley:

Actually, I beg to differ. On Holy Thursday of this year (as in the previous one), the children’s choir sang Pange Lingua, also written by St. Thomas Aquinas. Believe it or not, the kids understood what they were singing. Thus, the agument that the lyrics are too high really does not hold water. In fact, the CCD director thought it was a good idea because it reinforced to the kids what authentic Catholic doctrine is.

Perhaps if you were to re-read the USCCB powerpoint, you would realize that sometimes, when a song is re-translated, the ones who are trying to “make improvements” wind up watering down Catholic doctrine and, ultimately, render the song useless.

Furthermore, there are some Catholics (once former Protestants, like the late Fr. Richard John Neuhaus) who lamented about the lack of beauty in the translations that we use for the readings at Mass. The King James version, even for its doctrinal faults, had beautiful language.

When we speak of the things of God, especially during the Mass, we step out of the ordinary. The language should not be everyday speak. That is why we have new translations that are coming out, hopefully by Advent 2010. The argument that you make in your post was soundly refuted by Bishop Serratelli when he laid out the new translations. In fact, the last meeting in San Antonio, over 125 bishops concurred with him.

I cannot answer for the author’s understanding. :shrug: But I can note (with



The Baltimore Catechism:

Q. What is a Sacrament?

A. A Sacrament is an outward


instituted by Christ to give grace.

Compendium of the Catechism of the Catholic Church:

224. What are the sacraments and which are they?


The sacraments, instituted by Christ and entrusted to the Church, are efficacious


of grace perceptible to the senses . Through them divine life is bestowed upon us. There are seven sacraments: Baptism, Confirmation, Holy Eucharist, Penance, Anointing of the Sick, Holy Orders, and Matrimony.

Catechism of the Catholic Church:

1325 "The Eucharist is the efficacious


and sublime cause of that communion in the divine life and that unity of the People of God by which the Church is kept in being. It is the culmination both of God’s action sanctifying the world in Christ and of the worship men offer to Christ and through him to the Father in the Holy Spirit."

1374 The mode of Christ’s presence under the Eucharistic species is unique. It raises the Eucharist above all the sacraments as “the perfection of the spiritual life and the end to which all the sacraments tend.” In the most blessed sacrament of the Eucharist "the body and blood, together with the soul and divinity, of our Lord Jesus Christ and, therefore, the whole Christ is truly, really, and substantially


." “This presence is called ‘real’ - by which is not intended to exclude the other types of presence as if they could not be ‘real’ too, but because it is presence in the fullest sense: that is to say, it is a substantial presence by which Christ, God and man, makes himself wholly and entirely present.”


You’re telling me that CHILDREN understand lines like this:

Children’s meat to dogs denied;
In old types foresignified;
In the manna from the skies,
In Isaac, and the Paschal Lamb.

I do not believe it.

And I did NOT say that songs of the past should be “re-translated.” I said that NEW songs should be written with modern language that are still correct to the theology.

You must work with extremely gifted children, or children who have been through an incredible catechesis program.

I work with very intelligent children, and they would not begin to understand what this passage of the song means. In fact, most adults wouldn’t understand what the significance of “children’s meat to dogs denied, in old types foresignified”(is that even a word?).

And to be honest, I do not believe that language should be incomprehensible. The very point of a Mass in the vernacular is to be clearly understood. There are plenty of ways that modern English can be used to give God the honor and glory that is due to Him without resorting to some kind of ancient “Shakespeare speake.”

Actually, while the children are gifted, the fact is that our parochial vicar is quite proactive and who wants the kids to start singing doctrinally correct songs.

The same argument that you made against this language was the one made by opponents of the new translation. They thought that the average person in the pews would not get it. However, Bishop Serratelli and Daniel Cardinal DiNardo refuted these statements. The language used at Mass should be different than what you and I would use if we were to have a chit-chat over Dr. Pepper. We are doing something out of the ordinary at Mass. We are in God’s presence and in God’s time. Thus, there needs to be beauty, solemnity and dignity. This should also apply to the songs.

Thanks for the quotes, tee (the QUOTE function dropped them, but I hope you will still follow my reasoning).

Your citations say that a sacrament is a sign, which is true. But the song lyrics say “**but **a sign,” which means **only **a sign, nothing more. The sacraments are more than signs; they cause what they signify. The song seems to deny this.

Your citation (#1374) also says that Christ is **contained **in the Eucharist. This is true, but the song says that “wheat and grape contain the meaning.” This implies that the wheat and grape are still there. They are not. The wheat and grape are no longer present. It is only Christ.

“We are the Children of the World, (answering Your call)” by Dana, which I think is really meant as a song for First Holy Communion. :slight_smile:

As clear as St. Thomas, and as easy to understand as Dick and Jane. :thumbsup:

It is true that “wheat and grape” are not there (or: should not be there) – “wheat and grape” are not valid matter to confect the Eucharist – *Bread *and *wine *are the required matter. But I infer you would take equal exception to those words?
(If I am mistaken in this inference, you may disregard the following)

The Church, in her scriptures, liturgy, and catechism, does not seem to have a problem with the words *bread *and *wine *to refer to the Eucharistic species. I try not to either, unless I believe my interlocutor to be confused. :twocents:

As for the prior verse, *“Once in human form he suffered, Now his form is but a sign” *I suppose I would have more trouble with the word form *than any other – As I hope you will agree, the confection of the Eucharist is a transubstantial change, not a transform*ational one.

But all around, and to repeat what I’ve written above: Unless I believe my interlocutor to be confused, I try not to let such poetic licenses bother me. Can hymns be composed without such poetry? Sure. *Need *they be? Not :twocents: in the presence of otherwise sound catechesis.


Modern language can also be beautiful, solemn, and dignified. It’s incorrect to say that only certain eras in history had beautiful, solemn, and dignified language, and that today’s English is vulgar and incapable of expressing God’s holiness.

Perhaps the average American needs to be taught better, in or out of school. If we’re looking for the Church to help produce social change, how about education in language as well as faith? :slight_smile:

And the average teen who can’t say “breast” without chuckling needs discipline. Actually, the society which leads the average teen to not be able to say “breast” with a straight face needs the disciplining more. Why should the Church be forced to suffer because humanity can’t get its act together?

If children (or adults) do not understand “children’s meat to dogs denied,” then the first thing they need to do is be re-introduced to the gospels (specifically Matthew 15:26). Then they need to be introduced to the word fore-signify. If they know what the prefix fore- (i.e. before) means, and they know what the word signify means, then they should be able to deduce the meaning of the word foresignify.
fore-sig-ni-fy: To signify beforehand; to foreshow; to typify. (Webster)
The more we dumb down our language and the less we challenge people (children and adults) to grow in their knowledge (of language, among other things), the worse off our future is going to be. Like, ya know?

Jesus Christ’s sacrifice in the Eucharist, the “children’s meat” which is not to be given to “dogs”, was fore-signified in the manna from Heaven, in Isaac (being almost-sacrificed by Abraham), and in the Paschal (i.e. Passover) lamb. Now anyone can say those words, and they’re smarter for it.

I wouldn’t call it heretical. I would call it confusing!

This song is probably more suitable for one of those “theology on tap” coffee house gatherings where you could discuss this with people. The songs at mass should be more straight forward than this.

True, his form is a sign, just like all the sacraments are a sign of God’s grace. However, saying it is but a sign, is like saying it is merely or just a sign. How the Eucharist can go from the “source and summit of the Christian life” to “but a sign” is beyond me.

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