Friday, December 14, 2007

Hymnanny for Hootenunnies

There is some amazing history in this story from the Catholic News Service. I suppose some people find this charming. For most people, this is just painful:

SLATON, Texas (CNS) -- If Ray Repp, of "Allelu!" and "Peace, My Friends" fame, can be considered the founding father of contemporary Catholic music, then Msgr. Joseph W. James can lay claim to the title of the music's "godfather."

Born in Dalhart and raised on a large ranch where he worked as a cowboy, Msgr. James was ordained for the Diocese of Amarillo in 1957. He became a priest of the Diocese of Lubbock, when it was created out of the Amarillo Diocese in 1983.

Now retired, Msgr. James has had a prophetic and productive life of ministry.

Msgr. James baptized Buddy Holly's drummer into the Catholic Church so the young man could marry the "Peggy Sue" that Holly sang about, but it's the priest's influence on liturgical music that will be his legacy.

In the early 1960s, before the Second Vatican Council (1962-65) brought changes to the church, the Mass was in Latin. There was sometimes a choir, usually with an organ played as an accompaniment. The thought of using a guitar at Mass was practically blasphemous.

In the summer of 1964, then-Father James was at the University of Notre Dame, in Indiana, in a class with Father Clarence Rivers, a young priest from the Archdiocese of Cincinnati. Their professor challenged Father Rivers to write a song for Mass in the vernacular, the language of the people.

So impressed was he by the song Father Rivers wrote -- "God Is Love" -- and songs he heard at nearby hootenannies, Msgr. James gathered them in a songbook, printed copies and organized a singalong at Notre Dame.

Soon, groups of students -- many of whom were women religious -- were gathering to sing, pray and worship on Saturday evenings. He called his songbook "Hymnanny for Hootenunnies." [Read more]

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