You, have expressed, dear mother, that some young people would volunteer their services in order to gather together a collection of songs that would appeal to young people. Such an enterprise seems to me very commendable and useful, and the influence of sound religious music on education is almost incalculable. But that kind of work demands much refinement, a fresh imagination and an ability that will be found only in those persons who are true poets. There are, however, very few such individuals. I will talk about this to some of my friends and perhaps we can gather together some poetic compositions.
Frederic Ozanam, letter to his mother, March 19, 1833.
- We know by Frederic’s brother, abbé Alphonse Ozanam, that their father, Jean Antoine, was a good musician, and gave his children their first musical lessons(Cf. C.-A. Ozanam, Vie de Frédéric Ozanam, Paris: Librairie Poussielgue Frères, 1879, p. 632).
- In many of his writings Frederic mentioned music. In one of his earliest writings (“Réflexions sur la doctrine de Saint-Simon” in Oeuvres completes, tomo VII)) he spoke about some of the significant contributions that the Church made to science and the arts and specifically mentioned organ music and the compositions of various musicians (Luigi Cherubini [an Italian composer and a contemporary of Ozanam] and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart). Frederic wrote a letter to his mother referring to his experience in the parish of Saint-Étienne-du-Mont: I admire the beauty of my parish, the pomp of the ceremonies and the magnificence of the singing and the organ. My whole body vibrates when hearing this instrument of a thousand voices resound under the Gothic vault, all uniting to glorify the Lord and to chant his praises — as David said — on the harp and the zither and the flute and the trumpets. How great is the power of music and how sublime and beautiful the Catholicism that inspired it! I have never before experienced anything like this (letter to his mother, November 7, 1831).
- We also know that Amélie Soulacroix, Frederic’s wife, was an accomplished pianist and had considered giving lessons, if necessary, in order to cover the expenses of their future home.
- In the text cited above, we reflect on Frederic’s response to his mother’s request to create a collection of song that would appeal to young people. Marie, Frederic’s mother wanted to have sound religious music that would promote the human and Christian development of the young people in Lyon. Frederic’s response is interesting: he said that he would ask some of his friends about this matter, but he also affirmed his belief that such an undertaking would require much refinement, a fresh imagination, and an ability that will only be found in those persons who are true poets. He, than, stated that there were not many people who could accomplish such a task.
- What about our present era? Beginning in the 1960’s a movement has emerged that views contemporary music as a vehicle to communicate the joy and the message of the gospel to the present generation. In the United States the movement was, and continues to be, most important in evangelical churches Little by little, the Catholic Church has also become aware of the power of music in transmitting the gospel to young people We can say that music has an important place in Catholic gatherings and celebrations and we also know that many musicians go out into the streets to proclaim the gospel … many of these artists are not well-known but they have dedicated themselves to composing quality music that can be listened to and sung and yet their music is quite distinct from what we know as “liturgical music”. Unfortunately, the Musica Catolica Contemporaneo (Contemporary Catholic Music) is still a great unknown and has survived in some circles because of the tenacity of the musicians themselves. These men and women record music and offer concerts (often at their own expense). In this sense, the work that they have been able to accomplish over the years and more especially during the celebration of World Youth Day, is remarkable.
- So what does all of this mans for the Vincentian Family? I believe that many of us have not given serious consideration to the power of music as a tool for communicating the gospel message. Everyone knows that young people today listen to music and, in fact, spend many hours each day engaged in such activity (a 2015 report submitted by Common Sense Media — a non-profit organization dedicated to helping children, parents and educators navigate the world of the media and technology — points out that teenagers in the United States devote many hours a day to the use of the media, and, among other uses, to listen to music). The Vincentian charism has a twofold aim: to serve those people who are poor and to evangelize those who are poor. If evangelization is viewed as proclaiming the Good News of Jesus Christ, could we not engage in that proclamation through music?
Questions for dialogue:
- What do we know about Contemporary Christian Music? Do we know of any Catholic artists who use their music in order to proclaim the Good News of the Gospel? Do we know if any of them belong to the Vincentian Family?
- Do we utilize music as a means of evangelization in our group, our branch of the Vincentian Family, our parish, etc? Should we? Do make financial and other resources available so that this can be done?