Monday, January 30, 2012

Echos of Ecclesiastical Ecstacy

If anyone is aware of any sacred songs or sacred texts that are written by women, please let me know. I became intrigued with this topic when a couple of my close circle of commentators on this blog answered my question about what The Holy Spirit looks like to them. A professional singer, who not only performs, but teaches classical voice said this:

"My experience differs, and I hope none will take offence at my divergent viewpoint.  I feel deeply and viscerally and spiritually the joys, communion, contentment, wonder and peace of which you speak, and can add to that the transcendent joy I feel at singing great music with great musiciians, music specifically written for the glory of God and/or the Holy Spirit and/or whatever else.  I feel ecstasy and amazement at the capability of the human soul to transcend itself, but I feel no attachment to "another" in it, except to any "other" who experiences the same joy in her soul." She recommended Carl Maria Widor's "Organ Toccata" for perhaps a very different experience of joy -- or the finale of Benjamin Britten's Sea Symphony.

Another beautiful soul who was my first friend ever who could actually play music on a piano responded, " your joy is clearly expressed and it does not seem to differ so much from mine.  Different words, same joy, I think.  “How Great Thou Art” always brings me to tears."  Another soul sister who is a professional interviewer for a television station and focuses on sharing positive input into society by people over the age of 50, responded, "The Widor is a magnificent work, which always inspires deep joy.  I was so pleased to be invited by my daughter to plan the music used in her wedding so that I could suggest the Toccata as her recessional.  It was glorious, thanks to a marvelous organist!"

One thing these pieces of ecstatic expression have in common is that they were all written by males, so I wondered if there was any of what is called "sacred music" written by sisters in salvation. I was absolutely amazed when I couldn't find any references to any of these woks, given how females are so often criticized for our overly-emotional natures.

But the thing that brought me to tears of frustration was a website of the Catholic Encyclopedia, which stated this, " the presence of women in choirs is excusable under certain circumstances, although choirs composed of men and boys are for many reasons preferable. It is true that an inquiry about this point received an apparently negative answer on 18 Dec., 1908, but this was in regard to the conditions described in the inquiry (prout exponitur), and it is added that the Decree is to be understood in the sense that the women must be kept entirely separate from the men, and every precaution taken to render impossible all conduct unbecoming to the sacred edifice. From these clauses it appears that, in principle, choirs composed of men and women are not inadmissible; however, the desirability of banishing every possible occasion of indecorousness from the church renders it preferable to employ boys, rather than women in choirs. The employment of women as soloists is all the more questionable, since solos in church are admissible only within certain limits (Motu proprio). A choir composed of women only is not forbidden (Decree of 17 Jan., 1908). To employ non-Catholics in church as singers and organists is only tolerated in case of urgent necessity, because they neither believe nor feel the words which they sing."

I know that we are not all Catholic, but all the Abrahamic religions are based on the sacred scriptures that are in the bible.

Can it be true that the only the sacred song "written"  by a female is "The Magnificat?" Even this was set to music by a male. Are women only allowed to express their ecclesiastical ecstasy in echoing that which men contend a male God has spoken to them alone? Or are we to confine our sacred selves to the co-production of the children brought forth from our bellies by man's seed?

Sisters who have sacred songs in their souls, please heed the words of a Sesame Street ditty: "Sing; Sing a song. Sing out loud; Sing out strong." Surely there is at least one who has a sacred symphony in her soul, waiting to be celebrated.


  1. Not being exposed to much of world class music or composers, more of the down to earth ladies. My wife loves Irma Williams songs. Deep touching and heart felt.
    Women seem to take the back seat as far as exposure, but not from talent or dedication.

  2. Oh my goodness! What a heavy load the Catholics put on their people to say that women cannot write music or cannot sing in the choir or cannot participate in the regular worship life of a church. That is too heavy to carry. The world of "Tocotta" and other such music (beautiful though they be) is a world I have little or no experience with. I could listen to it and not recognize it. I'm just a plain, ordinary, every day limited person with almost no exposure to "high church" music. Women in the Bible wrote music and led music publicly. Did not Miriam, Moses sister, lead the children of God in playing an instrument and vocalizing praise to God immediately after the crossed the Red Sea? Biblical worship is not a male vs female thing. It is from the heart of every man and woman.

    I do not mean those things to be offensive to the ecclesiastical heirarchy of the Catholic church, nor to anyone at all. It's just something I never knew or contemplated before.

    Frances and I currently have a friend who has written several songs, has performed them in worship with other Christians, and her songs are sung around the country in public worship. My Mom has written them and performed them in public worship for as long as I can remember and that is at least 70 years.

    Joel, the Old Testament prophet said in his second chapter that God would pour out his Spirit on "sons and on daughters". At Pentecost, Peter said, in the second chapter of the book of Acts when explaining the ecstatic utterances on the day of Pentecost that, "This is that which was spoken of by the prophet, Joel." There were men and women rejoicing together at the presence of God and telling stunned people around them of the mighty blessings of God with languages they had not learned. Their ecstasy was so over-powering that their actions caused the on-lookers to think that they were acting under the influence of alchohol.