Just in time for St. Patrick’s Day this week a true Irish musician, Ian Callanan of Tipperary in County Cork, visited Our Lady of Perpetual Help Catholic Church in Salem and delighted his congregation.
Invited by the parish choir director, Barbara Fraticelli, I enjoyed the guest’s original liturgical songs so much that I paid $18 for a CD just to hear my favorite of his compositions, “Love Is the Boat.” Maybe I like it because Callanan used an old Scottish tune of “Loch Lomond” for his lyrics copyrighted in 2006. Though I’m not Irish, my paternal ancestors came from Scotland, and I was there twice in the 1990s.
The musician, whose biographical information reveals him as one of the world’s leading composers of contemporary Roman Catholic worship songs, came to the Salem church to conduct a paid training workshop for the parish choir. The free concert on a Sunday afternoon lasted nearly two hours as Callanan sang his own songs and the choir – and sometimes the audience – filled in on the choruses.
A message of social justice shines through another song, “You, the Christ.” Callanan wrote the music to words by Shirley Erena Murray. The message here is helping Jesus in the persons of the poor, sick and battered as a Stranger at the door who must not be ignored.
For those not up on the Catholic church since the 1970s, a different type of music was one of the major changes brought about by the late Pope John XXIII as he sought to make the church more relevant to daily life.
For generations only a trained choir performed classical service music; the congregation listened as it did when the priest interpreted the church’s teaching of Scripture.
I well remember when the great changes wrought in Rome by Vatican Council II came to the Roanoke Valley. A few priests soon happily accepted the chance for more personal contact with members – and the press – in the sharing of administration, worship leadership with lay readers, women and girls and choirs of both sexes.
Over the years since, many musicians have provided “liturgical songs” which, like Callanan’s, are easy to sing and often with joyful catchy rhythms.
While some other Christian groups like to use gospel songs displayed on a screen, Catholic music is always built into a structured service of the Mass that is open only to those who accept the Pope’s teachings.
Callanan at 46 has grown up in the new church culture in the very Catholic nation of Ireland. Toward the end of his presentation of some 15 simple melodies – while at piano or guitar he commented on how he came to write some – the composer talked about the sheep he raises on his western coastal farm in Cork.
“Jesus knew what He was talking about…Sheep have no sense of direction, they are clumsy, fall over at times and wander away to get lost.”
Humankind needs the direction of a Shepherd, a reality expressed in perhaps the most used of Psalms, the composer pointed out. The familiar 23rd has been set to music innumerable times with Callanan among the contributors.