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Thursday, September 7, 2017

Are patriotic songs Mass-appropriate?

Are patriotic songs Mass-appropriate?
Patriotic songs should be approached carefully at church, but sometimes, like when mourning the events of September 11, 2001, they can strike just the right chord.

Attending Sunday Mass last year over Independence Day weekend, I watched as the priest gave the final blessing and a man a couple rows ahead genuflected and hurried toward the door. Then the cantor announced that the closing "hymn" would be "America the Beautiful." The man stopped, returned to his pew, and sang along. If it had been "How Great Thou Art," he probably would have beaten the parking lot rush and gotten home early to get the grill going.

Like many American Catholics, my patriotism tends to be more public than my faith. I'm much more likely to stand, hand over heart, for the national anthem than to make the sign of the cross when I secretly say grace in a restaurant. There are no nation-states in the kingdom of God, yet that seems to be how so many of us operate. And in the United States, at least, the church cooperates.

On national holidays--usually Memorial Day, Independence Day, and maybe Veterans Day--Catholic Mass often features patriotic songs. In my experience, these, along with Christmas carols, tend to get the most participation from the congregation. Most of us grew up singing both types of songs in elementary school, and we have them more deeply memorized than most hymns.

I once heard a Catholic, politically conservative university professor say that he never puts his hand over his heart during the national anthem because of the idolatry the act suggests. Does the same principle come into play when singing patriotic songs at Mass? Put more broadly, does American patriotism compete with devotion to God? Do patriotic songs at Mass cross a line?

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