The man that hath no music in himself,
Nor is not moved with concord of sweet sounds,
Is fit for treasons, stratagems, and spoils;
The motions of his spirit are dull as night,
And his affections dark as Erebus.
Let no such man be trusted. Mark the music.
-Shakespeare, The Merchant of Venice
If music be the food of love, play on . . .
- Shakespeare, Twelfth Night
CONSIDERING his uncompromisingly orthodox stance during the years of priestly formation in the United States, the decidedly modern feel of Richard Ho Lung's ordination Mass might seem surprising. The report in the local Catholic newspaper referred to "exotic elements" in the liturgy, most notably the inclusion of liturgical dance at the commencement of proceedings: "Eurhythmic dancing by four young ladies … in gold dresses overlaying dark bodices and gay headbands, symbolising Humanity, Love, Godliness and Strength, opened the ceremony."
The report also mentioned that several of Richard's own poems, set to music, formed part of the Mass: "The sound of a bass guitar … and clashing cymbals … accompanying the poems of the ordinand with musical arrangements by Mapletoft Poulle, and rendered by the Combined Cathedral Choir … alternated with the hymns of the regular Mass."
It is tempting to see the "clashing cymbals" as indicative of the clashing symbols in the liturgical form of the ordination Mass, which was described as "a unique occasion in the history of Holy Trinity Cathedral".
On the one hand, there was the traditional procession of 30 altar boys and a similar number of clergy and seminarians; on the other, at the front of the procession, immediately behind the cross-bearer, were the four exuberantly clad dancers.
As the procession made its way to the altar, the congregation sang the traditional hymn, Praise My Soul the King of Heaven; yet after the priests and altar servers had taken their places in the sanctuary, the liturgical dance began, during which "the congregation watched in admiration the graceful evolutions of the dancers".
After Richard was vested with stole and chasuble, the choir sang the traditional Latin hymn, Veni, Creator Spiritus, yet earlier, during the laying on of hands, the choir had sung two of Richard's own poetic compositions, one of which - Canticle of Canticles, reminiscent of Francis Thompson's Hound of Heaven - showed the influence of the Western literature that Richard was teaching at the University of the West Indies and at St George's College. The other poem I Know was written in the Jamaican dialect.
Following the ordination ceremony, the offertory hymn A Child Finds, and the communion hymns Give Praise to the Lord and Jesus Gave 'ternal Life, were also composed by Father Ho Lung. Clearly the newly ordained priest had a musical gift to bring to his ministry.
There is, in fact, a paradox, or perhaps a tension, and even an irony, in the connection between the orthodoxy of Father Ho Lung's beliefs and the vernacular style of his music. Does the universal aspect of his orthodoxy clash with the consciously local dimension of his music? Does Father Ho Lung's embrace of the pop culture of his native Jamaica contradict the high calling of Catholic civilisation? Conversely, could it be argued that the composing of music that resonates with indigenous popular culture is a legitimate expression of inculturation and subsidiarity? It is well to address these issues now to avoid confusion later.
It is also well, in the interests of full disclosure, for the author to confess his own principles and predilections with regard to music, particularly with regard to the use of music in the liturgy.
I readily confess that my initial contact with Father Ho Lung and the Missionaries of the Poor was a real challenge to my preconceptions. I was affronted by the apparent disconnection between the orthodoxy and sanctity, on the one hand, and the exuberance of the Caribbean music and rhythms on the other hand.
My own experience of the sort of Jesuit heroes who had resisted the modernist revolution in the Society of Jesus, such as Fathers Fessio, Schall, Hardon, and Pacwa, suggested that Father Ho Lung would be as traditional as they in his approach to the liturgy and liturgical music.
In Europe and the United States, liturgical dance, electric guitars, folk hymns, and hand-clapping are a sure sign that the modernist rot had set in. Thus, it is difficult for a European or American to read a description of Father Ho Lung's ordination Mass and equate it with the resolute heroism with which he confronted the modernist ascendancy of the Jesuits.
Was Father Ho Lung endeavouring to meld together two incompatible and ultimately inimical approaches to spirituality and the liturgy, or was there an overarching harmony between his music and his mission that I was missing?