Thursday, April 10, 2014

Those who Sing Pray Twice

Many of the older missioners in Korea remember when the Christians would be able to take some catechism answers and put it to song. This came as a surprise, but it was soon realized that this was a common way of learning  the catechism that dated back from the days of the persecution. They were so used to this type of learning that they could  use the name of the missioner and ad-lib musically  some words  of congratulations on his name day or extemporize musically on  some parish celebration.

The Theological Perspective  magazine introduces us to the Korean Catholic epic poem, "Sahyangga," that in the early years of the Church was often sung in learning the catechism. The article mentions Father Choi Yang-op the second Korean priest who spent a great deal of time devising ways to teach the catechism. The majority of the believers  at that time could not read the Chinese Bible or the Chinese devotional  books, and there were few books translated into Korean that could be used in teaching the catechism.

Father Choi devised a catechism for the believers which was transmitted by way of song, matching the Korean's feelings and sensibilities. He put the Catholic doctrine in a familiar poetic style that the Koreans found easy to learn and sing. This was made in a way to help non-believers  understand Catholicism and  to defend against those who were antagonistic towards Catholicism.

Through these literary devices Father Choi sought to refute the arguments of those who were antagonistic towards Catholicism. This also helped Catholics to meditate on Catholic dogma and reflect on their lives by bringing to mind the accusations of the enemies of the Church.  These songs reveal the thoughts of the Koreans in the late Joseon dynasty.

This precedes the introduction of Gregorian Chant and the hymns that are familiar to  Catholics. All the lines of the Sahyangga were based on the catechism. There is a phrase in Latin that says  those who sing are praying twice. The Sahyangga used the song's contents to reflect upon the particular judgement, general judgement, and heaven and hell which follow death.  This was closely associated with the spirituality of martyrdom. Here was a  catechism by which they learned the teaching  and also a way they could pray with the words by putting them into song and memorized.

Besides the Sahyangga there were other similar epics and didactic ways of teaching about Catholicisms in song. Since Koreans have always enjoyed singing, we can understand  why Father Choi Yang-op found it easy to use music as a way to teach the catechism. This has continued and can be observed at daily Mass in most of the parishes and mission stations, even when there is a small congregation present. The society at large is no different: there are a great number of "singing rooms," each equipped with a karaoke machine and a menu of songs.

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