Tuesday, January 17, 2017

The aggressors in the "liturgy wars"

Last night the Pray Tell blog posted an egregiously spiteful hit-obit on a monk, scholar, and Churchman who had died that very same day.

This morning it was removed, and a slightly milder but still preposterously inappropriate version has replaced it.

The author, Paul Inwood, is considered such an expert on mercy that cathedrals around the globe were required to sing a hymn he wrote on the subject. But there was no mercy here for his professional enemy.

It's a tactic of the left to act in a "who, me?" fashion regarding conflict, to call for an end to this war or that war, the culture war, the liturgy war, the translation war. As though the left is an innocent bystanding pacifist rather than the agenda-pushing, angry aggressor.

The liturgist has no clothes.

A full retraction, with apology, to the monk's religious and natural families is in order.

Vatican II: the Challenge and the Promise

Many of the debates which are going on in the Catholic Church today have as their root the interpretation of Vatican II, the last ecumenical council.  Yet, how many people have really delved into Vatican II, into the texts themselves, the theological and historical context of the Council, and the thorny questions of its interpretation.  At my parish, Prince of Peace in Taylors, SC, we just finished a series on Vatican II.  Often church musicians need resources to learn more, not just about the liturgical and musical questions which effect their daily life, but also the theological background around which some of those questions must be considered.

For the next seven Mondays, each week we offer a link to a talk given by me about Vatican II on the following topics, along with the discussion afterwards:

 Why Vatican II is Important
Ecumenical Councils
Sacrosanctum concilium
Lumen gentium
Dei verbum
Gaudium et spes
Fifty-One Years After the Council: Now What?

This series may be many things, but it will not be dull!  Make sure to check back every Monday evening as we go through these topics together!  Every Monday for the next seven Mondays, at 6pm EST, the new talks will be posted. We hope this will encourage great debate and desire for further study!

Monday, January 9, 2017

Monday Morning Funnies


Sunday, January 8, 2017

Focus on the Future

The Catholic news of the week was the biennial Seek conference of Focus, the highly successful college missionary program, held in San Antonio, which drew over 13,000 young people from all over the country.

Besides organized talks, adoration, confession, concerts, fun times, and Masses, there were well-attended Liturgy of the Hours services held in the hallways of the conference hotel.

A priest writes:

On Twitter, I posted that after hearing two hours of the most intense confessions of my life, I felt exhausted, but also more alive than I had ever felt before. As a priest, I’ll say that we can often tell when a conversation or encounter is particularly important, but it has never before been so clear to me — confession after confession, conversation after conversation — that the Lord was actively changing the lives of the students I was speaking to, powerfully and in real time. Clear moments of conversion were showing themselves, over and over, penitent after penitent, in the confessional. - See more at: http://aleteia.org/2017/01/08/hearts-afire-catholic-college-students-encounter-christ-at-seek2017/?ru=b28e9f2a3c45a72602c255e91b1df657#sthash.5yP8QIeQ.dpuf
A successful program always has small (and sometimes wonderful) glitches.


Sunday, January 1, 2017

Without a net

By now many of our readers will have seen footage of an unfortunate musical act gone wrong recently in front of a live audience.

Besides revealing the unfortunately canned character of much of the pop world's "live"performances, it sets in relief the amazing accomplishments of those who work week in and week out without props, recordings, lip synch, producers, or any other safety nets: Church musicians.

Recorded music is banned in liturgy by law, and so it must be live, performed in the here and now. The Director of Music is thus ordinarily all things, like Quincy Jones: producing the album, engaging (or being) the musicians, coaching (or being) the vocalists, curating the selections, communicating professionally with everyone, and above all making dozens of both planned and on-the-spot judgments involving musical quality and timing.

The difference is that for Quincy Jones, he can always do another take.

What happened last night is what understandably happens outside the studio, outside of controlled conditions--and what so altogether rarely happens at Mass that it is astonishing.

I've sometimes heard complaints from clergy about Music Director salaries in the US, and although I do sympathize with those responsible for attending to the many different needs of a parish, I think this must be considered: a DM is responsible for executing hours of live music every week (to say nothing of what is required during Holy Week), often with limited resources, and often with amateur musicians.

Last night we saw how an army of truly overpaid professionals can monumentally destroy a musical moment. The arduous and ordinarily seamless work of parish musicians, without the flash and props and certainly without a soundtrack, should be commended and compensated.

Announcements of Easter and Movable Feasts - 2017 Score

The proclamation of the date of Easter and the other moveable feasts on Epiphany is one of the many things that was a practical necessity in time of old, but is kept within liturgical use (similar to candles providing light at Mass). It is something that any parish can use this Sunday after the gospel.

There are two scores in the file, depending on which day your Diocese celebrates the Ascension.

Download a PDF here or a practice Mp3 (courtesy NPM)

Saturday, December 31, 2016

Te Deum laudamus!

On the last day of the year, it is traditional to sing or recite the Te Deum, so here are some links to performances to inspire your own recitation:

The prelude to Marc-Antoine Charpentier’s Te Deum:


In this performance, organist Pierre Cochereau acts as a second choir, ‘singing’ the simple-tone chant melody (PDF) in alternation with the choir of human voices. His organ registrations were probably improvised:



For versions by Victoria and Bruckner, and in English by Howells, Tallis, and Gibbons, see Ben Yanke’s series of “Te Deum Tuesday” posts.

A favorite of mine, ever since singing it long ago, is Kodály’s epic choral/orchestral version:



And here from Romania is Verdi’s Te Deum from the Four Sacred Pieces; this performance from a festival I never heard of gets the piece better than some ponderous renderings under big names:



But I began by suggesting your own recitation, and the Church rewards it today with her own spiritual support. The Manual of Indulgences reminds us that (under the usual conditions):
A plenary indulgence is granted to the faithful devoutly assist either at the recitation or the solemn singing of
  1. the Veni Creator, either on the first day of the year to implore divine assistance for the course of the whole year, [...]
  2. the Te Deum, on the final day of the year, to offer thanks to God for gifts received throughout the course of the entire year.
[Chant scores are at the two links above.]

Happy New Year!

Friday, December 23, 2016

Eagerly His race He runs

Who is rising in the east
like the light of many suns?
Bridegroom coming to the feast:
eagerly his race he runs.
Splendor of the rising day,
reaching out from end to end,
all creation in his sway—
and he calls the sinner “friend.”

Camel through the needle’s eye,
for our sake becoming poor,
so the Lord of earth and sky
enters through a humble door:
enters through a Virgin womb,
rises from a borrowed grave.
So he wills to gently come.
Powerfully he comes to save.

He comes forth to be our food
reigning from the Father’s hand.
Eat and live: be filled with good.
Drink, and you will understand.
Every morning mercies new
on the altar, grace for grace,
fall like never-failing dew
till we see him face to face.

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Some current concerns

I've been giving a lot of thought to certain tensions in the Church at the moment, and my clearest impression is that people are not really hearing one another speak. It troubles me when this happens. The Church has divided in the past--really divided--along language and cultural lines. So with prayers for guidance to St. Maximus the Confessor, I thought I would mention a couple of things that the different "sides" are saying, perhaps in a more "American" way, in case it helps mutual understanding.

Of course I may well be misinterpreting everything myself, but here goes.

Pope Francis has expressed several concerns that I don't feel have been heard.

  • Some people live in concrete situations in which it is nearly impossible to reconcile with the Church under current law. Consider, for example, the following scenario. A spouse, abandoned, for financial and other reasons, formed a common-law relationship with someone else. Children were born from the new relationship. There are compelling reasons, including economic and parenting reasons concerning the children, for them to stay together in the same household. The abandoned spouse now wishes to reconcile with the Church, but the other person does not, and moreover that person refuses to consider living as brother and sister.
  • These irregular situations disadvantage the poor and uneducated in a way they don't the powerful and well-connected. There is such a thing as advantage and preferment in the Church, and there can be an inability of the poor to seek solutions to the same degree.
  • There is a spiritual principle that Jesus mentions a number of times in the Gospel and in different ways, having to do with pride and self-righteousness. It can happen that a person is unable or unwilling to admit to his or her own sinfulness, and seeks to stand on acceptably high moral ground by comparing him/herself to others. (Though this claim can sometimes be taken too far, by Girardians in particular, I would say), there can be a danger of scapegoating others precisely to avoid looking at one's own sins. This is not my idea, nor the Holy Father's, but the Lord's.
On the other hand, the bewildered Catholics I know have other concerns that I feel are in danger of being brushed aside.
  • I know instances of heroism on the part of Catholics. I'd imagine everyone does. The man with homosexual inclinations who remains chaste and single, the permanently abandoned wife who avoids re-establishing a dating life, the busy and exhausted cleric who nonetheless meets multiple times with each engaged couple to ensure they are prepared for the Sacrament of Matrimony. There are spouses who have forgiven what seems like far too much without counting, and have struggled and persevered through to truly happy marriages. These silent and hidden lives of sacrifice are a kind of treasure in the Church, raising the whole like leaven.
  • There are saints who to English-speaking Catholics are dearly held models of civil disobedience under enormous pressure to conform. St. Thomas More's excellence in every area is known and cherished, even in the secular world.
  • There has been a demographic shift in the generations since Vatican II, an odd reverse-generation-gap. Young people over the past 2 pontificates have been successfully challenged to live heroically. The flourishing religious orders attest to this maxim: demand more of young people, and they will respond. Those who were young adults in the 60s and 70s still seem to be playing a strategy that failed, of asking as little as possible of young people, who are naturally idealistic and generous--and hungry for community.
  • The Holy Father's convictions have often been expressed in ways that belittle others.
  • The sinful character of re-marriages is Gospel truth, and a pontificate who would reverse the Church's constant teaching and practice on the subject would seem to be acting in a way that contradicts both scripture and tradition. In a post-papal-resignation Church, this is a tinderbox. 
There is another, hidden actor in this dialogue. At least, I have not seen many references to it. It is not only desirable on the part of a pontiff but a solemn duty to do all he can to restore the Church to unity. Pope Benedict expressed this beautifully in his Inaugural Homily.
Here I want to add something: both the image of the shepherd and that of the fisherman issue an explicit call to unity. “I have other sheep that are not of this fold; I must lead them too, and they will heed my voice. So there shall be one flock, one shepherd” (Jn 10:16); these are the words of Jesus at the end of his discourse on the Good Shepherd. And the account of the 153 large fish ends with the joyful statement: “although there were so many, the net was not torn” (Jn 21:11). Alas, beloved Lord, with sorrow we must now acknowledge that it has been torn! But no – we must not be sad! Let us rejoice because of your promise, which does not disappoint, and let us do all we can to pursue the path towards the unity you have promised. Let us remember it in our prayer to the Lord, as we plead with him: yes, Lord, remember your promise. Grant that we may be one flock and one shepherd! Do not allow your net to be torn, help us to be servants of unity!

  • The worst rupture in Christianity is always very tantalizingly close to being healed. The Orthodox Churches are true Churches with valid priesthood and Eucharist. Not much is necessary to overcome our differences, one might think. There is little talk of forced conversions anymore, after all. The Filioque, some (not I) would say, is perfectly dispensible. The liturgical differences (which seem to me to be enormous) can be written off as diverse cultural expressions, some might say. But there is a great disparity in marriage law, on just this point of divorce and remarriage.
This Christmas, I will be asking that with prayer and respectful discussion in an open and above-board climate, without undue pressure and certainly without insult, our leaders might discern the way forward in a way that does not cause a further divide in the household of the Lord.

Monday, December 19, 2016

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Pontifex, Doesn't That Mean....?

One might imagine someone with such a title would have more respect for rigidity, realize that in some situations it's kinda... necessary.


"What is a Hymn and What's it For?

Missed this from early November, (hmm.... what is it that could have had me distracted? can't remember,) by Father Dwight Longenecker, blogging at Patheos.
He is, because of his background, perhaps a little hymnocentric, but he makes some good points. (And he gets to the right place eventually, though not, perhaps, for the right reason.)
Since moving here ten years ago I’m still having some problems with music. Part of it is my problem. I spent fifteen years in the Anglican Church with the New English Hymnal–which is probably the finest hymnbook ever published in the English language. Musically and liturgically it was the best that traditional Anglicanism had to offer.
...My problem is that I am actually unfamiliar with most of the music in American Catholic Churches because I have lived abroad for so long.
However, what I do experience is not encouraging. Who on earth is writing these hymns, publishing these hymns and choosing to buy, prepare and perform these hymns? Doesn’t anybody know what a hymn is for?
Surely a hymn is first, and foremost part of our worship. That means the words are words that we use to address our praise, adoration and worship of God. So much of the stuff I come across isn’t that at all. Instead it is sentimental language in which God talks to us to reassure us, make us feel better and comfort or inspire us. So…”Be not afraid…for I am always with you…Come follow me.. etc” This may be a pleasant enough devotional song to remind us of God’s promises, and there may be times when it is appropriate to sing such songs, but Mass is not one of those times. We’re not really at Mass to sing God’s comforting words to ourselves. We’re there to worship Him....the Mass is meant to take us to the threshold of heaven; if it is meant to be a glimpse of glory and a participation in the worship of the spheres of heaven itself, why then the sentimental, sweet and comforting songs just won’t do. They wont’ do not because they are bad or untrue, but because they are not good and true enough. Worship that takes us to the threshold of glory needs to be, well…glorious....not all parishes can manage to have a grand organ, a paid organist and a fine choir. True, and that’s why the church recommends Gregorian Chant.