Saturday, August 18, 2018

Is this a crisis?

Since some commentators on the recently revealed scandals have reached the meta- stage of asking whether this is a crisis, or the largest crisis, I thought add would add my 2 cents.

Crisis is an old word with various connotations. I think two examples are helpful here.

In John 16:11, Jesus says that the Holy Spirit, when He comes, will convict the world in regard to judgment--krisis--because the ruler of this world has been condemned.

This seems applicable here, because, as St. Paul wrote, our battle is not with flesh and blood but with principalities and powers. Our bishops are asking us to apply to this situation the methods that Jesus said drive out the worst of demons: prayer and fasting.

Seeing our enemy as the evil one also gives us some distance from and traction against the problem. My brother is not my enemy, but insofar as he is giving the enemy a foothold, I do not have to cooperate with his efforts. I don't have to try to find a "bridge" to "common ground" with the wrong he espouses. What I have to try to find is a way of helping my brother out of error so we can both flee the enemy.

Another connotation of crisis is its long medical usage as a point in a serious disease at which things either become much better, or much worse. Thankfully the patient, the Church, cannot be destroyed. And interestingly enough, her ailments are not new. Those currently afflicting US Catholicism are only now coming to light, but they are not new.

For me, the news of the last few weeks has been, besides horrifying, an explanation. I would guess that I am not alone in having had the sense for a number of years now that something was wrong. Perhaps it's the sort of thing that you might hardly notice until it gets really bad, because the descent is so gradual.

One problem that I've noticed is an apparent satisfaction with mediocrity in all aspects of Church life, from art (our particular concern here), to theology, to religious education. If it weren't for our considerable care for the poor and sick, I don't know if the Church would have many signs of vigor.

In fact, lot of ecclesial institutions seem aimed towards an entrenchment of mediocrity. The Church Music Association was nearly destroyed at one point decades ago by someone who deliberately tried to make it mediocre from the inside. This does not make sense. Of course there is a perennial tension between charism and administration in the Church, and not every half-baked idea is worth implementing. But there are really great ideas and a lot of apostolic energy that could be used to spread the Gospel.

Instead, what seems to have happened over and over again is that the worst ideas are ascendant. Heterodoxy flourishes in Church-affiliated institutions. This does not make any sense. It's the institutional equivalent of self-harm.

What I'm hoping, then, is that we are at a crisis point regarding whatever tedious disease it was that was continually dragging us down. From what has been said lately, I think it has to be at least possible that the toxin has been persistent, unrepented mortal sin among some of the men who make decisions for the Church. The concomitant loss of the theological virtue of charity would seem compatible with the sort of dreariness of purpose that has seemed to swamp the institutions. Hopefully this means that once the toxin is removed, we'll remember what flourishing is, stretch our limbs and run for joy to God. Because in the hierarchical structures of the Church, there is no substitute for the episcopacy.

Again, this is a perennial struggle. Jesus said that if you sweep one demon away you might get him back with seven companions who are even worse. The Church is always being reformed and will never be able to set aside its vigilant attitude of self-reformation, always beginning with personal repentance. Charity begins at home.

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

St. Peter Damian on the Assumption

Just like the morning’s dawning bright
She rises to the heav’nly height,
Maria, splendid as the sun,
Just like the moon, most lovely one.

Today, the queen of all the earth—
Who to that Son has given birth
Who is, before the daystar shone—
Ascends unto her glorious throne.

Assumed above the angels, higher
Than every heav’nly angel choir
This single woman has outrun
The merits all the saints have won.

The One Whom in her lap she fed
And laid within a manger bed.
She sees as Lord of everything,
Now in His Father’s glory, King.

Virgin of virgins, intercede,
And with your Son with fervor plead.
He took up what is ours through you.
May what is His come through you, too.

Praise to the Father and the Son
And Paraclete, forever one,
Who in the saints’ and angels’ sight
Have clothed you in Their glorious light.

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

From the depths I cry

Sunday, August 12, 2018

A note on the current scandal

I feel that there are important distinctions to be made in light of recent scandalous revelations in American Catholicism.

What we are dealing with here is not something like a sad failure to always keep ordination promises.

It's not a struggle with the baptismal vows or universal call to holiness.

It's not even willful duplicity of life.

What has been going on is deliberate predatory behavior of someone in a position of power, in situations that should be especially governed by God. The rebellion appears to be complete: Find someone whose fidelity to God has brought him to a place of extreme vulnerability to you, who has to trust and obey you as a young son trusts his father--and destroy him.

Seminarians are indeed vulnerable. A man gives up a great deal simply by crossing the seminary door. They should not have to decide whether to choose between following God Who calls them to the priesthood, or following God Who calls them to be holy.

Of course navigating ambiguous situations is part of any religious formation, but this is an exponentially more difficult test than should ever be required. Putting seminarians in such a position is not a "failure." There is an element of impiety that must be addressed.

Friday, August 10, 2018

Martyr Dei, 9th Century Office Hymn

God’s martyr, who the course has run
behind the Father’s only Son,
O victor, conqu’ring all your foes,
who now the joys of heaven knows,

O favor us with gifts of prayer
To cleanse us from the faults we bear
Ward evil off, that plague of strife;
Repel all tedium from life.

Your frame is freed from chains at last;
now loose the chains that hold us fast,
the bonds to worldliness undone
by love of God’s beloved Son.

To Son and Father honor be,
and Holy Spirit, One and Three,
who ring you with a lasting crown
in halls of glorious renown.

Trans. c. 2013 Kathleen Pluth

Monday, July 30, 2018

The First Step in Ecclesiastical Reform: Turn the Altars Around

Last night I enjoyed that heady sense of being on stage in front of a large, captive audience, aware of my presence and focused on my every word and gesture.

I was at Mass, leading the singing.

I've been in this position many times before, and over the decades I have tried to learn how to pray through it, because it is a huge distraction for me at Mass. What distracts me most is my concern that I should not distract anyone else. This leads to a secondary concern, whether I am acting prayerful or truly praying. I suppose anyone in this type of position has experienced these questions.

As a singer, the easiest fix is simply not to be in front of the congregation--not facing anyone. Stay in the loft behind, or at the far end of the nave. That is much easier because my role as a singer is to be heard, not seen.

The role of the priest is exponentially more complex. He cannot hide. His role is inherently, and in some regards primarily, visible, leading the congregation through the veil, into the Holy of Holies. We follow him, as he expresses in the highest possible way his conformity to Jesus, our advocate before the Father.

For centuries the symbolism of our "following" the priest was clear. However, in the postconciliar period, and without a direct referrent in the Council's documents themselves, the character of the priest's relationship to the people has been visibly distorted by the versus populum posture.

When people face each other, they aim to please. They make eye contact; they smile encouragingly. There is a word for such gestures: flattery. People flatter their priests and their priests flatter them, at an average ratio of, say, 500 to 1.

None of this is encouraged in the Council documents. The versus populum posture is specifically worldly. It sets up the priest, not as a model to follow, but as a talk show host to be flattered insofar as he delights us. There are no good reasons for this.

The lines of sight to God should be made clear in the Liturgy (see Pseudo-Dionysius' Ecclesiastical Hierarchy for a beautiful exposition of how this should work), but instead our path towards God is obscured by the distracting cycle of eye-contact and feedback.

The Sunday liturgy is for everyone their primary and for many their only contact with the Church. As such, its symbols should express the truth, including the truth about ecclesial relationships, which should not be a matter of flattery but of service.

The Psalmist sings, "Let your priests be clothed with holiness/ The faithful shall ring out their joy." Ad orientem posture lets priests be priests and the people be themselves too, all facing God together.

Thursday, July 26, 2018

St. Ambrose on the Dark Night of the Soul

Ut cum profunda clauserit
diem caligo noctium,
fides tenebras nesciat
et nox fide reluceat.

And when the darkness is profound,
And day lies in dark's prison bound,
May faith not know the want of light,
But light the very dark of night.

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

"Novus Quodlibet: The New Whatever Liturgy"

A most interesting piece by the great Anthony Esolen, in Crisis Magazine .
This kind of discussion of music and the Catholic liturgy from someone whose main area of expertise is NOT music thrills me, the way the more "inside baseball" of the CMAA sometimes fails to, (the literal "preaching to the choir.")
It reminds me of when a nother noted Catholic writer, blogger Amy Welborn "discovered" the existence of the Propers.
Heck, it remind me of when I "discovered" the propers, the GIRM, the actual Church legislation on music, what VCII actually said about liturgy; as an adult, I'd always, to my shame, thought it was simply a matter of Taste/No Taste, Good Music/Bad Music, that was all that needed to be imparted to TPTB.
And of course that's not it at all.
And this is crazy important. That other voices, not just those who are also raised in liturgical song, be added to the movement, that we find allies who realize the crisis in the Church is a crisis in the Liturgy, and the crisis in the Liturgy is a crisis most clearly demonstrated in the way most Catholics think about music in the Liturgy.
Then comes the hymn.
Here I am three and four times cursed.
I have read and taught poetry all my adult life. This is one curse. I know English grammar. That is a second curse. My family and I are versed in the long tradition of Christian hymnody; we collect hymnals from all traditions, and we have sung one or two thousand of them, sometimes in languages other than English. This is a third and most terrible curse. And we know our Scripture. Cursed a fourth time, cursed and damned to writhe in eternal pain. Well, not eternal. The pain is transient but real—pain mingled with frustration and disappointment, that well-meaning people should give their talents and energies to stuff that is so worthless, and sometimes worse than worthless. For sometimes it is flat-out heresy.
Well, I won’t sing heresy, and I won’t sing chloroform for the brain, and this means that I hardly ever sing at such Masses...What strikes me, though, is the general liturgical lassitude. I don’t mean that there is not often a lot of energy, with drums, verses projected on the wall, and sometimes applause. I mean that there’s no plan to it, no aim. You are as likely to sing the peculiarly awful “Gather Us In”—well, that’s an onion, sorry—during Advent as in the middle of the summer, and if the choristers, or the lady at the piano, or the tenor at the organ likes it, you may be singing it twenty times a year. The hymns are chosen by the musicians for the same reason as the cartoon-like banners on the wall. Somebody who has wangled his way into the works likes them.
If you go to Mass every Sunday and every holy day during the year, and if four hymns are sung at each Mass, this gives you the opportunity to sing over two hundred different hymns. Need I say that, outside of the Christmas carols and three or four old Easter hymns, the typical Novus Quodlibet church boasts a repertoire of eight or nine? The same, the same, the same, like the drip, drip, drip of cold rain, without meaning, without artistic coherence, and without any feint toward the whole of the liturgical year and the history of salvation.
Many of them are narcissistic, rather like “I Feel Pretty” from West Side Story. “Let us build the City of God,” really? I cannot build the City of God. I can be made, by God, into a stone for the building of that spiritual city, but the action is his, not mine. “We have been sung throughout all of history”? I haven’t been sung even once in my whole life
Somebody, get him to Philly for the Colloquium next year.

Saturday, July 14, 2018

Deadline Extended: Musica Sacra Florida 2018

There’s still time! The registration deadline for Musica Sacra Florida 2018 has now been extended to Tuesday, July 24th. To register online, please visit Please invite all your friends and anyone you know who has an interest in chant and sacred music. All are welcome; we hope to see you at the conference!

10th Annual Gregorian Chant Conference
Friday, July 27 & Saturday, July 28, 2018

Royal Palm Academy and Saint Agnes Chapel, Naples, FL

Keynote Lecture
Dr. Edward Schaefer (University of Florida)
"The Place of Gregorian Chant in Western History and Its Importance Today” 

Gregorian Chant Conference Faculty
Larry Kent, D.M.A., Director of Florida Pro Musica, Tampa
Edward Schaefer, D.M.A., University of Florida College of Fine Arts
Susan Treacy, Ph.D., Ave Maria University

“What Came before the Square Notes” 
Edward Schaefer, D.M.A.
Learn the fascinating history of pre-square-note notation.

“A Plain and Easy Guide to Square Notation” 
Susan Treacy, Ph.D.
 Are you mystified or intimidated by those little square notes?  Fear not!  In this workshop you will receive basic instruction on how to read Gregorian chant notation.  Likewise, if you need a refresher course, come join us.  

“Gregorian Chant as the Basis for Choral Excellence” 
Larry Kent, D.M.A.
This workshop will examine various ways that correct chant technique is an essential element in mixed choral ensembles, especially with regard to sacred music of the sixteenth century.  Participants will work with excerpts of works by Byrd, Victoria, Tallis, and Palestrina.

Chant Choirs (Scholæ)
Beginning/intermediate (men & women)
Advanced men
Advanced women

Opening Mass in the Extraordinary Form on Friday evening
Closing Mass in the Extraordinary Form on Saturday evening  with Gregorian chants sung by conference participants

Registration Fees
Adults: $60.00 (including materials & instruction)
Students (full-time with ID) and Clergy/Religious: $15.00

For more information please contact Susan Treacy, Ph.D., at

Register online at:

Thursday, July 5, 2018

Video of Church Music Association of America (CMAA) Annual Requiem Mass

Last week the Church Music Association's annual Colloquium, held in Chicago on the banks of Lake Michigan, featured the annual Requiem Mass for deceased CMAA members. Francisco Elias Duran of the Dominican Republic graciously recorded the week's liturgies and is making them available as they are produced and edited. This is the first of several that will be seen on these pages.

The musicians for the Mass are those who attend the Colloquium, conducted by Faculty members. Indeed, the greater part of the week's events are rehearsals for the beautiful liturgies, with many added-value lectures, workshops, and tutorials. The Colloquium has a great feeling of community and is a refreshing week for musicians working to promote sacred liturgy in their local situations.

Details about membership in the Church Music Association may be found here.

An enormous library of absolutely free sacred music resources, including music for printing and fine books on the Liturgy, may be found here, here, and here.

And the archives of the Association's beautiful journal, Sacred Music, may be found here.

Tuesday, July 3, 2018

Listening to Young People

Friday, June 29, 2018

June 29, 1951