Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Are our Homilists “actively participating?"

Well, someone has to ask this question now and again occasionally. Being long of tooth and a born curmudgeon, I’ll take the blowback. But I don’t expect much to actually come my way in this life, at least.

To be brutally frank, I’m done, exhausted with, recoil from even reading or hearing this clumsy phrase, “active participation.” Expiating it in Latin ain’t any better, just sayin’.

I’ve never suffered from this malaise personally since crossing the Tiber over four decades ago. I don’t carry a bag of angry cats that, when I walk through the doors of a church, I display as a reason not to take up my responsibility as a worshipper. If in a foreign parish and someone announces a hymn or ordinary setting is to be sung now, I sing it. What else am I supposed to do? I chose to come to church, to worship, in the manner prescribed and fully because I like God, quite a bit actually, and love Him as Christ and enjoy the Spirit’s breath expelled that becomes both text and song in that most sublime of arts.

I noticed young Mr. Yanke’s article published today just before this one, I also saw it on Fr. Keye’s FB entry, so this Fr. Gismondi’s interview must be quite something. I’ll get around to it. Or maybe not.

Because, I’ve disavowed my own personal culpability for other folks’ bag of cats that keep them from full engagement in the greatest act, or drama that we humans can re-create that provides us with true succor and hope in this despairing world.

Besides, if a groaner/moaner about the sorry state of “singing in church” want’s to point a bony finger of indignation towards THE responsible party, I direct them toward the guy in the alb and chasuble. If the celebrant upon at the “presider’s” chair cannot or won’t manage to intone the “In Nomine Patris….” or any other orations as he is virtually disciplined to do in Musicam Sacram, well, I’d be surprised if the entrance hymn sung prior to that moment was lustily taken up by the congregation. (And have all of us who frequent here also had the recurrent thought “Thank God for the choir, bless their hearts” for taking up that slack, such as they are!”?) Because the equation of that mandated wisdom from 1967 (!) is pure simplicity in action, a physics truism even- for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction!

If Father, OTOH, chooses to lead and no matter how humbly or magnificently he chants his proper portions, and the response he receives is the chirping of crickets, Father should grab the processional cross and clear the temple of the rabble who are there for “other” purposes, lock the doors (keeping a server or two) and sing a private Mass honorably.

And, at long last, to the point of the title of this little rant, John I, 1. “In the beginning there was the WORD…..” The homily remains almost a sacrosanct vestigial remnant of a time when people actually had something to say to one another. Whether it was in antiquity with Cicero or St. Paul, St. Francis or Martin Luther, Jonathan Edwards or John Adams, or in our lifetimes with names like Churchill, King Jr., Sheen, Ghandi, and their ilk, the act of one inspired soul’s words crafted with conviction and purpose to remind large gatherings of other souls’ to listen, to savor, to digest and to transform themselves through those noble thoughts bravely spoken seems to have all but disappeared from our ambos and pulpits.

From what I know of the historical Jesus, he wasn’t a song and dance sort of guy. He didn’t attract crowds of listeners like Cagney in a top hat crooning “I’m a Yankee Doodle Dandy.” In the current cycle of Gospel readings we are reminded again and again of the unimaginable power of the story, the parable, the spoken word from a sage to the masses.

So, if we musicians must fret about something as it seems we must always, let us worry about how we can gently and firmly remind our clerical brothers that we choose our repertoire for a reason, we rehearse it thoroughly for a reason, we literally pray that it be taken up or listened to with intent that is pure and unabated by banality or poor improvisation and padding.

Just as every Sanctus sung is literally prefaced with the anamnesis that we are conjoined with choirs of angels IN THAT VERY MOMENT, every homilist ought to re-approach the ambo after the gospel reading as if he is to give the Sermon on the Mount.

Are You Actually Participating at Mass?

As many of you are acutely aware, one of the difficulties often faced by the reform of the reform is the common understanding of active participation. The cries of "active participation" are often made to musicians and pastors who advocate and work for a return of more sacred things to the Mass, such as the increasing use of Latin, from both the loft and the sanctuary.

I recently saw this video shared on social media, and found the caller's view quite similar to the views held by many people. I think Father Gismondi does a great job of explaining the situation more fully, in particular, the distinction between active participation and actual participation.

Monday, July 28, 2014

All Are Welcome--Including God?

In many quarters, particularly in my own special area of hymnody, mighty efforts have often been expended to horizontalize the Mass.

Full, conscious, active participation is undeniably a goal of the Vatican II reform of the Mass, as articulated in its Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy. But has this "participation" always been rightly understood? It seems unlikely, not least of all because this participation has taken so many different forms over the years, as one fashion has replaced another successively.

In my youth, "participation" meant folk songs, Beatles hymns, and even the Broadway stylings of Fiddler on the Roof and Godspell. Participation meant that the popular culture was absorbed into the Liturgy.

Since then, "participation" has variously meant little children posting felt sheep on dioramas of the Good Shepherd as preparation for First Confession, banners in general, crumbly leavened loaves, offertory processions that have included endless sheaves of wheat and all manner of symbols of workaday life, songs that talk about how "the market strife" shows the presence of Jesus, and, let's face it, "hymns" that are no more than progressive political protest songs.

What participation really means--and has meant since the days of the early Church--is not the liturgical expression of secularity. It is not about absorbing pop culture into the Liturgy.

Participation means, rather, that we are brought up into the life of God through divine activity.

In order for this activity, which is totally beyond our power to initiate, to happen, we need to do one thing: cooperate. And cooperation with God at its bare minimum means leaving room for God. 

And that is the question. In our I'm-ok-you're-ok, clapping, casual songfests in-the-round, is there room for God to maneuver? And in fact is there plenty-good-room? God can squeeze in, sure, and God is everywhere, and God can break in, and does, to the hardest of hearts. And God is present in many ways, pre-eminently Sacramentally and those who are disposed may receive Him.

But what would Mass look and sound like if we were to make His ways straight, the highways level and the rough places plain, and not only for ourselves, but for our congregations?

Magnificat Monday: Guerrero

A return to the Renaissance for this week's Monday Magnificat: here is the Magnificat Primi Toni by Francisco Guerrero:

Scores are available at the site.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

"Certainly as far as the liturgy is concerned, we cannot say that one song is as good as another."

Ordinarily the chants of the Mass ought to be sung, whether in the Ordinary or the Extraordinary Form.

On those occasions when hymns are sung at Mass--and let's be honest, we all do it--how do we choose among the hundreds of thousands of hymns available?

Pope Benedict XVI addressed this question in his post-synodal Exhortation Sacramentum Caritatis, paragraph 42:

In the ars celebrandi, liturgical song has a pre-eminent place. Saint Augustine rightly says in a famous sermon that "the new man sings a new song. Singing is an expression of joy and, if we consider the matter, an expression of love." The People of God assembled for the liturgy sings the praises of God. In the course of her two-thousand-year history, the Church has created, and still creates, music and songs which represent a rich patrimony of faith and love. This heritage must not be lost. Certainly as far as the liturgy is concerned, we cannot say that one song is as good as another. Generic improvisation or the introduction of musical genres which fail to respect the meaning of the liturgy should be avoided. As an element of the liturgy, song should be well integrated into the overall celebration. Consequently everything -- texts, music, execution -- ought to correspond to the meaning of the mystery being celebrated, the structure of the rite and the liturgical seasons. Finally, while respecting various styles and different and highly praiseworthy traditions, I desire, in accordance with the request advanced by the Synod Fathers, that Gregorian chant be suitably esteemed and employed as the chant proper to the Roman liturgy.
Some would say that the best examples of hymns are those that imitate the proper texts themselves.

Others might say that the best hymns for Mass are the rich patrimony of  office hymns.

The problem with these two ideals are that they leave out most of the hymns that are actually sung in the best English-speaking music programs in the Church--another kind of ideal, and also compelling: the exemplars of our own time. Hymns like Praise to the Lord, Holy God (a versification of the great hymn Te Deum), Holy Holy Holy, and Come Down O Love Divine are neither office hymns nor textually nor musically close to the proper texts. Does this mean they are unsuited for liturgy, or are they part of the patrimony?

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

"The Catholic Spiritual Life" by Dr Eric Johnston

Delighted to run across a wonderful blog by an old friend and classmate, Dr. Eric Johnston, a seminary professor living with his large family in Newark.

The Catholic Spiritual Life is a peaceful and informative blog, something like either liturgical spirituality, or spiritual theology--drawing theological truth from all those wonderful sources that we have available to us as Catholics. All of these sources of truth bear upon one another, and we can be caught up in their dynamism, and filled with the living Word of God.

A sample:
At last we return to our orderly reading of Matthew – and see how beautiful are the ordinary words of the Gospel.
“Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest.
Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart; and you will find rest for yourselves.
For my yoke is easy, and my burden light.”
Such words are like balm. They are really worth reading and hearing just to bathe in them. Such a beautiful reminder that none of our pious meditations can equal the healing power of God’s word.
But let us come to him, and learn! These words teach us even more when we read them in context. The Lectionary is good enough to give us the verses that immediately proceed.
“I give praise to you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, for although you have hidden these things from the wise and the learned you have revealed them to little ones. . . . No one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son wishes to reveal him.”
The two halves of this paragraph illumine one another. Not by strength does man prevail. It’s not human wisdom that discovers the love of the Father. It’s a gift, through Jesus Christ.
And this is the deeper meaning of “take my yoke upon you.” The “rest” he gives us is precisely knowledge of the Father. This is the cure to our labors and burdens.
We have to take his “yoke” upon us. But this doesn’t mean hard work. To the contrary, it means being so assimilated to him that we let him be our all – let Jesus be the source of our strength, and learn from him to receive everything from the Father. That’s the true meaning of meekness.
And meekness is a “yoke” – a challenge to our self-sufficient ways, requiring a real change of behavior – but also “easy,” because what we learn is precisely that we don’t have to be self-sufficient.

Why is this our Opening Song? How the Propers Integrate into the Liturgy

Guest post by Fr. Jeffrey Keyes, pastor of St. Edward Catholic Church in Newark, CA

The newer simpler version of this chant by Adam Bartlett

The Entrance Chant is like a door opening onto the Mystery.  It begins as the priest and other ministers enter the church.  The Entrance Chant sets the celebration of Mass in motion; it fosters unity; it expresses something of the feast or season being celebrated.  The Entrance Chant accompanies the procession of the priest and ministers into the sanctuary and generally will not end until after the priest arrives at the chair.

Apart from a very few exceptions, the Entrance Chants of the Mass are drawn from the Bible, usually from the Book of Psalms.   The great majority of these Introits or Entrance chants are from the Old Testament, because most of them were set in place in the Liturgy before the New Testament even existed.  This means we are praying prayers and singing melodies that the early Christian Martyrs would have sung and some of these chants were sung in the temple during and before the time of Jesus.  It is significant that Mass opens with God’s word addressed to us.  Already in the Entrance Chant it is God who comes out to meet us. The text of the Introit is harmonized with all the other variable prayers of the day so that the idea of the feast or the thought of the day pervades the whole Mass.

At the 10:00am Mass the Introit is sung in Latin to the ancient melody.  The text and translation are provided for your prayerful reflection but you are not expected to sing. There is much that is more important that can be happening at this moment. For whom are you offering the Mass? What sacrifice are you offering to join with the sacrifice of Jesus? Often people will bow when the Book passes by.  The Word of God enters to greet you and you pay your respects. Often people will bow when the priest goes by. This is not because they like the priest, but they recognize he stands in the person of Christ at this Mass.  At the other English Masses a modification of the ancient melody is sung with an English translation. This is to enable you to sing along if you wish, but you could easily be involved in the activities previously mentioned.
The ancient melody that the chant above is based on

At Mass we are in the company of our Lord by faith.  We want to live in Him so that we may live like Him and die with Him and rise with Him.

Truly actively participating in Mass, means actively seeking to identify ourselves with Christ, who is hidden in the Sacred Host. We, hidden in the world,  pay attention to the words of the liturgy which are a mirror of the soul of our Lord, as he offers himself to the Father. It means adopting his state of mind as far as we are able, in order to be able to leave Mass with a will that is more apt to imitate Christ in reality.

The liturgy comes with an invitation and a challenge.  Today in the Entrance chant we hear that God is in his Holy place, that he unites those who dwell in his holy place.  He gives might and strength to his people.   Then in the Gospel we hear that the farmer finds a great treasure in the field.  He sells all he has to buy that field.  Will you?

This is how you pray the Introit or Entrance chant. Based on the strength that he gives you, will you be able to do his will?  Will you be able to do what he asks?

If you are still paying attention to the superficial stuff, the flowers, the music, the priest, and even the homily, chances are you are not paying attention to what the Mass calls forth from you. When you entered the church this morning, if you are doing anything besides what was mentioned above, you came to a social gathering of friends, but you did not come to encounter the Lord in the Sacred Mysteries.

Lessons from the Churches of Christ

My best friend and his wife (my wife’s best friend) grew up in and worship in the Church of Christ tradition, a Christian denomination popular in the Southern U.S., with roots in the Second Great Awakening. For theological and historical reasons (which are not the focus of this article), the Churches of Christ developed a culture of unaccompanied congregational singing. This singing style, heavily influenced by the Shape Note (Sacred Harp) tradition, is one of the core identifying characteristics of this religious tradition.

If you have followed much of my writing over the years, you know that I am quite enamored with the musical tradition of the Churches of Christ (and other “Primitive American” musics), and it has influenced my own thinking about congregational singing, the primacy of Gregorian Chant within the Roman Rite, and the transmission of culture across generations.

I am deeply concerned about the long-term viability of the musical heritage of the Church of Christ tradition, and I also think there are lessons to learn about the preservation of musical culture.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

S. Maria Magdalena - Apostle to the Apostles

Saint Mary of Magdala, in debated multiplicity of biblical character, is honored in both East and West as first among the disciples of Jesus.  Even the Saints share a variety of ideas on her life as "the woman who was a sinner", sister of Martha and Lazarus of Bethany, footwasher at Simon's house, etc. Regardless of the debate, one which continues to add interest to this very day, she remains a supreme model of conversion, servitude and faithfulness for us all.

We do know for certain our Lord cast seven demons out of her, after which she became a faithful and inseparable disciple. Mary Magdalene stood at the very Cross of Christ, witnessed the burial of Jesus, was the first to discover the empty tomb on Easter, and the first to see the risen Lord. (Mk 15:40, Mt 27:56, Jn 19:25, Jn 20:1-18).

St. Augustine, mirroring several before him, gave Mary Magdalene the title "Apostle to the Apostles" for her blessed place as steady and devoted servant, during, throughout and following the Crucifixion and Resurrection.

It is no surprise therefore that in Sacred Art, Sacred Architecture, and Sacred Music, we have been gifted with numerous treasures in her honor.  Think of the many glorious churches dedicated to her, notably in Italy, Spain, France, and the Americas to name a few.

In Sacred Music, we find a wonderful musical depiction of her quintessential servitude on Earth, with "the other Mary" in Francisco Guerrero's six-part Easter Motet Maria Magdalene et altera Maria, 1570.

With homophonic mastery, Guerrero was ahead of his time in the use of a through composed, non-repetitive, and highly emotional narrative.  The motet has two main sections, a true feast for all the human senses.

In the first part, Guerrero transports us with the two Marys to the tomb of the buried Jesus Christ.  The scene is vividly painted in sight, sound, touch, color, and most interesting, smell.  The sweet embellishment of the words "emerunt aromata" ("they bought sweet spices") depicts an importance of their loving and virtuous charism to adorn the Divine body.  One also receives a colorful sense of time, foreshadowing the Resurrection with the rising of the first morning sun, ushering a new beginning in weekly and Eternal time.  The entire first section one can easily hear and feel the simple rising sun, growing in musical and supernatural crescendo, granting light, peace, and newness of life to God's faithful.  The close of the first section completes our initial honor and praise of the Almighty with a well adorned Alleluia, ending in half cadence.

In opposition of the first section, the second begins with entrance of stacked voices in reverse order, this time low to high, creating a varied mysterioso.  As we are now at the tomb itself, rather than an introductory surrounding, we are drawn into the incomparable suspense of Mary Magdalene and the other Mary seeking the Holy crucified Jesus.  Guerrero draws out the text "viderunt iuvenem" adding to the exciting uncertainty and fear of the man in white.

As the stranger speaks ("qui dicit illis, Iesum..."), metrical and harmonic rhythm slow to a suspenseful new sound, again showing the Spanish composer's mastery of simple, yet emotionally complex use of homophonic musical structure.  A series of surprising key changes as well as a gorgeous 20-note flourish in the tenor, ushers in the climax, breaking the news of Jesus' Resurrection and thus absence from the tomb ("crucifixus, surrexit...").  

May we honor St. Mary Magdalene and follow her example as devoted servant of our Lord, willing to accept present sorrow, face the Cross, and eternally proclaim utmost joy!

Text & Translation:

Maria Magdalene, et altera Maria
emerunt aromata,

ut venientes ungerent Iesum.
Et valde mane una Sabbatorum,
veniunt ad monumentum,
orto iam sole, alleluia.
Mary Magdalene and the other Mary bought spices, intending to go and anoint Jesus.
And very early on the first day of the week they came to the tomb just after sunrise, alleluia.
Et intro euntes in monumentum
viderunt iuvenem sedentem in dextris,
coopertum stola candida, et obstupuerunt.
Qui dixit illis: Iesum quem quaeritis
Nazarenum, crucifixum:
surrexit, non est hic,
ecce locus ubi posuerunt eum. Alleluia.
And as they entered the tomb they saw a young man sitting on the right dressed in a white robe, and they were afraid.
He said to them: You seek Jesus of Nazareth who was crucified: he is risen, he is not here, see, this is the place where they laid him. Alleluia.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Where Are You When You Sing? Proprioception for Beginners

Proprioception is the awareness of one's body in space. It's the sense that we all use continuously (otherwise we would wander into walls and tip over sideways all the time).  The problem is that we don't use it consciously.  Using this "Sixth Sense" consciously in preparing to sing can give you both support and freedom of movement that will improve your sound and your stamina.  If you're also a director, effectively communicating this to your singers will take the ensemble up a notch.
 (Perfect singers and ensembles need read no further.)

We're told endlessly to "stand up straight" or "put your shoulders back."  At that command, many snap into a parody of military attention for a few seconds. Others just shuffle about.  Melanie Malinka gave her ensemble at this summer's CMAA Colloquium the best directions I've ever heard and which are now engraved in my heart.  Ms. Malinka is the Director of Music at the Cathedral of the Madeleine in Salt Lake City.  She works with bright and able children.  You can't give them vague directions; they want specifics.  And here they are:

1. Stand with your feet under your shoulders, hip width apart.

2. Put your weight over the arch in your feet.  This is critical!  You may feel as though you're falling forward because most of us lean back on our heels.  Don't worry - you won't fall down.

3. Tuck your tailbone under.  Check this by putting your hands behind you and making an inverted triangle with your thumbs and index fingers at the base of your spine. A nicely tucked tailbone will engage your core muscles.  It will also help raise your sternum, getting rid of the curled-up slump that most of us have from driving, working at the computer, etc.

4. Bring your chin down and lengthen the back of your neck.  Again, we tend to crank our necks heads back (counterbalancing the slump).  Balance your head by putting your hands on the two "bumps" on the back of your head and feeling them rise to their natural position as you lower your chin.  You can look down at your music without bending over it.  Lower your eyes.

5. When singing without music, e.g., warm-ups, put your hands even with the side seams on your pants.  That will also help move your shoulders gently back and raise your breastbone (aka sternum). (This is a suggestion of my own.)

You and your singers will have a supported frame for your singing, the space for your lungs to do their job, and an open passageway for the sound.  Your body will be working with you, not against you.

"Wait, wait," you cry.  "I can't remember all of that and it will take me forever to get lined up. Choir rehearsal will be over before we ever get ready."  Okay.  Start with steps 1 and 2.  Take your time.  Add an additional step each week.  And keep up the reminders.  Be a bit of a "body nag."  If you can, write these steps in abbreviated form on a white board or poster in the front of the room.

Remember to practice what you preach.  And may Melanie Malinka and her singers live long and prosper!

Magnificat Monday - Victoria, with Cardinal Burke

Gregory DiPippo, the managing editor of our sister site, New Liturgical Movement, posted this wonderful video of the Dublin-based Lassus Scholars singing the Magnificat octavi toni by Tomás Luis de Victoria, as His Eminence Raymond Cardinal Burke incenses the altar during Pontifical Vespers. Click here to enjoy the rest.

DC Prayer Vigil for Iraqi Christians:

A Vigil will be prayed Monday, July 28 for the victims of the overwhelming anti-Christian violence in Mosul and other areas of Iraq during these difficult days.

The Arabic letter for "Nazarene" marking the buildings of Christians for destruction in Mosul
 The Vigil will be held at St. Thomas Apostle church just off the Woodley Park / Zoo metro stop (red line), and will begin with Mass at 7 pm. Prayers will continue until midnight, and there will be opportunities for confession.

At the US Bishops' meeting in June, when this episode of violence was just arising in Mosul, our Apostolic Nuncio used his entire time at the podium to plead with the international community for help in Mosul. That was over a month ago now--a month that has seen an ancient diocese wiped completely away in fire and blood.