Wednesday, October 1, 2014

(The other) Aeterne rerum Conditor

A 15th-century office hymn for the Feast of the Guardian Angels, my translation, in rhyming Long Meter.
Eternal maker of all things,
you govern everything as King:
the sea, the sun, the heavn’ly vault,
and pay each one for good or fault.

To ruination you condemn
the arrogant and all like them;
they shall receive what is their due,
but help us, Lord, who call on you

With ever-growing confidence
we pray for heavenly defense:
our champions in armies send,
to us, through them, may grace extend.

O may they visit, cleanse, inspire,
and gently teach us to aspire
to noble paths of good and right,
and may they end  the demons’ might.

O angels’ Glory, safely lead;
by paths secure make us proceed.
Give us these guards, your gifts of grace,
that we may come to see your face.

O Lord of angels, let us raise
unto your honor songs of praise,
whose wondrous ordered working brings
both us and them to heav’nly things.

Monday, September 29, 2014

"Josef Gabriel Rheinberger and the Reform of Catholic Church Music" by Paul Weber

Congratulations to CMAA member and Summer Colloquium 2014 faculty member Paul Weber on the publication of Part 1 of his essay, "Josef Gabriel Rheinberger and the Reform of Catholic Church Music," in the October 2014 issue of The American Organist. It is a fascinating portrait of both the composer and the state of 19th century church music.

Those of you who have subscriptions to the American Guild of Organists' journal are encouraged to head for page 48.  If you're not an AGO member, look for the journal at the local public or university library.

I felt infinitely smarter after reading this and can hardly wait for Part 2.

Bravo, Paul!

Magnificat Monday: MacMillan

Friday, September 26, 2014

The Polyphonic Mind

In just a few minutes the second in a series of lectures on Philosophy and Music will begin at Catholic University in Washington, DC. The first was a fantastic discussion of Kierkegaard's writings on the figure of Don Juan/ Don Giovanni.

I've been attending the Philosophy School's fall lecture series for over a decade, whenever possible. One of the great things about it is the down-to- earth tone of the q and a discussion. These tremendously learned, extensively published professors put complex ideas into simple terms and everyday language.

Everyone who has worked in parish music knows how hard it is to speak about sacred music on everyday terms so that everyone concerned can understand. I feel that much of the miscommunication about sacred music derives from precisely this difficulty of verbally articulating about musical thoughts and feelings.

Just one of many reasons I'm excited about this series!

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Mutual Enrichment and the Coexistence of Varying Models of Liturgy in the Church

Peter Kwasniewski has a fascinating article at the New Liturgical Movement  called The Ironic Outcome of the Benedictine-Jesuit Controversy.  In it, he refers to a series of articles by Dom Mark Kirby of Silverstream Priory in Ireland.  I think that these articles are very much worthy of reflection, and that they may provide both a key to interpreting some of the liturgical battles of today, as well as provide a necessary tonic or corrective to some of the more extreme reactions in those battles.

The central thesis is this: A “Benedictine” liturgical model, inspired by monastic life and the classical liturgical movement, views the liturgy as the source and summit of Christian life.  A “Jesuit” liturgical model, in contrast, presents the liturgy as “one among many tools of personal spiritual growth, with private meditation having a certain pride of place.”  Today, after the Liturgical Reform, we have seen a meeting of the two models which underscores the capital importance of the liturgy, but a liturgy which is intensely personal and subjective in its actual execution. 

The merit of this thesis is that it looks at the history of spirituality and its relationship to the liturgy and provides a useful intuition.  Ancient and medieval spirituality was very much centered on the communal celebration of a liturgy which, although it was not entirely without organic development, was perceived as something “received.”  Its communal aspect became apparent in the tradition of the choral office and conventual Mass, cathedral liturgies and canonical ceremonial.  The piety of the laity was often centered in some way around, or inspired by the liturgy.  The devotio moderna in the late medieval period, as it focused increasingly on the humanity of Christ, and less the Kyrios of glory, took a turn to the more intimate, private and devotional.  Spirituality in this vein became less anchored to the liturgy and more intensely individualistic.  The monastic and mendicant model remained to a large degree liturgical, while the newer model become more devotional.

By the time the Society of Jesus and the new clerical associations of the Catholic Reformation came around, this later model of spirituality had already coexisted with the former for some time.  There were certainly points of contact, but new religious orders like the Jesuits dispensed with choral office and communal liturgical experience.  They did so in part because of the demands of the apostolate of the time, and in response to new models of evangelization and mission.  It is certainly understandable why it would be easier to transplant Low Mass and a rich devotional and processional life to the Americas as mission territory rather than attempting to transfer the entire liturgical culture of Sarum!

Interestingly enough, the history of religious orders in the Tridentine period indicate that, for monastics and mendicants, the new orders and for the laity, the devotional Catholicism of the modern school triumphed over the liturgical ethos of antiquity and the medieval period.  Even the most famous monastic congregations lived through a period of liturgical decadence in which their interior life was often rarely indistinguishable from the Jesuits who worked in the same towns. 

The ravages of the Enlightenment, after all of the unrest of the Wars of Religion, produced a spiritual hunger that yearned for community and antiquity, but in a very individualistic and modern fashion.  The refounding of Benedictine monastic life by Prosper Gueranger and friends in 19th century France could not have happened at any other time.  While an attempt to recreate a glorious Christendom of old that had been lost, the recreation itself was an exercise in Romanticism, and it is debatable as to exactly how much Solesmes really had in common with abbeys of ages past.  But, the Solesmes project (and similar ventures like Lacordaire’s refounding of the Dominicans) responded to a need.  It was extraordinarily successful, and it succeeded in re-establishing the sacred liturgy in its own right as source and summit of Christian life, and indeed, as the hope for the renewal of society.  That was the vision that moved people as diverse as LeMaistre and Pugin, from politics to parapets.

The nascent liturgical movement was undoubtedly influenced by a Romantic vision of the early Church, and was in its own way motivated by the very modern preoccupation for relevance: how can the Church, through her public witness of prayer and spiritual life, renew men’s lives and our whole world? 

As is well known, however, the Liturgical Movement came to a crossroads.  Do those of us formed in the liturgy go about the laborious task of educating others to reach the level of the liturgy, or do we simplify the liturgy to make it more accessible to the people?  This bifurcation produced a divergence between what was going on in monastic centers like Beuron and Solesmes and what was happening in parishes and youth groups under leaders such as Pius Parsch and Romano Guardini.  All the while, though, a not insignificant part of the Church was still living according to a liturgical and spiritual culture that could be described as Ignatian, in which the liturgy was one means among many for union with God.

Kwasniewski points out that, on paper, the Benedictine liturgical vision prevailed, during the time period from St Pius X to Mediator Dei.  There is a second period, though, from the 1948 encyclical to the 1970 Missal, where several currents of thought came together. 

What are those currents of thought?  1. The centrality of the liturgy praised by the classical monastic sources of the liturgical movement, 2. the pastoral orientation of a second moment of that movement which sought out the change of exterior forms of the liturgy for supposed greater accessibility by the laity, 3. as well as an Ignatian predilection for the individual, devotional and subjective.

That first current of thought seems to be the motivating principle behind most of the liturgical Magisterium of the Church in the 20th century and today, whether we are talking about Tra le sollecitudini, Mediator Dei, Sacrosanctum concilium, or Redemptionis sacramentum.  But that lives in tension, and some might say, opposition, to the way the second current of thought prevailed in the production of the Novus Ordo Missae and how the third current of thought conditioned the reception of the reformed liturgy.

Ascertaining what current of thought prevails can help us understand why people react the way they do about matters liturgical.  Those who argue for the retention of the classical Roman tradition, whether they be SSPX adherents or the people who have been inspired by Sacrosanctum concilium and the liturgical theology of Ratzinger and Gamber, all have the first school as their fundamental principle.  The second school is behind movements as various as Reform of the Reform to the original set of ideas behind the foundation of the Society for Catholic Liturgy in the United States.  The third school is behind some of the calls for greater experimentation and inculturation, such as the work of Keith Pecklers and Piero Marini.

The great influence of three very different schools of thought on the liturgy have led Kwasniewski to posit:

The legacy of the post-conciliar reform is a Benedictine insistence on the primacy of liturgy, fused with a Jesuitized re-conception of liturgy as collective private devotion. It is as if new Jesuit wine has been poured into old Benedictine wineskins, causing them to rupture. The moment of triumph was the moment of disaster, as the very notion of a rite—a formal ritualized act of common worship based on a common orthodox tradition—gave way to a pluralistic, relaxed, malleable, and privatized praxis of variations on a more or less Catholic theme. In short, the Consilium’s exploitation of Sacrosanctum Concilium left us with a volatile mixture that makes genuine reform today much more difficult.      

This is a bold claim, and one which I think needs to be examined more closely.  It removes the discussion of the liturgical reform away from hackneyed labels of liberal vs. conservative, and also removes it from the thorny question of hermeneutics of continuity vs. rupture vis-à-vis Vatican II.  This claim instead relocates the debate within the history of Christian spirituality, and within a broader historical context.

Now, that having been said, to the extent that one of the aforementioned three schools rises to prominence, it is clear that reaction ensues.  But the reactions have tended to be expressed in terms of fear: fear that the uniqueness of the historical liturgical tradition of the Church will be lost, fear that Vatican II and the liturgical reform is in danger of being undone by reactionaries plotting to usher a kingdom of pharisaical rubricist status quo ante, fear that all of these liturgical battles are losing sight of what is truly important and central to our Christian faith.

Those reactions may partly explain certain phenomena we have seen in the contemporary Church.  What provokes bloggers to pour out sheer vitriol whenever they see a picture of a prelate in a cappa magna?  To the extent that an observer is immersed in the third school as opposed to the first and second, they react accordingly.  What provokes someone to attend the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite but refuse on principle to attend a celebration of the Ordinary Form?  To the extent that she is plunged into the first school as opposed to the second and third, she makes choices as to where to go to Mass.

Yet these reactions, these growing phenomena, are not limited to comboxes and where individuals choose to attend Mass.  They are being translated into absolutes, and are dictating policy and teaching. 

Under the reign of Pope Benedict XVI, and to a lesser degree, St John Paul II, Rome expressed a clear predilection of teaching based on the intuition of the first school that the liturgy was the source and summit of Christian life and is something received by the Church.  That teaching did not entirely exclude aspects of the other two schools.  The fact that Summorum pontificum was not an express repudiation of the liturgical reform is evidence of influence of the second school, of a pastoral orientation to the liturgy which recognizes the possibility of change.  The fact that even the liturgical experimentation of groups such as the Neocatechumenal Way were not entirely quashed is evidence of the influence of the third school.  The “Benedictine” model of liturgy, re-elaborated in our time by Benedict XVI, was a call to the essential insight of Vatican II that the liturgy is the source and summit of Christian life.  That this model was not imposed by legislative fiat was a recognition that this vision has not reached every cell of the Church’s life, and that the liturgical battles had to come to and end before this model could be peacefully received.  It was a sign of hope that the renewal of the Church promised by Vatican II, the new Pentecost, would be a fruit of the Spirit, and not merely the fruit of another papal document.

Now, though, we are living in a different time.  Pope Francis clearly manifests a certain predilection, as a good Jesuit, for the third school of thought, one which is influenced by the devotio moderna, the Ignatian tradition, and his experience as a pastor in Argentina.  Liturgy does not seem to be central to his thought, but neither it is it entirely absent from it either.  His constant calls for a purification from pharisaical tendencies or the desire to reduce the liturgy (and morality) to just another set of rules can serve as a necessary corrective to a temptation to formalism that the first school of thought risks.   

There can be more points of contact between the thought of the last two Popes than may seem evident at first glance, when we examine them from the relative influence of the three strains of thought.  At the same time, though, reactions driven by fear are also impelling decisions to be made which reflect a desire to exclude one or other of the schools of thought.

After a brief period of freedom in which the Extraordinary Form was allowed to flourish as a normal part of the life of the Church, there are signs of regression.  Rectories and seminaries are often abuzz with fears that priests and seminarians who have tried to make the Benedictine vision the model for their lives and their parishes will be ostracized or prohibited from doing so.  There are those who have already forbidden priests and seminarians from learning or celebrating the Extraordinary Form, or according to principles of liturgical theology which inculcate Reform of the Reform ideas.

It is hard to see how this will contribute to a more fruitful experience of ecclesiastical or priestly communion in the life of the Church.  Will the third school of thought impose its will all over the life of the Church, practically or expressly prohibiting discussion and practice of the liturgy according to the mind of the first two schools, and especially the first one?

It is yet another fear, and reactions are ensuing from that fear, but it is there.

Benedict XVI had hope that the celebration of the two forms of the Roman Rite would lead to mutual enrichment, and a corresponding renewal in the life of the Church.  Much ink has been spilled on promoting or proscribing one form or another of the rite.  I am beginning to wonder whether we need to examine, not which form is better or worse, but what lines of thought are driving the way we think about and execute the sacred liturgy, and whether, if they are allowed peacefully to coexist along side each other, that a true synthesis may emerge, one not forced by the work of human hands, but by the action of the Holy Spirit.         

By the Waters of Babylon

This Sunday's Offertory chant is one of the true marvels of the Graduale.


And here are Jeffrey Tucker's wonderfully curated polyphonic treatments, from the Chant Cafe archives.

And here as an update is Philippe de Monte's version as recorded by The Sixteen.

Tastes Like Mozart, Sounds Like Chicken: The Peril of Easy Comparisons

When I read National Geographic magazine as a child, explorers eating exotic foods, such as alligator, always seemed to characterize the meat as "tastes like chicken." Actually, only chicken tastes like chicken and gator really tastes like gator.

I previewed a recording of Anselm Viola's Missa Alma Redepmtoris Mater this morning. Viola was an 18th-century priest composer at Montserrat.  My first thought was "sounds like Mozart." And then I realized that was a limiting approach. Viola's music sounds like music composed at that place with those musicians at that time. (Incdentally, this is one of the few works of his that survived the destruction of the library and music archives of the monastery by Napoleon's troops.) I needed to listen to his music as his music, not calculating how it measured up to another composer.

The easy comparisons to familiar meats and composers have their value.  You'll try something if you think it's similar to food or music you already enjoy.  At that same time in terms of music, it makes it all too easy to place composers and styles in neat boxes - and it seems the fewer the boxes, the better.

Try listening "out of the box," as we say in corporate newspeak. Or try "no boxes" at all.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Pray for future singers and choir directors

As I was sending out a reminder for the start of Chorister classes, I took a second glance at the roster and thought readers of the Chant Cafe might be heartened by some numbers.  

Last year we had about 35 kids in the program, then lost about 5 more as people moved or committed to other things.  Over the summer, I asked our priests to pray and encourage more kids to join, especially a few more boys.  And I followed the same recruiting plan.  Pray and invite.  Explain the program.  Repeat. 

Deo gratias, our efforts are bearing fruit!  This year's roster has:
  • 45 young singers- from 
  • 24 families
  • 22 boys
  • 23 girls
  • 15 new students, incl 3 returning.
I don't know about you, but I get very misty and very serious about training young people in Gregorian chant.  These are the singers and choir directors of the future, and I am their unworthy teacher.  So I'm praying hard that I will be given the graces to assist them in learning their liturgical heritage, and the tools to make their own effort in building up the Church. 

Since Our Lord is at the center and the final end of all our work in sacred music, please pray that through their studies this year the St. Anne Choristers may grow in love and knowledge of Him, and continue to serve Him with gladness.

Revolutionary appointments

Today at Rome noon, the Holy Father appointed the new International Theological Commission. Its members include 5 women, bringing the total representation of women on the theological commission to 16 percent.

As a longtime theology student, I find this news extremely welcome, particularly when considered along with the recent appointment of the first woman rector of a Roman pontifical university. While far short of true parity, these are giant steps towards equal ecclesial recognition for the contributions of women scholars.

Intelligence and letters among Catholic women are not new: one might well debate which of Saints Teresa of Avila and Hildegard shone brighter, each in her own way, not to mention the first-order mind of St. Edith Stein. This excellence seems to have slumbered now for some 60 years. It wasn't always so. Browsing the dissertations in the library stacks at Catholic University,  it's easy to see that in the pre-conciliar years, there was a flood of feminine scholarship.

One of the many benefits of this new open-ceiling policy is a reorientation of questions surrounding ordination. There is no parity there and there never will be, and that is fine. Parity in other areas, however, can be achieved and should be sought. Ordination is not a sign of expertise or political power, but of being set aside, and changed, for service. Thankfully many excellent young men are taking up this challenging role.

It seems to me that the further apart these two discussions are kept, the more easily the best contributions of all can be brought forward for the good of everyone.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Magnificat Monday: Anonymous (Provence, 17th c.)

The Holy Father at Vespers in Albania

There are many problems that you encounter every day. These problems compel you to immerse yourselves with fervour and generosity in apostolic work. And yet, we know that by ourselves we can do nothing: “Unless the Lord builds the house, those who build it labour in vain” (Ps 127:1). This awareness calls us to give due space for the Lord every day, to dedicate our time to him, open our hearts to him, so that he may work in our lives and in our mission. That which the Lord promises for the prayer made with trust and perseverance goes beyond what we can imagine (cf Lk 11:11-12): beyond that which we ask for, God sends us also the Holy Spirit. The contemplative dimension of our lives becomes indispensable even in the midst of the most urgent and difficult tasks we encounter. The more our mission calls us to go out into the peripheries of life, the more our hearts feel the intimate need to be united to the heart of Christ, which is full of mercy and love.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

I hear a new hymnal coming, coming down the tracks...

Simcha Fisher's hilarious new index of hymns/songs for the beleaguered young Catholic family on Sundays, courtesy NCRegister.

My meager contribution:
"I'm not your maid,
Get dressed and in the car now!
Go, find your Dad!
We've got to get to Mass!"

Apologies to Bob Dufford, SJ ;-)