Friday, August 11, 2017

Perfect Catholics

Early this century I worked as the Saturday evening cantor at a little parish, with some fun extra duties besides, like giving days of recollection to liturgy volunteers.

An elderly priest, retired then and long since passed away, used routinely to take the Saturday evening Confessions. He would stop in my office where I was usually working on some flyer or another, and as he put unrolled his purple stole he would complain about how perfect all the parishioners are, since they never go to Confession. Always at Communion--never in the confessional.

This is not what one sees in parishes with the Extraordinary form, or even with a more solemn and careful celebration of the Ordinary form. In those parishes, people know they are sinners. You can tell they know because the lines for Confession are long every week, and in very devout parishes, every day.

In contrast, those attending more casual celebrations of the Mass might go for years on end without even hearing anything whatsoever about the sacrament of Confession, apart from the announcement twice a year that Advent and Lenten penance services will be held next Tuesday at 7:30.

I once worked at a parish that had 21 scheduled times every week for Confession, and people came. The priests would leave as soon as the line ended, so it was important for people to show up on time. There were 4 times each Friday. One popular time was before one of the Sunday Masses. And the lines were very long on Saturday evenings, and every priest was scheduled.

Once upon a time, when cars had bumpers, there was a bumper sticker that said, "Christians aren't perfect, just forgiven." Wouldn't it be wonderful to see a revitalized use of the sacrament of mercy throughout the Church!

Sunday, August 6, 2017

Hymn for the Transfiguration

Jesus, Walking to His City 

Jesus, walking to His city,
To the cross and death and grave,
Shows His chosen three apostles
God the Father’s pow’r to save:
Glorious upon the mountain,
Christ appears in light arrayed.

God once showed Himself to Moses,
Passing by the rocky height.
To Elijah, too, in whisper,
Not in storm or quake or might.
Now on Tabor, Law and Prophets
See their God in splendor bright.

Sign of all the prophets promised,
Christ in radiance glorified;
Sign of God the Father’s wisdom,
Which the Law long testified;
Sign of God the Holy Spirit:
Lord and Light and living Guide.

To the dazzling heights of wonder,
Call us, too, O Christ, today.
Let us see the hope of glory
Shining on our pilgrim way.
Lead us through Your Crucifixion
To Your bright and lasting day.

Copyright © 2005 CanticaNOVA Publications. Duplication restricted.
Meter: Suggested tune: Regent Square, or others:
Dulce carmen Oriel Saint Thomas (Wase)
Komm, O komm Pange lingua Westminster Abbey
Lauda anima Picardy

Monday, July 31, 2017

Turn Your Warm-Up Upside Down! No Yoga Experience Required.

September lies in wait after August. It's time to think about the singing that lies ahead, whether you're in front of the choir or in front of the director.  

And what's a rehearsal without a warm-up?

The ascending five-note warm-up is the old grey mare in the singer/director/s stable!

Remember your first voice placement screening? Indeed, most of us start on a comfortable low note and go up by half-steps until the some alto puts her foot down or our own voice gives out.

Well, as many of us get ready for the fall choir season, why not try something new! Instead of going up and then down.


And if that isn't heretical enough, instead of working your way up by half-steps, 


This is much easier on the voice. Singers inevitably associate rising pitches with stress and start tightening and squeezing every available muscle Just keep it light and easy, musical and pleasing. 

 After you've gone down for a while, go back to the starting point and go up. The pattern is still five DOWN and back up. Your basses and altos will love you, even if the sopranos and tenors have to hold off on their soaring. You and your singers will be more relaxed, especially if no one has been doing much singing over a summer break.

Remember, warm-ups should be easy and relaxed whether performed in the shower (where I sound magnificent!), in the car (where I focus on the relaxation aspect), or in a rehearsal. 

So, stand your warm-up on its head! I promise you'll love it.

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

The Hymnarium O.P.

Just a brief note that the excellent volume Hymnarium O.P. is back in print!

For more information or to purchase, here is the link.

The House of Usher

Sometimes we liturgical commentators spend a little too much time on the ideal plane of the choir loft without getting the full congregational view of things.

In those times I attend Sunday Mass in the pews, I find it astonishing how much of the average worship experience is dominated by a role unmentioned in the GIRM: the ubiquitous usher.

The distractions available to ushers are legion. Before Mass, they can stand in the back of church chatting, or in the sanctuary doublechecking the sacristan's work, or in the nave guiding people to seats they could easily find themselves.

During the collection they can say "thank you" to each person who puts something in the basket. Or they can swoop the basket under people who give through their bank, as a helpful reminder.

All of these things I have winessed, and I have also seen usher's heroics as well. Ushers tend to be amazing with persons who need help, from pointing out the restroom to sitting folks in the wheelchair section to asking that Communion be brought to a person with mobility problems. There is no place medically better to collapse, except in a hospital, than at Sunday Mass, due to the instant and decisive activity of ushers.

On the other hand, ushers, in my opinion, belong nowhere near the Communion line. People know how to go to Communion, and ushers have several unfortunate effects on the experience. They are distracting, and sometimes casually so, engaging people at a very solemn moment. Communion becomes something everyone in the row does, in orderly lines, rather than those who are properly disposed.

Suppose this is the first Mass I've attended for 20 years, just dropping in, and I haven't been to confession in 30 years. This would be an odd moment to go to Communion. And yet, there is a man with a badge, insisting that it is my turn. I'd better go.

Or suppose I ate a McBreakfast on the way to a 25 minute early morning quiet Mass. The fast is a rule, I'll be more prudent next time--if I'm brave enough to disobey the usher.

Or just suppose I am praying deeply, and would like a minimum of input right at the moment. An usher once gave me a quite unnecessary verbal direction about venerating the cross on Good Friday, as I was trying to focus on the Lord in worship at this rare and holy moment. Why did we need an usher directing the veneration line?

Without in any way discounting the generous service of these fine people, in general I feel it's a good idea to think about the way things have been done, even--or perhaps especially--if they have been done that way for many years.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Monetizing Scandal

Speaking of fake news, certain websites seem to be generating huge traffic numbers by reporting on Church matters in a scandalous and divisive way without taking the trouble to verify even the reality of their claims.

Without questioning the motives of any particular individuals, it should be noted that such actions are highly profitable financially because of the ad revenue they generate.

The temptation to surrender the high ground, for money, is always present. But what does it profit a man?

What is at stake in public scandal is precisely souls, who may become discouraged and fall. It's bad enough when true scandal is made known. But inventing scandal or passing along lies, for a numbers boost, is itself scandalous.

Better a millstone.

Sunday, July 9, 2017

Communion Hosts and Gluten

Folks waking up to fake new headlines about gluten-free Communion might want to get some background from this story.

Gluten makes bread hold its shape, and without gluten, fillers must be used. This is not allowed for Communion.

A Benedictine community of nuns in Missouri found a way to make very low-gluten hosts. And that is the real news: a recent permission given for those who need to avoid gluten to use the new low-gluten hosts.

Those who cannot digest any gluten whatsoever can simply drink from the chalice.

This is a non-problem--now a PR problem--and the international press has behaved irresponsibly.

Friday, July 7, 2017

Summorum Pontificum at 10

7.7.7: An historic moment in the life of the Church.

For me personally Summorum Pontificum opened up an experience of the Mass that enriches my life every day, even though I rarely take advantage of the permission. Perhaps I attend Mass according to the 1962 Missal 8-10 times a year. But when I do, there seems to me to be a great difference in my dispositions, and of my degree of receptivity to grace, than when attending the ordinary form. This taste of heaven, this time out of time, strengthens my heart for the rigors of the Gospel like nothing else has ever done.

The receptivity has to do with a certain silence and peace.

I experience silence, interior silence, even when there is a great deal of activity, for example at a Solemn High Mass, with its overlapping motions and sounds, with prayers repeated, whispered, announced. It is very calm. I breathe more deeply. Such a quiet peace.

This quiet is possible at the postconciliar, ordinary form of the rite. It is possible, but not normal. What is more normal for me is a rushed and hurried experience. The sometimes casual and often thoughtless atmosphere becomes part of my own experience of trying to pray the Mass.

Instead of sharing peace, I share in the distractions all around.

It seems to me that a certain hierarchy has been inverted. Sunday Mass should be the prayer experience par excellence, an experience that our daily Masses and personal prayers echo but never reach with the same profundity. Instead, I find that my private prayers are more devotional and solemn than daily Mass in the ordinary form, which is in turn more prayerful and less distracting than the ordinary form Sunday Mass.

There will be time for hard work and striving in the world, for taking the goods of the Liturgy into every corner of society. But first, these goods of the Liturgy must be available to the faithful at the Sunday Mass. Certainly the Lord is present, the consecration occurs. But it seems to me that the question liturgists should ask is how to help dispose the human heart towards recollection, openness to grace, receptivity to the graces of the sacraments and to the theological virtues.

St. Francis used to tell his brethren that if they were sad, they should go to Confession. For me, I find that when my gas tank of recollection is running low, the extraordinary form of the Mass is available and a help to my heart, and I am truly grateful for this permission.

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Sept. 18-22 “Culmen et Fons” conference

This September, a five-day conference on liturgical formation and sacred music will be held in the Boston suburb of Peabody, MA, with distinguished speakers and musicians, under the title “Culmen et Fons”.

September 18 to 22, 2017 (Monday to Friday)
St. Adelaide Church, Peabody, MA

Dom Alcuin Reid, author of The Organic Development of the Liturgy 
Fr. Thomas Kocik, author of The Reform of the Reform? A Liturgical Debate 
Fr. Marco Testa, pastor of Immaculate Conception Parish, Port Perry, ON
Fr. Neil Roy, author and editor; chaplain at the Saint Benedict Center, Still River, MA

The conference is intended for priests, deacons, seminarians, religious, masters of ceremonies, liturgical musicians and singers, and other members of the laity.

Music track:
In addition to the principal curriculum of liturgical formation for sacred ministers, Culmen et Fons will also feature a parallel conference track for all those engaged in the field of liturgical and sacred music. Rehearsals will prepare for providing the chant and polyphony for the sacred liturgies during the conference week. Repertoire will include Hassler “Missa Secunda,” Guerrero “Missa Ecce Sacerdos,” and choral/organ Masses by Duruflé and Widor.

The sessions in sacred music will be directed by
Michael Olbash, music director, St. Adelaide Church, Peabody, MA
David Hughes, music director, St. Mary Church, Norwalk, CT

More information on talks, schedules, and registration is at the conference website, .

Friday, June 30, 2017

"Singing Aquinas in L.A."

California's Poet Laureate Dana Gioia writes:
By third grade, I had the text indelibly memorized, though the only word I understood was sacramentum. The literal meaning of the words seemed unimportant compared to the experience of singing. Back then I felt no genuine attachment to what the sisters reverently referred to as “the Blessed Sacrament.” (That devotion came much later.) The Eucharist was mostly an abstract idea. I sensed a sanctity in which I could not participate. But as I stood singing this short hymn with all my friends and teachers, I physically felt enraptured and exhilarated in the act of veneration.
Much more here.

Friday, June 23, 2017

CMAA in the news

The Twin Cities' Star-Tribune visited this year's Colloquium and had this to say:
Experts and students of the ancient sacred music from across the globe have gathered for what is billed as “the most in-depth teaching conference ... on sacred music in the world.” They’re honing their musical skills and bringing the solemn choral notes to several St. Paul churches.
The centuries-old chants were tossed out of most Catholic churches after the Latin mass was put in deep storage in the 1960s. That was a mistake, say members of the Church Music Association of America, and a lot of people now recognize it.

Much more here!

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Today's News, Alexandria, Virginia