Wednesday, April 13, 2011

What We Think We Know That Is Wrong

A director of music at a Catholic parish, obviously of long experience, sent me a list he has been keeping of things that people believe that are not so.

1. It is possible to fully understand the Mass.
1a. Having Mass entirely in the vernacular facilitates this complete comprehension.
1b. The more Latin we use, the less we can comprehend the Mass, unless we know Latin.

2. Mass is really about the words.

3. We must determine the popular musical taste of young people and incorporate these styles into the Mass, or young people will eventually leave the church.
3a. Young people overwhelmingly prefer contemporary popular music in church.
3b. Likewise, young children are only capable of grasping music written specifically for them.
3c. Family Masses, primarily addressed to children, facilitate catechesis. Such Masses do not, however, demonstrate to adults that religion is primarily for children.

4. Hymns and songs are integral to the Mass. Mass with music, but with no hymns or songs, is unthinkable.

5. The main way to determine a hymn or song's suitability for Mass is to examine the text.
5a. Therefore, since all versions of the Mass Ordinary have the same approved text in English, any setting is inherently suitable for Mass.

6. Changing texts to prayers, readings and hymns can be helpful, or is at least harmless; people won't even notice, and would say something if they did.

7. Laypeople live essentially stable lives, and look to the church to be surprising and innovative, especially in the liturgy.

8. Most women prefer gender-neutral language when referring to God. The younger the woman, the more this is true. References to God as "he" or "Father" are scandalous or unintelligible to the non-religious.

9. A small group of vocal parishioners likely represents the views of the majority.

10. People can sing tunes and especially rhythms rooted in popular music easily and naturally. Popular music is much easier to sing than classical music.

11. Members of ethnic minorities are grateful to us when we incorporate into Mass musical styles we associate with them.
11a. In cultures other than our own, especially in Latin America, the distinction between sacred and secular music is non-existent.

12. Having a single Mass in multiple vernacular languages is a way to please everyone, even those who speak only one of the languages. This leads to unity.
12a. Any use of liturgical Latin, on the other hand, is extremely divisive.

13. Church music shares many important characteristics with Broadway music from the 1980s and early 90s.

14. All chant sounds the same to untrained ears.
14a. All chant is in Latin.
14b. All chant is equally difficult and esoteric.
14c. Exception: The funeral Sanctus and Agnus Dei are the only pieces of chant that untrained laypeople are capable of singing.
14d. Chant is most appropriate for penitential times (like Lent) and least suitable for joyful times (like Easter).

15. The assembled parishioners, along with the priest, perform the primary actions of the Mass, and are also the Mass's primary audience. This principle drives every liturgical or musical decision.

16. God is indifferent to the particulars of our worship.

17. People in the pews will never, never, never sing in Latin and they resent you teaching them how.

18. The most natural and appropriate opening is a rousing hymn or song for the procession.

19. The best metric to gauge participation in the Mass is the assembly's singing. The louder the singing, the greater the participation.
19a. People who don't sing at Mass lack enthusiasm or devotion.
19b. No responsibility can be laid on the accompanist or music director if a congregation is not singing.

20. The church provides us the Mass in the form of a rubrical skeleton, onto which we map our choices of songs, service music, and locally-designed elements. This is how we do liturgy.
20a. The two main sources for doing liturgy are personal preferences -- what most of us like -- and the lectionary readings for the day.

21. Unaccompanied, unamplified polyphonic music sung by unseen singers in a choir loft is more a performance than worship.
21a. Conversely, a band with an electric keyboard, two guitars, bass guitar, flute, and three singers on microphones near the altar is more worship than a performance.

22. People will sing more at weddings and funerals if you use Mass of Creation.

23. All authoritarianism in Catholic liturgy originates in Rome.

24. The Second Vatican Council fundamentally changed the church, and especially the liturgy.

25. The liturgical changes following the Second Vatican Council have led to an increase in understanding of the Mass, and therefore a general rise in Catholic practice.
25a. To question these changes is to question the Council.

25 comments:

corrigenda said...

Excellent. Thank you very much.

As for 1,2, & 3 (in particular): For these reasons alone I "converted" to the Tridentine Mass in my mid teens (before SP).

My geographical parish, a solidly Spirit of V II place, is mostly retirees. The parish I attend and support ("reform of the reform" and EF) has a wide range of ages, backgrounds, and ethnicities. The parish boasts plenty of young single and married people in their 20s and 30s, as well as large young families.

The 60's and 70's iconoclasts demanded that Catholics "sing a new Church" into being. I'm glad to say that the faithful youth of the Church have sung an ever orthodox Church into being with a hearty Asperges me.

Andy said...

"5. The main way to determine a hymn or song's suitability for Mass is to examine the text.
5a. Therefore, since all versions of the Mass Ordinary have the same approved text in English, any setting is inherently suitable for Mass."

I think a distinction need to be made here. The main way to determine a musical piece's suitability for the Mass truly IS the examination of the text. Where this goes the rails in #5's example is when the text is held as the ONLY criterion for liturgical suitability.

On the other hand:
"17. People in the pews will never, never, never sing in Latin and they resent you teaching them how."

I started using the chanted Communios last summer, having the schola chant the doxology right before repeating the antiphon. By the third week of doing this people joined in the Gloria Patri, without even having the music in front of them.

Patrick said...

Andy,
Your comment on 17 shows how lay people actually are capable of understanding things that aren't spoon-fed or dumbed down. Thanks!

Ben said...

Aristotle Esguerra read this to me and a friend tonight. It's way better if someone reads it out loud to you!

Kathy said...

#22 is absolutely true.

Chironomo said...

This is simply a laundry list of progressive liturgy fundamentals... these are what we must assume to be true if we are to be faithful to the "Spirit of Vatican II". Going against any of these assumptions labels you either a "Traditionalist" or else means that you simply don't understand how the liturgy needs to be "relevant" in order to attract people.

Yikes...I fell into the trap myself, assuming that the purpose of liturgy is to attract people! That's how insidious some of these assumptions are. We are indeed fortunate that many items on this list are being challenged forcefully...

SonofMonica said...

Simply wonderful and poignant. Oh, and "Hi" from Father Z.

Brother Charles said...

Brilliant! Let us pray in thanksgiving for this music director's ministry, witness, and courage!

James said...

Excellent post !
Fr. Z says to say "hi"...

Stitchwort said...

I'm glad Fr. Z sent me over here! That list is awesome.

Charles Culbreth said...

Jeffrey,
Was this "music director's" list quoted verbatim?
Could the original be pdf'd discreetly?

Brent Stull said...

Thanks for posting this! Wonderful.

Fr. Z says hello!

David Werling said...

24. The Second Vatican Council fundamentally changed the church, and especially the liturgy.

But you can't argue that fundamental changes to the Church and the liturgy did occur afterwards. To deny that would be to deny common sense.

Anonymous said...

20a. The two main sources for doing liturgy are personal preferences -- what most of us like -- and the lectionary readings for the day.

I don't know why I convered from a protestant to a Catholic. Thankfully, we wtill have Traditional Mass. They way I see it, the abuse of "Vatican Spirit II' raised the level of our pride and dump down the authority of the Church. Catholics make their own choices on how we do the liturgy and make choices how we live, regardless of the Church's teachings.

JP said...

Will be reposting this on my blog! Excellent article.

K. Suzanne said...

Thanks for the excellent post! I'm also thoroughly enjoying your book Sing Like A Catholic.

Also, hello from Father Z!

Brian Sullivan said...

According to one church musician I know, music is liturgical if it is found in a book of liturgical music! (Parishioner: "I don't think that song is appropriate for the Mass." Musician "It's in this book about music for Mass.")

Rob Russo said...

Well Said. Out with the "Honky-Tonk!" In with the Sacred!

Joe McCarthy said...

It is sad the Latin, Tridentine Mass, was ever changed. The beauty of the Latin mass inspired and awed many, Gregorian chant enhanced the spirit. I take exception to too many. If Latin was preserved we, Catholics, would have learned with perseverance and perhaps the loss of Catholicism. Everything to make the Mass less sanctified, hope to see the realization of it's return.
Sic Transit Gloria

Anonymous said...

#9 is spot on the money!

Father Canu said...

26. When we think we know what we think we know that is wrong, that can be wrong.

Sunil Korah said...

It is a long list, so there are things I agree with and those that I don't. But what I find sad about the post is the tone of condescension that pervades it. "These poor saps, forgive them, because they know not" so to say.

Mike Walsh said...

A very good post. I have known a great many clerics who would seem to subscribe to #2, and as a consequence they believe a corollary --call it #2b-- that "Adding words adds meaning" --hence their taste for ad-lib liturgy. Or perhaps you could add another corollary, just for clerics --call it #2c: "The liturgy is all about ME."

Geometricus said...

I sent this to all the parish musicians in my parish. I think most of them used to hold most of these as true (as I did once upon a time) but our present pastor has begun to convince them otherwise. God bless him!

Anonymous said...

19a regarding not singing loudly because of lack of devotion or enthusiasm--like the priest in Nebraska who sent the kids away from mass because they weren't singing loud enough! Really, do they think God is deaf? I remember singing the inane songs of the 70's while the guitar and tamborine banged away, feeling no joy, enthusiasm or devotion. But it did drive me into the arms of the Tridentine rite and Gregorian chant.