Sunday, December 11, 2011

Urgent Message: Support The Musical Shape of the Liturgy, by William Mahrt

The reforms of the liturgy resulting from the Second Vatican Council have greatly increased the freedom of choice of liturgical music;1 the council also encouraged the composition of new music for the sacred liturgy. However, every freedom entails a corresponding responsibility; and it does not seem that, in the years since the council, the responsibility for the choice of sacred music has been exercised with equal wisdom in all circles. To judge by what is normally heard in the churches, one might even conclude that the Church no longer holds any standards in the realm of sacred music, and that, in fact, anything goes.

The main thesis of William Mahrt's great work, The Musical Shape of the Liturgy (460 pages!), is that the Roman Rite has its own musical structure that is aesthetically robust, theologically integrated into the text, musically sophisticated, and essential to the proper presentation of the liturgy. He shows this through historical, theological, and musical analysis. This is a theoretical treatise with a profound practical urgency that the author constantly makes clear from the first to the last: we must apply these lessons in our parishes. If we do not, we are leaving out part of the liturgy and missing the beauty and magnificence of what the Church offers us.

There has never been a book like this since the close of the Second Vatican Council. I'm not sure that there has been a book like this before the Council. Maybe if there had been, we wouldn't be in the mess are in now. There have been musicological works, theological works, books by pundits and composers (but only a few), but no general treatise that covers all that you need to know plus provides a practical urgency that is focused on how music really should be treated in every parish starting now.

Mahrt himself is a remarkable man: an academic musicologist plus a parish musician plus an activist for the great cause of chant. This book puts it altogether in a way that provides what we have all so badly needed: the one book to read and distribute to finally get Catholic music on track again.

Where can you get this book? You cannot. Not yet. We are in the final stages of preparation. It is going to print in February. But here is the reality. Preparing and printing this book is going to break the bank. The CMAA has very little money anyway and this is going to drain our account. But it absolutely must be done. We can't pass up this opportunity. As I told Mahrt, I think this book will still be a living part of our intellectual apparatus in fifty or 100 years. I really believe that. This is the book that will finally say what must be said.

Can you help us out with publishing this? We certainly need it. And donating here is a real opportunity, a way to encourage beauty in the Roman Rite, a way to bring something unique into existence that we've been missing. Please be generous, and thank you.

P.S. If you are consider a gift of more than $1,000, I'm very happy to send you the PDF as it currently stands so that you can see what I'm talking about here. You can write me at

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