Monday, February 28, 2011

The Renewal Will Be Youtubed

This is an amusing youtube video that advertises, which seems to be a pretty nice little service (though I'm not somehow "endorsing" it).

Maybe someone can make something equally over-the-top, with the whole "Gladiator" feel, for the Simple English Propers?

Bruckner in Spain

Apostolic Journey to Santiago de Compostela and Barcelona
(November 6-7, 2010): Holy Mass and dedication of the church of the Sagrada Familia and of the altar

Locus iste
Motet for SATB, WAB 23
Composed by: Anton Bruckner
Locus iste a Deo factus est,
inaestimabile sacramentum,
irreprehensibilis est.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Happy 75th Birthday to Cardinal Mahony

Today is Roger Cardinal Mahony's 75th birthday, and thus the day of his mandatory retirement. We have learned that Pope Benedict has sent along his birthday wishes with a special birthday cake from the papal bakery.

In a liturgy this morning in the Los Angeles Cathedral the torch was handed on to Bishop Jose Gomes, Mahony's successor and priest of Opus Dei. Let us offer our prayers for Bishop Gomes and the Archdiocese of Los Angeles as they open this new chapter.

Here is a video of the closing liturgy of Mahony's last R. E. Congress. I wonder if there will be a dancing deacon in the entrance procession this year?

Charles Cole speaks about the rise of sacred music under Benedict XVI

I encourage you to browse to the English-language Vatican Radio program that interviews Charles Cole, director of the Cardinal Vaughan Schola in Kensington, England. He also serves as the "duty organist" at the Westminster Cathedral, among many other positions in England. He directed the brass during the Pope's Mass at Westminster and played organ later that day at the Hyde Park prayer vigil.

In this interview, which you can find about halfway through the program, he speaks about the direction that music has taken under Benedict, and provides outstanding arguments for the sacred music tradition. It was interesting for me to listen to this because he says precisely what so many of us have been saying in the United States. It's like the development of a truly international movement of chant and polyphony under the leadership of the Pope himself. It's all very inspiring.

Friday, February 25, 2011

St. Basil's 2011 Winter Chant Workshop

St. Basil's School of Gregorian Chant is holding its 2011 Winter Chant Workshop next week from March 2nd to March 5th at the University of St. Thomas in Houston, Texas.

The workshop will feature guest conductor and instructor Fr. Columba Kelly, OSB of St. Meinrad Archabbey.

Sessions will cover topics ranging from musical settings of the new translation of the Roman Missal, the principles of Gregorian Semiology, and singing chant in Latin and English.

For more information see the St. Basil's website.

Below are the weekly schedule and curriculum. They look to be packed to the brim!

Another Short Antiphon Next Week

Here's my setting of the Responsorial Psalm antiphon for the 9th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A. Download the entire setting and others by Jeffrey Ostrowski, Richard Rice, et al. over at Chabanel Psalms.

Colloquium XXI Preliminary Schedule

I posted the preliminary schedule just minutes ago.

The Colloquium will begin with a reception at 5:00pm on Monday, June 13, and wrap up with a brunch on Sunday, June 19. That should be over by around 1:00-1:30pm, for those of you who have been wanting to get your flight reservations locked in.

Aside from the list of distinguished and usual suspects, this year's faculty includes Dr. Ann Labounsky of Duquesne University; internationally known chant expert Dr. Edward Schaefer; Dr. Paul Weber of Franciscan University; Jeffrey Morse of St. Stephen's in Sacramento, California; organist and Jordan Prize winner Jonathan Ryan; and Monsignor Andrew Wadsworth, Executive Director of the International Committee on English in the Liturgy (ICEL).

The Digital Age Will Kill "Community" Obsessed Worship

In an article this morning on InsideCatholic, I riff a bit on a thesis by Richard Beck. He argues that digital social networking is taking over the social function of church attendance. I argue that he might be right and this makes the case for reclaiming those aspects of faith that the digital world cannot duplicate, namely theological and liturgical tradition:

The digital age offers a profound challenge to religious believers who continue to desire that the faithful gather to praise God. The Church has served other purposes as well, and this is all to the good. But to the extent that these are not theological and liturgical purposes, they are in danger of being displaced.

Many Catholic thinkers and writers have for decades chosen to emphasize the communal and social aspects of the liturgy over its theological dimension. This comes through in their recommendation of music that "people like" and "can sing" with gusto. The presider should be friendly and accessible, like your best friend. Homilies should be upbeat and funny. We must greet our neighbors and extend a hand of friendship, dragging out the "sign of peace" as long as possible.

This perspective now faces a serious problem. What is it that the Church offers uniquely? Here we must embrace a deeper understanding of why we gather: not only the traditional teaching concerning the Real Presence, but also the traditional liturgical structure that makes that awareness an integral part of the experience at Mass. This goes for music, vestments, architecture, and every other aspect of liturgical life.

The world is crying out for sacred space, and there is little that the digital world can do to create that. There is nothing that the digital world can do to create the Real Presence of Christ. This is the "app" that the Catholic Church offers, and it is a very serious matter because it deals with eternal, immortal things.

The Church does have something unique to offer, even and especially in the digital age. But if we do not embrace the liturgical forms that underscore that unique offering, we are as much in danger as Professor Beck suggests. Facebook may indeed kill the touchy-feely form of Catholicism that many have urged on us for decades. Community feeling will not fill the pews in the future. However, re-embracing ritual, solemnity, and truth will.

By the way, please fan us at the Cafe Facebook page.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

One page description of musical rubrics for the schola, EF Mass

Here is the pdf.

Musical rubrics for the schola at the extraordinary form of the Mass

Short Antiphon This Week

This week's Responsorial Psalm poses a real dilemma. How do you make something worthy of the Mass out of seven syllables? Your answer might be that it is not possible, especially in light of the function of the Gregorian Gradual, its predecessor and still the ideal, whose intent is to lift the ear and mind to higher things in contemplation of the text.

Since most choirs still won't be singing the Gradual this weekend, something had to be done with the short text given us: Rest in God alone, my soul. One way to treat it might be to lengthen some of the more important syllables - God, -lone, or soul; give them a melismatic treatment, in other words.

But I've opted to lengthen the words God and soul by just a couple of pulses, and keep the rhythm of the sung text in alignment with its spoken rhythm. There has to be a wedding of form and function to make it successful given the expectation that the antiphon is to be sung by the congregation. People will be able to remember this stab at a melody after one or two repetitions, kind of like their being able to memorize a seven digit phone number. Mode II seemed to work well here, and so did moving on through the word alone on one pulse per syllable. Singers should be careful to sing the "n" of alone and the "m" of my clearly but without even the slightest pause between the two words.

Below is a quick peek at the verses. You can download the whole setting at Chabanel Psalms. Since I've started posting these on the Cafe, I've gotten lots of helpful and interesting correspondence concerning Psalm setting and Psalm singing. Next week I'll discuss options for setting the verses.

Sacred Music is the Easier Path

Fr. John Hollowell of the diocese of Indianapolis, Indiana, posts an interesting reflection on his experience with music, and draws attention to the reality that teaching chant and using a cappella singing in plainchant is a much simpler path than more conventional routes.

When I celebrate Mass at Holy Rosary, almost all of the music is without any instrumentation or the organ, and it is the most beautiful stuff I've ever heard. Sometimes the organ is used to intone a piece, but then goes silent, such as the Gloria. The Kyrie, the Creed, the Alleluia, the Sanctus (holy holy holy) etc. are all done there a capella some of the time, and it isn't hard because at least half the choir there is little kids – chant can be taught easily. I taught the kids at Ritter a Latin Sanctus, and a) they love singing it, and b) picked it up after hearing it three times. The Sanctus needs no instruments, and parents visiting at one of our Masses, when they hear our kids chant it, usually cry. We’re going to be implementing the “Christ has died” in Latin next – brick by brick!

Contrary to the common opinion here, to put a Mass together with guitars, pianos, and the music that typically goes along with all of that in the typical parish today is actually a TON MORE work. People hear Gregorian Chant and think, “Oh wow, that is surely not possible in most parishes.” In actuality, a parish that does what the 2nd Vatican Council asks only has a couple of pieces to prepare for – a) MAYBE an opening song (although the documents also allow that to be done solely on the organ) and b) MAYBE a song to sing while the people come forward for Communion and c) MAYBE a closing song, although again that can be just organ.

If a parish is deciding to take the tambourine and guitar approach to music then they have the following “set list”
Opening song
Psalm response
Preparation of the gifts
Holy, Holy, Holy
Christ Has Died…
Great Amen
Lamb of God
Communion song (or two)
Closing Song

Trust me, I’ve seen it from both perspectives, and doing music as the Church asks is a LOT easier and more beautiful.

The other myth here is that “Peter Paul and Mary-ish” Church songs are easier to learn, and will get the people to sing more. However, the success of such changes is non-existent in the lived experience of the Church. Most of the pieces performed by parish “bands” are MORE difficult to sing and seem to turn people off more than the simple yet more prayerful chant.

His entire post is very wise, and reflects real-world experience.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Simple Propers for Most Holy Trinty, Corpus Christi, and Sacred Heart

Download Simple English Propers for the feasts at the conclusion of the Easter Season:

Pictured above: Painting of the Most Holy Trinity by Guido Reni, over the
main altar of Santissima Trinità dei Pellegrini in Rome. (H/T Fr. Z

Simple Propers for Holy Week

Download Simple English Propers for Holy Week:

Note that there are no propers in this collection for Good Friday. The reason for this, of course, is that there is no Introit, Offertory or Communion prescribed for this day. The SEP collection is only focusing on these three processional chants, which are typically the bulk of the proper for typical Sundays and Feasts, but as we know, Holy Week is its own beast.

One place where I broke the convention of the book was with the Offertory that is prescribed for Holy Thursday in the Graduale Romanum. This is the well known and very simple Ubi Caritas. The text and the musical setting for this chant are verbatim from the new English translation of the Roman Missal. The musical structure is identical to the Graduale Romanum and the text is newly translated as a part of the Roman Missal effort. I actually find it to be very nice!

So while the Simple English Propers book will be very useful for the week-to-week liturgical "grind", when it comes to Holy Week additional resources will surely be needed.

Chant for Children Ages 8 through 11

This chant course for children age 8 through 11 was developed by Richard Scott in England.


Track 1 Football chant
Track 2 Great Amen
Track 3 Karaoke
Track Catholic rap4
Track 5 Stabat Mater
Track 6 Anglican chant
Track 7 Sung Gospel
Track 8 Rudolph in Latin
Track 9 Psalm 78
Track 10 Litany of Saints
Track 11 Litany of Saints in English
Track 12 Litany of Saints Rap
Track 13 Alleluia Byzantine
Track 14 The Adhan
Track 15 Psalm 23 in Hebrew
Track 16 Psalm 114 Tonus Peregrinus
Track 17 Sanctus XVIII
Track 18 Sanctus XVIII
Track 19 Victoria Requiem
Track 20 Durufle Requiem
Track 21 Organum
Track 22 Lapidaverunt
Track 23 Rorate Caeli
Track 24 Sound the Trumpet
Track 25 Psalm 84
Track 26 Christus Vincit

Give Almes, by Tye

I would think that many parish choirs could handle this beautiful piece for Lent, as presented here by Choral Tracks. Sheet music is on

Give almes of thy goods - Balanced - Tye from Matthew Curtis on Vimeo.

Chant first but no particular style of art?

Fr. Anthony Ruff writes in his piece in GIA Quarterly that certain statements in Sacrosanctum Concilium are in tension with each other. Of this he is certainly correct. But an example he provides - one I've seen many times - doesn't fly. He writes that this is an illustration of the tension: "Gregorian chant is to have first place, but the church has not adopted any style of art as its own (nos. 116, 123)."

You have to look this up to see the error. Section 116 famously said that Gregorian chant is to have first place. But to get to section 123, you have to move past the section on music and here you discover that the sage statement about style concerns architecture and furnishings, not the core music of the Roman Rite.
The Church has not adopted any particular style of art as her very own; she has admitted styles from every period according to the natural talents and circumstances of peoples, and the needs of the various rites. Thus, in the course of the centuries, she has brought into being a treasury of art which must be very carefully preserved. The art of our own days, coming from every race and region, shall also be given free scope in the Church, provided that it adorns the sacred buildings and holy rites with due reverence and honor; thereby it is enabled to contribute its own voice to that wonderful chorus of praise in honor of the Catholic faith sung by great men in times gone by.
We think here of the many Churches in Europe that were converted from the Gothic to the Classical style during the Renaissance (changes that were truly tragic in retrospect). I'm thinking too of the Art Deco at the Loyola University chapel or the Byzantine style of the National Shrine or the modernism of the Oakland Cathedral. All of these are admissible and signs of life and change in art. Rome has no set of blueprints for buildings, no stack of approved patterns for vestments, no molds for statues that everyone must copy. It true to some extent in music, as motets and Mass settings reflect the style of the times (Haydn vs. Palestrina vs. MacMillan). This are always subject to change.

But Gregorian chant is not a style. It is not music that is identified with a particular time or place or people. It is the foundational music of the ritual itself, the music that has lasted throughout the whole history of the rite. It can be substituted with another form but its status as the core, the model, the ideal, never changes. This in fact is what is meant by the seeming proviso "all else being equal" - it means that even if circumstances change that merit some other approach, the status of the chant as the number one form of music is unchanged.

But here we must consider that there is a reason why the Church put this section on changing art styles in the section under architecture and furnishings. It is precisely to avoid the confusion that chant can be entirely displaced. Gothic styles and Art Deco styles can be entirely displace; Gregorian chant cannot be, which is why section 116 says what it says. This was a major contribution of the Second Vatican Council: to settle this issue once and for all.

The upshot of Fr. Ruff's article is to argue that if we take Gaudium et Spes seriously, we must be open to modernity and adapt our ways to fit it. However, I find nothing in Gaudium that would unseat Gregorian chant from its primary place in liturgy. No, chant does not make Mass a "museum piece" any more than reading the Gospel means that we are somehow stuck in the past. The Gospel and liturgical chant are timeless things.

I really do not understand why people have such a difficult time understanding these distinctions, but apparently this confusion is common. I receive many emails from people who are somehow under the impression that this blog is all about promoting our personal taste and displacing the personal taste of others. Again, the opinion here is not unlike what Vatican II says: there are certain features of liturgy that are beyond taste, and chant is certainly among them.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Current and Forthcoming: 8th Sunday


Lord, guide the course of world events
and give your Church the joy and peace
of serving you in freedom.

Grant us, O Lord, we pray,
that the course of our world
may be directed by your peaceful rule
and that your Church may rejoice,
untroubled in her devotion.


God of salvation,
may this sacrament which strengthens us here on earth
bring us to eternal life.

Nourished by your saving gifts,
we beseech your mercy, Lord,
that by this same Sacrament
with which you feed us in the present age,
you may make us partakers of life eternal.

Comment: Again, yet again, I'm stunned by the differences, and elated at the liturgical future that is ours. Prepare to grab your friends and bring them back to Mass!

Organ Recital in New York: Not to Miss

Jonathan Ryan is playing Thursday evening at the Church of the Holy Family in New York (7:30pm), and the lineup looks simply incredible.

NYT Takes Notice of Free Online Music

The New York Times has taken notice of the Internet Music Score Library Project, and the dramatic change it has meant for music. If anything, the story understates just what a difference this project has made for the availability of classical music. It has breathed new life into what has long been a dying genre, making a world of music available to people to try, practice, and perform - and doing so outside monopolistic publishers and their overpriced scores.

Indeed, I would say that this site is saving music from the publishers, and restoring a system of distribution that prevailed for hundreds of years on the Continent and gave rise to the most vibrant and flourishing musical culture we've ever known. The ethos of sharing and learning from others pervaded music before the age of copyright, which permitted growth and development generation after generation.

The story does not mention the Choral Public Domain Library, but the effects of this site for Church music have been similar. There is just no chance at all that our own schola would have ever gotten started without this site, and this is true of hundreds of other parish-based scholas. It is now common for most any schola to sing exclusive from packets of music that are downloaded for free. It is especially useful for trying out music. We have no problem in passing out half a dozen scores in the course of one rehearsal, keeping what works for us and tossing out what does not. This would be impossible in a world of music imprisoned by copyright and caged by state-protected publisher monopolies.

This entire method of distribution has been a major boon to the whole of serious music, and brought to life what otherwise might be a dying tradition. What's more, this method has taught modern composers the merit of publishing in the Creative Commons to assure wide distribution, and given rise to a new financial model as well: the revival of commissions and patronage rather than royalty as a means of supporting new composting. Indeed, the Chant Cafe has had a role here in funding the Simple English Propers project.

The NYT article hints at the tragedy for long-dead composers whose works are still under copyright. Their work is being overlooked and thereby under-performed. This is a very sad situation. I should mention also that many liturgical texts are now burdened with this old model of pay-to-pray and this seriously harms the cause of evangelization in the same way that the old copyright system nearly killed classical music in our time.

Simple Propers for the Season of Easter

Download Simple Propers for the Season of Easter:

As you can see, the Simple Propers Project is swiftly moving along! Somehow we skipped Holy Week in our eagerness to get to the Easter Season–you can expect this and the Solemnities at the conclusion of the Easter Season by the end of the week.

A special thanks to all of those who have been reporting errors in the early drafts that have been posted. This is the beauty of the "beta" process. It will help ensure a reliable collection when it is completed.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Sing Compline for Lent

What do average Catholics know of the Divine Office? Virtually nothing, I’m sorry to say. And what do Catholics know of the Psalms? Very little apart from the paraphrases one hears in pop songs at Mass. Indeed, Mass is pretty much the only liturgical experience that Catholics know now, and they are completely unaware of the full range of the history of Christianity prayer as embodied in what is now called the Liturgy of the Hours.

The Second Vatican Council hoped to inspire a new movement in parishes the world over that would embrace the Divine Office. Chalk that up to yet another unfulfilled aspiration of a Council nearly swept away in a cultural tidal wave after it closed. Today the office is so unknown that parishes with limited access to a priest invent new services just to receive the Eucharist in the absence of a priest. It never occurs to anyone that a gathering to say the Office might be just the thing.

Well, rather than making this yet another long complaint about what might have been that didn’t happened to come to be, let’s turn this in a positive direction. A resource has become available for Catholics that has not previously been available in modern times. It is a simple and inexpensive book that allows any individual, family, or group to pray Compline or Night Prayer in a manner very close to the way it has been prayed since the 4th century.

It strikes me that it would be a wonderful thing for Catholics to get this book and start using it during Lent this year. The book is called Compline and it is published by Ignatius Press, as prepared by Fr. Samuel Weber, O.S.B., in parallel English and Latin, each with musical staff and completely pointed Psalms for singing. It is a small and very beautiful book. Ignatius should be commended for publishing it, for there are far too few Catholic music publishers putting out quality work like this.

Compline can be sung by the family after dinner or before bedtime. Or it can be sung by just one person alone. It is not necessary that a priest be present to receive the graces that come from singing compline. It might feel strange at first but after forty days, it will become a normal part of life, the Psalms beginning to become part of your daily routine and the hymns associated with the Office part of the music that enters your daily spiritual reflections.

The idea of compline is to complete the day with final prayers in hope of a peaceful sleep. It includes beautiful words that remind us of eternal life, with sleep as a kind of metaphor for mortality. All told, singing these night prayers takes about 10 minutes but it is very valuable use of time, a way to remember what is important at the end of a busy day and before we close our eyes. In the monastery, compline often signals the beginning of the great silence that lasts the remainder of the evening until morning prayer.

Sometimes people are reluctant to begin something like this because it is an unfamiliar routine. We do not know the songs and we do not know the drill and how it works. We find ourselves turning here and there in the books, confused about what to do next. I know of several enthusiastic converts to Catholicism who bought the multi-volume set of the Liturgy of the Hours with every good intention of developing a daily prayer life. But then confusion sets in and the person bails out before getting the hang of it.

This is why Compline is really the best beginning for saying the Office. Its structure is more simple than Lauds or Vespers, with fewer changing parts. It seems easier to approach, and this is especially true with Fr. Weber’s book.

For those with a musical inclination, it has been very difficult to find notated versions of anything in the Liturgy of the Hours. Thankfully, this has started to change. An English book came out a few years ago called the Mundelein Psalter. Then last year, Solesmes released its Vespers book for Sundays and Feasts. More are coming out in the years ahead.

But truly, this Compline book from Ignatius is a blessing. It has Latin on the left and English on the right throughout. Where the antiphons and Pslam tones could be maintained and fit with the English, they are maintained. Where this is too awkward, Fr. Weber uses special tones designed to make the terminations work in English while maintaining the feel of the Latin. This approach is in keeping with the hermeneutic of continuity emphasized in this pontificate, helping everyone to see the relationship between the old and new.

Learning the music is a snap. The clef is a C clef so you can easily go to the piano to learn to navigate the pitches -- or, for that matter, you can download a piano key application for the iPhone or go to anyone website that gives pitches. This way you can learn the hymns and the prayers. After just a few nights, it will become easy and be a wonderful part of your evening.

I’m sorry that it has taken forty years for such a book to appear and be made accessible to laypeople, but we are blessed to live in times when such resources are now available to us. We should not take this for granted. We should snap up these books and use them, integrating them into our lives and helping to revive the sound and feel of Catholic liturgy as it has always been known to Christians - and that means more than just weekly attendance at Mass.

It is not just Muslims who face an obligation to turn to the Lord throughout the day. They got this idea from us. Lent is a great time to begin to revive this beautiful tradition.

John Michael Talbot Composing Music for New Text

The Tennessean offers a story about a new direction for the work of John Michael Talbot. OCP will be the publisher.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

One from column A, one from....oh nevermind!

In the commentary section of Jeffrey Tucker’s provocative post, “Catholicism Grows Up,” one of our faithful UK friends, Ian W. amplifies one of Jeffrey’s own comments, stating “Nor does a cathedral musician's claim that all is right with the world mean that it is. One only needs to inspect the Cathedral music lists to realize this.” As much as I can understand the sentiment of Ian’s contention, I am also startled over how easily any of us might overlook the potential injury our words may let loose upon our colleagues and peers with a sardonic slight, or a disparaging word based upon a one-dimensional perspective.

I remember visiting a brand new cathedral whose exterior architectural design dismayed me upon my initial viewing. But entering the interior enabled me to re-assess the skepticism and prejudice that lurked in my mind as result of that first glance and reaction. And while taking in the whole of the “house” with interest and energy, I was able to apply a sense of understanding and empathy as I perused the previous Sunday’s worship aide and musical selections, aka “the music list.”

Who among us that has been charged with administering repertoire choices for congregational singing hasn’t had some sort of cognitive dissonance, or cosmic collision with the reality that implementing our own tastes, visions and praxes will necessitate a nascent, starting-from-scratch reformation from the disparate remnant elements of previous “shot callers?”

But what I call into question is the merit of free associating what is “wrong” by the mere inspection of “music lists” that presupposes no other criteria than those choices. Can we literally be assured that our convictions about adherence to standards of art, legislation of styles, sources of texts, primacy of options are the only factors at play for the soul(s) that make these choices daily, weekly and according to seasons? A cliché is a cliché for a reason. “All politics are local.” Now, if an informed observer such as Ian, is privy to the vagaries and specifics of the local cathedral music ministry where the weekly repertoire reflects a particularly stagnant or egregious attitude towards liturgical proprieties, I would hope that the observer would consult with local parishioners, clergy or musicians to inquire as to their assessment, rather than manifest dissatisfaction in that most catholic of manners, the ubiquitous, inarticulate complaint.

In framing this post, I originally thought it would be best to display one of my lists (we’re not a cathedral, but we would qualify as a megaparish) and then conduct an autopsy this afternoon after the fact. But as the thought came to mind, an autopsy isn’t an appropriate term to describe looking at these choices. One should forensically approach these choices as they were intended, to provide living worship from living worshippers to the One Living God.

Even among our own CMAA adherents, it is proven fact that we are all on various degrees of maturation towards the paradigm of worship practice that Dr. Mahrt and his precursors have unflaggingly championed. Think about it- even in parishes and cathedrals where the EF is offered, there are options among the forms of the ritual which require specific and sometimes different types of music, chant and polyphony to be sure, and occasionally hymns. In the OF, should a parish striving to discern RotR, directors have a panopoly of vernacular chant and proper options that weren’t even dreamt of a decade ago, not to mention the S.O.P. of whatever is in the pulp or hardbound hymnal in the pews. Furthermore, to presume that even full-time, professional and experienced directors of music have no other personal, hierarchical or other aspects that inform their weekly deliberations is unrealistic, and perhaps mean spirited if wholesale condemnation is the objective.

So, I offer my music “list” for this, the Seventh Sunday of Ordered Time for your consideration and deliberation.

Read these bones, these tea leaves, this menu and offer your snapshot of “how the world is” in just one parish in California. Your reflections will be respected, or moreso, reflect the respect the level of criticism that is provided. As we were reminded last week, speak as if “your yes means yes, and your no means no.” And I will try to remember to respond by going one more mile to understand our “failings.”

The “S” Mass is our “traditional choral” Mass, the “E” is our contemporary “ensemble" Mass.

Introit: S “Lord, Your mercy in my hope…” Simple Choral Gradual/R.Rice E The American Gradual/B.Ford

Entrance: S O FATHER, ALL CREATING (Aurelia) E STAND BY ME (Kendzia)

Opening Rites: S Kyrie-plainsong/Oecumenica-Culbreth E Kyrie(Sleeth)/Dancing Day Gloria-P.Ford

Responsorial: SE Respond & Acclaim

Gospel Accl.: S plainsong “Alleluia”modeVI E Sleeth setting

Offertory: S CHRIST BEFORE US (Suo gan) E THE SUMMONS (Kelvingrove)

Eucharistic Accl.: S Oecumenica/Agnus Dei (plainsong) E Holy/Christ/ Amen /Lamb (Sleeth)

Communion Procession: S “I will tell all…” Simple Choral Gradual/R.Rice E The American Gradual/B.Ford S JESU, JOY OF OUR DESIRING (Bach arr.)  E PRAYER OF ST. FRANCIS/ORACIÓN( Temple )

Communion Anthem: S PRAYER OF ST. FRANCIS (Mark Hayes arr.) E DWELLING PLACE (Foley)

Recessional: S organ postlude E IF GOD IS FOR US  (Brown)

Report on Polyphony Weekend

The Chant Cafe is pleased to offer this report on the Renaissance Weekend in Dallas, Texas, written by Gregory Hamilton:

The Renaissance polyphony Weekend under the direction of Dr. William Mahrt celebrated its twentieth anniversary on February 18-20th.

Each year, lovers of great polyphony gather together in Dallas for a full weekend of singing music of the great European polyphonic masters. This year, in honor of the 400th anniversary of the Vespers of 1610 by the Venetian master Claudio Monteverdi, director William Mahrt chose late a mass setting of Monteverdi, a motet by his forerunner Luca Marenzio, motets by other less-know but fine composers including, Sebastian de Vivanco (1550-1622), Jacobo Gallus (1550 – 1591), and the proper chants for the Seventh Sunday in Ordinary time.

The value of such a weekend intensive lies in the opportunity to learn and know the music of the great polyphonic masters from the inside out. To understand this music, to experience it fully, it music be sung. This, year, we were able to experience a mass by a master of both the prima prattica and the seconda prattica, terms as Dr. Mahrt pointed out, were coined by Monteverdi himself. The mass is a fascinating amalgamation of the two styles, both the ‘old’ polyphonic species counterpoint, and the ‘new’ homophonic/basso continuo style where text painting was key. Although the Nuove Musiche originated in the development of the solo song and madrigal, by such composers as Caccini and Marenzio (represented this weekend by his motet “O Sacrum Convivium”), It is clear that Monteverdi was the most important representative of this style, and truly innovative in bringing it into church music.

Fr. Ralph March, O.Cist, chant scholar and long-time professor of music at the University of Dallas, celebrated the Novus Ordo in Latin at Holy Trinity Seminary, on the campus of the University of Dallas. Fr. March presented a thought provoking homily of the nature of God reflected in beauty and music for the liturgy, and our response and participation in this mystery.

The choir, from all over Texas and the Southern United States, numbered about 50. Thanks go to the organizers of the weekend, and especially the seminarians of Holy Trinity Seminary.

Dr. Gregory Hamilton
Holy Trinity Seminary, Diocese of Dallas.

More on Q

The Record offers more detail on the wonderful group Q, which will soon release its album of Victoria Responsories. I'm particularly excited because our own schola has begun to explore this music for the first time this season, and I'm startled by so many aspects of it. These pieces are not motets in the way that we've come to know them over the last ten years of singing.

It seems more evident that the structure is all designed for textual declamation as a first priority. Unlike texts such as O Sacrum or or Cantate Domino, these are not familiar to us, and it seems that Victoria understood this point and structured the pieces to make the communicative purpose more evident. It really is a different world for polyphony.

The singers who are members of Q come out of long experience as Church musicians at Trinity College, and it is clear from interviews that they have done extensive study of the music with an eye to making it come to life with only one singer per part. We can only hope that this CD will reveal the music in a way that has never been done before.

Their CD, Tenebrae Reflections, is their first under their group name Q and will be launched at a performance at St Joseph’s Church in Subiaco on 19 March at 7.30pm, and is available from The Record Bookshop.
The music of Q – which stands for Quartessence - is not just for concertgoers, Cichy said.

“We try to engage, to show the music in all its beauty for what it is. It’s also an evangelising act – faith through art,” Cichy said. “The most eloquent arguments or apologetics for our faith are made through art, as Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger (now Pope Benedict XVI) said, it’s in these brief encounters that we have a depth of experience that we wouldn’t gain from reading a whole library of books.
“The function of music in church, apart from worship of God, is to make the Word flesh.

“Christ came in the Incarnation; music draws us into the mystery – it’s our way of seeking the face of God in this life before we’re perfectly united with Him in the next.”

LeCoultre, Francesco and van Reyk have been singing responses since they were in primary school at Trinity College under the expert guidance of Annette Goerke, famed Cathedral organist for 40 years and director of music for some 25 years who first took organ lessons from Fr Albert Lynch, who revolutionised the music culture in the Archdiocese.

She is also one of the few people in the Archdiocese to have been awarded the Holy Cross Pro Ecclesia Et Pontifice (“For Church and Pope”), the award given to lay people and clergy for distinguished service to the Church.
The trio was also part of the Cathedral choir as Trinity also supplied choirboys for the Cathedral since 1938 when Fr Lynch, who established the choir, approached the Christian Brothers for assistance.

The quartet’s repertoire has evolved according to each other’s strengths and interests which converged when they returned to the works of 16th century Spanish composer Tomas Luis de Victoria, plus many items that LeCoultre, Francesco and van Reyk sang in the Cathedral choir and realised with sadness that none of them were sung anywhere in the Archdiocese.

Strange Radio Experience

I had a few minutes in the car and, though I rarely listen to radio, I turned it on today and landed on some random channel. The girl was singing with one of these wheezy helpless voices, gasping pathetically about her love for her guy and how badly she wants to be alone with him. The words -- which I would not repeat here -- and the sensibility were lurid, tacky, and embarrassing.

It struck me how much more provocative teenage music had become since I was young. What was once disguised is now out the open, the sexuality overt rather than implied. It was depressing. The song ended, and then came the shock: the announcer said that this was a Christian praise music station. It was supposed to be a religious song, and I suppose the listener is free to interpret it as the listener chooses: the teenager hearing what he or she wants to hear and the parents doing the same.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Catholicism Grows Up

There are ways to write for children and ways to write for adults. I could write this whole column in a voice designed for children. The sentences would be short and begin with verbs. The voice would be active. The vocabulary would be limited. Word choices would favor Anglo-Saxon and not Latin derivatives. I would favor the concrete over the abstract. The narrative would be simple and to the point. Sentence constructions would be predictable and not challenging.

We all know something about this way to write, whether from our own childhood or from the books we have read our children. It is a legitimate form, suitable to a specific purpose. Journalism students are taught to write this way, always keeping in mind a target comprehension level well below adult level. The cliche is that newspapers, for example, are written for a 7th grade level of understanding. This is not easy to do actually, and it does take practice. But it is necessary to reach the broadest consumer market.

The more I compare the writing of the current versus the forthcoming Missal, the clearer it is to me that “dynamic equivalence” -- which amounts to a distortion of the Latin -- was only part of the method behind the current translation of the Missal. There was also a belief that the translation should seek to simplify according to the method used for journalism and books for young people or even children.

The goal always revolved around cognitive understanding as a first priority -- a goal formulated in reaction to the widespread perception that the people could not understand Latin. The attempt to reduce, simplify, shorten, and concretize was formulated in reaction to a very shallow understanding of the purpose of worship.

Consider the collect for the 7th Sunday of the year: “Father, keep before us the wisdom and love you have revealed in your Son. Help us to be like him in word and deed.” Compare to the forthcoming Missal: “Grant, we pray, almighty God, that, always pondering spiritual things, we may carry out in both word and deed that which is pleasing to you.” Leaving aside the completely different content, the second is one long sentence with side clauses and extended thoughts. This is adult writing. The first is broken up into one thought per sentence.

The 6th Sunday of the year demonstrates the same. From the current collect: “God our Father, you have promised to remain forever with those who do what is just and right. Help us to live in your presence.” And forthcoming: “O God, who teach us that you abide in hearts that are just and true, grant that we may be so fashioned by your grace as to become a dwelling pleasing to you.” The forthcoming deals with complexities and uses extended constructions. The first is plain and direct, designed for young minds.

What is the over-all liturgical effect of this approach? Words aren’t the only thing happening at liturgy. There are the other senses to deal with too: the sights of vestments and furnishings and the sounds of music. None of these appear in a vacuum. The music, vestments, and furnishings we choose are part of liturgical structure, the foundation of which is the text itself. As we pray, so shall we believe, and what we believe is reflected in what we end up seeing and hearing.

The music that came to dominate the liturgy in the years of the first translation finds its parallel in the text itself. It featured a lack of seriousness. Its goal was maximum accessibility, maximum reach. The musical phrases were short and not challenging. The musical narratives were short and to the point. The musical formulations were direct and lived within a strict metrical framework. The musical language was drawn from songs and styles that were already familiar, since the goal was not to offer something radical different but to tap into a pre-existing aesthetic in order to readily communicate.

Not that any of this had anything to do with the musical heritage of the Roman Rite. In fact, it was a wild distortion of that heritage, which was rooted in the text of the liturgy. Its structure was not metrical because the text was not metrical. It was plainsong and it had a freedom to float and adapt itself to the liturgical goal. The simplest forms embedded a profound purpose and its most complex forms had a cathedral-like sophistication in structure.

For forty years, ever since the promulgation of a text, this type of music has virtually non-existent at Mass. Instead, we’ve had hymns (Mass propers virtually banished) and a relentless drive away from traditional hymns and toward pop songs. There are many reasons for this, but perhaps given the textual foundation of the liturgy, this trend begins to make a bit more sense. The language of the liturgy reinforced and call forth the language of the music. This all amounts to a trivialization and, more precisely, infantilization of the Roman Rite - which is a pretty good description of what has been happening over these decades.

Think of it this way. Let’s say that you move into a new home and discover that the master bedroom has light pink carpet and butterfly wallpaper, plus a light fixture that recalls Sleeping Beauty. It’s possible that you could just plop your ball-and-claw chairs and your Victorian four-poster bed right in there, along with a giant mahogany chest of drawers. But there would be a certain, shall we say, decorative tension going on here. You would be far more inclined to either change the wallpaper, carpet, and fan, or just use the room as the children’s room.

This is the kind of problem that has been persistent sine this translation appeared in the 1970s. And it has given rise to a level of aesthetic upheaval in the Church that has been truly unprecedented. It’s true that the infantile music and non-serious vestments predate this translation but the translation might have help entrench them and make them mainstays in the Catholic world.

During these years, we also witnessed a massive fleeing from the Catholic Church as well as the development of an active resistance movement. This movement had strong reasons to hold the views it did, for it was clear that, from all appearances and sounds, the old Catholicism had been overthrown in favor of an alien religion that only bore a vague similarity to the old. It’s quite clear that many of the criticisms of the “Novus Ordo” were actually related to the translation and the accoutrement's that it called forth; most did not deal with the core of the Latin edition of the Mass that was promulgated by Paul VI.

Meanwhile, those who longed to implement the words of Vatican - remember that Gregorian chant was to take pride of place - faced terrible resistance. Not only the winds of culture but the very culture of Catholic liturgy itself - a culture mainly shaped by an errant and biased translation of the Mass - seemed to weigh against the implementation of the Council. It was like hanging a precious work of art in a fast-food restaurant or wearing black tie and tails to a Lakers game. The mix of Gregorian chant and the English liturgy seemed odd and fundamentally opposed.

Now that we are getting a look at an accurate translation that actually captures the Latin sense, and is not distorted by an infantilizing or popularizing bias, we have a clearer grasp on a main problem that has been extant for all these decades. The new translation is solemn and serious. Most of all, it is in the language intended for adults and for a faith that seeks to mature.

Are we losing accessibility? As understood in the 1970s way, perhaps so, but we gain beauty, seriousness, holiness, solemnity, and a element of transcendent mystery that sparks the spiritual imagination and feeds the deepest longings of the soul. In other words, we are getting the Roman Rite back, not in its purest form but at least in a form that is not at war with what the ritual is and does as its very foundation. It is a sacral language, as Laurence Paul Hemming has argued (Worship as a Revelation - Burns and Oats, 2008), is inseparable from the idea of liturgy itself.

The hope is that many of the other infantilizing elements that we’ve come to associate with the Catholic faith will find themselves less at home in the new parish life that will emerge after Advent 2011, and, just as Gregorian chant was driven out, the silliness of the last decades will be displaced by liturgical forms that match with the textual core. It is a huge step in the right direction, one that will make more steps along the path much easier to take.

Friday, February 18, 2011

7th Sunday, Current and Forthcoming


Father, keep before us the wisdom and love
you have revealed in your Son.
Help us to be like him
in word and deed.

Grant, we pray, almighty God,
that, always pondering spiritual things,
we may carry out in both word and deed
that which is pleasing to you.

(This week, the comparison is taken from Fr. Z, who provides a long discussion)


Almighty God, help us to live the example of love
we celebrate in this Eucharist,
that we come to its fulfillment in your presence.

Grant, we pray, almighty God,
that we may experience the effects of the salvation
which is pledged to us by these mysteries.

Latin Missal 2002

One of the frustrations I've had for a long time is finding a current Latin Missal online for quick reference. A poster at the MusicaSacra Forum told of a copy available at

With no apparent restrictions on the text, and in the interest of greater accessibility in the English-speaking world, there is now a copy hosted at for direct download: Latin Missal 2002.

Missale Romanum 2002

The Many Wonders of Antoine Brumel

Work continues on preparing the repertoire for the Sacred Music Colloquium this summer, and one of the composers who will contribute music is Antoine Brumel (1460-1512), one of many pre-Reformation composers of polyphony who are being rediscovered in our time. Ever since I first heard his "Missa Et ecce terrae motus," I've been enraptured by his style. Here is the Gloria from that Mass, as sung by the Tallis Scholars.

Defending Summorum Pontificum

In the three years since the promulgation of Summorum Pontificum that liberalize the traditional Mass now called the "extraordinary form," the rise in interest in liturgical tradition has been marvelous to see.

The figures on the number of EF Masses now available are impressive given the short period of time, but the importance of Summorum goes far beyond this aspect alone. Full access to preconcilar liturgical forms represents an openness to a tradition that had been previously been shut out in a period upheaval that gave many the impression that Catholic liturgy had somehow been totally reinvented in the postconciliar period. This was arguably a main reason for Summorum: to re-integrate the new with the old and restore the sense of continuity that Pope Benedict XVI speaks about.

What is important today are the reports, increasingly credible, that a new instruction is forthcoming that will place new restrictions on the celebration of the traditional rite, particularly as regards ordination of priests. Enough reports have reached my own inbox to lead me to believe that something is underway. If there is anything that can be done to prevent any pullback from Summorum, it should be done.

This is why I would strongly suggest go to and sign the petition right now. There are already more than 500 signatures.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Reports of Workshops

Msgr. Robert K. Johnson, director of the diocesan Office for Divine Worship and temporary administrator of St. Paul Cathedral, gave a seminar for musicians on the new missal. This story illustrates just how much effort is being put into truly starting a new era for Catholic music, beginning with the new Missal chants.

There will be hundreds of such reports over the coming months.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Fr. Pierre Paul celebrates Mass at St. John Cantius

Fr. Pierre Paul, director of music at the St. Peter Basilica in Rome, celebrated Mass at St. John Cantius, and the St. John site offers a wonderful photo montage of the event.

Here is an article I wrote in 2009 on the effect of Fr. Paul's work at the Vatican:


It was my pleasure to enjoy a long chat with Fr. Pierre Paul, director of music at St. Peter's Basilica in Rome. He has held this position since 2008, having been director at the North American College. After leaving that position, he came back to home in Trois-Rivières, Quebec, only to be called back to head the music program at St. Peter's under the guidance of Benedict XVI.

Since then, he has embarked on a spectacular program that amounts to the musical application of the principle of the hermeneutic of continuity. What was holy then is holy now. He has infused the entire program at the Vatican with a new love of excellence and idealism by embracing the program legislated by the Second Vatican Council, taking seriously the call for Gregorian chant to assume the primary role in liturgy.

This has meant, in the first instance, and above all else, using Gregorian ordinary settings for all Masses. For ordinary time, he is using Mass XI or Obis Factor. For Advent and Lent he is using Mass XVII (Kyrie Salve), switching out the Kyrie for respective seasons.

For Easter, he chooses Mass I (Lux et Origo), along with Mass IV (Cunctipotens Genior Deus) for the Feast of the Apostles. He also uses Credo I, III, and IV, and, periodically, the whole of Mass IX (Cum Jubilo). He is trying minimize the use of Mass of the Angels, though it is still programmed for large international Masses since this is the one that most people know.

These are all huge advances, and he is thrilled to hear that people are singing with gusto! Actually, people are singing as never before. He is careful to print large booklets for every Mass with translations. He is dedicated to making sure that he does not use modern notation in the booklets. He believes in neumes, the notation of the Church, because he regards them as easier to sing than modern notes and because they convey the sense that the music of the Church is different from other forms of music

The biggest advances have been made in the area of propers, which had long been displaced by hymns that are extraneous to the Mass. The Introit of the day is sung at every Mass as the celebrant approaches the altar, following a hymn or organ solo. The communion chant is always sung with Psalms from Richard Rice's editions posted at

This is a major step and a restoration of a very early practice for Papal Masses. The offertory antiphon is also sung periodically and increasingly so as more and more singers can handle the material. For the Psalm, St. Peters is alternating the use the of the Gradual Psalm from the Graduale Romanum and the simpler Psalms from the Graduale Simplex.

Just now, the choirs are moving into the polyphonic repertoire of the Italian masters such as Palestrina and Victoria, and will be increasingly exploring polyphonic propers along with new compositions.

Other major changes made by Fr. Paul include instituting rehearsals on Wednesday nights. Yes, you read that right. The choir didn't used to rehearse. Now they do. What's more, he invites Dom Saulnier from Solesmes, now living in Rome and teaching at the Pontifical Institute for Sacred Music, to teach weekly chant training seminars. This is a complete switch from the past. The new closeness between Solesmes and St. Peters will intensify later this year when Solesmes releases an in-print version of the first volume of the Antiphonale for the Liturgy of the Hours, which will then be used in published form for Vespers at the Vatican.

Fr. Paul has instituted new standards for visiting choirs. As he says, "it cannot be just any choir. It must be a liturgical choir." This means the he listens to recordings of their work before any guest choir sings at St. Peters. They must clear the repertoire in advance. And whatever they sing must fit in with the musical structure as it is developing at St. Peters. So if there is a motet to sing, it can only be sung following the propers of the Mass.

This change has made a huge difference in not only advancing the music in the Vatican but in encouraging the right trends in all parts of the world. It is an honor to sing at St. Peter's and Fr. Paul's work to raise the standards are having an effect.

Several aspects of this extended talk surprised me. One was how much time Fr. Paul spends doing programs. He is constantly online download material, scanning material, and dragging and dropping graphics and worrying about things like image resolution and spacing. He has nowhere near the level of help one might expect. In other words, his job is pretty much like that of every parish musician.

Another surprise to me is how he, in an entirely humble way, seems not entirely sure about the influence of what he is doing at St. Peter's and what the long-term implications are. But of course the truth is that what happens here serves as a model for parishes and cathedrals around the world. The trends at the Vatican eventually come to pervade the whole Church, and this is where his long-term influence is going to be felt most profoundly. Essentially, what he is doing is progressing toward a unity of the present with the past heritage of Catholic music, preserving while re-invigorating, and innovating toward the restoration of an ideal.

For his wonderful work in this area, all Catholics the world over are very much in debt to Fr. Paul!

There are surely bumps along with the way and some opposition to deal with, though Fr. Paul doesn't speak about these aspects. For his part, what inspires him is that it is a well-known fact that the Pope himself is thrilled with the great progress he is making and can't be happier about the direction of change. He works every harder toward the goal, hardly ever going to sleep before midnight and then rising at the crack of dawn to work some more.

The singers are excited by the new emphasis on excellence above all else, and are willing to work harder than ever. They are coming to rehearsal ready to sing and happy for the privilege of doing what they are doing. The same is true of the cantors, who are given new responsibilities and are held to higher standards.

The glorious thing that is happening here comes down to this: the program is giving back to Catholic their native music and freeing up the universal musical voice of the faith. This amounts to a major step toward the unity of the faith all over the world. Nothing could be more essential in a secular culture defined by its aesthetic fracturing. We need this major step to help us pray together and come together in one faith. He is not only a humble visionary but a man of great courage with an eye to the future of sacred music.

Wise Virgins and the Transformative Power of the Liturgy

The Rector read out that year’s pastoral assignments for the seminarians with all of the aplomb of Charlton Heston reading a telephone book. “Don Christopher Smith, Centro d’Accoglienza.” The Welcome Center? I had visions of rest areas on US interstates, wondering if the Italian versions had chapels in them. But my wondering where I had been sent was interrupted by the spontaneous bursting into laughter of my entire seminary community. I was to find out why later. Four Daughters of Charity of St Vincent de Paul lived in a large building not far from Rome’s main train station. In that building they took in teenage mothers and young ex-prostitutes who had nowhere to turn and wanted out of the dead ends their lives had become. I had no idea what I was supposed to do there. Why would a seminarian be sent there? I had no formation, no education to deal with this kind of problem. And I had to go every Wednesday and every Sunday for most of the day. The seminarians roared, “Imagine, Christopher, the liturgist, the musician, the theologian, hanging out with a bunch of hookers. That’s rich!” I was taunted.

Needless to say, the first time I meekly rang the bell at the Centro, I had a foreboding sense that this pastoral assignment would be my undoing. That sense would not leave me for a long while. The Sisters lived in common with the girls and their children. They had no private space to themselves, except for their Spartan rooms. And they shared in each other’s lives twenty-four hours a day. And with forty odd women living in a house, four of them Catholic nuns and the others with a vast array of psychological, mental, and emotional problems, as well as infants and toddlers all over the place, you can imagine that I had not walked into The Sound of Music.

In fact, if there was any sound at all, it was of unrelenting noise. MTV blaring in a makeshift common room, ten different languages blared into cell phones, babies crying for their mothers who were smoking on the porch, everything but quiet. Twice a week, I would nervously wend my way through the rooms of the house, feeling totally inadequate and at a loss as what to do with myself, and anxiously watch the clock for deliverance.

The Sisters had a tough regime in the house. One of the many inflexible rules was that everyone had to come to Sunday Mass in the stone chapel in the basement of the house. Priests from all over Rome take their turns coming to the house to celebrate Mass. And generally, the chapel was full of girls who wanted to be anywhere but there.

The Sisters realized that I was uncomfortable. I had lapsed into being reserved, introverted, mute and listless. I must have appeared like a haughty gentleman from a Victorian novel, a clerical D’Arcy who observed scenes with such detachment as to seem incredulous and censorious. In reality, I just had no idea how to act or what to say. The Sisters then told me to give spiritual conferences to the girls once a week on the Gospel readings. At least I felt more comfortable in the role of teacher, and on a subject of theology, but how could I do this in front of a hostile audience?

So week after week I tried, and it was unsuccessful. Then we had the Gospel of the Wise Virgins and the Foolish Virgins. With all of the girls and their children, and the Sisters assembled in the Chapel, I started my meditation. “Well, I know I’ve got to be the only virgin in here, but I am sure you can relate somehow.”

My heart stopped. Did that actually just come out of my mouth? Did I say that in front of the Blessed Sacrament? Was I going to be dragged out of here in a body bag? And then, the laughter started. First one, then three, then before I knew it, the chapel was roaring with laughter. And I was laughing too. I had let down the pretense of trying to be the perfect clerical gentleman striving too hard to say the right thing in the right way to the right people. In a singularly absurd episode, I had betrayed my own weakness. I acknowledged what had been my own discomfort, and was then able to move beyond it. I then proceeded to talk about the Gospel passage as it really related to their lives and from my heart, instead of how I thought they should interpret it according to my mind.

From that moment on, I was able to relate in a natural way with the girls and their children. Week after week, we explored the Word of God and celebrated the sacraments together. It was during those days that I realized the vital importance of something I had laughed at before: the ministry of presence. It was a brave thing for these girls to let me, a man, a priest and a young person not that much older than themselves into their world, especially when men had hurt them, priests were foreign to them, and their peers had betrayed them. Sunday Mass became more interiorly and exteriorly participated. I started to see the girls go into the chapel on their own for quiet moments in front of the Blessed Sacrament.

Then one day a seminarian suggested, “Why don’t we ask the girls over for Sunday Vespers and dinner at the seminary?” I was a little skeptical, but the Rector enthusiastically agreed. The seminary was abuzz before the big day, with lots of good-natured jokes about my “ladies of the night” coming over to pray with us. And so the day came. The nave was littered with strollers, filled with sight of young women of every nationality who had been to the school of hard knocks, and the cries of the children mingled with the sight of black cassock and white surpliced seminarians processing to their choir stalls to sing the Evening Prayer of the Church.

After Vespers, the girls and their kids came down to the refectory for dinner. What a sight it was to see the seminarians serving these women and their children at table. Although for us it was a normal Sunday dinner, many of these woman had never been invited to, much less, been served at, what seemed to them such a formal meal. And the atmosphere was one of great joy. Wine flowed freely and conversation even freer as these women and their priests-in-training shared the fruit of the vine and the work of human hands after having prayed.

This scene was repeated over and again over the rest of my time in the seminary. The girls began to learn to sing Vespers, they came to our ordinations, they shared in all of the important events of our seminary life. What a sight to see the Lateran Basilica, Mother and Head of all of the Churches of the City and the World, as a place where the fatherliness of the ministerial priesthood could meet these remarkable young women, who were not a pastoral problem to be solved, but a blessing to be cherished.

Sharing the Word of God and celebrating the Liturgy together was not made fruitful, because we found the “right way” to do ministry. It was made fruitful because we found a way to be natural, genuine and spontaneous, even as we let Word and Sacrament speak to us in their God-given power to transform and elevate.

When I left Rome, as much I longed for long walks through the Roman Forum, sumptuous liturgies in the basilicas and the stimulation of theology, I missed those girls and those Sisters perhaps even more. They taught me, despite my own fecklessness, how to be a father. And I also saw that, in the Church, the liturgy and prayer can become a motivating factor in people’s lives. The presence of God in the Eucharist, as well as in prayer and common life, comes into the messiness of our life and takes hold of it. That presence encourages us to light our lamps with the oil of virtue and wait for the Beloved, in whom all of our Loves are made perfect.

Monday, February 14, 2011

What does it mean to compose for God?

You must read this wonderful speech by Metropolitan Hilarion Alfeyev at the Catholic University of America, February 9, 2011.

Here is a small excerpt on Bach:

Bach is a universal Christian phenomenon. His music transcends confessional boundaries; it is ecumenical in the original sense of the word, for it belongs to the world as a whole and to each citizen separately. We may call Bach an ‘orthodox’ composer in the original, literal sense of the Greek word ortho-doxos for throughout his life he learnt how to glorify God rightly. Invariably he adorned his musical manuscripts with the words Soli Deo Gloria (‘Glory to the One God’) or Jesu, juva (‘Help, O Jesus’). These expressions were for him not merely verbal formulae but a confession of faith that ran through all of his compositions. For Bach, music was worship of God. He was truly ‘catholic,’ again in the original understanding of the Greek word katholikos, meaning ‘universal,’ or ‘all-embracing,’ for he perceived the Church as a universal organism, as a common doxology directed towards God. Furthermore, he believed his music to be but a single voice in the cosmic choir that praises God’s glory. And of course, throughout his life Bach remained a true son of his native Lutheran Church. Albeit, as Albert Schweitzer noted, Bach’s true religion was not even orthodox Lutheranism but mysticism. His music is deeply mystical because it is based on an experience of prayer and ministry to God which transcends confessional boundaries and is the heritage of all humanity.

Bach’s personal religious experience was embodied in all of his works which, like holy icons, reflect the reality of human life but reveal it in an illumined and transfigured form.

Bach may have lived during the Baroque era, but his music did not succumb to the stylistic peculiarities of the time. As a composer, moreover, Bach developed in an antithetical direction to that taken by art in his day. His was an epoch characterized by culture’s headlong progression towards worldliness and humanism. Center stage became ever more occupied by the human person with his passions and vices, while less artistic space was reserved for God. Bach’s art was not ‘art’ in the conventional meaning of the word; it was not art for art’s sake. The cardinal difference between the art of antiquity and the Middle Ages on the one hand and modern art on the other is in the direction it takes: pre-Renaissance art was directed towards God, while modern art is orientated towards the human person. Bach stood at the frontier of these two inclinations, two world-views, two opposing concepts of art. And, of course, he remained a part of that culture which was rooted in tradition, in cult, in worship, in religion.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Gaudete in Domino semper: iterum dico, gaudete.

How would you respond should a member of your parish music ministry mentions to you before, during or after performing your shared duties at Mass, “Man, I have so much fun doing this! Isn’t it fun for you, too?”

Before deliberating your response, the issue rests upon your shoulders, not upon those of your colleague who uttered both the exclamation and the question. Well, for my part, I would search my memory banks and conscience simultaneously to see if the word “fun” has any resonance of meaning within the context of worship, as I now understand it. I guess this utilizes the I Corinthians 13 exam criterion, “When I was a child, I spoke like a child….” Another caveat: try to avoid characterizing your colleague according to their specific roll and duties in music ministry. It’s just as reasonable to imagine that one’s organist, a master improviser, could think aloud after a deft, imaginative and wonderful postlude, “Wow, that was FUN,” just as would a LifeTeen kit drummer after being part of a cohesively tight rendition of “Awesome God,” or perhaps even a gifted and facile chorister who soars through the versicle of a gradual or alleluia with peerless perfection.

I think we can dispense with the admonition of our Lord to “suffer the little children to come unto me” as a defense of describing our service and office at liturgy as “fun.” So, let’s just move on to a safer platform upon which we can consider the emotion, or state of being we commonly call “joy.” Somewhere between the poles of a spirit-filled choir/congregation belting out “Rejoice in the Lord always, again I say REJOICE” in full abandon and the Introit for III Sunday, Advent, is a question of exactly how do we manifest the notion, or even mandate that we represent and/or express “joy” in our duties as both servants of the liturgy and Christians?

As a choirmaster generally regarded as a taskmaster, many of my current and former singers would likely agree “He sure has a mean way of showing he’s happy!.” But that’s a burden I carry primarily only in rehearsals. And I’ve taken great pains to minimize those behaviors which would lead folks to depict me so, alas to mixed reviews. But at worship, what is the proper measure of joy in all of our individual and corporate efforts to effect music that is “sacred, beautiful and universal?” Are we called to represent some sort of “affect,” like the emotive associations that Baroque theorists ascribed to specific key tonalities? Or are we better off just making sure that after sufficient rehearsal, we render any and all text and music settings in a stoic, expressionless façade, even though the product evidences the joy of mastery and accomplishment? Of course, reality exacts from me the possible truth that most of our choristers have their eyes and noses fixed firmly towards their scores until the final cadence, at which time their most likely facial response would suggest “Pop pop, fizz fizz, oh what a relief it is!And them some might actually look at our facial demeanor with trepidation or anticipation to know if “joy” is warranted, if only internally.

I’ve recalled the one experience I was afforded to prepare and conduct the Allegri “Miserere” as one of the supreme moments of elation I’ve known at service. Is that aberrant? In May, I will be graced to conduct a large and capable choir and orchestra in the performance of the Mozart “Requiem.” And as a chorister under Wilko Brouwers singing the Brudieu setting three summers ago, there was exquisite joy in every aspect of that endeavor for me. Is there something wrong with this picture? Or, is it much more an elegantly simple and natural response to the grace and gift by God to us intrinsic within the objective of composition and singing of sacral texts to inspired musical composition?

Does “joy” have a face or façade in the musical acts of worship?

For your consideration, intersecting both this thread on "Joy" and my previous post on
"Circumabulation and Processions, the Ovum Introit!"
 Just for FUN!

Musica Sacra, Florida conference in April

The registration and conference page for the 3rd Annual Musica Sacra Florida Conference are now up and running.

Sponsored by the Florida Chapter of the Church Music Association of America in conjunction with the Department of Music, Ave Maria University, Ave Maria, Florida.

Friday, April 1st – Saturday, April 2nd, 2011

It's going to be a great program!

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Narcissism and the Liturgy

If there is one thing that Catholics on all sides of the liturgical divide can agree on, is that the besetting problem of the Catholic clergy today, and often the liturgy they celebrate, is narcissism. The navel-gazing preoccupation with the self at the expense of the common good and the communion of the Church is faulted for many of the Church’s woes. But just where that narcissism lies, Catholics are in disagreement.

There are those who argue that young priests today are unbelievably narcissistic. All they care about is cappa magnas, lace albs, highly cultured music, and imposing a pray-pay-and-obey mentality on a faithful increasingly tired of clerical self-absorption. The charge is that many of those who seek a reform of the liturgy in a certain direction are using that as a disguise for clerical narcissism.

Then there is the riposte. There are others who condemn the consciously Vatican II style priests as the real narcissists. They obscure the sacred behind talk-show, living room, vulgar antics. They advance an agenda of heresy and schism by preferring their own half-baked opinions to the solid rock of doctrine. They are the ones who have necessitated a reform of the liturgy because of their reign of narcissism.

How has this come about? Often theories are put forward based on gender confusion. For some, this narcissism is motivated by repressive, introspective tendencies that have come raging out as crass effeminacy. For others, it is squarely the effect of a womynization of the Church and capitulation to an ideology of feminazi origins. And for others, it is precisely because there are not enough women in the Church to counter the male’s tendency to fall into the pool of self-admiration.

As with most things, there are actually merits to all of the above arguments even as there are also significant problems with them as well. They also focus almost exclusively on the narcissism of the clergy, as if that alone is the root of the malaise in the contemporary Catholic Church. In this essay I would like to explore what I opine to be some of causes of narcissism in the Church and possible avenues of correcting it.

Causes of Narcissism:
1. A confusion of the natural/supernatural
One of the great projects of modern theology has been to try to underline the fundamental unity between the natural and the supernatural, and to overcome the dichotomy by which man is seen as independent of the supernatural order and God. This project has not been universally successful at the theological level. Too often, it has lapsed into subsuming the natural into the supernatural or reducing the supernatural to some pale unnecessary addition to nature.
Yet if I somehow sees the supernatural life of grace as a right owed to human nature, then it is impossible for me to see anything beyond my own intrinsic goodness. Even the recognition of my error and sin can be dismissed by a distorted understanding of Divine Mercy. How many people in our pews and sanctuaries have deceived themselves into believing that they are good people and that God must grant them eternal life just because they exist? The relativization of sin and its consequences has led to a dismissal of God’s justice. My human nature is good and this is all that is. Grace is just a good happy feeling that I have that God sees me as good too. The supernatural life of grace is reduced to my own self-esteem. This leads to an unhealthy preoccupation with myself and my own natural happiness, because of my inability to see my nature in its reality and God’s supernatural power to transform and perfect my nature. In the liturgy, this leads to an attitude that the sacraments are merely human rites that must be manipulated to grant me the maximal boost to self-esteem. Liturgy becomes a celebration of my best self.
2. The exaltation of immanence over transcendence
Often we speak of a tension between the vertical and the horizontal in the liturgy, between a focus on God and a focus on man. In reality, the liturgy contains this tension. There is the aspect of adoration, of praise rendered freely to God, as well as instruction and inspiration of man. But it also must be recognized that while the supernatural is found within the soul in sanctifying grace, immanent, it is also entirely transcendent, and independent of me. If the liturgy does not incarnate an attitude of reverence and respect for the absolute holiness of God, then it will lapse into a preoccupation with individual and social human needs. Against the backdrop of confusion over nature and the supernatural, the exaltation of the immanence of grace in me versus the transcendence of God means the end of doxological aspect of worship becomes secondary to the liturgy seen as a means to fulfill my own need to transcend myself. But that transcendence can only be had by divine agency, but having banished it, I continually seek for the liturgy to serve me instead of its being a place to praise God.
3. Gender Ambiguity
It is a truth that every human person is not only a rational animal sharing a common human nature, but an engendered individual. We are either male or female, and that brings with it a corresponding biological, spiritual and psychological component of our nature. This is independent of the way that culture and history conditions perceptions of gender roles. The liturgy incarnates in its own symbolic way the engendered nature of the human person, according to divine revelation. Political attempts to modify the cultural and historical perceptions of gender roles have been translated into the liturgy. There are calls to modify the language and symbolism of the liturgy according to the changing perception of gender roles. This leads to a preoccupation with the physical gender as well as the conformity or lack thereof to gender roles of those in the sanctuary and in the pews. It deplaces the attention from the gender-independent Mystery behind the rites to the gender of those who participate in them. In so doing, it leads to a preoccupation with conforming the liturgy to however I want to reshape gender roles instead of respecting the engendered nature of liturgical symbolism which points beyond the symbol to something transcending it.
4. Democratization and Declericalization of the Liturgy
Calls for reconstituting the Church along the lines of an imagined democratic organization have obliterated the distinction between the ministerial and the common priesthood. Emphasis on the sacraments as encounters with Christ the High Priest has been replaced by an exaggerated emphasis on the rights of the priest over the rights of the laity and vice-versa. The laity, in assuming or usurping roles that belong by right or by tradition to the clergy, have correspondingly been clericalized. The clergy who protest at such a phenomenon are dismissed as clericalists. Either way, the respect for the difference in roles at the liturgy and their ontological and theological roles has faded before the demands of a politically motivated egalitarianism. Just as in political life, the struggle for equality requires a constant calling attention to where inequalities remain, when this is translated to the liturgy, the rites become a battlefield for the destruction of inequality and not a place of prayer. Attention is given to political change within the Church and not to the adoration of the Divine Majesty reflected in the hierarchical communion of the Church whose constitution was given to it by Christ.
5. Individualism
The perduring idea that the liturgy should correspond to my likes and dislikes perpetuates individualism within the liturgy. The refusal to actively participate in the liturgy, both interiorly and exteriorly, privileges an atomist understanding of the human person vis-à-vis God. The subjection of public prayer to private devotion, individual initiative, temerarious opinion, and the arbitrary decisions of committees reinforces the idea that the liturgy is a merely human rite capable of manipulation by individual interests. When I see the liturgy in this fashion, it is easy then to focus on how I want to change the liturgy to correspond to my own individual needs.

Antidotes to Narcissism:
1. Mass is not a What, it is a Who
The first antidote to narcissism in the liturgy is catechetical. We must be taught again that the Mass is not a what, it is not a human rite which can and should be manipulated so as to express human desires or to promote human goods. The Mass is a who, rather it is the prayer of self-offering of Jesus Christ to His Father for the remission of sins. A vigorous reproposal of the teaching of the Council of Trent and Vatican II on the sacrificial aspect of the Mass will help us to overcome the tendency to make the liturgy a merely natural human phenomenon.
2. Ad Orientem
The celebration of the parts of the Mass which are not directly aimed at the instruction or the edification of the faithful must be returned to a symbolic focus which is not the people. The classical ad orientem position of the celebrant at the altar in celebrating the Sacrifice of the Mass underscores the transcendence of Christ’s action in the Mass. Facing the people during those parts of the Mass which are for their instruction or edification will then highlight the immanence of the divine life of grace in us. The balance between immanence and transcendence will thus be restored in the liturgy.
The celebration of all of the parts of the Mass versus populum actually assists clericalism. It makes the altar into a barrier between presider and people, and sets him up against the people. Rather, the fact of presider and people facing the same direction indicates the unity of the priest with his people, rather than give the opportunity for the priest to manage the people by his actions.
3. Eucharistic Cultus
Pius XII stated that the tabernacle and the altar should not be separated. This follows upon the principle that Sacrifice and Sacrament are not separated. To that end, the placement of the tabernacle once again upon the altar prevents the celebrant from arbitrarily placing himself at the center of the divine drama. It also shows the unity between the sacrifice of the Mass and the sacrament shared in Holy Communion. The adoration of the Blessed Sacrament outside of Mass flows from Mass: Adoration, Benediction, Processions and Holy Hours all stem from the Mass.
The cult of the Eucharist is a pledge of faith in the Incarnation of the God-Man. Because Jesus is a divine person with a divine but also a human nature, engendered, incarnational and Eucharistic devotion also underscores the proper sphere of gender in the human person without ambiguity, as well as points to the Mystery of God which is beyond gender and humanity.
4. Communion on the Tongue and Kneeling
There is nothing inherently wrong about receiving Holy Communion standing or in the hand. But the reception of Holy Communion kneeling is a sign of adoration of the transcendence of the Divine Majesty. It is a corrective to a democratization of the liturgy in that it emphasizes the humility of the believer who does not stand with rights before God. It also is a corrective to the declericalization of the liturgy because Communion on the tongue emphasizes that the Body and Blood of Christ come as a gift from Christ the High Priest. Just as a baby bird is nourished by its mother directly in the mouth, the Christ the Priest through the ministerial priest nourishes the spiritual child directly in the mouth with no other intervention.
5. A Liturgical Communitarian Spirituality
Homiletics during the liturgy must focus on the intrinsic connection between liturgy and life. The Eucharist has dimensions which extend far beyond the church doors. It reaches into the family hearth, the school, the workplace, the soup kitchen and the courtroom. The correspondence between the celebration of the Sacred Mysteries and the social apostolate of the Church and the moral life of families in the world combats individualism in the Church. The realization that as a Church we are a communion of holy people sharing in the Holy must be accompanied by the vision of the Church on a mission to build the Kingdom of God in the world.

These are just a few ideas of the causes of narcissism in the Church today, as well as some practical ideas for overcoming them. I have never claimed the charism of infallibility, so feel free to disagree with me or challenge the above. I do think that it is a disservice to the Church to pin narcissism on such superficial things as the fashion, hobbies, and quirks of the clergy. Those things can certainly be manifestations of narcissism, but the roots are much deeper, and affect not only the clergy, but the whole life of the Church. It is imperative that we discover those roots, and get rid of them. But the eradication of all that is less than it should be in the Church will come, not from polemic and mutual incrimination, but through conversion of heart away from ourselves and towards God.