Tuesday, May 31, 2011
Monday, May 30, 2011
Anyone who has read anything about the Liturgical Movement in the twentieth century has come across the name of Pius Parsch. He was the pastor of a small parish in the Austrian countryside, and a chaplain to any number of youth groups in and around. His name is important to know, because many of the things which we now take for granted in our celebrations of the Ordinary Form of the Roman Rite began as experiments in or were popularized from this one place. Mass facing the people, offertory processions, vernacular mixed with Latin in the text of the Mass: all of these things were already “traditions” fixed in the minds of Parsch’s parishioners well before Vatican II.
But Pius Parsch was not a diocesan parish priest. He was an Augustinian canon, a member of a religious community in Klosterneuberg not from Vienna. As a canon, community daily Mass and the Divine Office were already part of his spirituality, and he sought to bring the riches of that liturgical experience he loved in the monastery to his parishioners. How he did that is a fascinating story in and of itself, and we cannot underestimate the influence Parsch had on the liturgical reform of Vatican II, and the influence he still has today, especially in Austria. But that is the subject for another article.
Klosterneuberg is not just any monastery. As one of the canons explained it to me, Klosterneuberg is to Austria what Westminster Abbey is to England. It is the spiritual heart of Austria, and its importance in the fascinating story of Austria has always been great.
The history of the Austrian Church has been very peculiar, especially on account of the widespread meddling in Church affairs by the “Sacristy Emperor”, Joseph II. What this means is that the way religious life is lived in Austria is different than the way it is lived in any other place in the world. What it means to be a Benedictine, a Trappist, or a Norbertine in Austria is markedly different than what it means in other parts of the world. The active life has been emphasized very much over the contemplative life, not by accident of history, but by imperial edict.
The Austrian Congregation of Canons Regular of St Augustine does not have a counterpart anywhere else in the world. The most venerable house is Klosterneuberg.
But what is Klosterneuberg like today? While vocations are drying up all over the German-speaking world, this abbey continues to receive novices, and many stay. The monastery has gained notoriety in part because of a daring project in which several American priests and seminarians entered the community with the hope of one day establishing a foundation in the US. Very soon three confreres will make that dream a reality thanks to the patronage of the Bishop of Rockville Center, New York. And so the deep roots of Austrian canonical life will find their way to America, which will benefit from the rich history and spirituality of a form of life which many Americans will fall in love with!
Klosterneuberg remains a house of serious religious observance, but within its own tradition. While from the outside it may seem very wealthy and free, its canons are expected to participate in the life of the house and in the numerous apostolates of the community. The entire Liturgy of the Hours is chanted daily, conventual Mass is for all, and the life of the monastery continues much as it always has. But it also is a house for adults, for men whose spirituality does not need to be propped up by the structures of religious life.
For me, Klosterneuberg represents the past of Austria: its glorious imperial history, its intricate and fascinating development throughout the Second Milennium, its famous characters whose stories need to be told outside of the monastery walls. It also represents the future of Austria, and quite possibly, of many other places as well. Ours is an age in which the clerical life desperately needs reform. Priests hunger after a life which gives them the spiritual support they need to do their ministry and save their own souls, but with the freedom and flexibility to respond to the needs of the Church of today. While many people in the Church are experimenting with various movements or novel hybrid forms of religious life, Klosterneuberg offers a very rooted serious tradition which has weathered the post-conciliar years substantially intact. Where other religious communities abandoned their charism and faltered, the Austrian canonical life was able to remain authentically Catholic and authentically religious without sacrificing its essence or its power. The fact that it is a community which is growing when so many others are not indicates something beautiful is going on for God there.
So where is the present of Austria then? Readers of Chant Café will hopefully recognize the name of the Cistercian Abbey of Heiligenkreuz. This abbey, also a venerable ancient monastic foundation of the Common Observance of the Cistercian Order, is the most flourishing and vibrant religious community in the German-speaking world. The abbey is known for its recent Chant CD. And, watch for a new CD, which has just been issued. entitled Vesperae. It is the reconstruction of Baroque Vespers with Cistercian chant and music from Abbey composer Alberich Mazak (1609-1661).
The Abbey is justly known for its chant. The community of eighty monks, of whom forty or so are resident in the house, sing all of the offices and Mass together. A peculiarity of the Abbey which makes its known in Englihs-speaking circles as a “Reform of the Reform” place is its liturgy. During the Second Vatican Council, an extraordinary man was the head of the community. Abbot Karl Braunstorfer was a peritus at the Second Vatican Council. When the Council urged the reform of the religious life and the Latin liturgical tradition, Abt Karl guided his community through the transition in a spirit of the hermeneutic of continuity. He and the abbey were often criticized bitterly for the way in which they went about this, most notably Franz Cardinal Koenig, the Cardinal of Vienna, who wondered aloud during a pastoral visit whether the Second Vatican Council had ever reached the Abbey. In retrospect, many can now see that the prayerful and resourceful abbot perhaps incarnated the true spirit of the Council more than he has been given credit for.
The Abbey is also home to the Higher School for Philosophy and Theology, and has become a much sought after place of study for orthodox Catholic theology in the German speaking world.
The Latin Ordinary Form is celebrated every day, and the Latin Cistercian Liturgia Horarum, with its two week Psalter Cycle, was produced from within the house. Large antiphonaries for the new liturgy have been produced. All of these new liturgical books have been produced with an eye to beauty, durability, and tradition. One can feel confident that St Bernard, were he to end up at Heiligenkreuz, would find himself very much at home.
The monks are known for their liturgy and their chant, and the abbey church is frequently full of visitors. I have never seen another large monastery church full for the daytime hours of the Office! I had the great grace to be invited to choir practice on Sunday morning. One assumes that monks famous for their CDs would not need choir practice, and it was comforting to see the Prior, who is also the Music Director for the Abbey, encouraging the monks to follow the proper rhythm for the chant and to not drag it or fall flat.
I cannot tell you the emotion I had to sit in the choir stalls and concelebrate Mass. But one thing will always stay with me, even greater than the perfect chant and the superb hospitality. As I came back from the altar after distributing Holy Communion, I saw many of the monks in their choir stalls in prayer. Scapulars and cucullae drawn over their heads, many were prostrate on the floor. Yet there was nothing showy or piously over-devotional about their prayer. The silent witness of those monks in adoration of the God whom they had just received spoke volumes about the proskynesis proper to the worship of the Almighty and Triune God. Music dissipated into a silence where heaven was opened, not by an aesthetic experience, but a moment of grace.
I was surprised to be greeted by a young monk at breakfast, “Oh, I have read your articles on Chant Café” even before I could stammer out a bad German Guten Morgen. So the blogosphere where Catholics come to share their love of liturgy and life has penetrated the walls of the most beautiful cloister of Central Europe. What the monks might not know, is that it is their witness which gives those us from without the cloister wall the courage to share with everyone our love of a common faith.
For more information, check out:
Klosterneuberg at http://newsite.augustiniancanons.org/
Heiligenkreuz at http://stift-heiligenkreuz.org/English.english.0.html
I am a skeptic by nature. As far as the corrected translation of the Ordinary Form of the Roman Mass is concerned, I still will believe it when I see it, or rather when I celebrate it the first time and hear the people say And with your spirit back to me. We have waited to so long for the new translation, and there has been much angst over its inception, execution and implementation. And I have watched the process unfold closely, but with the jaundiced eye of a cynic in the liturgical wars. But why?
Do I believe that the new translation will be a marked improvement over the current translation? Of course I do. Will I enjoy using the new translation more than the current translation? You betcha! Am I glad I am not in parish ministry when the new translation hits the ground? I thank my lucky stars…
Having grown up as a Baptist, and then wading around in the Thames before finding my way to the Tiber, I grew up with the Jacobean English of the King James Version. Young men in the South have grown up thinking of God and praying to Him in a language far removed from that of the streets ever since the colonies were founded. The hysteria that some feign because of a translation which is not even close to the sonorous English with which I learned to pray in my youth is just something I find rather overwrought. One of the hardest things about exchanging the English Missal of the Society of Ss. Peter and Paul for the English Missal of ICEL was that everything I heard and said just sounded artificial.
As the corrected translation, worked through and over time and time again, wended its way towards the light of day, I continued to be a cynic about the whole thing. My chief objection was this: I have routinely celebrated Mass in different languages throughout my priesthood. I celebrated Mass in Spanish every Sunday for five years, and have celebrated in Latin, Italian, French, Portuguese and German. So I have gotten to know intimately all of those other Missals. And the thought occurred to me: especially in Spanish and Italian, the translations are for the most part extremely faithful translations of the Latin, with no need for Liturgiam authenticam. The faithful have heard the prayers of the Ordinary Form, and not paraphrases, for forty years, and Italy and the Spanish-speaking countries are still not even on the radar screen as far as what most readers of Chant Café would recognize as even tolerable, much less, good, liturgy. There has to be more than just a decent translation to ignite the spirit of the liturgy in the Church.
And so I have remained very guarded about the possibilities of the new translation. My big fear is that it will be business as usual in most American parishes, and that even the great opportunity to commission new liturgical music will be hijacked by warmed over reworkings of the music we have grown so tired of on the American scene.
I am beginning to rethink my earlier cynicism, however. The corrected translation of the English Mass is more important than we might realize. It is no secret that the English language is perhaps the most important for the dissemination of the Catholic faith right now. Even though there are probably more Spanish-speaking Catholics and certainly more speakers of Chinese than English, our language remains a world force. That is why “getting it right” is so important: wherever the English language goes, the faith celebrated in the English language will follow. The new translation has a potential to recondition the way the Ordinary Form is thought of and celebrated all over the world.
But there is more. From one point of view, the corrected translation is nothing more than a response to Liturgiam authenticam to produce a text of the Ordinary Form of the Roman Missal closer to the Latin typical edition. But could there be more here?
We must remember that Pope Benedict XVI is now gloriously reigning from the Chair of Peter. The ecclesial context in which episcopal conferences go about responding to Liturgiam authenticam is different than it was at the end of the reign of Blessed John Paul II. While the rich teaching of Joseph Ratzinger on the liturgy is not invested with any Magisterial authority (although it is devoutly to be wished that this pontiff will give the Church a great gift of an encyclical on the liturgy!), it clearly is having its effect in many quarters.
After the tremendous “event” of Advent 1969 and the extension of the Missal of Paul VI to the Church, all subsequent liturgical texts had as their reference point that Missal and everything that came with it. Liturgiam authenticam is another exercise of that unfolding of the Pauline Missal in our time.
But by the time the English response to that document has come around, the Church finds herself in a very different liturgical situation than she was when the document was drafted. The Vicar of Christ Himself has called for a Reform of the Reform. He has also recognized the substantial unity of the Roman Rite in two forms, and finally rejected the idea that the classical Roman liturgical heritage is something to be discarded from the Church.
Advent 2011, with the use of the corrected English translation, represents the first time since Vatican II that a significant change in liturgical text will affect the faith lives of a significant portion of the Church Catholic. In this new context, the new translation is not business with the Missal of Paul VI as usual. It can be seen as a test case for the Reform of the Reform. Even though the text is still the Ordinary Form, it is very clearly a re-form of the previous English text. It is proof that the liturgy can be re-formed according to principles which bring it closer to the mind of the Church than what people in the Church have experienced for the past forty years. It also will provide a tremendous opportunity not only for catechesis about the true nature of the liturgy, but for wide questioning all throughout the Church about how the liturgical reform has been carried out.
Is English Mass 2.0 a test case for the Reform of the Reform? I have no way of knowing whether that was part of the plan all along (I doubt it!). But in any case, the way in which the corrected translation will be received in the Church will give us many clues about the practical possibilities for even greater reform in the liturgy. This is why no one can be indifferent to the corrected translation of the Ordinary Form. Its effects will not only condition how people pray the New Rite, but it will also open up all kinds of questions and possibilities for how the Church prays in every rite.
One of the most popular books of the past (and it is probably still popular) is the Rossini propers. These use the same mode regardless of the chant or season. The problem here is that every Sunday sounds pretty much like every other Sunday, and a major feature of the tone and color of the music attached to propers is completely lost. This makes the propers rather tedious in some respects - a perfunctory job we do rather than a special piece designed to elucidate and beautify the text.
Rather than make judgements on which mode the Simple Propers were written in, Adam Bartlett preserved the original, which also allowed the formulaic chants to be adapted to preserve some melodic content as well. You will see this in particular on special days where the introit, communion, or offertory has a special distinctive feature.
To see how this works in practice, consider the example of the Offertory for Pentecost: Confirma Hoc.
Here is the Gregorian original.
Now consider the color, structure, and general mood similarities with the same piece written in the formula for the Simple English Propers.
The idea here is not to replace Gregorian chant. It is to provide a bridge away from a situation where propers have been completely lost and the chant is not being sung, and toward an environment friendly to chant. That transition could take years or even decades, and, in the meantime, beautiful music that is plainsong and melodically fitting with the liturgy is being sung and heard. This is fantastic training for the people and the singers.
Has a book like this ever existed? I don't know for sure, but I doubt. What we have here are the full notated Gospels, Orations, and Epistles for the extraordinary form of Mass. It is bound in leather, and comes in at 850 pages. The price is $275, which strikes me as a bargain. I would think that every parish that is even considering the extraordinary form needs this book.
Now, people from the old school might look at this and say: why is this book even necessary? Why write it all out? You just need to learn the tones, mark the text, and sing!
Well, that's true enough but guess what? This skill is mostly vanished. We can sit around and regret the loss of the ability of point text and sing, and we can also sit around and regret the loss of the ability of cantors to sing text the same way or, for that matter, the ability of scholas to memorize the entire Graduale as they did for the first thousand years or Christianity. There are always things to wring out hands about and bemoan.
Or we can get to work and put together books that meet the current, practical things that move us further toward the idea. St. John Cantius is very much to be praised for having see the real - the crying - need for this wonderful book.
Congratulations to them for thinking creatively and progressively.
Sunday, May 29, 2011
Those of you who rightly call me out for my tendencies towards verbiage and hyperbole, caveat emptor and read no further! Maybe someone (Kathy?) will reduce this diatribe to a paragraph’s worth of bullet points, God willing.
I start with two seemingly incompatible reflections.
First, I’m happy to have gone through a four decade learning curve in music ministry leadership that has led me from the noble naïveté of the Baltimore folk movement, the acid-trip eclecticism of unlimited-horizon visionaries in the Oakland Diocese, through the embryonic reformations of Deiss, Westendorf and Proulx zeniths, then the post-charismatic forging of amalgamations that represented, at the time, legitimately new and powerful voices in sung worship that spawned a complex genealogical dialectic, namely the SLJ/Dameans model, through to the Minnesotan monopoly, the Anglophile husbandry with St. Thomas More/Chris Willcocks, and other particular, regional expressions such as the Hurd/Cortez axis or the Hommerding/Chepponis sensibility.
Second, I wish I’d had the where-with-all to have simply sailed through these decades of both bliss and tumult in the deck shoes of Mahrt. Schuler or Salamunovich.
Those two celebratory musings aside, in my estimation there is one, sole maxim that applies for those wishing to improve the lot of worship, and here I’ll paraphrase the great pop hit by Annie Lennox and Aretha Franklin-“Sisters (and brothers) are doin’ it for themselves!”
All of us who, to whatever degree, are involved in Roman Catholic worship (from the ubiquitous PIP, so often misappropriated and maligned, to the aspiring Knight of St. Gregory) must understand that we are not the authors of change, that the progenitor of the vineyards of worship is the author, and we’re here as both vine tenders and branches of the vine at once. This creates in us a longing to be affirmed that as we go through the seasons and cycles of change, that we somehow ensure that all change is organic to its nature, and not manufactured. Well, as in real agriculture, and specifically the science and art that is wine-making, perfection and ideals are elusive and sometimes never achieved. And more often than not, one brilliant vintage is afforded a vintner and workers who messily and mightily worked the process, while across the road in another vineyard with equally endowed resources; the yield seems an unfathomable loss.
Where I’m going with this is that often we tend to lose sight of the noble purpose of our labor: the rightful thanks and praise to that Author of nature and Creation that has just a minute culmination, a glimpse or taste if you will, of His gifts offered to us in perfection.
Some of us get waylaid by flocking like disciples to experts and critics, who deftly and mannerly lay out the protocols of tasting the wine and appreciating their credits and debits, to which many of us respond with some sort of “Ah hah!” moment of enlightenment. We “taste and see” the goodness and want more than anything to have that experience re-created back home after our pilgrimage. But, every year, we go back home armed with new scores and literature (but not with the sommelier!) and are again confronted with the vagaries and grubbiness of having to actually convince others to up their levels of due diligence in trimming the vines, enriching the nutrients in the soil, planting new varietals, and hoping that Zephiro’s fortunes blow our way.
It is fairly certain that people of every era remark at some particular moment, “We are living in extraordinary times.” Well, mark this as one of those moments from my vantage point. I remember my graduate advisor asserting his belief (not opinion) that the golden age of renaissance polyphony could only have been contemporaneous to that era’s masters; that logic simply dictates that Capella Sixtina under Pierluigi Palestrina’s direction would mark the zenith of performance practice of that unique musical form and expression. That notion bristled my sensibilities then and does still. That logic was in direct odds with my life’s experience and logic that as time and eras pass, all creation evolves in continuum. As a child I read the saga of Roger Bannister’s quest to break the four-minute mile in track history, an incomprehensible and impossible feat so regarded in the fifties. And then the litany of such conquerors, Sir Edmund Hillary, Jonas Salk, Frederick Douglass, Ludwig van Beethoven, and thousands of other legendary names became part of my understanding of the notion that we stand upon the shoulders of giants to this day. And eventually, as we re-construct history for our own purposes and among those names I happened to find Alfred Deller, John Eliott Gardiner, Peter Phillips, Roger Wagner, Paul Salamunovich, and others, the logic that “the golden age of renaissance polyphony” is now as much as then, and will continue into the future.
But how does that comment upon this era as particularly “extraordinary”? Well, in our liturgical domain, we are approaching a half-century’s worth of reflection upon the landscapes and vistas that apparently emerged from post-conciliar legislation of the Second Vatican Council and other subsequent documents. Looking from the perspective of musical evolutions associated with this era I would be more inclined to see the whole as more of a patchwork quilt, randomly assembled, than a tapestry whose design evidences intent and purpose, as well as artful craft. And just as a humorous aside, there have been a number of “long and winding roads” and sometimes “what a long, strange trip it’s been.” Think of the irony: “Sons of God” is a direct ancestor to the duly diligent gender inclusivity which is apparently a hallmark of Worship 4. Elsewhere, the prototype enculturation efforts of Clarence Rivers and Grayson Brown have been approbated by a number of non-African/American arrangers and composers to great popularity to this day while some of the most significant Catholic composition comes from the pen of Kevin Allen, who happens to be African-American, which embodies the discipline of renaissance counterpoint wed to contemporaneous choral techniques! And the lesson of the Beatles’ stunning contribution to both music and culture, namely that of sustaining a truly cutting edge and worthy aesthetic in a populist culture (and which has been imitated by other such collaborative RC liturgical cooperatives such as the SLJ’s and the Iona/John Bell commune, among others) is impossible. But yet, our liturgical counterparts have not faired well from their forays into chant, or traditional classicism, contrived Anglophile choral traditions and other “synthesis,” and when they return to emulate their own instinctive efforts of their earliest genres, those efforts generally seem, within the true discerning heart, tried, tired and tepid reminiscences of past glories. But they do sell at Scarborough Faires all over the nation, and thus persist. Banality, whether it's orchestrated with brass, tympani and the organ, or timbales, bajo sextos, and accordians, much less pianos, guitars and electric basses, often is the only aspect many of us can concede is the sole, unifying hallmark of modern Roman Catholic liturgical composition.
I do maintain a charitable heart for a great deal of the genre commonly referred to as sacro-pop of late, even some obvious banalities, as long as those taking up these songs and settings bring both honest and humility-based aspects to the forefront of their use and performance. But sadly, our culture automatically works against this ethos as well. To this “critic” the ironic absurdity of hearing a mega-Aussie choir, orchestra, worship team and “authentic soul sister” soloist wringing out the last drop of “gospel authenticity" at a Papal Mass at a Sydney WYD Mass from James Moore’s much-discussed “Taste and See” is just as confounding as whenever I would watch the late Luciano Pavarotti wheeled out to sing the Franck “Panis Angelicus” at other mega-Masses.
Among many of us who frequent, contribute, learn and share “praxis and philosophy” in real time mindful of the cause taken up by CMAA and the Chant Café, it can be demonstrably shown that after this half-century reflection, the whatever-the-market-bears patchwork is unraveling at their quickly sewn seams. However, the Ernest and Julio Gallo, Boone’s Farm and Two-Buck Chuck novelties will always be among us.
But as has been said by others herein, the MS Forum and many of the line of ancestral periodicals from “Caecilia” to “The Adoremus Bulletins,” the surge of new, firmly rooted and tended vintages is culminating in the form of “The Simple English Propers,” the resources of Corpus Christi Watershed, the St. Louis Liturgical Institute efforts, the collections of Rice and Allen, and even in a great deal of the Psallite Hymnal Composers Group contributions.
But how this latter “counter-revolution” to the populist and commerce-driven status quo will eventuate and take root in the “normative” Sunday Mass in an increasingly tribalized/Balkanized parish terroire remains to be seen. And personally, I don’t subscribe to the notion of looking into either farmers’ almanacs or crystal balls in order to predict a noble success of this switch towards the ideal, the Mahrt mandate and paradigm, is a worthwhile use of our time. I believe we have to work the hours of each day through the seasons and the years consistently and with holy humility, no matter where on the arc of the trends happens to be either in our estate, or in the whole of the viticulture.
More coming likely later.
H/T to Father John Hunwicke and his inimitable wit:
Does this seem as important to you as I think it does to me?
Saturday, May 28, 2011
At last we have a defense of the other position. Here is the text.
What is your response? Does he defend his case?
Friday, May 27, 2011
From Catholic Culture:
The music director of the Chicago Symphony has thrown his support behind the drive by Pope Benedict XVI to revive the tradition of sacred music.
''The Pope is right when he says it is necessary to bring our great musical heritage back into churches,'' said Ricardo Muti. The Italian conductor said that the revival in church music “cannot happen outside the great traditional path of the past, of Gregorian chants and sacred polyphonic choral music.”
Muti said that he has no objection to the composition of new sacred music, but resents the use of pop tunes. “When I go to church and I hear four strums of a guitar or choruses of senseless, insipid words, I think it's an insult,” he said. Offering mediocre music, when the Church boasts a priceless treasury of compositions, shows “a lack of respect for people’s intelligence,” he said.
Thursday, May 26, 2011
1. It's a great development that this issue is finally being discussed. A few years ago, one could hardly find any discussion of the most peculiar liturgical development of the last half century: the near complete abandonment of Mass propers as the source of music.
2. Several commentators plea for diversity and a "take your pick" approach of hymns or propers. Problem: there are hundreds of hymn-only books in print but there is not a single book in print that provides music in English for all the Mass propers, except of course the Anglican Use Gradual (of which I'm an advocate, knowing full well that there are reasons why this book cannot become standard in parish life). Otherwise, the only in-print resource for sung propers is the full loaf and the ultimate achievement of the ideal: the Graduale Romanum. It should go without saying that there is a vast gulf between current practice and that ideal, and that we need some stepping stones along the way. My point is that it's hard to have diversity without choice.
3. In about two weeks, the situation described in #2 will changed, with two very important books: the Simple English Propers (Bartlett) and Simple Choral Gradual (Rice). They will come out within days of each other, be seen for the first time at the Sacred Music Colloquium, and be available on Amazon shortly thereafter.
In general, there is nothing wrong with making the intellectual and liturgical case for propers and why they should not be replaced by hymns. In the end, however, the way all this settles out will really depend on parish experience with various models. We will soon be in a much better position to judge.
Wednesday, May 25, 2011
This is new thinking and there are no final answers yet. By the way, please see our sidebar and contribute to the English Psalms book we are doing in October. After that -- think of it -- we'll have all the resources we need for a beautiful vernacular ordinary form Mass (chanted and choral propers plus Psalms) all available in print and for free download.
At the parish website, Kent himself writes the following:
Here at St. Ignatius we take these ideals seriously. There are no “four hymn masses” here because we believe that the first priority of music in worship is to support the Liturgy of the Word and the Liturgy of the Eucharist, namely in singing most of the Mass Ordinary (Kyrie, Gloria, Sanctus, and Agnus Dei) and more importantly the central acclamations surrounding the reading of the Word of God and the consecration of the Eucharist.
Tuesday, May 24, 2011
The topic of the symposium is the interim missals that were released between Sacrosanctum Concilium of 1963 and the Missal of Paul VI of 1970. These transitional missals are most fascinating and mysterious. They come up ever so often in liturgical conversations, blog posts and comment box discussions and are a most interesting documentation of a most interesting and mystifying period in modern Church history. This international symposium will explore these missals as a means of getting into the minds of the council fathers and understanding their intentions in the course of liturgical reform. It will surely provide invaluable insights for the liturgical apostolate in our day.
Here's the press release:
An international liturgical Symposium, “Council and Continuity: The Interim Missals and the Immediate Post-Conciliar Liturgical Reform,” to be held October 3-4, 2011 at the Pastoral Center of the Diocese of Phoenix, will delve into the question of the little known “Interim Missals,” that is, those editions of the Roman Missals issued between the time of Sancrosanctum Concilium and the definitive edition of the Roman Missal promulgated by Pope Paul VI in 1970. Given their immediate proximity to the Second Vatican Council, these Missals can provide a valuable means to gaining insights into the mindset of the Council Fathers and what they had envisioned in setting the course for liturgical reform. The goal of the Symposium is to arrive at a deeper and clearer understanding of this vision through an examination of these Interim Missals.Click here for program details and registration.
The symposium will be of interest to scholars, priests, deacons and lay liturgical ministers, to those who teach, plan or coordinate liturgies whether professionally or as volunteers, and to anyone who has a particular love for the Church’s Liturgy and desire to learn more about it.
Here's the schedule of presenters. There are many names that will be familiar to Chant Café readers:
MONDAY, OCTOBER 3, 2011:
1:00 – 1:30: Opening: Greetings and Introduction – Bishop Thomas Olmsted, M.A.Th., J.C.D.
1:30 – 2:15: “The Historical Development of the Mass from its Origins to Sacrosanctum Concilium” – Prof. Dr. Hans-Jürgen Feulner, S.T.L., S.T.D.
2:30 – 3:15: “The Historical Development of the Mass from Sacrosanctum Concilium to the Present” – Rev. Prof. Douglas Martis, M.Div., S.T.L., Ph.D., S.T.D.
4:00 – 5:00: “The Latin-English Missals of 1964/66 (US)” – Andreas Bieringer, M.A., M.A.Th.
5:15 – 6:00: “The Liturgical Renewal and the Ordo Missae (1965)” – Rev. Deacon Prof. Dr. Helmut Hoping, S.T.D.
6:15 – 7: 00: Vespers with Homily – Bishop Salvatore J. Cordileone, B.A., S.T.B., J.C.D.
TUESDAY, OCTOBER 4, 2011:
7:30 – 8:15: Eucharist
9:15 –11:00: Minor Lectures:
* Church Architecture: Understanding “Inter Oecumenici” in the Context of the Liturgical Movement [D. McNamara, Ph.D.]
* The Development and Application of English Sacred Language Through the Post-Conciliar Interim Missals [Th. Book, S.T.B., M.A., S.L.L.]
* The Origin of the Latin-German Missal of 1965 [A. Kaiser, M.Eng., M.A.Th.]
* Catholic Continuity – How to Make the Church Year a Living Reality [C.F. Phillips, C.R., B.A., M.Div.]
* The Propers of the Mass: Then and Now [M.D. Kirby, O.S.B., S.T.L., Ph.D.]
* The Latin-Polish Missal of 1968 [A. Hoinkis, S.T.L., S.T.D.]
* The Book of Divine Worship: A Catholic Claim to Anglican Patrimony [Ch. G. Phillips, B.A., M.Div.]
*The New Lectionary for Mass: The Church‘s Preparation of the Table of God‘s Word Since the Council [Michael K. Magee]
11:15 – 12:00: “Liturgy – Continuity or Rupture? Possibilities for Further Liturgical Development and Its Pastoral Relevance” – Bishop Peter Elliott, M.A., D.D., S.T.D.
12:00 – 1:00: Panel Discussion, Summary and Closing of the Symposium
This event is not to be missed! Click here to register.
Monday, May 23, 2011
How did this happen? He is from another section of the country, and is only visiting our area for the summer. He had been taught how to read and sing chant by a person who had attended the Sacred Music Colloquium, as sponsored by the Church Music Association of America. The skills had passed from person to person, eventually landing back in our own parish. This is a beautiful illustration of how the passion and fire for sacred music can spread, potentially without limit.
Note, however, that there must be an infrastructure in place that teaches and trains in the first round, one wholly dedicated to the task of rebuilding the chant tradition and helping it to live and thrive in the real world of parish life. This is the primary task of the Colloquium.
At a time when conventions, conferences, and colloquia all over the country are being scaled down or cancelled for economic reasons, the Colloquium thrives as never before (thanks be to God). And this is not due to resources (as ever, the CMMA runs on a wing and a prayer) but to the passion and drive of organizers and attendees.
A major problem I’ve experienced when trying to raise money for the CMAA is that people don’t see how training musicians outside their own parish can really be of any help to themselves personally. They know the musicians who rule the roost at home and potential donors often consider them to be tenured people with limited imaginations, essentially beyond hope. Potential financial backers of the Colloquium have no interest in giving money to help other parishes improve while their own parishes are stuck singing Carter-era classics.
This is an understandable perspective but it is rooted in a superficial understanding of how musical change happens. Music is unlike physical objects like pews, statues, buildings, or even books. Training one person to chant in another part of the world can make it possible for this person to train someone else, and then this person influences another, and so on, until the skills and love associated with authentic liturgical music eventually lands back home again.
There is no way to promise this or guarantee that this will happen, but it can and often does. And there is another point too: parish music programs often adapt to the changing culture of Catholic aesthetics in a broader sense. And there is no surer way to change that culture than through a large-scale annual program that is continuous year to year.
The sponsoring organization of the Colloquium has an incredible history. The CMAA was formed in 1965 as a coming together of the two Catholic music organizations in the United States. They Society of St. Caecilia was founded in 1874 and served mainly a German-speaking Catholic population. The St. Gregory Society was formed in 1913 and became the primary organizing infrastructure for the whole country.
During and immediately following the Second Vatican Council - which solidly affirmed Gregorian chant to be the preeminent music of the Roman Rite, never to be displaced from that role regardless of circumstances - everyone knew that the postconciliar scene would need assistance to achieve the ideals.
What if the two organizations united into something new? Surely that would create an fantastic new organization that would provide direction and leadership into the future. With the encouragement and official approval of the Vatican, the Church Music Association of America was formed in 1964/65 to bring Gregorian chant and sacred polyphony to the whole of Catholic life at all levels. It was to steer the musicians through the coming liturgical changes with an eye toward the promising goals and ideals of Vatican II.
Well, I don’t need to tell readers that it didn’t turn out this way. A struggle for control ensued immediately, with factions forming along personal and ideological lines. The faction that backed the founding mission won the day but it was unclear what they had won. These were tumultuous years of upheaval, and the old forms of organizing in a top-down manner no longer work.
By 1968, the organization found itself strategically outrun and financially bankrupt. The new Mass was promulgated at a time when the organization was at its weakest. The folk Mass was spreading. Non-liturgical music was sweeping the country. There was so much confusion that people were not entirely sure what they were supposed to sing. The Graduale attached to the new Mass did not come out in print for another four years. The prevailing attitude was: tear up the pea patch. Down with chant. Down with anything old. When the Vatican sent a scaled down chant Mass packet to all Bishops in 1976, it was virtually ignored.
At that point, the goal became the survival of the idea, and the survival of the organization itself. The list of heroes here is Msgr. Richard J. Schuler, Fr. Robert Skeris, Cal Shenk, Paul Salamonovich, Kurt Poterack, and many others who worked to keep the colloquium going on a small scale and keep the journal Sacred Music coming out as regularly as possible. This was certainly a period of near hibernation for the lovers of sacred music. It would have been easier to give up and move on. They didn’t: the work to build for brighter days ahead.
In the minds of those who defined progress as moving as far away from tradition as possible, an organization like the CMAA was not even supposed to exist. To them, it was just a waiting game for final extinction. The CMAA was a remnant, a holdover, the last of a dying breed, a bad reminder of what once was, a corpse in need of burial. In fact, what was happening was profoundly important: the candle was being kept lit and burning. Those people taught new people, and the distance between then and now was being bridged.
The revival was an extraordinary thing to live through. It began sometime around 2005 as more and more people were attracted to the offerings both at the CMAA’s conferences and through the organization’s online distribution of chant. People came crawling from every direction, all kinds of people of all ages. Some were very experienced in chant but had been in hiding; others were novices. Many were musicians who had taken the “glory and praise” and “praise and worship” models as far as they would go. Each year, half or more of the attendees were new to sacred music.
From a boutique meeting of dedicated chanters, the conference more than doubled in size each year until it has been capped at 250. A reason for that is that this program is not like a trade show, something you attend to hang out with friends and shop for goods, and only pretend to attend sessions. There are plenty of friends, but absolutely everyone sings in a choir that prepares chant and another choir the prepares polyphony - and there are five choices each for choirs. The conductors and teachers are world class. It is very hard work. The atmosphere is unbeat and productive -- dare I say progressive!
And this year, once again, it is full -- again, despite every prediction that this music would die at long last and be replaced by 100% non-liturgical pop music. The program seeks to embrace the liturgical ideal with Masses in the vernacular and Latin ordinary form as well as extraordinary form, each giving close attention to the propers of the Mass. Within this framework there is huge diversity. It appears that the singing packet this year is going to be some 275 pages! And there’s no question that the highlight of each day is the Mass that uses the music we’ve work on.
The program is a humbling experience for everyone there. Everyone feels a sense of inadequacy as compared with the greatness of the music we are singing. We are all surrounded by people who are better readers and better singers, and this can sometimes be a bit painful. But you can notice yourself improving as the week goes on. When you return home, you have a new sense of confidence in singing and conducting. It ends up as a gigantic musical upgrade in the lives of everyone who came.
And this is just the beginning of the activities of this unlikely story of the rise, fall, and rise of the CMAA. The new books that will be distributed this year are going to change many things. But, in the end, it isn’t really about an organization. It is about a vision and a dream - that of making the sounds of eternity a perpetuating part of the temporal order during that liturgy that alone causes time and transcendence to touch.
The Sacred Music Colloquium has no “sugar daddy,” no money bags donor, no access to a lucrative foundation somewhere, no connections to powerful people, or anything like that. Can anyone be surprised to know that the entire enterprise is sustained by equal measure of hard work and relentless faith that the impossible can happen.
Sunday, May 22, 2011
Secondly, I would like to apologize for my radio silence on the Chant Café, and elsewhere online. The completion of SEP has only been a part of my load in recent months. I've also been directing and guiding a young parish sacred music program, in addition to crystallizing plans for what I have called the 'Sacred Music Project', which is soon to be transformed and given new purpose.
For me, the Simple English Propers project is a beginning, not an end. I have learned so much in the process, and have had the opportunity, like many other followers of this blog, to already have used these chants settings in liturgy for five months or more. In my experience of working on the ground level of American Catholic liturgical culture I have begun to see the great things that lie ahead. The SEP project, for me, has laid a foundation on which to build. It will be wonderful to see this come to completion, but it really is not an ending point. It is a beginning point. What lies ahead in the distance is a musical treasure of inestimable value, and, I think, a vast expanse for further development in our own day. The difference here is that we're not talking about more additions to the realm of 'alius cantus aptus', but contributions in the form of musical settings of the liturgical texts themselves.
Just today I read a very lengthy review of a forthcoming hymnal from a recently prominent Catholic publisher. The contents of this book are so contrary to the nature and spirit of the liturgy as I see and understand it that it is nearly appalling. What this book communicates is a clinging to an ethos that is no longer viable, not a looking to the future or a response to the needs of today. What lies ahead for us is a liturgical renewal that is founded solidly on the liturgical texts and rites themselves. The abandonment and neglect of these in the past decades has left a vast expanse for our generation to explore and understand. The propers have been ignored to such an extent that there is virtually a blank slate in front of us for further authentic development. The Gregorian ideal is still always there and needs to be utilized more and more, but still there is an incredible amount of room for filling the gap between the chants in the liturgical books and the common practice of the past 50 years.
It is an exciting time to be a church musician I think. The only place to go is up, and the future is looking very bright. I'm excited!
Please, again, accept my apologies for being largely absent in the Chant Café conversation. I will be back more now. I have accumulated quite the blogging to-do list, and hope to tackle this in the coming weeks. So please enjoy a round of virtual espressos on me and I'll look forward to catching you all soon.
Saturday, May 21, 2011
I am a Permanent Deacon in the Parishes of ____. Both are small parishes, with small churches and a small choir. We had a meeting today to sing through some of the new mass settings, to select one to use in the parish with the new translation. None of the Mass settings we have been using in the church - a fairly traditional place - has been "upgraded" to the new words, and so I traweled through the internet looking for what was available. I have used the musicasacra web site for items in the past, and was pleased to find the Mass of the Sacred Heart setting. It is one of those settings which sticks in the mind, and I have found myself humming it continually. Suffice it to say, that out of the six settings we sang through, this Mass setting was universally accepted by the Parish priest and the choir (and more importantly, organist) as the one to teach our congregation.
Friday, May 20, 2011
ICEL Chants from the Third Edition of the Roman Missal
Did you ever have the experience of looking for a particular genre of book, and feeling like you were on a long treasure hunt, only to stumble upon the ultimate collection all in one place? This is what happened to me when I sat in Ann's office for the first time. I looked over my left shoulder at her books shelf, and saw for the first time original editions of incredible books I had only read and heard about.
They included every chant book imaginable, every liturgical book, rare things I've never seen before and which are not available at any price. My eyes just popped out in amazement. She was happy that someone noticed. We talked about a few and it became clear that these were not show pieces. She knew them all. Every page. She knew every chant, every accompaniment book, every scholarly study, the whole 20th century history of chant and its ebbs and flows. It was at that moment that I realized that I was in the office of one of the greats.
And great she is: as a musician, as a historian, as an organist, and as a person. She is cheerful and generous, dedicated and enormously talented (to say the least). It has been one of the many graces of the colloquium that so many of us have gotten to know her. She is a legend in her own time, and one can detect her own enthusiasm to see the art that she has loved since she was very young making such a remarkable comeback in our time.
Here she is on a video narrating a film about her teacher, Jean Langlais.
Thursday, May 19, 2011
I know that the post seems pointless. But I really just wanted to share the joy.
Wednesday, May 18, 2011
I haven't been able to find words, still to this moment, to describe the honor and privilege it is to be able to "bring this off" in one's own parish, much less home town. There are so many to thank.
During my nearly two decades at my parish we've been blessed to offer to God some very refined medals of musical genius to our parishioners. But, I have to encourage those parishes who are blessed with the various environmental and talent resources to seek out collaboration among our own fellow RC churches, and with like-minded denominational parishes who value the sacred treasury as a missio, a pilgrimage to give glory to God and witness to our faith in Christ and as prayer for believers in Him.
For all our faithful departed in Christ....
When I was at the Gregorian in Rome, I had a female professor who was convinced that there had to be women present at the Last Supper, and as such, could be considered to have been ordained priest along with the rest of the disciples. What was her argument? “Well, you honestly think a bunch of men were going to put on a dinner, serve it, and clean up after it by themselves!” I don’t know enough about Near Eastern archeology to ascertain whether she has a point or not, but it did certainly get a rise out of the seminarians! As a dogmatic theologian, I tend to depart, not from scriptural texts, but dogmatic definitions. So, Ordinatio Sacerdotalis, in which Blessed John Paul II wrote that the Church does not have the authority to ordain women, suffices for me. The perennial teaching authority of the Church has made it very clear that women have never been validly ordained priests. The same authority has also made it clear that the difference between the ministerial and the common priesthood is not one of degree but of kind. The two are completely different.
Some people conclude from this, that the liturgy then, is closed to half of the human race. They offer this as proof that the Catholic Church is anti-woman, and that the Church is stuck in an outmoded patriarchal system that harbors a fundamental injustice at its very core. This is a very serious charge, and in an age in which equality has degenerated into egalitarianism, many young people, formed in universities that are “Catholic in name only”, have decided that the Catholic Church has erred. It is simply not enough to repeat the classical doctrine of the Church as formulated in Ordinatio sacerdotalis; we must put forth reasons why that teaching is actually in accord with the Gospel.
Now, here we are not going to solve that problem. But we do want to examine certain aspects of it so as to attempt to answer some of the more controverted problems of it.
It is important to discern what it means for a baptized Christian to participate in the liturgy? Two things must be brought to mind. First, Baptism confers on its recipient a potestas, a sacred power, to participate in the Mass. While a very etiquette-conscious Zoroastrian friend may come to Mass with us and sing, stand and kneel at all the proper times, he cannot be said properly to participate in the liturgy. Why? Baptism makes the individual part of the Body of Christ, and it is the Christ who in the liturgy re-presents Himself, offering Himself up in sacrifice to the Father. Because we are grafted onto the Christ who is both sacrifice and victim, priest and offering, we are also grafted into that mystery. Second, in the Body of Christ there are many members: there is the Head, and then there are the other members who cannot function without the Head. Ordination to the priesthood confers on its recipient a potestas, a sacred power, to offer the Mass as Christ the Head, and not as the members of Christ’s body.
There are thus two different sacred powers associated with two different sacraments which were instituted by Christ for the salvation of souls. But they both are intimately related to the sacrificial offering and priesthood of Christ, although in ways irreducible one to the other. These two distinct powers mark the difference between the ministerial priesthood of Christ the Head conferred by Ordination and the common priesthood of the members of Christ’s Body conferred by Baptism. Just as Christ’s Body and Head are distinct, but cannot live one without the other, so too the priesthood and the laity are distinct and cannot live one without the other.
Note that in none of this discussion has the difference between the two types of priesthood been described in terms of function. The difference is not functional, but sacramental. Furthermore the two are not parallel to each other as adversaries, but mutually complementary to such a degree as to be impossible one without the other. Thus we understand why Blessed John Henry Newman, when asked what he thought of the laity, responded, “We’d look foolish without them!” Just as a head would look foolish without a body.
If the Mass is the sacramental re-presentation of the self-offering of Jesus Christ to the Father, the sacramental distinction between ministerial and common priesthood is logical. But once we begin to see the Mass as a sacrifice of praise given by a community to God, it is hard not to transform our idea of the priesthood from a sacramental one to a functional one. Once the functional trumps the sacramental, the ministerial priest becomes one elected among the assembly of the faithful who presides over them by gathering them together and organizing their common prayer. The common priest is then one who participates in any way in such a common prayer. Then the question arises: if the priesthood (common or ministerial) is merely a question of function, Who decides who fulfills those functions?
Note that here the sacramental reference to Baptism and Ordination is removed. Participation in the liturgy is no longer: 1) according to the mode proper to a sacred power received by a sacrament, 2) a mystical participation in the redemptive act of Christ’s sacrifice. Instead, participation is: 1) a mere being part of a common prayer by self-selection in to the community that celebrates that prayer, 2) an earthly participation in an act of praise to God.
This Advent 2011, in the English speaking words we will hear for the first time in our own language the priest saying, Pray, brethren, that my sacrifice and yours may be acceptable to God, the Almighty Father. Up until now, we have heard since 1969, Pray, that our sacrifice may be acceptable to God, the Almighty Father. I could be wrong, but I think that this sentence alone will raise a lot of questions. First, isn’t “mine and yours” ours anyway? Isn’t it just easier to say ours in English? Second, is this sacrifice somehow no longer mine, or at least as it was in the same way as it was from 1969 to 2011?
We should not underestimate the capacity for misunderstanding and bad feeling here. It is entirely conceivable that some may interpret that the priest presider-celebrant, may be seen to deliberately distance himself from his people by such an awkward phrase. Some may then conclude that this is just another example of clericalism and “turning back the clock” to a time when priests were on a pedestal from which they have fallen in disgrace.
Also think of how the people will see the priest when he says this prayer. Until the post-Vatican II reforms, the priest said, in Latin, the same thing which will be said again from 2011 on: “my and yours.” He turned to the people and said that, and then turned right back around to the altar. In doing so, he visually reminded people that they had a part in the sacrifice as well, according to their Baptism, and then he asked them to unite themselves to that sacrifice in that way as he then turned away from the people towards the Cross, the visual cue to the sacrifice that he would then participate in according to his Ordination. In 2011, in many places, the priest will say “my and yours” and continue to face the people, with the Altar actually becoming a visual barrier between his priesthood and the people’s, with the Cross, the visual cue to the sacrifice, barely or nowhere to be seen.
So, although we are returning to the pre-Vatican II verbiage, although in English instead of Latin, in many places we are not returning to the pre-Vatican II position of the celebrant at the altar. I fear that this will create an ambiguity of meaning. If one has an essentially sacramental notion of the Sacrifice of the Mass and of the ministerial and common priesthood, the orientation of the Mass is always to the Cross by that very fact, although that fact is very eloquently symbolized by priest and people all facing the Cross together. But if one has transformed the meaning of the Mass to a common prayer in which function is the only differentiating factor, then “my and yours” sets up an intolerable division. Likewise, if one has transformed the meaning of the Mass to a common prayer in which the presider only has the function to organize the prayers of the assembly, the phenomenon of the presider turning away from the people he has been called by them to preside with is seen as rude and meaningless.
So what does this have to do with women? When we read why some Catholic support women’s ordination, it is crucial to understand what they mean by several things: 1) what is the Mass? 2) what does it mean to participate in the Mass? 3) what does it mean to be a priest? It is entirely conceivable that there are supporters of women’s ordination who hold the orthodox answers to those three questions: 1) Mass is the re-presentation of the sacrifice of Christ to His Father, 2) participation in the Mass is according to the mode of the sacred power given by sacraments received, and 3) the ministerial priesthood is of essence, and not degree, different than the common priesthood.
But for many supporters of women’s ordination, the answers to those three questions are entirely different: 1) the Mass is a common prayer of those who have self-selected to join in it, 2) participate means to be a part of that common prayer, 3) we are all priests.
Varying answers to those questions have actually split the proponents of women’s ordination into two camps. In the first, ordination is sought as a way to correct a perceived injustice and confer a power on those who to whom it has been denied. In the second, as feminist theologian Elizabeth Schussler Fiorenza brilliantly put it, “Ordination is subordination and that’s exactly what we don’t want.”
As to the first, it must be noted that, if participation in the ministerial and common priesthood is a sacramental relationship with Christ, the only relationship of justice in the Mass in between God and human beings. How do we render justice to God by our worship and our life, not how do we render justice to other human beings, which, although it is am important question of Christian life, as nothing to do with the Mass itself. Second, the power of Baptism and Ordination is not a juridical power which priests and laypeople exercise to the benefit or the detriment of Church and society. The power of Baptism and Ordination is a capacity to worship. That capacity to worship puts both ministerial and common priesthood into a double relationship: of ordination to God, as the power orders them to union with God, and subordination, as the power also must make them servants to the God experienced in the Mass.
Both camps of women’s ordination supporters then, are at odds with the classical teaching of the Church, not because they think that women should be priests, but because their understanding of priesthood, Mass and power is completely different than that of the Church.
One of the things that Schussler Fiorenza correctly identified was the subordination aspect of the ministerial priesthood. Just as Christ the Head was both Priest and Victim, and offered Himself up entirely for all (although it would only be the many in whom that offering would be fruitful), the ministerial priest must offer himself up entirely for all as well, as Priest and Victim after the imitation of Christ. Because the liturgy is principally the action of Christ, the priest then cannot in any way not be subordinate to Christ. The way in which the Church calls for the liturgy to be celebrated sub-ordinates the Priest to the action of Christ in the liturgy. His “my” in “my and yours” is not a “my” belonging to himself. The “my” belongs entirely to Christ, and that sacrifice in its ritual form must be accomplished according to the “my” of Christ spoken through His Church, not “my” arbitrary feelings of the way the Mass should be celebrated.
The ad orientem position of the celebrant at the Mass also underscores the fact that “my” does not belong to the individual ministerial priest, but to Christ. The priest faces the Cross, the visual cue of the sacrifice, which is inseparably connected to the Altar, the place of sacrifice, when Christ is re-presenting the sacrifice through the Mass. Facing the people during the sacrifice displaces the visual cue to the sacrifice and then makes the place of sacrifice into a barrier between the “my” of the priest and the real “My” which refers to the sacrifice on the Altar.
One may argue that the Church could in theory preserve the classical understanding of the Mass, the priesthood, and ad orientem celebration and still ordain women. But the Church has already “definitively” taught that she has no right to do so. So what is the role of women in the common priesthood of the faithful during the liturgy?
First of all, the radical gender equality among Christians is a truth for the common priesthood of the baptized. The fact that women are not ordained to the ministerial priesthood does not take away from equality among the members of the Church, Christ’s Body. As such, it is crucial for the laity to understand what it means when the priest asks them: offer “your” sacrifice to the Almighty Father.
Here is where we can profit from an insight of Hans Urs Von Balthasar. He wrote that that there are two ministries within the Church: the Petrine and the Marian. The Petrine can we can associate with the ministerial priesthood of Ordination. The Marian we can associate with the common priesthood of Baptism. One of the arguments opponents of women’s ordinations often put forward is this: If Jesus intended to ordain women as priests, why would He not have chosen His Mother, Mary, especially as she was sinless? The counter-argument, that Jesus was conditioned by the patriarchal society of His time, is unacceptable because it dismisses Christ’s divinity (in which case, why have any discussion at all?), and because the Ancient Near East was very familiar with priestesses of many types.
Behind that question, however, is an assumption: that people should be chosen for the priesthood because of their moral worth. Their dignity for ordination comes from the fact that they have qualities which others recognize which fit them for the functions of the priesthood. It is a functionalist, and not a sacramental, vision of the ministerial priesthood. So when women are told that they cannot be priests, some ask whether the Church by excluding them is saying that they are somehow unworthy of the dignity to undertake the functions of a priest. But, as we have seen, the classical Catholic teaching is that moral worth, talent or qualities is not a reason to ordain someone. If it were, then the Twelve would not have been chosen! The Church chooses some people, among celibate men who have been formed in a particular way, to be ordained to the priesthood.
But if Mary was not a ministerial priest, then can she be said to even belong to the common priesthood? Apart from the theological question of whether Mary was baptized, we can say that she offered her own sacrifice in union with that of Christ. The sacrifice she offered was the continual obedience of her life to the Word of God and her close union in prayer and love with her Son. She exercised a priesthood of sacrifice, sacrificing herself in love, prayers and works of mercy; she was a victim for love, not holding back even her own Son for love; she was a sacrifice, giving up herself entirely over to the Triune God to do with her according to the Divine Will. Mary participated in the liturgy, in the Mass, because she offered the sacrifice of her life in union with the Sacrifice of Christ on the Cross.
When the priest turns to the people and asks them to offer their sacrifice, theirs is a true sacrifice, they do participate in the sacrifice of Christ. But it is not the same sacrifice as the one by which Christ offers Himself to His Father. But the sacrifice, victimhood and priesthood of the laity is nonetheless a real one. And it is real to the extent that it is really united with the Sacrifice of Christ which gives it meaning.
After Vatican II, the priesthood of the laity has been seen not so much in sacramental terms of a power to offer the sacrifice of their lives in union with the Sacrifice of Christ. It has been seen in functional terms, and so we have seen the laity assuming what they felt to be heretofore the rights of the ministerial priesthood. It is important to realize that many of the laity have done this because the clergy themselves confused the sacramental distinction with a functional one. Especially in the United States, many laity enthusiastically responded to the invitations of their priests to take on these functions. We should be reticent to criticize them for responding generously to an invitation. But we also need to redimension the participation of the laity and the clergy in the life of the Church so that it reflects the true nature of the Mass, the priesthood, and the sacramental rather than functional distinctions between them.
All of the above, however, is applicable to the laity. The common priesthood of the baptized offers the sacrifice of its life in union with that of Christ on the Cross. But what about women specifically? Are they merely just to be considered part of the non-ordained laity? Is there something special for them specifically, just as there is something specific for some men in the ministerial priesthood?
This is not an unimportant question. Especially given the long history of self-sacrifice of women for the Church and the liturgy, a history which has not been duly valued, celebrated, or thanked! Is there a special way in which women can participate in the liturgy? And is there such a way which is not bound to historically or culturally conditioned notions of masculinity and femininity?
Before offering a few thoughts on that subject, I would like to make an observation. One of the phenomena that contemporary women are grappling with now is how their struggle for equal rights in civil society has effected their specific notion of what it is to be a woman. So often, the goal was to prove how women could be equal to or better than a man. The problem was that, the reference point was always men. Now many women are trying to discover how they can be equal to men but still be who they are, women.
Does this have a counterpart in the liturgy? Often, women were pressed into service to show how they could be as competent in the same functions formerly performed by men in the liturgy. Many women have enthusiastically and competently discharged the duties of lector, extraordinary minister of Holy Communion, as well as many other non –liturgical functions within the Church. But often, the reference point was the male ministerial priesthood. For that reason, many began to ask, “If Mrs McGillacuddy can do X, Y, and Z as well as or better than Father O’Connor, then why not let her do it?” But if Mrs McGillacuddy is an orthodox Catholic, she has no desire to be ordained as a ministerial priest. So is the only way she can participate in the liturgy either as a non-gendered layperson performing functions once reserved to the male priesthood, on the one hand, or being a part of the all-woman Altar and Rosary Society washing and ironing the linens and doing the flowers, on the other?
An orthodox Catholic woman seems to have only such two alternatives. And often, when orthodox Catholics talk about what woman should do in church, it usually revolves around the answer to the question, “Should women cover their heads in church?” (Of course, St Paul already answered that question in the affirmative, and not because he was a misogynist!) The question becomes: how can women offer the sacrifice of their lives as women in union with the life of Christ, exercising the power of their Baptism to worship God? However they may answer that question, it does not exclude them from doing certain things (fulfilling certain roles at Mass, singing in the choir, teaching catechism, ironing linens) that all laity can do.
When we look at the women in the New Testament, we get an idea of what women’s participation in the life of the Church and the liturgy should look like. As equal members of the Body of Christ, they had no need of ordination to worship God, or to do the amazing things that they did. And those things were often more remarkable, and had more staying power, than what the Twelve did. The constant close attention of the women in the Gospel to Christ and to others, serving them and in doing so, serving Christ. It is entirely correct to say that a woman’s place in the Church is one of subordination, just as all disciples freely subordinate themselves to love God and all people. A woman’s place in the Church is to follow Christ, lavish her love without cost upon Him, serve the needs of the poor and the defenseless: in other words, a subordination to the law of love. In doing so, women can find that they are not indeed slaves to an outmoded patriarchal system drunk on abuses of power and justice, but friends of Christ. And there can be no greater freedom and noble role in the Church and world than that!