Monday, October 31, 2011

Supper of the Lamb: The Mass as Heaven on Earth Conference

The Franciscan University of Steubenville has now posted videos for the five talks given at the October 15th Liturgical Conference entitled "The Supper of the Lamb: The Mass as Heaven on Earth" which was centered around the new translation of the Roman Missal.

I had the great privilege to present a talk entitled "Perspectives on Liturgical Music", one that was very similar to the talk that I gave to the Steubenville liturgical musicians a month earlier at their Fall retreat.

The talks given by Dr.'s John Bergsma and Scott Hahn are a must-watch for a profound deepening of an understanding of the liturgy's scriptural roots, made ever more clear with the new translation. His Excellency Bp. Serratelli gave some insight into the process of producing the new translation. Dr. Denis McNamara gave a one hour summary of his new book Catholic Church Architecture and the Spirit of the Liturgy and I was able to follow his lead and apply many of the same principles to sacred music.

It was incredible to see how the five different topics complimented one another and built on each other (entirely coincidentally) throughout the day. Watching them all in succession would be of great benefit to those who have the time to watch the entire conference.

Below are the five talks given in the one day conference by Bp. Serratelli, John Bergsma, Denis McNamara, Adam Bartlett and Scott Hahn. Thanks to Franciscan University and Christ the King Chapel for filming the entire conference and for making it available for all online.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

"Mass of Renewal": An Analysis

This interesting analysis of “Mass of Renewal” by William Gokelman and David Kauffman is extremely provocative. It is by Deacon Pat Cunningham, a friend of the composers of this trendy Mass setting that won the NPM award for New Mass Setting in 2011.

Propers for All Saints and All Souls

Wonderful Article in Priest Magazine

This article is a real surprise in every way: it gets the big picture and the implementation of sacred music. It is fantastic to see something like this in a large circulation mainstream publication. It is by Brian MacMichael & Michael Roesch.

Also worth noting is the increased interest in singing the propers of the Mass — the Introit, Offertory, and Communion chants that are almost universally supplanted by hymns. These proper texts are actually the preferred option in the GIRM, but resources for their singing in English have only been rolling out in the past few years. Their use is beginning to gain traction, often in addition to the hymns Catholics have come to love.

All of these preferences for singing amount to what those closest to the translation have called “singing the Mass” rather than merely “singing at Mass.” The liturgical ideal has always been a sung Mass, and too often in the English-speaking world we have maintained a “Low Mass” mentality from pre-Vatican II days. Singing the prayers of the Mass in a simple tone, or at least on a single pitch, is doable for any priest with a little practice, does not add a significant amount of time to the liturgy, and can greatly enrich our worship. Imagine if, instead of reserving sung dialogues and prefaces for high feast days, singing them was the norm for all Sunday Masses. The Gospel and Eucharistic Prayer could then be chanted when we wished to express added solemnity.

Lodovico da Viadana

Lodovico da Viadana (c. 1560 – 2 May 1627)

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Nice Advertising Video for Vatican II Hymnal

Friday, October 28, 2011

Gregorian Chant and More Workshop

St. Benedict Church in Richmond, Virginia, will be sponsoring The Gregorian Chant and More Workshop on Nov.11-12, 2011.

The workshop will feature Fr. Robert A. Skeris, Director, Centre for Ward Method Studies at The Catholic University of America. Sessions will alternate singing Gregorian Chant with lectures on Sacred Music. All are welcome, from novices to experienced singers. The workshop will conclude with a Missa Cantata. All sessions will be held in Saint Anselm Hall at St. Benedict Parochial School. The workshop is free for St. Benedict Church members, however you must register. Registration includes lunch on Saturday as well as a copy of the Liber Cantualis, the book used for the workshop. For non-St. Benedict Church members, the fee is a modest $5 to cover lunch expenses. The Liber Cantualis will be available for purchase at the workshop. To register, or for more information, please email your contact information to or You may also mail your contact information and payment to St. Benedict Church Office, attn: Chant Workshop 206 North Belmont Avenue Richmond, Virginia 23221.

More information here.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Why the Crazy Caution on this Missal?

I was looking around youtube and found a nine-part epic on the new translation of the Missal. It turned out to be a round-table discussion with some top players in a diocesan office. The moderator would ask one broad question and then the microphone would be passed from person to person, and you know how this groupthink works. They all pretty much said what the last person said. There were dozens of questions, and I could detect no substance at all. I lasted about eight minutes and had to bail for fear of passing out from boredom. I didn't even look at the other seven parts

Why are these films being made? The tedium of this Missal rollout is on the verge of making me crazy. There are gazillion pamphlets, films, commissions, meetings, speakers, monographs. The USCCB hasn't gone door-to-door yet but maybe that is next. Nor can I tell that average Catholics care in the slightest about this new Missal. I was drafted to give two talks at a parish recently and I spoke to an audience of two and three. I tried to be as lively as possible in talking about the changes in the people’s parts, but this is rather difficult since a total of like seven words are changing.

To be sure, the Missal is actually a landmark but the changes are within the deeper structure: the music in the Missal (if it is used), the priest’s parts, the elimination of bad options that were never really in the Latin edition, the depreciation of regrettable options, and more. It will have a gigantic effect over time but this will not be obvious on the first-time hearing. For most people, the First Sunday of Advent will be just another Sunday.

So how can we account for the frenzied educational campaign that seems to mask some grave but hidden fear? The answer was given to me by an older man who came to a seminar I was giving. So few were that that we had time to talk about his life as a Catholic. He told me a story that I’ve heard a hundred times but I still listen in astonishment. It concerned that fateful year of 1969. He was in a small parish that was relatively unaffected by anything that had happened at or after Vatican II. The Mass was the Mass. The priest said it, the schola sang it, and the Catholic Church was the great refuge from all the nonsense going on in the world.

Then one day a package arrived. It was a book with the new Mass. It was mandatory. Starting now.

He was probably 40 years old. The structure that he had grown up with and had lived his whole life was suddenly gone. The prayers of the foot of the altar were gone. The beloved Latin language was gone. The schola had no idea what to sing. All the old liturgical books, beautiful and beloved, were suddenly useless.

This man tried his best to adapt to the new. His friends all drifted away, but he stuck it out. He saw the vestments change. The focal point of the entire sanctuary shifted from the high altar to a new table that was moved closer so that the people could somehow identify with what was going on. The choir melted. A guitar group took its place, and they sang pop songs.

And the priest became Mr. Personality and seemed to never stop talking to everyone and right at everyone from the first “good morning” to the last “go and serve others.” The Catholic ritual that had been defined by its precision and careful adherence to form, for longer than a thousand years, and which had shaped countless generations, had clearly been displaced by something like looked and felt strangely improvisatory.

It is interesting to talk to faithful Catholics of a certain age about this, people who were settled in life with children and with good careers and communities during the time when this upheaval took place. They speak about it only with a painful sense, still not sure if they were actually betrayed or if there was some wisdom in all this that they were missing. It is a bit like extracting war stories from veterans. They don’t talk easily.

We know what happened in the United States and Europe. The story is in the data. Where as many as 80% of Catholis went to Mass, now only 17% or so do. Religious orders collapsed. Schools collapsed. The priesthood was gutted. Moral life changed. Everything changed. The surprise is not that people drifted away but that a few stuck around. I’m always curious about these survivors and their perspective on the world. What they experienced can only be described as a shattering of a world they once knew and believed would last forever.

So after I finished my presentation, the old man in front of me summarized his view: “As I understand what you are saying, this Missal takes us back before all this stuff happened. If so, I think I’m going to like this change better than the last one.”

Of course that’s not really what I was saying, and this Missal does not take us back to the preconciliar rite. But it does capture some of the solemnity and seriousness that was so carelessly disregarded, so there was some truth in what he said.

The narrative that I provided above is still capable of inciting vast argument in the Catholic world. People protest that the loss of people was due to demographic and not ritual shifts, that the seeming meltdown would have been worse without the new Mass, and that, in any case, the old had to go away because it was stern, dark, dreary, confining, insular, and incompatible with the needs of modern people, and you can filled in the rest because we’ve all heard it a thousand times.

And yet, I would suggest that the extreme caution with which this current reform is taking place suggests a confirmation that the narrative is not only true; it is the conventional one. What that upheaval did was produce a Catholic people who are incredibly resistant to change and conservative beyond what they should be. Every change for the last fifty years has come at the expense of stable piety, solid doctrine, and reliable solemnity. Why would anyone want more of that? Why would they risk change at all? The Bishops, of all people, know this and hence the caution.

It is going to take another generation before Catholics start truly trusting again. Bugnini has left his mark on the world, and it one that makes progress incredibly difficult and popularly terrifying. We were supposed to be ushered into a new age of hyper flexibility and we all ended up becoming as implacably resistant to the new as any stick in the mud of centuries gone by.

And yet we must embrace, we must risk, change insofar as that change leads us to recapture what we’ve lost. Embracing the truths that were lost along the way is the only really means for helping us truly believe again.

The Ever Glorious Missa Brevis (Palestrina)

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Survey Says

The National Catholic Reporter is publishing about its new survey, but in all the language and writing, it is not entirely clear what is shown by it. This chart, however, is actually very revealing. Now doubt that the partisans against tradition would prefer that these numbers were flipped.

Richard Rice in Service of Catholic Liturgy

Those who are interested in high quality music for Catholic liturgy need to spend some time at Richard is the compiler of the now-famous Parish Book of Chant, which can be credited for having sparked the chant revival in the English-speaking world. He also put together Communio, which is used the world over. He is also the composer of the Simple Choral Gradual, which is a complete resource for sung choral propers for the liturgical year.

At his website, you will find vastly more, including:
  • A Parody Mass on O Filii for choir and organ (full PDF)
  • Wonderful offertory motets for Advent and Christmas (full PDF)
And that is truly just the beginning. He publishes some music with commercial publishers but vast amounts for liturgical use are freely given away. His work is certainly worthy of your financial support!

Again, for these and more, go to

Fr. Thomas Kocik Explores the History and Promise of the Liturgical Movement

The article is at Thomas More College

Father Kocik's "Singing his Song" from Thomas More College of Liberal A on Vimeo.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Pro Liturgia, France

Denis Crouan writes to us about his new website that support the Pope's liturgical vision,

Youth like an Eagle

Our schola has been working on the Gregorian offertory for this Sunday and we've marveled at the word painting therein. Observe the Eagle's flight!

Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits; and your youth shall be renewed like the eagle's.

31st Sunday of the Year

Monday, October 24, 2011

Chant Accompaniments for the New Missal

Watershed has made available its entire book of accompaniments for free. It is a 32MB download.

Guidance on Musical Resources for the New Translation of the Mass in the Diocese of Lancaster

This is outstanding. Note the recommendation of the sung propers and the SEP in particular!

Saturday, October 22, 2011

How You Can Make a Difference

I get letters all the time that say the following.

It's great what is happening in sacred music and Catholic liturgy but it sure hasn't reach my parish yet. In my parish, we are stuck doing....[fill in the blank with some regrettable scenario.]

Another letter says:

I can't sing or play organ, and I wouldn't have time to do so if I could, but I still like what you are doing.

If you fall into one of these categories, this note is to tell that there is something you can do that will make a difference right now. You can give financial resources to two projects I will list below.

Now, keep in mind that this method of fundraising and publishing has a proven record of success. This site raised $5000 for the Simple English Propers, a book that is the first published set of parish-viable English propers for the ordinary form of Mass. We came through in record time. This book has changed everything. It has set the whole English-speaking Catholic world on a new path, and is the rage in seminaries, parishes, and religious houses.

Let's do it again with the following two projects, both of which are desperately needed.

1. The Musical Shape of the Liturgy, by William Mahrt. This is this great scholar's 450-page manifesto, and it is in the final stages of preparation. We need money to pay typesetters, indexers, and front the printing costs so that it can be distributed at a reasonable price. Why is this book important? It is the first-ever practical and explanatory book of the place of music in the Roman Rite. The book brilliant covers both forms, and provides the rationale for why the propers are what they are, why the readings are sung a particular way, the place of the schola and the people - all heavily documented from Church teaching.

But is it an exaggeration to say that this is the first book? I don't think so. There are historical treatises. There are theological treatises. But this is a practical treatise that deals with what musicians and priests deal with every day. It clearly explains the musical structure of the Roman Rite. There has never been anything like it. I can't imagine anything more essential right now. And the author is the acknowledged world expert on this topic. It is his great legacy to the world. It deserves your support.

2. Simple English Psalms for Mass, by Arlene Oost-Zinner. These Psalms are in my view the best English Psalms around because they are beautiful and singable. The combination of those two traits is extremely rare. But this is what is essential for the Responsorial Psalm. The form itself is an innovation of 1969, and it posed serious challenges right off. Too often they are tossed off as a little trite melody for people to sing, all metrical and a bit silly. Where are the dignified Psalm settings, not just for one week but for the entire year? The other problem is that people must absolutely be able to sing them right away, because this is not the Graduale of old. It is a new form. Achieving this balance of beautiful and singable is very difficult.

But Arlene has figured it out. We use hers in my parish every week, and so do hundreds of other parishes. They use Gregorian psalm tones and the antiphon melody always reflects the text. They are available for download now. But not in a single book, and I think that the SEP has proven that this is essential. They are also not complete. Many feast days need to be done. I've been thinking through how many single books have Responsorial Psalms for the year and I can only think of one or two and neither what what needs to be done. So in many ways, this volume too is pioneering. These project has already raised $1000 but we need at least another $5000 more to support all the typesetting, printing, indexiing, and the completion of the task.

If we finish these two project, this site and the CMAA will have achieved something amazing. We will have produced all the essential books you need to sing the Mass in English with dignity and solemnity, plus provided the first real practical treatise on why do this really matters. These books will matter long after our lifetimes. It is a huge responsibility - and it is something that you can do to make a difference right now in our times. Please be generous, and thank you deeply.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Lumen Christi Missal Sample Contents

Last week I introduced for the first time the Lumen Christi Missal, the first offering of the all-new Illuminare Publications. The response so far has been overwhelming, and I am grateful to all who have shared their feedback and support, and who have signed up with interest in bringing the Lumen Christi Missal to their parish or community!

I am happy to report that we have now posted some sample contents, both for the Lumen Christi Missal and the Lumen Christi Gradual that will accompany it. The missal is a book for the pew, while the gradual is a book for the choir or cantor.

VIEW SAMPLE CONTENTS (see "Free Downloads" at the bottom-left)

Here's an overview of what you'll see:

Lumen Christi Missal Propers Section, First Sunday of Advent

This is an excerpt from the beginning of the most substantial portion of the book which contains:
  • Antiphon texts of the Roman Missal and Graduale Romanum for the Entrance, Offertory and Communion for Sundays and Feasts
  • Lectionary readings for Sundays and Feasts, 3-year cycle
  • Responsorial Psalms for Sundays and Feasts, composed by Fr. Columba Kelly, OSB and Adam Bartlett
  • Alleluia refrains taken from the Graduale Simplex, 8 in total, cycling through the year according to the modality given in the Graduale Romanum
  • Weekday Responsorial Psalms and Alleluias for the entire year, composed by Fr. Columba Kelly, OSB and Adam Bartlett
This section of the Lumen Christi Missal will not only cover the needed proper texts for Sundays and Feasts, but now also includes what is needed for all Daily Masses as well!

Lumen Christi Missal Seasonal Antiphons, Advent Season

The section that follows the Propers section is a collection of Seasonal Antiphons composed by Fr. Columba Kelly, OSB, and Adam Bartlett. These antiphons are taken from the Graduale Romanum, the Roman Missal and the Graduale Simplex and employ the new translations as found in the 3rd edition of the Roman Missal.

The antiphons are congregation friendly and are intended for congregational singing. The full cycle of Introits are preserved for the privileged seasons and feasts, while there are seasonal options for the Entrance, Offertory and Communion for all Sundays, Solemnities and Feasts throughout the year as well as antiphons from the Commons.

In this way, even at Daily Mass the full proper may be sung by the congregation, lead by a single cantor. In a similar way, liturgical chant may be sung by a congregation in the absence of a choir which is able to provide the full proper of Mass from the Graduale Romanum or collections like the Simple English Propers, or any host of musical settings of the proper cycle.

Because of this, the Lumen Christi Missal will be profoundly flexible and adaptable, and truly is a complete resource.

Recordings of these samples will be available soon, and at the time of the publication we also plan to have practice recordings available for every musical selection in the book!

Lumen Christi Gradual, Advent Season

And finally you will see an excerpt from the Lumen Christi Gradual, the book for the choir that will accompany, and directly correspond to the Lumen Christi Missal. All of the Responsorial Psalms, Alleluias and Processional Antiphons for the Entrance, Offertory and Communion will be contained with pointed psalm verses for the cantor or choir.

The primary difference between the Missal and Gradual is that the Missal will have Lectionary readings and no verses for antiphons, while the Gradual will have no readings but will have complete psalm verses for all antiphons for the choir or cantor.

More to come!

Please stay tuned as more information comes forth on the Lumen Christi Missal. Printed sample books will be available in early November, and in a matter of weeks we will be announcing the details of our "pilot program" which offers the Lumen Christi Missal at a discounted rate for early adopters.

If you would like to learn more you can sign up for our updates mailing list, or contact us with questions. 

More English Propers

I've looked only briefly but my impression is that this is a Lutheran resource, but of course the Church year is essentially the same.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

English Propers, 30th Sunday

New Times, New Tools

In recent days, I’ve had the pleasure of speaking to a number of different groups about the Third Edition of the Roman Missal and all that it means for our generation. In some ways, this is the first-ever Catholic Missal to finally get the music question right. Not even the Missal of the Council of Trent benefited from music experts involved in its creation. The music question was taken for granted, and it was years after its promulgation before the songbook to go with it was thought through. Over time, matters stabilized but not without fits and starts and quite a few botched books of chant having been produced along the way.

The Second Vatican Council produced no new Missal but merely a careful permissioning for one to be created at some point in the future, with no changes permitted that were not to the good of the Church. We know how that turned out. The interim Missal that came out in the United States was a quality product but a bit unstable, and hardly anyone believed that it would last very long. Sure enough, by 1969, a commission had produced the hoped-for new product, one that yielded coincided with, and assisted in causing, what is probably the largest upheaval and decline in Catholic institutions ever found on record.

The strange result of this event was the status quo today, which could be described as hyper conservative or perhaps more accurately described as stricken with fear of change. An odd stasis affects parish life. Bishops and priests all live in fear of doing too much in any direction for fear of alienating people yet again. Stability, blessed stability, is what the Catholic world seeks today because it is still recovering from the trauma delivered in the late 1960s.

And so, one can see why Bishops have been very cautious about the release of the new English translation. Even if the results are vastly better and correct most of the amazing errors of the past, there is a widespread fear that anything new could spark another meltdown. For my part, I expect the very opposite. I’ve large large portions of the Missal out loud to audiences and watched them swoon at the high language, the poetic cadence, the seriousness of the literary formulations. This Missal sounds and feels like Church. It turns out that people who go to Church rather like this.

But our times are not only about the new Missal. This is only the most visible symbol of improvement in our times. In the last few weeks, I’ve had some extremely exciting exchanges in both public and private that reveal what an amazing difference it has made to the world that we now have the first in-print book of sung propers in English for the ordinary form. The global distribution of the Simple English Propers book by Adam Bartlett has changed more than even I had anticipated.

I’ve told the story many times of how it suddenly dawned on me a little over one year ago that we really didn’t have anything to offer parishes that stood somewhere between the perfection of the ideal in the Graduale Romanum and the parish reality of four songs of nonliturgical text per Mass. So long as that was true, progress would be stopped simply because it is nearly impossible to leap from one to the other. You need musicians, training, experience, a pastor who is on board, and a people who are ready - ingredients that rarely come together all in one parish.

Today, we have the book and the viable option for any parish to start singing the real text of the Mass starting this next week! That is a glorious thing. The book is now used in many monasteries, convents, seminaries, and innumerable parishes. The North American College, for example, is all abuzz with the implications of this new book. This is helped by the fact that these are freely downloadable, so you don’t have to take the risk of buying for the entire year to try them out for one Sunday or just one communion chant.

The Simple English Propers are only the beginning. They serve as a model of the kind of music we need. I would also add that the Simple Choral Gradual by Richard Rice also falls into this category: simple music but absolutely beautiful in the real experience of Mass at regular parishes. There will be many other editions and approaches pouring out as the years go on. What matters most is that this book has finally begun to break up the old system that long predates Vatican II of singing any old thing at Mass.

This has proven to be strangely attractive to those good souls who inhabit the sectors of the Church known as Life Teen or the youth in general. I’m convinced that many of these people want to do the right thing but only need guidance and tools to get started. Now they have both. And what the youth are doing today is a foreshadowing of what everyone will be doing in the years down the road.

Keep in mind that what has inspired all of this is the new translation of the Missal. Most of all, it represents good faith on the part of the decision makers in the Church. No, the process was no perfect and it was even extremely messy at times. But the result is there for anyone to see. We will soon experience it - Advent I can’t come too soon. The results won’t be immediate but over time we are going to see the rebuilding process start to take shape.

The trends of our time show that hard work and prayer can make a difference in the Church and in the world. Millions have despaired for so long but today a new hope dawns, and it the privilege of this generation to be part of it.

How the New Gloria Sounds

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Tournemire Conference in February

A conference exploring Charles Tournemire’s landmark L’Orgue Mystique on February 1-3, 2012 takes place on the campus of Nova Southeastern University in Fort Lauderdale and at the Church of the Epiphany in South Miami. The conference seeks to explore the aesthetic, liturgical, and compositional principles of L’Orgue Mystique, the implications of the work for modern compositions inspired by Gregorian chant, and the role of modern compositions and the organ in the Catholic liturgy.

Conference highlights include:

- Mass in the extraordinary form of the Roman rite, celebrated by His Excellency, Thomas G. Wenski, Archbishop of Miami. Musical highlights include Tournemire’s office from L’Orgue Mystique for the day (Purificatio B. Mariæ Virginis), a Missa Brevis by Zachary Wadsworth, and a commissioned motet by Dr. Paul Weber.

- Opening and Closing Recitals by Rudy de Vos (Cathedral of Christ the Light, Oakland, CA) and TBA

- An entire day of recitals featuring repertoire ranging from Naji Hakim and original compositions and improvisations by conference artists to the works of Tournemire, Franck and Langlais.

- The keynote lecture entitled “The Composer as Textual Commentator: Music and Language in Tournemire‘s Symbolist Method” will be given by Dr. Stephen Schloesser, S.J. Schloesser is an Associate Professor of History at Loyola University in Chicago and the author of Jazz Age Catholicism with its noted chapter on Tournemire. He is currently working on a book about Messiaen.

- Conference sessions will explore the shape of the Catholic liturgy and of L’Orgue Mystique, harmonic, improvisation and performance practice as it relates to L’Orgue Mystique, as well as teacher and student relationships to Tournemire.

All conference events at the Church of the Epiphany are free and open to the public, though a free-will donation will be accepted at the door. However, in order to attend all of the conference events, including the events at NSU, registration is required. The deadline for conference registration and payment ($75) is Monday, January 3, 2012. The registration fee is non-refundable. Only complete registrations will be available; no 1-day or partial registrations are available. Advance registration is required; no on-site registration is available.

The Third Form of the Roman Rite

In all the discussion of the ordinary form and the extraordinary form, people often forget about the third approved form of the Roman Rite, the Anglican Use and its Book of Divine Worship approved for indult use by the USCCB. It is an amazing book really, an extended Book of Common Worship for Catholics written in a high English. It is used in Anglican Use parishes in North America. Those who are attached to this tradition tend to be very attached, and for good reason. For more information, see Anglican Use.

Here is a beautiful lecture on the music in this tradition. It is delivered by Monsignor Andrew Burnham of the Personal Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham, Saturday 15 October 2011, to the Association for Latin Liturgy meeting at St Mary Magdalen, Brighton:

That wonderful ad series

smoking_section.jpgI posted this ad and commented on how beautiful it is.

Here is a commentary on why this series is effective:
The reason why I think these posters are so great is because they do such an effective job at communicating the parish ethos.Where we participate in corporate worship and the experience that we find there has a major effect on our experience of the Christian life with God and shapes our theology and spirituality.

Monday, October 17, 2011

New Book from Solesmes?

I just heard that Solesmes has a new book coming out soon called Singing the Mass. It apparently has a full Kyriale in Latin and English plus other music for the congregation, for a total of 350 pages. I do not know more. Can anyone fill in the details?

Church as Hospital for Sinners and the Hermeneutic of Suspicion in the Blogosphere

The past ten years have been a constant Calvary for the Catholic Church. One revelation after another of abuse, manipulation and cover-ups by priests, religious and bishops have made us a punchline for third-rate comedians. And even though we can point out rightly that we share our problems with other groups and institutions all over the world and throughout history, that message does not seem to convince anyone. Faithful Catholics and self-described “recovering” Catholics alike are disappointed, angry, and tried in their devotion to the Church. It seems like every time a man with a collar opens his mouth, it just makes it worse. The Catholic Church’s witness as the most powerful moral authority in the world has been disastrously compromised. The ongoing revelations of the problems that some of the most well-known voices of that authority have had, have done nothing to make the situation any better.

So why are people so angry? Why is there so much attention to the sins of the Fathers? Why can people not seem to distinguish between belief in Jesus and His Church on the one hand and the failures of the members of the Church on the other?

Because we want to believe. Man was made for truth, tends towards truth like a dry weary land without water. The Catholic Church, the pillar of truth, shines as a beacon for that truth which she has received from her LORD. So whenever the face of the Church is marred by weakness, sin and dysfunction, it is harder for the children of God and men to see that Truth which the Church reflects from her Divine Teacher. They despair of the Truth, of the very thing for which they are made.

There is not a man alive who does not believe with every molecule of his being, The truth shall set you free. The entire world is demanding the truth, and nothing but the truth, from the Catholic Church. The entire world demands that the Church be coherent with the truth that she teaches.

Part of that search for truth has gotten caught up in the continuing revelations of wrong-doing by members of the Church. And when that wrong-doing is wrought by a man we all call “Father”, then the damage is immense. So when it turns out that the Fathers who have lent their voice to the Truth also have their own struggle to be freed by truth, everyone from daily Massgoers to anti-religious pagans feel the need to bring everything to light, in a desperate search for that freedom that comes from truth.

Yet there are two things that come to mind which cause me to reflect. First, it is a truth of our Faith that the Church is spotless, yet made up of sinning members. My favorite image of the Church is that it is a hospital for sinners. Her doors are open to all who, like the publican, strike their breast and say, Have mercy on me, a sinner. Her doors are also open to those who, like the Pharisee, are convinced of their own righteousness and their mission to point out the fault of the sinner. But her Table is not. And her clergy are not gurus, models of spiritual perfection upon which their fans are to model their lives. Instead, they are like the angels God sends with a message, angels with the fallible and dirty feet of men. It is for that reason that St Augustine said, “I am a Bishop for you, and a Christian with you.” Not because he wanted in his clericalist arrogance to excuse his past and his present faults, but to point away from himself to the One who can change the lives of us all.

Second, the heart of man is a deep mystery which nothing can adequately fathom. None of us can know the whole story, even with the tools of the best objective reporting. The Church is full of those who want to blame for the obfuscation of the Truth. But, given that the Church is a hospital for sinners, it is like the patients are all self-diagnosing, prescribing medications for others, and slinging blood, guts and infected pus all around.

We must remind ourselves that Ideas must be engaged, challenged and discussed, especially when they threaten to darken the apprehension of Truth by men. But we must be careful when we speak of those who formulate those Ideas. For there will always be a discrepancy between the value of the Ideas and those who put them forward. The Church is a scandal to the world because it is full of people who are sick and dying of sin, and still loudly sings a hymn of hope that all will be well. Because Our LORD is the Divine Physician and He is working His purpose out in the publican and in the Pharisee that both dwell in all of us.

How easy it is to think we have the whole story, and make value judgments, not about the Ideas before us, about the Image and Likeness of God who lay before us on his sickbed. We take what we see and hear and make presumptions, extrapolate based on them, and then reject people because of the carefully constructed hermeneutic of suspicion we have built around them.

I often tell my penitents, “As soon as you say the name of another person, you have to ask yourself, ‘Why am I saying this?’!” The virtue of discretion is one which has been caricatured as an obstacle to the pursuit of that truth which frees. Yet, as Christians, all in the hospital for sinners as we are, we depend on each other more than we can know. The bonds of Baptism which unite us as members of One Body are so strong that we are all saved together in the One Faith and the One LORD. It takes little effort to point out the faults and failings of another man who is ill, especially if they are true. But it is much harder, in fact it belongs to the long road of Calvary, to walk with another man on the way and encourage him to virtue. It is much harder to climb to Mount Tabor with him, to bear his burden, and to share with him the secret places of the human heart that God alone can make well and fill with joy.

I have been on the receiving end of misunderstanding, of calumny, of detraction. I also have taken the parts of another Christian and made out of them a whole according to my understanding, a whole which revealed more about myself than the one I sought to dissect and analyze. The name of other people has passed my lips, not in reverence for the Image and Likeness of God that they are, but for other reasons, some that I am not sure I understand myself.

One of the most powerful books I have ever read was Ian McEwan’s Atonement. In it, a bright young girl named Briony sees and reads into a situation. She is morally certain, and also scared, that what she has seen and read could destroy the life of her sister, Cecilia. Out of love, she presents what she has seen and read to the proper authorities. She seeks for the Truth which will free her sister. But her hermenutic of suspicion also happens to be wrong. And it results in a chain of events in which her sister’s lover is exiled and the two live out the rest of their lives frustrated by the absence of their true love, and each one ends in tragedy. The young girl realizes far too late that her perception was not reality, that her partial truth had compromised the whole truth. And so she spends her life in one grand act of atonement for her error.

Now, of course, we know as Christians, that we do not make atonement for our sins. But we have hope, for Jesus Christ was offered as The Atonement to make us at one again, not with the partial truth of our own understanding, but with the whole truth which liberates and alone empowers. It is because of that act of atonement of the God-Man Jesus Christ, it is on account of our praise to Him for that fact, that we do penance and offer, insomuch as we can, reparation for our sins.

We live in an angry world. We live in an angry Church. Those of us who participate in the Blogosphere who love the Church must recognize that there are deep spaces in the heart of each one of us, that we cannot fully understand, and that, often, in our search for that truth which frees, we set into motion events which hurt, mutilate and destroy. There is a lot of naming names and calling out demons in the Blogosphere right now, and a lot of moral certitude as to the justness of causes. May the example of Briony illuminate us as to the reparation we need to make for our own hermeneutic of suspicion and want of discretion and compassion. And more importantly, may the grace of Christ help us to look at the other patients in the hospital of sinners with love, and recognize our own inability to be freed by truth, except by Him.

The Litany of Humility

O Jesus! meek and humble of heart, Hear me.

From the desire of being esteemed,

Deliver me, Jesus.

From the desire of being loved...

From the desire of being extolled ...

From the desire of being honored ...

From the desire of being praised ...

From the desire of being preferred to others...

From the desire of being consulted ...

From the desire of being approved ...

From the fear of being humiliated ...

From the fear of being despised...

From the fear of suffering rebukes ...

From the fear of being calumniated ...

From the fear of being forgotten ...

From the fear of being ridiculed ...

From the fear of being wronged ...

From the fear of being suspected ...

That others may be loved more than I,

Jesus, grant me the grace to desire it.

That others may be esteemed more than I ...

That, in the opinion of the world,
others may increase and I may decrease ...

That others may be chosen and I set aside ...

That others may be praised and I unnoticed ...

That others may be preferred to me in everything...

That others may become holier than I, provided that I may become as holy as I should…


Sunday, October 16, 2011

Zwingli! on Music

For reasons unknown to me I found myself reading the Wikipedia article on Huldrych Zwingli (Swiss Reformer). Maybe it was because conversation over brunch today centered on my son's freshman history class and his professor's well balanced look at the influences and events of the time. Might also be because I was in Zurich three weeks ago, where all things "church" are all Zwingli, all the time.

Cut to the chase: I about fell off my chair when I read the paragraph on Zwingli's view toward liturgical music, below. As Willa Cather said, "There are only two or three human stories, and they go on repeating themselves as fiercely as if they had never happened before."

Zwingli criticised the practice of priestly chanting and monastic choirs. The criticism dates from 1523 when he attacked certain worship practices. He associated music with images and vestments, all of which he felt diverted people’s attention from true spiritual worship. It is not known what he thought of the musical practices in early Lutheran churches. Zwingli, however eliminated music from worship in the church, stating that God had not commanded musical worship. The organist of the People's Church in Zurich is recorded as weeping upon seeing the great organ broken up. Although Zwingli did not express an opinion on congregational singing, he made no effort to encourage it. Nevertheless, scholars have found that Zwingli was supportive of a role for music in the church. Gottfried W. Locher writes, "The old assertion 'Zwingli was against church singing' holds good no longer.... Zwingli's polemic is concerned exclusively with the medieval Latin choral and priestly chanting and not with the hymns of evangelical congregations or choirs". Locher goes on to say that "Zwingli freely allowed vernacular psalm or choral singing. In addition, he even seems to have striven for lively, antiphonal, unison recitative". Locher then summaries his comments on Zwingli's view of church music as follows: "The chief thought in his conception of worship was always 'conscious attendance and understanding' — 'devotion', yet with the lively participation of all concerned".

They don't teach "pom poms" at the Madeline School

A couple of colloquia ago, Duquesne I (as it were), the first person we happened upon in the dorm was a young lady, Miss Jessica Happold, dispatched post-haste to her first CMAA event after just one month's tenure as the new Choir Director for the noted bishop Fabian Bruskewitz of Lincoln Nebraska. Wendy and Jessica have shared a few FBook exchanges, but as I don't "social network" I hadn't heard from our lovely friend from 2010.
But in my office email I received this email below, and have included subsequent messages from one of Jessica's young charges. We've had a lot of good news about our "kids" of late, particularly through the work of David Hughes, Kathy Pluth and MaryAnn Carr. And it's a privilege to anticipate being able to take in the acclaimed Madeline experience started by Msgr. Mannion next summer. Just thought it might brighten the day to share this.

Hello Charles Culbreth,
My name is Seán Coffey, and I am an 8th grade student at Cathedral of the Risen Christ in Lincoln Nebraska. I am currently working on a project in “Sacred Music” with my teacher, Miss Happold, speaking of Chant. I would like you to answer this question, what do you think about Gregorian Chant. Do you think it is the right decision for it to return it after such a long disappearance and why? I would love to hear what you reply and please share your true thoughts, no limits what so ever.
Thank You so much.

Hello back, Seán.
I apologize that my response has been delayed, but I assure you that your interest has not been far from my mind. Please say hello to your teacher from both my wife and myself. You are quite fortunate to have such a caring and talented teacher.
“What do I think of chant?”
What I believe about Gregorian Chant is that it is the most refined, perfected language that we humans can employ to thank God, worship God, pray to God, praise God and return to Him a beautiful expression that unlike any other way, joins the best of “words” to the best ideals of “music.” Gregorian Chant is not just the sum of its major two parts, sacred text and melody. As I said, it is a sacral language that reflects our appreciation for the mystery that is at the heart of all we believe in our faith.
I actually think that the resurgence of Gregorian Chant in our era is not a return, or an acknowledgment of something that “lived” only in the past. The elements of notation that unlock the secrets of how best to perform its aspects are now being “de-coded” for popular understanding, along with the principles of why believers relied upon chant both in Mass and in the marking of the Liturgy of the Hours, so that virtually any interested Catholic, Christian or other person could learn to enact.
Recovering chant is not just about whether it is a “right decision” to help the Church spread the Gospel. Chant is the gospel, chant is our right, in fact our Catholic birthright. The decision we must face is whether to accept this God given right as being first among other equal ways to musically and poetically reflect our love for the Lord through the arts. Chant is first and foremost an action, an experience, something that cannot be fully understood or embraced by mere study or listening. It’s like swimming; you have to jump into its waters, take a breath and trust that you will move in a completely new manner .
Perhaps I can write you some more reflections later on.

Hello Charles,
My teacher says hi to both you and your wife. Thank you so much for your response. It is absolutely eye-opening and relevant for the church to know. This has strengthend my belief and has truly made me a much better Catholic member.
God Bless You So Much,
Seán Coffey

How To Learn Chant (Houston, Jan 4-6, 2012)

We live in a culture of instant everything. We get a new cellphone and expect it to work for us immediately and without reading the instructions. We get travel the world instantly in a mall food court: choosing between Indian, Chinese, Tex-Mex, Italian, or anything else. We scroll through our MP3s and listen to any and every style: rap, rock, country, opera, or chant. All things must be plug-and-play or they are not worth having. If something is boring, we multi-task.

But real learning takes time, and it is getting harder and harder for us to mentally commit to giving that. What if you still feeling a burning passion to learn something new? You have to make the effort, give the time, pay the fee - but consider it an investment. Hardly anything is really worth having it is costs you no time, no money, no effort. Things that truly makes a difference in this world and in our lives require something of us first.

What about singing at liturgy? Many people suppose that if you have a pretty voice, there is nothing else to learn. You just need a mic and a tune. But this is far from the case. The job of providing music at Mass or any Catholic liturgy is a substantial undertaking. You need to understand the Roman Rite. You need to learn to sing without accompaniment. You need to be able to make your way around the Church's own music, which is Gregorian Chant above all else.

To be a singer at liturgy requires these things. The benefit of gaining these skills is that you now have a gift that you can give to the thing you love: the beautiful expression of the faith through its liturgical art. And now is the time. The Church desperately needs singers as never before. The talent pool has shrunk over the years, but now there is a renewed push to make the music right again. The call is for all people who are able to begin the training, to approach and eventually master the material, and to become a valuable asset to the parish and to the faith. Then you also enter into a proud heritage that dates back to the earliest years of Christianity: you become a singer for the Christian liturgy.

Can you give three days? It will change your life and change your parish.

Presenting the 2012 Winter Chant Intensive at St. Mary’s Seminary in Houston, Texas. January 4-6, 2012. Sponsored by CMAA Houston.

The Winter Chant Intensive is intended for beginning and continuing students and all who love and appreciate the central role that chant plays as the prayerful song of the Roman Rite – not only at cathedrals and Basilicas but also in every parish. The conference will both train and inspire toward the goal of continuing the renaissance of sacred music in our time, both in the ordinary and extraordinary forms of the Mass.

The Chant Intensive lives up to its name: though no previous experience with chant is required, beginners and intermediate chanters should be prepared for full immersion from the get go. You will learn or review how to read and fully navigate all aspects of traditional Gregorian notation (square notes). The course will also address correct Latin pronunciation, the sound and mystery of the eight Church modes; Psalm tones and their application; questions concerning the rhythm of plainsong, and more.

The course will be offered in two sections, chant for men, taught by Jeffrey Ostrowski, and chant for women, with instructor Arlene Oost-Zinner. Classes will begin at 1:00pm on Wednesday, January 4, and conclude with a 4:00pm chanted Mass in the Ordinary Form on the Solemnity of the Epiphany, January 6th.

Jeffrey Mark Ostrowski holds his B.M. in Music Theory from the University of Kansas (2004), where he also did graduate work in Musicology. A pianist and composer, Mr. Ostrowski was elected President of Corpus Christi Watershed in February of 2011. His scholarship has focused on the historical performance of plainsong and polyphony of the High Renaissance, resulting in several early music CDs and an internationally broadcast television documentary.

Arlene Oost-Zinner is conductor of the chant schola at St. Michaels Catholic Church in Auburn, Alabama, composer of the popular English Responsorial Psalms, and director of programs for the Church Music Association of America. She has taught chant at all levels for the CMAA’s Sacred Music Colloquium and at workshops around the country, and has trained under several chant masters in a variety of traditions of thought and practice. She is also an accomplished pianist and translator, and has written for the Catholic Answer, Homiletic and Pastoral Review, Inside Catholic, among other places.

Tuition is $170 for all sessions and materials, including a copy of the Parish Book of Chant, compiled and edited by Richard Rice, as well as coffee breaks and lunch on Thursday and Friday. You will receive all course materials upon arrival. Class will be held in the seminary’s Bishop Nold Education Center. Mass on Friday will be in the chapel.

Now is the time! 

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Pope Benedict at Vespers, Carthusian Monastery

Solesmes and Gregorian Rhetoric Revisited again revisits the issue of chant rhythm with a broader perspective of various ways to read chant.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Getting Started on Chant

I was deeply touched by this testimonial from Susan Carroll of the I Cantori Vocal Studio:
At present I teach voice in my home studio and have a small schola of high school girls who have been with me for years. Recently, I was asked by the Friars at the Franciscan Monastery in D.C. if my schola - called "I Cantori" would sing once or twice a month at their 10 am Sunday liturgy and become the "regular" choir of the Monastery.

I accepted - of course - and consider myself extremely fortunate to be able to serve the liturgy in such a worthy setting with the acoustics of a (well-built) great Cathedral. 

Here' the point: Last night, in my living room, I took my new copy of the "Simple English Propers" in hand and had "my girls" (ages 12 -14)  around me to prepare for Mass this Sunday -- and began work on the Introit and Communio for the liturgy.  At previous rehearsals I had explained that we would be starting to sing the Propers and provided them (via email) with brief instruction on why, what and how -- along with a brief history of the place of the Propers in the liturgy.  I had also sent them links to the Watershed tutorials on Youtube,  and asked them to prepare the Introit and Communio for rehearsal last night - if possible.

However, I didn't tell them that they'd have to quickly learn how to read neumes or give them any hint that they were going to read the chants in Gregorian notation. Now these girls are dedicated and they have been singing various chants of the liturgy with me for years.  However, they are also incredibly silly, talkative, inattentive and all of that--AND, they are very busy, popular girls who are also athletes, actresses, big sisters, etc. 

I didn't have time to actually plan a detailed lesson for them - we had a good deal of music to rehearse; however, at the last minute I decided to read them the tutorial from the forward of the Simple English Propers as we carefully worked our way through the Introit. 

The happy denouement is that even with my lack of preparation, the little introduction in the hymnal for the Simple English Propers was perfect.  They were able to understand exactly what they were trying to decode, made notes right on their music (at my insistence) and sang the Introit with the purity of angels.  Once I gave them a little direction on how to interpret the simple loveliness of the unison line, singing with reverence and care to shape the chant as if they were singing the waves of the ocean (arsis and thesis) - they totally understood their role.  They quickly grasped the concept of the differences in the various neumes and remembered which notes had to be sung first and how to group the notes by twos and threes. 

Then, unexpectedly - within 5 minutes and two iterations of the Introit, I witnessed something very beautiful as they became less of a "choir" and more of a "schola."  What do I mean by that? Well, to me, it is the submission of the ego in response to something more beautiful, creative and powerful than oneself -- in service to the ultimate "art form" (for lack of a better phrase) -- the Sacred Liturgy.  The chant did what we know it is capable of: it introduced itself to them and taught them how to interpret it IN LIGHT OF THEIR FAITH. 

I guess what I'm trying to say is that although these girls are already open to the power of the liturgy and they do - for the most part - take their faith seriously, interpreting the Introit somehow matured their faith.  I could see it in their demeanor as they chanted and I could definitely hear it in their voices as they were careful not to overpower the delicacy of the "line" as they sang.  

It wasn't just that they performed the chants with clarity and a purity of sound - there was a humble honesty in their rendering - as if they were beholding an ancient, holy thing that they didn't quite understand - yet compelled them in some silent corner of their faith. 

I wasn't surprised and yet, I have to say that I was a bit shocked- as one is shocked when one's fervent but hopeless prayer is gently answered -- at the same time that we become aware that - to our astonishment! -- our prayer is in the process of being answered!  It was the shock of innocent faith to the disillusioned (me) that a prayer I've held so deeply in my heart of hearts could actually be answered - even though I had "secretly" lost hope.

Because for a holy moment in my living room - my girls experienced a transcendence that had nothing to do with how beautiful they sounded and everything to do with how reverent and faithful they sounded.  Does that make sense?  It has to because it's the truth.   

See you in Steubenville, Pt. 2

Tomorrow I will be flying back to the Franciscan University of Steubenville once again, this time to give a presentation at a liturgical conference for the Diocese of Steubenville.

You may have heard that this Diocese has mandated the singing of the Missal Chants ONLY during the introduction period of the new translation of the Roman Missal. I have not yet heard of another diocese that is not allowing commercial Mass settings to be sung in favor of the music actually in the Missal. This means, of course, that this is the only ordinary that will be heard on the campus of Franciscan University for, I believe, the first six months following Nov. 27, 2011.

So it is very good to see the wonderful liturgical happenings of this diocese. The conference is sure to be great with talks also being given by Bishop Sarratelli, Dr. Scott Hahn, Dr. Denis McNamara and Dr. John Bergsma. Please note the absence of the abbreviation "Dr." before my name. I feel a bit out of place here, but am humbled to be invited and will give that which I have to offer. The talk will be very similar to my talk for the liturgical musician retreat last month, though will be somewhat shortened and directed to non-musicians. I would appreciate your prayers! I am told the talks will be video taped, so perhaps we can post these at a later time.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Cardinal Burke and the SEP

The Mass has just finished that featured English propers from the Simple English Propers, and Cardinal Burke was thrilled to be given a copy inscribed from the schola led by Aristotle Esguerra.

What good marketing looks like

More English Mass Settings - Watershed

On 25 October 1970, Pope Paul VI canonized the Forty Martyrs of England and Wales. The English saints are truly remarkable and have set a extraordinary model for our imitation. We should also ask their intercession.

Composer Jeff Ostrowski has included four complete Mass settings in the Vatican II Hymnal, and each is dedicated to one of the English Martyrs (see below). Also of note: a video production company called Mary’s Dowry Productions has recently come into being, and is primarily dedicated to producing fantastic videos about the English Martyrs.

With regard to musical settings of the Mass, the parts of the Mass Ordinary are very short and do not represent a serious challenge for the composer, with the exception of the "Glory To God," which is a longer text and requires structural considerations. In particular, the new ICEL translation of the "Glory To God" has proven to be very difficult for many modern composers to set if they do not choose the Gregorian settings as their model. Included below are five examples of the "Glory To God" taken from the Vatican II Hymnal.

A talented classical scholar, St. Ralph Sherwin was ordained a priest on 23 March 1577 by the Bishop of Cambrai. In 1580, he was imprisoned, and on 4 December severely racked. Afterwards, St. Sherwin was laid out in the snow. The next day he was racked again. He is said to have been personally offered a bishopric by Elizabeth I if he converted, but refused. After spending a year in prison he was finally brought to trial with St. Edmund Campion. In 1581, he was taken to Tyburn on a hurdle along with St. Alexander Briant and St. Edmund Campion, where the three martyrs were hanged, drawn and quartered. This holy man's last words were, "Jesu, Jesu, Jesu, esto mihi Jesus!" The Mass setting in his honor is relatively short, bright, and not too challenging for the average congregation:

St. Edmund Arrowsmith joined the Society of Jesus in 1624. In 1628, he was arrested when betrayed by the son of a landlord he had censured for an incestuous marriage. Having been convicted of being a Roman Catholic priest in England, his sentence was death, and he was hanged, drawn and quartered on August 28, 1628. His fellow-prisoner, Father John Southworth (afterwards a Martyr) absolved him as he went forth to undergo the usual butchery. The Mass in honor of St. Arrowsmith is a slightly more difficult than the St. Ralph Sherwin Mass, but more in the Gregorian style:

St. Edmund Jennings was ordained priest in 1590, being then only twenty-three years of age. He was arrested while saying Mass in the house of St. Swithun Wells on 7 November 1591 and was hanged, drawn and quartered outside the same house on 10 December. His execution was particularly bloody, as his final speech angered Topcliffe, who ordered the rope to be cut down when he was barely stunned from the hanging. It is reported that he uttered the words, "Sancte Gregori, ora pro me," while he was being disembowelled. St. Swithun Wells was hanged immediately afterwards. The Mass in honor of St. Jennings, although modal, is a metrical Mass. It was written for congregations who are not used to singing Gregorian chant:

St. Anne Line was the daughter of William Heigham, an ardent Calvinist, and when she and her brother announced their intention of becoming Catholics both were disowned and disinherited. When Father John Gerard established a house of refuge for priests in London, St. Anne was placed in charge. On 2 February 1601, Fr. Francis Page was saying Mass in the house managed by Anne Line, when men arrived to arrest him. The priest managed to slip into a special hiding place, prepared by St. Anne, and thus escape. However, she was arrested, along with two other laypeople. She was tried on 26 February 1601, but was so weak that she was carried to the trial in a chair. She told the court that so far from regretting having concealed a priest, she only grieved that she "could not receive a thousand more." She was hanged the next day. The Mass in honor of St. Anne Line is a very simple setting that might be nice for weekday Masses when there is no organist:

The Vatican II Hymnal also contains the ICEL "Missal chants," and organ accompaniments for these chants can be freely downloaded here. The ICEL "Glory To God" is an English adaptation of Gloria XV from the Gregorian Kyriale:

Good Plans Gone Awry

Readers of the Cafe know everything this article already, so feel free to skip it. But because I usually upload my weekly column for the Wanderer here, I thought I should post this one too.


Why Your Parish Might Not Sing the Missal Chants
by Jeffrey Tucker

I’ve sat on this story for a while in hopes that the problem was isolated and temporary and thereby not serious. But I’m gaining increasing evidence from correspondence that it is indeed very serious and pervasive. The problem has to do with the music of the new Roman Missal, a book that contains more integral chant than any Missal ever published. Just like the text of the Missal is actually based on the Latin edition (no more loose paraphrases), the music of the Missal is also rooted in the Latin chant as found in the Graduale Romanum, the Kyriale, and the other official chant books of the Roman Rite.

This dramatic increase in the presence of music is designed for a reason. The Bishops of the English-speaking world developed a desire over the last decades to see some degree of standardization in what is sung at Mass. There are several reasons for this. First, a community of believers needs to have a community song that serves to unite them. Second, the ritual does have its own embedded music and surely this should serve a primary role. Third, the Church and not private publishers should be the provider of the main music at Mass, so it is long past time for the Church to do so.

Based on these considerations, the liturgy office of the USCCB, as well as the International Commission on English in the Liturgy, worked very hard for a very long time to create chant settings that transfer the musical sense from Latin to English. It is not an easy task, and no two people agree on the best approach.

The task also confronts a very strange political problem that I’ve only recently begun to fully understand. It requires no explanation of why the pop music publishers resent chant. It goes against their whole sensibility. Chant solemnizes the liturgy and takes us out of ourselves and into an eternal realm. For some people, this is exactly the opposite of where they want to go. In any case, it makes no sense for a commercial publisher to embrace music that is easily downloadable and freely shared among all. This point of view can cite a certain level of support among Catholic people who have not been formed with the understanding that liturgy is not for toe-tapping entertainment or the manipulation of emotion.

On the other side, for some people who are knowledgeable about chant and love the Latin, English chant is an intolerable compromise to render the musical language into another tongue, especially one with lots of hard word endings. The music and language of chant are supposed to go together, and changing the text in particular is hopelessly damaging. I’m not entirely sure that I disagree with the substance of this critique, but there is the matter of practicality. The Mass was vernacularized. Many people warned in the 1960s that unless the chant movement did something to embrace English, the folk music and pop music forces will rush in to fill the gap. It is more than obvious that this is precisely what has happened in the absence of serious attempts to recreate Gregorian chant in the vernacular.

Given this two poles of opinion, the result has been to squeeze out this third option that the Missal embraces. The stalemate on this issue had pretty well continued for fifty years until it was decisively broken by ICEL. Yes, this should have happened 45 years ago when permission for the vernacular first entered into the consciousness of the Bishops’ conferences but all that history is water under the bridge now. The important thing is that we finally have access to an entire body of music for the Mass that covers music for the people and for the celebrant (you have to look elsewhere for propers sung by the schola).

ICEL flooded the world with its chant editions long before the printing of the Missal itself. It encouraged recordings, engravings, sharings, and every manner of promotion. These chants were to become the foundational music of Catholic life as regards the Roman Rite of Mass. It was required that they be printed in every pew hymnal. It was an ambitious plan, especially given the fractured state of Catholic music and the near banishment of chant from most parishes in this country. But the plan was truly visionary in ways that were not expected.

Given all this, you might be thinking that chant will arrive at your parish on Advent one this year. That could happen but it is not likely. After all, no one has mandated that the chants be used at Mass. It was strongly urged by the head of ICEL but there has been no mandate. Many publishers have produced alternative Mass settings, and this is as it should be given that the Church has always encouraged art and composition and never sought to freeze into place all music that takes place at Mass.

But something new and unexpected has happened. In more than just a few dioceses around the country, the Office of Worship has sent out orders to all parishes that they do not have choice in what music to sing. They must sing such and such Mass from a certain publisher for a period of one year. This must be sung at all parishes and at all Masses, regardless of the preferences of the congregation or the celebrant or the pastor or the director of music. This is being done in the name of diocesan unity, a concern that should not be dismissed. But if it is unity we seek, what better to unify than the Missal itself? But this is not what is happening. Many parishes are being forced to buy Mass settings published outside the Church and simultaneously eschew the actual music of the Missal.

I first heard about some of this just two months ago, but now the reports are growing. Many of the people reporting this are wanting to remain anonymous. Many are not even giving the name of the diocese for fear of reprisal; no one wants to be seen as a trouble maker. But it is deeply demoralizing for those who saw this new Missal as a possible liberation from the disunity and cacophony of the present state of Catholic music. Alas, bureaucrats have intervened to stop this from happening.

You might be wondering how they can get away with this. It’s a good question. I seriously doubt that the mandates could stand up against any serious canonical challenge. But here is the problem. By the time the challenges and answers make their way through the administrative apparatus, the trial period of one year will be up, and parishes will again be free to sing the music of the Missal. So a legal challenge probably doesn’t make sense at this point.

The sad news for many Catholics is that they will have to wait yet another year before the music at Mass becomes reliably solemn. That’s not to say that there are not some excellent settings out there being published by commercial publishers, and all of them have some quality offerings. But those are not the ones that are being popularly selected, so far as I can tell.

And we all know the way music works in parishes. Once something is around for one year, it sticks forever. You can see, then, that this practice of one-year mandates is amazing subsidy to the commercial publishers as against the Church - which is precisely what the Bishops did not want. Indeed, this whole practice amounts to an ingenious reversal of a major part of the intent of this new Missal. The message of the crowd that gave us the status quo is: we aren’t going anywhere soon.