Friday, April 20, 2012

Doing Something About It

Ignatius Press is a leading publisher of Catholic books, including many by Pope Benedict XVI. I’ve been in parish libraries before to see hundreds of this publisher’s editions. They are loved by priests and laypeople. They market online and in a print catalog. They are even releasing ebooks today. None of this is news to anyone reading this. Ignatius has been part of the Catholic landscape since 1978, so much so that people just take the company for granted.

Think of the date of 1978. That was more than a decade after a wild and unexpected turmoil swept through the Catholic Church in all lands. The publishing house was founded to recall our roots, to firmly root Catholic teaching in tradition and history and truth. It received little or no support from the Bishops. It had no sugar-daddy funding. It was a struggle from the beginning and still is.

But, my goodness, look at the difference it has made. This is what makes the difference between complaining and doing. Or to use the old cliche, it the difference between cursing the darkness and shining a light.

Why did it take so long to do this with music? Music was among the most contentious area of Catholic life after the Council. The propers of the Mass faded away. The Gregorian chant became controversial because of the language change. Pop music was all the rage. It shoved its way into liturgy. It took over the publishers. It became a juggernaut. If you stood in the way, you were destroyed.

One of the earliest efforts to provide an alternative was Cantica Nova, a publisher of excellent work for parishes. It was started by Gary Penkala, and on a shoestring budget. But he did it and he did a great job. Still does.

This effort was picked up and joined by the Church Music Association of America. It is wonderful to see what is happening now. The Parish Book of Chant is an institution. We’ve published the first widely distributed book of English propers. And, my goodness, have a look at William Mahrt’s The Musical Shape of the Liturgy. Here is the high-powered stuff, the real and full explanation of the framework of music at Mass.

What’s next? In a few weeks, you will begin seeing some announcements for two books we are now finishing up. The first is Words With Wings, a program for children’s chant with a workbook and teacher’s manual. It was first conceived of by Netherlands conductor Wilko Brouwers. Then it was translated and adapted for English by Arlene Oost-Zinner.

It is the first modern curriculum for schools and parishes to use to build up children’s choirs. It takes the great wisdom of the past and renders it in contemporary language. It permits kids to learn how to sing using chant, and forms them and shapes them into real singers who can sing at Mass. These books are short, lucid, easy to use.

It’s a new beginning for children’s voices in Catholic liturgy. We dare not neglect this task. There can be no real future for the chant until children are heavily involved in the project. But until now, all the material we’ve had to work with was dated and a bit dusty. Worse, they presumed a world that does not exist, one in which kids were in school in dedicated choir programs every single day of the year. This is not our world, as we well know.

Words with Wings has been long in the making and now it is about to become a reality. It will be affordable and accessible. Any teacher can learn to use the book in the course of a very short training session. So long as she stays one step ahead of the kids, the learning and progress can take place in every parish.

So, if you are pastor or a education director in your parish, prepare ye the way! Musical improvement and progress is at hand.

The translator of this book is also the composer of the most-downloaded Responsorial Psalms on the Internet. These Psalms are all being collected in one volume called The Parish Book of Psalms. It will be the clearest and most accessible way to sing this portion of the Mass according to a Gregorian tradition in English. All the verses are written out and notated. All the antiphons can be immediately sung by the people. They are solemn and dignified.

The idea of this book is to provide a viable competitor to the usual books that are out there. I believe that this will work and work brilliantly.

These will be the latest addition to a suite of books that provide real-world answers to the problem of what to do about the pervasiveness of pop music liturgy. These are lights in a dark world.

One final word about journalism. The Wanderer deserves a great deal of credit too. In times when nearly every Catholic publication went with the time, The Wanderer has chartered a course of truth and courage. Even now, I’m deeply grateful for this venue because it runs my article on music every single week without fail. This takes guts. And it is making a difference.

In their own way, each of these institutions has decided to do something about the problem. The future is much brighter as a result.