Full, active, conscious participation-of a PASTOR

Recent First Communion at St. Joseph’s, Macon, GA

I’m sure that many of the patrons of the Café are familiar with one Fr. Allan McDonald, pastor of St. Joseph’s Church in Macon, GA. His internet presence on his own blog, SOUTHERN ORDERS, is currently burgeoning. And, of course, along with yours truly Fr. Allan remains in dialogue with the “loyal opposition” (said in jest) over at Fr. Ruff’s PRAY TELL blog. Fr. Allan’s been on a roll lately, and I thought I’d share some combox chatter over this recent posting of his which can be found at SOUTHERN ORDERS

My commentary will always be in “black.” This is the article’s title:


There were some initial “attaboys” in the commentary, then this query was posted:

Pater Ignotus said…

What is it in the nature of the Gregorian Chant, polyphony or traditional metrical hymns that evokes the “specific spiritual feel” you mention?
How do you know if this comes from the music or from your own musical preferences?

As I mentioned at PT, the problem of “music serving Mass” doesn’t really exist at the polar extremes, but in the spectrum that lies between those poles.
There isn’t much I disagree with, per se, with your analysis of the last two plus generations’ musical praxis. However there are at least two perspectives that you should challenge your own solutions to explain.
One, of course, contain ALL the directives of pre and post-conciliar documents from Tra le…to the GIRM/MS/CSL. Namely, that besides observing the principle (first) place afforded chant and allowing preference for its protege polyphony, the Church clearly re-affirms the role that newly minted art must have to continually enrich the sacred treasury. That is conditional, though, articulating that such art respect and reflect those two traditions; hence your correct notion of a native “Catholic” idiom. But that leads me to point out the second challenge-
When one typifies whole genres, Praise and Worship, Sacro-pop, folk, “Ensemble” and then attaches the reality/perception of ghettoization of genres with perjorative tags like “fiefdoms” you have undermined any possibility of reasonable discussion. Here’s a short example. When the St. Thomas More consortium broke through in the eighties, there wasn’t a whole lot of cohesion of style among their roster of compositional styles. You had Ernie Sand’s doing Desmond/Brubeck with “Sing of the Lord’s Goodness” in 5/4 (Take Five) in the same collection with Paul Inwood’s “Ps.47: God mounts His Throne,” and Chris Walker’s “Center of My Life” Ask someone with the cred to comment which of those exhibits traits that do not meet the legislative criteria, and you’ll have a riot first, then someone might get around to noticing that the Inwood comes closest to containing very little secular associations, and affirming many sacred characteristics.
What I’m really saying, and have always maintained, if you’re willing to a wholesale discarding of post-conciliar repertoires, you’re willing to do something that not even the council of Trent had the moxie to do (there’s always a historical precedence.) And since Pius X, there’s not been one pope who would offer such a solution larger than advice and recommendations, or pull a trigger of some comprehensive white or black list.
No matter where each of us is at, none of us can set ourselves up as a sacred music commissar or politburo, thus declaring the Church, as it is, has it “wrong” in her documents. Wish for it, work for it, pray for it, put it into place (as you’re doing in Macon) but don’t presume to mandate it in the “catholic” domain. We do not carry that water.
BTW, some could turn your recent, wonderful Schubert Mass into an example of questionable praxis not only from the perspective of participatio actuosa (I don’t go there anymore) but also from Pius X’s own inferences about classical Masses.
It’s a rabbit hole, for sure. But just covering up the hole’s entrance won’t make the hole go away.
Worthy new art is happening. That is why you’re paying your wonderful DM the big bucks: to discern and infuse that, again, into the treasury.
Fr. Allan’s response to that:

Charles thanks for the post. I agree with you concerning Schubert’s Mass or any “concert” Mass, but I don’t know of too many parishes which offer that type of music as a steady unhealthy diet week after week. But with that said at least Schubert’s Mass is in continuity with our spirituality. I would like your comment on PI’s question.

1. Regarding chant- I believe it’s an utterly “free-of-ego” sacral language, particularly when performed in its true habitat, liturgy. And the western (and to some extent eastern rite) chant tradition imparts this pure sense of humility whether the tongue imparts it in Greek, Latin, or a vernacular, IMHO. Unfortunately, I don’t think this maxim can be applied to polyphony or hymnody, tho’ I agree with PI generally there is more of a likelihood of association with their sacral nature in a ritual environment. But ego entered the picture very early in the historical picture with organum’s toleration, and some fruit has been spiritually nutricious, and others detrimental.
2. Again, I believe this question is answered for each individual within a mix of how much they know, intuit or feel about the music in the moment and environment, and if what preferences they do hold are informed and in consensus with whatever aggregate group the person wants to enjoin in worship.
As you know, AWR/PTB had an article about the two axiomatic forms of the jazz Mass in Germany and the “normative” Mass at St. John’s. What wasn’t cited in the article or commentary was a critical analysis of whether there are viable examples of clearly spiritual or mystical examples (even purposefully couched in Christianity) in the jazz catalog, not the least of which have the names of Edward Ellington, Dave Brubeck, John Coltrane, Paul Winter/Paul Halley, Jan Garbareck in that legacy. But you generally won’t find those magnum opi in the local parish jazz Mass; you’ll get some Dixieland combo howling “O when the saints….” or somesuch. Or worse, that new age faux garbage at the papal Mass in Berlin during the Penitential Rite.
But, I can listen to some Gil Evans jazz orchestra arrangements with Miles Davis like Rodrigo’s Concierto de Araunjez (sp?) and, pardon the pun, I’m in heaven.
I think we’re going to remain a big tent church in all ways. That’s not a sentiment that would gain traction among my dearest conservative colleagues and friends, but as long as the liturgy inexorably moves toward more overt and authentic sacrality, and chant becomes the norm and standard, or is invited to the table within a parish’s weekend schedule on a regular basis, I’ll be a happy camper.

“PI” rejoins the conversation: Pater Ignotus said…

Anon 5 – Good Fr. McDonald made an assertion, that certain music has a specific spiritual feel – a Catholic spiritual feel at that – when heard and processed. I asked if he could offer an argument to back up his assertion.
I am not defending any composer, past, present, or future, or any pastor’s or congregation’s choice of music.
I enjoy Gregorian chant and “sacred” ployphony as much as the next Catholic, but my question has nothing to do with personal prefernces.
And Good Father, I’s like to hear YOUR comments, not Charles’.  (ouch!)

Being a good sport:

PI, I meant no disrespect to you I’m sure you realized. I just responded to FRAJM’s direct question. Sorry if that caused offense.

And then: Pater Ignotus said… Charles – How does Gregorian chant “impart this pure sense of humility”? Is it in the texts, the notes, the tempo, . . . ? Describe…?

 Ergo: First of all, the simple discipline of uniting the 150 psalms as the core (if not sole) texts of the liturgical chants to mark the hours of each week in the monastic traditions to a corpus of unison melodies that were as purposefully crafted and refined by anonymous choirs of monks in contours that are at once unique, accessible in tessitura (range), and illustrative to those texts. It’s not unlike asking why the Grand Canyon is a majestic sight, in part or in toto. (And consider that all of these chants were promulgated by rote memorization for the most part over centuries.

Now we move to the medium itself- the sole intent is too subsume the individual vocal talent and variation of the chanter into the indescribable beauty that is the blended unison sonority of multiple humans. And then that “one” voice accomplishes that by acquiring the nuances of rhythmic and accentual precision, phonetic and vowel clarity and formational purity. And then the genius involved of having to reconstruct the issues of phrasing and tempi, etc., are in and of themselves, a proven and not unworthy lifetime’s calling for the doms and monks of Solemnes and other locales, but for a new generation that has chosen chant not because of scholarship, but experientially realizing that it makes our corporate prayer truly transcendent, truly oriented to God alone, truly an expression that is not a prosaical reconstruction or allusion to scripture, but the Logos itself. One can put on a set of Bose headphones and listen to the monks at Heiligenkreuz Abbey in Austria and “get” what my words cannot fully impart above. But better than that, you can go to chant conferences yearly throughout the states, or parishes like St. John’s Cantius in Chicago, or join an accomplished schola or choir and experience these aspects fully realized as a whole, and walk away a completely changed worshipper.
I know, because that’s what happened to me and my wife, PI. I’ve put 42 years of my 61 into the liturgy, I can still riff on any of my multitude of guitars and basses with the best of the old hippies, but I would leave that all behind if I could worship at an EF in at least a chanted Missa Cantata or a chant/polyphony Missa Solemnis every day in my own home parish!
I still love and respect all the music I’ve played and led over four decades. But if you want to know when I approached God in worship not as “CC, director of music” but as one of his children, it was through the miracle of just such a Mass chanted to perfection a year ago this June.

As of this moment (now in real time) PI has yet to “retort or respond.”

But Fr. Allen did: As it concerns PI’s query to me about musical styles, I can only refer him to papal documents on the liturgy especially that of the late 1800’s that Charles references that sacred words set to a secular idiom should be avoided or eliminated. I don’t have that document to quote off hand but maybe Charles does. The question is to recognize what secular idiom that sacred texts of the Mass were being set to at the time of the late 1800’s that the Church was reigning in. What is it today. I would surmise that secular music such as folk, contemporary, rock and Broadway no matter how uplifting and good in musical quality is not meant for the Catholic liturgy or for our piety or spirituality.

Fr. et al,

I’m still puzzled as to why PI has yet to respond, unless this is part of this person’s M.O. to take advantage of people who are acting in good faith. C’est la vie.
Anyway, There are two books, one huge, the other brief, that would provide anyone interested with an overview of the chronology and relationship of primary and secondary level legislation and documents pertaining to liturgcal music at service.
*SACRED MUSIC AND THE LITURGICAL REFORM by our friend Fr. Anthony Ruff. Some have decried this huge volume as a doctoral dissertation on steroids, but it is exhaustive and very enlightening (and expensive!) Totally great read, plus one gains an understanding of why AWR comes “off” as equivocating occasionally. There’s a lot on his knowledge plate.
*FROM SACRED SONG TO RITUAL MUSIC is more of a pamphlet by comparison compiled by Fr. Mike Joncas, yes that Mike Joncas. This is more of a forensical outline of the same documents, but lacks any offering of perspective to guide the reader towards making conclusions.
I believe that the principal document whose “spirit” still hovers over the VII document/legislation is the 1903 motu of Pius X, TRA LE SOLLECITUDINI and an accompanying letter (even more severely worded) to his fellow bishops in Italy, I believe.) Those of us inclined towards a literal universal reform that restores chant but also reorders our understanding of the issue of FACP which is inclusive towards the Faithful keep this motu close to the vest. There was a great deal of interpretation and experimentation between 1903 and 1967 when MUSICA SACRAM was promulgated, but it seems to me that the prescriptions of MS were premised upon Pius’ intentions.
And, of course, there’s significant debate as to the intent of the chairman of the committee charged to institutionalize new liturgical legislation such as MS, THE CONSITUTION ON SACRED LITURGY and THE GENERAL INSTRUCTION OF THE ROMAN MISSAL, Abp. Annibale Bugnini.
Without the convenient political device of a church “supreme court” the Magisterium will filter through the tensions of interpretations of these documents for decades, perhaps centuries.
However, what I’m convinced of is that there is a vast majority of priests and bishops who are woefully uninformed* of the actual content of these primary and lawful documents (as opposed to the now-defunct Music in Catholic Worship and it’s successor, Sing to the Lord, American advisory documents that aren’t binding) and that ignorance means that their celebrational sensibiities are arbitrary, malformed or prejudicial. If our leaders literally cannot define the difference between an ordinary and a proper in casual conversation, we remain waist deep in the big muddy. I know this from direct experience.
*I substituded “uninformed” from a similar word the original response.

So, if you’ve never personally experienced a pastor who puts LITURGY first in his daily and weekly priorities, I can recommend taking notice of Fr. McDonald. So, this is the last of my responses as of yet to the combox thread which I thought some might find interesting: