Reflections upon Jeffrey’s “What’s Next” Post

A brief thank you to CHGiffen- problem was HTML v. Compose.

It’s not a secret that I savor wordplay. I succumb to alliteration not unlike a cat to catnip. What comes to mind of late? “Co” words, as in coincidence, confluence, confidence, convention and so forth. Jeffrey Tucker’s essay on “What’s next…?” contains so much confidence that, through his articulations, radiates hope and joy. It’s not surprising that it also coincides with a number of equally optimistic posts and prognostications by Fr. Allan McDonald at his SOUTHERN ORDERS site, some of which he is simultaneously humorously self-deprecating and excoriated by other voices at other blogs, especially by some who seem bound to “conventional wisdom” in principle. But what I marvel and rejoice in today is the confluence of our longings that our colleague Kathy Pluth quotes from Saturday’s Patron, St. Ephrem, which I’ll excerpt again here:
There grew a vine-shoot on my tongue: and increased and reached unto heaven, and it yielded fruit without measure…And the more they were that gathered: the more its clusters abounded. These clusters were the Homilies; and these leaves the Hymns.

Before returning to this confluence I would like to reflect upon some of what was mentioned in Jeffrey’s post .

What I love are the spoken propers of the new translation: the collects, prefaces, and post communions. Every week I prepare and listen carefully.”
Based upon what Jeffrey continues to say in the next paragraph, I’m fairly certain he might revise this sentence with “oration Propers” instead of “spoken.” But that’s not the point; in any case the collects and prefaces have a nobler fragrance for many of us who languished in silence with the pedestrian and in-artful “sameness” of the former Missal. Is it perfect? Of course not. Does it improve the nature of its service? Of course it does.

The integration of the music with the text is primary here. Among those using the actual chants of the Missal, we now have an aesthetically integrated package of sung prayer, one that works for weekdays or Sundays. To sing this … requires no special musical talent or training. It is just text with a simple but dignified melody that has some precedent in the Gregorian repertories.”
Well, as to having an aesthetically integrated package of sung prayer, yes and no. We have fairly comprehensive collections from at least ten contemporaneous composer/arrangers whose efforts elevate the processional Propers into an emerging collective consciousness, not all of whom adhere to plainsong traditions. But as fascinating and fruitful for us all that chant forms are finally being welcomed to the “table” (don’t go “there,” please), I think it’s a sobering necessity to remember that  what Rev. Dr. Schaefer versus Rev. A.W. Ruff, much less Todd Flowerday, would deem such an integration might have totally opposite meanings. And in the “Schaefer/Kirby/Mahrt” corner, the endgame remains arguably steadfast that the Latin chants of the Graduale Romanum have the rightful place ideally at the table. In the Ruff/Flowerday/Krisman corner is the massive pit crew of the Industrial Liturgical Complex that hardly can manage a yawn for game-changers such as the Simple English Propers or the Vatican II Hymnal, but still have a fully vested supply and demand strategy locked into the parish economies so tightly that defending the aesthetics of old to new product lines isn’t even on their radar, apparently. So, we have so many frustrating issues in the liturgical layers of ritual music onion we can hardly catalogue problems much less solutions either here or at the MSForum. Let’s face it, as long as ecclesial exigencies perpetuate a vacuum of leadership from Rome to the conferences to the dioceses to the parishes, we musicians more or less are left having to hold the bag and lead from behind by pushing. Anyone who has attended a colloquium or chant intensive since 2005 hasn’t a shadow of doubt about RotR of the OF being quite plausible, or that the Pius X/XII FACP-aware EF is achievable even with modest resources. So, to some extent I’m hoping that the colloquium demographic continues to multiply exponentially to an NPM level, with NPM or without them. But one caveat emptor, do not underestimate the numbers of liturgical shot-callers who return from the LA Religious Congress, such as it really is, all glassy-eyed and wistful, like they’ve come from some liturgical rave or Burning Man experience.

Changing a Mass setting from peppy and toe tapping to dignified plainsong will mean the difference between a silly and solemn liturgy.”
In general, it’s difficult to both criticize this axiom, AND to defend it. At least MR3 provided those of us in the vast silent majority the opportunity to evaluate our compositional modalities and vocabularies and opt out of, at least, the inclination towards convenient, mediocre gebrauchsmusick in many varied emulative styles, or the truly aesthetically vacant and vapid settings, new or revised. But “peppy and toe-tapping” means different things to different people. Use of hyperbole as a rationale for calling for solemn and dignified settings is not a silver bullet criterion. Neither is a subtle but present subtext of simply banning metered music styles. We could benefit, perhaps, by a national conversation ala the Milwaukee Symposium or the Snowbird Statement, but one not limited to just celebrities or pure aesthetes. And that conversation should be crystallized over time and submitted to BCL/USCCB committees whose agenda is to finally clarify which criteria of actual legislation will have teeth that bishops could rally ‘round, just as they have quite publicly over the HHS/Religious Freedom dustup. And if we choose to use hyperbole, i.e. As a result, the refrain/verse version of the Gloria that does absolute violence to the text ended up surviving…” we leave ourselves wide open for charges of accommodation of principles that we posture adherence to, but abandon occasionally for a “greater good.”

“What’s next? There are two things that absolutely must change at the next stage. There needs to be an absolute focus on the need for the sung propers at Mass never to be replaced by random hymns. We now have the resources to make sure that this new emphasis can be realized in any parish. In addition, the taboo about Mass facing the people needs to be broken. The orientation of the priest and the people needs to be the same: toward the East and the risen Christ The experience of the third edition of the Roman Missal taught us that people are ready for change. They can handle it. They welcome it. Let’s push for more.”
Lastly, to Jeffrey’s forecast above, JT’s okay with it, I’m okay with it and if you’re reading this, you’re likely okay with it as well. But, I’m not sure we cut off our whole nose (hymns) that Jeff does, in justice, qualify as randomly chosen, or going further, chosen by some tout in a publisher periodical. Gary Penkala’s photo portrait is not to found among those “experts,” as his aesthetic is clearly stated up front at CanticaNova, as is Jeff Ostrowski’s at Corpus Christi Watershed (and other like boutique, specialist publishers.) And this is where I think we all need to take a pause before the next push (from behind, yet and still?) and look to the wisdom of St. Ephrem much more seriously: Our priests should carry that full quotation from Kathy Pluth’s post on a laminated card in their pants pocket, and seize the content of their homilies as requiring of authenticity and authority as when Jesus faced the crowd all holding stones to be hurled at the woman caught in adultery, knelt down and drew a line in the dirt while challenging both the old law and the conventions of His time. As I understand it, there may be some disagreement as to whether homilies are, de facto, ritually authentic liturgy. As long as the Church recognizes the ordained homilist, especially if a priest, as an alter Christus and acting in persona Christi, I can’t accept either the homily as some intermezzo, or as a pedantic, sentence diagramming reconfiguration of holy writ. Three cheers for St. Ephrem! Then the priest can place the ad Deum posture, or the unity of at least the processional Propers, into their appropriate liturgical context of calling us to fulfill our commissions.
Here’s a homily-

“I expect to die in bed, my successor will die in prison and his successor will die a martyr in the public square”.
Francis Cardinal George