Books to Live By

There are tons of good resources available to liturgical musicians and parishes these days.  Projects galore.  I eagerly await the release of Adam Bartlett’s Lumen Christi Missal.  I am thrilled to see the the St. Michael Hymnal and the  Vatican II Hymnal appearing in pews across the country.  The CMAA alone has published a number of books in the past couple of years, all of which are transforming the ways we celebrate Mass…parish by parish.

Why are the resources making a difference? It’s not merely because the books exist. It is because people are using them.  People are making the conscious effort to change the way they do things.   A thousand new books on a subject won’t do any good unless people pick them up and apply their lessons.

Think of going to the travel section at Barnes and Noble.  There are volumes and volumes written about England or Italy or Japan.  Many authors, many publishers.   You can walk past the section and by happy to know that those books are available in the case of a cash windfall that promises that long awaited vacation.  When the cash comes the first purchase you make consists in a Frommer’s guide, a Berlitz language crash course and a “getting around by train” guide.  Acquiring the materials and doing your research is a valuable and enjoyable first step toward the vacation of your dreams.

What about the music of our dreams at Mass?  It, too, is within your reach.  The treasury of sacred music is there.  It’s not hidden away in a vault in the Vatican; or even closer to home, behind lock and key in the far corner’s of your music director’s office.  It is available right here and right now.  You can download everything you need at and other websites.  You can browse Amazon and purchase all of the resources mentioned above.  You can buy the books and do your research take advantage of the many chant and sacred music events being offered around the country on a regular basis a part of your dream landscape. 

Musical genius and pedagogue, Wilko Brouwers, lives and acts on this knowledge every day.  He has given the world a remarkable gift when he wrote Words With Wings: Gregorian Chant for Chidren in Twenty Lessons for children in Holland.  The CMAA saw immediately the great promise that this resource holds out.  I’ve had the great privilege of working alongside Wilko and translating and adapting the book into English, making it available to a much broader audience. 

Music directors have noticed the book. They are picking it off the shelves and doing their research.  They are preparing themselves to deploy it with their children’s choirs this September.  They have taken the first step, and are preparing their journeys –  just like our friends who headed to Barnes and Noble and by now certainly have their discount Eurail passes in hand.

Are musical dreams going to come true in these parishes? I think so, although no one can truly prepare us for the joy of listening to a choir of fifteen children singing the Puer Natus along with the angels during Christmas this year.  I suppose it is kind of like the Grand Canyon.  You’ve read about it.  You think you’re ready. You finally get there.  Your jaw drops.

No matter how jaw-dropping it all is, there is always more to see.  Lots more.  Why stop at a choir of twelve children? Let’s not limit it to a self selected small group. Each of the children in our parishes can sing a simple line of chant.  As Catholics we must take on the responsibility of teaching them to do so.  This is not only the job of the music director.  This is the job of parents.  This is the job of educators. And this is the job of pastors.  Words with Wings needs to be implemented in every parish in this country.  The solution need not elude us…in fact, it is staring us in the face for the first time in fifty years.

So many are working so hard to make the treasury of sacred music open to everyone. Musicians and authors and publishers are doing their part.  But none of these resource will do any good unless we all pick them up, learn how to use them, and teach others–all Catholics–to do the same.  Like the Gospels, these books must be lived.