Sunday, September 30, 2012

Hymn Tune Introits, October 2012

27th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Your will can never be denied,
For you established everything.
You are the Lord of earth and sky,
And all within the heav’nly ring.

28th Sunday in Ordinary Time

If you kept records of our sins,
O Lord, then who could stand his ground?
O God of Israel, forgive.
With you, O Lord, is mercy found.

29th Sunday in Ordinary Time

To you I call, for you will heed.
O turn your ear, Lord, when I plead.
Protect the apple of your eye,
As safe beneath your wings I lie.

30th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Let hearts that seek the Lord rejoice.
O turn to Him and heed His voice.
Turn to the Lord, for strong is He.
O seek His face unceasingly.

A Setting for Today's Hymn Tune Introit

One of the reasons I'm happiest about the reception of the Hymn Tune Propers project is its flexibility. Instead of having to "buy in" to one particular tune, or one particular instrumentation, the local parish musician is able to do as s/he likes, tailoring the tune to a particular congregation's needs.

One example of such customization is here. A music director in Ontario--where I've never been--has chosen O Waly Waly as the tune for the Hymn Tune Introit. Try singing it through. I think you will agree that it is as accessible and congregation-friendly as any gathering song in the book. 

Many thanks to Attila Jagodits for setting this, and for sending it to me. It is so gratifying to see these at work in parishes.

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Hymn Tune Introit, 26th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Your deeds, O Lord, are just and true
For we have sinned and turned from you
But let your name be glorified.
Show mercy, Lord, in all you do.

Friday, September 28, 2012

Dominican Rite Mass

Last evening I was delighted to attend Mass in the Dominican Form of the one Latin Rite at the Priory of the Immaculate Conception in Washington DC. The Mass was sung by Fr. Pius Pietrzyk, OP. The missa cantata was the Votive Mass of the Blessed Sacrament.The fine homily was about Jesus, as both Lord and friend, and about what friendship with Jesus means.

The Priory is bursting at the seams, because this province of Dominicans been blessed with large classes of new Dominican friars year after year for the past decade. This house is their formation house, and by way of full disclosure, my alma mater, as a lay student in the licentiate program (the Dominicans' school there is a Pontifical Faculty). An appeal for support for the student brother population was made at the beginning of the Mass.

I wasn't able to see very well because of the (overwhelmingly young adult) crowds, so I cannot comment on the altar ceremonies. The singing was tremendous. There were motets at Offertory and Communion by Byrd and Victoria, very well done. Choirmaster Fr. James Moore, OP plays the organ beautifully. The Epistle was sung with authority and suppleness. And the choir's chant shone. The friars chant together daily, and so the singing done on a day like this was unified in a way that choir directors only dream about. It was one voice, and many characteristic voices. The cantors were superb, and quite different, two men singing uniquely, together. As, with Dominicans, things ought to be.

The Mass moved along swiftly and the attendees seemed able to follow the program well, singing those chants that were printed, listening to the rest. Having sung at Corpus Christi Mass in the Extraordinary Form of the Roman I was particularly interested in the variations between the chants of the Dominican and Roman forms, in the chants I know well, the Cibavit Eos and Quotiescumque.

Actually I had forgotten about the chant Quotiescumque, until that word was sung at the Epistle. I became aware of a liturgical resonance, a consonance between the Epistle and the Communio at that Mass, because of the way prior celebrations had formed my memory. A word, a likeness, a small poetic resonance became a liturgical help for me, enabling me to enter into the celebration more fully.

Before Communion, the friars made a full prostration in the main aisle, and quietly spoke the Confiteor together. It was a dramatic moment in an otherwise remarkably undramatic Mass, which overall was simply, beautifully, confidently, and well done.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Attention Kathy Pluth: Can You Please Explain the Theory and Practice of Hymns?

Kathy, I could have sent this in a private message or an email, but I've decided just to post it, because I suspect that others have the same issues I have.

Here's the problem: despite being raised in a sea of hymns, singing gazillion of them in the course of a year, I fear that there is a vast amount I do not understand. There seems to be this whole school of understanding concerning the structure and history and practice of hymn singing. No one ever taught it to me. Singing hymns is different from understanding them. I've got vast holes in my knowledge. I'm hoping you can fill some in with a simple post that tells me (and others) what is necessary to know.

Some background. Like most people raised in the Baptist world, I associate certain words with certain tunes. When someone changes them, I get annoyed. I sang this stuff all my life, and then, once becoming Catholic, I was happy to eventually discover chant and the whole world of the propers.

I was happy to bail out of the hymn thing completely. However, the so-called hymns of the current Catholic world as most people know it seems to have nothing to do with the hymns you find in the pew rack at, say, the local Presbyterian Church.

Part of me thinks I would be happier with the older hymn culture than I am with the newer culture of the folksy ditty but I can't say for sure. Mostly, I was thrilled to discover than hymns as I knew them really have no integral place in the liturgy (leaving aside exceptions that everyone knows, such as Sequences or Recessionals, etc.)

And yet, I'm fully aware that hymns aren't going away for Mass. They are essential devotional material that means a lot to people. I'm also aware that the Divine Office uses hymns. Plus, there are many occasions when hymns are just fantastic: private gatherings, home use, prayer sessions, etc.

Here's what I think I must have missed along the way. It seems, based on what you have written on the Cafe and elsewhere, and probably what every hymnologist takes for granted, is that there are hymn texts and hymn tunes and these are separate entities. This is not an accident. This is how the development occurred. And will continue to occur.

I would like to know more, so that I can replace my biases drawn from my youth with a more sophisticated understanding.

Can you answer some basic questions?

  • Is the association that people have between certain texts and certain tunes purely cultural and regional?

  • When people have variously written hymn texts over the centuries, are they designed to fit into a number of different tune packages?

  • How many different meter structures are accepted as part of hymn convention?

  • I've heard you speak of "long meter." What is that and what are the names of the others?

  • Where do the tune names come from, and is it ever the case that a settled hymn tune is written with no text?

  • How many hymn tunes are now accepted as part of the common and stable repertoire in the Christian world?

  • Did hymns really originate in the Divine Office and spread out from there during the Reformation?

  • Can you give a quick summary of what has happen to hymns over the last thirty years? How in danger is the settled tradition?

  • What is the most compelling reason to get busy and preserve the hymn tradition as it was known, say, mid century? What do you think is at stake? How do we know that we aren't just reviving a thing of the past for no particular reason?
No rush on answering all this stuff. I'm out of the country for a few days in any case. But I hope that at some point you will consider taking some time to school me in the ways of the hymn so that I can understand more than I know now.


I regret that I'm not able to post the Gregorian propers every week here. The consumer demand is obviously for the English versions, and that's understandable given that we now have accessible resources in English for the first time in the postconciliar era. Yes, it only took fifty years....

Still, we should never take our eyes and ears off the ideal music for the Roman Rite, as presented in the official music books of the rite.

Here is the fantastic communion antiphon for the 26th Sunday.

The Liturgy is a dialogue with God; He has given us the right words to address Him

Pope Benedict XVI gave a catechesis on "The liturgy as a school of prayer" in his general audience today. While he didn't address sacred music directly, his theological reflection has immense and compelling implications for the nature of the music of the liturgy.

Here are a few highlights with added emphasis and commentary on the report from VIS:

Vatican City, 26 September 2012 (VIS) - The liturgy as a school of prayer, as a "special place in which God addresses each one of us ... and awaits our response", was the theme of Benedict XVI's catechesis during his general audience, held this morning in St. Peter's Square. 
Quoting again from the Catechism of the Catholic Church the Pope affirmed that "a sacramental celebration is a meeting of God's children with their Father, in Christ and the Holy Spirit; this meeting takes the form of a dialogue, through actions and words'. Thus", he explained, "the first requirement for a good liturgical celebration is that it be prayer and dialogue with God, first listening then responding. ... Sacred liturgy offers us the words, it is up to us to enter into their meaning, absorb them, harmonise ourselves with them. ... One fundamental and primordial element of dialogue with God in the liturgy is concordance between what we say with our mouths and what we carry in our hearts", he said. 
What the Holy Father describes here is perhaps one of the strongest theological arguments for Gregorian chant and authentic sacred music: The entire form of the liturgy is a dialogue; its form is antiphonal. As participants in the liturgy, our first task is to listen, and then to respond. The words that we use are not of our own creation or selection – they are offered to us by the sacred liturgy itself. Our participation in responding to God with the words of the liturgy is to enter deeply into them, harmonizing our minds, hearts and voices into one. 

Could there be a better description of what Gregorian chant DOES, and enables the Church to do in her celebration of the sacred liturgy?
Our hearts, the most intimate part of us, must open meekly to the Word of God and join the prayer of the Church, in order to be oriented towards God by the very words we hear and pronounce". 
"We celebrate and experience the liturgy well", the Pope concluded, "only if we maintain an attitude of prayer, uniting ourselves to the mystery of Christ and to His dialogue of a Son with His Father. God Himself teaches us to pray. ... He has given us the right words with which to address Him, words we find in the Psalter, in the great prayers of sacred liturgy and in the Eucharistic celebration itself.
Our proper disposition in the liturgy is one of openness and receptivity. We are not the creators of our liturgical prayer, or of our liturgical song. Our job is to open ourselves to the presence of God and enter into the prayer of the Church that is taking place in our midst. 

Note that the Holy Father does not list first the texts of the Order of the Mass, or even the Ordinary, but lists the Psalter – the primary source for the Proper of the Mass. These are the prayers that God through His Church has given us to pray. They are not of our own invention or inspiration. They have been given to us, and our role is to receive them, to make them our own, and to allow the Holy Spirit to teach us how to pray through them.

In conclusion, the Holy Father says:
Let us pray to the Lord that we may become increasingly aware of the fact that the liturgy is the action of God and of man; a prayer that arises from the Holy Spirit and from us; entirely addressed to the Father in union with the Son of God made man".
Amen. This is what active participation in the liturgy is. Thank you, Holy Father, for your clear and beautiful teaching on the sacred liturgy.

Please read the entire piece at VIS.

The Possibly Ancient Papyrus, Baby Boomers, and Liturgical Art

Martin Marty takes to task his generation for reinventing Jesus in its own image, this latest sensational time with a possibly ancient piece of papyrus.

If he is right, then what does this say about our liturgical art? Do our hymns, for example, sometimes address political concerns rather than true praise? What does Marty's thesis say about the recent decades' love for the grotesque in painting? And about churches-in-the-round?

And doesn't every high school theater production of Godspell run the danger of encouraging this way of thinking about our own, personal, Jesus? Will future generations, particularly if they become an overwhelming political force, co-opt the governance of some ecclesial bodies in their turn, by exactly the same means, a complete makeover of traditional Christology?

We can put this kind of media event into perspective by noting that each such unearthing of non-canonical ancient Christian texts receives publicity in direct proportion to attention being given to particular controversial issues in the contemporary world. In the long perspective of Christian history of twenty centuries, my generation and I are virtual kids, with only a half-century of observation behind us. But we can see ancient textual interests and contemporary itches matching almost decade by decade.

Thus: when in the 1950s-plus "we" were seeking precedent for social justice on Christian fronts (count me in!), Jesus got pictured as an East Harlem Protestant social worker. Then came a time when best-sellers and their publicists proved that Jesus worked wonders because he and his followers were chewing mushrooms which gave them hallucinatory and thus divine-revelatory visions. Just in time to match the world of hippies and consciousness raisers. They came and went. Remember the Passover Plot? It had its moment in a time when such plotting mattered. Recall the books on "Jesus the Zealot," based on discoveries from times of old to match the most radical Liberation Theology of our time? This dagger-carrying Jesus came and went.

Tournemire Conference Registration Deadline

join us!

This is a reminder that registration for "The Aesthetics and Pedagogy of Charles Tournemire: Chant and Improvisation in the Liturgy" closes this Friday, Sept. 28th.

We hope you can join us this Oct. 21-24 in Pittsburgh!
More information and registration available here:

Monday, September 24, 2012

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Richard Terry's Delightful Tour of Catholic Music

Seems like you are missing something? Is the world and history of Catholic music just a bit too intimidating? Richard Terry's classic book is a great way to get up to speed. It is a super classic in the genre. It is also tremendously entertaining. This one book will give you the overview and the intellectual boost you need.

It is available on Amazon now.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Sr. Maria of the Cross, OP, 1937-2012

"While Sr. Maria was talented in many different areas, she will always be most known for The Summit Choirbook, a 15 year labor of love. Sr. Maria also wrote numerous Mass ordinaries. She adapted the entire Dominican rite gradual for chanting in English as well as an adaptation of the antiphonarium. She composed music specifically for singing in English for the Sacred Triduum, Easter Sunday and the Easter Octave, drawing on the chants used for the Latin texts in the Dominican rite. This is what is used at our monastery but has never been published. She translated and wrote her own arrangements for a collection of Polish hymns for the liturgical year–The John Paul II Songbook. This book is also used by the monastery but was never published because Sr. Maria always said it wasn’t complete. Sr. Maria wrote three different sets of psalms tones for use at the Office. Her first set, written around 1967 is used by several Dominican monasteries along with the antiphons of Sr. Mary of the Pure Heart, OP, (RIP) West Springfield, MA. Sr. Maria of the Cross had a great love for the chant and for the chants of the Ukrainian rite and taught our community to sing these as well.

May she rest in peace. More.

Lumen Christi Missal: A First Look

Today is the first official day of Fall, and is also a significant day for sacred music. The Lumen Christi Missal is now shipping. Here are some unboxing photos of the very first copy off the presses:

I received an overnight box from the factory, which was sent out along with the pre-orders made by "Charter Parishes" last November.

My two young daughters were especially excited to see what was inside.

A first look inside the book:

A close-up of the gold stamping. The production quality of this book is stunning.

A look at the Lectionary Readings and Antiphons:

The Order of Mass:

The Ordinary (Mass Settings) Section:

The Simple Gradual with antiphons for congregational singing:

A look at some of the Devotional Prayers and Various Rites:

It looks very nice on the mantle. It would look even better in your parish's pew racks. You can place orders the the Lumen Christi Missal here. Individual copies are $28.95 and bulk orders of 50 or more are $21.95 per copy. 

Thanks be to God for bringing this work that he has begun to completion. May it serve as a positive resource for liturgical renewal in our day.

Adam Bartlett, Editor

Towards a new culture in liturgical music

Towards a new culture in liturgical music

an address to the Blessed John Henry Institute of Liturgical Music

by Mgr Andrew Wadsworth

Birmingham Oratory - Saturday, September 22, 2012

In his first major work, The Spirit of the Liturgy, published during the First World War, the renowned Italian-German theologian, Romano Guardini, identified, somewhat by way of the via negativa, the aim of the liturgy. He went on to become one of the most significant influences in the German Liturgical Movement up to and during the Second Vatican Council. Almost a century later, his words still present us with a considerable challenge as we reflect on the true nature of our liturgical endeavour:

The primary and exclusive aim of the liturgy is not the expression of the individual's reverence and worship for God. It is not even concerned with the awakening, formation, and sanctification of the individual soul as such. Nor does the onus of liturgical action and prayer rest with the individual. It does not even rest with the collective groups, composed of numerous individuals, who periodically achieve a limited and intermittent unity in their capacity as the congregation of a church. The liturgical entity consists rather of the united body of the faithful as such - the Church - a body which infinitely outnumbers the mere congregation.

In starting considering the possibilities for a new culture of liturgical music, I feel we must begin by acknowledging that what Guardini stated that the liturgy is not, has in fact been precisely the experience of the vast number of Catholics worshipping in our parishes since Vatican II. A highly anthropocentric liturgy which seems more concerned with the assembly than anything else has become the norm in many if not most places. The notion that the liturgy is something we receive as a gift from God , through the Church, rather than something which we make for ourselves, has become seriously eclipsed in the minds of most Catholics. If we are to identify pointers towards a new culture of liturgical music, we must begin, like Guardini, by stating precisely what we understand the liturgy to be.

What exactly does the word ‘liturgy’ mean? It comes from the Greek ‘leitourgia’ (literally ‘the work of the people’). In classical etymology, this is a shared corporate action, something we do together, in it there are no spectators, only participants. For this reason, it comes as no surprise to us that the authentic liturgical voice is so frequently in the first person plural: we/our/us rather than I/my/me. The Credo is an interesting exception, coming to the Mass as it does via the personal profession of faith made during the rite of baptism. The communal nature of the liturgy is further emphasized by the fact that the most frequently uttered word in the liturgy is ‘Amen’ which is indicative of approval/agreement/participation.

When we think of “liturgy” as a “work” or public service, we must also remember that the essence of the liturgy is the actual work or deed done by God’s grace in Christ. It is not merely something we do, but also something which God does in us. And what God does is to redeem us, to save us from sin and to make us holy. As the Catechism of the Catholic Church has it:

“[I]t is in the liturgy, especially in the divine sacrifice of the Eucharist, that ‘the work of our redemption is accomplished’…” (CCC 1068).

It is “accomplished” – that is, it is really done, not just symbolized. A sacrament actually effects what it signifies.

“Through the liturgy Christ, our redeemer and high priest,
continues the work of our redemption…” (CCC 1069).

In all the sacraments, Christ is really present and acting in our souls, saving and sanctifying them by his grace. In fact, all three Persons of the Trinity are present: God the Father blesses us, God the Son redeems us and God the Holy Spirit sanctifies us. The doctrine, for the most part, seems clear, putting in to practice in such a way as it is experienced in our liturgy is quite another thing.

You may be familiar with the old adage that the eye is the gateway to the soul. I have always found this a particularly persuasive idea, for it recognizes the fundamental fact that there is something deep within each of us that responds to beauty. Whether it is wonder at creation or a response to art which captivates us, there can be very few of us who are not susceptible to perfection of form and the many things which delight us visually.

Less popular is the idea that the eye is the gateway to hell. Immediately we tend to feel a resistance to this notion, not only because it is seemingly such a negation of the former principle, but perhaps also because it so easily suggests that appearances can in some senses be deceptive and that what we see may not be the whole story. As troubling as this concept may be, it does however, acknowledge the complex and omnipresent reality that most of us are very easily beguiled by what we see.

When we transpose these ideas into the arena of liturgy, the philosophical dilemma is noticeably exacerbated, for the liturgy is not solely visual, but rather engages all the senses, and in the same way it is not only corporeal but it also has an irreducible spiritual element. The liturgy therefore heightens in us an awareness of the intrinsic relationship between beauty and truth, just as it is, of its nature, constituted of these elements and should clearly become a vehicle for them when we celebrate it.

Central to the Christian revelation is the teaching that ‘faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ’ (Romans 10,17). In that sense, it is not only the eye which is the gateway to heaven, but in a very real way, the ear too. As musicians, we need no convincing of this tenet, for it expresses our deep-seated conviction that what we hear cannot only engender faith, but over a life time, can nourish and bring it to maturity.

Nowhere is this more evident than in our liturgical chant which enables the word of truth to be expressed in the beauty of song in a way which is not adequately described by the comparatively sterile designation of the individual elements of words and music. In our Catholic tradition, liturgical chant is first and foremost cantillation, a song which arises from the text, a song which is essentially a heightened proclamation of a verbal message and which takes its emphases from the natural accentuation of the text and finds its melodic rhythm from the cadence which is already within the words.

As it often sings of the glory of God, the wonder of creation, the richness of salvation in Christ, the mystery of the Church and our continual need of God’s mercy and grace, it is often an ecstatic song which has rather more in common with the song of lovers than it does with the song of colleagues; it should have the familiarity of the song of those who are clearly of the same family, or those who are united as fellow citizens of the same territory. It is likewise never a song of violence, protest or dissent and it is overwhelmingly a song which is more about God than it is about us.

So far, I have outlined what I believe to be the characteristics of the liturgical song of the Catholic Church. It is, I would hold, not merely a subjective formulation on my part, but an accurate description of the character and function of liturgical song as inherited by the Church from the People of Israel, in an unbroken tradition and set before the Church by the Magisterium in every age up to and including our own. The challenge I wish to make is to ask if this is how you and most members of the Latin Rite experience liturgical song with the characteristics I have described, and if not, why not?

I would suggest that at the present time, liturgical song, as I have described it, is only consistently experienced by a relatively small percentage of Catholics in this country, even if it is also true that there are some individuals and communities who do experience it in this way on a regular or even a continuous basis.

The first reason why this is the case, is that many of our people remain essentially reticent when it comes to singing at Mass. The insightful study by Thomas Day, “Why Catholics Can’t Sing” is a well observed description of a situation that in many ways still prevails. I would imagine that most of you will have read it as it has become established as something of a classic in this field. Day, a music lecturer at Salve Regina University in Rhode Island, accurately and scathingly takes a very considerable side swipe at the "Irish-American" repertoire of songs that currently comprise Catholic liturgical music wherever Mass is celebrated in English.

He goes on to identify a “liturgical post-modernism” which he suggests has resulted in noisy and forced participation from the laity, and encourages a kind of church-wide narcissism that can represent a serious threat both to individuals and the institution of the Church. Lest you should think that he is exclusively a prophet of doom, Day also makes some very positive suggestions for nurturing the latent vitality he perceives in the Catholic community, talent which as those most intimately engaged with the liturgy at parish level, you will all readily acknowledge. If you have read Thomas Day’s book, you may well agree that it is an informative and often entertaining critique of a situation we recognize all too well.

Although Dr Day was writing over twenty years ago, many of his observations are still valid for the present time, just as much of his advice has gone unheeded in a liturgical culture which is too easily driven by the exigencies of publishers who for the most part are the architects of our liturgical repertoire, influencing choices of the liturgical music of which they are so often the sole purveyors. Let me be clear at this point, while I would want to register my appreciation for those publishers who are at the service of the Church’s liturgy, I would also wish to identify a serious lacuna in our direction of a liturgical culture which has latterly been shaped by a repertoire of liturgical music principally determined by publishers.

At this point it is important to make a few historical observations which shed further light on this undesirable scenario. It would be a mistake to characterize this dilemma purely in terms of what has happened since Vatican II. Advocates of chant in particular have an annoying tendency to rewrite history in relation to what was common praxis in our parishes until the late sixties, thereby contextualizing the debate in an unreliable ‘nostalgia’ for something which was never the case.

For English-speaking Catholics, I think it is fair to say that a pre-dominantly ‘Low Mass’ culture in which music is essentially an addition to the liturgy rather than intrinsic to it, was already a centuries-old tradition at the time of Vatican II. In this respect, the current enthusiasm for chant, and a growing competence in its performance, particularly in celebrations of the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite, is not so much the recovery of a recently lost tradition, but rather the realization of the authentic principles of the Liturgical Movement as canonized by Pope St Pius X in his motu proprio of 1903, Tra le sollecitudini, underlining the centrality of Gregorian Chant, guidelines which were largely unimplemented both at the time of the Council and in its wake.

Some sixty years later, the Pastoral Liturgical Movement, as it had become, had largely abandoned the principles which motivated Dom Guéranger and the renewal he initiated, in favour of influences which are more broadly ecumenical and introduce into the Roman Liturgy elements which are more commonly found outside the Catholic Church. Nowhere was this influence more keenly felt than in the realm of liturgical music, for the principle that a repertoire of liturgical chant which had been proper to the Mass, at least in its most solemn celebrations, was largely and almost universally set aside in preference for music which might be most accurately described as ‘non-liturgical’ in character, given its frequent lack of dependence on liturgical or biblical texts and its introduction into our liturgical celebrations of a voice which is in many ways alien to the spirit of the liturgy. We sing a lot of music in church which is anti-liturgical in character and then seem surprised that it has in fact destroyed any liturgical sense in our worship.

It is absolutely vital to grasp that this is not only true of much music which is contemporary in style but it is also evident in hymnody which is so often of a devotional rather than liturgical character and which was transplanted into the Mass from non-catholic forms of worship which are constructed on entirely different principles. This is the modern-day inheritance of the ‘Low-Mass’ culture which envisages a largely spoken liturgy punctuated at key moments by congregational singing.

For many Catholics, their core repertory of liturgical music will currently be mostly of this type. It is then supplemented by a range of responsorial music which need not be known as it relies on repetition. The notion of a form of liturgical music which is intrinsically related to the action of the Mass and which is in perfect concord with the nature of the liturgy expressed in a repertory which both links us to the past and yet roots us in the present still remains beyond the experience of most of our parishes and communities.

Furthermore, there has grown up in our communities an expectation that liturgical song will frequently entail the assembly singing about itself. Perhaps we have to reflect on the reasons why the texts of the Roman Missal (including the Lectionary and the Graduale Romanum) are generally light-weight when it comes to the community celebrating itself!

If it is true that the past forty years have established something of a hermeneutic of discontinuity with regard to liturgical chant, to the extent that our authentic and most ancient tradition is widely seen as alien and unfamiliar and musical genres previously unthinkable in a liturgical context are commonly considered acceptable and even desirable, then we have truly lived through the most extraordinary revolution which has impoverished our understanding of the mystery we celebrate to the same extent as it has decimated the number of our people who regularly participate in the celebration of the Mass.

Another example may serve to illustrate how far we have deviated from the path: I have deliberately removed any details which will enable you to identify where this Mass took place. Suffice to say, that it could reasonably have been witnessed in just about any large city in the English-speaking world. The occasion was a youth Mass involving a large number of young people of school and university age. The nature of the occasion meant that it would be reasonable to assume that the majority of those present were what could be described as practicing Catholics, at least in relation to the frequency of their liturgical life.

As the entrance procession began, so did the entrance song. It was sung by a male singer who accompanied himself on the guitar and he was joined by a female singer with a very nice voice. I did not know the song (something I have come to expect) but neither, it would seem, did anyone else and despite the text of the song being reproduced in the printed order of service, the only ones singing were the two singers I have already described. The song was certainly religious in content without being noticeably liturgical or scriptural in its text. Musically it was entirely secular in character but skillfully sung and played in genuinely affecting manner. As this beginning to the liturgy unfolded, it became more and more obvious that this was a performance and we were all cast in the role of the audience. This intimation was further confirmed as the song ended and it was greeted with enthusiastic and prolonged applause, curtailed only by the celebrant beginning the Sign of the Cross.

This experience was repeated at several subsequent moments in the Mass and notably during the Liturgy of the Word, at the Preparation of the Gifts and during the distribution of Holy Communion. Each time, the dynamics were those of performance and the liturgical assembly slid perceptibly into another mode but one clearly familiar to these young Catholics, that of the concert. At each subsequent moment, the pattern was repeated and the performance was recognized by applause. Am I the only person who is profoundly ill at ease with this, or can we identify that style, content and delivery all determine whether our music is truly liturgical or not? Once again, it would be a mistake to identify this difficulty with purely contemporary musical styles, I have witnessed much the same phenomenon with traditional liturgical music in great churches and cathedrals.

In an attempt to balance up, I would like to cite another example, once again shorn of any identifying references, let us assume that it is a Sunday Mass in an average size parish. The focus of my interest in this second example is also a procession, but this time the Communion Procession. In this case, there is a cantor who introduces a simple antiphon which the congregation easily takes up. The cantor supplies the psalm verses and the singing of this Communion Chant continues throughout the distribution of Holy Communion with everyone joining in, regardless of whether they are on the move or not. The result is very powerful and underlines the liturgical action effectively. The cantor directs the congregational singing in an unobtrusive manner and the chant eventually subsides into quiet organ playing and then silence.

The implementation of the English translation of the third typical edition of the Roman Missal last year was the biggest single moment of change for Catholics who worship in English in the forty years since the revisions of the liturgy which followed Vatican II. It is a moment of unparalleled significance, not least because it represents a natural opportunity to reassess all that we do when we celebrate the Mass. The new edition of the Missal contains more music than any of its predecessors and includes a complete set of chants for the principal parts of the Order of Mass. All the chants of the Latin original have been adapted to the English text and offer, for the first time since the Council, the possibility of a common repertory of basic liturgical chants that is potentially shared among all who worship in English.

You will know that a guiding principle in the preparation of this translation has been the desire to render the fullest content of the original Latin in English which is fit for liturgical use. Greater attention to the scriptural resonances in these texts acknowledges Scripture as the largest single source of our liturgy. The elevated register of the language, the euphony of its phrases and the cadence of its orations have all been prepared with the thought that most of these texts are by nature sung. For that reason, and without wishing to exclude the use of other genres where appropriate, the musical language of the Missal is Gregorian Chant.

The General Instruction of the Roman Missal echoes both Sacrasanctum concilium and Musica sacram in proclaiming that ‘All other things being equal, Gregorian chant holds pride of place because it is proper to the Roman Liturgy. Other types of sacred music, in particular polyphony, are in no way excluded, provided that they correspond to the spirit of the liturgical action and that they foster the participation of all the faithful.’ [SC, 41]. Attention to this latter quality in response to the implementation of the new translation should in due course bring about a general change in the culture of our liturgical music. If that is the case, then it is long overdue and will be greatly welcomed.

In her pioneering work in promoting knowledge, understanding and expertise in the Chant, the late Dr Mary Berry, always took the opportunity to state her sincerely held scholarly view that chant was in fact part of the primitive kerygma or deposit communicated to the Apostolic Church of the first years. She held that the process whereby the Church identified certain Scriptural texts with the celebration of particular aspects of the Christian mystery, included the wedding of those same texts to music. In the case of the Old Testament, this would mean that we share a common musical patrimony with Judaism in a tradition that leads back to the Temple and the chant sung by Our Lord himself. She often said that this was most discernible in the liturgy of Holy Week and had even supported this view by making recordings among Jews in the Middle East showing such an origin for our prophecy tone and chants for the Lamentations.

Whether Mary Berry was right or whether it was an educated guess, we cannot know, but her instinct certainly expresses a truth about our liturgical music which every generation has to discover for itself – this precious song which has travelled continents and centuries in coming to us, this precious gift which has embedded itself even in the fabric of Western music is unique in its service to the spoken word which it embellishes without obscuring and explains without exhausting. This song of the saints, ever ancient, and yet ever new; beautiful in its simple sophistication, accessible to all and yet slow in yielding up its secrets, has its singers and advocates in every generation but is seeking new voices who will take it up in our time and ensure that the song of beauty and truth is heard even in this generation as the song of salvation and an instrument of God’s grace

Friday, September 21, 2012

25th Sunday of the Year

The Anger Is Palpable, Still

When I first jumped into this area of sacred music, I had detected the intense anger out there about the loss of tradition and its replacement by musical that many people find profoundly objectionable and inappropriate for Mass. Websites were opening up that heap ridicule on some of the most famous names listed as composers in our mainline pew resources. My inbox was filled with furious notes. People were desperate to stop the racket.

I am not one to condemn this attitude. Catholics care about the liturgy. They care about their faith and how it affects their lives. Too many publishers and musicians imagine that the liturgy is their playground, their performance venue to use their skills and otherwise strut their stuff in a style of their own choosing. They forget that the pews are filled with people, young and old, who do not share their musicians’ views of what music at Mass should sound like. These are people who have paid the parish bills, raised their kids in the faith, and remained devoted to the Catholic faith despite every cultural signal to go the other way. All they are asking is that the musical ethos of the Mass not flatly contradict the prayerful and solemn liturgical spirit that their sense of the faith tells them should be audible

There was a hot war in the sixties and seventies that became a kind of cold war in the eighties and nineties. In the meantime, many of the conscientious objectors left the faith. Others just learned to live with it. Still others retreat to quiet daily Masses, traditional-minded parishes, or just developed the remarkable skill of shutting out the music from their ears as best than can.

My impression for the last ten years is that the anger has subsided in part due to the minor progress that is being made. Gregorian chant is making a new comeback. There are books of accessible propers. There are no hymnbooks in print that revive a more stable repertoire. Young people are turning away from pop styles in favor of music that is more serious. We see plenty of examples of Papal liturgy done well.

All these forces have combined to make an environment of greater peace.

Or so I thought.

Then I went on a nationally broadcast radio show sponsored by ETWN. I gave my pitch for sacred music. The phonelines were opened for questions from the listeners. It was like an avalanche. The first few gave me as sense of what was coming for the remainder of the time. Why am I not allowed to pray in peace anymore? Why do these musicians play all this terrible stuff to the point that I am miserable for the full hour? Whatever happened to the old music of my childhood? Isn’t there any law in place that can stop this horrible thing from happening every week?

Only a few of the comments had the tone of open anger about them. Others were just heartbreaking. I wish that the musicians at the parishes in question could have heard them. I quite sure that the people doing the singing and strumming are quite unaware of how people in the pews really feel about what they are doing. In fact, I think they would be shocked. For my part, I was just sad knowing that there was really nothing I could do to change any particular parish situation. All I can do is help to encourage good music by being involved in the Church Music Association of America.

Still, I detected far more heart than light emerging in the course of the conversation, and there was essentially nothing I could do about. I’ve never been interested in the hymn wars. I have no particular affection for old-time devotional music vs. new-time devotional music since neither choice represents the kind of thing that ought to be going on at Mass.

The Church has given us the music we need and it is found in the Graduale Romanum. Every piece is scripted for each part of Mass for the full liturgical year. Plus, we have new resources that enable people to sing this music in English, in much easier settings. This is what we ought to be shooting for.

This is not so much a revival of recent past but a getting on the right track after many years of drifting. We don’t need to pick better hymns, or, rather, that is not the main goal. The goal is to sing the texts of the Mass that have been assigned to singers and do so in a form that is consistent with the long tradition of the Roman rite. Only this path makes for a lasting peace.

This was my message. I had a strong feeling, however, that I was not getting it across. My message about the Mass propers was mostly lost on the listeners. That was my sense anyway. It is extremely difficult to get people think about this whole problem in a new way: not us vs. them but rather liturgical music vs. its replacements that come in all styles.

Why was this message not coming across? Because the whole subject remains incredibly contentious and divisive. People have been hurt. They do not understand why the problem persists. It amazes them why everyone doesn’t just fly into revolt. And they do not understand why the musicians do not see what they see. And, by the way, where is the pastor on all of this?

There are a number of issues. Pastors fears this subject and mostly do not intervene. The musicians mostly do not know better. They are entertainers and that’s what they are seeking to do within the best range of their abilities. They are using the musical editions that are put out by reputable publishers. They are picking hymns that are recommended in large-circulation publications. They are with the program as they understand it. They believe they are doing what they are supposed to be doing.

What is missing? Enlightenment. They just do not know. They need education. They need training. They need new materials. They need to develop new skills. They need to acquire the practical knowledge to integrate what they are doing with what is taking place on the altar. They need practical ways to get from here to there. None of these musicians are truly beyond hope. They need guidance and tools.

As much as I understand the anger that is out there, it actually doesn’t contribute to making the necessary change happen. We all need to calm down and think through how to bring musical peace to our parish. It will not happen by continuing to plays Catholic favorites from the seventies or eighties, but neither will it happen by pushing Catholic favorites from the 1870s and 1880s.

The path to peace is the one recommended by the Second Vatican Council. The third way is to sing the texts that the Church has assigned in a manner that it is fitting for the liturgy. Ultimately, the only solution to the problem of liturgical music comes through the path that authentic liturgical music itself offers. Any solution other than this one will forever feel and sound out of out place.

Three Announcements

  • If the Psalm between readings at Mass makes your ears hurt, here is the ticket to peace: The Parish Book of Psalms, by Arlene Oost-Zinner. This one book has beautiful Psalms in the Gregorian style written for solo cantor or group, with full notated verses, for the entire liturgical year. Get a copy for every member of the choir. The Psalm is the oldest and most revered sung part of the Mass, and it deserves the right musical treatment in every parish. Buy it at Amazon

  • If you are ready for the next step toward singing the authentic Gregorian repertoire, the best program is the Chant Intensive. The next event is the Winter Chant Intensive, January 7-11, 2013. at St. Joseph Catholic Church in Macon, Georgia. It is taught by David Hughes and Arlene Oost-Zinner. Write
  • Does your parish have an authentic program of musical education for kids? If not, it is missing a great opportunity. Sign up for a workshop that will enable a long-term solution and make music part of your parish life. See

Hymn Tune Introit: 25th Sunday

Despite the many excellent settings of this coming Sunday's Entrance Antiphon, some congregations will not yet have the means to sing it in free-composed chant:

I am the salvation of the people, says the Lord.
Should they cry to me in any distress,
I will hear them, and I will be their Lord for ever. 

However, every congregation in the world can sing the following, because they already know the tune. I've rearranged the antiphons for nearly all of the Sundays of the year, setting them to a single metrical scheme. 

I am my peoples' saving power.
I hear their cries in their distress
Forever I will be their Lord.
Eternal is my faithfulness

 The same tune, such as Duke Street, could conceivably be used every single week, or, for variety, different tunes may be used, perhaps seasonally, such as Conditor Alme Siderum during Advent, Jesu Dulcis Memoria during Lent, and Lasst Uns Erfreuen during the Easter Season.

The goal of the Hymn Tune Propers project is to give access to sung propers to those congregations that might otherwise miss out on the proper texts of the Mass altogether. It is a compromise solution, a bridge to Gregorian chant itself, but one that can be started immediately, in every parish.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Jesus' Wife

I recently read an extremely poorly-written article about a piece of papyrus. Apparently, according to the article, because someone in the 4th century wrote down, "Jesus said to them, 'My wife...'" the world is supposed to open itself up to every gnostic speculation that ever crossed anyone's mind, from the defamation of the holy memory of St. Mary Magdalene, to the penitential excesses of a fictional Opus Dei albino monk.

The problem with all of this speculation, besides the obvious crying need for journalistic reform, not to mention basic liberal arts education, is that the Bible already clearly speaks about Jesus' wife. Jesus is the husband of the Church. The Church is the bride of the Lamb.

Husbands, love your wives,
even as Christ loved the Church
and handed himself over for her to sanctify her,
cleansing her by the bath of water with the word,
that he might present to himself the Church in splendor,
without spot or wrinkle or any such thing,
that she might be holy and without blemish.
So also husbands should love their wives as their own bodies.
He who loves his wife loves himself.
For no one hates his own flesh
but rather nourishes and cherishes it,
even as Christ does the Church,
because we are members of his Body.
For this reason a man shall leave his father and his mother
and be joined to his wife,
and the two shall become one flesh.
This is a great mystery,
but I speak in reference to Christ and the Church.

Jesus speaks of Himself as the Bridegroom in every single Gospel. Just 5 verses before the end of the entire Bible, we read 

And the Spirit and the bride say, Come. And let him that heareth say, Come. And let him that is athirst come. And whosoever will, let him take the water of life freely.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Fall 2011, Sacred Music

Sacred Music, Summer 2011

Sacred Music Spring 2011

Sacred Music, Spring 2011

Head to the Birmingham Oratory!

JHNILM Conference
The Oratory, Birmingham
September 21st - 22nd  2012

Programme of events

Friday, September 21st

from 12 noon onwards :               Speakers arrive at the Oratory.
                                                        Lunch provided in Newman Building

1.30  p.m.                                           Registration for Chant Class (Fr Guy Nicholls)
2.00 p.m. - 4.00 p.m.                            Chant class in the Shrine Chapel of Bl. JHN

1.30 p.m.                                          Singing at the Oratory Primary School (OPS) (Joseph Cullen)
2.45 p.m.                                           Performance of children for parents at OPS
3.15  p.m.                                           Organ tuition in the Cloister Chapel (Joseph Cullen)

4.15 p.m.                                           Tea (Lower Cloister Hall)
                                                        after tea: free time until 7.00 p.m.

4.45 p.m.                                           Meeting of Speakers to discuss future work and direction of JHNILM

7.00 p.m.                                           “Music in the Liturgy, or Liturgical Music? An Approach to                                                                       establishing the difference” Jeremy White

8.15 p.m.                                          Dinner for Speakers at the Garden House Hotel.

Saturday, September 22nd

9.00 a.m.                                           Private Masses in the Oratory Church
                                                        (all participants are welcome to assist at any of these Masses)

9.30 – 10.00 a.m.                             Arrivals and Coffee at the OPS (Oratory Primary School)

10.00 – 10.15 a.m.                            Welcome and Introduction (Fr Guy Nicholls)

10.15 – 11.00 a.m.                             “Music and the Ordinariate” : (Mgr. Andrew Burnham)

11.15 a.m.  - 12 noon                            “Towards a New Culture in Liturgical Music” :
                                                        (Mgr. Andrew Wadsworth)

12 noon - 12.15 p.m.                             Coffee

12.15 – 1.00 p.m.                            “Stripping the Cladding - the search for authentic music in the Roman                                                         Rite.” :  (Joseph Cullen)

1.00 – 2.00  p.m.                             Buffet Lunch at the OPS

2.00 p.m. - 3.00 p.m.                            Childrens' Singing at the Oratory Primary School (OPS)
                                                        (Jeremy de Satge)

2.15 – 3.00 p.m.                             “Uses and Abuses of Hymnody” (Ben Whitworth)

3.00 – 3.45 p.m.                             “How to get Catholics to Sing; or why we should sing the Mass”
                                                        (Jeremy de Satge)

4.00 p.m.                                           Tea at the OPS, followed by return to the Oratory

4.30 p.m.                                           Vespers rehearsal  (Philip Duffy) in the Cloister Chapel

5.00 p.m.                                           Vespers in the Cloister Chapel

6.00 p.m.                                           Dinner (participants on their own)
                                                        N.B. Speakers have refreshments provided

7.30 p.m.                                           Concert in the Oratory by “The Sixteen”
                                                        (conducted by Harry Christophers)