I like chant for all the wrong reasons

People say we should sing chant because it is more solemn and dignified.
I disagree.
I think chant melodies are wild and ecstatic.

People say that we shouldn’t sing chant because it makes it hard for the congregation to sing.
And too many chant-supporters agree with that, but say, “Well- that’s okay, they don’t need to sing.”
I disagree.
While some chants are soloistic in nature (just like some contemporary songs), the chants which are intended for group-singing (hymns, psalm tones, short antiphons, acclamations from the Ordinary) are much easier to sing than any pop or folk song.

People say we should sing chant because it is Traditional.
I disagree.
I think we should sing it because doing so is revolutionary.

People say that we shouldn’t sing chant because people need familiar music at Mass.
And too many chant-supporters agree that chant is unfamiliar, but say this is a good thing, that people don’t need Mass to be “comfortable.”
I disagree.
I think that the constant changing of musical styles to fit the trends is a constant source of unfamiliarity and discomfort, and that a stable repertoire of chants would provide the comfort and familiarity that all people long for.

People say we should sing chant because the texts are orthodox.
I disagree.
I think the scriptural message and the medieval poetry is more radical and liberating than any modernist manifesto.

People say that we shouldn’t sing chant because the texts are not understandable (being in Latin) and therefore the people cannot understand the liturgy.
And too many chant-supporters agree that the Latin makes the liturgy impenetrable, but say that this is a good thing, that it acts “like a veil,” that the liturgy really is impenetrable, and that lay understanding of the Mass is neither possible nor particularly desirable.
I disagree.
I think that all the faithful should be encouraged to understand the liturgy as fully as possible and that the veil of mystery that separates the elite clerics and the general population should be torn down, as on the first Good Friday, and that only by providing the faithful with the real, actual texts and traditions of the Mass can this be accomplished.

People say we should sing chant because the correct ars celebrandi reinforces the appropriate ecclesiology.
I disagree.
I think that the monastic tradition in which the chant flourished and matured has always stood both in partnership with and also in opposition to the authority of the hierarchy.

People say that we shouldn’t sing chant because it is too elitist, too hierarchical, too academic. They say that it does not harmonize with the teachings of Jesus, or with the “Poor Church” of Pope Francis.
And too many chant-supporters essentially agree with this view, but say that this is a good thing, that there is nothing wrong with being elitist, hierarchical, or academic.
I disagree.
I think that chant’s simplicity and plainness is one of its essential qualities, and that it stands in contrast to the elitism of music that requires special training, special instruments, and specialist musicians with the time to plan and rehearse it.

People say we should sing chant because it is “Apollonian,” appealing to the mind and reason, rather than the baser, “Dionysian” emotionalism.
I disagree.
I am deeply moved by chant generally, and by specific pieces in the repertoire in particular, to excesses of emotionalism that many people would consider completely inappropriate for a solemn liturgical celebration, and in ways that defy all reason or rationality.

People say they can’t do chant, because its too hard.
And too many chant-supporters agree that it is hard, but say that it’s okay for to be hard or that its difficulty is one of its virtues.
I disagree.
I think that it is hard to pick out four or five meaningful and appropriate pieces of congregational music which also illuminate the texts of the lectionary every week, hard to keep track of trends, hard to please people with divergent tastes in music.

People say we should sing chant because it will help return us to a more pure or more devout faith from our glorious past.
I disagree.
I believe that there really has been no glorious past, only a constant glorious ideal.

42 Replies to “I like chant for all the wrong reasons”

  1. Tricky. Do you want to disagree alongside him, or not agree with what he's saying? 🙂

  2. I would respectfully disagree with the position of those who think that the liturgy should be "down to our level" and completely understandable. The liturgy is about God. The liturgy is something out of the ordinary. That's why we dress our best for Mass. That's why we use beautiful vestments. That's why we should be using Latin. It establishes the fact that the liturgy is about God, and that the liturgy stands completely independent from us (we really don't matter all too much at Mass. After all, it only takes a priest to say Mass.) It established the fact that the liturgy is something special and not part of ordinary life. When we start to push the opinion that Mass is to be brought down to our level, we are basically asking to go back to the '60s and '70s.with the folk masses and

  3. I disagree with your disagreement.

    By which I mean not that I disagree with what you are saying, but I disagree with the notion that we are in disagreement.
    I didn't say anything at all about "down to our level" or "completely understandable."

  4. "I think that the monastic tradition in which the chant flourished and matured has always stood both in partnership with and also in opposition to the authority of the hierarchy."

    I find this statement highly intriguing. Would you mind explicating a bit further?

  5. cf. The Middle Ages

    Given my own predilections, I'm sure I exaggerate this in my mind, but it strikes me that the worldly power and the extravagant splendor of Cathedral culture has always stood in contrast to the simplicity and poverty of the religious orders. There is something like a conflict between the mystical arm of the Church and the magisterial arm of the Church. I think you can see this in liturgical practice, but also in theological activity.

    As I said, though- this opposition (or conflict) is also part of a partnership between these

  6. Yes, I think you're onto something there. It would seem that at certain times in the Church, there are those called to go out into the wilderness, so to speak, as an antidote to encroaching secularism or materialism in the Church. I'm trying to place this monastic impulse into the context of modern times, and it's true. It doesn't take much imagination to see that in a few decades or maybe even less the traditional monasteries in Wyoming, and in Clear Creek, Oklahoma, as well as the Benedictine Sisters in Missouri will become beacons of inspiration and light (signs of contradiction) as our culture continues its descent into neo-barbarism.

  7. "I think that all the faithful should be encouraged to understand the liturgy as fully as possible and that the veil of mystery that separates the elite clerics and the general population should be torn down, as on the first Good Friday, and that only by providing the faithful with the real, actual texts and traditions of the Mass can this be accomplished."

    This is quite a statement as well, Adam! I can't help but think of a certain priest's recent remarks on another forum @ the people "barking out the responses" at the Latin Mass and how intolerable he thought it was for the congregation to co-opt the "altar boy's responses"—a not uncommon attitude among some TLM devotees (and priests) I know.

    It's inconceivable how someone could believe that a 7 year old altar boy is more qualified to dialogue with the priest during the Latin Mass than the rest of the congregation—no matter who is in that congregation. It makes you wonder how some clerics actually perceive the laity. If the people are not deemed worthy to answer a priest in prayer during the liturgy, and if the very sound of their voices is considered a harsh dissonance or disturbance, you wonder how they can possibly bear to interact with the people outside of Mass. I'm sorry if this seems disrespectful to the clergy, but I've had some very unpleasant encounters with priests who treat the laity like they are subhuman so it's possible it's all of a piece.

  8. Dear Mr. Wood, as someone has already said, AWESOME!. Couple o' things. May one make copies (and posters) and circulate your disagreements? May one say you are a "young 'un" without too great a contradiction? Thank ye kindly.

  9. I don't think it's because lay people are not worthy, maybe because the 7 year old boy in the liturgy has a distinctive role as an altar boy, as a celebrant does in the liturgy? He may also response on behalf of the lay. I do think it's good to have the congregation response, but sometimes I hear quite distracting ones by trying to be louder or faster than others. In modern liturgy it seems that we want to minimize distinctions of different roles in many aspects of the liturgy; propers and hymns, priest, altar servers, choir, congregation etc..maybe creating something quite different from the liturgy we inherited before the OF.

  10. Everything I write is release under the Creative Commons, Attribution Share-alike license
    ( http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/dee… )

    So, YES. Please, copy and circulate. Please attribute it to me (Adam Wood) and (whenever possible) link back here.

    As far as being a "young'un" – that depends on your point of view.
    I turned 31 last week.

    (Though, as a young'un, it's always hard to tell- but I suspect that my disagreements do not stem from my youthfulness, but from my being a ridiculous sort of person.)

  11. While I don't disagree with JC about the unpleasantness of the mentioned commenter's comment, nor about the desirability for the congregation to sing those parts of the Mass which pertain to them, it is also the case that "providing the faithful with the real, actual texts and traditions of the Mass" includes several non-congregational pieces of music, which would (in many parishes) "replace" songs and hymns sung (or, not sung) by the congregation.

    Mia is correct: there are distinct roles for the clergy, the congregation, the servers, the choir. But the fact that these changed somewhat in the Novus Ordo does not mean that they disappeared. Also- and this is important to me- if the Altar Servers were saying the responses "on behalf of" the congregation (in the older form rite), it makes perfect sense, and seems desirable for those responses to have been restored to the congregation, who (of course) should "be able to say or to sing together in Latin those parts of the Ordinary of the Mass which pertain to them" (and naturally, I think due emphasis should be on "sing").

    I am of the opinion that the so-called progressive desire to add hymns and songs to the Mass, so that the congregation can fully, actively, and consciously participate in the liturgy, is misguided. And NOT because (as some traditionalists imply) "FACP" is not meaningful, and also not because it means "sitting quietly and listening."

    FACP (in my mind) means that you listen when it is time to listen, sing when it is time to sing, pray when it is time to pray, and that you do all these things fully and with intention. Singing some random song out of the hymnal is NOT actively participating in the liturgy- it is actively participating in a hymn which is being sung in addition to the liturgy. Singing the acclamations and responses of the Ordinary (in Latin when possible, to the traditional melodies when possible), along with listening/praying intently the whole time, is "real" FACP, in my opinion (and, as far as I can tell, the opinion of the writers of Sacrosanctum Concilium).

  12. I'm not up-to-date on current legislation regarding the OF, so I won't comment on that, however, as regards the EF, it's important to know that things had changed significantly in the decades preceding Vatican II, in terms of papal teaching/legislation on the active participation of the congregation.

    The reason we think that this change happened at Vat II is because in many places the liturgical practice hadn't conformed to the wishes of the preconciliar popes, but nevertheless, in its essential aspect, Sacrosanctum Concilium was merely reiterating the teachings of Popes Pius X, XI and XII.

    Pope Pius X asked for the people to once again sing the responses at the High Mass as had been done in older times. Pius XI allowed for the Dialogue Mass and encouraged the people to say the responses at the Low Mass. Pius XII in De musica sacra went even further and asked that the people be taught the four degrees of participation at the Low Mass and the three possible degrees of participation at the High Mass.

    Essential point: when Vat II said that "the people are to say or sing in Latin those parts of the Mass that pertain to them," it was not stating anything new, but rather merely reiterating the previous teaching of the three Popes that had preceded the Council and also the clear practice of the original Liturgical Movement.

  13. Some confusion here. At a Solemn Mass the people should sing their parts, and this includes the sung dialogues. A Low Mass was known until 1960 as a Missa privata, that is to say a Mass deprived (privata) of the music and ceremony of the Solemn mass. So the server, be he man or boy, is in most of his responses (prayers at the foot of the altar, Suscipiat etc.) substituting for the ministers, not the congregation. This is where the proponents of the Dialogue Mass got it wrong, and why it never really worked. It made sense for the congregation to join in the Kyrie, Gloria, Credo, Sanctus/Benedictus and Agnus Dei, since these are normally sung. In 1958 it was even suggested that the people join in (at Low Mass) the Propers which would be sung at a High Mass

    The Novus Ordo gets round this by making the introductory rites into a sung (or said) dialogue between the celebrant and the congregation.

  14. cf. The Middle Ages

    Cluny, that great monastic power-house, rivalled any cathedral in liturgical splendour.

  15. Well, it's certainly understandable that there's confusion regarding since we're talking @ papal legislation that goes back 55 years and more! So, to review, I'll just paste the relevant section from De musica sacra et divina liturgia (Section 31) concerning participation of the faithful at the Low Mass:

    a) First, the congregation may make the easier liturgical responses to the prayers of the priest:
    Amen; Et cum spiritu tuo; Deo gratias; Gloria tibi Domine; Laus tibi, Christe; Habemus ad Dominum;
    Dignum et justum est; Sed libera nos a malo;

    b) Secondly, the congregation may also say prayers, which, according to the rubrics, are said by
    the server, including the Confiteor, and the triple Domine non sum dignus before the faithful receive
    Holy Communion;

    c) Thirdly, the congregation may say aloud with the celebrant parts of the Ordinary of the Mass:
    Gloria in excelsis Deo; Credo; Sanctus-Benedictus; Agnus Dei;

    d) Fourthly, the congregation may also recite with the priest parts of the Proper of the Mass:
    Introit, Gradual, Offertory, Communion. Only more advanced groups who have been well
    trained will be able to participate with becoming dignity in this manner.

  16. The point I was trying to make is that the norm for celebration is the Solemn Mass, where a) , c) and d) involve the assembly (congregation/choir/schola), although c) and d) are also read by the celebrant. The prayers at the foot of the altar (which are unusually lengthy in the Tridentine rite, including as they do the whole of Ps 42 and a very lengthy Confiteor) plus some other responses, are made by the deacon and subdeacon, and at this point in a Low Mass the server is substituting for them. Whether he's seven or seventy is immaterial. He also has to present the cruets to he priest, move the missal etc., which in a Solemn Mass will be done by the ministers.

    So the Missa Dialogata is really an anomaly, and doesn't really work (what happens in a large church, for instance, or where there is more than one Low Mass being celebrated?) Although approved for Belgium as early as 1922 it was slow to catch on in the Anglophone world. The first six decades of the 20th century saw many attempts to introduce participatio actuosa into the Low Mass, the most important being the availability of bilingual hand missals.

  17. Up to the time of the Council it was assumed that a) the Low Mass would be what most people would encounter and b) the Mass itself would not be subject to any great change. This all changed in the 1960s. By 1965 Ps 42 was dropped and all the PATFOTA were made optional; furthermore the vernacular was allowed for all the people's parts. The Novus Ordo is very much conceived as a dialogue – this is facilitated by forward altars and versus populum celebration, although neither is expressly mandated. Since this is now the form of Mass which most people will encounter, there is no longer a reason for making experimental changes with the older Form of Low Mass. What the SCR recommended in the 1930s and 1950s arguably no longer applies, as it is no longer necessary.

  18. Whatever the attempts to implement the teaching of the Popes concerning congregational participation at the Low Mass were, the fact of the matter is, they were then and continue to be now the law of the Church, as regards the celebration of the Extraordinary Form.

    As far as I understand, De musica sacra (1958), for instance, was never abrogated by the Holy See, and as such remains valid and in force (as regards the celebration of the Extraordinary Form).

    I know the congregation making at least the shorter responses at the Low Mass (I'm not talking about the Confiteor here) certainly is done in Europe and in many places in the United States. For instance, my brother-in-law tells me that at the FSSP parish he attends in California, the congregation make at least the shorter responses.

    So, I'm not sure how one can argue that any of this liturgical law has been either abrogated or made irrelevant due to the introduction of the Novus Ordo. In fact, even the PCED has put out a video (FSSP.fr) called "Celebration de la messe dialoguée" which was made by the PCED.

    Finally, when Summorum Pontificum was promulgated in 2007, the Holy See recommended that the faithful should make the responses. There's a nice discussion @ this on Fr. Z's website where he clarifies the fact that Musica Sacra remains very much in force (regarding the celebration of the EF.)

  19. I guess what I mean is…
    I don't know what this has to do with the article you are commenting on.

  20. To return to our muttons, the reason we sing chant is that it is the music proper to the Roman liturgy and developed in tandem with it. All other reasons (beauty, antiquity, etc .) may be perfectly valid, but they are not the main reason. They are the 'other things' which are 'equal' in the phrase 'ceteris paribus'.

    The thread may have gone down the rabbit-hole of Low Mass responses, and like a good terrier I followed it there.

  21. I plead guilty to being the rabbit.

    However, Adam's point in the article @ the sung responses being an antidote against clericalism resonated very deeply with me, and the same principle applies to the spoken responses.

    That's pretty clear in Fr. Z's article where he gently chides the priest in question for being focused on making the Low Mass a solemn, quiet time of recollection for him personally without regard for the needs of those present to participate in a meaningful way:

    [Okay. Welllll… Mass isn’t all about Father. Yes, it’s “Father’s Mass”, in that he is the single indispensable person present. It is good when he focused on doing his part well and he is recollected. But if the doors are open, it is a scheduled Mass, then, by their baptism, people also participate in a genuine way.]

  22. Whatever one thinks of the Dialogue Mass, most people who attend EF Low Mass in England prefer the interior participation recommended by section 29 of De Musica Sacra 1958, rather than the other options. As an altar boy who knew the responses by heart and could deliver them at conversational speed, it was frustrating to hear the congregation behind me laboriously stumbling through Ps 42 and the Confiteor, printed on laminated card. This is surely why the liturgically conservative hierarchy wanted the people's parts in the vernacular as soon as Rome gave the nod.

    Those who like making synchronized congregational responses in Latin would be better served by a decently celebrated Latin Novus Ordo. At EF Low Mass I do indeed say everything allowed in 1958, including the Pater Noster, but I say them quietly so as not to distract others.

  23. Cuniculus parvus scriptus est a filia mea!

    Thanks for the altar boy's perspective of the Dialogue Mass when it was introduced in England. That is fascinating, but I would imagine by the time they switched to the vernacular (5-6 years?) that the people would have been rolling along pretty well with the Latin. All the changes in just one decade between 1958 and 1968 must have more than a little confusing for everyone. Do you remember much about the reactions to the Novus Ordo when it was introduced?

  24. I have noticed that at Sung Latin OF Masses the people manage the spoken Confiteor without much difficulty (it's quite short and is led by the clergy) but the Suscipiat is a different matter – even if everyone starts at the same time, they never finish together. It would be better if the Orate Fratres and its response were sung, as it is effectively now part of the Preface dialogue, and the people stand for it.

    In 1969 the PP announced the arrival of the Novus Ordo in the following year, saying that it would signal a period of stability after all the confusing changes of the previous five years. By then Mass was already entirely in English, facing the people, with most of the old rubrics suppressed, and with hymns and 'modern' music having replaced chant (in my parish and in most others) . Over at the cathedral the Director of Music was fighting to retain the chant tradition against considerable opposition from the cathedral clergy (he succeeded, DG).

  25. So when the NO finally arrived, it didn't seem like a major change. I had stopped serving in 1967 aged 16; the sung Mass had been discontinued, and the server had little to do – a far cry from when I first served in 1959. One or too parishes in the diocese (and many more in London) which had kept their sung Mass tradition, celebrated the NO in Latin, but it was difficult to follow. Not until 1977 did the CTS publish a booklet with the whole of the Ordinary, including the new EPs, in Latin and English, and there was no handy missal for a sung Mass until Solesmes produced their excellent Gregorian Missal in 1990.

  26. Very interesting, and thanks for the brief history. So many changes in such a short time imposed on the people, and yet any "tweaking" to improve things must proceed at a snail's pace.

    I was born in 1962 and can just barely remember the Latin Mass, but I do remember women wearing hats and men in suits and the church being packed to the rafters. I remember the pastor explaining the changes to English and shortly after that, people stopped coming to church. It must have been quite disorienting for the altar servers who went through the transition.

    I think you make a very good point @ the longer prayers being difficult to say in synchronization, and it's my practice too at the Low Mass to say all the responses quietly but I do think it's important that the people are responding in some way to the prayers of the priest, otherwise he's basically praying to himself, as Fr. Z points out.

  27. Julie, I agree. Anyone born in 1962 would only know the post-V2 liturgy, and those who are attracted to the pre-Conciliar form are now mostly people who were not brought up on it. We knew nothing of the 20th century Liturgical Movement. Colin Mawby, the eminent composer and Master of Music at Westminster Cathedral told me that he picked up the Daily Telegraph in 1963 and read that the Vatican Council was recommending Mass in the vernacular. His initial reaction was "it can't happen here".

  28. That's amazing, and it's very fortuitous that Evelyn Waugh was able to convince Cardinal Heenan to apply for an indult for the Latin Mass in England. I was just reading about that not long ago and if I'm not mistaken, most of the people who signed the petition for the indult to Pope Paul VI weren't even Catholic but were musicians and artists who didn't want the treasures of Catholic art and music to be lost.

    Interesting that you mention Colin Mawby! I was just listening to a YouTube recording of Praise my soul, the King of Heaven by the Westminster Abbey Choir—is that different from the Westminster Cathedral? The English are the world's masters of hymnody, in my humble opinion.

  29. BTW, my husband remembers long ago hearing a recording of the nuns at Tyburn singing Compline or Vespers with Sir Colin Mawby directing. Does he still have much to do with Gregorian chant?

  30. Westminster Abbey is an Anglican church, belonging directly to the monarch.

    Westminster Cathedral is a Roman Catholic Cathedral of the Archbishop of Westminster.

  31. I have recently (2011 and 2012) attended chant courses directed by Colin Mawby (not 'Sir' yet, although he is a papal knight). He is one of the leading composers of liturgical music, with an international reputation – not long ago I heard his Tu es Petrus at a papal Mass in St Peter's.

    Both Westminster Abbey (originally founded by Edward the Confessor but now Anglican) and Westminster Cathedral (Catholic) have fine men and boy's choirs with their own choir schools in the English cathedral tradition. The current director of the Abbey choir is James O'Donnell, a Catholic who was previously at the Cathedral. In 2010 Pope Benedict heard both choirs and invited the Abbey choir to sing at St Peter's last year on the feast of SS Peter and Paul.

  32. For my money the Westminster Cathedral choir has the edge. They are the only Catholic cathedral choir in the world to sing both Mass and Vespers every day, and obviously they sing more Gregorian Chant than their Anglican counterparts. Last week they performed a concert of 17th century Venetian church music, accompanied by Renaissance brass, using the spaces and acoustic of Bentley's magnificent neo-Byzantine building to great effect. I was there and it was AWESOME!

    Check out the video of B XVI's 2010 Westminster Cathedral Mass. Musically it was probably the best of his entire pontificate.

  33. Sung Mass and Vespers every day sounds like heaven to me! We don't have vespers anywhere in our diocese. There is a diocesan boys' choir but they rarely sing anything renaissance or classical—just weird abstract stuff or African/Caribbean folk music.

    Will check out the video of the mass at Westminster. The Venetian concert sounds splendid. One of our choir members told me once about the trumpets in the galleries at St. Mark's in Venice. She said it was the most amazing experience listening to the fanfares coming from different parts of the church. We were learning Croce's Cantate Domino and she said it reminded her of the music at St. Mark's, and sure enough, I looked up Croce and he's closely associated with St. Mark's.

    Thanks so much for the information on your musical experiences in England. I've enjoyed this so much!

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