Not Nostalgia

For better or worse, my car radio seems to be pretty much set on country these days. It’s a temporary phase, if past patterns hold true. I certainly don’t have country stations on Pandora, or country records on Spotify. It’s just a car radio thing for now.

Anyways, last night I heard two sort of country rock songs back to back that were so alike that at first I thought the DJ had repeated the first one by mistake. They were both about a guy, remembering back to a time when his life revolved around having a girl beside him in his truck by the river with the radio going, drinking beer. Those were the days. Remember when?

This kind of nostalgia is not, at all, what the current desire for more worthy liturgical music is all about. It’s not a longing for those childhood days of Gregorian chant that we remember. Couldn’t possibly be, because the highlight of childhood liturgical music  was If I Were a Butterfly and This Little Light of Mine.

What happens is this: a person begins to pray. As they pray, s/he looks for some resemblance of what happens at prayer time within the world of liturgy. This can be a tragically difficult search. How many children have been distracted away from the riches of contemplation by This Little Light of Mine?

As prayer advances, it becomes quieter. Scripture readings become shorter. There is less said, and more love.

The Reform of the Reform is not about the good old days of good old boys. It’s about prayer, and about making the Sunday Mass, which should be the high point of prayer, amenable to it.

60 Replies to “Not Nostalgia”

  1. "How many children have been distracted away from the riches of contemplation by This Little Light of Mine?"

    Not all that many. I remember "At That First Eucharist," my favorite organ hymn when I became baptized, and "All The Earth," sung for a program for the pastor the year before.

    I think there's a distinction lost on critics. Non-church musicians, and especially non-musicians employ catechetical songs, like "If I Were A Butterfly." As a piece of Gospel music, I have no objection to "This Little Light."

    I wish I could agree with what you state as what reform2 is about. But sometimes, alas, it's about "the music I like, and not about anybody else's likes." The difference, as usual, is the hermeneutic of subtraction. Some Catholic musicians are into cut, slash, and burn. And others not.

    The opposite of contemplation is not catechetical songs, but utility.


  2. I was never baptized as an infant. My parents never brought me to church. I didn't have a non-Christian religious commitment to convert from.

    I also object to your deviation from the thread topic to get personal. It has no bearing, except to damage your own position.


  3. "The opposite of contemplation is not catechetical songs, but utility."

    I disagree with Kathy's premise that the opposite of her implied ideal contemplation is connected with her favored genre or even her personal likes and dislikes in sacred music.

    Across all ideologies, what works against contemplation are overly practical approaches to forming young disciples: children don't distinguish, children can't reflect, contemplative prayer is impossible for the developmentally immature. Crap like that. In Catholic schools, it's a utilitarian approach: lasso them in, expose them to indoctrination, keep the prayer "little," stuff like that.

    Don't get me started on a song like "Butterfly," which, though I dislike, seems appropriate for a moment of praise and/or catechesis. The main problem with it is that, for a sacred song, it is more akin to the Catechism–telling about God, rather than showing God.

    As for the Gospel song in question, I find it is far more substantial because of what it says about grace, human perspective, and Christian discipleship. It doesn't need a lot of words. And indeed, the repetition of words contributes to a quality of reflection that is an alternative, if not an equal to, a traditional plainchant.

    Speaking of your final point, I'll comment that reform2 defines its own outliers. As a Roman Catholic, I'm planting my flag on a much bigger and more populated hill.


  4. Certainly, I would acknowledge it. And I think you know I would. But I was addressing the specifics and the implications of this post, not commenting in general on how mean Catholics can get.

    If you want something more from me, you and Jeffrey are just going to have to ask me to contribute a guest post on a particular topic. Or be satisfied with my concise, free roamer commentary.


  5. Even as a free roamer who prefers beer to coffee, I'm not in the category of an objector. The difference, for example, between you and I, Kathy, is that you advocate for 100% chant or close to it, and I see chant as one gem in a larger bejeweled treasure.


  6. Maybe it's just me, but I don't quite get how Gregorian chant, which has been explicitly commended as by the highest authority in the Church, is little more than a "personal preference" or "favored genre" and that a non-liturgical song like "This Little Light of Mine" could be considered "equal to" chant.

    And somehow omitting or at least being circumspect about non-liturgical music is labeled as some sort of scorched earth policy – a "cut, slash, and burn," a "hermeneutic of subtraction" or doing "the music I like" – but cutting all of at least the greater part of the music that is "proper" to the rite in favor of other music is open-handeded and generous.

    It's just these sorts of disconnects that makes me wonder where the various premises are coming from. It seems to me that either you think the Church cares enough about the liturgy to actually give us a structure and the music that goes along with it, or we are basically left with some vague and general guidelines with which we can plant ourselves on a more populated hill. Again, it's not so much a matter of praying during liturgy as praying the liturgy. TTLOM may be a wonderful song and may include some ideas which go with this reading or that theme, but it has precious little to do with the liturgy.

    BTW, I'd love to meet someone who advocated for 100% chant, but in all my travels I've never met even one. I'm sure you're aware that that Kathy is a hymn writer herself and brings up hymns far more often than the doctrinaire chant and polyphony people like myself are comfortable with. Don't worry – we're all for the larger bejeweled treasure, just want to make sure that the Church's own music is the principal "stuff" in the treasure box.

  7. actually you used the fact that you were always Catholic to bolster one of your arguments on another thread.

  8. I think Todd comments here to get his daily jollies. Singing the Mass according to the built in music in the Missale is NOT a matter of taste. SInging Glory and Praise, is

  9. Oddly enough, at my TLM we've heard the complaint that there is "too much chant" now, so it's not just the champions of the Novus Ordo GIA McDitties. As I've said before, the schmalz of the 1970's is not cured by using the schmalz of the 1870's. 🙂 But still, we're not advocates of 100% chant. We still do hymns at the offertory and the recessional. (Just not usually the Salve Regina or Schubert's Ave Maria, which is what I think this particular fusspot is getting at).

  10. "We both could claim that many of us practice with the hermeneutic of addition. In other words, we're embracing a both/and strategy, not an either/or blackmail" (I dislike quoting myself)

    Of course I know that. And if forced to self-classify, I'd have to check "Indie" as well. So, I'm in no position to lobby JT. But to be more specific about addition and subtraction in the contemplation equation (that's a lotta "tions!") I'd be prepared to say that more CMAA-affiliates still work in a practical climate that puts them firmly in the "addition" category. I would therefore conclude that NPM-affiliates per capita work in the "subtraction" category, as there is a demonstrable paucity of chant, polyphony and even strophic hymnody in all the hinterland parishes in the US.
    I'd place a wager on that if an answer could be had.

  11. TLM, you are incorrect. I would not have misrepresented myself in that way. I have been a Catholic since age 11. That's not an internet secret.


  12. I agree. It seems rather unorthodox, though, given that most of those engaged in trolling typically are up to much more than just getting their jollies, as you put it. Of course, "unorthodox" may suffice as only a minimum descriptor of catholicsensibility. After re-visiting his site I can see why I hadn't bothered to return after my initial perusal several years ago.

    Then again, it seems the greatest value he may extract from his caustic tone is the pleasure he draws from manifesting his prickly attitude. He seems to enjoy assuming the role of correcting others, doesn't he?

  13. I can't and won't speak to people outside of my acquaintance, nor to parishes I've never visited.

    The people I know as top-flight music directors in parishes over the past thirty years and the parishes which I've experienced as having good liturgy have been fairly eclectic. What I see trumpeted these days in CMAA is the Propers-only, which is most decidedly subtraction.

    So are there open-minded CMAA directors and subtracting NPM people? We both know there are.

    But the writer's premise: subtract out a catechetical song and a gospel song because they didn't help children move to contemplation–sorry, my friend, but this is the hermeneutic of subtraction.


  14. What I see trumpeted these days in CMAA is the Propers-only, which is most decidedly subtraction.


  15. Nice try, but only the Lord Jesus gets to determine that. As long as we're all alive, I'll still be commenting, and you'll have to deal.


  16. Fair, some, yes, and no.

    Elaborating on your second question, you know I value congregational singing above any particular repertoire. People don't know the repertoire of Propers and Graduals outside monasteries. Therefore I don't see it as essentially a part of Roman Catholicism as you and others do. The important thing is to sing Scriptural and Scripture-inspired texts, regardless of genre. "This little light" rather channels Matthew 5:13-16. So, when well done, I'm good with it.


  17. You are most welcome. But since I use my Christian name in these comment boxes, I would ask you use it as well. And consider using yours too.

    It's easy to lob insults when one is anonymous. If your pastor, parents, spouse, kids, and friends knew what you were writing as "TJM," would they approve? Just asking.


  18. "How many children have been distracted away from the riches of contemplation by This Little Light of Mine?"

    I was terribly distracted from post-Communion prayer this past Sunday by a guy with a guitar singing to God as if he was a girl he was in love with. I simply could not concentrate on prayer with this amplified heart-tugging going on.

  19. KP: Hymn Tune Introits for


    The difference, for example, between you and I, Kathy, is that you advocate for 100% chant or close to it, and I see chant as one gem in a larger bejeweled treasure.


  20. Yes, mainly through my experiences in monasteries and with a parish chant schola. As a parish minister, with BFW and plainsong ordinaries. Propers? Meh.

    I don't sing the liturgical repertoire for fun. But I certainly know the four Marian antiphons and when to sing them.

    So, no, I'm not relativizing here. I'm just swimming in a different current than most of the rest of the school here. I disagree with you on the value of "This Little Light" but just because you don't seem to see any value in the song, I'm not going to question your understanding of music. Check that tweet of Pope Francis today.


  21. "Kathy …you advocate for 100% chant or close to it"

    This exhibits a surprising ignorance of the person on whom you presume to comment.

    (Save the Liturgy, Save the World)

  22. I did, by the time I was 10. By your own admission you weren't Catholic until you were 11. You are talking out of your hat. You could care less what the Catholic Church desires.

  23. He should be banned. Narcissistic. If he was compelled to sing from the choir loft he would likely quit. He would criticize a choir for "performing" while totally ignoring the irony of his comments

  24. Is there a St. "Todd?" As a life-long Catholic I am unfamiliar with this Saint. I am named after St. Thomas and St. Jerome, two biggies

  25. That would be incorrect. I have sung some of that repertoire, but I don't believe it is an optimal repertoire for the Roman Rite all of the time.


  26. Except that I've been invited to this site and explicitly asked to continue returning and commenting here. Perhaps you should address your issue with the site administrator.

    Nearly all trolls are anonymous. Many are directly insulting to people.

    In contrast, I confine my criticism to ideas, and I do not engage in name-calling or other adolescent behavior.


  27. My name saint is Joseph, foster father of the Lord and spouse of Mary. Also mentioned in four Eucharistic Prayers. You seem to be evading the point: the behavior of anonymous commentators who call others names. On many sites, it is required that people register to comment and provide their full name.


  28. Except I don't indulge in name-calling.

    Without starting a conversation, who knows if he was in love with God, if he was a narcissist, or what? Why not presume the best of the situation, then get to know the man? Why does it always have to be about subtraction, criticism, and bitterness?


  29. There is no arguing with Todd. Whether it's stigmatizing most liturgical music over the last millennium and a half as being "performance music", and criticizing great modern composers for not "writing for the assembly" whereas in fact the one he criticized actually at a parish level does just that – I think it is time that he was called out for the sanctimonious, self-important and philistine prig he is. I do indulge in name-calling, and his name is on the top of my list. Any takers?

  30. Four hours in, and nothing yet.

    Let me note a few things, JP. Kathy insisted this post was about the connection between contemplation and Gregorian chant. And if that's all this was about, this thread would have sunk long ago. I have no argument against that. But she introduced the idea by criticizing other songs, other genres. So what's up with that? It's just a distraction in her attempt to make a case that is otherwise solid.

    Then a few other people on this thread, including you, tried to make it personal.

    I could speculate that what you dislike is when roamers don't back down from bullying behavior: name-calling and other insults. I'm sure Kathy will appreciate the escalation in comments following an essay on contemplation. I'll leave you to that. Let me know how it works out for y'all.


  31. I'm sure most people, after seeing a few comments of what I like to call Todd ping pong just sort of tune out the comments.

    And, if they've been paying attention, they realize that Todd only deflects threads that express the RotR in a compelling way.

    So I'm on the one hand not too bothered, and on the other hand gratified, so, as the kids say, "it's all good."

  32. O my goodness… I have been away for some time.. now I remember why… geez…

    These kinds of comments from Joannes and others at times, surely speak to a sad reality, that many people do not want to have discussions or dialogues, or truly welcome different points of view.. but rather, have a forum where they can spew their disgust for those who do not follow their narrow path. The same can be said of certain (I hate these labels) more "liberal" or "contemporary" pastoral musicians who have no tolerance for the tradition. But this particular site is what is at issue in this concern.

    To ridicule people who keep putting forth the issue of the participation of the assembly, as something contemptible; is, whether we like it or not; to be in opposition to the nature of the Sacred Liturgy, as put forth in the Second Vatican Council. Some can rationalize the principle of "full, conscious, and active participation" all they want – they can choose reinterpret it all they want. The purpose of music is to serve the prayer and praise of God's people, to put it very simply. It does NOT exist to promote one particular genre over the other. It is just the way it is. Sorry.

    Todd.. God bless you. Even though I know you to be strong – it pains ME (and I hope it is the same for others here), to have ANYONE treated in such an abusive way. It is so very sad that some have to behave in ways so contrary to the very center of what our prayer and praise is about. Amazing.

    David Haas

  33. David, I'm trying to recall any single time when you have made a substantive contribution to any of these discussions. I don't think that has ever happened. Instead, the only wisdom you choose to offer here is how much you do not appreciate people who think differently from the way you do.

    And yes, I do mean "think" differently from the way you do. Unfortunately, in our day and age, independent thought has gone out of style. The easy road, the common road, is rather to think like a herd. The "herd" of liturgists exalts participation above all else. Above beauty. Above prayer. Above continuity with the Church as she has sung throughout the ages. And no one is allowed to step out of line and engage in true critical thinking.

  34. That is not what the Council intended, as anyone with unclouded eyes may see. Those of us who have come to think with the Church about liturgical music, through the quagmire offered by the major publishers, have been brought on a journey to that understanding. It is often a hard road. It can be lonely. We come to a blog like this because it is supposed to be a safe place to think about what the Church REALLY requires, which is not only to "serve the prayer and praise of God's people," but to "worship in Spirit and in truth."

    The genre that best accomplishes the praise of God, ACCORDING TO THE SECOND VATICAN COUNCIL, is Gregorian chant. The best liturgical expression of sacred music, which is the highest liturgical art, according to the Council, is Gregorian chant. It's not a "genre" among others, and Todd's assertions to the contrary, without even having a minimal acquaintance with the corpus, and your assertions, are ignorant of the Council's pronouncements on this subject. Methinks you both protest too much. Because the truth is right there in the Council documents, for those who have eyes to see.

  35. you engage in "projection" accusing others of exhibiting in the very conduct that you manifest "per omnia saecula saeculorum!"

  36. Are you the Haas that composes elevator music and tries to claim it is somehow suitable for liturgical purposes?

  37. Kathy folks like "Todd" and Haas don't give a tinkers damn for what the Church desires. It's all about them. Why waste your breath on these trolls. I don't plan on doing so.They're rather sad little men.

  38. As an example of sanctimonious pomposity, David Haas's last paragraph takes the biscuit. Note also the condescending unctuousness, worthy of Obadiah Slope. If by "our prayer and praise" he is referring to himself and Todd, then I am indeed contrary to it, as indeed are many others. It's hardly "amazing", and in the last 25 years the 20th century liturgical model which is his and Todd's starting point has been seriously questioned in the mainstream and may well not stand the test of time. However, I suspect that he is claiming to speak for the whole Church, so one would be justified in adding arrogance to the list of well-merited epithets, and I haven't even started on the music.

  39. I don't believe anyone is ever past hope, no matter how much skin they have in the game.

    Let me also repeat that I believe we make our point better, the nicer we say things.

  40. "I believe we make our point better, the nicer we say things". In criticism this is only true if the "niceness" comes richly laden with irony. Otherwise it is better to call a spade a spade, secure in he knowledge that the target only pretends to be offended – in reality he is sufficiently cloaked in the mantle of self-righteousness to be impervious to my barbs.

    "Satire or sense, alas! can Sporus feel? Who breaks a butterfly upon a wheel?"

  41. JP, your argument would make more sense to me if the "target" were the only one listening.

    As I've mentioned elsewhere, somewhere, in this weirdly long comment thread, thinking is out of style. It doesn't pay to assume that everyone listening in enjoys the hard hitting criticism that comes with an active critical faculty. Potshots, dogpiling, backing a guy into a corner–all of this can seem like senseless violence to others, and that's certainly not a helpful impression for our movement.

  42. Agreed, Kathy. Because of time constraints I am about to make one of my rare visits to the Catholic church down the road. I'm praying there won't be music, but if Rambling Syd Rumpo turns up with his guitar I shall have to leave my critical faculties in the church porch, along with my brolly.

  43. Kathy, Joannes and TJM.. after reading my post again, and then reading your responses.. I find it interesting. Because most of your responses are not actually responding to what I said in the post for the most part. I really was not talking about promoting a particular genre or style (actually, if you read the post, I was critical of "contemporary" style liturgical musicians as well)… I was talking about the 1) tone of conversation, and 2) the primacy of the "full, conscious, and active participation" of the faithful. I guess I did talk about some people having a "narrow" view, but nowhere did I criticize Gregorian Chant. I only brought up the fact that the council does not just "allow" but celebrates the "genius" of different styles and cultures. I love chant, I promote it, use it, and encourage my so-called "contemporary style" colleagues to embrace it when possible. While the council (CSL) does hold up Gregorian Chant to have "pride of place," the more fundamental issue that precedes it (or any other style/genre) is participation by the people. It is interesting to note the lack of response to that point. These are the things I said… not some of the things that some you want to conjure up because you hold the work I do with disdain. That is totally your prerogative.. you can hate the music that I and others compose.. but my post was not about what music I create. It was primarily to express my sadness that Todd was being beat up, and the fact that the tone here seems often to get very personal and volatile. But some of you think that it is not only OK to do so, but as Joannes post seems to indicate, it seems to be necessary. So knock yourselves out.

  44. Also – this is a quote from Kathy on this thread: "The easy road, the common road, is rather to think like a herd. The "herd" of liturgists exalts participation above all else. Above beauty. Above prayer. Above continuity with the Church as she has sung throughout the ages. And no one is allowed to step out of line and engage in true critical thinking." Really? Is it really the case that you are going to knock the principle of 'full, conscious, and active participation?' This full participation should be "exalted" above all else! Read the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy again, friends, and tell me that this principle of participation is not primary. It is not the "easy road." It is THE road that the Constitution lines out. And then to knock it in favor of "beauty?" Is not the sound of a full throated assembly singing a "beautiful" thing? Do you think it is an ugly sound? And it keeps coming: "above prayer." Are you saying that when the gathered assembly is participating, it is not prayer? Hello….

  45. David,

    Actually, my response began by directly responding to your constant whining about the tone of conversation. It's ridiculous. Either talk about issues or don't, but for gosh sakes would you please stop whining? You only log on here or on MusicaSacra in order to tell people how bad their "tone" is. Do you realize that this is an aggressive and rude thing to do, and that it is your primary contribution?

    Physician, heal thyself. If you would like a civil conversation, engage in it.

    I will respond to your more substantive comment later.

  46. It continues to be the case, that you really have not read my posts. In the past, I have most certainly posted things in a "civil" conversation, only to be bashed and told that my opinion was representative of all that is wrong with liturgical music, followed by engaging in attacks regarding my compositions (which has NEVER been a topic that I have brought up). I will accept your critique that often I have responded to the "tone." I guess I believe that the tone of conversations is important. I personally do not think it is, as you say, ridiculous. Personally, I am not whining.. just concerned. If I have come off as "aggressive and rude" then I am sorry. But I would say this is a tad interesting, because if you read through how you and others were going after Todd, well, it would seem that some of you might want to listen to your own advice.

    In terms of what my primary agenda or contribution is – it is not for you to say… I guess, if pressed, I would say that an important issue for me is how the concept of full. conscious and active participation does not seem to really be of value to many (not all) of the people who visit this blog. I know that many say that "listening" is a form of participation. Of course it is. But It most certainly is not to be used as a permission slip to ignore the other aspects of the Liturgy Constitution that speak about the other layers of participation by those who come to pray and worship. So that is the issue that I keep bringing up when I ocassionally come by to see what is being talked about here.. because I really do not see it being brought up much at all. So this is the "contribution" I am trying to make. But every time that I, Todd, or someone else does so, the bazookas come out blazing. Is that not "aggressive and rude" as well? You and many here are very passionate about your views, regarding chant, the use of propers, and in the attitude that anything other than chant is to be held in contempt. I think that is great when those issues are passionately talked about here. That being the case, why is it when others bring up opinions or issues that address other points of view, like "participation" the sarcasm and ridicule comes forth with tremendous energy.

    While I cannot say for certainty, because I do not know many people here well.. it seems as though I am a trigger for people's anger about things beyond the topic that might be addressed at one point.

    Just sayin' … I will try to be more constructive. I hope others here will do the same.

  47. I would appreciate it if you were indeed more constructive, David.

    We are serious people talking about important things, and it is not helpful when these conversations about music and liturgy have to be constantly set aside to discuss your personal feelings about tone.

    Again, I will respond to your more substantive (and constructive) comment later.

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