Thursday, September 12, 2013

An overly ecstatic ode to Jeff Ostrowski, Corpus Christi Watershed, and the Campion Missal

Here's an opinion. You might agree or disagree, and I'll admit it's just a bit over-simplified and over-stated. But it's my opinion...

The most important and exciting "new" thing to happen in the Catholic Church in the last couple decades is the liturgical movement I would like to call "the Benedictine Reform." It is more often referred to as "the Reform of the Reform," but I think that is not the best descriptor (for reasons I will, perhaps, go into in another post).

Here's another opinion, even more over-stated- In the United States, the most important single contributor to the musical aspects of the Benedictine Reform is Jeff Ostrowski.

Ok. I'm sure he would disagree with me, and there are certainly other individuals highly qualified for such a ridiculously over-the-top statement.

But here's my thinking on this:

Most of the other (very excellent) musical contributors are (for the most part, I would say) "preaching to the choir." There are some amazing composers writing amazing work... which will only be performed by choirs already singing amazing music. There are people adapting Gregorian chant to English, people teaching others how to chant, people promoting a true and beautiful approach to the sacre liturgy. There is amazing work being done on all levels. But the movement remains something a of a minority, a "special interest group" within the Church: some people support the Knights of Columbus, some people donate to their local parochial school, some people care about liturgy.

That is to be expected- it will always be that way, I think. But, even with the fact that only a (relative) handful ever care about liturgy and music, we still managed to have quite a revolution in liturgical practice over the last 40 years, didn't we? And it can happen again (for the better!), thanks to the work of Jeff Ostrowski and people like him.

Here's what I mean. As has been discussed and documented, the revolution in music and liturgy was neither a grass-roots movement, nor a mandate from on high, nor the invention of a single commercial interest. Rather, it was a combination of all these forces which brought about the wholesale cultural change. There was grass roots movement of people writing and singing a different kind of song, sharing them at workshops and retreats. There was a perceived mandate (real or imagined, it doesn't matter) for a renewal of the liturgy. There were individual Bishops here and there who wanted something new. And then all that potential for change catalysed when someone figured out how to commercialize it.

And even though most people "back then" didn't care or know much about music and liturgy, and most people today don't care (or know much about it), they are still steeped in the musical culture that was created.

Today, we have a similar nexus of influence.

A grass-roots movement has been steadily growing- people learning to chant, learning about the traditional music of the Church, and the real content of the liturgy. The grass-roots movement is sustained and grown through workshops and retreats and freely copied music. People steal form each other, copy from each other, share with each other. People laugh at the stodgy old folks, people travel across the country to get inspired by a new song.

There has been a (real, BTW) mandate from "on high," in Pope Benedict's frequent commentary and teaching on the Sacred Liturgy, in his own liturgical style, and in specific official actions such as Summorum Pontificum and Anglicanorum Coetibus. This has been further promoted by specific Bishops and religious houses, who (interestingly) all have a slightly different approach to all of it: a diversity of style, thought, and opinion that is required for a movement to become a robust culture instead of a cliquey fad.

This has all been going on for quite some time. But one thing has been missing.

Commercialization.

Some people balk at such a word, at such a thought. But this is misplaced, misguided.

I do not mean simply seeking to make money, to "sell out" the movement for a quick buck. I mean finding a way to package and promote the "new music" (!) in way that achieves two goals:

  1. Ease of use by those not familiar with the material.
  2. A sustainable business model that allows promoters to make a living while focused on promotion of ideals.

I'm on the record STRONGLY in support of Open Source and Free Culture. To be clear: I am in no way of the opinion that Free/Open is in opposition to or a hindrance to commercialization.

That being said, there has, up to now, been some difficulty bridging the gap from "everything is Free!" to "here- would you like to buy this?" This is a shortcoming of us (people), not the precepts of Free Culture (in my opinion, obviously).

So what's the hangup? Where's all the great commercial products?

I'll tell you where they are- they're at Corpus Christi Watershed.

Have you seen the Vatican II Hymnal? I mean- not just saw a link to it on FaceBook- really looked at the thing. Picked it up, perused it. It's amazing.

Is it perfect? Of course not. Are there things I would personally change about it? You bet.

But the astonishing thing about it is that you could hand it to a brand new Music Director at a Novus Ordo parish and they could start doing decent music immediately.

Is this the best way to approach music ministry in the Church- just doing what some packaged guidebook tells you to? Of course it isn't. We all know that. But it is precisely where many people are: OCP subscriptions, NPM guides, GIA Planner.

In fact- it was precisely this step-by-step how-to packaging that led to 1970s-era folk music going from a fringe movement to an omnipresent omnishambles. Have you gone back recently and looked at an old Glory and Praise accompaniment edition? Strumming patterns, guitar instructions, congregation dance steps and hand gestures (I'm SERIOUS), and detailed information on when each song was appropriate (strangely, "never" wasn't listed for any items).

As I said, there are a number of really excellent composers and publishers putting out amazing work, but until very recently I don't think there has been anyone doing anything that approaches this All-in-One "program package" approach to traditional sacred music. Jeff Ostrowski and Corpus Christi Watershed have really broken new ground on this front. And the fact there are now others moving into the same space is a testament to JMO/CCW's vision.

And recently, in a move that seems in some respects to be even bolder than anything they've done before, CCW published a similar "all-in-one" resource... FOR THE TRADITIONAL LATIN MASS!

In retrospect, this seems pretty obvious- why wouldn't you do that? Moreover- why doesn't something like that exist already?

Well- some things like that exist: cramped little hand missals printed on onion-thin paper, crummy reprints of pre-1960s booklets, confusing materials from heretical "traditionalist" sects...

Besides any aspect of the final product (which I will get to, and which is amazing), it's important to realize the vision it took just to decide to take on a project like this. To decide it's a good idea, you'd have to (1) recognize that there is a growing market of new TLM (EF) mass attendees, (2) understand the "new traditionalist" movement enough to know what they need and don't need, (3) have enough of that "new traditionalist" (emphasis on new) spirit to recognize that there can, in fact, be a new and improved approach to working with "the old Mass," and (4) have the intestinal fortitude to put up with the inevitable complaints about attempting to introduce something new to adherents of "the old Mass" (Was it full-color photography in 19th Century France? It was not).

Oh- and I did I mention you have to know what the heck you're doing? Not an easy feat when it comes to a liturgy that is subject to 400 years of legislation.

Whew. That's daring.

The result?

A gigantic triumph of a publication that is not just a hand missal- it is a text book, a treatise, a documentary.

The St. Edmund Campion Missal and Hymnal for the Traditional Latin Mass is 992 page wonderment.


But, really PoJo:
You couldn't stuff 8 more pages in there so we could say it was A THOUSAND pages?
Ah well...


Yes, yes- it's a hand missal and hymnal. So of course it has The Mass and Some Good Music. That's a given. And it's from CCW, so of course the typesetting is beautiful and the layout is great and it's especially formatted to avoid page turns. Of course. We would all, at this point, expect nothing less.

But it also has full color photos of both High and Low Mass being celebrated. There is a series of images of the same chant in various manuscripts through many centuries of Catholic history. There are detailed notes about what is happening and what to expect.

Oh- and it has a ribbon!

I just realized my description of "pictures, notes, and a ribbon" is not quite expressing what I mean to say about this book...

This book contains everything you need to be an active participant in an Extraordinary Form Mass. Ok- perfect.

But moreover, it is an amazing starting point for learning about the "Old Mass" for people who have never had the fortune to attend one- like yours truly- who had a number of misconceptions and confusions cleared up by perusing this volume.

In fact, until reading through this book, my interest in the EF has been mostly "academic." I would be happy to attend one as a "learning experience," (since I pretend to be knowledgeable about such things) but I have never had any personal desire to worship according to the older form of the Rite. Many people have said that they had a similar feeling on the matter until they attended one, and then they were "hooked." Well- I'm not "hooked" quite yet- but this book has made me more intrigued and interested in the EF than I ever have been previously. I can imagine that use of this book outside of it's intended liturgical purpose, as an educational tool or textbook for example, would greatly increase interest in the traditional Latin Mass and in traditional expressions of the Sacred Liturgy generally.

Finally- besides its explicit content (these texts, those pictures, that song), there is an implicit message in the Campion Missal, a Point-of-View that is expressed in the care and detail, in the tone of the notes and choice of fonts. It is this implicit message that is, at the last, the most compelling aspect of the Campion Missal, and it is a message which comes directly from Jeff Ostrowski's authentic faith and his experience with Sacred Liturgy:

The Traditions of the Church are not just something from the past for us to either adhere to blindly or spitefully ignore. They are a living font of fresh water, and an ongoing procession of miraculous faith.

Whether you attend a Traditional Mass or not, whether you've even ever been to one or never plan to, or have and don't want to ever again- everyone interested in Sacred Liturgy should have a copy of the St. Edmund Campion Missal- if for no other reason than so that you can witness the powerful and inspiring vision of one faithful servant.


More information about the St. Edmund Campion Missal and Hymnal for the Traditional Latin Mass can be found here.

Did I mention it has a ribbon?