Friday, May 23, 2014

A Few Angry Voices vs. Beauty and Grace

Among the many ongoing themes of Pope Francis’ pontificate to date, one that has received relatively little attention is his critique of petty bureaucracies that hinder the work of the Holy Spirit. In a recent homily, for example, he said,

Many times we in the Church are like a company manufacturing impediments so that people cannot arrive at grace. May the Lord make us understand this.

For those of us working in sacred music, the experience of bureaucratic impediments is a constant theme. A well-prepared choir singing beautiful music is not enough, for example. Instead, the music sung must meet certain strict criteria. Specifically, the parish's music program must be seen as “normal” and “progressive” by the most aggressively liberal members of our congregations.

Time and time again, we musicians are ordered by pastors to end or radically modify excellent sacred music programs in order to conform to the strident voices of a few angry parishioners, for whom any music besides the most blatant singalong pablum signals a “turning back of the clock” that must be avoided at all costs—as if the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy had never been written, or as if its clear endorsements of the Latin language, Gregorian chant, and polyphony had never been the will of the Holy Spirit as discerned by the Council Fathers. It’s as if liturgical prayer, focused on the Lord God Himself, were an affront to human power, instead of the direct preparation for our activity throughout eternal life.

Meanwhile, the future looks brighter than ever. Personally I had been a bit worried about this torch that has been passed on to the next generation: the chanters I know are reaching their 20s and beyond, and I’ve been wondering if the trend would continue to swell. From here and there, though, I hear about very young people so excited about our authentic musical and liturgical heritage that they are passing it along to their peers and to those younger than themselves. There is a movement, and a growing movement, and it is such an honor to play even a small part in making it happen.
Seeing young people willing to patiently endure misunderstandings for the sake of the graces they receive in their beautiful liturgical lives, and to work hard at their skills, is a constant encouragement to those of us who deal with these disappointments time and time again.

If only their pastors would listen and be moved more by the desires of the young people for truly sacred liturgical experiences! A few voices so often drown out an entire parish’s longing for beauty!
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