Did Jesus draw a line in the sand?

“3 As he was speaking, the teachers of religious law and the Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in the act of adultery. They put her in front of the crowd.
4 “Teacher,” they said to Jesus, “this woman was caught in the act of adultery. 5 The law of Moses says to stone her. What do you say?”
6 They were trying to trap him into saying something they could use against him, but Jesus stooped down and wrote in the dust with his finger. 7 They kept demanding an answer, so he stood up again and said, “All right, but let the one who has never sinned throw the first stone!” 8 Then he stooped down again and wrote in the dust.
9 When the accusers heard this, they slipped away one by one, beginning with the oldest, until only Jesus was left in the middle of the crowd with the woman. 10 Then Jesus stood up again and said to the woman, “Where are your accusers? Didn’t even one of them condemn you?”
11 “No, Lord,” she said.
And Jesus said, “Neither do I. Go and no more.”

I have reservations about expressing the following thoughts just I as have reservations about jumping down a subway platform and grabbing the third rail. But I think what has developed and occurred between Dr. Romeri and Abp. Chaput needs some consideration beyond what is clearly a matter of, among other things, justice. As clearly articulated by the tenets of our faith and religion, Abp. Chaput is ordained and imbued with the Holy Spirit to literally be “in persona Christi” and “Alter Christus” to his flock. But one has to consider whether his actions and words in response to Dr. Romeri’s performance place the archbishop both as one of “the teachers of the law” at once with his duty to represent Christ in all matters.

Corresponding that to the scripture, what was our Lord “saying” by twice writing something in the dust? We cannot know. Was it akin to a line in the sand that he challenged the accusers to cross and exact their justice? Couldn’t have been, as “He wrote in the dust.” For myself, the message was contained in the act of communicating in the most temporary of mediums, dust, sand, dirt, whatever. Perhaps, and we’re not privy nor should we be, Abp. Chaput may well have drawn lines in the sand directly for Dr. Romeri, and then advised him to “go and…….change.” Unfortunately, the public testimonies don’t point to that type of just intervention at this stage.

But my thoughts are not about the Philadelphia story. I believe that there’s a much larger lesson for all of us to consider with the remainder of our tenures as DMM’s, choir/schola masters and such- if we musicians reverse roles from “the accused” to the “teachers of the law” we may very well end up morally wanting and bankrupt, and walk away because “our principles” and, more importantly, our concerns and charges that we drew in the sand- “Reform the Reform…..Abandon the Novus Ordo…..burn the guitars, drums and pianos……pour boiling lead onto all the microphones….let the people sing the Ordinary, WE’LL handle the Propers, thank you very much……and you better believe it’s the Chant and Polyphony Channel in the gallery, 24/7, deal with it!– this sort of stricture-driven mentality may not prevail going into the next centuries, particularly with little influence being exerted by the American prelates, the disturbing inclinations of the European prelates, some of whom preside over vacant Sees, and the emergent, burgeoning Church in Africa and Asia. I know that orthodoxy in those regions is valued much more than in the western Church right now. But we will not be the arbiters of their emerging liturgical traditions.

My advice to young, dedicated musicians who want to serve the Church in any capacity: Be knowledgeable first and flexible second. I know that is precisely how Dr. Romeri was perceived in both St. Louis and Philadelphia. I heard his name more associated with NPM than practically anybody else’s including Virgil Funk. Dr. Romeri was neither strict nor intransient. It seems that his concept of “sacred, universal and beautiful” was at a level that his archbishop, for whatever reason, couldn’t appreciate and then somehow decided Romeri was the immovable object.
The wind’s gonna blow the figures drawn in the dust, and it will break the trunks of the oldest and strongest of trees if it wills. Can we bend and not break? Can we accept a call to diversity and turn that into a beautiful asset and not an onerous chore? I think these and many more questions will face the next sequence of generations of church musicians as a grave concern.

9 Replies to “Did Jesus draw a line in the sand?”

  1. The Sacred Triduum is one of the few occasions where the bishop celebrates in his own cathedral and where the faithful do not have a choice of Masses. The music tends to be an eclectic mix of styles in an attempt to please everybody. Romeri's 2015 music list is no exception and indeed seems to come down on the 'popular' side, witness those 'acclamations' which sound like advertising jingles and have about as much musical merit.

    I know of one English cathedral where it could be guaranteed that if the bishop was on deck the music would be dumbed down – chant Propers replaced by hymns, Latin Gloria, Credo etc. which were always a feature of normal Sunday 'High' Mass replaced by inferior English versions. Yet the bishop in question was an accomplished musician well-versed in chant. Presumably he felt that this was what the people wanted. His successor, on the other hand, had a more 'hands off' approach. When he celebrated the Pentecost Mass and administered Confirmation the music was as it would have been at that Mass. No question of replacing the Sequence with a Taize number or not singing Credo III.

    When Pope Benedict visited Scotland and England in 2010 the planned music for the open-air Masses which would have made them resemble pop festivals was jettisoned at the eleventh hour at the insistence of Guido Marini. Westminster Cathedral was not a problem; Gregorian Chant, Byrd and Bruckner prevailed, with newly-composed processional music by James MacMillan.

  2. I admire any competent musician informed by the tradition who goes to work for the church. In most parishes he or she will be required to do things that don't sit well with either their musical or liturgical formation, for little or no financial reward. Sadly, this can apply to Cathedrals too. It's a great sacrifice, and one I would never suggest anyone take up lightly.

  3. Pope Francis has been practising his English so those who attend his US Masses will not be embarrassed of scandalized by his use of Latin. Let's face it, a lot of supposedly devout Catholics would exit the church immediately if they heard 'Gloria in excelsis Deo.'

    And I'm supposed o be in communion with them. Technically, perhaps, but in reality not at all.

  4. The wind’s gonna blow the figures drawn in the dust, and it will break the trunks of the oldest and strongest of trees if it wills. Can we bend and not break? Can we accept a call to diversity and turn that into a beautiful asset and not an onerous chore?

    Well, it's all very easy to give up one's OWN principles, Charles. But to give up the principles of the Church? That's another thing entirely. If I may suggest a parallel, it's one thing to give up one's life for a friend. It's another thing entirely to give up Mr. Culbreth's life for that friend.


  5. Therein lies the rub, does it not Dad? How do you assess the True Believer in matters liturgical and thusly musical? Are they already enclaved in Latin Mass Assn. Sunday afternoon low Masses 45 minutes away from their own geographical parish? Are they famed liturgical theologians and practicioners who've decided they can give a nod to the OF/GIRM as valid, licit (if not organic and authentic) and approved, but then choose the Benedict Option for their own ritual preferences?
    How many occasions (I imagine them as many for you and folks like Liam) have you encountered rock solid apology for the sole use of Latin chant and renaissance polyphony replete with approval and exhortation proof texting, but yet silently bend in the wind of a Viennese or otherwise orchestral Mass as defended by Schuler, Wagner, Salamunovich, Mahrt and Buchholz?
    What are the principles of the Church, Dad? Are they in compliance with the GIRM as it currently is constituted? Or is it and other documents fabricated as nebulous and ambiguous so as to be interpreted at any degree point on a 180 degree scale?
    To extrapolate from your parallel, if I'm able to articulate rationales for this, that or the other thing under the GIRM as precisely and authentically as does Mahrt for his values that he's lived, have I really given up my life's work for pure, orthodox idealism, even though I worked ideally, morally and licitly?

  6. Umnhhhh, well, Charles, MY way of doing it is best! Problem solved!!

    For the moment let's forget the Latin/English thing and go the CMAA-approved route: Propers are proper, properly speaking. Hymns are not propers. Ergo, if one is to use hymns, they should be clearly secondary to the use of Propers.

    Secondarily: I'm partial to lotsa Chant Ordinaries, in Latin. After 50-ish years of reciting the translations in English, our PIP's "understand" the Latin. Doesn't have to be all-Latin-all-the-time; mix in a few reasonably artistic English one-part Ordinaries. There are a few; use 'em.

    No reason NOT to use well-sung Latin or English choral voluntaries–so long as they are also well-written.

    As to the "big" Mass Ordinaries: yes, for equally "Big" occasions with Bishop, a fleet or two of altar servers and at least one swinging censer running full steam all the time. They don't happen often; no big deal.

  7. Btw, "a line in the sand" is not a reference to this pericope, but to an earlier event in ancient history:

    In 168 BC, Antiokhos IV of the Seleukid Empire entered into negotiations with a Roman consul, Gaius Popilius Laenas. Antiokhos offered his hand to the consult, but the consul replied by handing him a scroll listing Rome's demands of the Seleukid monarch. Antiokhos replied that he would withdraw and confer with his advisors. The consul took his staff and drew a circle in the sand around Antiokhos, and said, "Before you cross this circle, I want you to give me a reply for the Roman Senate". Antiokhos agreed to Rome's demands that he withdraw from his invasion of Ptolemaic Egypt, and only then did the consul shake his hand

  8. I agree with Charles that the negative approach to liturgy is not productive. The improvement that is necessary and the goal of the CMMA in my view is accomplished by example–doing the best and most beautiful music possible in the situation, and working for gradual improvement. Work for gradual replacement of hymns with the real Gregorian propers and for the congregation's singing a chant ordinary, all in the context of what can be well received by the congregation. What is well established and well loved by the people cannot suddenly be taken away from them, but rather needs to be improved in a fashion that they will see it as improvement. There are limits, but there are also enormous possibilities.

  9. Christ was writing the name of each man there in the dirt and a private hint to each as to a sin in their past. That is why they left in a most unusual way for communal actors. They " slipped away one by one beginning with the eldest". A foretaste of this moment is hinted at in Jer.17:13 DR…
    ” they that depart from thee, shall be written in the earth: because they have foresaken the Lord…”
    Christ first writing in the dirt goes back to Daniel and is about the changing of the guard as was the three words in Daniel written by the hand on the wall.

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