A Liturgical Thought Experiment

Suppose for a minute (I know this will be hard) that The Church is RIGHT about the liturgy and the nature of the sacraments. Suppose that the Mass really is the memorial of the Passion, Death, and Resurrection of God’s Only Begotten Son. Suppose it is the source and summit of our lives as Christians. More to the point: suppose that something actually supernatural and really (not metaphorically) divine is going on during the Mass.

Now suppose instead (I’m sure this will be much easier) that (either in addition to, or else in contrast with, this) that The Catholic Progressives are RIGHT about the liturgy. Suppose that the purpose is to teach and inform us about God and Christ, and to make us into a Worldwide community of love and unity, a revolutionary force to stand up against the greed and corruption of the world, and to care for the poor and downtrodden of the earth.

Now suppose instead that The Mainline Protestant Liberal Academics are RIGHT about liturgy. Suppose that the purpose is primarily instructive and cultural. Suppose there is no “magic” or actual supernatural efficacy, but that it’s important to preserve cultural and artistic practices that have been meaningful to previous generations. Religion is, of course, just a human-constructed metaphor- but (well, you know) it’s an important metaphor.

Suppose now (if your head isn’t spinning yet) that The Fundamentalists are RIGHT about liturgy church God, and that at any moment, the Second Coming is going to happen, and we are in SERIOUS danger of eternal damnation, and we need to understand just how small and sinful we are, how worthy we are of hell, and that only by God’s completely incomprehensible grace do we have any hope (no matter how small) of escaping the fiery furnace.

Suppose that Atheist Scholars of Myth and Psychology (Joseph Campbell, etc.) are RIGHT, and that the liturgy of The Church is simply one more among the world’s naturally-occurring religions. Suppose that the purpose of religion and ritual is to conform our psyches to the collective mythos so that we can function as healthy and productive members of society. Suppose that the shared metaphors of religion reveal the human person’s relationship with an inhospitable world, and that liturgy and belief serve to make that mysterious inhospitality understandable, allowing us to accept our eventual biological death without living every moment of our lives in terror and ignorance.

Okay… suppositioning over.

Questions for discussion:

1. In which of these understandings of the role of public worship in the life of the Church and society is “silly songs and folk dancing” an appropriate choice?

2. In which of these paradigms of liturgical worship would “making things up as we go along” be an edifying or helpful phenomenon?

3. In which of these modes or theories of liturgy (or any other one that is even vaguely coherent) would the ancient and traditional (and beautiful and terrifying) repertoire of chanted prayer be abandoned?

4. What am I getting at here?

Wonderful opportunity for composers

From Jeff Ostrowski of Corpus Christi Watershed:

We have a website where composers submit free settings of the Gospel Acclamation. So far, we’ve added about 2,000 scores. These items are high in demand. Individual scores have been downloaded as many as 800 times!

Would you be interesting in composing any? Here are the “terms” required:

1. Verses must be fully written out (notated) for each feast. [see the website if you don’t know what I mean.]

2. Organ accompaniment is required.

3. Submissions must be sent in PDF and a “congregational insert” is highly recommended.

4. You have to agree that once they are posted, they can remain forever. [Otherwise I would have pay somebody to take them down, and we don’t have funds for that.]

5. Once your Alleluia has been “accepted” you have to promise you will compose at least twenty (20) feasts [i.e. verses] — a total of twenty (20) scores — otherwise it’s not really good for the musicians who use the site. There are actually about 176 gospel acclamation texts for Sundays (all three liturgical years) — feel free to complete them all. That would be incredibly useful to Church musicians.

6. If we don’t feel your submission is right for our site, please don’t get hurt feelings. Just say, “Your loss, buddy” and move on. And don’t hate us.

7. The verse must be written in free rhythm (chant rhythm). The “Alleluia” can be chant OR metrical. Nice, simple, metrical “Alleluias” are useful and much appreciated. Do you know what I mean when I say a “circle of fifths” Alleluia? These are perfect! [And they can be descending fifths … or better yet, ascending fifths, like they did in the Renaissance!]

8. Submit your score using the “Contact us” on our website.

Josquin, I wish I knew how to quit you…

Despite JT’s olive branch in his previous post, he has spent most of today pummeling my preference for Byrd above all the other Renaissance composers. I cannot complain- I started the battle.

After spending almost the entire day listening to Josquin, I am forced to admit that, while I will always prefer Byrd, Josquin may be the superior composer.

Of course, that assumes he wrote the things I’ve been listening to. I understand there’s some confusion on this point.

I have decided, for the sake of peace and fraternal love, to stand down, and form a truce.

There’s no reason lovers of Byrd (and Tallis!) can’t join together with lovers of Josquin or even Victoria to sing God’s praises in all times and places, and to declare, in a one united voice, that all those guys are better than Palestrina.

Josquin: What is he trying to hide?

From Wikipedia:

Josquin des Prez (or Josquin Lebloitte dit Desprez; French: [ʒɔskɛ̃ depʁe]; c. 1450/1455 – 27 August 1521), often referred to simply as Josquin, was a Franco-Flemish composer of the Renaissance. He is also known as Josquin Desprez and Latinized as Josquinus Pratensis, alternatively Jodocus Pratensis.

his biography is shadowy, and we know next to nothing about his personality.

The lives of dozens of minor composers of the Renaissance are better documented than the life of Josquin.

Numerous pseudonyms, a “shadowy” biography. And which is it, Mr. Josquin, Frankish or Flemish?

William Byrd, on the other hand, lived a life completely without duplicity of any kind, remaining openly committed both to his faith and his national identity.

Josquin: Not as good as Byrd

Jeffrey Tucker continues his pro-Josquin propaganda, using the supposedly-neutral Chant Cafe website as a platform for his controversial position that Josquin can or should be any sane person’s “number one favorite composer of all time.”

I feel a responsibility to point out, though it pains me to say it, that he is quite wrong, and that Byrd is a far superior composer. This objective fact, which has nothing to do whatsoever with taste or opinion, would be clear to Mr. Tucker if he were not constantly polluting his ears with “pop, jazz, classical, dance, techno, you name it.” (Indeed, I shan’t be naming the rude and vulgar genres left out of this enumeration, as I consider that act of discretion to be the only praise-worthy aspect of Mr. Tucker’s ill advised post.)

Stop arguing, and get to work

There is a useful purpose to all this blogging and foruming and commenting and document-reading, but convincing chant-skeptics is not it.

As Seth Godin points out…

Here’s the thing about proving skeptics wrong: They don’t care. They won’t learn. They will stay skeptics. The ones who said the airplane would never fly ignored the success of the Wright Bros. and went on to become skeptical of something else. And when they got onto an airplane, they didn’t apologize to the engineers on their way in.


There’s wisdom here, yo.