Steubenville Liturgical Musician Retreat, Fall 2011

Last weekend I had the great honor of joining 90 liturgical musicians at the Franciscan University of Steubenville for their yearly Fall retreat. A good priest friend of mine who has recently produced a video on the new translation of the Roman Missal for the LifeTeen organization was the main speaker for this retreat in the previous two years, so I knew that I would be able to build upon his solid foundations in sacramental theology in my talk.

I presented two one-hour sessions, the first was at talk entitled “Perspectives on Liturgical Music” and the second was a workshop on the chants of the new English translation of the Roman Missal, and on a few proper settings from the Simple English Propers
I think that if you talk to any of the attendees, the highlight of the retreat was the opportunity to sing liturgical chant together. I think that these sorts of events can so often be exercises in theory, that is, talking about liturgical music. But to actually open up the chants of the missal and to work on them together was, I think, a powerful experience of sacred music for all who were in attendance.

Our time was very short and we could only touch very briefly on elements of chant theory. We just sang. We looked at the music and we sang the chants of the missal, and a few simple propers. I modeled, demonstrated and coached, and these 90 students sang with one voice in the retreat chapel with a sonorous thunder like I’ve almost never heard before! It truly was remarkable. 

Several of the students commented that simply singing these chants is what made everything that I presented in the first session come alive for them. What I have learned in this event is that we cannot underscore the importance of actually singing when we have events that discuss sacred music. Discussing in theory is one thing, but putting it into practice brings the music to life in a way that mere words cannot.

But I definitely didn’t skimp on talking, as I’m sometimes wont to do, and I have decided to share my talk entitled “Perspectives on Liturgical Music” which begins with a purely subjective (and somewhat personally revealing) consideration of liturgical music and ends in a purely objective, theological view of the question. I would like to submit that the sacramental and theological perspectives on the question of liturgical music are very important for us today and will help us transcend the mucky waters of subjective and speculative discussion. I hope that this can be a small contribution to that end.

“Perspectives on Liturgical Music” – Adam Bartlett 
Steubenville Liturgical Music Retreat, Fall 2011
It’s an absolute joy to be with you all today. The Franciscan University of Steubenville will always hold a special place in my heart. The last time that I was here was about ten or so years ago. I was at the end of my high school years and was, believe it or not, attending a Stuebenville youth conference! Although much time and many life events have transpired between then and now I remain grateful for the impact that it has had on my life.
Franciscan is known for its devotion to and love for Christ and His Church, and also for its radical orthodoxy in regards to the Church’s moral teachings, or her lex credendi or “law of belief”. I hope that today we can consider the Church’s lex orandi, or “law of prayer”, which the Church tells us is intimately connected to, and even helps properly form the “law of belief”.
There is a great event upon us at this present moment in the life of the Church. This Fall we will begin, and even now are able to begin in a small way, the introduction of the new translation of the Roman Missal. This is certainly an historic and monumental event in many ways, and there has been a great deal of conversation surrounding its reception from all quarters of the Church.
Before we get into the main part of this talk, I just want to comment on a few things regarding the
new translation of the Roman Missal.
  • Firstly, this Missal, it is a fact, has more musical settings contained in it than any other missal to ever have existed! 
  • Second, the General Instruction of the Roman Missal has also been newly translated, and just in the past month or so has been publicly released and will be included in the newly printed missals that we will receive this Fall.
  • And Thirdly, the principles of translation that were used for this new edition of the Roman Missal, I would like to propose, have many implications for our practice of liturgical music. The document containing the guidelines for translation is entitled Liturgiam Authenticam” which means “Authentic Liturgy”. A more literal and more elevated translation of the Latin texts was mandated by this document. I think that these principles might also be able to tell us something about how our liturgical music can also be much more literally tied to the sacred music models given to us by the Church, and also be more elevated in their presentation.
And so, in this talk, which is entitled “Perspectives on Liturgical Music”, I hope that we can journey together through five perspectives with which we can view the question of liturgical music, in light of the musical implications of the new English translation of the Roman Missal.

The reason why I chose the topic of “perspectives” is because I know from personal experience, and also from observing many of the conversations around liturgical music and the new translation, that our perspectives can often become rather narrow as we go about the grind of life. 

This is certainly understandable for, say, college students who already have more than a full load in their studies, and who in their spare time dedicate themselves to the service of the liturgy with their musical gifts. And believe me, this equally applies to parish music directors!
We are all incredibly busy in our service of the Church, and in the business of living faithful lives. So what I hope that we can do today is take a time-out from the business, and to look at liturgical music from a few different vantage points, in hopes that we might see something that we may not have been able to see before. Or to discover insights or solutions that may be somewhat hidden from us in our most common perspectives.
So, today I would like for us to consider liturgical music from 5 perspectives: A “personal” perspective, a “legal” perspective, a “moral” perspective, a “sacramental perspective” and lastly and perhaps most importantly a “theological perspective”.
Each one of these perspectives will, in a way, build upon the other, and will gradually take us from a purely subjective view of the question of liturgical music gradually into a purely objective consideration.
And so, let’s begin with the personal perspective.
I am sure that every single person in this room, and every single person who has made the decision in their life to put their musical gifts at the service of the liturgy has tread a unique path on their way there. We all come to the liturgy with our own life experiences, with our joys and our hurts, our comforts and our sorrows, and this is surely a good thing. Christ, who meets us in the Mass, surely embraces us where we are and guides us on our journey to holiness.
I would like to share, only briefly, a bit of my personal journey to the service of the liturgy through music. And while I do, I hope that you will also reflect on your own personal journey.
And so, my own personal journey began in a small town in the Midwest, not too far from here, in fact. I had a guitar tossed in my lap as a young child, and I played in my first Mass in the 3rd grade. In one way or another, I have continually been involved in liturgical music ever since.
The music books in the pew were Glory and Praise, and in my teen years this was replaced by Gather Comprehensive. My experience of liturgical music was mostly seen through the lens of the St. Louis Jesuits, and what some other musicians at my parish growing up affectionately called the “Haugen-Haas conspiracy”.
My involvement in the singing and playing of this repertoire brought me right up to my teen years where I continued to arrive to Church with my acoustic guitar on Sunday morning, oftentimes after a very late night with my electric guitar somewhere else the night before.
As I began to get more personally involved in my faith, and as I began to mature and grow into the bigger questions of faith and life, it was a very natural progression for me to gravitate toward the Praise and Worship genre of Christian music that was really beginning to come about in the evangelical communities, and even, to my surprise, in some Catholic parishes as well.
And it was actually on this very campus where I first encountered electric guitars and drum sets and modern, rock-styled Christian music, not only in events like youth conferences, but also in the Mass!
For me, as a 17 or 18 year old wanna-be rockstar, and virtually lifelong folk-Mass guitarist, this was very much a revelation. It was not only the music that I had an affinity for that moved me, but it was also the love of Christ that this music was able to express to me, and enable me to embrace in my life. I will always remain grateful for the way that the Lord used this music to reach out to me at a time where I was otherwise very broken and very much in need of the love of Christ.
And from here I went into my college years, where I found myself at Arizona State University in Tempe, AZ, only a few miles away from the parish that created and established the LifeTeen program in the 80’s. I soon was plugged in to the world of Praise and Worship liturgy that was so common in Phoenix at the time, and in many ways still is. The parish where I served during this time was the second LifeTeen parish ever to exist, I am told, and the person who had the gig a few years before me was a guy by the name of Matt Maher, and the guy who followed me is named Ike Ndolo. Anyone heard of these guys before?
In any event, it was during my time at this parish, and also while I was studying at music school, that I began to investigate the deeper questions of the liturgy and liturgical music.
Among the many experiences I had at this parish, one of the most striking was that people my age and a bit younger who had grown up at this parish thought that “traditional Catholic music” was “I Will Choose Christ” and “Cry the Gospel” by Tom Booth. This was shocking to me since I obviously knew that traditional Catholic music was “Be Not Afraid” and “On Eagle’s Wings”!!!
But, among the questions that were raised in my mind during this time, the question of tradition certainly was one of the strongest, and it caused me to set out on a quest to discover the true Catholic sacred music tradition, and when I first discovered it, I can tell you, I immediately fell in love.
I remember vividly the first time that I ever listened to a piece of Renaissance polyphony. It was Palestrina’s Missa Papae Marcelli. I had checked the CD out of the library at school, popped it in the player in my car, and on the ride home I just remember listening to the Kyrie over and over and over–I couldn’t even get to the Gloria! I simply melted into the transcendent beauty of this music, and I knew that what I was encountering was something truly sacred, truly beautiful, and truly Catholic, and it opened me to a world that I never even knew existed.
To my surprise, as I began to study the Church documents seriously for the first time, I discovered that the Second Vatican Council said things like:
“The musical tradition of the universal Church is a treasure of inestimable value, greater even than that of any other art. The main reason for this pre-eminence is that, as sacred song united to the words, it forms a necessary or integral part of the solemn liturgy.”
and also said:
“The treasure of sacred music is to be preserved and fostered with great care.”
and also:
“The Church acknowledges Gregorian chant as specially suited to the Roman liturgy: therefore, other things being equal, it should be given pride of place in liturgical services.”
Reading these statements in the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy from the Second Vatican Council were only shocking to me because I had virtually no experience of them anywhere in my personal experience of the liturgy in the years that were decades beyond Vatican II. This was only my first personal engagement of these questions, and I have done much to understand them more in the years that followed, but I will conclude my reflection on my own personal perspective in saying that in the years that followed this revelation I have not only continued to have a personal love affair with the sacred music tradition of the Church, but have also gone to great pains to try to understand more deeply the question of liturgical music, from a variety of perspectives.
So I have offered a vignette from my own life story. I can bet that many in this room have had similar experiences, perhaps some very similar, perhaps some drastically different.
Of course while our various experiences are important in our journeys as Catholics, we have to acknowledge that these considerations are almost purely subjective ones. Not unimportant, but are very purely and almost completely subjective.
And so now, let’s transition from considering our personal and mostly subjective journeys to and through liturgical music, and begin looking at the legal perspective.
I’m sure we can all remember the time when we first discovered that there existed a thing called the GIRM. The General Instruction of the Roman Missal, along with the rubrics contained in the Missal itself (and of course I’m speaking here of the Ordinary Form of the Roman Rite) have the status of liturgical law. If your early formation in liturgical music was better than mine, you probably heard much about the GIRM, and were formed in it to various degrees.
The General Instruction is to the liturgy, we might say, as the Catechism is to the Faith. Liturgical law is to the lex orandi as the Catechism is to the lex credendi.
As I said at the outset of this talk, I know the reputation of this university when it comes to the faithfulness to the moral teachings of the Church. I am sure that all of us here today also have the very strong desire not only to embrace what the Church asks of us when it comes to our moral lives (our lex credendi, and our lex vivendi), but also see that the Church has a lot to say about the way that right prayer complements, and even helps form right belief, and from this, right living.
So it is here where we begin to look at the question of the liturgy and of liturgical music from the legal perspective. And, my word of fair warning: This just might be the most challenging part of my talk today, so please hang on tight!
I’m sure that I’m not the only one who has been in a liturgical “cage match” when it comes to interpreting the GIRM. Am I right?
While the Church’s liturgical law as found in the Missal and GIRM is rather clear and systematic in most cases, we probably all know that there are many cases where the application of it is left open for a considerable amount of interpretation.
I’m sure that everyone here is familiar with the Code of Canon Law. Does anyone know what Canon #2 says? In more or less words it says “…the Code does not define the rites which must be observed in celebrating liturgical actions.” In other words, the Code does not cover liturgical law. This is stated at the outset! The Code has washed its hands of the liturgy! And for a reason.
We don’t have time for this today, but if you ever want some amusement you should study the history and development of canon law. Before the 1917 Code, what was required to answer a question pertaining to Church law was an entire library of documents, contained in many vaults, and an incredibly talented canon lawyer who could sort through them all! And so when the decision was made to codify Church law it was decided to exclude liturgical law, and perhaps to leave it for scholars to codify in subsequent centuries.
So, what this means is that, although the General Instruction is very clear, liturgical law is always subject to interpretation and always must take into account the whole of the Church writings on the liturgy, over the course of her 2000 year plus history, not only a single contemporary document, but the whole of what the Church has said regarding the liturgy.
As we know, even with systems of codified law, such as in our nation’s judicial system, we still have murderers who are set free, and innocent people who are punished all of the time. So it can also become with liturgical law. While the presentations of liturgical law–which in our case are the Missal and GIRM–may seem to be very clear and are indeed a sure guide to right worship, if we try hard enough, we can almost always find a way to get around something, or find a “loophole” so to speak.
This is where I think that many of our liturgical battles can often go. We can resort to trying to find loopholes to justify our practices, or we can try to rationalize things in order to do what we really want to do.
And, most importantly, because we’re Catholics, we are very good at finding the bare minimum that we have to do in order to be “licit”. If you’re like me, I’m sure that you are very certain when the end of Friday exactly occurs when you’re fasting during Lent, or you have an impeccable ability to calculate exactly the time that communion is be distributed at Mass so that you can quickly pound down that Egg McMuffin on Sunday morning on your way to Church, an hour before receiving communion.
We Catholics know how to do these things! But it is my hope that when it comes to the music of the liturgy we will always strive to do so much more than “simply be legal”, and always strive instead to embrace the fullness of the Church’s vision for music in liturgy. I’m sure we can easily relate this to our lives of faith.
We can certainly be “licit” by attending Mass on Sundays and going to confession yearly during Lent, but this is no path to holiness, is it? Even if we do “just get by”, our salvation still can be in great danger.
So, when we consider the Church’s teaching on right worship, and proper liturgical music let’s always try to see the big picture, because if we focus on engaging in legal arguments over fine points only, then we may be bound to miss the boat.
And so, with all of this being said, let’s take just a very quick look at a few sections in the new translation of the General Instruction of the Roman Missal (see handout).
The first thing I would like you to notice is that every one of these rubrics pertains to parts of the Mass which ideally ought to be sung! As we said before, the new missal has musical settings for a vast amount of the texts of the liturgy. If nothing else, this should tell us that the ideal is for the liturgy to be sung.
Next, let’s take a quick look at nos. 38-40. I have emphasized a few lines here. Notice at the end of art. 38 that whenever the GIRM uses words such as “say” or “proclaim” this is understood to be something that is sung or also may be recited.
In fact, a study of liturgical history shows that the Latin word “dicere”, which we think of today to mean “to say”, in the early Church was interchangeably used for “to say” and “to sing”. There was no real distinction between the two. We will get into this more later as we discuss “liturgical chant”, but for now we can see that the same principle is holding true in our modern liturgy.
Next, in art. 40 we can see the importance of the sung liturgy expressed, and that the most important texts that are to be sung are the texts of the Order of Mass: the dialogues between priest and people, and the mostly unchanging elements of the liturgy.
Next, in art. 41 we see a statement that I think is probably the line that haunts many liturgical musicians today. It is a line that has been echoed in numerous church documents and magisterial teachings since it’s promulgation in 1963:
“The main place should be given, all things being equal, to Gregorian chant, as being proper to the Roman Liturgy.”
Note here that this does not say “pride of place”. This translates the Latin more literally, which says “principem locum”, which we could say means “principle place” or “first place”. But the new translation of “main place” seems equally accurate.
For anyone who has had a similar experience of liturgy as me, and I think there are many, it is very difficult to understand how this statement has been justified in our practice of liturgical music today.
A few rhetorical questions: Why does the Church say this? Why is chant to given the main place in the liturgy? How is it to be given the main place? Why is it presented to us here as the supreme model of liturgical music?
I’m not going to answer these right now, but we will come back to it at the end of this talk.
It goes on to say that:
“Other kinds of sacred music, in particular polyphony, are in no way excluded, provided that they correspond to the spirit of the liturgical action and that they foster the participation of all the faithful.”
And we understand the mention of “polyphony” to mean the choral tradition that developed historically after Gregorian chant and was exemplified in the works of Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina, of the Roman School, who has been called in church documents the “Prince of Music”. And after stating these two supreme models, if you will, there is also room given for further developments in the sacred music tradition.
Even Pope Benedict has echoed this in a recent statement when he said:
“An authentic updating of sacred music can take place only in the lineage of the great tradition of the past, of Gregorian chant and sacred polyphony.” Which he said speaking in the Sistine Chapel following a tribute concert to Dominico Bartolucci on June 24, 2006.
And if we proceed to GIRM #48 we see a pretty substantial change in translation, and if you have followed the blogosphere much lately this is probably not news to you:
It states “In the Dioceses of the United States of America, there are four options for the Entrance Chant: (1) the antiphon from the Missal or the antiphon with its Psalm from the Graduale Romanum, as set to music there or in another setting; (2) the antiphon and Psalm of the Graduale Simplex for the liturgical time; (3) a chant from another collection of Psalms and antiphons, approved by the Conference of Bishops or the Diocesan Bishop, including Psalms arranged in responsorial or metrical forms; (4) another liturgical chant that is suited to the sacred action, the day, or the time of year, similarly approved by the Conference of Bishops or the Diocesan Bishop.”
Now, without even commenting on this, I would like you to imagine something. Please imagine for a moment that you’ve never been to a Catholic Mass in your life. You’re an intelligent musician and someone hands you this list and says “this is what you may sing at Mass to cover the entrance procession”. What would you be inclined to sing?
Your first option is an antiphon and psalm from an official liturgical book, either the Missal or Graduale, which is proper to the day, in its chant setting or in another musical setting. Your second option is a similar antiphon and psalm, which is proper to the season. Your third option is another antiphon and psalm from a book approved by the Church. And your fourth option is another liturgical chant that is suited to the sacred action, the day, or the time of year, similarly approved by the Conference of Bishops or the Diocesan Bishop.
Now, if you were someone who has never attended a Mass before, what would you expect to be singing during the entrance procession during Mass according to this rubric? Please try to put yourself in this situation if you can.
And remember that this rubric also essentially applies to the Offertory and Communion, respectively.
I am going to leave this here for now, and allow you to reflect on this. This is perhaps one of the most controversial part of the entire GIRM for musicians. We could argue it and circle it from the legal perspective for hours, even days, but I would rather move on now and revisit it later.
Now, we don’t have time go through all of these points in the GIRM, but I hope that you will study and deeply consider them, and continue to read the Church documents pertaining to music and liturgy. The most important of these are listed at the end of your handout.
To conclude our all too brief consideration of the legal perspective we can close with the thought that liturgical law is objective in and of itself, but it will always remain subject to subjective interpretation. So reading liturgical law in isolation without a more full understanding of liturgy and music, from a host of other perspectives, I would propose, can be very dangerous.
So, we need to dig more deeply. Let’s table this for now. We’ll return to it shortly.
I would like to shift now, for a few moments, away even from the liturgy, and just consider the moral effects that music has on us, and would like to draw upon what I believe is a kind of examination of conscience for liturgical musicians, given by Pope Benedict, then Cardinal Ratzinger, in his book The Spirit of the Liturgy.
In his chapter on sacred music, the Pope recalls a dichotomy between two general “types” of music described in the thought of Plato and Aristotle. These he calls the music of Apollo, or “Apollonian” music, and the music of Marsyas, which he describes as “Dionysian” music.
Generally speaking, these two “types” of music affect the listener in one of two ways.
Apollonian music is music that engages the senses but lifts them and draws them into the spirit and brings man to wholeness. It elevates the senses by uniting them to the spirit.
Dionysian music, on the other hand, has the effect of intoxicating the senses; it crushes rationality, and in a sense subjects the spirit to the senses. This is the effect of pure sensuality.
This dichotomy strikes me as one that speaks directly to the morality of the passions. The catechism describes how the passions work on a moral plane:
CCC 1763: In short: “Feelings or passions are emotions or movements of the sensitive appetite that incline us to act or not to act.”
CCC 1768: “Passions are morally good when they contribute to a good action, evil in the opposite case.”
CCC 1767In themselves passions are neither good nor evil. They are morally qualified only to the extent that they effectively engage reason and will. Passions are said to be voluntary, ‘either because they are commanded by the will or because the will does not place obstacles in their way.’ It belongs to the perfection of the moral or human good that the passions be governed by reason.”
In other words, the catechism tells us here that the passions have to be subordinated to and governed by reason in order for us to be in control of our passions, and so that our passions are not in control of us.
Music has the power to speaks to our passions. We all know that different styles of music, and different songs and pieces can effect us in different ways.
I’m sure you can relate to times where you’ve just lost yourself in a song. Have you? How about the times when you’ve been so sad because of heartbreak and you just put that one song on repeat and just dwelt in your own misery? Or that time that you’re just angry and had to turn on some aggressive music to find an outlet for your aggression? I know I have.
I would like to suggest to you that in these cases we are seeing examples of Dionysian music in action.
Now, this is not necessarily sinful or morally wrong in and of itself. That depends on the actions that we make as a result of our passions. But can you see in these cases that our emotions and the senses become “intoxicated” to the point where our spirit and will are perhaps crippled? Can we really choose in those moments?
After a bad breakup when you’re listening to your music, balling and weeping, is this the time to call your loved one and say “can we makeup?” I don’t think so, because our rationality is crushed. We can’t be reasonable in these situations. This is an example of the effect of Dionysian music.
Now, on the other hand, have you listened to music that seemed to make you think more clearly? That makes you more reflective and seemed to enhance your ability to perceive beauty, truth and goodness? That lifts our gaze to more elevated and eternal things? Are there any styles of music that come to mind? This is the effect that “Apollonian” music has on us according to the pope.
Now, this can happen to greater or lesser effects. But the looming question now should be “how does this apply this to liturgical music?
Well, I think that answer should be clear. The goal of the music of the liturgy is not to shackle us in our flesh, but to lift our gaze to the heavens, to “undo” in us the effects of the Fall in us. The liturgy engages us in the eschatological, heavenly liturgy where God is all in all and where creation is restored to grace. The music of the liturgy should certainly assist us in this ascent, not prevent us from it.
So the Pope has given us a litmus test, a kind of examination of conscience as we consider the music that we use in the liturgy.
But this perspective still is rather incomplete, isn’t it? This still is a pretty subjective vantage point. Here we will begin to get to the heart of the matter.
And, so, now we turn to the sacramental perspective. A perspective that can help us assess the question of liturgical music from a more objective standpoint.
So, what is a sacrament?
The classic definition of a sacrament is “a visible sign that makes present an invisible reality”. We are speaking here generally of “sacramentality”, and not the seven sacraments which efficaciously transmit grace. We are speaking of sacraments with a “small s”.  
Article 20 of the GIRM speaks of this sacramentality:
“the entire Liturgy … is carried out by means of perceptible signs by which the faith is nourished, strengthened, and expressed…”
And so does the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy of the Second Vatican council in article 7:
“In the liturgy the sanctification of the man is signified by signs perceptible to the senses, and is effected in a way which corresponds with each of these signs…”
These signs signify and help make present to our senses the invisible realities of the liturgy. But what are these invisible realities?
Let’s look at Sacrosanctum Concilium article 8:
“In the earthly liturgy we take part in a foretaste of that heavenly liturgy which is celebrated in the holy city of Jerusalem toward which we journey as pilgrims, where Christ is sitting at the right hand of God, a minister of the holies and of the true tabernacle; we sing a hymn to the Lord’s glory with all the warriors of the heavenly army; venerating the memory of the saints, we hope for some part and fellowship with them; we eagerly await the Saviour, Our Lord Jesus Christ, until He, our life, shall appear and we too will appear with Him in glory.”
So we see that the earthly liturgy is comprised of signs and symbols that make present to us an invisible reality. But what is that reality, first and foremost, that is invisibly present in the liturgy?
It is the heavenly liturgy! We participate in the heavenly liturgy when we participate in the earthly liturgy. In the earthly liturgy we experience a foretaste of heaven, do we not? Yes, of course, we do. This is the perennial teaching of our Church.
Now, let’s consider why we need the liturgy and these signs and symbols that allow us to participate in the heavenly reality. There is a fundamental problem that we as humans have from which this need arises.
Although God has given us the fullness of salvation in Christ, we are still bound by the effects of the Fall. At the end of time when Christ returns and the earth is restored to its original purity, God will be all in all and we will see him face to face. But until then, and since Christ has been revealed to us and has accomplished for us salvation, we are only able to participate in the heavenly reality as a foretaste, and through sacramental signs in the liturgy.
The Eucharist, par excellance, is the sacrament of sacraments, the source and summit of the life of the Church, the most efficacious presence of Christ on this earth. It is the Eucharistic sacrifice that is central to the earthly liturgy. But what about the other signs and symbols in the liturgy, like the sacred art, architecture, the texts, the gestures, the vestments and vessels, SACRED MUSIC? What is their purpose?
The answer to this is that they are sacraments: they are visible (and and in our case audible) signs that make present to us the invisible realities of the heavenly liturgy in which we truly participate in the earthly liturgy.
So when we think of music as a sacrament, we acknowledge that it makes something present to us. The music of the liturgy not only affects us in an emotional way, although it indeed does this. It engages our senses and it should unite them to our spirit, give us wholeness of being so that we are able to lift our gaze to the heavenly reality that is invisibly present in the sacred liturgy.
When we ask ourselves what the music of the liturgy should sound like, what should our first answer be? I would like to propose that our first answer should be that liturgical music should sound like the music of heavenly liturgy, sung by the heavenly hosts of angels and saints, surrounding the throne of heaven. Although this perhaps is an abstract idea to us, and one that composers and artists have to grapple with, it should tell us a few things.
If liturgical music should make present to us the reality of the heavenly liturgy in which we engage and indeed participate in the earthly liturgy, what could we say liturgical music should NOT be?
When we hear music that sounds like music we hear in the Mall, does this make sacramentally present to us the reality of heaven? When we hear music that sounds like what we hear on the radio in the car, does this make us think of heaven?
So this is why the Church calls liturgical music “sacred music”. Sacred means “set apart” and that is exactly what the sacred music tradition of the Church has always been, and really should always be. It is a music that is dramatically different than that of every day life. So should our architecture be, and so should our manner of speech, as we see in the more elevated language found in the new translation of the Missal.
The signs and symbols used in the liturgy, of which liturgical music is a part, are set apart from the ordinary, and form an articulate sacramental language that is safeguarded, nurtured and cultivated by the Church, and which is reserved for the worship of God and for our sacramental participation in the heavenly reality.
And so we really have now transitioned into our final perspective with which we will look at the question of liturgical music, the theological perspective.
Really, the sacramental perspective leads us to a theological consideration of the liturgy. Sacramentality deals with what we might call “ontology”. Ontology is a fancy word that essentially means “the nature of being”.
The classic definition of beauty in our Catholic tradition is not that it is found “in the eye of the beholder”. The proper understanding of beauty in the Catholic context is much more of a theological, objective consideration. The truly Catholic definition of beauty is that something is beautiful when it reveals its ontology most clearly; when it reveals what it truly is most effectively.
So when we ask whether a piece of liturgical music is beautiful, we really are asking if it is revealing the ontology of the liturgy most clearly.
And so, what is the ontology of the liturgy? This is an objective, theological question. Subjective consideration is left behind here. This is the purely objective perspective.
We can look at liturgical theology from a number of different angles. The liturgy is the at the very center of the Church’s life, and theological reflection on the nature of the liturgy surely can never be exhausted, but I would like for us to focus on one particular theological element of the liturgy, which goes beyond our consideration of the eschatological dimension of the earthly liturgy.
The theological reality of the liturgy that I would like for us to consider is this:  In the sacred liturgy it is CHRIST who ACTS. In the sacred liturgy, it is CHRIST who SPEAKS. In the sacred liturgy the prayer of Christ is offered to the Father for the salvation of the world.
Therefore the content of the liturgy, the agent of the liturgy, is the logos, the Word of God, Christ, who was with God the Father in the beginning, and who in the fullness of time was made Flesh and dwelt among us.
In Christ, God revealed to us the fullness of the image of God, and gave us the promise of eternal life. But the fundamental problem that we encounter in this historical period in which we currently reside, is that we are still subject to the effects of the Fall. As we await Christ’s return, and as we wait for the day that we can see God face to face, we become one with Christ in the sacred liturgy, as members of his body, and join him as he offers perfect worship to God the Father.
So the liturgy is the action of Christ, the great prayer of Christ, and we participate in that action as part of his body, in the liturgical assembly.
In the liturgy, how do we worship God? Is this a personal time of prayer where we offer our own personal worship to God? Well, although it is good for us to constantly do this in our lives, this is fundamentally NOT what we do in the liturgy. In the liturgy it is Christ who offers perfect worship to the Father. We participate in this perfect worship of God the Father and are ourselves offered to him, as members of his very own body.
And so, what role does sacred music play in this great prayer of Christ that is the sacred liturgy?
St. Augustine said that “singing is for the one who loves”. And Christ’s prayer in the liturgy is the ultimate song of love, the ultimate prayer of sacrifice. Is it any wonder why the Church asks us to sing the liturgy? For it is in the song of the liturgy where the voice of Christ, the Word of God, the logos, is made INCARNATE in our midst!
This is worth repeating:
It is in the song of the liturgy where the voice of Christ, the very Word of God, the logos, is made INCARNATE, made flesh, in our midst!!!
It is in the texts of the liturgy, sung as the love song of the Trinity, where the Word of God, Christ, is sacramentally made flesh and dwells among us.
Now, how much does this change the discussion about the “songs that we like to sing at Mass”?
The song of the liturgy is liturgical chant. There are chants that belong to the priest (the visible head of Christ), to the people (the assembled Body of Christ), and there is also a role given to the choir, or schola cantorum, as it is called in the General Instruction. Perhaps we could say that the schola cantorum sacramentalizes the hosts of angels and Saints that join in the song of the Lamb in the heavenly liturgy.
One of the roles given to the schola cantorum, of which the assembly may also may take part, is the singing of the proper of the Mass. The form of the proper of the Mass is made up primarily of antiphons and psalmody, as we saw demonstrated in GIRM 48 and 87. The texts of the proper of the Mass are taken primarily from scripture, and overwhelmingly from the book of Psalms.
We can recall that the Psalms have always played an integral role in the life of the Church, not only in the Liturgy of the Hours, but from the very beginnings of Christianity the Psalms have also been central to the Eucharistic liturgy. In The Spirit of the Liturgy, Pope Benedict tells us about why the Psalms are so important in Christian prayer and worship. We recall that the primary author of the book of Psalms is King David.
The Pope says:
“The Holy Spirit, who had inspired David to sing and to pray, moves him to speak of Christ, indeed causes him to become the very mouth of Christ, thus enabling us in the Psalms to speak through Christ, in the Holy Spirit, to the Father.”
How profound is this? Christ, who is the “Son of David” assumes and prays the Psalms of David himself, and continues to do so throughout history through his Body, the Church, in his eternal prayer of praise to the Father.”
This is how important psalms are to Christian worship!
So when we sing the liturgical chant that forms the proper of the Mass, a role proper to the choir or schola cantorum in which the congregation may take part, we make sacramentally present in the liturgy the voice of Christ who prays the Scriptures and the Psalms in worship of the Father, and for the sanctification of Christ’s Body!
This is our role! It is no small calling. Of the sacred signs and symbols in the liturgy, sacred music has a role of singular importance, because it forms an integral part of the liturgy.
And now we draw our consideration of liturgical music from five distinct perspectives to a close. What conclusions can we draw from all of this? Let’s begin by turning to the question that was raised toward the beginning of this talk; the question of the primacy of Gregorian chant in the Roman liturgy.
I think that if we ponder deeply on the theological realities that we’ve discussed, if we look very closely at liturgical music from a theological perspective, we can see why the Church has held and continues to hold Gregorian chant to be in such high esteem. Gregorian chant is not the only archetypal form of liturgical chant, but it is a form that has given a near perfect liturgical expression to the acting Voice of Christ in the Liturgy.
But how has it achieved this? Allow me to propose three reasons:
Firstly, Gregorian chant is purely vocal music, and it is monophonic, meaning it is pure melody. Through the singing of scriptural and liturgical texts it makes sacramentally present the One voice of Christ, and allows the entire Body to join in this once voice of praise.
Secondly, Gregorian chant is not bound to a rhythmic meter. The rhythm of Gregorian chant is the rhythm of the liturgical word. In chant, it is the word, always, that has primacy. The music is always at the service of the Word. It enables the logos, the Word of God to be made manifest, to become incarnate in our midst, without distortion. Truly, in Gregorian chant, the Word becomes flesh and dwells in our midst, when it is sung in the sacred liturgy.
Thirdly, Gregorian chant has always been music that has been reserved for the worship of God. It has never been popular music. There is virtually nothing like it that exists in the popular music in history anywhere. We don’t go to Gregorian chant concerts do we? Because it just doesn’t make sense. Chant is a musical idiom that serves one purpose, and that is to bring to life the Word of God in song in the sacred liturgy.
Now, does this mean that we must only sing Gregorian chant in the liturgy? I don’t think so, and the GIRM doesn’t say this at all.
But it should be clear to us now why chant has been given such an exalted role in the liturgy, and why it is continually upheld as the model for liturgical music. It should be given the “main place” in the liturgy, says our current liturgical legislation, and this is for good reason. When we use other musical styles and repertoires, though, they should always be judged against these qualities that are exemplified in Gregorian chant, and be informed and inspired by them.
Our job as liturgical musicians is to make the voice of Christ sacramentally present in the liturgy. So our singing and the music that we sing has to have the capacity to do this to the best of our abilities.
We’re very blessed to have a resurgence in interest in the singing of liturgical chant; both Gregorian chant and other sacred vocal repertoires that are consonant with it. There have been more chant workshops happening around the country and world in the past five years than there probably have been in all the first three decades that followed the Council.
We also have a very exciting growing trend in the development of resources that make liturgical chant, as discussed here, able to be sung in almost any parish environment. While the official books of Gregorian chant are in Latin, and can be a very complex and highly specialized repertoire at times, many composers have been discovering ways to “translate” the essence of the Gregorian chant tradition into forms that we can readily utilize in liturgical practice today.
And when we extend liturgical chant into other musical styles for use in the liturgy–something that the Church has always encouraged, and does today–my challenge to you today is to look to the Gregorian chant tradition for guidance and inspiration. What Pope St. Pius X said in his 1903 encyclical holds true today:
“…the more closely a composition for church approaches in its movement, inspiration and savor the Gregorian form, the more sacred and liturgical it becomes…”
I would challenge you to deeply consider the principles of liturgical music that are modeled for us in the Gregorian chant tradition, and seek to imbue everything you do with this spirit. This not only applies to how the music is sung and played, but also to the music and texts that are selected.
The antiphons in the Missal and Graduale remain the primary sung texts for the liturgical processions. Perhaps we could look at them when making musical selections for the Mass.
The primary textual source for the liturgical processions at the Entrance, Offertory and Communion is the psalms. Perhaps we could incorporate more musical settings of the psalms, based on the texts in the Graduale Romanum or Simplex in our musical selections.
And lastly, perhaps we could even begin to sing some of the proper chants themselves, even in the most simple English settings. An incorporation of these sorts of settings in our liturgies today will resonate beautifully with the chants found in the new edition of the Roman Missal.
These are all things that we can do to bring our service in music ministry closer to the Mind of the Church on liturgical music.
Above all, though, I hope that we can always strive to make the Word of God, the logos, the very voice of Christ, perceptible in the liturgy through the music that we sing, compose, play and offer in the liturgy.

The Inaugural Address of the Blessed John Henry Newman Institute of Liturgical Music

September 17th 2011, Inaugural Address, Fr. Guy Nicholls, Blessed John Henry Newman Institute of Liturgical Music

Your Grace, my brother Oratorians, and all brothers and sisters in Christ, welcome to this inaugural event of the Blessed John Henry Newman Institute for Liturgical Music.

The Founder of our Oratory, Blessed Cardinal Newman, is better known in the modern world as an educationalist, writer, theologian and philosopher than as a musician and liturgist. Yet to ignore these latter aspects of his life would seriously distort our understanding of his personality and of his vocation. It is true that Newman did not write a great deal about music and liturgy, but he practised them both a great deal. He played the violin from an early age and to a high standard of proficiency, and we know that he was happiest at Littlemore when he was teaching plainsong to his schoolchildren with the aid of his violin. When he came to Birmingham, he set up and even at times conducted, the Choir at High Mass – for whom his rules are still extant; and the story is still told how in his advanced old age as a Cardinal, it was his custom to sit by the door into Church, at the back of what is now his shrine, in order to hear and enjoy the singing of the choir at High Mass. As a priest, the central act of his vocation was the offering of the Sacrifice of the Mass and the fostering of a more dignified worship of Almighty God. Just like his pastoral concerns as a priest, much of what Blessed John Henry did from day to day is now only known to God and to those who benefited from his ministry. That we do not know much about them is not because they were unimportant, but because they were not the matter of his vast body of writing which he has bequeathed to us.

Let us go on then, simply acknowledging that this great Oratorian priest knew and made use of the power of the Church’s liturgy to sanctify souls and prepare them for heaven. This is exactly what we also aim to do in our own time and place.

Why, then, should it be desirable to set up an Institute for Liturgical Music now? In the first place, we want to help as many people as possible, priests and laity, musicians and congregations, to come to know and use freely, the resources of what the Second Vatican Council Fathers called “the Treasury of Sacred Music” , and described as “a treasure of inestimable price”. This needs explaining. In what does such a treasury consist? It is not simply the sum total of everything musical ever composed for, or used in, the Liturgy. The Council makes explicit that it is talking here principally about two kinds of music: first, as “proper to the Roman liturgy”, Gregorian Chant, which should therefore have first place in liturgical actions; then secondly other types of sacred music, but especially polyphony. These are, of course, sung forms of music. Instrumental music is not dealt with directly under this heading, though it is important to note in passing that the Council fathers single out for special mention the Organ, whose sound can “add a wonderful splendour” to the Church’s ceremonies and “powerfully raise minds towards God and heavenly things”.

Keeping for the moment to the matter of sung sacred music, we note that the Council recognises that the entire liturgical assembly has its proper roles, its proper repertoires. There is music for the celebrant, the ministers, the choir, the cantor and the congregation. None of these excludes the others. The crucial bond that unites then all is that they should all foster “participatio actuosa”, a well known phrase, but notoriously difficult to render well in English. It has been generally translated as “active participation”, and as such has been taken to mean that the entire congregation should be actively doing something if it is to be actively participating. But deeper reflection on this phrase and on its context within the liturgical aims of the Council Fathers suggests another meaning altogether: “actuosa” should mean “actual”, a real engagement of the whole person. Sometimes, indeed often, this will involve some form of activity, such as singing or speaking or a particular posture or gesture. But it need not require all of those at all times. Anyone can be said to be “actually participating” in the liturgy who is quite simply engaged by it. That person may be doing nothing – yet participating at a deep level through being caught up in the entire experience of what is going on, and of which he is not a mere spectator, but a member of a body involved in an action which both unites and transcends all the individual persons present. So, for instance, “participatio actuosa” can equally be ascribed to a sense of awe at what one is immersed in: the beauty of architecture, art and vesture, of the dignity of the movements of the sacred ministers, of the sight and scent of the incense “rising like prayer to God” , of the singing by those who have the necessary skill and training of elaborate and moving settings of the sacred texts, just as much as it can be ascribed to congregational singing. In fact, allowing always for the importance of congregational singing, it is still possible to say that the presence of those other expressions of beauty may enhance the congregation’s participation yet more than their own singing alone could do.

That brings us to another most important consideration: since liturgical music is pre-eminently sung music, what is it that should be sung? We have grown used to the style of celebration in which singing is something done during the liturgy, it matters less so what and by whom it is sung. In this country, generally speaking, the Mass is treated as a series of words and actions that are, at least by default, intrinsically spoken. If music is required, it is often inserted into the gaps left between words and actions, such as long pauses caused by processions and the distribution of Communion. It may be that the texts of what is sung are drawn from appropriate scriptural or liturgical sources, but that is often not the case, nor is it considered to be a fundamental criterion in choosing such music. When seen against the backdrop of a predominantly spoken liturgy, music is a “filler”. Nothing could be more distorting of the true nature of liturgical music. Music is not something to be added on to a liturgy that could actually do just as well without it, it is of the essence of the liturgy itself. Yet one can still ask: why should this be? Why should we consider music to be essential to the liturgy?

The truth of this claim for music to be intrinsic to the liturgy rather than an extra added on, however desirable, lies in the nature of music as an expression of the human spirit. If you want to understand what I mean, try saying the words of two familiar, yet contrasting texts: “Happy birthday to you” and “God save our gracious Queen”; how ludicrous and indeed highly unnatural it would be to recite these texts! The melodies which we associate with them are not simply “add-ons”, nor do they merely “belong” to the words, they both carry the words and enhance their expressive power. They help us both to assimilate and to communicate something contained in the words, yet at a far deeper level than the words alone can do. How much more important, then, are the words of the Liturgy! In the texts of the Mass, in the psalms of the Mass and the Divine Office, we are employing words which place us in contact with divine realities that transcend the limits of human language.

Singing the words of the liturgy enhances their power to thrill us, to move us, to mould us into a living unity in the Body of Christ. The sacred texts of the Mass are an expression of a reality that is far deeper than we can know, but we can touch it, we can express it, we can enhance our receptivity to it by the power of the music that belongs intrinsically to it.

It is a wonderful providence that the setting up of this new Institute of Liturgical Music should take place at the same time as the introduction of the new English translation of the Roman Missal. Many comments have been made concerning the character of the translation, and it is still unfamiliar to most of us. But what we need to note here are two central facts which are being presented to us by this new translation.

First, there is a new kind of expressiveness about the texts. They are richer in vocabulary, and more elaborate in sentence structure than were the old ICEL texts, as I shall call them. This obviously poses an initial challenge since these characteristics are in marked and deliberate contrast to those of the old ICEL texts. Yet I am confident that we will find that these qualities lend the new texts a greater power to convey a sense of the awesome difference between what we hear and say at Mass, and what we hear and say in everyday life and conversations. They come across as more lapidary, almost like inscriptions incised on stone, rather than as words simply used on the spur of the moment. This means that the liturgy will no longer sound, as it often has done, colloquial, even chatty. It is raised to what is technically called a higher “register”, a level of discourse that reflects and draws us into a higher state of communication. The liturgy, after all, transcends the limits of time and space and unites us with the angels and saints around God’s throne. The language that we use in it must therefore reflect that awesome context in which we place ourselves in the celebration of the Liturgy.

The second fact central to understanding the intended effect of the new translation on our worship, is the direct encouragement given to us to sing these texts. As Mgr. Wadsworth, the Executive Director of ICEL has pointed out, the new Missal is the most musically well-endowed in history. The texts of the Mass: greetings, prayers, acclamations, readings, meditations on the sacred word, all these are intended to be sung. This intention is made clear in the fact that all these musical settings are placed, not in an appendix at the back of the book, as frequently heretofore, but in the body of the book, exactly where it is used day by day.

This may well frighten some people. Music, they may say, is for the experts, for the choir or the music group, but not for the priest, deacon, lector, or even the entire congregation. Some may object that it is simply too difficult or too unfamiliar, but if you look closely at the Missal without prejudice, it is possible to see that the music written there is not designed to be sung by experts, but by anybody. It is designed to be an ordinary and familiar expression of the faith of the Church in action. It may seem unfamiliar at first, because we have long since grown to be unfamiliar with the idea of singing the Mass, as opposed to singing during the Mass. What the Church invites us to do in receiving the new translation is to learn to recognise it as something “beyond the prosaic” . Music, even very simple chants, help to achieve that end.

Which brings us to consider the chants themselves. This morning we are going to experience the new translation of the Mass in its musical form. We are, of course, familiar with what I may call the “flow” of the Mass, its regular exchanges between ministers and people, its alternating texts which are listened to with texts that constitute a reply, its statements of faith or expressions of sorrow, worship, adoration, praise and thanksgiving. Now we are being invited to take that familiar “flow” and make it deeper, more profound and, perhaps, more poetical. Familiarity with what may come across as banal and prosaic can only fail to feed the hungry soul. Familiarity with what is beautiful and rich in expression can stand the test of repetition and continue to disclose ever new depths of meaning. The chants of the Missal, which we are about to hear in their proper context and flow from beginning to end, may seem at first rather remote. Some of them are couched in a musical style that will be unfamiliar. They are not rhythmic. There is no sense that the texts are being forced to take on the shape of an independently existing melody. The melody flows out from the words themselves and takes on the patterns of speech. Most of us are not used to this kind of singing. Yet it is the bedrock of all liturgical singing over the ages. We call it plainchant to describe its relatively unassuming character. Yet it undoubtedly has the power to enhance the word.

So much for the words of the Mass which remain relatively unchanged from day to day. Yet there are others words which also belong to the Mass, and with which we may be less familiar. These other words, or texts, do change from day to day, to express the character of the particular feast or season. They are familiar as, for example, the short sentences which are usually read out at the beginning of Mass and at Communion time: the Entrance and Communion Antiphons. These texts are just as much a proper part of the Mass as the unchanging ones. Yet they are often omitted at a Mass which is sung, because they are not considered important. Instead, they are usually replaced by hymns or songs. It is a great loss to the effectiveness of the liturgy on us as participants that these texts are lost so often because they have usually been associated with the day or the season for as long as that feast or season has been celebrated. The chants for these texts belong to the liturgical book known as the Graduale. It is in itself a treasury of wonderful ancient chants, Gregorian Chants as they are usually known, generally sung by a choir rather than by a congregation. This morning we will use settings of these words to Gregorian chants which are simple enough for the congregation to repeat after the choir who will lead us. I hope you will see what a positive difference they make to setting the scene for the Mass which opens with one of them.

I will begin to try and draw a few threads together before concluding. In what direction does all that I have been saying point us? The work that the Blessed John Henry Institute is designed to undertake is the enhancement of Parish Liturgy. The sung liturgy is not intended to be the province of the professional choir alone, much though the Council Fathers emphasised that professional choirs should be carefully fostered wherever possible. But such things are not possible everywhere. Yet good liturgical music which aims to achieve all these ends which we have considered is both desirable and possible in any parish. Great musical skill and expertise is not necessarily required. What is needed is the desire to raise the mind and heart to God by celebrating the Liturgy itself in the most dignified and elevated way possible with the resources available. The words of psalm 46 serve as a guide: “Sing wisely”, or “with understanding.” In his book “A New Song for the Lord”, Pope Benedict interprets these words as “Sing artistically for God”. Such artistry, according to the Pope, is not meant to be understood as mere skill, but as what is done with the aim of bringing those who share in it closer to God. Pope Benedict’s understanding of the power of beauty in Christian art and music is rooted in the disclosure of God’s beauty through our humble and conscious attempt to co-operate with the Creator in our own acts of making and doing.

The Institute will therefore offer assistance to priests, ministers, lectors, cantors, choirs and members of the congregation, guidance on the best way to approach liturgical music. It will aim to do so, therefore, not only by giving practical training and advice, but also, I may even say especially, by giving a thorough catechesis on the theological nature of liturgical music. Music has the power to enhance the liturgy when those who are responsible for it have a deeper understanding of its proper place in the whole. Music must be the servant of the liturgy and of the whole Church gathered together in God’s presence. We hope to help bring about a deeper understanding of what good liturgical music is, and how to perform it. We hope to offer guidance to all those who are interested in knowing more about the history and forms of liturgical music in the Catholic Roman liturgy.

The Institute cannot function in isolation from the wider Church. There are many initiatives throughout the Church both here in the British Isles, and further afield especially in North America, whose aims are similar to our own, and whose work may well come to be closely allied to ours. There are two specific influences on me to which I wish to draw your attention. First, it would not be right for me to omit to mention my great debt to Dr Mary Berry, foundress of the Schola Gregoriana of Cambridge, of which I was privileged to be a founder member in my undergraduate days, and of which I am now a chaplain. She strove tirelessly, though often thanklessly, for a revival and understanding of Gregorian Chant within the Church’s liturgy. There are many projects now taking shape which owe a great deal to her vision, energy and her prayerful love of the Church. I also want to mention with appreciation the patient work of the Association for Latin Liturgy (ALL) with which I have had the pleasure of being closely associated for over thirty years. That Association has not only remained consistently faithful to the Church’s call for the use of the Latin language in all approved forms of the Roman Liturgy , but has applied energies out of proportion to its relatively small resources to provide practical help for the implementation of that vision in parishes since its foundation. I am glad that the ALL fully supports the aims of this Institute and look forward to continuing to work with it in fostering the use of Latin in the Liturgy.

Your Grace, You do us a great honour by your presence here today. It is a providential sign to us that this new work of the Birmingham Oratory, under the protection of Blessed John Henry Newman, is fully undertaken within the unity of the local Church. That unity is expressed both by your presence here today, by your celebrating the Sacred Liturgy for us, according to the new translation of the Roman Missal and using the chant settings which have been provided for use within the liturgy. On behalf of the Fathers of the Oratory, I also thank Your Grace for kindly agreeing to be one of the Patrons of this Institute, and allowing us to work in close co-operation with the Maryvale Institute of Higher Religious Studies.

I also wish to place on record my thanks to those who have played a special part in making this Institute and its launch a possibility. First, to Fr Richard Duffield, our Provost, whose idea it was some time ago to set up an Institute for Liturgical Music here at the Oratory. I also wish to thank Mr James MacMillan, the noted Catholic Composer, who not only kindly consented to be co-patron with His Grace the Archbishop, but who has also been of great assistance in making introductions and creating links between various Catholic church musicians and proposing various plans for future development of our work. It is unfortunate that he has to be absent today, but I am happy to record that he is directing the music at the priestly ordination in Oxford of a friend of our Institute, Laurence Lew O.P., which is taking place today. Then I offer thanks and acknowledgement to those who have been most generous in their practical assistance, especially to Carol Parkinson and Graeme McNichol who have provided invaluable Administrative assistance, ably and generously helped by Philippe Lefebvre who designed the literature and the website, and to Angela Dunn, who has contributed as always most unselfishly by producing the booklets which we will be using at Mass and Vespers today. There are others, too, who deserve thanks, but I hope they will forgive me if I make my thanks to them now in a general way.

All that remains is for me to say that I hope you will enjoy the rest of this day and I will now ask His Grace to give us a blessing to inaugurate our new work.

Authentic Liturgy and Chant: Some Considerations

The noted liturgical and musical commentator Paul Ford has written a thought-provoking article for the GIA Quarterly that you can find here. Professor Ford is an admirable interlocutor in the current debates about liturgy and music, and, as such, he has much that we can admire in this article. Because he makes reference to “the thoughtful proposals” by members of the Church Music Association of America on the concept of mutual enrichment between the Ordinary and Extraordinary Forms of the Roman Rite, I would like to engage some of what he has written in his article, to keep this fruitful dialogue going. I am very grateful to Professor Ford for having taken note of these proposals, as well as for his accurate re-presentation of them in his article.

At the outset of his article, Ford writes, “Nothing in the Holy Father’s official teaching ought to be construed as anything other than (1) affirmations of the essential truth and goodness of the postconciliar liturgical reforms and (2) reminders about some dimensions of this reform that need more attention (particularly, sacrality and beauty).” In the accompanying footnote, he refers to three examples of this teaching: the encyclical Deus Caritas est, the apostolic exhortation Sacramentum caritatis and the motu proprio Summorum pontificum. He then goes on to describe, via commentary on a quote of Fr Anthony Ruff, the intention of Pope Benedict XVI for the Ordinary and Extraordinary Forms of the Roman Rite to be mutually enriching. He then states that the Ordinary Missal of the Roman Rite is the Missal of Paul VI.

Yet he then goes on to say, “The personal preferences of the Holy Father are just that: personal preferences.” Are we to conclude that, because Pope Benedict XVI chose to propose two forms of the same Roman Rite and encourage their mutual enrichment by way of a motu proprio, that this is merely the Pope’s personal preference? Also, if the document is evidenced as not construable as anything other than “(1) affirmations of the essential truth and goodness of the postconciliar liturgical reforms and (2) reminders about some dimensions of this reform that need more attention (particularly, sacrality and beauty)”, why is that in the realm of both official papal teaching and personal preference at one and the same time? Need the two contradict one another?

No one would suggest that all forms of paper that come out of the Vatican are worthy of the same assent. But is a motu proprio issued by the Pope’s personal initiative by that very fact only an indication of a personal preference, and on that basis can be ignored or minimized? The fact that the Missal of Paul VI is the ordinary Missal of the Roman Rite, a fact that Summorum underlines, does not detract from the fact that the Pope as Supreme Legislator of the Church has made a decision that the Roman Rite has two forms, and both are to be respected. It is hard to see how that is a personal preference.

Dr Ford does notice, however, that “revisiting the wide options” in the General Instruction for music would allow for the use “of the traditional music of the Roman Rite.” He also notes that “[m]any of us are still singing only modifications of the four-hymn sandwich of the late 1950s, singing at Mass rather than singing the Mass.” Here, in fact, is a powerful indication of continuity: the music of the Extraordinary Form can easily be used in the Ordinary Form, an indication of mutual enrichment. And may Dr Ford preach that truth from the rooftops! Sing the Mass, don’t sing at Mass!

But it seems that, for Dr Ford, mutual enrichment from the EF to the OF ends there. In fact, as he insists that the ordinary form of the Roman Rite is the Missal of Paul VI, he seems to take for granted that the point of departure for any discussion on liturgy and music must be the Missal of Paul VI because it is the Ordinary Form. His later observations on how certain aspects of the EF are incompatible with the OF are drawn from that fundamental premise.

But Pope Benedict XVI has introduced two notions into the liturgical discussion which make me think that the Ordinary Form of the Mass is not actually the point of departure for these discussions at all. The concept of the hermeneutic of continuity, which has been a theme of this pontificate, stresses the fundamental unity across both rites. Also the concept of liturgical pluralism and the equality of rites, introduced in SP, also stresses their fundamental unity. Therefore, any discussion about the liturgy and music of the Roman Rite must have as its point of departure the Roman Rite as a whole, Ordinary and Extraordinary, seen in a continnum insofar as possible. Even more than that, the point of departure is not the General Instruction of the Roman Missal of Paul VI, but the answers to the more basic questions about liturgy, music and the life of the Church, as well as the shared and sharable patrimony of the Roman Rite.

For Dr Ford, the evaluation of the EF’s place in the Church has to be seen against the backdrop of “the common spiritual good of the People of God.” For him this notion has come to us in part because of what he identifies as three “seismic shifts in sacramental theology that began in 1903.” He names them as “the active participation of the all the priestly people of God, the primacy of the word of God, and liturgy as the work of the Holy Spirit.” For devotes the next part of his article to an analysis of how the EF shores up against those three themes.

First of all, I would like to point out that, theologically at least, those three themes so dear to the classical liturgical movement (and the new) have their remoter origins in German Romanticism long before 1903. The sacramental understanding of the Church that Scheeben would popularize in the nineteenth century would take root in theology and become very fruitful around the time of Vatican II in Magisterial documents. I am not sure why Ford insists in 1903 (St Pius X’s motu proprio on sacred music, perhaps?) as a watershed date. I would like to read more about what Dr Ford thinks about this connection, because it does seem like the first time such a theology erupts into the Magisterium, unless I am mistaken.

For Ford, the fact that the EF uses terms “assembly/congregation/faithful people” only 30 times and the OF over 500 demonstrates that the EF cannot be a vehicle of the active participation of the priestly people of God. For him, the EF seems to represent an impoverished ecclesiology. But were the divines of the classical Liturgical Movement and many theologians before Vatican II not also convinced of this ecclesiological truth and ready to make it practical in the lives of the faithful, far earlier than the 1969 GIRM? If the active participation of the priestly people of God is a theological truth, then is it not true no matter what rubrics accompany the text of the Mass? Does the proliferation of certain words necessarily indicate more clearly this truth? How then can one explain those who do not actively participate in the OF and are not aware of the dignity of their baptismal priesthood? Also, has Ford analyzed the use of those terms in the Eastern Rites? Does their presence, frequence or absence somehow indicate a false or impoverished ecclesiology?

Dr Ford also faults the EF, whose last legal incarnation was 1962, for not including paragraphs 3 and 4 from the 1981 Lectionary for Mass: Introduction. Yet, why are these paragraphs, which speak eloquently of the foundation of liturgical celebration on the Word of God, not applicable to the EF? Is the Word of God, which is “a living and effective word through the power of the Holy Spirit” somehow blocked in the EF? Can the Holy Spirit not work through the readings at an EF Mass?

It must be noted that here we seem to reduce the Word of God to the Holy Scriptures. But, as Dei Verbum 10 reminds us, “Sacred tradition and Sacred Scripture form one sacred deposit of the word of God, committed to the Church.” The Word cannot be reduced merely to the readings at Mass. The primacy of the Word refers, not only to the liturgical proclamation of the readings of Scripture, but to the Church’s reception as Ecclesia discens of Revelation through Scripture and Tradition. Why does a rich theological conception of the Word of God illuminate the EF as deficient?

Ford gives us a clue why he thinks so. After he opines that the introits of the Graduale Romanum might be kept in the OF because they do not violate his conception of the Word in worship, and that the occasional Kyrie and Agnus Dei could also be sung in their original languages, he proposes that we “consider surrendering all the graduals, alleluias, tracts, offertories . . . and the communions of Ordinary Time that evidence no connection to . . . any of the readings proclaimed.”

It must be noted that the music of the OF as expressed in the Graduale Romanum forms a unity with the old Roman lectionary cycle, as well as the proper orations of the Masses. The recent editions of the Graduale try to keep as much of this system intact as possible, but in such a form as to be coherent with the OF liturgical year. Many of those antiphons indeed seem to have little to do with the readings of the OF. In fact, at first glance, some may seem to have little to do with the Readings of the EF as well. Since Ford takes the OF as his point of departure, this discrepancy leads him to conclude that the entire Graduale must be overhauled to be more consistent with the OF.

There are several observations to be made. First, the current editors of the Graduale have taken the EF as their point of departure, and not the OF. Second, the option to do either the continuous readings or the sanctoral cycle of readings in the OF also leads to some interesting juxtapositions of antiphons, readings and proper orations, so such discrepancy is not alien to the OF. Third, how can the reduction of the entire Graduale into a book of Introits fulfill the express wish of Vatican II for the preservation of Latin and Gregorian chant? Fourth, now that Pope Benedict XVI has introduced a notion by which the Roman Rite considered in its fundamental unity must be the departure point for discussion on liturgy and music, should that, and not the EF or OF, be the standard by which future editions of the Graduale be revised?

Ford argues that the Creed “must be in the vernacular”, but why? Surely, if the Creed is a statement of the unity of our faith, why is it so inconceivable that the Roman Rite in both forms uses it in Latin? Would that not better underscore the unity of the faith, and would it not allow people from various languages to all participate in a powerful moment of unity in the Mass when repeating the words of the belief which unites them beyond words? He furthermore argues that the addition of three acclamations after the Institution Narrative means that the Sanctus, as another acclamation, ought to be sung in the vernacular. First of all, liturgical historians are not at all unified as to whether the Sanctus was always envisioned as an acclamation in the same way the acclamations inside of the Eucharistic Prayers of the OF are now considered. This is another instance of using the OF as a point of departure and not the substantial unity of the Roman Rite. Second, if we jettison the greater part of the Latin Ordinary and almost the whole of the Graduale, as Ford suggests, how can we then fulfill the desire of the binding legislation of the Roman Rite on music, Musicam Sacram 47, “Pastors of souls should take care that besides the vernacular “the faithful also know how to say or sing, in Latin also, those parts of the Ordinary of the Mass which pertain to them.”

For Ford, the reason is very clear: it’s not in the vernacular: “The very meaning of the Incarnation is the vernacular.” Does this mean that the Incarnation is deprived of meaning for people if they actively participate in the Mass by singing in Latin in communion with the Church that is the extension of the Incarnate Word in the world? For Ford, “since today’s lectionary is a vernacular lectionary, today’s music between the readings must be almost always in the vernacular.” Yet, the Missal and the Lectionary are, in their typical editions, in Latin. The vernacular is a permission granted for the good of the faithful by Sacrosanctum concilium, not the absolute form of the liturgy. Ford’s point of departure is not even from the text of the GIRM of the OF, but from the actual practice in many places, without verifying if that practice is in accord with the Church’s Magisterial teaching or law. Yet he still envisions that some of that music may not be in the vernacular, without specifying where or how, but most importantly, why.

Ford also re-produces the well-known statistics about the relative amounts of the Scripture contained in the OF and the EF. Several comments can be made. First, the lectionary of the EF developed historically as it did for all sorts of reasons, and was neither accidental nor invented in a liturgical laboratory by experts. The cycle of Mass readings must be seen in unity with the Divine Office and other liturgical rites as well. The Roman lectionary developed in tandem with the Office at a time when the Office was part of the normative experience of the Christian more than it is today. The riches of the EF lectionary consist, not in quantity, but in the way they, along with the other Scriptures contained in other liturgical rites, developed along with the history of the Roman Church. Salvaging that precious treasure and offering to the faithful as part of the patrimony of every Catholic is one of the most beautiful consequences of SP, and one not appreciated nearly enough. Second, the mere exposure to larger amounts of Scripture, like the mere exposure to larger amounts of prayer, does not necessarily translate into comprehension. Has it been verified that Catholics are really more conversant with Scripture than they were 40 years ago? In what does that biblical literacy consist and how can we evaluate it? The expansion of biblical literacy in the Church is a noble mission, part of her essence to evangelize. But is it the burden of the Mass alone to carry that? Or are there other factors, notably catechesis and preaching? Is it really true that exposure to the full riches of the EF, Mass and Office, is still an obstacle to the Word of God taking root in individuals and the Church? Are there also no pedagogical merits at all to a lectionary cycle which breaks down and digests frequently repeated passages of Scripture? Also, are these statistical totals taken merely from the Epistle and Gospel readings, or from the totality of Scripture which surrounds the Mass and Office?

The EF Mass is also deficient in pneumatology, compared to the OF, Ford claims. Eastern Orthodox controversialists have condemned both the EF and the OF as being insufficient in pneumatological content compared with Eastern liturgies. And many notable theologians, such as Yves Congar, have opined on the historical reasons and practical consequences of the relative lack of engagement of the Holy Spirit by the Church in ther life and prayer. Yet no one has asked, Why has the Roman Rite developed this way? Many contemporary commentators are content to assume that, because the West has historically been so pneumatologically discreet, the Western liturgy is deficient. But is the action of the Spirit limited to epicletical formulae in the Mass? Can the Holy Spirit not act independently of the absence, inference or dispersion of epicletical formulae just as the consecration of the Eucharistic elements is held to be obtained in the consecratory formula of the Prayer of Addai and Mari, where the consecratory formula could be considered absent, inferred or dispersed?

Dr Ford seems to indicate that for Professor Mahrt, Dr Schaefer and I in our various articles on mutual enrichment of the two forms of the Roman Rite, it “is almost all one way.” I cannot answer for Mahrt or Schaefer. As for me, I contend that, in reality, mutual enrichment cannot be from point A to point B, whether it be from EF to OF or OF to EF, although in my article to which Ford refers, I delineate practical ways in which the liturgy could go from point A to B. I argue that mutual enrichment should not take as its point of departure A or B, the EF or the OF.

Viewing the two forms of the Roman Rite under the principle of the hermeneutic of continuity, the point of departure for discussions about mutual enrichment must go back to a basic: How is what the Church does in her public prayer incarnate in the rites and music as developed through time in the Roman Rite? The answer to that question does not begin by looking at the relative riches or poverty of one rite or another, at how one historical incarnation of the rite is like or unlike a subsequent or previous theological development, or even the utility of the faithful’s comprehension of the rites themselves.

Ford is right to maintain, “The pastoral effectiveness of a celebration will be greatly increased if the texts . . . corresponds as closely as possible to the needs, spiritual preparation, and culture of those taking part.” When considering how the two forms may enrich each other, it is insufficient to say that they can’t, and that the hope that they can is just a personal preference of the Holy Father. We can say, however, that the Holy Father has seen that the Church must find a way for the liturgy to be able once again to meet the basic needs of her people. The task of pastors, liturgists and musicians is to elevate the culture of the Church’s children by a spiritual preparation which can allow them to encounter the Mystery which is encountered in any form of liturgical rite. We need not change the liturgy as the Church hands its various forms down to us, but open the riches of all liturgical forms to that priestly people who hunger and thirst after Truth.

“Da Pacem, Domine” 9/11 Anniversary this Sunday

Several weeks ago the USCCB released some Liturgical Considerations for September 11th, which is this Sunday, the 24th Sunday in Ordinary Time, which marks the 10-year anniversary of the terrorist attacks on the United States.

The Bishops’ release states:

The assigned Lectionary readings for the Twenty-Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time (no. 130) are particularly poignant, but may provide a particular pastoral challenge for preachers, as they address questions of forgiveness, vengeance, and God’s mercy. The first reading (Sirach 27:30—28:7) states, “The vengeful will suffer the Lord’s vengeance, for he remembers their sins in detail. Forgive your neighbor’s injustice…” In the Gospel (Mt 18:21-35), Jesus addresses the question of forgiveness (“[H]ow often must I forgive?”) with the Parable of the Unforgiving Servant.

It also makes a suggestion regarding the music selections for the day:

…appropriate intercessions and chants or other liturgical songs [can be] chosen to mark the observance of Patriot Day.

 If we look at the Mass propers for this Sunday, though, we see that the Church has supplied us with a perfect compliment to the readings which “address questions of forgiveness, vengeance, and God’s mercy”.

The first words of the liturgy this weekend are “Da pacem, Domine” (Grant peace, Lord). And this Entrance Chant can be sung this weekend by your parish if you wish, in a simple English setting:

Is there a better prayer to open the liturgy on the 10th anniversary of 9/11 than this compelling and beautiful scriptural text?

If you don’t sing it at Mass this weekend, perhaps you can still pray it on the part of our country and world.  
Grant peace to those who are waiting for you, O Lord,
so that your prophets may be proved trustworthy;
hear the prayers of your servant
and of your people Israel. Amen.

Comparing GIRM 2002-2011

The new GIRM translation contains more than a thousand changes from the one that has been in force since 2002. Most notoriously, the word song is changed to chant – and chant clearly distinguished from hymn (see 86) – and new conditions are added for the option not to sing the actual proper of the Mass: Such a replacement chant must be “suited to the sacred action, the day, or the time of year.”

Paul Ford has very helpfully marked up a huge file to compare the versions side by side, and highlight the portions that apply to music in red. Here is the link.

“Mystical Body Mystical Voice” at the Liturgical Institute

The Liturgical Institute is hosting a special session of the Roman Missal implementation and catechesis program “Mystical Body Mystical Voice” on Saturday, October 12th, from 8:30AM to 4:30PM on the campus of St. Mary of the Lake University, the home of the institute.

The MBMV workshop is a training event for parish and diocesan trainers. The workshop presenters, Fr. Douglas Martis and Christopher Carstens have also authored a book by the same title, which is available as part of a formation package which includes catechetical DVD’s, a participant’s guide, sample homilies and bulletin inserts. It is a complete package for implementing the new translation in your parish this Fall.

The Institute has offered a 25% discount for registrations before September 12. Click here to register. For information about group discounts, overnight accommodations, or other questions, email or phone 847.837.4540.

I strongly recommend Mystical Body Mystical Voice to parishes who wish to dig more deeply into the theological content of the new Mass text translations. Even reading the book alone will surely enrich and deepen your understanding of the liturgy, and help you and your parish participate more deeply in the sacred mysteries of the liturgy.

A Different Kind of World Youth Day

David Hughes of St. Mary’s Norwalk provides the report:

The main English speaking Masses, on Wednesday the 17th and Thursday the 18th, will be sung by the St. Mary’s Student Schola of Norwalk, CT; the Sisters of Life Schola; and others. When accepting the invitation to come to Madrid, I made our participation contingent on singing the propers; therefore the proper Introit, Offertory, and Communio will be sung each day. Responsorial psalms are to a Gregorian tone, with Theodore Marier’s fauxbourdon for the verses. Alleluias are (in a pastoral concession) to the mode vi triple Alleluia (which is of course proper only to the Easter Vigil); but the Alleluia verse each day will be chanted melismatically. Motets are by Josquin, Palestrina, Victoria, Byrd, and Mozart.

Here’s the complete music listing for each of these Masses:
Wednesday, 17 August 2011, 12:00 noon
Votive Mass of the Holy Spirit
(Missale Romanum of 1970)
Palacio de Deportes, Madrid
Prelude: Ave Maria (Schubert) [World Youth Alliance Quartet]
Hymn at the Procession: Come, Holy Ghost (Lambillotte)
Introit: Caritas Dei (plainsong, mode ii)
Kyrie: XVI
First Reading (Hebrews 11:1-2,7-11)
Psalm: Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for he has visited and redeemed his people. (St. Luke 1:68-75) (plainsong, mode v; Marier fauxbourdon)
Alleluia (plainsong, mode vi)
Gospel (St. Matthew 14:23-33)
Intercessory Prayers
Offertory: Confirma hoc Deus (plainsong, mode viii; with chanted verses)
Hymn at the Offertory: Come Down, O Love Divine (Down Ampney)
Sanctus: XVIII
Memorial Acclamation: Mortem tuam…
Agnus Dei: XVIII
Communion: Spiritus Sanctus docebit vos (plainsong, mode viii; with psalm verses)
Motet at the Communion: Ave Maria (Victoria)
Hymn at the Communion: O Lord, I Am Not Worthy (Gouzes)
Motet at the Communion: Ave Verum Corpus (Mozart)
Motet at the Communion: Veni Creator Spiritus (Josquin)
Marian antiphon: Ave Maria (plainsong, mode i)
Hymn at the Retiring Procession: Joyful, Joyful, We Adore Thee
Postlude: Fugue in D Major (BWV 532) (J.S. Bach)
Thursday, 18 August 2011, 12:00 noon
Votive Mass of the Most Holy Name of Jesus
(Missale Romanum of 1970)
Palacio de Deportes, Madrid
Prelude: Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring (J.S. Bach) [World Youth Alliance Quartet]
Entrance Hymn: Praise, My Soul, the King of Heaven (Lauda anima)
Introit: In nomine Jesu (plainsong, mode ii)
Kyrie: XVI
First Reading (Acts 4:8-12)
Psalm: Our help is in the name of the Lord. (Isaiah 12:2-6) (plainsong, mode v; Marier fauxbourdon)
Alleluia (plainsong, mode vi)
Gospel (St. Matthew 1:18-25)
Intercessory Prayers
Offertory: Portas caeli (plainsong, mode viii)
Hymn at the Offertory: The Lord is Now About to Enter His Temple (Gouzes)
Sanctus: XVIII
Memorial Acclamation: Mortem tuam…
Agnus Dei: XVIII
Communion: Gustate et videte (plainsong, mode iii; with psalm verses)
Hymn at the Communion: Jesus, My Lord, My God, My All (Sweet Sacrament)
Motet at the Communion: Jesu dulcis memoria (Palestrina)
Motet at the Communion: Ave Verum Corpus (Byrd)
Marian antiphon: Ave Maria (plainsong, mode i)
Recessional: Alleluia! Sing to Jesus (Hyfrydol)
Postlude: Praeludium in D minor (BuxWV 140) (Buxtehude)