From Abp. Sample’s pastoral letter on sacred music (3)

With this understanding of the essential nature of sacred music, what might be said of its purpose? Sacred music, being a complementary part of the solemn liturgy, participates in the general scope of the liturgy, which is the glory of God and the sanctification and edification of the faithful.

The following statement from the Second Vatican Council in 1963 is drawn from the motu proprio Tra Le Sollecitudini of Pope St. Pius X of 1903 […]:

Accordingly, the Sacred Council, keeping to the norms and precepts of ecclesiastical tradition and discipline, and having regard to the purpose of sacred music, which is the glory of God and the sanctification of the faithful, decrees as follows…

The Church solemnly teaches us, then, that the very purpose of sacred music is twofold: the glory of God and the sanctification of the faithful. This understanding of the essential nature and purpose of sacred music must direct and inform everything else that is said about it. […]

With a proper understanding of the nature and purpose of sacred music and its relationship to the Holy Mass, it is necessary to next discuss the essential qualities of sacred music. These qualities are not arbitrary or subjective. Rather they objectively flow from the essential nature and purpose of sacred music itself.

Church teaching emphasizes that the music proper to the Sacred Liturgy possesses three qualities: sanctity, beauty and universality. Only music which possesses all three of these qualities is worthy of Holy Mass.


Some dangers of Girardian mimetic theory and its application to Scripture

Recently a number of respectable Catholic sources have lauded the work of René Girard, a philosopher who, turning his attention to Christian revelation, applied his theory of the “scapegoat mechanism” to interpret Scripture and in particular the sacrifice of Jesus.

I find the use of Girard’s theory unsettling and believe it to be dangerous, or even “another Gospel,” in the warning words of St. Paul, and I would like to mention a few reasons for caution.

Girard’s theory

To put Girardian theory in a nutshell for those unacquainted with it, Girard begins with two readily observable facts about society. First, people often copy each other in their desires. A man who has a beautiful watch or wife or house will inspire his neighbor to want the same.

Secondly, society has great tensions, to a great degree based on the clashing of desires. A limited edition watch cannot be owned by everyone, and it is the same with most things. Thus there will be many tensions because people cannot realize their desires. When tensions increase to a certain point, society has to regain its equilibrium, and does so by choosing “scapegoats” which they agree to sacrifice. A scapegoat, as a common enemy, disperses tensions and makes for a kind of peace.

According to Girard, this “scapegoat mechanism” was “unlocked” by the sacrifice of Jesus. By making Himself a scapegoat, though innocent, Jesus showed us the way out of our error of scapegoating. Over time, according to Girard, we are learning to ostracize others less and less, gradually learning to put this teaching of the Gospel into practice.

As a societal commentary I find Girard interesting, though not entirely convincing. For example, it does not seem to me that widespread scapegoating occurs easily except in times of unusual distress or change, such as economic distress or war. This seems to me to be distinct from the sort of gradual increase in unaddressed tensions that Girard describes.

More importantly, when his gaze turns to Scriptural revelation, the Girardian lens is inadequate for many reasons. I will briefly mention three of them.

Problem #1: Mimesis and the transcendental of Goodness

For thinkers in the neoplatonic tradition such as Pseudo Dionysius and Thomas Aquinas in his treatment of the transcendentals, good things are inherently attractive. That is what is meant by goodness: being that attracts. This goodness is the way that God, ultimate Being or I AM, draws human beings into virtue. We want to be like Him, to have as much being as possible by participating in a goodness that conforms us to His likeness.

For Girard, attraction works in a much more scattered and random manner. Instead of being attracted to things for their inherent beauty, for good that shines through them, we are attracted only by imitating the attraction of others.

Setting aside the problem of infinite regress that the theory of mimetic desire cannot escape–who was the first person to desire, and if he was the first, whom did he imitate?–losing the Dionysian/Thomistic value for the inherently good is to lose the deepest resonance of human longing for God.  Jesus said that He came that we might have life, and have it to the full. When the smoke clears, and nothing matters but life and being–what can a man give in exchange for his very soul?–we want goodness for ourselves and everyone. This goal is only realizable if goodness has an actual, rather than a mimetically manufactured, existence.

Problem #2: Horizontal reduction of Scripture

When Girard reads Scripture, he reduces it to conform to his theory. For example, the story of Cain and Abel as we read it in Genesis is unfathomably rich. It deals with freedom and judgment and mercy, as well as with Girardian themes of envy and violence. But even more so, it deals with human beings in relationship with God. In Girard’s reading of the Cain and Abel story, the interactive God disappears. There is no vertical dimension, no acceptable sacrifice. The unaccepted sacrifice simply means that Cain is a murderer.

While the Scriptures thoroughly examine the Girardian vices, from the selling of Joseph to Saul’s pursuit of David to “let us beset the just one, because he is obnoxious to us,” that is hardly all there is, and furthermore, there is a revelation of acceptable sacrifice. While this revelation is by no means straightforward, sweeping it away is deeply problematic, making the revealed history of Israel no more than a sociological study.

Girard is reductive, and reductive readings of Scripture are dangerous. They tend towards gnosticism, a heresy that Girard approaches in another important way, by proposing a secret Gospel teaching.

Problem #3: Misapplication to moral problems

One of the most popular current uses of Girard’s work is providing a theological framework for approving of immoral behavior. There are two “moments” in this argument. First, for Girard, there are no objectively ordered desires. All desire–see Problem #1 above–is mimetic, according to Girard. All desire leads to societal tension, and thus violence and scapegoating. No desire is for the good in itself.

Secondly, any disapproval, any natural law or moral argument against any behaviors, can be simply attributed to the scapegoating mechanism. Rather than making any meaningful claims about right and wrong, society is merely scapegoating persons for its own purposes of equilibrium.

In contrast, Scripture, most explicitly in Romans chapter 1, again brings the vertical dimension into play regarding immoral actions. In Romans 1, evil happens in a different sequence. The first movement is atheism; the second is immoral action; the third is violence.

The deep healing of worship

Instead of presenting the notion of sacrifice as the source of evil, I believe the Church calls upon us to embrace the notion of sacrifice and live it. Pre-eminently, sacrifice is the death of Jesus on the cross, re-presented daily in every Mass: His kindness is new every morning, so great is His faithfulness. It is the one sacrifice, unlike the repeated sacrifices of the high priests, and all true sacrifices led up to it in foreshadowing, like the rescue of the brothers of Joseph, or participate in it, like the sacrifices brought by the priest and the faithful to the altar in our own days.

For 20 or more of our brothers and sisters in the Philippines this morning, their participation in the cross of Christ was usque ad mortem, a true martyrdom. For countless others, there are hidden sacrifices of longer endurance: the divorced woman who lives like the “true widow” of 1 Timothy 5, unilaterally faithful to her vows, the truly scapegoated Religious who is faithful to his vows and community, the good bishop, the honest businessman, the truthful and fair journalist, the diligent employee.

“Sacrifice” is not a word to be argued away. It is the cost of setting aside the flesh, with its desires, and putting on Christ. Through the celebration of the sacraments, we are raised to a dignity higher than any teaching could make us. It is a body-soul experience of salvation that begins with the acceptance of the Cross. To us who are being saved, it is the power of God.






From Abp. Sample’s pastoral letter on sacred music (2)

At around the time of the Edict of Milan (313 a.d.) and the legalization of Christianity, the question of the inclusion of music in sacred worship was raised and much debated. Did it have a place at all […]? Since the psalms, part of Sacred Scripture, were meant to be sung, […] music was seen as necessarily worthy of being preserved and fostered in the public worship of the Church.

[…] This means that the music proper to the Mass is not merely an addendum to worship, i.e. something external added on to the form and structure of the Mass. Rather, sacred music is an essential element of worship itself. It is an art form which takes its life and purpose from the Sacred Liturgy and is part of its very structure.

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. (Second Vatican Council, Constitution Sacrosanctum Concilium, 112)

This understanding would preclude the common notion that we take the Mass and simply “tack on” four songs (the opening hymn, offertory hymn,  communion hymn and recessional hymn), along with the sung ordinary of the Mass (Gloria, Sanctus, etc.) We must come to see that, since sacred music is integral to the Mass, the role of sacred music is to help us sing and pray the texts of the Mass itself, not just ornament it.

(From “Sing to the Lord a New Song” by Abp. Alexander Sample, 2019)


From Abp. Sample’s pastoral letter on sacred music (1)

Pope Benedict XVI reminds us that: “The People of God assembled for the liturgy sing the praises of God. In the course of her two-thousand-year history, the Church has created, and still creates, music and songs which represent a rich patrimony of faith and love. This heritage must not be lost.”

The  beauty, dignity and prayerfulness of the Mass depend to a large extent on the music that accompanies the liturgical action. The Holy Mass must be truly beautiful, the very best we can offer to God, reflecting his own perfect beauty and goodness.

(From “Sing to the Lord a New Song” by Abp. Alexander Sample, 2019)


Eastman’s Summer Programs

Many of our readers will be interested in knowing about the following summer programs at the Eastman School of Music.

Choral conducting institutes with William Weinert:

Choral Masterworks – Handel’s Messiah: Style and Structure (July 20-23, 2019; guest faculty Dr. Betsy Burleigh from Indiana University)

Web page:

The Complete Conductor – Focus on Bach Motets (July 25-28, 2019)

Web page:

(Note: the above two programs pair well together; students are welcome to register for both.)

Vocal performance institute with Michael Alan Anderson:

Singing Gregorian Chant & Renaissance Polyphony – New York City (June 10-14, 2019, at the Church of Notre Dame, NYC)

Web page:



The fresh young face of Catholic civic action

Every year near the anniversary of the Roe v. Wade decision that restricted the rights of states to outlaw abortion, hundreds of thousands of people peacefully demonstrate in the US capital city for the right to life of the unborn.

It is an amazing event. Although it will be best of all when it is no longer necessary, when we come to grips with the grave civil rights issues that have been brushed aside, it is a beautiful experience. Hundreds of thousands of people gathering in freezing cold to peacefully march for those who cannot march for themselves. Marchers are not self-asserting. They are others-asserting. The marchers are of all ages but overwhelmingly young.

Every year, the event goes almost unnoticed by the mainstream press, which, in the US, slants left. It can’t be ignored absolutely, so instead it is minimized. “Thousands [sic] March in Washington at Annual Anti-Abortion Rally,” ran the headline in the New York Times.

We have found out in the last two days that the minimization of coverage was relatively innocuous, a holding pattern kept in place until the news outlets could find a smoking gun: a marcher who was not being peaceful but was provoking someone. A marcher who was white, provoking a Native American. A Catholic marcher. A male marcher. And most importantly, a marcher with a cap showing support of the Republican president.

Except, as the day rolls by and the retractions of hasty judgments, calumnies, and condemnations pour in, the young man was not provoking. Longer videos than those immediately viralized by the media show that he was guilty of three things: marching for life, wearing a hat, and standing his ground.

(Regarding the hat, there is a side debate here about wearing political gear at a march, on a school trip, and I will not address it except to say that 1. it is perfectly legal and 2. the only other major political party will not put forward a pro-life candidate except when no pro-abortion candidate can possibly win.)

For myself, I see heroism here. A child, really, a highschooler, acted as I would hope to act in the same situation. He stood, and prayed, and waited out the storm. For this he has been hastily condemned by grownups who should know better, who used him to try to discredit the march.

The Catholic Church in the US has a long history of civil rights protests, such as the larger one and the smaller one that the young man participated in, on a day that will change his life. For example, it’s one of the great hidden facts of the Catholic Church in the US that the fledgling USCCB filed a friend of the court brief to support the legalization of racial intermarriage in the case of Loving vs. Virginia.

I will be praying that his life, and the hearts of many of our countrymen who were manipulated by a camera angle and other rhetoric into wild misjudgment, change for the better.

And if the future of ourselves is anything like him, then the future looks very bright indeed.



Agnes beatae virginis

The blessed virgin Agnes flies
back to her home above the skies.
With love she gave her blood on earth
to gain a new celestial birth.

Mature enough to give her life,
though still too young to be a wife,
what joy she shows when death appears
that one would think: her bridegroom nears!

Her captors lead her to the fire
but she refuses their desire,
“For it is not such smold’ring brands
Christ’s virgins take into their hands.”

“This flaming fire of pagan rite
extinguishes all faith and light.
Then stab me here, so that the flood
may overcome this hearth in blood.”

Courageous underneath the blows,
her death a further witness shows,
for as she falls she bends her knee
and wraps her robes in modesty.

O Virgin-born, all praises be
to You throughout eternity.
and unto everlasting days
to Father and the Spirit, praise.

Trans. c. Kathleen Pluth


New Spanish Music Resources

The new MISAL ROMANO, TERCERA EDICIÓN, has hopefully ushered in a spiritual and musical renewal within Spanish liturgies at Cathedrals, parishes, seminaries, and religious communities throughout North America. 

The revisions, albeit slight in sung texts themselves, should be a newfound reminder that our vernacular languages point to the Latin texts and music, a treasure of inestimable value.  

Has this opportunity been utilized for beauty and growth, or is there just a shiny new book on the altar? Mariachi or mora vocis? Guitar band or band together and sing a Gradual?  New resources and workshops can help!

The Domenico Zipoli Institute continues its missionary outreach in releasing additional resources in conjunction with the Misal.  Four new Spanish language components have been added to the website’s treasury of musical materials:

          • Church Documents and Articles in Spanish

          • Spanish teaching materials in Gregorian Chant

          • Music scores and recordings of the Misal Romano

          • Hymns and Recommendations of Mass Ordinary 

May the simple and beautiful music of the Misal provide a needed opportunity for renewal, pointing parishes to the True, Beautiful, and Universal.  In turn, this small step will hopefully lead to the uncovering of Gregorian chant, Sacred Choir music, and the rich, nearly unparalleled heritage of traditional Spanish Liturgy.


March for Life Time Lapse

March For Life 2019

The 2019 March for Life was a great success! People from across the country, and the world, met in D.C. to march for the rights of the preborn! We are the Pro-Life Generation and we will abolish abortion!

Posted by Students for Life of America on Friday, January 18, 2019