James MacMillan decides to “stop writing congregational music for the Catholic Church”

I have decided to stop writing congregational music for the Catholic Church. Those who follow these things will be aware that liturgical music can be a war zone in Catholicism. We need not detain ourselves over the reasons and fault-lines in the ongoing debates and struggles, but it is clear to me that there is too much music being created, at the same time as the vast repository of tradition is ignored and wilfully forgotten.

He also praises the Simple English Propers.

The Americans seem to be ahead of the game and are producing new publications which enable the singing, in the vernacular, of those neglected Proper texts for Introits, Offertories and Communion…In taking the shape and sound of Catholic chant, they are creating an authentic traditional repertoire for the new liturgical directions in the Church. They are making simple, singable, functional music to suit the nature of ecclesial ritual for a Church which went through various convulsions after the Second Vatican Council.

It’s an amazing article.

16 Replies to “James MacMillan decides to “stop writing congregational music for the Catholic Church””

  1. MacMillan is taking a stand for Roman Catholic culture, and against "contemporary-ism," which has no root in Catholic culture.

    As he states, the cultural endowment of The Church offers "simple, singable, functional music to suit the nature of ecclesial ritual for a Church… [there is the] thoughtful realisation that the Church already has a vast store of simpler Gregorian melodies, the antiphons of the Divine Office. These may be paired with the Proper text to form a new unity, with the authenticity of a true, ancient, Gregorian melody… easy and lovely to sing…sung to chant by all without the help of a choir."

    The opposite happens at Mass every Sunday – like last Sunday – when the liturgy committee selected 1 of the 3 confusing options for "THE mystery of faith" and put it to yet another unknown contemporary mystery melody. The result – the faithful are stuck without either words or music – what emanates is MUSH. What a poverty we are offering our children and young people – a Church with no cult or culture.

    All I can say is: Come on MacMillans of the world!

  2. Appreciate his support for the SEP. I would make it mandatory for three years to re-train Catholics in the art of singing chant. We've tried Graduale Parvum but it is not my favourite. Some of the work being done by the Benedictines at Ampleforth is much nicer and John Ainslee is also trying his hand at vernacular chant. We must be careful, however, or we run the risk of having too much variety to choose from. Best to use the Latin where possible, the SEP and perhaps one or two other options so that we gain a sense of unity of worship again.

  3. How many Americans have been to Mass in the UK? Do you have any British Catholic hymnals in your collections? Those hymnals – all of there – are very specifically "hymnals". They have only hymn, in both Latin and English. But there are no Ordinaries given. First, the choir typically sings them. Many of our American Bishops disbanded choirs back in the 1970s, and forced the congregations to sing everything – to the new ICEL texts exclusively. This didn't happen in England. We lost so much ground, both in repertoire AND in traditions that we will never be able to regain. OTOH, Brits know their chant! Everywhere I visited the "Salve Regina" was chanted. One cathedral I visited had the congregation chant only the Credo – CREDO I, not Credo III! And they sang it from text only in their worship aid – NO MUSIC! I felt so at home!

  4. Steve, you must have been very selective in where you went to Mass in the UK. In most parishes the four-hymn sandwich prevails (with a mixture of traditional and modern hymns), chant is unknown (few priests attempt the missal chants) and attempts to introduce it incur vociferous hostility from certain sections of the congregation, mostly middle-aged or elderly.

    In the USA more parishes can afford to pay musicians (although this is no guarantee that the music they programme will be any good) and an added problem is that many of them regard themselves as liturgical experts who want to "make" liturgy rather than serve it.

  5. "…they are creating an authentic traditional repertoire for the new liturgical directions in the Church."

    I get the sentiment, but really, one does not create tradition. It is for future generations to decide what will stand the test of authenticity and prove traditional.

  6. The Graduale Parvum has the option of Latin, includes the interlectionary chants and can be used for the Extraordinary Form. So it is aimed at a slightly different market from the SEP.

  7. If you said "there is too much mediocre music being created and accepted by bigger publishers of sacred liturgical music…" I would totally agree. There is always room for more good music and good music just isn't that common or easy to create. To write "the vast repository is being ignored.." presumes that it shouldn't be ignored. If my pen was honest with itself, perhaps I would say much of it should be ignored on the grounds that 1) monasticism does not and will never work in many churches on the parish level because the style of music should always fit the space. e.g. a praise band would not do well in a very reverberant room. 2) there is no real ethical or theological basis which would require any style of music in particular. I would assert that main basis should always have more to do with sensitivity to the prevailing resources, present culture and customs of the people in the community as well as those gifted with leadership in music ministry. It is repugnant to Christian principles to impose upon the assembly that which does not take these into account.

  8. Jim:
    Part 1:
    1. Your 1st reason doesn't make any sense – chant has been sung in temples and churches for millennia.
    2. Your 2nd reason "no real ethical or theological basis [for] any style of music in particular" is beside the point. The point is that there is a "Roman Catholic cultural / cultic basis" for promoting and maintaining this endowment. endowment of liturgical music should
    3. Your 3rd point – the "main basis should always have more to do with sensitivity to the prevailing resources, present culture and customs of the people in the community as well as those gifted with leadership in music ministry" is an appeal to "contemporary-ism" – and an axiomatic rejection of cult/culture that grows organically from the heart of The Church. It is an outright exclusion of Catholic resources, Catholic culture and Catholic customs – and as attested by Catholic musicians in the 1960s-70s – there was no such sensitivity, much less respect – for the musical culture or the gifted musicians that were simply ousted from their ministry by the "spirit-of-V2" machine.

  9. Part 2 –
    4. Your 4th point – "It is repugnant to Christian principles to impose upon the assembly that which does not take these into account." – This is nothing more than a presumption in favor of contemporary-ism, which is not a part of Catholic ideology. The demanding nature of contemporary-ism, rather than being content to share in the growth and cultivation of musical tradition – crowds out everything, and asserts itself as a "new tradition" – which is an absurd contradiction.

  10. News Flash!: Jesus, the efficacy of his teachings, and basic Christian principles in general transcend and do not rely upon the cultivation of much of Roman Catholic culture, ideology, or tradition comforting as they may be. Disregarding the indignation of many of those in the pews for whom the grand sounds of 'old school' church, along with living intellectually in the middle ages is a reminder of things about church history that are perhaps not so wonderful, and forcing these things merely out of a duty to tradition, is, to repeat, repugnant to Christian values.

  11. Jim:

    Part 1 – You are diminishing your own argument by "seasoning' it with a disdainful comments like "News Flash" and "comforting" and "living intellectually in the middle ages." Attacking the other is very often an indication that one's argument is too weak to defend.

    The argument for the contemporary flows from the view that worship (cult) should flow from popular culture, which is a "reversal" of the concept of culture by "contemporary" ideology, since culture in a nation flows from cult.

  12. Part 2 – I often see people of "Contemporary-ism" make warnings against "disregarding indignation of those in the pews" who "don't like "old school." But in my 57 yrs, I have seen and heard witness of the universal disregard that "Contemporary-ites" have for the other people in the pews, and like-minded musicians, who know and love liturgical art and music that transcends time, rather than the current repertoire largely anchored in the "1970s-80s." While I do understand that all people, including especially Catholic people, owe a duty to tradition, that sense of duty flows from a font of love for what is beautiful and transcendant. To echo back your own strong words Jim – it is quite regugnant to hear the "Our Father" sung at mass to the tune of "As Tears Go By" by the Rolling Stones. And it is difficult to take your counter claims seriously, when your argument is mainly negative, and the repertoire defended is replete with things that millions of faithful Catholic people find repugnant.

  13. Part 3 – Because Beauty is a pathway to Goodness and Truth – it is IN FACT essential to maintain and cultivate the beautiful endowment of Roman Catholic culture passed down by hand (tradition) from one faithful generation to the next, connecting us to those brothers and sisters in Christ who have "gone before us marked with the sign of faith," and in that way, transcending time itself (a reach toward The Trinity).

    There is no age of men that is morally superior – high intellect is an achievement in every generation, and vast ignorance abounds in each as well. The drama of virtue and vice is played again and again. And for every atrocity, brutalization and betrayal registered in the bronze age, there is added full measure the same, whether in the Middle Ages, the so-called "Enlightenment," the 20th C, and the web of corruption we call now.

  14. Part 4 – As to Monasticism – while contributing members and the people who follow Chant Café are not calling for a universal retreat into Monasteries – we do acknowledge that the only reason that The Faith survived the centuries of pagan onslaught in the 1st millennium is that the Monasteries kept re-iterating the Bible, The Gospel, the Liturgy and its musical transmission (Chant) – over and over and over again – despite invasion-after-invasion, and all the atrocities heaped upon the faithful.

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