James MacMillan: TLM not the “usual trendy rubbish” (Fr. Z rants)

James MacMillan Seven Last WordsThe fine composer James MacMillan (who wrote music for the Papal Visit to the UK and who also has a superb Seven Last Words) has comments about his participation at a TLM in Amsterdam.

My emphases and comments.

April 6th, 2011 15:48
An Extraordinary Form Mass in Amsterdam – much more inspiring than the usual trendy rubbish

I was in Amsterdam last week, conducting at the Concertgebouw. I found out that the FSSP (Priestly Fraternity of St Peter) have a thriving parish there, in the Sint-Agneskerk. I went along on Sunday for their beautiful Extraordinary Form liturgy. The Dutch church is a wasteland/joke/disaster area because of 30 years of liberalism. Basically there are no Catholics left here! Or so it seems sometimes, thanks to the usual rubbish. Thankfully there are some younger, faithful Catholics willing to swim against the tide. [I knew a couple Dutch priests in Rome and they said the same thing, with deep sorrow.]

I’m still a bit of a novice when it comes to the EF – Sunday’s was my third – but I am struck each time by just how devotional the atmosphere is, even on entering the church. Everything seems focused on the tabernacle. [Do I hear an "Amen!"?] There is a palpable presence of God, which tends to be missing from a lot of churches now, which feel more like Glasgow Central station than a house of prayer.

In the FSSP’s Amsterdam church there was a veritable tsunami of mantillas on display! [If women don't think these things make an impression on men... hah!  I laugh.  Again... hah!  And let us not now divert the conversation in the combox about this single point, which I can already feel some people will try to do.  They will say "I know I am not supposed to bring this up but..."... followed by my deleting you.] There is a liberal argument in Holland which is opposing the government’s crackdown on Islamic women wearing the hijab/niqab/burka. Those same liberals who would have a fit if they saw a mantilla in a Catholic church, no doubt!

I certainly got the impression that the people present on Sunday were being helped enormously in their faith, much of which has been swept away in Holland. Many ethnic/immigrant faces in evidence. It reminded me of the Newman Beatification Mass at Cofton Park. Compared to this, the anti-Pope demonstrations in London looked terribly white and middle-class. Just like most opponents of Rome, outside and inside the Church.  [I think it was James Joyce who described the Church as "here comes everyone".]

“Ah, but we can’t go back to the past,” we hear the usual ageing handwringers cry. But the past is the past, and has no bearing any more on the new impetus to sort out the liturgy. [I am not quite sure what he means here and I am not sure I can go along with this.  The past does provide a "bearing".  If we don't know where we have been, we can't chart a course for the future.  A composer will know this.  Thus, I am not quite sure what he was driving at.  I'll take this up again, below, where there may be a clue.] Latin Mass can be in the EF and the Novus Ordo – that’s the beauty of Latin, and that’s why the Devil (let alone the Tabletistas) hates it!

Oh but where is the active participation in the Latin Mass?” cry the liberal killjoys. But lay involvement is clearly possible to the fullest extent in the EF or Latin Novus Ordo. [As a real composer, MacMillan is going to have a clearer sense of active participation as interiorly active receptivity.  Listening is a profound dimension of active participation, and it is also a difficult dimension.] In the three EF liturgies I have attended in the last year, the assembly sang much, much more than one ever sees or hears in a Glasgow “Mass-for-Daily-Record-Man” or its depressing equivalent up and down the country. Everything from the Asperges Me, through the Kyrie, Sanctus and all the Dominus vobiscum/et cum spiritu tuos – sung by EVERYBODY. There is no point in using the past, pre-Vatican II practice as a weapon against the inevitable. [The key word here is "inevitable".  That, friends, is worthy of important conversation.] None of the young Catholics now committed to good liturgy have any idea what the old curmudgeons are going on about when they moan about the bad old days. [Do I hear an "Amen!"?] Their bad memories are irrelevant and have no bearing at all on the push for improvements. [There is the word "bearing" again. Perhaps that is what he was driving at, above, with his comment about the past.] And these improvements will have a bearing on both forms the Mass, especially the English vernacular, I’m sure. [Indeed.]

Even the readings – chanted in Latin – were understood by everyone, because we had the translations in Dutch and English in our bulletins. [NB!] I have never felt so participatory. [There it is.] These “readings” were heightened and holier because they were sung, and in an elevated tongue. The whole experience was sublime – ie, the way it should be every week in the Novus Ordo, and will be again once the Reform of the Reform has been won. Much better this than the usual lackadaisical mumbling and stumbling that we usually get, with all the right-on social/political messages thrown in for good measure. The only bit of the Mass I didn’t understand on Sunday was the homily, in the vernacular – Dutch.

I want to return to a point, in that last paragraph.  I an an anecdote, the plural of which, as we know, is “data”.

When I was a seminarian, assigned to a parish for “pastoreal”, as they called it, experience, I was asked to work on music for the Triduum with a very good parish musician and a then-seminarian from the local minor seminary (who participates on this blog, btw).  After clearing it with the pastor we did the Good Friday Passion sung in Latin with the old books and slight adaptations so the texts matched the Novus Ordo.   After the liturgy, at the back of the church, I was set upon by Just-Call-Me-Maggie man-hating wymynpryst-type harpy nun in plainclothes – not even a lapel pin – who berated me in front of people for having denied everyone the chance to participate in the Passion.  Since this was in front of parishioners, I went on offense.  I turned to a family heading out of church, with children, and quizzed them, asking if they had been disturbed by the Latin sung Passion.  On the contrary, they paid closer attention because it was so much more interesting than they way it is usually done.  I asked a boy, probably 10-12 years old, if he was able to follow it.  No problem, he responded, he just followed in the booklet.  He meant the regular missalette, which of course did not have Latin.  How did he know what was being said?  He could tell where they were when the different people started to sing.  No problem.  He just read along.

People are smart. If you dumb everything down, they will be liturgically as dumb as the stuff you give them.  Raise the level, and they will rise as well.

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29 Responses to James MacMillan: TLM not the “usual trendy rubbish” (Fr. Z rants)

  1. contrarian says:

    “People are smart. If you dumb everything down, they will be liturgically as dumb as the stuff you give them.”

    Spot on. It’s patronizing, ultimately.

    This sort of news out of Amsterdam is so inspiring and encouraging. Awesome stuff.

  2. De Tribulis says:

    “I have never felt so participatory.”

    Yes! Exactly! I am never so utterly, irresistibly drawn into the proceedings at the altar at a Novus Ordo Mass as I am at the TLM. All those things we’re always being told exclude the laity — “unintelligible” Latin, clear division between the sanctuary and the nave, no lay readers etc., priest not facing the people — the only thing they exclude is the distractions of the world, the more easily to let us focus on Christ.

  3. benedetta says:

    Yes. “Amen” to this, absolutely. How do young people still read Shakespeare, Chaucer, Milton, Dante? Joyce and Gertrude Stein, for that matter. How do professionals read statutes, regulations, computer code and technical writing, medical journals? Active, interior, listening and active cognitive response. Which can also be affective and emotive. Which can include intellect, aesthetic sense, ethics or moral judgment, and all of the virtues. Prayer is still about conversation, relationship, and communion, whether in Mandarin or in Latin. Latin can unify across cultures and languages. I think close attention should be paid to this composer’s experience.

  4. jaykay says:

    “These “readings” were heightened and holier because they were sung, and in an elevated tongue. The whole experience was sublime – ie, the way it should be every week in the Novus Ordo, and will be again once the Reform of the Reform has been won”.

    Yes!! People do respond. As a choir member, when we re-introduced a plainchant Ordinary and sang the Missa Orbis Factor, a number of people expressed their enthusiasm to me and other choir members. These included a number of young people including my hyper-cool 20-year-old niece (rarely seen, unfortunately, within church premises these days) so they weren’t all “nostalgics” looking back to 40+ years ago.

    “Much better this than the usual lackadaisical mumbling and stumbling that we usually get…”

    And how ofter have we heard the TLM caricatured as just this – yet they have now turned themselves into precisely that which they mock! Although, on reflection, I suppose I don’t blame any priest for stumbling through the awful turgidity of the current versions.

    Sunday 27th November – you can’t come soon enough!

  5. irishgirl says:

    Spot on to both Mr. MacMillan and to you, Father Z! I like how you ‘got back’ at the liberal ‘nun’!Way to go!

  6. Rich0116 says:

    “People are smart. If you dumb everything down, they will be liturgically as dumb as the stuff you give them. Raise the level, and they will rise as well. ”

    Amen, father! As a teacher (of Latin, natch) I swim against a similar tide with all my requirements for memorization, retention, reproduction, and application, never mind the highfalutin’ stuff I have my students reading (9th graders considering Sallust’s notions of how humans have to strive throughout their lives to rise above being considered merely beasts – pecora or beluae. Good stuff!). The response from the students and their families is almost universally positive and that sustains me through endless meetings about this or that new fad or about how we have to work to “connect” with our students in “authentic” ways that allow them to “express themselves as individuals” and so on. Humbug! Give them a little elevation and watch how far they rise!

  7. Fr. A.M. says:

    The situation of the Catholic Church in the Low Countries is very serious, but there are still Catholics there. A few dioceses have still a lot of good Catholic priests and laity, and at least one (possibly two) seminaries are reasonably good, with excellent seminarians. The recent Pontifical Mass celebrated by Archbishop Leonard in Brussels was a momentous occasion for Belgium, and the church was full. Most of the priests and religious there were from the Dutch-speaking area of Belgium (‘Flanders’) or Holland. Good men are gradually getting through the seminaries, but pray for them and those priests, religious (and religious houses) and laity who are doing their best to live, and spread, the Catholic Faith.

  8. bbmoe says:

    This is a little coincidental: I was at the Newman Beatification in Cofton Park, and then went to Amsterdam where my hotel was 2 bus stops away from Sint-Agneskerk, where I went to my second EF mass. Since I went to a weekday mass, they held it off to the side in an area that was evidently meant to a chapel or an alcove dedicated to the Blessed Mother.

    My experience was pretty dismal, but I don’t blame anyone or anything: it was just too foreign. The Latin was easier to make out than the Dutch for me, but most of the mass was entirely inaudible, so I had no idea what was going on for the most part. When there were responses, I could discern the words at all. The small group was mostly immigrant, as Mr. McMillan describes.

    One thing should be noted, however, and that is that Catholicism was suppressed for centuries in the Netherlands and when it was finally legal to worship openly, it was only a few decades before the dark night of secularism settled in. I say this because the lack of Catholics now is in keeping with history. I believe Sint-Agneskerk was built “between the wars,” and was closed for a period of time in the latter half of the 20th century, then reopened by the FSSP. It’s rather interesting architecturally, but in disrepair. It also has the ugliest representation of the Blessed Mother I ever hope to see, on a banner (ugh and double ugh.) Here are some pictures from NLM:
    http://feedproxy.google.com/~r/TheNewLiturgicalMovement/~3/KuzvpRSIQgU/other-modern-sint-agneskerk-st-agnes.html

  9. Centristian says:

    “The whole experience was sublime – ie, the way it should be every week in the Novus Ordo…”

    Amen.

    “…and will be again once the Reform of the Reform has been won.”

    Alleluia. Maranatha.

    There is a way of celebrating Mass, of particpating at Mass, of presenting the Mass that isn’t “EF” or “OF”, but which is simply “Catholic”. The two forms of Mass should really be more similar than different, and when the “OF” is celebrated well, that’s just what happens.

    The writer talks about the very atmosphere of the Church he visited. This, too, is something that should belong to every Catholic Church, any day of the week, regardless of which Missal is used in it. Upon entering any Catholic Church, a visitor should encounter silence. He should get a faint whiff of the incense and smell the wax of burning devotional candles. He should be sensible of enough clues to suggest to him that he is now in a sacred space, and in the presence of Divinity. His first instinct should not be to walk back out the door to make sure he read the sign right. There shouldn’t be a question as to whether or not one is standing in a Catholic Church. It should be plainly obvious.

    “There is a palpable presence of God, which tends to be missing from a lot of churches now, which feel more like Glasgow Central station than a house of prayer.”

    I think more churches still have that atmosphere than not (minus the whiff of incense), at least when you just pop in for a visit on the odd Tuesday or Thursday at a time when nobody is around, but then there are those churches that, by their very architecture, preclude that type of atmosphere, altogether.

    Churches like that aren’t like Catholic churches, even if they are Catholic churches. They aren’t the 24/7 House of God and home of the Christfaithful that Catholic churches are meant to be, they’re just venues at which regularly-scheduled liturgical events occur and which at other times are locked up and empty. You wouldn’t pop into a church like that on your lunch break, in any case, because that “Catholic” atmosphere doesn’t exist. They are just single-purpose structures without souls.

  10. amenamen says:

    @ “I was set upon by Just-Call-Me-Maggie man-hating wymynpryst-type harpy nun in plainclothes – not even a lapel pin ”

    Join the club.

  11. amenamen says:

    @ “I asked a boy, probably 10-12 years old, if he was able to follow it. No problem, he responded”

    Congratulations, for your quick thinking, and for relying upon the sensus fidelium, which is often stronger than we realize. Too often, dissidents go unchallenged when they claim to speak for “the People.” We might paraphrase another great John Paul (Jones, that is): We have met the People of God, and they are us, after all.

  12. Henry Edwards says:

    “I think more churches still have that atmosphere than not (minus the whiff of incense), at least when you just pop in for a visit on the odd Tuesday or Thursday”

    Unless the parish has a Sunday EF high Mass, at which they should use enough incense to last the whole week. Hmm . . . Maybe I’ll suggest this as our new criterion, the old one being that if the back-row trads can still see the altar, then not enough incense has been used.

  13. Nathan says:

    Henry Edwards: Maybe I’ll suggest this as our new criterion, the old one being that if the back-row trads can still see the altar, then not enough incense has been used.

    When I’m assigned to be thurifer at our local Missa Cantata , my allergy-prone daughter wants to go to another Mass solely because I use that criterion. It all goes back to years ago when I went to my first Solemn High Mass, where I sat in the front of the church, and it was a hot day with two large fans blowing from the sides of the sanctuary straight back toward me. After getting over the woozies, I think I smelled of incense for days.

    In Christ,

  14. People are smart. If you dumb everything down, they will be liturgically as dumb as the stuff you give them. Raise the level, and they will rise as well.

    What the dumbers-down are really saying is: “We want the liturgy to be dumbed down to our level!”

    They themselves do not appreciate, and are even repulsed, by the beauty of traditional Catholic worship. Otherwise, so far from trying to take it away, they would want everybody else to appreciate it.

  15. APX says:

    People are smart. If you dumb everything down, they will be liturgically as dumb as the stuff you give them. Raise the level, and they will rise as well.
    This is so true in many areas, not just liturgy. This makes me wonder if dumbing down the liturgy could actually be a form of spiritual sloth? I could be wrong, as it’s still a term somewhat foreign to me, but it does kind of seem borderline, or a catelyst perhaps? I don’t know, I just know how much the TLM has postively changed me compared to what I was experiencing before.

    @Henry Edwards
    Hmm . . . Maybe I’ll suggest this as our new criterion, the old one being that if the back-row trads can still see the altar, then not enough incense has been used.

    I think our parish goes by “if you can’t smell it in the hallway separating the church from the hall, then you’re not using enough incense.” There’s literally a cloud of incense wafting throughout the entire nave during the entire Mass. When I walked in on a Saturday night, I could still smell it from Sunday…even in the washroom. I love it!

  16. AnAmericanMother says:

    To paraphrase Lt. Col. Kilgore (Robert Duvall): “I love the smell of incense in the morning. It smells like . . . victory!”

  17. AnAmericanMother says:

    Just curious . . . did Sister Ocypete say anything, or did she slink off muttering imprecations?

  18. Ben Trovato says:

    Your story of the nun and the boy reminds me of one I was told years ago about a trendy nun extolling the virtues of the vernacular. To prove her point, she grabbed an altar boy (remember them) who was just leaving the church. ‘You,’ she said, ‘I bet you don’t even know what Kyrie eleison means!’ The boy replied: ‘Yes, sister, I do. It means Domine miserere nobis.’

  19. amenamen says:

    @ Sister Ocypete

    Just call me Ocypete

  20. AnAmericanMother says:

    Or Pete for short . . . .

  21. Dave N. says:

    Interesting article, though I’m not sure participation is a “feeling.” Seems to me that’s part of how we got to where we are today.

  22. pjthom81 says:

    I believe that what he is driving at by saying the past is the past and has no bearing is that the situation is not now nor can ever be what it was in…say…1958. I believe that he thinks that Vatican II’s documents on the liturgy were to try to solve problems with the liturgy in 1958. The critiques aimed at all of the Extraordinary Form’s return is that it will automatically return us to 1958 with all of its problems…thus producing the aging curmudgeons bewailing a lack of participation. He seems to suggest that now we have different liturgical problems, and that the Extraordinary form is the solution both in institution and in influence on the Ordinary form. He further suggests that the Extraordinary form is not now what it was in 1958, and is now fully participatory. This begs a question: If the Extraordinary form was reformed to a great degree so as to be more rich than it was in 1958 then does it follow that reinstituting this newer version (with apparently more participation) is what should be instituted everywhere? MacMillan seems to indicate that once the reform of the reform is won Ordinary vs. Extraordinary will not matter in terms of both reverence or participation, but the question still is begged.

  23. Dirichlet says:

    Thriving in Holland? Man, I knew the TLM was powerful, but wow!

    The FSSP delivers.

  24. Stephen Matthew says:

    I am all in favor of a reform of the reform, but I was not greatly impressed by the one and only TLM I ever attended, but then that TLM was just the sort the original liturgical movement seemed to have had in mind back when they got liturgical reform started the better part of a century ago. Even in such a basic form it was clear that the TLM has certain strong points even in its weaker moments. Yes, a reform of the reform is much called for, but please let us not make the missa privata the model of the ultimate and greatest liturgy, for only those of a certain spiritual outlook would ever be well served by that.

  25. Legisperitus says:

    It’s rather thought-provoking and more than a little disturbing that a nun, of any kind, apparently was eagerly looking forward to shouting, “Crucify Him! Crucify Him!”

  26. Regarding Oceypete and just call me oceypete and “Pete” – “Just call me Pete” was the name of my new pastor when I first entered the seminary – the one who replaced our saintly pastor who retired the summer before I entered! Oddly, Justcallmepete was my pastor all through seminary (7 years) after which time he moved on to another parish. We never had confrontations in the parish, because we never had ANY conversation – EVER, seriously! There wasn’t even conflict over my first Mass – because he didn’t bother to come! Sorry for the nonsequitur, but the comments above made me think of that.

  27. Phil_NL says:

    While often seen as the modern equivalent of Sodom and Gamorra (and Amsterdam often is, I readily admit), the situation here in the Netherlands isn’t as bad as some would believe. We’re actually a bit further down the road in terms of what Fr. Z tends to call ‘the biological solution’; the parishes that are making ends meet tend to be the more orthodox ones, and the long-haired-banjo-playing-call-me-Ed type of priest is all but gone as well. We aren’t completely rid of the far left, but pretty soon the majority will be quite decent. (as an aside, the stories I read on this blog suggest that the english-speaking world has far bigger problems in terms of the loons being found among the younger generations as well) Our bishops are markably improving too.

    In fact, the biggest threat to the faith here does not come from lefty liberalism anymore – that’s a force largely spent – , but the sharp rise of islam. Our big cities are quickly building majorities of first, second and third generation immigrants, and while some of them populate parishes like St. Agnes, the vast majority of those are muslim (not to mention largely failing to adapt to Dutch life).

  28. William A. Anderson says:

    It concerns me that even thoughtful and open-minded people like James McMillan, who have glimpsed the light of the TLM/EF, still feel it necessary to dis the “past, pre-Vatican II practice” as some sort of non-participatory wasteland.

    My experience, pre-Vatican II, was much more along the lines of Fr. Z’s informal Triduum survey. From the time I could read, I was significantly more participatory than I unfortunately became following Vatican II — and far more participatory than any of my children, despite my best efforts.

    Yes, singing is laudable and good, but it is not the only way that congregants participate. Even in the OF, the unreformed reformers have not (yet) dragooned us into singing our way through the Consecration (as we now do for the Offertory and Communion).

    Not all Masses need to be Solemn High (or even High). And even within a Mass with lots of singing, in English or in Latin, there should be some time in which personal, meditative prayer is encouraged. Missae privatae, with no singing, have their place too — for those who are striving to develop what Stephen Matthew derisively calls “a certain spiritual outlook.”

  29. kbf says:

    “Just-Call-Me-Maggie man-hating wymynpryst-type harpy nun in plainclothes ”

    I think you ought to have that printed on your next mug!