QUAERITUR: positive promotion of good practices rather than correction of abuses

From a reader:

You have posted numerous times regarding how to address issues of abuse within a parish in respect to how to compile evidence regarding said abuse, and by what channels to contact the local bishop or the prefect for the CDW.

My question is thus: what type of process should be taken to encourage the use of chant at Mass byt both the priest and “the Ministry”?

That is a good question.

I suppose you could argue that the denial of the people of God of the Gregorian chant the Council required is in itself a liturgical abuse.   That, of course, won’t get you too far.

I will also ask the readers to chime in on this.

However, I think that any time you want to start something “new” in a parish, you have to a) demonstrate that it is going to get support from lay people so the priest doesn’t have to do it all on his own, and b) provide the resources to get it done.

Provide the resources: If you want Gregorian chant, you have to have a schola which can sing it.  That will either require the use of the existing choir or the formation of another (unless you bring people in from outside).   So… form a schola.   Remember: there will be “turf” dynamics here.  In some parishes the music people are very touchy.  In some places the music people are paid.  Sharpen your diplomatic skills.

Demonstrate support: Try to get a sense of how many people would like to have chant.  You could start by talking about the Vatican II liturgical reforms and the relevant paragraphs.  I would avoid “canvassing”, since that will probably annoy the pastor (unless he is already on your side).

There will have to be some catechesis too, either before or while it is starting up.    You will also have to convince people a) that this is what the Church asked for b) that this is the real liturgical music of the Roman Church and c) it really isn’t that hard.

It is a very tall order getting something like this going.  Every parish setting has its own dynamics and characters.   One plan will not “fit all”.

That said, perhaps some people have the experience of getting something going.  Maybe they could be induced to offer their experience and observations.

This has been framed in terms of Gregorian chant, but perhaps some of the strategies here can be useful in other ways (i.e., promoting Communion on the tongue, bringing back an altar rail, moving to ad orientem worship, etc.).

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. Many parishes have a Christmas concert outside of Mass. Get a group of people to rehearse an appropriate set of chants and ask to get into the parish Christmas concert. There are many aids online. Listening to audio of the chosen chants can help those with a good ear to hear inflections and the like (it’s never enough just to get the notes right).

    If a pastor sees that the chant is well received, ask if it can be incorporated once a month. This gives a group of people several weeks to learn a set of chants, and the parish an opportunity to get use to having it. In time, I think the demand for it would go up as the schola grows in it’s ability to learn the new chants for each week.

    It’s just a thought.

  2. I would like to add, that the key is to find positive ways to bring these things into the parish as Father Z is suggesting.

    The other component in this is prayer. You have to pray for your pastor and for those whom he has delegated decision-making. Recruit the Blessed Mother in your efforts to win others over, no matter how impossible it may seem. She has a way of influencing people – LOL. At the same time, she gives to us the graces we need to be effective.

    While it is understandable that people would want to assert their rights. How it is done can make a big difference. Demands, hammering, finger-in-face, complaining – none of these are effective. If requests are met with rejection or indifference, either offer it up or try another parish.

  3. catholicmidwest says:

    There are a number of dimensions of the counsel to “positive promotion of good practices rather than correction of abuses.”

    When it comes to recognition that abuses occur, it’s necessary that people are aware that they do, and how to recognize them, and what they might do about them. The fact is that some abuses are misguided attempts to do good by ignorant people, and many abuses gain traction because people don’t want to call them out or do anything about them to avoid hurting feelings (doing good, right?) So exhorting people to do good may only produce more abuses of the same kind. One must realize this.

    To wit, I see in another thread where someone was encouraged to engage in a device called “telescoping” as a way to use the mass texts in a particular way. It may be that some of the primary proponents of this, the teachers or academics, were bent on mischief, but most of the people taught, the seminarians, were not. They were only trying to help. Yet later, much later, some of them find out it is a mass abuse. See what I mean? They were only trying to do good. But it wasn’t good. Many abuses, although not all, are of this type.

    As to your points, Fr Z and Diane, for sure, an appropriate and licit positive promotion is better than a call-out anytime. But that said, it’s often not all that easy to get such a promotion, AND it’s often not exactly clear what a “good” promotion might be in many parishes. The definition of the “good” is at stake here, and that’s a big part of the problem. What is “the good?” It’s disputed, you know. Is the “good” proper worship? Is the “good” bringing people into the church, no matter what? Is the “good” making people feel inspired or “holy” in church? What exactly is it?

    Yes, I have my own views and they’re well supported by church teaching, but until the church makes this more clear to more people by all the avenues she has, it’s hard to say how something “good” can be implemented parish by parish without confusion and that’s really at the heart of the problem.

    Note: We have this parish near where I live that allows a certain priest to sing a solo between the consecration and the Agnus Dei. It’s an anthem that emphasizes that Holy Communion is the Blood of Christ, but nevertheless, it’s not supposed to be there. He says he’s only trying to teach, which he regards as a “good,” but does this really belong in the liturgy that way? Many people like it because it makes them feel “holy.” Does he have the license to do that? I think not. In fact, I know he doesn’t. It’s illicit and it’s a mass abuse. He won’t listen to that because of his motivations which are the only thing he can see.

  4. Fr. Basil says:

    \\ In some places the music people are paid\\

    However, in very few parishes is this the case. Thomas Day has opined in his classic work WHY CATHOLICS CAN’T SING that this is one reason why the music is frequently so bad: many churches simply don’t want to pay to hire competent choir directors or organists.

  5. ray from mn says:

    The biggest abuse at almost every parish is the nearly 100% reception of Holy Communion by the congregation in parishes that have miniscule Confession opportunities and lines.

    I would think that the Communion Fast from food before reception should be increased from one hour to three hours. This would make it much more likely that many parishioners would not be able to keep the fast and if they were adequately catechized, they would not want to receive Communion.

    This should be announced by the celebrant immediately before Communion in every Mass for several years before the habit of sacrilegious reception can be minimized. [A similar announcement is generally given at Christmas and Easter Masses and at marriages and other events where large numbers of non-Catholics might be present].

    Ushers should cease guiding communicants “row by row” up to the front. Let them go up as they want, or don’t want. Then it won’t be so conspicuous if some don’t receive, putting an end to idle speculations as to which mortal sin ones neighbor or pew-mate had committed.

    Confession opportunities must then be increased for parishioners to more than just 30-60 minutes before the Saturday Vigil Mass.

  6. Bryan Boyle says:

    And even when we do…with a half way decent choir…we end up with the 4-hymn sandwich week after week, and in this penitential season, the happy clappy (with clapping and swaying back and forth by the choir) faux-spiritual ditty for the recessional. What was it that Papa Benedict said…when we start clapping to the music, the reason for the liturgy has lost its focus and has turned inward towards the human dimension vice the divine. Or thoughts to that effect?

    Forgettable song…was, IIRC, #621 in this year’s OCP ‘music issue’. ICK. ICK. ICK. It took what was, up to this point, a pretty decent service and turned it on its ear.

    Suffering the white martyrdom week after week….here in the central NJ wilderness.

  7. AnAmericanMother says:

    Even a four-hymn sandwich (which a lot of members of this parish expect) can be a pretty decent sandwich, even if not filet mignon . . . . during Advent “O Come O Come Emanuel” is always sung, with the original John Neale translation from the 1940 Episcopal Hymnal (I promise that was purely a coincidence, I had nothing whatsoever to do with it). I could have lived without the Marian hymn to the tune of “Amazing Grace” – but at least it WASN’T “Amazing Grace”. And “People Look East”, while the words are not that traditional, has a lovely French carol for a tune (and Eleanor Farjeon at least was a decent poet). Can’t remember the fourth hymn of the sandwich, it may have been skipped as sometimes happens if the Offertory anthem runs long. Offertory was the Hans Hassler “Dixit Maria” and Communion was the Biebl “Ave Maria” as we finally have enough men to sing it properly.

    Of course, sometimes you get a dirt sandwich (“Eagles Wings” and “Here I Am Lord, Here’s Your Pizza” are not entirely unknown around here), but you can’t have everything. As long as we’re reducing the number of awful OCP hymns and adding decent traditional ones, I will not complain. That is a move in the right direction.

  8. AnAmericanMother says:


    Which hymn was that? We don’t do OCP – we have Liturgical Press, which if you pick and choose can be pretty decent. What is it though about the tacky woodcuts? Who decreed that those should be in every missalette?

  9. david andrew says:

    May I also suggest paying a visit to the forum board at http://www.musicasacra.com. There you will find a group of dedicated men and women who are doing just what you’re talking about, that is, re-establishing the pride of place of Gregorian chant and sacred polyphony in the liturgies of the Roman rite.

  10. James III says:

    As a professional church musician for over 50 years, I might offer a tip or two. I’ve reintroduced Catholic congregations to the awe and beauty of chant and introduced it into the liturgy of several non-Catholic parishes. It is always well-received.

    1. Train your singers well before attempting.
    2. Make sure that they know the correct pronunciation of liturgical Latin.
    3. Make sure that they know that the rhythm of the words guides the music and not the other way ’round. (It is the ultimate music in service to the word, followed only by Oxford chant and both should be at the rate of normal speech).
    4. Start with one thing. The introduction of a Gregorian Introit by choir members from the rear each Sunday is a good start.
    5. The Credo is a good place to begin the congregation’s involvement. Do it every Mass.
    6. Print bulletin inserts with the chants in stemless treble staff notation.

  11. RichardT says:

    Don’t assume that you will have no support in the congregation. If you start chant, there will be others (probably many others) who will approve. Supporters of awful modern music can often be just a vocal (although hardy tuneful) minority. Unfortunately few people will put their heads above the parapet to support you.

  12. gatorchant says:

    In some instances, going the concert route may generate interest. Or even find a way to host a workshop to teach people from the congregation how to do it. Most importantly, though, I would try to find the schola who is going to sustain this effort. Even after the proper catechesis, if the group is bad (or non-existent), all that trouble might not seem worth it to the parish. No pressure.

    I would also like to second the suggestion of prayer. I have been praying for opportunities such as this, and just this past month I had two conversations about presenting chant workshops, one for liturgical musicians in Florida and another for youth in Louisiana. Continue to pray that God will prepare the way for a renewal in sacred music at your parish!

  13. William says:

    Organist, ask father if it would be okay for you to play the first verse of “Veni Creator Spiritus” right after he reads the Gospel. If he says okay, the camel’s snoot is under the tent! Play it at each and every Mass and sing along. Run off copies of the music and leave in the pews for the folks so they, too, will sing along. Be sure to copy “Come Holy Ghost” on the reverse side, indicating that it’s the English translation (well, sort of). Just for relief, sing instead the English “Come Holy Ghost” verse every now and then. Sing the one verse only, followed by an”Amen” so father can get right to his homily. Give it a few months and then gradually introduce similar chants or chant-like offerings. It works, I do it. Hey, a journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step.

  14. Denis Crnkovic says:

    We tried all of this a few years ago. The new pastor and newly ordained deacon hounded the choir director[s], and especially the new Gregorian schola, right out of town. We are now left with the most lacklustre of music. I am now too old to try to start over. I used to have a nice singing voice which is now gone after years of disuse. Please, those of you in the younger generation, reintroduce the good stuff. Some of us have spent our whole lives waiting for the intonation “Oremus. Flectamus genua. Levate” to return to our churches. It is too late for those of us who have suffered fifty years of liturgical cr**, but it is not too late for you. If you spend even half the amount of time some of us did desperately trying to preserve the great Catholic musical traditions — keeping our Latin alive, learnng chants for the closet, reading and praying — you will be more than successful.

  15. Fr_Sotelo says:

    You have to see if your pastor is supportive. If after explaining your points and the mind of the Church, he is not supportive, then go knock on another door at another parish. Sometimes, that means searching out a parish that might not be overall to your taste but nonetheless has a dearth of music and whose pastor would be open to chant. You need to find a competent musician who is amicable and has the time to pour into numerous practices.

    Make the announcements yourself at all the Masses if need be, invited and cajoling parishioners, and then treat them well if they show up for practice. Be prepared for the fact that in some parishes, you simply aren’t going to get anywhere, and nothing in particular is to blame, except that the people there just don’t care to support that kind of a musical apostolate. There is simply nothing more difficult in many parishes than forming a decent choir, even when you have a good musician/director and a supportive pastor. That’s just reality.

  16. BrRyan says:

    I suggest, as a start, buying several copies of Iubilate Deo, a thin book of simple chants that every parish should know. It was published by the Vatican in response to Vatican II’s reaffirmation of the importance of chant in the western liturgy. Then, with a cohort of interested folks, learn them all, really well. Many of them will already be familiar, and many can be heard online (YouTube, etc.). You have to know them well enough that you can carry the tunes even when others are making mistakes.

    Then refer the pastor to the Council’s document Sacrosanctum Concilium, paragraphs 116 and 117, and ask politely if your little group can start leading the congregation in some simple chants at one of the masses (maybe there’s one that doesn’t currently have a choir). Little by little, according to your abilities, you can start adding more difficult chants (Introits, etc.).

    And of course, pray. Pray to the Holy Spirit, to Saint Cecilia, and to Saint Gregory the Great. Pray as you research, as you practice, when you approach the pastor, and when you sing in Church. God will bless you for making a sincere effort to do as the Church clearly desires.

  17. The Parish Book of Chant was recently published and is specifically intended to introduce Gregorian chant into regular parish life. You can find it here: http://musicasacra.com/pbc/.

  18. wolfeken says:

    ” In some parishes the music people are very touchy.”


    On a more serious note, it is also a good idea, in my opinion, to encourage the singing to come from the choir loft (or Roman choir area) instead of the congregation. If there is little incentive for a guy to show up for rehearsals and learn and prepare quality Gregorian chant, then a parish is always going to be stuck with the congregation singing Missa de Angelis and Credo III. There are nearly two dozen chant settings of the ordinary and at least six versions of the Credo. Start with the easier ones (Orbis Factor and Credo I) but don’t stop there.

    The hard part is finding men who will be reliable and good — but it can be done everywhere and anywhere, from a big city to a mission in Africa, as there is ample existing evidence.

  19. jplsr says:

    Assuming the pastor is interested in chant, but is worried about a backlash, the solution is to introduce it gradually. At our parish, the schola sings Latin chant (ordinaries and sometimes propers) at the usual English Mass at 7:00 am on Sunday. We are getting many favorable comments, espcially since we are gradually improving. Our parish also has the Extraordinary Form (usus antiquor) on first and third Sundays in our little old church on the same grounds.

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