Gregorian chant v. folk music. A parish in Toronto. Fr. Z rants.

Pope Benedict has proposed what I have called his “Marshall Plan” to renew Catholic identity.  This must involve a reading of the Second Vatican Council in continuity with all the other Councils, not as a point of rupture.  That goes for our liturgical worship, which is a sine qua non for Catholic Christian living.

Gregorian Chant was specified by the Council as the Church’s sacred liturgical music, first and foremost.

Who are we if we ignore that?

Some bits from a longish piece in Canada’s National Post with my emphases and comments:

In the search for the Voice of God, some believe Gregorian chants are preferable to folk music

Charles Lewis  Apr 22, 2011

When Philip Fournier sings a line of Gregorian chant, it hangs like a puff of smoke in the air before it slowly dissipates above the empty pews below.

The sound, listening to it live from a distance of just several inches away in the choir loft at St. Vincent de Paul Parish in Toronto, is ancient, elemental. The sound originates in his abdomen — a line of text that flows out like a wave, sung in tones that are dark and rich. The words are in Latin. It is not a song so much as prayer that is sung. [Exactly.]

Mr. Fournier, with his ragged sweater and perpetual five o’clock shadow, is part of a small cadre of traditionalists for whom singing Gregorian chant is an attempt to restore what they see as the real music of the Catholic Church [They are in good company.  The Second Vatican Council also thought that.] — sounds that go back to the time when King David sang psalms in the temple.

If they had their way, they would storm the parish churches and hurl all the guitars and drums into the street because they believe substituting modern music for ancient music has eroded worship. [Do I hear an “Amen!”?  I remember the old quip that the true renewal of the liturgy will begin with the breaking of the last guitar over the head of the last ex-nun minister of Holy Communion.  Facetious, I know.  Some guitars are very valuable and have their proper place.]

“Rather than work with our tradition, they took the easy way out,” said Mr. Fournier, who was raised in Maine and has been the director of music at St. Vincent de Paul for three years. “I have been repulsed by what I have experienced in the Church. Going to mass should be more profound and of a greater depth than what you experience day to day.” [Do I hear another “Amen!”?]

He grew up in the 1980s, when folk masses and other forms of “music of the moment” were the norm. “At the time I knew it was weak and didn’t match the little I knew about the faith.”

Now, Mr. Fournier works with both lay singers and seminarians who attend the nearby Oratory of St. Philip Neri — a 400-year-old congregation of priests and brothers who have always incorporated sacred music into the liturgy. The Oratory oversees both St. Vincent de Paul and Holy Family.

David Domet, another Toronto choirmaster who has worked with several parishes, said Catholics have been so disconnected from sacred music that they no longer understand the richness of their own tradition. [“Amen!”?]

“Gregorian chant as we have it today is the closest thing we know to what Jesus would have sung and heard himself in the Temple in Jerusalem,” he said. [That could very well be true.  In any event, Jesus would not have heard “Gather Us In”… except perhaps during the time He spent in the harrowing of Hell.]

The appeal of Gregorian chant is undeniable. During a service, it adheres itself to the mass — moving with it hand in hand in perfect harmony.  [When Chant CD’s are released they not rarely make it onto the popular music charts.]


He began the choir five years ago out of a desire to create more authentic Catholic music, but also to flee “the drivel” he was hearing in some of his neighbourhood churches.

The priests at the parish were not initially thrilled about having Gregorian chant brought into their church. [It’s almost always the clergy and religious who are the dinosaurs.]

“One priest said, ‘This is all archaic. We don’t want to be Catholic icicles frozen in another time,’ ” Mr. Mundra recalled. [He would rather be, what… a drip?]

“You have beautiful architecture, beautiful music, beautiful windows — the evidential power of beauty,” he said. “All human beings respond to beauty. So you also need beautiful music.” [The key word there is “beautiful”.  But he left out another key word “sacred”.]

Now the choir is flourishing. The number of people in the pews for the Saturday evening service is up, and the choir has solidified into a unit.

Even Mr. Mundra’s mother, Marie, has joined the choir.

She, too, had longed for music that matched the holiness of worship. She had been a Carmelite nun years ago and was eager to regain some of the reverence of worship.

“We went to mass one day as a family and we heard all this terrible secular music. And then going home we heard sacred music on the radio,” she said, laughing at the recollection. “There are people out there who want to hear this, but they are not being given a chance. This will be the music we will hear in heaven.”

National Post

I cut a few large chunks out.  Read the whole article there.

This, friends, is the key to the NEW EVANGELIZATION.

We must renew our liturgical worship.  Liturgy is doctrine is daily life.

WDTPRS KUDOS to this parish in Toronto!

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. mattmcg says:

    Philip Fournier! He arranged the music for our traditional rite wedding mass in Portland Maine a few years ago. Lots of Byrd, Lassus and Palestrina. He was excellent. How nice to hear he is doing wonderful things in Toronto!

  2. medievalist says:

    I’m not sure of the clerical arrangements at this parish (perhaps the Oratorians simply have use of the Church at times) but this is one of the few parishes in Toronto with weekly provision of the Extraordinary Form. Not sure where the previous clerical “resistance” to chant would have come from, but today the Masses are well attended and reverent, the altar boys well trained, and the choir very much appreciated.

  3. UncleBlobb says:

    I don’t know if you get tired of hearing this Fr. Z, but thank you so much for this. It lights a candle in the darkness for me.

  4. AmyJeanne says:

    Yay Phil! He was the choir director and organist at our cathedral parish in Maine, and he did such an amazing job. We were devastated when he left. So glad to hear he’s still doing great things!

  5. RichR says:

    In College Station, TX, the Brazos Valley Schola Cantorum always stands ready to offer Gregorian chant for any Masses that request it. We’re an all-male group that has resources for a Latin OF or EF Mass, and we generate our own worship aids to allow maximum participation by the faithful. The people typically respond very favorably. I imagine this parish in the post above gets much the same response.

    My experience has been that a parish’s openness to Gregorian chant is directly proportional to its average level of catechesis. The more people trust the traditional doctrines of the church, the more they trust the traditional worship. Conversely, if you find a parish that is hostile to chant, you can almost always go to it’s RCIA or RE classes and find a meager diet of doctrinal pablum.

  6. Young Canadian RC Male says:

    Sorry to put a downer on this Father, but St. VDP and the Oratory run Holy family church are really the only ones allowing scholas like this in Toronto because they have the indulted TLM and/or the TLM there. Those are the only two central GTA parishes with TLMs and they take a while by transit to get to. Una Voce Toronto tried to get a new base for a TLM going with the FSSP in Scarborough, but it didn’t work out in the end and we lost the FSSP priest (mind you Archbishop Collins should have paid more attention to this). You will not find this anywhere else till TLMs fill our decrepit city once again. You will however find a few TLMs scattered outside of the GTA east, west, and north.

    RichR, sadly I agree with you on what you say.

  7. amenamen says:

    @ One priest said, ‘This is all archaic. We don’t want to be Catholic icicles frozen in another time,’

    The irony of this statement … hangs like a puff of smoke in the air before it slowly dissipates above the empty pews below.

    I look at the aging Volksgruppen singers, and I wonder, just who is “frozen in another time.”

  8. JayneK says:

    It is not only TLM parishes that can appreciate the musical heritage of the Catholic Church. I am in Toronto diocese, outside of the GTA. I belong to a choir that has been introducing Gregorian chant, polyphony and traditional Catholic hymns to an Ordinary Form parish. We are also slowly getting the people accustomed to the prayers of the ordinary in Latin. We receive many positive comments about our music, often from people who would not dream of attending a TLM.

  9. amenamen says:

    @ The music is ancient, elemental … A line of text that flows out like a wave, sung in tones that are dark and rich.

    Even when people do not understand the words, they can sense the power of music that “fits” the Sacred Liturgy. Something that is “ancient and elemental” has lasted for a reason. It does not become stale and tiresome after a few weeks or a few years. It outlasts the popular music of the day. Who can remember which songs were at the “top of the charts” only five years ago? I have already forgotten.

  10. shane says:

    Jaykay (who sometimes comments here) sent me this recently from the childrens’ Mass at the 1932 Eucharistic Congress in Dublin. He notes that:

    My mother would have been 12-13 at the time of the Congress. She had just started secondary in a convent school where they had a very good choir. They used to take part in Gregorian chant competitions for children and regularly won (now who says that there was no “participatio actuosa” prior to the new springtime in 1965??). Anyway, they had been prepared for months beforehand to take part in the children’s Mass in the Phoenix Park where the “Missa de Angelis” was sung, which was easy peasy to them – she told me they had about 4 other of the chant settings of the Mass which they sang regularly as well as the Te Deum and of course all the well-known ones such as Adoro Te and Veni Creator Spiritus etc. – not to mention the Dies Irae for the requiem.

    So they went to Dublin on the train, in their confirmation dresses, and processed solemnly out to the Park for the Mass. Just imagine, thousands of kids – all immaculately disciplined – singing the Missa de Angelis!

    I’m sure next year’s event will have something similar… NOT!!! We’ve definitely sung a new church into being :(

    Yes we’ve definitely lost a lot.

  11. teevor says:

    Mr. Fournier is a great asset to the Parish and we are very fortunate that he is arranging our sung EF nuptial mass in three weeks!
    He’s also a very talented organist and will be holding a free concert on the 30th at Holy Family Church.

  12. shane says:

    and some other photos of the Congress itself:

  13. benedetta says:

    Sometimes I wonder whether it has become so much about convenience, and what is quick and easy. It’s become a mutual thing, on the part of worshippers, the expectation for an experience that does not inconvenience, and on the part of those responsible for making specific choices about the liturgy who are contented with delivering, nothing challenging at all and passing it off as sacred, even citing and referencing various authoritative documents in support of these choices. Perhaps people aren’t even searching, not in the spiritual journey at all and wish to be told in so many ways that there is nothing much going on, nothing special here, nothing sacred…?

  14. This is a first.

    I’ve been “parsed” by Father Z!

    Now, since Toronto is only big enough for one Sung Gregorian Mass; I shall now leave for the bucolic countryside of Kinkora, 100 miles away where I shall conduct and chant tonights OF Vigil and the EF Missa Cantata tomorrow, all chant, all the time.

    David Anthony Domet
    a.k.a. Vox Cantoris

    A blessed Easter to you Father, thank you for all you do!

  15. shane says:

    oops sorry for the multiple comments

  16. david andrew says:

    “Liturgy is doctrine is daily life”. I’m taking this quote and posting it to my Facebook page as a favorite quote.

    If I’ve learned one thing from you, Fr. Z, and from my experience at Our Lady of Mount Carmel in Wyandotte, MI, it’s the well-used expression, “Brick by brick.” I have learned that with patience, the people can be brought to a greater appreciation of the richness of the received traditions of chant.

    I began introducing chant (in square-note notation) to the choir last fall, and most of them have told me that they’re sold on it. They find it easier to sing, and I’m sure they also find it more prayerful (if the way they sing it as against other things is any indication).

    My hope is to start a group that will meet regularly to sing chant every week with an eye to singing chanted Propers (in Latin) at one or two Masses a month in place of the usual hymnody.

    I can tell you that nowhere else in my career as a sacred musician have I been able to even suggest this without great stress, anguish and agitation from the more “enlightened” liberals I’ve worked with in the past. It would appear that it is not I, but they who are flies in amber, icicles frozen in a 1960’s mentality.

    Brick by brick, indeed.

  17. Teresamerica says:

    Fr. Z,
    I am usually in full agreement with you but I have to disagree with you to a degree on this. Being born in 1977 I enjoy Gregorian Chant, folk music, and charismatic music like the type I heard at Franciscan University and I think all of them have a place at Mass. I think that there should be a mixture of them all at Mass. I think they all have some beauty to them. Now, I can see why one would call Gregorian Chant sacred as opposed to the other forms of music but I just think they are all needed in the Church today, especially since we need to appeal to our youth.

  18. Brooklyn says:

    Save the liturgy, save the world!

  19. benedetta says:

    Teresamerica, I don’t think it is so much about one particular form of music being bad so much as the fact that what has become prevalent is banal — we don’t even really hear or listen anymore, on its own, in the context of the sacred, or resonating in the life of faith — and that Vatican II didn’t seem to call for this happenstance but rather says that Gregorian chant ought to be normative, that should be what is prevalent, encountered in abundance. Then certainly one can still have occasions primarily directed at youth that offers contemporary musical forms with a Christian outlook. But the current situation is that not only is Gregorian chant not normative or prevalent but it is scarcely found in the NO Mass, hardly ever encountered. Chant is popular and sought after if cd sales are an indication of the demands of the market. And many young people when they have an opportunity to pray at a Mass offering chant come to prefer it to a rock or folk type Mass. Music which reflects our dignity and fittingly praises God has always been and will always be composed in every era because something is contemporary alone need not exclude. But in many places it has become too easy to just turn to the same stuff when there is such an immense variety that exists, even the contemporary which is sacred has not really been touched when you think of what is composed internationally by faithful believers. Likely a place such as Franciscan appreciates tradition and also looks forward with confidence in the faith and is able to incorporate many styles into Mass so I would think that what a place like Franciscan U does is more the exception than what one typically finds. And perhaps accomplishing a mix of different styles is not so easily done as one might think and takes more care and discernment, maybe a different outlook, and of course the fallback, what is normative ought to then be, to go towards Gregorian chant. The band of work which is being tapped currently in so many places is really so narrow when one considers the full patrimony of the arts in service to the faith, even if we take into account contemporary forms.
    In my experience, and I am also of the post-Vatican II generation, I have found that an attitude of prayer and listening, silence, reverence, is quite encouraged by Gregorian chant. It tends to have a focusing quality, and a peace, and of course it is linked intricately with the Mass for that day. It’s really such a sad situation that things went off course so that it is now so rarely found. I am encouraged by what others here have said and the experience of Mr. Fournier related in the article that we go one brick at a time.

  20. Being born in 1977 I enjoy Gregorian Chant, folk music, and charismatic music like the type I heard at Franciscan University and I think all of them have a place at Mass.

    Except that that is not what the Church teaches about music at Mass. What is appropriate at Mass is not a question of taste.

  21. Susan the Short says:

    I can’t think of anything more horrible than a mixture of chant, folk and charismatic music at Mass.

    As for appealing to our youth, let’s not insult them by thinking that only something with an up tempo will appeal to them. They can get that on their ipods. When they come to worship God, appeal to them with sacred music that is ineffable, that lifts their minds and souls to that which is above.

  22. Glen M says:

    Chant is indeed prayer and like incense it provides a comforting avenue for active participation directed towards Heaven. The scola at my parish has four voices who fill the church and carry our prayers to God.

    For any Ontario readers, many seminarians at St. Augustine are eager to learn the E.F. There may be more priests capable and willing to establish a “stable group” in your area than you suspect. Email me to discuss further:

  23. RichardT says:

    “Jesus would not have heard “Gather Us In”… except perhaps during the time He spent in the harrowing of Hell”

    I love that.

    Reminds me of a sermon I heard (from a Dominican), complaining of some modern church music being “better suited to a fairground than to the worship of God”.

  24. Fr. Basil says:

    \\“Gregorian chant as we have it today is the closest thing we know to what Jesus would have sung and heard himself in the Temple in Jerusalem,”\\

    I guess he’s never heard Syrian or Assyrian chant, which has Syro-Aramaic for its language.

    Of course, I guess that depends on who he means by “we”.

  25. RichardT says:

    Just back from Vigil Mass at my (bog-standard, horrible 60s building, rural) parish church.

    Chant for the psalms, and the Exultet chanted in Latin. Largely through the efforts of one parishioner, who has got a choir together.

    One of the four psalmists sung in a horribly operatic style, but this isn’t the time to be fussy.

    If my church can do it, anywhere can. Brick by brick!

  26. Mrs. Bear says:

    Thanks for posting this article Fr. Z!
    I am surprised this article made it to a national newspaper!
    We are blessed in Toronto with diocesan seminarians who get their first few years of studies under the direction of the Oratorians connected to Holy Family Church in Toronto.
    They are learning and singing the sacred music mentioned.
    We are also blessed at our parish to have a pastor who took some time with another diocesan priest of TO to go down to Fr. Samuel Weber and learn Gregorian Chant and also start to learn the EF of the mass.
    Even this little bit of progress would not be happening if Archbishop Collins was not on side.
    Fr. Weber did come up in the fall for a workshop and not alot of choir dirctors or musicians attended.
    We have to pray that the diocesan liturgy office would pick up on this and start to promote these sort of liturgy workshops for the TO parishes.

  27. RichardT says:

    And a happy Easter to you all.

  28. RichardT says:

    Fr Basil, I do not know the Syrian, but the most remarkable chant I ever heard was in Armenia.

    In 301 that became the first ever officially Christian country, and was subsequently largely isolated from the rest of Christendom, so its chant has an incredibly early heritage.

  29. AAJD says:

    I have personal experience of St. Vincent de Paul in Toronto and the Oratorians there going back almost 15 years now. They have completely revived that parish, which was driven into the ground by the previous order that had charge of it by doing all the usual trendy things. Together with nearby Holy Family, the Oratorians’ original parish in Toronto, they are doing wonderful things liturgically–and in many other ways. I hold them in the highest esteem.

  30. APX says:

    “Jesus would not have heard “Gather Us In”… except perhaps during the time He spent in the harrowing of Hell”

    That song truly is the song from Hell. I got a speeding ticket while listening to it on Thursday. Satan works his evil through that song, I tell you.

    The best church music I’ve ever heard that wasn’t in an EF Mass was when I lived in the GTA . I don’t think I can take anymore accordion at Mass anymore.

  31. benedetta says:

    APX, I don’t even want to ask you what you were doing, listening, to Gather Us In, in the car…It worries me…At any rate the only K of G by Haugen I am able to consent to at this point is the Colbert version because I appreciate in his liturgical dance styling the way he places the accent on the polka aspect of it…Just all Haugened out.

  32. ejcmartin says:

    I happened to be in Toronto last year for Palm Sunday and made it down to St. VdeP for the EF Mass. It was beautiful. When I read on how Toronto, the larget metropolitan area in Canada, has only a small EF presence, I realize how blessed we are in our little city on the periphery of the country is to have a weekly EF Mass.

  33. Charivari Rob says:

    The original article has some interesting points.

    At the same time, however… It’s kind’a sad.

    There could’ve been a wonderful article simply reporting the developments in music and liturgy there. Profiles and interviews with people who advocate that form and explain their path constructively. Even better – the people out there who use other forms of music and use and respect Gregorian Chant (they do exist, people)!

    Instead, what did we get?

    An article reflecting the divisiveness in the Church about this. Throwing around tired barbs and cliches – like “weak”; “drivel”; “repulsed”; unauthentic; insufficiently holy; a supposed lack of depth, profundity, & beauty; criticizing each others’ prayer.

    In an article posted on Good Friday, of all days!

    Is that the reporter’s fault, or our own?

    Don’t forget the joy, folks – especially on these three days.

    He is Risen! He is Risen Indeed!

    Happy Easter to one and all.

  34. RichardT says:

    APX says:
    “I don’t think I can take anymore accordion at Mass”

    My one experience of intercessory prayer working immediately and obviously was during a folk Mass when I prayed very very hard for one of the guitarist’s strings to break.

  35. benedetta says:

    Charivari Rob, I did read through this article again — from secular Canadian paper, yes — and I thought that the reporter did a very objective and neutral job of describing the sound of the chant. It is very sad but I think he also captures completely the situation when he recounts Mr. Fournier’s experience of “fleeing the drivel” and then attempting to asking for something different and being told that it’s “archaic”. I don’t know how it is where you are but I have found that chant in the NO is not offered, whether as pride of place or in mixture with contemporary songs. Still it is worth looking into, that Vatican II states and intended for Gregorian chant to be given pride of place as sacred music, and that it be commonly encountered, typical, prevalent.
    But I know from my own experience the quality that Gregorian chant at NO Mass has for my prayer. It was very different, it did help to foster prayer and humility before God, for me. I can only say how it was for me. That it was, different, and overall, for me, better. Apparently a great many others have had this same experience, whether through buying a cd or having a chance to actually pray, in a church, with others. Do these experiences not count for anything? The recounting of the admittedly sad, frustrating, confounding, inexplicable, bizarre experience that so many have is not what is divisive. Nor is the hope for something better for us, for all. Perhaps what is divisive is that things continue as articulated in 1970s America, as is, in stubborn refusal to consider anything else based on a narrow or closed minded view of all else that came before. If it does happen where you are that Gregorian chant is nicely integrated with other genres at Holy Mass and that people are thereby enabled to together enter into a reverent prayer, then that’s great — what’s the secret to that? Maybe through an account of Mr. Fournier’s experience we can come to a better understanding of what happened and how to go forward. It’s his experience, he is entitled to it and we should not heap scorn on it as he retells it even if it is difficult to listen to. I heard nothing in there that he believes that he is “more holy” or anything of the sort and I don’t think we should accuse in that way. I think that we should be open to listening to his experience, he is a highly trained musician, after all and a fellow believer, and see what can be done better, how to overcome the attitudes which are divisive and prevent us from moving on in faith. I don’t think it helps anything to avoid the hard truths or to tell people to just be quiet. I think a red herring in this that is at work is that we are completely unable to ask for the better, the good, and even make hard choices. Perhaps it requires some discernment and courage but I don’t think we need to blame the messenger.

  36. Young Canadian RC Male says:


    I mentioned that there’s an Una Voce Toronto. Their website is here:
    Please join them and support them. The only way that the TLM and Gregorian chant will break through to Toronto is if +Collins gets the message there are a ton of people out there wanting this. Then there won’t be another debacle like with the FSSP failure. Bring the TLM and Chant to the T dot!!!

    Finally, this TLM problem points to a bigger problem in the Church: posion by liberalism, and modernism. If you want this to change, you must get involved in any ministry possible, especially the parish councils. Then you might have enough credence to influence the parish. Like Father Z says, “Save the liturgy, save the world.”

  37. benedetta says:

    I think in general that we should honor the witness of the experience of conversion through the sacred arts. Which has happened in all times and places in the history of Christianity.

  38. A blessed Easter to all.

    Canonically, as a Maronite, (though raised in the Latin Rite), I suppose my statement that Gregorian chant is the closest thing we know to what Jesus would have heard and sung, I should know better. The interview (about six weeks ago) was far to limited to discuss in detail the history of chant. Though I clearly did express to Mr. Lewis that the Syriac is even closer. Our western chant came from the east, I certainly explained to him that fact. However, in the context of this article, that might not have been considered a relevant point by Mr. Lewis or the editor. In the sense that Gregorian chant came from the east, then it is the closest thing “we” have to what Jesus would have heard and sung.

    If you are in Toronto, please consider joinging Una Voce Toronto, you’ll find us on Facebook as well.

    A blessed Easter.

    David Domet
    a.k.a. Vox Cantoris

  39. AnAmericanMother says:

    Charivari Rob,
    You would think a neutral article would be better . . . but let me tell you a true story.
    Our NO parish has a long history of promoting chant and Renaissance polyphony. A couple of years ago our diocesan newspaper did a feature on this and two other parishes singing “classic” music. It was just such an article as you describe – talking about the positive aspects of chant and so forth. Extensive quotes from our very learned and tactful music director about history, prayer, etc.
    You would not BELIEVE the letters to the editor that followed! So much hate for no reason. Fortunately a couple of very valiant defenders of traditional music responded and I think they had the best of it (but I’m prejudiced of course).
    Might as well take the fight to them because they do not care how tactful you are, they do not care that it’s Easter, all they care about is having it their way and crushing any opposition.
    And for most good musicians, the “drivel” is *physically* painful. That’ll spoil your Easter.

  40. APX says:


    My one experience of intercessory prayer working immediately and obviously was during a folk Mass when I prayed very very hard for one of the guitarist’s strings to break.

    Broken guitar strings used to happen to the guitarist at my church all the time when I was growing up. (He was a very enthusiastic strummer. ) He’d just re-string it and tune it quickly during the song.

    We had a hardcore harmonica player too with his belt of harmonicas all tuned to a different key. sigh*

    Speaking of Gregorian chant vs Folk music, I heard something very very wrong during our Easter Vigil Mass last night. Something I had never heard before, and almost brought me to tears (and not the good kind). The Litany of the Saints…was not sung in chant. No, it was sung as a folk song, and the litany didn’t sound the same. *cry* The Litany of the Saints was always a favorite growing up.

  41. robtbrown says:

    Fr. Basil says:

    “Gregorian chant as we have it today is the closest thing we know to what Jesus would have sung and heard himself in the Temple in Jerusalem,”

    I guess he’s never heard Syrian or Assyrian chant, which has Syro-Aramaic for its language

    Mostly, I agree. Gregorian chant is a synthesis of Middle Eastern chant and the inclination to melody of the Latin people.

  42. robtbrown says:


    You would think a neutral article would be better . . . but let me tell you a true story.
    Our NO parish has a long history of promoting chant and Renaissance polyphony. A couple of years ago our diocesan newspaper did a feature on this and two other parishes singing “classic” music. It was just such an article as you describe – talking about the positive aspects of chant and so forth. Extensive quotes from our very learned and tactful music director about history, prayer, etc.
    You would not BELIEVE the letters to the editor that followed! So much hate for no reason.

    Probably, there was very good reason. My guess is that those letter writers are doctrinal dissidents.

  43. AnAmericanMother says:

    Oh, of course. It oozed out from every word. But I think the real motivator for such hatred is fear.
    They see the handwriting on the wall, their day is almost done. All the bile and abuse is simply their last refuge.
    We didn’t see a lot of unreasoning hatred of good classical music in the Episcopal church, even during the seventies. It may be because for years all the sophisticated people and the social climbers “had” to join the Episcopalians. They knew ( or were quickly informed) that the happy-clappy music is objectively bad – or at least “not done.” Also, music is pretty intensively taught in seminary, so the leadership can’t claim ignorance.

  44. Kypapist says:

    At Old St. Mary’s, an inner-city parish, we have had the OF in Latin for decades, with chant sung by a (paid) choir of College Conservatory of Music students, along with a Communion rail at which we kneel, and Mass said (frequently) ad orientem at the High Altar (which has a porthole showing the bones of an early Christian Martyr). More and more we are having the EF on special occasions as well as a daily 7:15 a.m. EF, which should be better attended! Permission to have the EF for regular Sunday Mass has not yet been forthcoming. But the great news is that there is an Oratory of St. Philip Neri being formed here. It has been in the works for several years, our Parochial Vicar and three seminarians (in-formation) are the core of this new work of the Lord, and one of these young men is studying at the Seminary mentioned above. Yes they do have a schola and do beautiful chant and are so reverent they make you weep. God bless this endeavor.

  45. Brad says:

    A chocolate egg to any who use the term drivel. I overuse pablum, so an egg to him for reminding me of drivel! Babel is good too.

    gather us in = easter us home!

  46. Winefred says:

    I comment with some trepidation, since this is not the forum for soiled linens. At the risk of sounding a sour note, there are other Masses at St. Vincent de Paul, Toronto, besides the TLM. There was formerly a NO Mass with chant and polyphony, and it was the principal parish Mass. With the change in music directors, the NO Mass was switched to 9:30 (very difficult for our families with 6 or 8 kids, of which we have several) and a stake was driven through the heart of the NO music program: attendance is down, and there is much discouragement, as well as people still asking former choir members why we can’t have the music of the prior arrangement. Delighted to hear that back in Maine there was “lots of Byrd, Lassus, and Palestrina” — no sign of such now at St. Vincent: all male, all chant, all the time at the TLM (finely done) and a dreary routine of hymns from a third-rate book (Adoremus — dreadful) and the same Ordinary parts every week (never de Angelis, regardless of season or occasion). I sang the TLM for more than a year (let’s call it a “transition time” in the parish program), and attend now periodically. This taught me how chant is a perfect fit for the Mass, as it rolls out over the prayers which are moving forward at the altar (and which I can follow in my Missal) — to put it crudely, it functions as background atmosphere, and does it wonderfully. However, chant as song, to sit and listen to (which our Good Friday and Easter Vigil services featured) becomes an ill fit, especially in the pitch dark without benefit of Missal. There is a treasury of beautiful polyphony to be mined for these occasions, and it seems criminal to neglect it — especially true for parishioners under 50, to whom the TLM is an alien species which they balk at being force-fed. One comment above mentions Kinkora, Ontario, where the TLM is being happily re-introduced, but with such love and skill that no force-feeding is required — a glowing example of pastoral care. Regarding the Missal: it is perhaps the greatest scandal of the post-conciliar age that the half-baked, competing, agenda-driven, and constantly changing translations of the Ordinary and the scriptures have obliterated the use of the personal Missal and its attendant “active participation” in the most meaningful sense of the words. Among the customs we must pray will be restored is that of this truly EMPOWERING treasure, the perfect Communion and Confirmation gift to be carried throughout life. I got mine in 1962, Douay English, filled with my old holy cards, still my dear companion at the TLM, and agent of revelation about the proper uses of Gregorian chant.

  47. Volanges says:

    AAJD, had to look up the history of the parish to understand your post, but understand I did. Seeing the same problem in my own parish for the same reason.
    I’m a child of the 50s so had experienced chant ‘back in the day’ but I rediscovered it during Evening Prayer while taking courses in liturgy in 2001 and fell in love all over again. Unfortunately, other than the odd Taizé refrain, it’s not something I’m ever likely to hear in my parish. I tried to implement a weekly chanted Evening Prayer, my project for those liturgy courses, but that only lasted about a year because there was no real support from the pastor or the community. Although I tried to catechize the community about the Liturgy of the Hours for a solid year before we started, they still didn’t understand the concept of chant as prayer and left Evening Prayer saying “How can they call that PRAYER? All we did was sing!”

  48. Seraphic Spouse says:

    Could we ban the expression “we need to appeal to our youth”? It’s a hideous cliche on par with “the spirit of the Council”. It is also horrifically condescending as it always assumes that “youth” are incapable of good taste or any kind of liturgical, theological or musical sophistication whatsoever. By harping on about “youth” we are contributing to the delayed adulthood of too many people in the West; surely our role is not to appeal to fledgling tastes but to lead young people to maturity in (A) the faith and (B) their adult lives.

  49. maryclare says:

    Dear Fr. Z et Al,
    There is indeed place for both types of music though not at the same Mass/Liturgy.
    Can I just say though that some of the comments show a distinct lack of charity. The suggestion that one hymn (however bad) was a vehicle for satan being a case in point – I am afraid that the driver was responsible for his own speeding ticket, and not the hymn.
    There are some truly awful so called ‘traditional hymns’ also ( poor words, dodgy doctrine etc accompanied by an Organ and not a guitar in sight) and they make me cringe just as much as the so called happy clappy stuff. I sing in a traditional church choir but previously ran the Folk Group at the Cathedral in my diocese , so I have experience of both forms of music.
    It is wrong to say that the only form of liturgical music is gregorian chant – what is needed is music that is apposite, doctrinally and liturgically correct, approriate, well performed and beautiful musically, performed as well as possible. I know that Gregorian Chant is, but that principle should apply whether the music is accompanied by organ or guitars or indeed a full orchestra.
    Please can we get away from the idea that all those who attend Novus Ordo services with so called folk music are all somehow liturgically and doctrinally naive and ignorant, or that we must all be ‘doctrinal disidents’ as one comment put it – as this simply isn’t the case.
    maryclare :-)

  50. asophist says:

    There is no doubt in my mind that the Gregorian chant we hear is very close to what Christ heard in the temple. An undoubted example of this, in my mind, is the “Gloria laus et honor tibi sit” heard on (I think) Palm Sunday. This particular piece can easily be sung with typical Hebrew ornamentation. I’ve done so, and it works beautifully and sounds so ancient, in a middle-eastern kind of way. that it sends chills up my spine.

  51. Teresamerica says:

    Thank you @benedetta for your very thoughtful response. I do agree that Gregorian Chant should be an integral part of Mass. The other types of music could be relegated to one specific Mass. But, most Masses that I attend don’t have Gregorian Chant other than during certain prayers, don’t have charismatic music, don’t have folk music but we do have organ or piano Church music.

    @Susan the short I didn’t mean that they should all be used at one Mass but that Folk, Gregorian Chant, and charismatic music could be used at different Masses. I was not saying that the youth shouldn’t hear any Gregorian Chant but that they should experience a variety of music.

  52. Funky Dung says:

    Congregations of the Oratory of St.Philip Neri FTW! :)

  53. St. John Marie Vianney: “If we really understood the Mass, we would die of joy.”
    That the Mass was ever allowed to erode into a “gathering” for which we sing such a “theme song” about ourselves should be breaking our hearts. If we only knew the gift of God! Like the myriad of angels living the heavenly liturgy, present among us and captive in adoration at the Consecration, the liturgy should be the means through which we are irresistibly drawn to and held captive by Love. As we find ourselves in breathless adoration, the role of the hymns of the liturgy should then be nothing less than to give voice to what we ourselves find we cannot utter!

  54. AnAmericanMother says:


    I think technically speaking, you are correct.

    It’s probably inevitable that every hymnal, whether it’s the St. Gregory or OCP’s latest abomination, will contain a proportion of rotten hymns. And certainly there were plenty of tacky, saccharine Victorian abominations around. The Episcopal 1940 hymnal, which was not a bad book, had maybe 10-15% bad music or words. The 1982 Piskie hymnal, which is a gold standard of hymnals, still has around the same percentage of tacky junk, it’s just multi-culti nonsense instead of Victorian treacle. Ten percent may be the best anybody can do towards taking out the trash. Unfortunately some of the modern books are approaching 60-75% junk, with a few traditional public domain offerings to try to keep the traditionalists quiet.

    We’re a pretty musical family and I’ve been involved since childhood in one form of music or another. You are correct that there is some folk (or near-folk) music that is appropriate for Mass — the starker mountainy hymns and devotional songs, some of the Sacred Harp/Southern Harmony tradition, the New England singing school composers — old stuff that’s had a chance to be winnowed out and settle down. We sometimes sing a Shaw arrangement of the William Billings “When Jesus Wept” for Good Friday. It is appropriate and very effective – classic rock ribbed New England – and Shaw doesn’t pretty it up.

    Unfortunately, there are two practical problems here. 1. Much of the so-called “folk” music is not folk or even pared down by time so that it’s been “folkified”. It’s contemporary composed music, hasn’t stood the test of time, and is not musically sound just from a general standpoint, let alone appropriate for Mass. 2. People aren’t selective, and music ministers and pastors are busy and harried, and they just grab whatever the music publishers are selling as a “package”. If anybody is at fault here, it’s the people at the music publishers, although the fact is they are simply in business to sell music and not to inform public taste, and they really don’t care that much about the quality of their product so long as it sells. True story: a couple of well-meaning music profs. offered to give one publisher’s “stable” free lessons in composition and music theory. They were turned down.

    Finally, you have the problem of selection and taste in music directors and choirs. If they WOULD just pick out the decent folk stuff from the dreck and the dross, it would be o.k. But nobody — or very few — is doing that. And the arrangements for guitar etc. are not geared for church — they play as though they are in the high school gym.

    The only way to break the vicious cycle that has developed is going to be some top-down restrictions on the contemporary stuff from the rector. IF – after the musicians have familiarized themselves with the church’s actual musical tradition – they want to re-introduce some traditional folk music that has stood the test of time, that would probably be o.k. That’s what our choir director does — we come to Billings and Justin Morgan and Rev. White FROM chant and polyphony, not the other way around. But as things stand now we have as much a chance of hearing that in Father Strum-a-Tune’s parish as we do flying to the moon.

    You’re right that people have harsh words for a lot of contemporary music and sometimes stray over the line into lack of charity . . . but I think that’s born out of frustration because nobody seems to give a hoot. And, of course, there’s the fact that the music is often objectively BAD and painful to listen to, which makes people irritable.

  55. benedetta says:

    The effect of liturgical abuse itself is, trauma. When one suffers trauma, the task of healing and moving forward (and refraining from leading with one’s frustration and hurt) is a yoeman’s job requiring sacramental grace. People return to the sources of grace only to be re-traumatized. Forgiveness, charity, it’s hard for another person to demand this of one in such a state. It’s not totally impossible but by and large it can’t be accomplished alone and liturgical abuse tends to isolate, alienate, and divide. Even if one can’t assess the effects of liturgical abuse with reference to obvious signs of trauma, or if one dismisses it as the cry of the few disgruntled (which is in and of itself a myth which can easily be countered by numbers), the fact remains that liturgical abuse at minimum causes confusion, discouragement in the attempt to practice the life of faith. It lacks wholeness. With God though all things are possible.

  56. Anne 2 says:

    Church music must be sacred, inspiring, and Catholic.
    We are not going to Mass to be entertained but to worship and praise God.
    We should follow the Pope – Gregorian Chant

    At the Ordinary Form, if any language is used other than the local language, so that the faithful can fully participate in its meaning, the translations should be provided.

  57. EWTN Rocks says:


    I just noticed your comment on liturgical abuse. Many times people unintentionally commit terrible acts not realizing the effect of their actions. The most generous thing you could do if you witness liturgical abuse is to clearly counsel the offenders that what they did was wrong and why, and discuss the harmful impact of their actions. Someone told me once to assume best intentions. I don’t think people (i.e. uninformed laypeople) would continue to commit liturgical abuse if they knew what they were doing was wrong. As a layperson who recently returned to the Catholic Church within the last year, I will be the first to admit that it is quite possible to commit liturgical abuse and not realize it, which is the primary reason I ordered Pope Benedict’s book “Spirit of the Liturgy” so I can better understand the impact of my actions. I don’t know if I personally committed liturgical abuse since returning to the church, and certainly hope not, but if I did I would be extremely sorry and would want someone to tell me so I didn’t repeat it.

    Forgiveness is often difficult, especially when people intentionally commit heinous acts to hurt others. I recently forgave many people I had known and trusted for many years for actions that had devastating affect on me. But as you say in your post, “with God though all things are possible.” It was probably the most difficult thing I’ve ever done but I’m so glad that I did – if not for them, for me. In regard to people who unintentionally commit terrible acts, forgiveness is sometimes easier depending on the circumstances, and if the individuals have good hearts and are good at the core.

    Final thought: I can tell from your posts that you are extremely knowledgeable about every aspect of the Catholic Church, both OF and EF Masses, the Sacred Liturgy, church requirements, traditions, etc. I believe that one way to serve God is to share knowledge with others for their benefit and the Church overall.

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