QUAERITUR: How to get Gregorian chant and a TLM in the parish.

From a reader:

The New Missal has started in my parish and the music is atrocious. I had to go to the local public high school play to hear Gregorian Chant! No regard for GIRM #41. My Bishop refuses to allow the extraordinary form of the Latin Rite. Is there anything I can do to push the issue in my Diocese. Or am I doomed like Evelyn Waugh to “church going that is a bitter trial”.

GIRM 41 is based on Sacrosanctum Concilium 116:

All other things being equal, Gregorian chant holds pride of place because it is proper to the Roman Liturgy. Other types of sacred music, in particular polyphony, are in no way excluded, provided that they correspond to the spirit of the liturgical action and that they foster the participation of all the faithful.

Since faithful from different countries come together ever more frequently, it is fitting that they know how to sing together at least some parts of the Ordinary of the Mass in Latin, especially the Creed and the Lord’s Prayer, set to the simpler melodies.

First, keep in mind that since Summorum Pontificum went into effect in September 2007 pastors of parishes, not diocesan bishops, implement celebrations of the Extraordinary Form in their parishes. The diocesan bishop no longer makes these decisions. Were a pastor of a parish to start a regular TLM, and were the diocesan bishop to demand that the priest stop, that priest’s case would probably receive a very favorable hearing at the Pontifical Commission “Ecclesia Dei” in Rome.

What you should probably do is organize a group of people who will support the effort from soup to nuts in the parish. Take care of every detail so the priest doesn’t have to do it all himself. If the priest needs vestments, get him vestments. If you want chant, get a schola together and practice and provide the chant or hire some singers. If something in the sanctuary needs to be set up or moved or shifted around, then be there on the spot with enough hands on deck to get it done so that the priest never has to worry or wonder if it is going to be done in time. Get the whole thing ready to rock and roll and take the proposal to the parish priest. According to Summorum Pontificum a stable group making a request cannot be ignored. Make the request again and again and again. Present the whole thing as a “business plan” so the priest knows every detail. Keep at it. Press it forward slowly, cordially, persistently, kindly.

If you want it badly enough, you have to be involved in making it happen in concrete ways. You cannot simply sit back with nice aspirations and wish for it and then be sad when it doesn’t come to pass.

And perhaps you will have to be willing to suffer and even take it on the road.  But … if you don’t try, you’ll never know what might have been possible.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. For the correspondent who wants to hear Gregorian chant, I would offer this…

    I don’t know your parish, but I know mine; you cannot imagine the professions of suffering that reach me regularly, not because of Gregorian chant per se, but because of even smallish steps in that direction:

    > chanting psalms and prayers, such as the Gloria, Sanctus and Agnus Dei, even in English, rather than using metrical settings that are “upbeat” and have musical accompaniment–because, I’m told, that unaccompanied chanting is “terrible,” “depressing” etc.

    > using Latin, for such prayers as the Sanctus and Agnus Dei. That, I’m told is a terrible imposition and makes prayer impossible.

    > Using propers, in English, instead of hymns, is horrible, mean, etc.

    All these things are steps short of using actual Gregorian chant–which we do–and which likewise causes some to suffer extreme agony (on their telling).

    My point is, this is what a pastor experiences when he goes down this road. He will be told “everyone” is leaving, “everyone” is upset, “whole families” have quit the parish, “good Catholics” are now Buddhists or Muslims or whatever, all because of these decisions. He will hear it from his pastoral council, his finance council, his staff, etc.

    Meanwhile, lots of people will be blessed by it, will like it, will respond to it–but they won’t engage in these sorts of histrionics to have their way.

    I’m not suggesting you engage in histrionics; I am suggesting you speak up. And if you know of others who feel as you do, have them speak up. And, as our genial host says, offer help.

    You won’t move the mountain right away, but you may be surprised the effect you have in time. If nothing else, your pastor may go and talk to his music director, sigh with great drama, and say, “oh, we have to give them *something* to get them off my back!”

  2. Ceile De says:

    My first thought was: it shouldn’t be this tough. Then came my second thought: this is maybe no different from how orders sometimes rebuff initially potential applicants, accepting them only when they show persistence. My advice is to show charity and courtesy at all times, no matter how trying, but to supply and keep handy copies of pertinent church documents.

  3. Tantum Ergo says:

    I can attest from experience that Fr. Z’s advice is spot on. At our parish, we first had to provide proof of a “stable group,” so we put together a petition of over 60 names (this was hard work that bore fruit.) Next, the petition was sent to the pastor. No response. Then, another (always cordial) letter to the pastor. Still no response. Next, a letter to the Bishop (who had come out very hard line against the TLM when Summorum Pontificum first came out.) No response. Next, an “ambassador” from our group who had the Pastor’s particular respect was able to secure a bi-weekly TLM. We now have Mass every week, and the Pastor has greatly warmed to the E/F, and sometimes even attends himself.
    So roll up your sleeves and get to work, expecting so many setbacks and dissapointments that you want to throw in the towel . But through prayer and persaverance, keep on toward your goal.

  4. Sword40 says:

    What you say is true, Father, however, I have yet to meet the priest that has the courage to make a move without the Bishop’s permission. And that includes the two priests that celebrate the TLM for us on an alternating basis. The big difference is that our Archbishop is trad friendly.

    Ths Diocese to the south of us is more like the OP has stated. Not trad friendly at all. Only one TLM in the entire Diocese. (from the Columbia River to the California border)

    Things are rapidly improving in our case. Expansion of the FSSP and a couple of parishes that celebrate the TLM fairly frequently.

  5. TNCath says:

    One of the priests in our diocese attempted to start a TLM in his parish. His bishop told him “no” because there were “already two other parishes” celebrating this Mass in the diocese. Rather than challenge the bishop’s decision, he assists at the “already two other parishes.” My point is this: the two parishes where the TLM will eventually grow. Bishops come and bishops go, and, in time, a new bishop will almost certainly support celebration of the TLM. It will just take time to weed out those bishops who have this obvious bias against it.

  6. Mike says:

    Our Music Director is the brick wall on this. We get Lion-king music, because he feels that chant won’t help “conscious, active, and full participation” of our parish in the litugy.

    I’m a layman, but if I were the pastor, I would hope I would fire this guy tomorrow.

  7. Gabriel Austin says:

    What is the problem with giving the name of the bishop? The Vatican is quite clear on the matter. Bishops in this country have lost much of their credibility with the coverups of the sexual misbehavior. This would be a way for them to begin to recover some the credibility.

  8. “What is the problem with giving the name of the bishop?”

    Two reasons.

    1) Unless there is good cause for doing so, it amounts to detraction, which offends the eighth commandment.

    2) A bishop so identified is likely to assume that one of a short list of malcontents is behind this publicity. Bishops do not like to look bad, and attempts to humble them publicly do not guarantee a favorable outcome.

    Beyond this, I can only echo Father Martin’s sentiment, of how hypersensitive some people are to what they perceive as “turning the clock back.” You have to start small. Offer to train the altar servers. Volunteer as a sacristan. Organize a schola. Have a pipe organ installed in your house. Whatever it takes. And while you do, consider how much worse it was only ten years ago.

    Then proceed to outlast the iconoclasts.

  9. I meant “Father Fox.” Ooops.

  10. UncleBlobb says:

    And lest we forget: “Prayer joined to sacrifice
    constitutes the most powerful force in human history.”
    -Pope John Paul II

  11. JonPatrick says:

    Man with black hat refers to those opposing the TLM as iconoclasts. I propose the term Paradosiophobe (paradosis = tradition, phobia = fear)

  12. Supertradmum says:

    sigh.. sometimes the trying becomes a useless endeavor. For all my political training, I am discouraged and will pray and fast more, as I feel that the opposition is truly spiritual.

  13. Cricket says:

    Apropos the previous entry re: TLM training resources for seminarians, can anybody recommend Gregorian Chant training resources for choir directors? I can tell you from previous experience, it is next to impossible to find a director with a background in Chant. And my parish is within a stone’s throw of a major public university & a private Catholic college, neither of which offers classes in sacred music. I’ve concluded the best way to resolve this problem is for our diocese to “grow its own” Chant choir directors. The interest is there, but not the training. Is there a place where our musicians can attend some type of short course, like those sponsored by St. John Cantius in Chicago? Or are there online training workshops available? We welcome your suggestions!

  14. mjballou says:

    Go to the Musica Sacra website (www.musicasacra.com) to find a listing of conferences, workshops, etc. This is the site for the Church Music Association of America, but they list other offerings as well. There are more and more workshops springing up around the country. Why not get some folks together and sponsor one in your area? The trick will be finding music directors who are willing to move in this direction. Partly because of their own taste, partly because they’re afraid of being attacked, and partly because no one ever wants to appear a beginner when they’re already in a position of responsibility. However, there might be a covert chant lover in your area. Help them come out of hiding!

  15. mjballou says:

    I should have indicated that my preceding comment was directed to Cricket.

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