“The rediscovery of Gregorian chant is a sine qua non condition to give back dignity to the liturgical music.”

When thinking and writing about music appropriate for liturgical worship I have always gone back to what the late Church musician Msgr. Richard Schuler correctly asserted: since sacred liturgical music is NOT an add-on in worship, since it is actually an integrating part (pars integrans) of liturgical worship, since it is prayer, liturgical music must be both sacred and also art.

The texts must be sacred texts.  The idiom must be a sacred idiom, or at least not opposed to the sacred.  The music must be good, that is, well-composed, of high artistic value.  It must be performed well.

Music for liturgical worship must be sacred and it must be art.

If the music chosen does not fulfill those criteria, it does not belong in the Mass.

The music itself becomes prayer within the liturgical setting.  People pray also by listening to true sacred liturgical music.  It is prayer.

We cannot ever go wrong when we stick to the texts actually assigned by the Church for each Mass or office.  We cannot ever go wrong when we use Gregorian chant and polyphony and the pipe organ, as the Fathers of the Second Vatican Council established as having the first place among all genres of music for sacred worship.

I have mentioned in the past Msgr. Valentin Miserachs-Grau, the head of the PIMS, the Pontificia Istituto di Musica Sacra in Rome.

Miserachs-Grau has given a good address, which NLM has reproduced in its entirety.  Here, however, is the meat of the matter, with my emphases and comments.


This one is a sore point: the rampant wave of false and truly dreadful liturgical music in our churches. Nevertheless, the will of the Church clearly appears in the words of the Holy Father I have just mentioned. [… he cites documents… ] Now we must wonder: if the will of the Church has been clearly declared also in our times, how is it possible that the musical praxis in our churches distances itself in so evident a way from the same doctrine? [NB: “doctrine”.]

We must consider several problems at the root of this question, for instance the problem of repertoire. We have hinted at a double aspect: the risk of shutting oneself in a closed circle that would wish to essay new compositions considered as being of high quality in Liturgy. We must say that the evolution of musical language towards uncertain horizons makes the breach between “serious” music and popular sensitivity to become more and more profound. Liturgical music must be “universal”, that is acceptable to any kind of audience. [?! Really.  I don’t think I can accept that given the degradation of culture and taste these days.  Still, well-sung Gregorian chant pretty much fits that description, as does polyphony.] Today it is difficult to find good music composed with this essential characteristic. I do not discuss the artistic value of certain contemporary productions, even sacred, but I think that it would not be opportune to insert them in the Sacred Liturgy. One cannot transform the “oratory” into “laboratory”.

The second aspect of the problem derives from a false interpretation of the conciliar doctrine on Sacred Music. As a matter of fact, the post-conciliar liturgical “renewal”, including the almost total lack of mandatory rules at a high level, has allowed a progressive decay of liturgical music, at the point of becoming, in the most cases, “consumer music” according to the parameters of the most slipshod easy-listening music. [Attention:] This sad practice sometimes determines attitudes of petulant rejection towards genuine Sacred Music, of yesterday and today, maybe composed in a simple manner, but according to the rules of Art. [WHAT?!  Art has RULES?!?] Only a change of mentality and a decisive “reforming” will – that I am afraid is far to come – would be able to bring back to our churches the good musical praxis and, together with it, also the conscientiousness of celebrations, that would not lack to entice, through the value of beauty, a large public, particularly young people, currently kept away by the prevailing amateurish practice, falsely popular and wrongly considered – even in good faith – as an effective instrument of approaching. [My own experience of when I was rector of a church in Italy, is that when we used good chant and polyphony, and when we opened the church doors, people came in and stayed.]

Regarding the power of involvement of which the good liturgical music is capable, I would like to add only what is my own personal experience. By a fortunate chance, I am acting after almost forty years, as Kapellmeister at the Roman Basilica of Saint Mary Major, where every Sunday and on feast days the Chapter Mass is celebrated in Latin, and with Gregorian and polyphonic chant accompanied by organ (and by a brass sextet in highest solemnities). I can assure you that the nave and the aisles of the basilica get packed and not rarely there are people that come after the ceremonies to express their gratefulness, moved to tears as they are, especially by the Hymn to the Madonna Salus Populi Romani (Our Lady, Salvation of the Roman People). They often cannot hold back the excitement and arrive to burst out clapping. People are thirsting for good music! It goes directly to the heart and is capable of working even resounding conversions. [Yep.  Excellent sacred music, properly understood, played a major role in my own conversion.]

Another compass of good liturgical music –always reminded by the Teaching of the Church– concerns the primacy of the pipe organ. [… he discourses on the organ for a while …]

In our quick review of the main points underlying a good liturgical musical praxis, we have now arrived to a last but not least question, one that should be firstly considered: the Gregorian chant. It is the official chant of the Roman Church, as the Second Vatican Council reasserts. Its repertoire includes thousands of ancient, less ancient, and even modern pieces. Certainly, we can find the highest charm in the oldest compositions, dated back to the Xth-XIth Centuries. In this case also it has to do about an objective value, since the Gregorian chant represents the synthesis of the European and Mediterranean chant, related to the genuine and authentic popular chant, even that of the remotest regions of the world. It is a deeply human and essential chant that can be traced in its richness and variety of modes, in its rhythmic freedom (always at the service of the word), in the diversity and different degrees of its single pieces, according to the individual to whom the execution is assigned, etc. This is a chant that has found in the Church its most appropriate breeding ground and constitutes a unique treasure of priceless value, even from the merely cultural point of view.

[NB:] Therefore, the rediscovery of Gregorian chant is a sine qua non condition to give back dignity to the liturgical music and not only as a valid repertoire in itself, but also as a source of inspiration for new compositions, as it was the case of the great polyphonists of the Renaissance, who –following the guidelines of the Council of Trent– created the structure bearing their wonderful works departing from the Gregorian subject matter. If we have in Gregorian chant the master path, why not follow it instead of persisting in scouring roads that in the most of cases drive to nowhere? […]

You can read the rest over there.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. This sad practice sometimes determines attitudes of petulant rejection towards genuine Sacred Music, of yesterday and today, maybe composed in a simple manner, but according to the rules of Art.

    An attitude our little chant schola has run into again and again, even from clergy (and that even during Mass). In our age, we turn our noses up at prime rib and champagne and run for the spam and Steel Reserve.

  2. Andreas says:

    During my all-too-short tenure as a singer with Monsignor Schuler’s Twin Cities Catholic Chorale, I noted that The Church of St. Agnes was always filled each Sunday and Feast Day…not only with Catholics but those of other faiths who came particularly to experience the true liturgy of word and beautiful music. There was chant from the schola, and a splendid repertoire ranging from early polyphony through the 19th century. Most beloved by Monsignor were the 18th century orchestral Masses of Haydn, Mozart, Hummel, von Weber and others. No, despite the pronouncements of the unsettled proletarian elites, the popularization of The Mass and it’s music has yielded a paradox. Many of those in the pews do indeed seek out the true beauty of The Church in what they see and what they hear; it is food for the intellect and balsam for the senses. The art and divinity of timeless sacred music in the liturgy has always been a central way to know God. I pray that it may always be so.

  3. Gaz says:

    This blog has been instrumental in forming my views on Sacred Liturgy. Whether it be EF or OF, I now hold that the following are hallmarks of the Roman Catholic Rite: the Eastern orientation, the use of Latin, and Gregorian Chant.

  4. John Nolan says:

    A major problem is a pervasive cultural relativism which affects music more than any other art form. As an undergraduate 40 years ago I was surprised that so many of my peers listened to nothing but pop or rock. Some with otherwise intact critical faculties treated music as a purely subjective matter; to suggest that Mozart’s music was superior to John Lennon’s was nonsense – the most one could say was that one preferred listening to Mozart.

    It follows that if music for the vast majority is popular music, then a properly inculturated style of liturgical music means music in the popular style, which is more or less what we have got in the past 40-odd years. To suggest that Gregorian Chant is somehow superior is to be guilty of elitism, and its reintroduction is seen as an example of trying to impose one’s personal musical tastes on others.

  5. Markus says:

    Yes, art has rules (especially sacred art) and therein lies the problem. After making sacred art for nearly 40 years, liturgical, devotional mainly by commission, I have come to realize that the problem of today’s art (and music composition) is mainly based upon “feelings”, mostly personal and not upon innate communication.
    I feel that is due to loss of training, mainly universal symbols and forms which evoke solid and truthful communication. It is mainly perpetrated by the ignorant and hedonistic.
    The lazy do not work within the “universal rules”; they “create” with baseless shock and difference. Thus they do not communicate, or if they do, it is overly simplistic and mundane.
    On the opposite side of the spectrum, there are examples such as the baroque movement. So in essence, this is not new to the Church. Somehow, I just cannot fathom heaven resembling an opera hall with faux glittering walls and the music based upon opera melodrama.
    One should reread a great treatise on the subject, Pope John Paul II’s “Letter to Artists.”

  6. irishgirl says:

    I’m certainly no expert, but I know good music when I hear it!
    I was listening last Saturday to the live broadcast of the Ceremony of Nine Lessons and Carols from King’s College Chapel in Cambridge, England. In addition to the usual carols that are featured every year, there are often newer pieces. After hearing these new ones, I say to myself, ‘These so-called ‘composers’ ought to go back to school and learn how to actually WRITE MUSIC!’ Everything today is this god-awful atonal stuff! It’s not uplifting-it’s excruciating!

  7. NoTambourines says:

    Do you know what’s at stake here??? The collapse of the guitar capo industry!

    Seriously, this posting is one to read and re-read. I have a master’s in music performance, so I help out however I can in my current parish. In my case, this means slinging a six-string (In my hometown parish, before I moved away about 7 years ago, I played classical guitar.) I’m the one who knows the “weird” chords when they show up ham-handedly in the responsorial psalm setting, and I routinely “fix” odd settings so the congregation is none the wiser that monkeys with autoharps apparently set the week’s psalm.

    I suffer from Frequent Tambourine Fatigue. And I may well be the only strummer who will be fine with our reign being temporary. The rest of the choir are wonderful people, like a second family, but our mindsets are vastly different.

    Problem is, many people at this point in the game don’t remember a time before Glory-‘n’-Praise, and have been raised on a hostility toward anything before the late 60’s. I grew up hearing the communion rail was a barrier, and Latin was a dead language that kept people in the pews in the dark. Oh, and the priest “turned his back” on the people and worship was “impersonal.” Chant? Chant is a relic kept alive by a handful of monks who don’t have TV.

    And so a return to tradition has been made synonymous to my generation and others with “taking worship away from the people.” Sneaky. There is a lot of baggage and ideological conditioning loaded into that allegation, of course, which needs to be unpacked through education.

  8. APX says:

    The music is getting exceptionally bad. I have a habit of checking copyright dates on the songs sung during Mass. I’ve noticed a trend: the closer the date is to the current date, the worse it is musically. I’ve taken musical training since I was 5, and am now 26. I’m seeing time signatures that I’ve never had to play in before, and more time signature changes in the short propers than I’ve seen in music that’s 5+ pages long and made up of different movements!

    We won’t be hearing Gregorian Chant anytime soon in Canada as the CCCB Director of Liturgy, Fr. Bill Burke, stated in some long explanation of the New Revised Missal and GIRM on Salt + Light TV, that “all things being equal, Gregorian Chant has pride of place” means that Gregorian Chant may only be used if it can be guaranteed everyone can sing it because the second part states “provided the principle of full active participation is respected.”

    Gregorian Chant is not difficult to sing, even if it’s in Latin. Had there been even a little attempt to teach us the chant settings for the propers, Credo and the Pater Noster this “guarantee active participation” nonsense excuse couldn’t be used. It’s because of other people’s neglect that few people can sing Gregorian Chant. This active participation argument contradicts itself. I couldn’t “actively participate” in singing the Gloria during Christmas Eve Mass because I didn’t know the Mass setting they were using. It seems like now every Mass at every parish uses a different Mass setting or a combination of Mass settings in one Mass. If only there had been some sort of unifying musical document that assigns musical settings for the propers based on the liturgical season/feast day that would tell us which to use regardless of which parish/Mass we’re in/at. Oh wait…there is.

    I hate how people say that those of us saying we should be using Gregorian Chant are simply “imposing our preference on others.” I don’t think we are; I think our preference and what Rome wants are the same coincidentally. I’m sorry, but this “to each his own” doesn’t fly with Mass. That’s what got us into this mess to begin with.

  9. Thom says:

    I’ve often thought, and I think that Plato would agree, that a necessary pre-condition for the re-Christianizing of our societies is a widespread return to good music. This basically means junking the popular styles of music of at least the past 60 years. They leave its listeners less receptive to Truth.

  10. Supertradmum says:

    “As regards the use of Latin or the mother tongue in the sacred celebrations carried out in seminaries, the norms of the Sacred Congregation of Seminaries and Universities concerning the liturgical formation of the students should be observed.”

    “Gregorian chant, as proper to the Roman liturgy, should be given pride of place, other things being equal.34 Its melodies, contained in the “typical” editions, should be used, to the extent that this is possible.”

    This is why the mess happened as these two sections of Musicam Sacram were totally ignored in most areas after the 1967 Document was published. We have forty-four years of nonsense to sort out–note by note.

    In addition, such excellent classes in high school as music appreciation and the generational passing down of music in the home for entertainment were lost. I remember families singing for fun classical and national folk music even as late at the 1960s. We lost several generations who do not approach music intellectually and we wonder at the lack of good taste, much less a cultivated taste. Mediocrity took over from excellence. One can hardly speak of the superiority of anything, much less Gregorian Chant. Let the parents teach it to their children and set up a little schola cantorum in the local parish, for a start. But, what does one do when one approaches a priest to be told, “I hate Latin” ?

  11. Precentrix says:

    Best resource I ever found as a music teacher was Plainsong for Schools. It’s a book for plainchant. For using in schools. Worried the little dears can’t read the square notation? Teach it by rote. You get a much more accurate interpretation especially if you, the teacher, have a copy of Dom Cardine’s seminal work and a copy of the Graduale Triplex.

    It sure beats singing ‘Kumbaya’ with tambourines.

    Seriously, though, when I was in teacher training (which I never completed) we were taught that no piece of music is objectively better than another and that the only criteria for marking was how successful the student-composer had been in fulfilling his/her intentions – i.e. pure subjectivity. Before that, I practically failed university composition by writing music that had a clear tonal centre, because that is obviously so passé. Something about that strikes me as wrong.

    An aside: anyone know how on earth to sing those annoying quatertones in Byzantine chant?!?!

  12. NoTambourines says:

    APX: Has the grand theft of the jazz tune “Take 5” known as “Sing of the Lord’s Goodness” shown up at your church yet?

    It’s in E minor, not E-flat minor (the former being friendlier to open-position guitar chords), but the progression is virtually the same (you can’t copyright a chord progression), with some other simplifications.

    Why would I want a hymn to remind me of a Woody Allen movie while I’m at Mass?

  13. Supertradmum says:


    Byzantine Chant is sublime as well as Gregorian Chant. And, when my little family was living in the boonies of Canada and attended the Byzantine Divine Liturgy, I was in heaven. It is also easy to learn, even in Ukrainian or other Byzantine languages. The Russian monks at Valaam have fantastic cds. http://www.amazon.com/Athos-North-Monastic-Valaam-Monastery/dp/B000GDTOKI/ref=sr_1_2?s=music&ie=UTF8&qid=1325180903&sr=1-2

    and two samples


  14. A wonderful statement. The question remains what vehicle / means / methodology gets it to make a real difference in everyday parish practice? It’s a long, long way from Pontificia Istituto di Musica Sacra to St. Ipsydipsy.

    The most important thing here is that this statement, bold and open, in conjunction with Card. Ranjith’s letter seen here a few days ago, is basically laying out in public the framework necessary for the rediscovery and cultivation of Catholic Identity. Amazing changes. Can anyone have imagined this ten years ago???

  15. Precentrix says:

    Means… weren’t they outlined by S. Pius X in his famous encylical?

    May I suggest giving up on the current generation and teaching the kids? It’s usually more effective. You’d be surprised how well eleven-year-olds from the ghetto respond to things like Bach’s St. Matthew Passion.

  16. Precentrix says:

    Hmm…. alternative method:

    If Father hates Latin, can we not, in the interests of Catholicity, borrow from the East? There is nothing to prohibit us from using, rather than banal so-called ‘hymns’, some lush Russian setting (a friend wrote a Russian-style setting of the Mass ordinary in Latin, if anyone’s interested!) of a relevant, if not strictly liturgical, text. Or a modern, plainchant-style English setting. Or even Anglican chant, which works because it is designed for English.

  17. Paul M says:

    Great post, Father. Thanks.

    To me this question of appropriate liturgical music is quite simple; so simple that a 3 year-old can figure it out…literally! I have always loved Gregorian chant & polyphony, but have yet, in my almost 47 years, to hear it at Mass, so I play it often at home. Well, one day my 3 year-old comes up to me and says, “how come you keep playing church music at home?” Hmmm, he’s never heard chant at Mass before, yet somehow he knows. Like I said, pretty simple.

  18. APX says:

    APX: Has the grand theft of the jazz tune “Take 5? known as “Sing of the Lord’s Goodness” shown up at your church yet?

    Yes! In multiple churches in two diocese I’ve lived in! I can’t sing that song. Its verses are too jumpy and its chorus is too high for my contralto/tenor voice.

  19. Blaise says:

    APX, NoTambourines – I have heard “Sing of the Lord’s goodness” in at least one Cathedral and one seminary. Alas. Although musically it is probably superior to much of what is “performed” by the music groups in Churches and Cathedrals across England. It is of course completely unsuitable. Fortunately it does not remind me of Woody Allen.

    NoTambourines, perhaps you should make it clear to your parish priest that while you will play the music they are picking to avoid it being even worse by being badly played, you would much rather be singing plainsong. In fact perhaps we should all be saying that to our priests.

  20. APX says:

    Do you know what’s at stake here??? The collapse of the guitar capo industry!

    So…if I “re-locate” the guitarist’s capo one Sunday morning to a spot he/she can’t find it and do that every Sunday until the music store’s supplier runs out of capos…does that mean the bad music will go away???

  21. Supertradmum says:

    Just for the record, I hear “Kum ba yah” at least 10 times in two months in Valletta, Malta and “Michael row your boat ashore”, which I hate even more, at least 6 times. The cantor who started these for the congregation at daily Mass works at several churches, going between them, so if I tried to avoid him, I would end up with him at another venue anyway. Purgatory. I assume he is an old hippie. The worst was attending the Latin High Mass (NO) at the Co-Cathedral for the First Sunday of Advent and having the choir sing “Amazing Grace” in Maltese as the recessional. No taste.

    Gregorian Chant, please.

  22. MF says:

    What? You mean Jingle Bells and Rudolph the Rednoised Reindeer before Christmas Eve Mass isn’t appropriate liturgical music? (I kid you not.) Maybe I should forward this article to our priest and “musician.”

  23. Cantate says:

    There is a great resource available for learning and singing chant, learning and singing polyphony, learning about true Catholic liturgical music: The Church Music Association of America. It hosts a wonderful annual Colloquium : 2012: Salt Lake City. (Most who attend the Colloquia are Catholic.) The website has an enormous amount of free downloads, chant resources, etc., etc. Website: http://www.musicsacra.com Click on Chant Cafe for many articles; click on Forum for interactions with church musicians, members, etc. Test all the other “buttons.” It is a very rich resource.

    I am blessed to live in a parish where chant is sung at the EF Mass on feast days, and where the piano and all such profane instruments at Mass–as well as folk music and Glory ‘n Praise– were left behind several years ago.

  24. APX says:


    What? You mean Jingle Bells and Rudolph the Rednoised Reindeer before Christmas Eve Mass isn’t appropriate liturgical music? (I kid you not.)
    I believe you. Our permanent deacon and priest had the nerve to lead us in a re-write of Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah during our Midnight Mass celebrated by our Bishop (who’s orthodox). I have faith I won’t hear it again next Christmas.

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  26. mrose says:

    More talk. Which is what all of this “reform” stuff seems to be, talk talk talk. Whether it is Msgr. Miserachs-Grau on music, or Card. Llovera on receiving Communion, or the Holy Father on ad orientem, or Card. Ranjith on the TLM, it is just talk. Sure, this is important for getting these ideas back out to the people, for reestablishing them, etc. But this is becoming boring. While legislation alone will not fix all the problems, or even all the liturgical problems, it is still eminently necessary. Take away the ridiculous permission for “other songs/hymns/chants” and require the propers. Take away the Communion-in-the-hand indult. These things could be done by the Holy Father before I finish writing this sentence. Then actually start appointing Bishops who will encourage and enforce them. Instead, we have European prelates blabbering on again about married priests and insinuating women prysstessys. Leading by example is all fine and well, but it alone will not suffice.

  27. APX says:

    I know my bishop tried to get the diocesan choir to learn Gregorian Chant and polyphony after being impressed by the music at the Confirmation EF Mass he was at to confer the sacrament, but the chant schola director from flat out refused to teach the diocesan choir. I do agree, though with so much talk, and no real action.

  28. dad29 says:

    It’s as though you all think this is a NEW thing.

    Read Mgr Hayburn’s book “Papal Legislation on Sacred Music”. About 1500 years’ worth of repeating the same thing endlessly.

    Bishops have ignored Papal directives forever. Musicians in parishes, too. Some souls are saved, some are not.

    Musicians, by nature, are creative, and think that they (Joe or Sally) has a Better Way to Fill the Void. 99% of them don’t. Mozart, yes. Cherubini, (etc.), yes. The rest? Nope.

  29. John Nolan says: A major problem is a pervasive cultural relativism which affects music more than any other art form. As an undergraduate 40 years ago I was surprised that so many of my peers listened to nothing but pop or rock. Some with otherwise intact critical faculties treated music as a purely subjective matter; to suggest that Mozart’s music was superior to John Lennon’s was nonsense – the most one could say was that one preferred listening to Mozart….To suggest that Gregorian Chant is somehow superior is to be guilty of elitism, and its reintroduction is seen as an example of trying to impose one’s personal musical tastes on others.

    Yes, there seems to be no lack of relativists around to remind me that my preference for chant is purely a matter of taste, and that other people have different tastes and opinions. What never gets explained is why, if liturgical music is purely a matter of taste and opinion, the pop-music crowd’s opinion always deserves to prevail over mine. The answer, of course, is that where universal standards are not acknowledged, the party that prevails is always the one with the most power. Thus, the ultimate end of relativism masquerading as “liberalism” or “tolerance” or “progressivism” is that might makes right.

    Hence half a century of bleeding ears.

  30. Alice says:

    Perhaps the difference between Mozart and Cherubini and Joe and Sally is that the former lived and breathed Gregorian Chant and were trained in the tradition of Western Art Music that springs from it while Joe and Sally were denied their heritage. Just a thought.

  31. Supertradmum says:

    No one has mentioned the very large Catholic and other universities which churn out the Liturgical Directors filling up the places in the chanceries and cathedrals of the world. This is big business. One sometimes has to not only have a Master’s Degree in Sacred Music (MSM), a relatively new degree, but degrees in Liturgical Music or PhD or ThD, One of the big problems in the United States has been the closing down of degree programs relating to organ, although new ones are opening up. Part of the problem is that the organ has moved from being a liturgical instrument to a performance one, so that many of those talented people who want to pursue a career do so in the secular environment. I have been in wonderful parishes in the past, including one seminary, where I was the only one in the congregation to sit and listen to the finishing of a Bach, Messiaen, or Durufle piece after Mass. People have lost their ear for classical music. Another example of this is the very recent closing of Opera Boston, a real shock announced last week. The reason I mention that is that many years ago, the New England Conservatory of Music closed in Boston as well. These are signs of the times, not merely financial but in matters of taste. There are other groups picking up the slack, but the traditional programs have been co-opted by newer ones which are not necessarily as classical and not inclined to teach older modes, such as Gregorian Chant. I believe that organ accompaniment for Chant actually keeps even the a cappella movement going. In other words, when professionals play the newer forms of Gregorian Chant with accompaniment, it can only encourage the use of Chant in older forms. However, the music programs must offer these possibilities and not merely emphasize modern liturgical music.

  32. mrose says:


    I remember you mentioning that rather dreadful episode before. I agree it is definitely regrettable, and a great opportunity lost. If traditional, EF communities have riches which properly belong to the whole Church, then how wonderful that the Bishop asked them to teach the diocesan schola! Alas…

    Supertradmum, your point makes a lot of sense. All these wacko lay liturgist-musicians have to come from somewhere, someone is forming/malforming them concerning what counts as sacred music, what the relationship between liturgy and music is, etc.

  33. John Nolan says:

    @ Supertradmum

    There is no recessional chant in the Roman Rite and the the habit of singing a hymn at the end of Mass is something we borrowed from the Anglicans (as no doubt have the Maltese). Musicam Sacram (1967) which is the musical blueprint for the NO says nothing about a recessional at a sung Mass; Paragraph 36 which talks about ‘aliquis alius cantus … necnon in fine Missae’ is referring to a Low Mass (Missa Lecta). In Advent (EF or OF) there is no organ recessional permitted at Sung Masses – the congregation departs in silence.

  34. dad29 says:

    Alice, you are correct.

    As noted by supertradmum, we have been raised in the Darwinian/Progressive era–thus, all that is “new” is (logically) better than what is old. Yes, many were robbed of their heritage.

  35. Alice says:

    New England Conservatory of Music is still in Boston and still open. They closed their organ division ~5 years ago, but the school is still there. Boston Conservatory is still open as well.

    Also, would you mind clarifying this? “Part of the problem is that the organ has moved from being a liturgical instrument to a performance one, so that many of those talented people who want to pursue a career do so in the secular environment.” I have read this about 20 times and I still see no way to square it with the reality I see as an American organist. It may be true in parts of Europe for all I know, but in the US, nearly every professional organist is either a full time church organist or working a full time job and working weekends at a church. Since organs are hardly found outside of churches anymore, this should not be all that surprising.

  36. I have been a church singer, cantor, and choir director for the last 35 years. For the first ten of them, I sang in Episcopal, Anglican, and some of the (musically) better Roman Catholic Churches in my area. For the last 25 years, I have made my home at St. Andrew Russian Catholic Church. From that home, I have been able to learn something of the Slavic, Greek, and Arab chant traditions of the East (yes, Precentrix, including Byzantine chant), while learning both the Russian and Western European choral traditions and Gregorian and other western chant.

    From that perspective, I have been able to observe and to sing with a great number of Orthodox and Eastern Catholic choirs and groups, and from those observations, have come to some conclusions as to what would be necessary for RC churches to rebuild their liturgical musical tradition.

    While I would agree with Msgr. Miserachs-Grau that schools like the Pontifical Institute for Sacred Music and a return to chant would be necessary to such a rebuilding, I must point out that they are necessary, but not sufficient, to make such rebuilding possible. This is the sort of top-down thinking that has given us all sorts of counsels of perfection from Popes and Councils on sacred music for the last several centuries, but which has resulted in no change at the parish level.

    One of the reasons that the Russian chant and choral tradition survived and thrived, in spite of 70 years of Soviet martyrdom, and why Byzantine chant survived, in spite of four centuries of rule by the Turks, was that there were a great number of Orthodox singers, cantors, and choir directors who kept the tradition alive.

    If the venerable Roman tradition of chant and polyphony is to survive, it will do so because of efforts like those of Jeffrey Tucker and http://www.musicasacra.com, choir directors like Dad29, and all those singers and cantors building chant scholas, like many of those who are commenting here. And, of course, holy priests like Fr. Z who can themselves chant and who encourage the formation of such choirs.

  37. Alice says:

    @ Bernard Brandt,
    Where’s the +1?

  38. Supertradmum says:

    I meant the organ school. And, there are many concert halls, even new ones, built in the past 30 years or so, which have great organs. I have known young people who gave up careers in organ, as there are not enough churches who hire organists anymore. We as Catholics are still in the mindset of “volunteer musicians” but at the level of organist, this is a myth. It is a catch-22, as there is a shortage of organists in some areas, even in California. These young people may move into the performance side, as churches with old and venerable organs close. Examples of what I mean can also be found in monasteries, for example, where the organs are used for performance, but rarely for daily or Sunday Mass, or minimally. In fact, in my experience, church organ use is much more common in Europe than England. But again, performances outweigh the usage which could be happening daily on during more than one Sunday Mass. There are, of course, churches famous for liturgical organ music and that instrument would be used more in those places. In the Midwest, it is sometimes impossible to find a Catholic organist even for Sundays, outside of the large metro areas, and because of financial problems in parishes, the music budget is one of the first to go. There is not an easy cross-over between Protestant trained organists and Catholic ones, either, as the former do not understand necessarily Catholic worship, much less accompaniment for Gregorian Chant. I am convinced that in some areas, the lack of donors or people interested in classical organists has caused some of the abuses in church music. In addition, I have attended Mass for years in places with organs, but only the piano, declared by the present Pope as NOT a liturgical instrument, is used. This is because students have found it easier to study the piano, but that is another problem. The fact is that there is in many areas less organ music than ever before.

  39. Supertradmum says:

    John Nolan,

    On only one Sunday in Advent did the congregation leave in silence, as the choir sang recessionals at the other three. On the others, just as during the ordinary time, the choir, which processes in and out down the main aisles to the choir area behind the baldacchino, altar area, sang. I did not refer to organ music there, but the fact that the choir was singing a “recessional” a capella, (NO Latin Mass) and it was tacky. The Maltese have never been highly influenced by the Anglicans, as the Catholicity was so much stronger in the culture, but by the modern American liturgists, sadly. The population is 99% Catholic, many non-practicing, but not Protestant. And, the Protestant churches which are there have very little influence. The musical choices for one NO Latin Mass might include anything, without any reasonable theme, such as Ave Verum, a Black Spiritual in the vernacular, and a traditional hymn in the vernacular. Horrid. And in the Co-Cathedral, which is giving bad musical example to every other church. The Maltese NOs are such “hymn sandwiches”.

  40. Supertradmum says:


    I meant to say about England, outside the great choir schools and cathedrals, of course, where the organ and choir tradition is alive and well. But, this does not trickle down to the parish level in most cases, even when the churches have organs.

  41. AnAmericanMother says:

    The only answer is to build up the kids’ musical education.
    I forced my kids (male or female, didn’t matter) to learn a musical instrument as well as get choir training. Our former Episcopal parish had TWO excellent children’s choirs, one for the grade-schoolers and one through high school or til the boys’ voices changed, as well as a parish choir that toured and made recordings. You had to audition to get into any choir, and even though I came to that parish from the cathedral choir and sang there for 28 years, I still had to audition every year. People were standing in line to get into the choirs, and the folks who didn’t make it were relegated to the “folk group” that sang ONE Sunday a month at the 9 a.m. service where they wouldn’t bother too many people.
    That sort of musical full-court press is s.o.p. among Episcopalians, but it doesn’t seem to have sunk in with the Catholics.
    There is no excuse for the lack of real, competent children’s choir training in Catholic parishes. Musica Sacra has great resources, and the Royal School of Church Music has already done all the heavy lifting for you, with a complete course and achievements that the kids can put on their college applications. If the parish school has to make it a mandatory course for the little darlings, just do it. That’s the only way we’re going to make a dent in the horrific neglect of music in the Church.
    We have an excellent little choir at our current parish, with a music director who really knows his onions (doctorate from Juilliard in organ performance and a masters in early music – plays like an angel of course and knows chant backwards and forwards). But it’s like pulling teeth to get people to support the music program, and it just makes me furious. The Church sold its birthright for a mess of pop music pottage, and now we’re stuck trying to pick up the pieces. Abominable!

  42. Supertradmum says:


    Great post. I grew up singing Gregorian Chant every day, except Saturday from the age of eight. So did one of my brothers. We all four took piano lessons. And, some of us also played guitar and violin. My father played the violin and my son, as well. I was in several Gregorian Chant choirs until April of this ending year. My son was as well. He actually was part of a men’s schola which made a CD in California, when he was in two all men’s scholas. I was in a mixed schola with a professional organist in 2007-2008 in California, which ended when we lost our director and organist. We all started very young. My son started violin at three.

    In addition, we had local organists who were very good, and the violin was played at Christmas Masses pre-Vatican II. When the changes happened, all of this heritage rapidly disappeared. Families started watching television and not singing together or listening to each other play. Also, there is no reason for young children not to learn Latin or chant. Both are easy.

    You seem to be in a parish which supports good music. Sadly, in most places, this is simply not so,

    By the way, a cute story, my parents met in the Latin choir in the early 1940s, had their courtship interrupted by WWll , but are celebrating their 64 wedding anniversary on January 3rd. They stopped singing in their parish choir in 2009.

    Why people do not support excellent music and musicians, I am not sure, but part of it is the dumbing down of good taste and the ridiculous idea that all music is equal. Also, we live in an age of anti-intellectualism and anti-elitism. Sorry, but classical music and chant are both intellectual and elitist to a certain extent, as both are solidly traditionally Catholic.

  43. AnAmericanMother says:

    I hope you don’t include with the “new pieces” the tour de force by William Mathias (1934-1992), “A babe is born all of a may” – which was sung by Kings’ in 2007 and by our much smaller-beer choir for Midnight Mass this year. I posted a link before, but I’ll post it again — A babe is born.
    Of course, you have to have a really good organist and a choir that can play/sing three against two . . . over and over and over again. But it is just brilliant, and also is tremendous fun to sing.

    You said it! I think one of the redeeming social qualities of the Anglicans/Episcopalians (and they are few) is that with respect to music they are by and large traditional and very elitist. Sometimes you just have to maintain your high standards . . . :-D (I think it’s a byproduct of the days when, if you got promoted into middle management, you had to leave the Baptists or Methodists or whoever and become either an Episcopalian or a Presbyterian. I don’t know what happened to Catholics, I wasn’t one then. Maybe they didn’t get promoted, or there were so few in the South that they were statistically insignificant, except in Charleston, Mobile, and New Orleans.)
    That’s a very sweet story about your parents! We have always made music at home. My father’s parents were the bass and mezzo soloists at St. Peter’s, Rome (that’s Georgia, and Episcopalian – they bagged the name before the Catholics got a mission planted in the mountains), and my father’s very earliest memory is of being about two years old and sitting in the choir loft between his mom and dad while the choir sang. Grandmother was a music major (opera performance) at Shorter College in Rome (class of 1910) and sang at the Met (just in the chorus, but still . . . the Met!) Both my parents sang in the Episcopal cathedral choir from around 1949 until they moved. We had choir parties at our house, and everybody stood around the piano and sang – old hymns, pop standards, whatever came to mind. We have tried to keep that tradition going at our choir parties in our Catholic parish, and it’s worked out pretty well (especially when our Irish priests get to singing ‘the old songs’ – I had some field recordings from Connemara in the ’30s that were a hit).
    Mom still sings in the Episcopal choir in their tiny little country church in coastal Georgia (you can hardly swing a cat in the narthex) but Daddy is self-conscious about having lost a good deal of his vocal range at 87 and won’t sing any more. Except at the dinner table . . . . we were at an Italian restaurant where the waiters have a horrible habit of singing “happy birthday” in Italian to helpless customers, and my dad stood right up and let them have a bit of “Buona sera, mio signore”, which impressed them very much. He still has remarkable pitch and volume for an octogenarian.

  44. Supertradmum says:

    Aren’t older parents wonderful? Thanks for sharing, AnAmericanMother, and my brother has his little girl, who is nine, play the violin for family guests at Christmas and Thanksgiving. I would love to visit those churches you describe. Your family sounds fun!

  45. AnAmericanMother says:

    Older parents are awesome! I hope to be one myself someday. :-D Congratulations to your folks on their anniversary, that’s quite an achievement. Mine will (God willing) celebrate their 61st in March. And it sounds like your brother is keeping up the music tradition. Hope his girl continues with the violin, it’s valuable in so many ways. What does she like to play?

    If you’re ever in Atlanta, drop by our parish. Holy Spirit, the most bang for your musical buck in town.

  46. dad29 says:

    preference for chant is purely a matter of taste, and that other people have different tastes and opinions.

    “Preferences” and “taste” are words used to frame the argument so that the Wacko always wins.

    Challenge that, and demand that the discussion of Sacred Music revolve around Pius X’s definition: “Holy, Beautiful, Universal” (where ‘beautiful’ also refers to the technical craftsmanship of composition.)

    In fact, “taste” has nothing whatever to do with choosing sacred music. The music either stands or falls on the much-more-quantifiable elements of Pius X (and Pius XII, and the 2 Vatican Council, by the way.)

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