A superb essay on Sacred Music

Stop what you are doing and either bookmark this or go to read this essay right now.  HERE

Sr. Joan L. Roccasalvo, C.S.J., knocks it outta da park on Sacred Music.

Here’s a taste, which you can enjoy while sipping your Mystic Monk Coffee!


Disintegration: What the ‘Folk’ Style Hath Wrought

Benedict XVI makes a startling observation in suggesting that the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy has produced an attitude of opposition within the Church–a partisan and opposing church tearing herself apart (A New Song for the Lord, 142). The Matthean verse, “where two or three are gathered together in my name (Mt 18:20) is used to oppose the institution and every official program of the Church. This verse becomes the place of origin for the liturgy. The group arises on the spot from the creativity of those gathered (Ibid, 145). The institution and the clerical Orders represent a negative image of bondage, opposed to genuine freedom. This new attitude is expressed through the new music by the people of God, and it is the music which gives identity to the group.

The new music is the characteristic of the group’s identity, the emergence of another church. For this group, the content of Pope St. Pius X’s motu proprio on church music is called a “culturally shortsighted and theologically worthless ideology of sacred music” (Ibid., 144). Gregorian chant and Renaissance polyphony symbolize the power of the institution and the clergy–the other church, which curtails the group’s freedom. The pontiff writes that the “treasury of musica sacra, the universality of Gregorian chant handed down through the ages, now appears as an outmoded and quaint practice of the pre-conciliar Church for the purpose of preserving a certain form of power” (Ibid).

Disintegration is not a pretty word, but Benedict XVI uses it to capture the liturgical crisis in the Church today. A thing deteriorates when its natural form is so disfigured that the purpose for which it was intended is no longer recognizable. It is not simply irreverent music. At issue is that the faithful have become the Church, and they are celebrating themselves through the folly of faddism.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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  1. What we need is a saint to lead us out of this wasteland of tone-deafness and back into a communion with the joyous symphony of the angels. May I suggest that our soon-to-be newest Doctor of the Church, St. Hildegard of Bingen, might be the one to help?

    We could call her the Symphonic Doctor, not only to honor her own superb compositions, which topped the classical music charts years before theologians got around to rediscovering her, but for the extraordinary theology of music she provides. St. Hildegard weaves the music of the Opus Dei into the very fabric of salvation history, seeing within it a most powerful tool against the Devil because it reflects the musical harmony of paradise. For her, music rises almost to the level of a sacrament, channeling the perfection of divine grace from the heavenly choirs down to us, where we reflect the symphony in the blessed joy of song.

    If only that were how our church musicians today approached their sacred craft…

  2. wmeyer says:

    I love the comments on the offerings from OCP, including this:
    3) Songs with jerky, heavy, frenzied rhythms, or dance rhythms found in popular culture: #302, Gather Us In; #374, City of God; #447, Though the Mountains May Fall; #452, Blest Be the Lord; #495, Let There Be Peace on Earth, the perfect song for Bette Midler; #548, Sing to the Mountains, Sing to the Sea; #578, Sing a New Song Unto the Lord; #548 and #578 are cast in the style of a brindisi, a drinking song similar to that sung in Verdi’s La Traviata.

  3. Sissy says:

    wmeyer, that quotation leaves me speechless. I am so thankful for the brilliant choirmaster in the church I am attending now. He is introducing a schola cantorum and the music for one Mass each Sunday is a mix of Gregorian chant and classical/sacred. He’s very faithful and reverent, and it is making a real difference. I’ve noticed that people dress better at that Mass. ; )

  4. irishgirl says:

    That was an excellent essay!
    I also had to cringe because many of the songs she listed were ones I grew up with, and even sang, either in a choir or as a cantor. I feel so guilty now because I USED to like them!
    Good thing I go now to a TLM chapel where we have only ‘the good stuff’, the old traditional hymns!

  5. dominic1955 says:

    Its heartening to read something so…so…Catholic…coming from a religious sister after all the stuff in the news of late. She has quite the educational background as well. God bless her!

  6. Bryan Boyle says:

    what it comes down to, I think, is a certain level of arrogance on the part of many ‘liturgical music’ types that the butts in the pew are so unsophisticated that they have to mimic pop ditties for Mass (complete with the tinkling piano-bar accompaniment during the communion procession) to get people to pick up the throw-away missalettes (which, in itself, is a problem) to sing banal formless music.

    I’ve often been tempted to hijack one of my dad’s big brandy snifters and surreptitiously place it on the grand piano next to the organ console at my parish with a couple bucks in it to see if the music director of the parish ‘gets it’.

    Liturgical music, as forced down our throats by the likes of OCP, GIA, and the rest of the cabal is the musical equivalent of Gresham’s Law.

  7. dominic1955 says:

    Personally, I think it has a lot more to do with money. How much could you make off of printing just Gregorian chant books, things that do not change much if ever? If you can churn out millions of copies of pulp paper booklets that need to be discarded and reorded every once in awhile, think of the bucks to be made! Plus, all the licenses and copyright stuff that goes into it. After all, isn’t much of the actual sacred music of the Church beyond all of that at this point?

    That said, the Church is partly to blame for this because they led by example. Benzinger went under trying to keep up with all the stupid changes to the same basic degree of quality as their pre-Conciliar product. What company wants to do much more than turn out cheap and sleezy? How much could you loose if your only printing disposable stuff? Plus, we never really hear any condemnation with teeth coming from on high that the stuff these companies puts out is unacceptable for Catholic Church use so people follow the path of least resistance and just keep ordering the same garbage over and over.

  8. Suburbanbanshee says:

    There’s always been an element of popular music or folksong in the Church’s devotional music, and there’s always been a place for the odd bit of devotional song tucked into a feastday procession here or a sodality meeting there, or just to sing during your day.

    When things get out of hand is when the popular music stylings replace the Church’s various forms of sacred music entirely. Which is the problem now, and which has been the problem at various times a fair number of centuries in the past.

    You can like any song you want; don’t be ashamed of that. It’s just that some songs belong at home or at a parish festival concert or a Rosary rally, but not particularly at Mass.

  9. jeffreyquick says:

    I would love to have heard Sister’s reply to Dr. Reese.
    Tonight is the fall’s first choir rehearsal in my Reform of the Reform parish, Mary Queen of Peace in Cleveland OH….Kyrie and Agnus from Byrd in 4. It’s happening, brick by brick.

  10. The Masked Chicken says:

    Ah, yes, professor Reese. His book is very large and magisterial. We studied from it when I was in graduate musicology. Excellent.

    As one musicologist to another, I do have to slightly disagree with Sr. Roccasalvo. Her definition of folk music is too restrictive. Folk music is the spontaneous music of the indigenous people. Now, it is true that most of the folk music in the Medieval period was largely vocal, but instrumentalized folk music grew rapidly during the Renaissance, largely because of the development of both musical instruments (which could now be separated from the influence of the Church because of increased secularization) and new theories of tonality.

    It is clear that folk music and instrumentality will evolve as the society evolves. “Folk music,” a la Judy Collins, is a more traditional form of universal folk music, but it would not be recognized as such in a modern techno-society.

    We need to be a little more subtle. There were really two types of folk music in play during the 1960’s: the simple, universal kind that Sr. Roccasalvo mentions and the garage band wannabes that mimicked the indigenous music of America from groups like the Rolling Stones. We can call them simple and popular folks styles, respectively.

    That either one made it into Church was, possibly (assuming no malice) from a misreading of SC 119:

    119. In certain parts of the world, especially mission lands, there are peoples who have their own musical traditions, and these play a great part in their religious and social life. For this reason due importance is to be attached to their music, and a suitable place is to be given to it, not only in forming their attitude toward religion, but also in adapting worship to their native genius, as indicated in Art. 39 and 40.

    Therefore, when missionaries are being given training in music, every effort should be made to see that they become competent in promoting the traditional music of these peoples, both in schools and in sacred services, as far as may be practicable.

    What was the traditional music of the U.S. in 1967? Hard to say, but the common folk would have responded, probably, with show tunes (which did not really exist outside of the English-speaking world in exactly the same fashion – other Euopean cultures has some similar things derived from Opera, but they were not considered music of the people in the same way). One can see how this provided an opening for the silly banal music of the 1970’s. The U. S. was still considered a missionary territory and it looked like fair game to use the music of the people. Both guitar music and banal choir music sprouted.

    Well, the U.S. is no longer classified as a proper missionary territory (I forget the year it was removed from the list), but SC 119 no longer applies and folk-style music, either in the simple style or popular style MUST BE DROPPED! The U.S. should fall in line with the dictates of SC 112 – 121, Musica Scara, and even Tra le Sollecitudini. We don’t need no stinkin’ guitars.

    The Chicken

  11. jilly4ski says:

    Yes, I was looking for a choir to join, so I joined my parish’s choir. Sigh, I cringe and sigh my way through rehearsal with the poor music selections and the poor musical direction given by the school librarian turned music director. Luckily for me I also joined another choir with actual warm ups before singing.

    So if you are in the Twin Cities (Minneapolis/Saint Paul), the Twin Cities Catholic Choral invites you to join us for their first orchestrated Mass, they will be singing Hayden’s Paukenmesse (Mass in Times of War) on October 14th at the 10am Mass at Saint Agnes’s in Saint Paul. For a real treat, November 2nd at 7:30pm, the Mass will be accompanied by Mozart’s Requiem. http://chorale.churchofsaintagnes.org/

  12. rollingrj says:

    I can’t wait for Part II.

  13. Ana says:

    I appreciate the differences she points out regarding classical guitar which is difficult to master and elementary guitar. It is the use of elementary guitar styles that serves to create a frenzy and removes the meditative approach that is found in classical guitar. Among classical musicians, the lack of musical comprehension among most modern guitarists is a source of irritation.

  14. APX says:

    I can’t believe Lord of the Dance, Anthem (I still don’t know what, “we are question we are creed” actually means), and Alle Alle Alleuia didn’t make that list, as they’re all in OCP’s song books an are far worse than Though the Mountains May Fall.

  15. WMBriggs says:

    “Romanticized, saccharine melodies: …Taste and See; #359.” Amen to that.

    So many songs sound like they came right out of a Disney movie.

  16. The songs described as “trite, romanticized and frenzied” in Sr. Joan Roccasalvo’s article are all on the top 10 at our parish…
    Know most of them by heart~
    Pretty sure “Eagle’s Wings” is required for funeral Mass.

    Looking forward to a few new bricks in the music department…
    Hope never disappoints!

  17. frjim4321 says:

    It is difficult anytime we try to objectify that which is essentially subjective.

    This author, and the others that she quotes, have a personal liking for the rarified musical offerings of an elitist class. It is certainly her right and the right of others to like or dislike whatever they choose.

    My guess is that the musical judgment of a competent pastoral musician is not only based on the personal taste of “experts” but also of well trained ministers who know their people and will make selections that will promote the beautiful and meaningful celebration of the liturgy which is accessible to the assembly.

  18. AnAmericanMother says:

    Oh, fr jim, fr jim, that relativism you champion has destroyed your common sense.
    Just as there is objective Truth, there is objectively Good Music.
    Moreover, there is objectively appropriate music for the Holy Mass.
    All the harrumphing about ‘rarified’ and ‘elitist’ and worship of the ‘pastoral’ and ‘meaningful’ does not change the irrefutable truth:
    Idiots or worse, who thought liberal political theories (Power to the People!) could be applied to church music, jettisoned a thousand years of Catholic musical heritage in favor of banal, lowest-common-denominator schlock.
    We are doing our best to clean up the mess you and your buddies made of things by selling your birthright for a mess of pottage. You are not helping.
    – not an elitist, just an amateur singer properly trained in an Episcopalian choir. It’s pretty embarrassing that even a bunch of heretics have better musical instincts than your average “pastoral musician”.

  19. robtbrown says:

    frjim4321 says:

    This author, and the others that she quotes, have a personal liking for the rarified musical offerings of an elitist class.

    There is nothing elitist about Gregorian Chant. That is at the core of its genius.

  20. Shonkin says:

    Sister Joan is right in pointing out the tragedy of losing organ music.
    Our parish almost never uses the organ; it sits gathering (that word again) dust while the guitars bang on. But human beings commonly have their egos, and it seems parish music directors can have egos the size of Jupiter. They play THEIR music, and it’s their way or the highway. For our last choir director, somebody with a backbone (probably not our pastor) said, “The highway.” He left and took a third of the choir members with him.
    Now we have a young “music minister” who plays the same OCP trash, but with less skill. Oh well.

  21. Indulgentiam says:

    Thank you for the interesting article Father, it awakened a curiosity about where Liturgical Hymns came from. I went looking and found a great article at CatholicCulture.org. Pasted a small sampling below.
    “The Church, as we all know, was beset with heresies, even from the beginning, one of which, Arianism, was rampant during the fourth century, although its originator, Arius, was dead, and the heresy itself condemned by the first Council of Nice, held in 325 a.d. the Emperor Constantius, who was one of the protectors of this heresy, had banished St. Hilary, the Bishop of Poitiers, to Phrygia because the latter adhered stanchly to Nicene orthodoxy. While he was in Phrygia St. Hilary came in contact with the Eastern Churches and observed the part that hymn singing played in their liturgies.

    When St. Hilary was released from his exile he stopped on his way home to visit his friend, St. John Chrysostom, who was Bishop of Constantinople. The latter was having trouble with the Arians who, having been declared heretics, were being denied the use of the churches of the city. Nothing daunted, they streamed into Constantinople at sunset on Saturdays and Sundays and the eves of festivals, congregating in the porticoes of the buildings they were not allowed to use and singing hymns with gusto, all night long. The hymns which they sang were doctrinal and the doctrine they set forth was, of course, heretical.

    To offset this vigorous broadcasting of false doctrine St. John Chrysostom organized nightly processions, the faithful carrying silver crosses and wax tapers. St. Hilary sensed an opportunity in all this— the truth could be spread by the very same means which the Arians were using to spread heresy. Accordingly, he set to and composed hymns himself, tuneful in sound and orthodox in content and offered them to his friend, the bishop, for his people to use in their nightly processions, so that they could sing as loudly as the Arians and drown out their heresy. His offer was accepted.

    But all this singing and holding of processions at night led to disorder and soon an imperial edict was issued forbidding the Arians to sing in the city of Constantinople. St. Hilary seems to have been blamed, somewhat, for his share in the disorder and it was suggested to him that, his exile being ended, he might as well continue on his journey home. Hilary took the hint and set off again, this time stopping over at Milan to see his friend St. Ambrose, bishop of that city. At Milan St. Hilary walked into much the same situation that he had encountered at Constantinople— trouble with the Arians.

    It seems that Justina, mother of the boy emperor, Valentinian, was a recent convert to Arianism. Consequently, she was trying to persuade her son to turn over to that sect the Cathedral at Milan which had just been completed. In order to forestall this outrage St. Ambrose arranged that some of the faithful should remain in the edifice day and night, praying constantly. Among these watchers was Monica, the mother of St. Augustine. Having so recently observed the salutary effect of hymn singing St. Hilary suggested that if the watchers were given hymns to sing neither the day nor the night would prove so long and so fatiguing.

    St. Ambrose took the suggestion to heart. Whether he used some of St. Hilary’s hymns or not, is hardly known, now. Certain it is, however, that he composed hymns of his own, setting them to a chant. Not only were they pleasant to sing but they were orthodox in content, an antidote to Arianism. It was by these hymns and because of this circumstance that the singing of hymns began in the Western Church. That this is so is evident from some words in St. Augustine’s Confessions. “It was first ordained at Milan,” he writes, “that after the manner of the Eastern Churches hymns and psalms should be sung lest the people wax faint through tediousness and sorrow. And from that day to this the custom is retained in divers places, almost all the congregations throughout the other parts of the world following therein.”

    Much of the information in this article is taken from “The Hymns of the Breviary and Missal, by Rev. Matthew Britt, O.S.B.” it is a great read. I had a sneaky suspicion that like everything else the modernists hijacked, mutilated and deformed, hymns once had a more noble purpose than making us sway in our pews like pot heads at a Simon and Garfunkel concert. That great article inspired me to start saving for a Breviary. Many Thanks Father :)

  22. fvhale says:

    The metronome swings.

    I recall reading with horror a 2003 column by Sandro Magister years ago titled “Gregorian Chant: How and Why it was Strangled in its Own Cradle,” and I had just recently been to Monastero San Gregorio Magno al Celio on the one hand, and finished a chant workshop on the other.

    Ten years ago the music in my parish was under the direction of a fellow who is now an OCP composer, the organ had been removed, and the place fairly rocked, even with amplifiers, electric bass (often played by the music director), drums, etc.

    But now, there is a new organ, and tomorrow (unless the sun does not rise), there will be the very first Pontifical High Mass with full organ and chant in the parish.

    This is nothing less than a miracle.

  23. VexillaRegis says:

    fvhale: Congratulations! ( I’m an organist, by the way;-)) Which mass will be sung?

  24. JonPatrick says:

    @Indulgentiam, that was a fascinating excerpt. It also reminds us that the struggles we go through today are not new, our forefathers went through equal or worse.

    The only problem I have after reading Sr. Joan Roccasalvo’s essay is now I have those awful OCP melodies stuck in my head! :(

  25. TMKent says:

    “For the sins of my past life…” was exactly how I was taught the formula (1970).
    I wonder if the priest was attempting to be “funny” as a dig at the use of the formula. Until recently, I had abandoned the use of any real formula as many priests resisted it, made light of it, or interrupted me when I was saying it.

  26. gloriainexcelsis says:

    …and I thank God that there is still a REAL Sister of St. Joseph of Carondelet

  27. APX says:

    For those complaining about the lack of organ music, bare in mind organists are becoming a rare species, and finding good organ lessons is both difficult an expensive. Further, I don’t know of too many people who have easy access to an organ to practice on regularly. Like EF Masses, of you want an organist, find someone willing/interested in learning and support them and make sure they have what they need to learn. Also, don’t be selfish and expect miracles of having an instant organist. In the pre-Vatican II days, the majority of organists learned to play the organ in their parishes by another organist in the parish. They learned what they needed to know the play the music for Mass, and that was it.

    BTW: this is likely the easiest way to get rid of inappropriate music during Mass. Traditional hymns are a lot easier to play than those OCP songs, which rarely have an organ arrangement written for them, so it’s improvised (a skill your new organist won’t have, thus can’t be forced to do), and I can’t see a church choir willing to sing that music unaccompanied by anything (it’s usually the skill of a competent pianist improvising the piano part to make it sound “more rockin'”. I’ve seen the piano music for a lot of that music, and it’s actually pretty lame, and I don’t think many pianists play it as written.”). Contrary to popular belief, you don’t have to be a pianist to play the organ, which means you can have an organist who can’t be forced to play bad music on the piano as well.

  28. gloriainexcelsis says:

    Sorry. I just realized that the CSJ was for a different order of religious. Sigh! It was a vain hope.

  29. The Masked Chicken says:


    I suspect that story about St. Hilary is correct inasfar as it goes. Liturgical singing entered Milan through this route and Ambrosian chants are among the oldest chants in the Church, but Liturgical hymns entered the Church originally through the West, got transplanted to the East where they flourished (the local populous would have been familiar with a long history of vocal music similar to chant) and were then re-introduced to the West. The original Liturgical hymnody would have been similar to the songs of the Jewish Synaxis. As I wrote back in 1991 (!) for a chant tutorial I was developing for the led fledgling Internet, the basic structure of the Temple Synaxis of the first century was:

    Synaxis [usually conducted in a synagogue]
    1. A greeting chanted by the elder, responded to by the congregation.
    2. The reading of three scripture passages in cantillation [singing to
    standard formulae.], separated by the singing of psalms in a
    responsorial manner. Originally, the first first reading was from the
    Pentateuch, and the second from the Prophets as before, but readings from
    the New Testament were gradually substituted for the latter. The third
    reading, a Christian addition to the [two] Jewish original, was always from
    the New Testament. The choice of psalms depended on the content of these
    3. A sermon, or sermons, preached by certain preists and the bishop.
    4. Dismissal of those present who were not full-fledged Christians.

    Cantillation is a type of Hebrew chanting. It would have made some sense to base early singing on that, since the earliest Christians were mostly Jewish. As time went on and Christianity spread, the Eastern influence changed both the melodic content as well as the tonal structure into the modal system and pitch organization for chant that we have, today (although the pitch organization changed in various periods and various locations in hstory , but the devlopment of chant is too complicated to get into). Chant is not associated with early Roman music in any way we can prove, because the Roman Empire produced very little of its own music, as far as we know. The apostles would have grown up in a Hebraic muisical environment with some accretions from the Greeks and Turks. We know very little about the transmission of music in the first three centuries.

    By the Fourth century, the modal system was in place (due to Ptolemy and, later, Boethius), so that St. Hilary did not have to re-invent the wheel when he suggested chanting to St. Ambrose.

    The Chicken

  30. AnAmericanMother says:

    That should work. Bear in mind that accompanying chant on an organ does not require a whole lot of skill. I can do it, but am embarrassed to do so in the vicinity of our organist, who is a Real Organist (DMA from Juilliard in organ performance. And we are lucky to have him. Organists are, as you say, scarce.)
    But in accompanying chant, you’re basically just doubling the voice part, and because the organ is not percussive like a piano, you can ease in and just support the sound.
    If you get ambitious, the best source is either the St. Gregory Hymnal or (sorry) the 1982 Episcopal Hymnal, both of which have nice, simple accompaniments for most common chant melodies.
    And the Episcopal Hymnal is perfect for good, foursquare hymn accompaniments, and a few more complex ones as well, courtesy of Richard Proulx, who edited it.
    They stole most of the good Catholic music, anyhow, so we can just steal it right back.

  31. Sissy says:

    Dear Masked Chicken, I just want to chime, er, chirp in here to thank you for your very helpful posts. I know I am not alone in my appreciation for the information you so generously share.

  32. dominic1955 says:

    Gregorian chant is elitist and rarified? Oh please. We need music that is “accessible” (so-called) to the people? Utter nonsense. Come now, Comrade Jim, the bourgeoisie have oppressed the masses for too long with their elitist and rarified beautiful music. Let’s sing (poorly, I might add) a new church into being, post haste!

    The story of St. Hilary is apt, that is one thing that happened. The revolt in the Church after Vatican II would never have happened if the traditional markers of Church praxis had been allowed to stay in place. Foisting newchurchthink on everyone is not going to go over too well had our Apostolic liturgy remained in place, and the ancient music that went along with it. Tradition, orthodoxy, and orthopraxis are to the nouvelle theologie innovators like crucifixes, holy water and garlic to vampires.

  33. Sissy says:

    The church I attend has just started reintroducing Gregorian chant, and it is being very warmly received (with a palpable sense of relief). I leave choir practice feeling peaceful and calm. There is nothing elitist about it; what terrible reverse snobbery to suggest that people who enjoy beautiful sacred music should be scorned in such insulting terms.

  34. The Masked Chicken says:

    “Dear Masked Chicken, I just want to chime, er, chirp in here to thank you for your very helpful posts. I know I am not alone in my appreciation for the information you so generously share.”

    I blush. Have you ever seen a blushing chicken? Here is a recipe for Blushing Chicken Fettuccine:


    Of course, we don’t talk about this at the Coop. We prefer to steer people to the turkeys. Here’s a recipe for Blushing Turkey Cheese Sandwiches:


    Today, being Friday, gives chickens everywhere in Catholic countries a breather. You are eating fish, today…aren’t you?

    The Chicken

  35. AnAmericanMother says:

    :-) I’m eating fish! (have you spoken to the Chik fil A cows yet?)

    Seriously, thanks for the musical info (may I steal it for my choir column for the weekly bulletin?)

  36. Banjo pickin girl says:

    I spent two weeks this past July in Fr. Columba Kelly OSB’s classes on Gregorian chant. We learned to read the “squiggles” in the Triplex. It was wonderful and showed how accessible chant can be even to a non-musician like me (banjos notwithstanding). My parish does more chant than average and everybody seems to just naturally gravitate to it. Unlike at other parishes where I have been with the OCP-type stuff which has some really unsingable melodies (malodies?). As Fr. Columba says, “Chant is sung speech.” If you can talk you can chant.

  37. The Masked Chicken says:

    My guess is that the musical judgment of a competent pastoral musician is not only based on the personal taste of “experts” but also of well trained ministers who know their people and will make selections that will promote the beautiful and meaningful celebration of the liturgy which is accessible to the assembly.

    Excuse me, but I must make my response in a Russian accent…ahem

    It is to laugh…do vyou not knou that it is rich who make fancy musick impossible to sing. Chant vas inwented by little old lady in Minsk…okay, mayeby not, but, but those monks, they don’t get no royalties. The experts were shot, I mean shut out from making contribution. You name one composer who composed Church music after the Fall, I mean Vatican Dva? You can’t, eh…is plot. There are cameras in the organ loft. They spy on you…

    ? ?????? ??????

  38. The Masked Chicken says:

    That should be:
    v maskakh kuritsa

  39. The Masked Chicken says:

    Sure, AnAmericanMother.

    Good luck on the citation :)

  40. Sam Schmitt says:

    You can’t have it both ways, frjim1234. If music is “essentially subjective” then how can it also be the “rarified musical offerings of an elitist class”? Isn’t that just a subjective opinion? And how can anyone make a judgement that a certain type of music will “promote the beautiful and meaningful celebration of the liturgy which is accessible to the assembly.” That’s just their personal taste.

    The only way out of this labyrinth is to admit that there is music that – in the words of Vatican II – is “specially suited [or proper] to the Roman liturgy” (“liturgiae romanae proprium”): Gregorian chant. As such chant should be given “pride of place” or “the principal place” (“principem locum obtineat”) (Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy (CSL), 116). Other sacred songs have their place as well, but not the principal place.

    I like a lot of different kinds of music – jazz, folk, classical, swing, etc. – and you’re right to some extent that that’s a matter of personal taste. But this has little to do with what music is appropriate for the liturgy. Part of the confusion comes as well from thinking of sacred or liturgical music exclusively in terms of hymns and songs. Except in rare cases, these are incidental to the mass (though they play a part in the liturgy of the hours). The ordinary of the mass, responses, acclamations, psalms, etc. being part of the mass itself, are actually more important than religious songs, which are settings of non-liturgical texts. So the focus should really be on these instead of songs, which in many parishes have taken over to the exclusion of the others. Notice that this is not so much a matte of personal taste or musical style – one is liturgical, the other is not.

    It seems odd to say the least that the people’s participation in the liturgy is best fostered by singing sings that are non-liturgical. Yet this is the argument we have been hearing for the last 40 years – that anything else is elitist, etc. Well, then Vatican II is “elitist” by your definition.

  41. AnAmericanMother says:

    ?????? ??????,
    (or maskakh kuritsa)

    Da, Tovarishch!! Royalties are the key to this problem.

    The article makes the point that all this “accessible” and “of the people” music from OCP etc. is copyrighted. They even change the words of old familiar hymns so that they can copyright the text.

    If we get rid of the awful pop music and go back to chant and polyphony and the good old hymns, the folks at OCP and GIA are going to lose their gravy train. And that’s what’s driving this “demand” for the awful stuff.

    The kicker is that all these people who have abandoned the Church’s teachings on appropriate music for Mass because they think they are being oh so sensitive to the “needs” of “the people” and (just as a bonus to their finer political feelings) socking it to the eeeeevil “elitists”, are actually just the unwitting tools of a bunch of greedy capitalist running dogs.

  42. VexillaRegis says:

    ” My unprofessional view of [ medicine- music – literature – architecture, you name it] is as good as your professional one. No, wait, I know better than you, because you are an elitist.” As an professional organist, I have heard it alllll. Kumbaya has the same musical quality as Bach’s organ pieces? Really?

  43. VexillaRegis says:

    PS Dear featherd or downy friend – it’s your fault if I can’t sing tomorrow!! I laughed my vocal cord away reading yor hilarious posts! Spasiba!

  44. VexillaRegis says:

    PS again, and I can’t spell anymore either, I lost both vocal cords and an u. Chirp.

  45. AnAmericanMother says:

    And, by the way, it is quite true that the OCP “composers” (“decomposers?”) actually turned down free classes in composition from some of the best musicians in the country. I know somebody who was involved in the unsuccessful offer of help.
    Sort of reminds you of a drowning man pushing away the life ring thrown to him.

  46. Therese says:

    Well, this post has been eye-opening.

    Last week’s Sunday vigil Mass featured a TAMBOURINE in the opening song. (You can’t call these things hymns.) I hadn’t heard a tambourine at Mass since the ’70s. I can’t face the thought of going back to this junk, and only one parish in town–not mine–has instituted the English chant called for by the New Translation.

  47. frjim4321 says:

    During the 5PM here, during which all of the musical selections derived from the OCP hymnal, I couldn’t help be stuck by Roccasalvo’s arrogance. All the selections made were beautiful and appropriate. The only clunkers were the mandated mass parts which are quite ugly but having been set to unsingable words no surprise there. I wondered if Roccasalvo ever worked in a parish as a pastoral musician, and if so if she related well to the little people who did not share her expert status. At least in the article blurb there was nothing about pastoral experience.

    “Those who can, do . . . . “

  48. AnAmericanMother says:

    Given your track record, I’m not sure your assessment of “beautiful” or “appropriate” is going to be based in fact. Since, after all, you as an amateur know better than any professional musician. Going to disclose which OCP hymns you consider “beautiful” and “appropriate”? So that we can judge for ourselves?
    And your idea of ‘unsingable words’ is more propaganda from the Translation-Haters. If you had a decent musician in your employ, you could have as many beautiful, appropriate Mass settings of the new translation as you liked. Our rector commissioned two from our Music Director – one a ‘parody Mass’ (that’s a technical term, not a value judgment) based on a traditional Irish melody (the rector is F.B.I.), the other a plainchant setting. Both flow nicely, emphasize the words correctly, are very singable (no wild leaps, no extreme range) and quite melodious, but that’s because our music director is a REAL musician and not one of those pop wannabes.
    Hire one of those “elitist” musicians and see what you’re missing.

  49. frjim4321 says:

    Since, after all, you as an amateur know better than any professional musician.

    Actually I do have quite a bit of musical training, but that’s beside the point.

    By their own admission ICLE and Vox Clara did not intend to produce a singable text, they intended to produce a slavish translation of the Latin except when their own ideological bias caused them to break their own rules. (“To be in your presence” as opposed “To stand in your presence.”) But let’s not beat that dead horse.

    I am happy to have a wonderful pastoral musician who is well loved by the parish and is dedicated to serving. I don’t have the stomach to deal with the monumental ego that has come with some of the “elite” musicians I have dealt with over the years.

  50. Scott W. says:

    Fr. Z’s motto is “save the liturgy, save the world” which I would agree, but I would add “save the music, save the liturgy”. That is, all the finest liturgy in the world is for naught if the music is the usual cult of the banal therapeutic pablum.

  51. AnAmericanMother says:

    How sadly unfortunate you have been, frjim.
    Our music director is quite amiable and not at all “difficult”, despite his doctorate, fellowships, and recordings. The true “elite” are generally that way, having no secret worries about inferiority. The wannabes are another story entirely.

  52. VexillaRegis says:

    The musical circumstances of in our Church vary quite a lot, depending on where you are in the world. Here there are only three or four songs/ hymns in the hymn book of that folk song or pop kind. We sing traditional hymns and the organ is played in nearly every parish. Occasionally a latin mass is sung in the OF. (In most places no EF is offered.)

    Personally I have nothing against the folk – pop style songs as long the texts are doctrinally sound and the tunes have some quality.

    Now I’m off to church. Going to play a very tasteful and soft jazz piece for communion and fugue by Bach for the recession.

    After all, the organ is the King of instruments, hehe

  53. Volanges says:

    frjim4321 says: My guess is that the musical judgment of a competent pastoral musician is not only based on the personal taste of “experts” but also of well trained ministers who know their people and will make selections that will promote the beautiful and meaningful celebration of the liturgy which is accessible to the assembly.
    In my recent experience what we have is music ‘ministers’ with little to no training in music who get together to sing socially and sing the ‘hymns’ they have been singing since they were kids in the early 70s or the songs that were part of the religious ed programs they taught in school 15 years ago.

    There is a reason that the CCCB promoted the CBW III, notwithstanding the problematic inclusive language and modernizing of old hymns (you & your instead of thee and thy, for example), and that’s because the ‘new’ selections in the CBW & CBW II had run their course and been judged inadequate — so why do our music ministers have to keep digging them up again? Have we not progressed beyond Carey Landry and Sebastian Temple??

  54. Suburbanbanshee says:

    Well, there’s also a lot of music ministers out there with extremely strong training in _music_ and sometimes even in the history of sacred music, but very little training in the whys and wherefores. The problem is that, until you run into the right facts, you don’t know that you’re ignorant. I thought I was very knowledgeable about liturgical music until I started dipping my toe into studying with real experts.

    I thought sacred music was a painting on the wall; it turned out that I’d missed the doorknob, and that sacred music was actually the huge palace behind a door that only looked like a painting on the wall. You don’t know anything about Gregorian chant until you’ve chanted it, at Mass and at the Hours, and realized that it’s not a genre so much as a musical chunk of a life of prayer. And so on, with all the kinds of sacred music. It has to be experienced as prayer and done for the purpose it was composed, or you don’t get it at all. There’s no Cliff Notes outline version of this kind of knowledge; you have to jump in and start swimming, or you’ll always be standing dry on the shore.

  55. asperges says:

    “The new music is the characteristic of the group’s identity, the emergence of another church.”

    For me this is the key to the problem. Cheap and nasty, tasteless music goes with cheap and nasty tasteless liturgy, which is the major fault in the Novus Ordo. We know it *can* be beautiful and dignified, but 50 years of general abuse have imbued a spirit which welcomes and embraces the tawdry and third-rate as the norm.

    Yesterday I was obliged to attend my local cathedral, which now has a professional choir. They are thus capable of fine music, but the NO does not welcome it: the timing and lack of multi-tasking of the old rite, where priest and choir met up at various stages, cannot now apply. So the people and celebrant stand awkwardly during the Kyrie and wonder how much longer it will go on for. At the Sanctus the celebrant cannot begin the Canon until the choir is silent. Communion has to wait for the conclusion of the Agnus Dei etc.

    It is like a very badly scripted play. Liturgy and music no longer go hand in hand. The experience yesterday was one of “how much longer?” rather than “how beautiful this is.” This applies equally to plainsong as to polyphony. Neither is elitist. “Rarified musical offerings of an elitist class,” my foot. Why should any of us be deprived of decent liturgy and music? It is our heritage and right.

    The advantage of the levellers’ popular ditties and silly responses is the illusion of “sharing” and “participation,” one of the great hoaxes of our times. As the essayist said, what we have now is to the path to “the emergence of another church.” It is not the one I grew up in.

  56. wmeyer says:

    AAM: I had no idea the OCP folks were reveling in their inexpertise. But on the other hand, it’s not hard to believe. You said:
    “Our music director is quite amiable and not at all “difficult”, despite his doctorate, fellowships, and recordings. The true “elite” are generally that way, having no secret worries about inferiority. The wannabes are another story entirely.”
    It has been my observation that this is true in many fields. Those who truly have the knowledge and skill are not driven to prove themselves, nor are they threatened by questions or suggestions.

    In the parishes near me, it seems I can only choose between the travesties of OCP or those of GIA. So very sad. And drums! Can’t we please banish the drums???

  57. AnAmericanMother says:

    Word. From the article: “The ‘folk’ music in the Music Missal has many inherent deficiencies. First, it lacks skilled workmanship. In fact, many of its ‘composers’ do not read music; some even rejected the offer of formal lessons in composition.” (emphasis, as they say, supplied.) I had independent knowledge of this from other sources before reading the article, but it just goes to show, doesn’t it?
    Our music director is a prince. He does not get impatient with us amateur choristers, even with serious provocation – he instructs us in singing techniques and vocal production as well as music history and all sorts of other interesting information, he never loses his temper, he doesn’t panic when things go wrong . . . in Kipling’s words “he covered the little confusion that had arisen with what sounded like the wings of angels”. You tie that exemplary temperament with encyclopedic knowledge and serious talent, you have it about as good as it can get. I mean, this is a guy that I told on Thursday after Pope Benedict’s NYC Mass that Mulet’s “Tu es Petrus” was the postlude, and he just picked it up and played it for Sunday three days later . . . you find yourself sitting there thinking, “How did he do that?”
    I know it’s a long drive, but why don’t you come down and visit us some time? 10 a.m. Mass is the fully choral one.

  58. wmeyer says:

    AAM, I would truly love to learn why it is that the responsorial psalm is so often substituted, or rewritten. Do these directors of music really believe they can improve on the psalmist? I would have thought the new translation would have invalidated such choices, but apparently it did not.

    Yes, it is a long drive, but I will discuss it with my wife, and we may just come down to Holy Spirit. I do confess, however, I am afraid it might make it very hard to return to our local parish.

  59. AnAmericanMother says:

    I’m not quite sure what you mean re the responsorial psalm.
    I get so confused, because I’m used to Coverdale’s Psalter, of course, and then there was the KJV, and several different translations of the Psalms.
    We do use a refrain between the verses, but so far as I know the NAB is the version used. We don’t generally use the setting in the missalette, but a home-grown, four-part quasi-Anglican Chant setting.
    You’re welcome any time. As our rector says at Christmas and Easter, we’re here 52 Sundays a year. . . . .

  60. wmeyer says:

    To clarify: the psalm after the first reading. I am using the new Missal–not the pared down version from GIA, but the full daily Missal–and rarely does the choir use the words from the NAB as printed in the Missal.

  61. The Masked Chicken says:

    Frjim4321 wrote:

    During the 5PM here, during which all of the musical selections derived from the OCP hymnal, I couldn’t help be stuck by Roccasalvo’s arrogance. All the selections made were beautiful and appropriate. The only clunkers were the mandated mass parts which are quite ugly but having been set to unsingable words no surprise there. I wondered if Roccasalvo ever worked in a parish as a pastoral musician, and if so if she related well to the little people who did not share her expert status.

    The choir director of our Church uses Tomas Luis Victoria’s music during the offertory and people realize the transcendent beauty of it, even though they don’t know who the composer is. Strange, but a choir of ordinary singers can sing it. No elitists, there. She also, deliberately changes the words of the music in the current hymnal back to their original pre-PC days with, I suspect, the pastor’s blessing. She is someone who understands the purpose of Church music, has worked in musical ministry for years, and is well-loved by the large congregation. I have played with the choir as an instrumentalist accompanist many times. You see, one can get to Sr. Rocassalvo’s position even in the down and dirty of being a choir director, so her position has nothing to do with her being an elitist expert. One must look for the reason that OCP dominates in other areas.

    Somebody stop me as I am getting really angry with the arrogance of frjim4321’s comments. Look, back in the Wild Wild West days of the Internet, there used to be a Usenet group called Sci.Physics where one person after another would get on and try to show how Einstein was wrong. I suspect it got to be tiring correcting them all of the time. Somehow, they never actually had the time to sit down and humble themselves enough to read the literature, but they certainly had the time to correct the physicists.

    It takes longer to become a Ph.D musicologist than it does to become a brain surgeon! It is the longest graduate degree program of any in academia (I know). On average, it takes ten years to graduate. Do you think musicologists sit down each day thinking of how to sound more and more like an expert so they can oppress the masses? No, they spend all day studying scores hoping to get some insight into the history and development of music through the ages. Now, there are some egotists in the crowd, but there are in any field. Most musicologists I know are both down to earth and devout in their faith, which is why calling Sr. Rocassolvo arrogant makes me so angry. Her position seems entirely well-considered to me just as Einstein’s physics should have seemed well-considered to those posters on Sci.Physics.

    Exactly how would you know that the music OCP is “beautiful and appropriate?” Really? What exactly makes the OCP music appropriate? On what do you base your aesthetics or ecclesiological appropriateness? I, on the other hand, know what makes Palestrina appropriate. The Church says so and has said so for 450 years. I also know the history of Church music in some detail, so I am in a position to know what has been the historical mind of the Church in these matters. That musical instinct is what takes years and years of study to refine and why musicology, rightly done, is so hard.

    To be plain and simple, the musicologists got shut out of what THEY were supposed to be doing after Vatican II. Msgr. Richard Shuler, Church musician extraordinare and well-known here, was present at the time and left us a report which will be eye-opening for many:


    An article from Crisis Magazine makes another very telling point. It may be found, here:


    It says, in part:

    An Experiment with Liturgical Music

    When I taught a course at Seton Hall University titled “The Reformation,” which covered 16th-century attempts—Catholic as well as Protestant—at church reform, I used to play recordings of musical compositions that illustrated the theological ideas my students were studying. At one point in the course, I liked to play three recordings to illustrate three different styles of the era’s liturgical music: Lutheran, Calvinist, and Catholic. I generally chose Luther’s famous hymn, A Mighty Fortress Is Our God, the battle hymn of the Protestant Reformation; the Old Hundredth, another Protestant hymn, a setting of Psalm 100 by the Calvinist composer Louis Bourgeois; and Palestrina’s motet Tu Es Petrus.

    Each represented a different theological stance toward worship. A Mighty Fortress showed Luther’s theology of the laity as a “priestly people.” Luther insisted the congregation must not sit passively during worship but should mirror its priesthood by active hymn singing, facilitated by music with regular meters, simple melodies, memorable tunes, and organ accompaniment.

    Bourgeois’s Old Hundredth exemplified Calvin’s more ascetic approach to church reform. For, while this hymn involved congregational singing of a simple and memorable tune like A Mighty Fortress, there was no instrumental accompaniment. Calvin feared that instrumental accompaniment might call attention to itself and thus lead to distraction. Bourgeois made a reputation as a great organist in Paris, but when he came to Calvin’s Geneva, he found he had to put aside his organ playing and write instead for congregational singing without accompaniment. He was limited to metric versification of psalms, because Calvin was concerned that the use of any nonbiblical texts might induce flights of religious or poetic fancy not in strict accord with the Scriptures. The result was a collection called the Geneva Psalter…

    Palestrina’s Tu Es Petrus was always the final selection. The text is taken from the part of Matthew’s gospel in which Jesus bestows on St. Peter awesome authority over his flock: “Thou art Peter.” For Catholics, this passage represents the origin of papal authority. In class, I used this sample of Palestrina’s music to show an approach to the spirituality of public worship that was unlike that of Luther and Calvin. Palestrina’s music is too difficult for congregational singing. It requires a choir of professional singers. Originally, the voices were those of castrated males, but nowadays an all-male chorus with boy sopranos suffices. The effect is an ethereal, otherworldly sound; boy sopranos produce what some call a “white” tone, a chaste or even sexless sound, that is, with none of the sensuous warmth of a mature female voice. In addition, instead of expressing a wide range of emotion, Palestrina relies on subtly developed rhythms to give a serene and uniform sense of quiet meditation to complement the tone of mystery. The result is the perfect music for quiet adoration of a mystery, especially appropriate for the Eucharist or, in the case of Tu Es Petrus, for the creation of an atmosphere of quiet reverence at the pope’s entrance.

    I was continually amazed that even the most conservative of the Catholic seminarians in the course inevitably preferred both Luther’s Mighty Fortress and the Calvinist Old Hundredth to Palestrina’s Tu Es Petrus. They even liked the Vaughan Williams gaudy setting of Bourgeois’s Geneva psalmody better than Palestrina’s Tu Es Petrus! The seminarians’ reaction, though regrettable, is understandable. Modern music, from the romantic composers of the 19th century to the popular music of our day, engages us with its emphatic rhythms and emotional expression. Palestrina’s music, in its ability to create an atmosphere of mystery and adoration, represents a quality that is all too rare in contemporary worship.

    (emphasis, mine)

    There it is: the Eucharistic celebration is a mystery, not merely a meal. What mystery does On Eagle’s Wings convey? It is the music of emotionalism, pure and simple, suitable as background music at a restaurant, but then, much of the Novos Ordo Mass, as it is called, seems to be conducted as if it were a merely a meal and not a meeting with the Transcendent. The actions of mystery demand the music of mystery. That is appropriate music for Mass. Protestants use congregational singing as a substitute for a relationship with the Eucharist. They substitute the the relationship of the bonding of people – fellowship – within the congregational singing for the intimate bonding of human heart to the Divine heart of the Most Holy God that occurs in the reception of the Eucharist.

    Mystery is not elitist. It does require some experience to detect it, however, and that is exactly what is being covered over by the congregational singing Sunday after Sunday: that still small voice that longs to talk to people once a week at Mass. I could write much more in condemnation of modern American Church music and yes, I am an expert in musicology, performance, acoustics, and to some extent, aesthetics, but I will simple say that the average Church-sitter likes On Eagles Wings because they have never or rarely heard better. They want music they can dance to, but the saints ain’t marching in to those songs cause those songs don’t know Purgatory. They have not been purged of themselves. They do not express the height and width and depth of the Catholic Faith – its mystery, awe, a fright. They are great for a once-saved-always saved crowd, which half of the pew-sitters probably subscribe to today, if in a confused fashion, so badly catechized are they. As long as some people in the Church insist that the emotional connection of men at Mass is more important than the connection of the transcendent Mystery of the Mass to men, we will continue to have this sort of poor music. At every point, in about five-hundred year intervals, when the Church has done house-cleaning on music that has become too vulgar, too coarse, too much of the people, there has been a revival of the contemplative spirit. May that spirit come, again.

    The Chicken

  62. AnAmericanMother says:

    I’m relieved to report that we chant the Psalms as written, the refrain is included in the missalette. NAB so far as I know – I personally would prefer Coverdale, but nobody asked me! (when we sing English anthems of course we are using Coverdale).
    I hope you’re not opposed to all of RVW’s music. We sing it periodically – some of the Five Mystical Songs, “O Taste and See”, “O How Amiable”, and so forth.
    The “English sound” works hard to suppress vibrato, and as a long-time Piskie choir member I can sound like a boy alto when I need to (I haven’t sung soprano since age 15, I’m a true contralto or tiefer Alt, so the fact that I can sing straight tone is a testament to the skill of the cathedral choirmaster).
    Our music director and I have a long-running debate on whether any of John Rutter’s music is any good. At this point I am pretty much fighting a rear-guard action (he’s very persuasive) but I’m not willing to give up on Vaughan Williams yet.

  63. AnAmericanMother says:



  64. The Masked Chicken says:

    Vaughn Williams is a favorite of mine. I was too hard on frjim4321. I got carried away. I apologize. On phone.

  65. The Masked Chicken says: I could write much more in condemnation of modern American Church music and yes, I am an expert in musicology, performance, acoustics, and to some extent, aesthetics, but I will simple say that the average Church-sitter likes On Eagles Wings because they have never or rarely heard better.

    When you’ve been brought up on a steady diet of Skittles and cotton candy, you don’t want meat and potatoes.

  66. The Masked Chicken says:

    I like mystery stories. I used to watch Castle (a current American tv detective series), but in looking at the spoiler sites, it quickly became apparent to me that most people posting moments were ‘shippers. I had to stop watching when I finally realized how much I had been sucked into the relationship (now, sexual) between Castle and Beckett, because it is a relationship between a twice divorced man and a contracepting woman who sees nothing wrong with fornication..that and Beckett goes to sleep with Castle on the night that she has just ond out that there is a killer seeking to kill the man who holds the secret to her mothers murder.

    I also just read a book call, “‘Scuse me While I Kill this Guy…”. It is a book about a generational family of assassins, with a witty widow mom and a cute five year old golden-haired daughter. I was half way through the book before I realized I was reading a book about a whole extended family that violates the seventh Commandment.

    It has become increasingly obvious to me that you can sucker someone into a sympathetic position for evil of you present it as the achieving of an emotional goal.

    There has been a not-so-subtle shift in Church music that is the result of an underlying defect in the anthropology of worship. Man is first and foremost a rational creature. That is his anthropological distinction. Reason passes information to the will before actions occur defining the various parameters of the acts.

    In the current formulation, reason is made equivalent to a pleasant experience and whatever act is pleasant is passed onto the will as a good as if it were reasonable. All other considerations of parameters are ignored.

    Now, it is a given that one cannot love what one does not know and that all friendships involve revelation and disclosure of the one to the other. In the normal anthropology, that revelation is made through reason, which informs the will as to what is a good in the others. If emotions are substituted for reason, the pleasant for the thoughtful, then, inevitably, one winds up with a relationship based on a falsified love and a worship based on a non-objective selfishness. To know the revelation of God through emotions is exactly the heresy of Modernism (or Anabaptism, etc.). The thing is, one can convince such a person of anything as being true and it is this loss of truth proceeding from a distorted anthropology that has infected modern American Church music.

    The Chicken

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