Sacred liturgical music is NOT an add-on in worship. It is – and must therefore be treated as – 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 and appropriate for the moment they are chosen. Moreover, the idiom of the music must be a sacred idiom, or at least not opposed to the sacred.
And, as should be obvious but clearly isn’t in 90% places you will visit, the music must be good, that is, well-composed, of high artistic value, and it must be performed well.
Music for liturgical worship must be sacred and it must be art.
If the music 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.
Some people object that “artistic” music distracts from “prayer” (or what they think is prayer). Wrong. You cannot be distracted from prayer by prayer. The key is learning how to engage is authentic active participation, which is primarily willed, active, interior receptivity.
We cannot go wrong when we stick to the texts actually assigned by the Church for each Mass or office. We cannot 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.
The problem of bad music in our churches is huge. It is central to much of the crisis of identity we are facing. The dumbing-down of everything Catholic over the last few decades as been devastating. Music is such a powerful influence on us. The massacre of music has been catastrophic.
In the UK’s best Catholic weekly, The Catholic Herald, there is a piece by Damian Thompson on bad church music (BCM).
“Extraordinary how potent cheap music is,” says a character in a Noël Coward play. And it’s true. Even in church. A morbid Victorian hymn or a Christmas carol can reduce even the most cynical atheist to tears.
But even more potent, I’d argue, is church music that isn’t so much cheap as embarrassingly bad.
I can’t speak for other denominations, but I’m convinced that the distinctive awfulness of the music in many Catholic parishes helps explain why Mass attendance has fallen off a cliff since the 1970s.
Bad Catholic Music (BCM for short) is uniquely inauthentic. It doesn’t sound like any other sort of music. Whether “inspired” by folk, jazz or chant, BCM has the knack of always sounding more or less the same.
There’s no precedent in the history of church music for such a clumsy cobbling together of musical ideas and styles.
He goes on to name names of some of the decomposers we have all suffered from (Joncas, Haugan, Inwood) and includes on the brilliant lines from Thomas Day’s nearly classic book Why Catholics Can’t Sing:
The “moaning and self-caressing quality of the music”, writes Day, “indicates that the real topic of the words is not the comforting Lord but ‘me’ and the comforts of my personal faith”.
Damian is not optimistic.
That was in 2007, when Benedict XVI was in his prime. Anti-BCM choirmasters were reintroducing chant and polyphony to Catholic parishes – but quietly, because there was always the risk of being shopped to the diocesan authorities.
Eight years on, how much progress have they made? In the south-east of England and certain university towns, quite a lot. Young, middle-class practising Catholics take a counter-cultural delight in traditional worship. They’ll travel a long way to avoid what Thomas Day calls the “studied whimsy” of BCM, whose elevator-music harmonies sound quaint to anyone born after 1990. Some of them will join choirs to sing Byrd and Victoria; there are a surprising number on Facebook.
But, in the end, I’m sceptical of conservative musicians’ claims that Catholic music will recover as soon as congregations discover the simple joys of of plainchant, whether in Latin or English.
We face a lot of problems in improving the qualities of music used in church (to make it truly sacred and artistic).
First, it costs money to hire good musicians. We have to be willing to stick the crowbar in and pry loose some cash.
Next, priests tend not to know much about music. I know a few priests who are exceptions, of course, but a) they are few and b) they are not young. Priests don’t get any real training in music in seminary. I’d say 90% of priests ordained in the last 10 years couldn’t name 5 serious composers of real Catholic sacred music. They’ve never heard it. They know – sort of – what Gregorian chant is, because it remains a point of contention and it was being revived in places during the pontificate (parenthesis) of Benedict XVI. But, for the most part, priests don’t know music.
Furthermore, the young guys don’t know Latin. It’s not their fault, of course. But – and this is a big hurdle – having been denied Latin (which law required be taught to them and the people who didn’t are, in my opinion criminally negligent) they don’t even know what they don’t know. The loss of Latin means that the doors to the vast treasury of truly sacred and artistic Church music were slammed on them. They don’t even know the treasury is there much less how to unlock it.
Also, priests know that to change the music means having fights. The good ones already have fights to eliminate the gross abuses left from their aging-hippy predecessors and the entrenched aging-hippy liturgy team and now geriatric hippy pop-combo that likes to be watched up in front. It is hard to want to start something that they know will provoke another stream of bitchy letters from women with short gray hair to the bishop about how he is trying to “turn the clock back”, and how they want their “traditional” songs like “Gather Us In”. Of course there is nothing traditional or liturgical about “songs” at Mass and the ditties they think are traditional are laughably bad.
What is needed not just a priest who understands music, or understands that he doesn’t understand music but knows he has to find the right people, and not just willingness to spend money (and raise it, if needed), and not just willingness to fight the fights that will surely follow. No. What is also needed is a bishop who doesn’t suffer from the same ignorance and reticence to fight (or cowardice). Bishops have to take this matter in hand. Instead, bishops are distracted into a hundred other drainpipes and rabbit holes which we are now convinced are “really important”. I, however, contend that no fancy initiative we undertake in the Church will succeed unless and until we revitalize our sacred liturgical worship. That means that that is where the time, talent and treasure have to go! Revitalization of our sacred worship!
We have to be willing to have the fight. We must be willing to have the civil war and the moaning, carping letters with their threats and tears and half-baked notions of the “spirit of the Council”. No… now it’s of Francis!
We have to be willing to convert people to Catholicism and, therefore, risk having them walk away from us because our message is toooo haaaard.
Our architecture for our churches reflects who and what we believe the Church to be. Our vessels and vestments and other Church appointments both reveals and reinforces what we believe happens at Holy Mass.
So does our liturgical music.
A constant stream of shallow, crappy music that was bad even when it was new, will by now have eroded the faithful into something bloodless, weak and shapeless. Compound that will a church – rather, worship space – that looks like a municipal airport cum movie theatre, cheap vessels, lack of decorum, egalitarian notions of “ministry”, pointless abstract windows, constant yakking and distractions and… over, say, 40 years you will wind up with… what?
The Catholic Faith? The Catholic Faith that can help people get to heaven while withstanding the assault of the world, the flesh and the Devil?
A couple generations are gone now. Are we going to ruin yet another?
You know what I think we have to do.
Is it too late to correct this?
Thus endeth the rant.
So I was at a nearby parish for Holy Mass on a Sunday. This is one of a thousand parishes with “interesting” liturgy that everyone has endured at some point. The band up at the front was leading us in a rousing “Send Down the Fire of Your Justice” for the “welcoming song.” My college-aged son leaned over and whispered to me, “I don’t think these people really want the fire of God’s justice.” No, but even more, I’m not convinced they believe God is capable of real justice…so sad.
A masterful piece Father. Ironically enough, I read this as a break from practicing Bach’s In Dulci Jubilo (BWV 729), on piano, though it was written for Organ, and while listening to BWV 1080. I have a question though. Besides prayer, what can the laity do? If we bring it up with the pastor, he will point us at the “music minster.” If we bring it up with the “music minster,” he (more often she) will laugh at us, or make snide comments about how we don’t/can’t do that anymore. I do have hope though. We’ve had Adoro te Devote, Panis Angelicum, and O Sanctissima sung every once in a while at my parish.
Our organist is world-class (literally, he was the first to win both the jury and audience 1st place in a NYACOP competition). We have a schola and other choirs. Of course, not all of the congregation can reliably hit a note. So should those people (they [should] know who they are) just keep quiet?
A thought has occurred to me about why bishops don’t do anything about music or architecture. It is because their cathedrals are always beautiful, traditional, even ornate! And their music, the music in their cathedral, is top notch! They don’t have the soul-crushing experience of banality in “environment and worship” that we have to endure, week after week, year after year!
I don’t think it is too late to correct this. I think there are more young priests and young parishioners that have an interest,and they are slowly turning things around, “brick by brick.” And don’t forget the influence of the “Catholic Underground”: the homeschooled; the small cadre of graduates of traditional/classical charter schools and Catholic colleges; and of course, the ability to see things done well via the internet.
The reform of liturgical music so that the people actually “sing the Mass rather than just sing at Mass” is a battle centuries old — wasn’t it one of the battles that Athanasius fought with the Arians.
As one of my seminary liturgy profs was fond of saying, “Remember, guys, that the Gradual contains the best examples of Gregorian chant that exist… that does mean that it contains ALL of the Gregorian compositions that were ever written. Just as the hymns that we still sing are the best the 17th and 18th Centuries had to offer, the rest have been thankfully forgotten. Somewhere on the trash heap of history is the 3rd Century Latin/Gregorian version of ‘They’ll know We are Christians by our Love by our Love”. The better examples of what is out there today the Church will keep, the others will be lost to history and future generations will fight the same battles.”
While its important that we fight the battles today, liturgical music seems to be the ivy that we just have to keep pruning
Bless you for this rant, Fr. Z. It couldn’t have come at a better time, as I am currently attempting to address a situation in my own diocese. Your words serve to strengthen my resolve. Prayers from your readership would be welcome. And, in answer to your closing question, no, I cannot bring myself to believe that it is too late to correct this. At the very least we owe God the attempt at correction, for our very best is his due.
The most one-sided religious debate I ever had was prior to Benedict XVI’s papacy with an Anglican who thoroughly excoriated Catholic liturgical music.
Not only was I completely unprepared for such an angle, but as far as we both knew, he was right.
“But, but,but…Dies Irae,” was too isolated of an argument, separated by too many centuries from the hey day of Catholics producing and regularly using pieces that were not only liturgically meaningful, but artistic masterpiecses.
Anyways, better liturgical music is a prayer intention that I think I will lift up on eagle’s wings.
In my parish (ah! my parish…) we have choice. Choice, people! There is the Saturday muffled children’s choir (seriously, they are lovely children, but they sound muffled) and 4 Sunday flavours: bad guitarist at 8; talented violinist at 9:30; aging hippies at 11:15 (there was a tambourine, but I think someone complained…); and the 1 pm drum set. And they all perform some form of Gloria “antiphon” (you know what I am talking about, right? Instead of singing the Gloria straight, from beginning to end, you break it in three parts and repeat “Glory to God in the Highest and on earth peace to people of good will” in between, like a responsory. One of the versions sounds like something that ZHULIO would certainly record, specially when executed by the 1 pm drum set). We also have all the Marty Haugen we deserve. It is swell!
Now, despite all this, I do my best to sing the Mass, and, on occasion, generally on Advent, Christmas and Easter, the aging hippies at 11:15 surprise the congregation with a good Hymn. On. Occasion.
My family and I switched to a new parish about five years ago in large part because of its music program. Our pastor revamped the music program when he took over. He brought in a young music director who knew and loved chant and polyphony. My daughters had been singing polyphony at their independent Catholic school, and, besides them, I had also been bitten by the singing bug. I loved the sacred music and my soul longed to sing my love to God in this way. I had never really sung anywhere but with the radio in the car. When the music director advertised in the bulletin for new choir volunteers about a month after joining, we wasted no time and spoke with him immediately. This was my opportunity! We get to sing beautiful music from Byrd, Palestrina, and many other wonderful composers. It is easily the high point of every week for me.
The changed music program caused waves in the parish, even though the choir sings at only one Mass each weekend. Yes, we did get the trite “You’re turning back the clock,” (why do these people always use the same phrases? Is there some kind of training they all get?), and some people did actually leave the parish over it. But, over time, the music has drawn many new people to the parish, and these tend to be more faithful Catholics who want reverent liturgies. The collections in the parish have more than doubled. What was once a barely-existing parish is much more stable and looks to have a future, as families with several children have joined. The altar boys, who can serve even if they’re not on the schedule, are sometimes so numerous they can barely fit in the sanctuary. We hope to get some vocations to the priesthood in a few years. Much of the new life that has been breathed into the parish can be traced back to the music program.
Dufay, Ave Maris Stella. https://www.youtube(dot)com/watch?v=6mcxEtyEUw4
In a Mass of Dufay’s, right after the “Habemus ad Dominum”, I heard the exact same chant tones I’d heard at St. Agnes in St. Paul. We must not flag or fail.
We are among those who drive some way when we can, to the Tridentine Mass in Salem, SD. (For us, 65 miles one way.) We come out amazed that two hours seem but a moment. (When we leave the closer NO mass, it’s always, “Can you believe how horrid the music was this time. And it is not prayer/music, just pointless accompaniment. Dreadful re-ti tones.)
Can we add “should be singable by the congregation” to the list? I don’t know how many times I’ve risen to sing and found my (relatively deep) voice unable to match the hymns that can only have been written with an aging female woodstock alum in mind. That, and the hymns (can we call them that?) that nobody has ever heard of before that are put (words only, not the notes) on the television monitors that Father had installed at the corners of the Church.
Sometimes I wonder if music minsters and choirs haven’t been led to believe they exist primarily to hear themselves sing.
My own parish is rather…eclectic (?). Last Sunday we started with the Litany and ended with “When the Saints go Marching in”. Complete with wandering brass.
I go to a TLM about one Sunday in six. The TLM parish has a scola, an organist, an eloquent, orthodox pastor. At this Mass, and only at this Mass, has it occurred to me to say to myself, “I can nearly taste the truth of the Faith”–and that is before Communion!
At the NO parish, with the “self-caressing” crooning, the “Gather Us In” mentality–and song, I have never said this to myself. I know Christ the Lord is present in both Masses, is offered again to the Father at both altars, but only at the TLM can I “taste” it.
Along with BCM, allow me to introduce an equally bad detail at Mass: bad organists (BO-not “body odor”).
I seem to be under the impression that BO feel that the Mass is like a performance. They play as though it is all about them, so they tell us what we will be singing, and then play (and sing!) all through communion and other places where it would be nice for them to please put a sock in it.
One BO I know announced from the balcony at the start of Mass, that the organ was in disrepair, and that “we will all sing the opening hymn together”. She proceeded to sing (very badly) all throughout the Mass–Communion included. Her flat, sliding tones ricocheted off the walls like so many wild tennis balls. At the end of Mass, as she sang the last hymn, I noticed several people leaving early after the priest’s dismissal…alas, I was one of them. The doors weren’t flying off the hinges fast enough. I’m sure passersby were wondering why people were racing out of church.
After that day, there was no singing from the BO for two weeks while the organ was repaired. It was too much to bear.
I don’t like church organists.
One hasn’t lived until you have gone to a funeral with guitar and banjo.
Mike- I agree completely. I’ve often had a “thin veil” experience at the TLM and reverently celebrated NO. A local priest has started adding latin to the
NO and celebrated ad orientum last week.
Good morning everybody.
This is not just about music, it is about art in general. Although the relationship of liturgy and music in particular is not the same as the one between liturgy and art in general.
Poor, bad, ugly architecture, paintings, decoration, vestments. I don’t know if 40 or 50 years ago it was “cool”, now not even that.
The Catholic Faith, Christianity, is sacramental, made of signs and symbols. We are transmitting poor, bad and ugly faith then.
We need a real, deep education in art, to find good artists with religious sense. In the place I live, it is more and more common to see Icons and Oriental art (not in the Churches, just for personal devotion). Perhaps it is because so much “Western” religious art is poor and does not really lead to prayer and worship.
I am quite ignorant in music, and almost unable to distinguish a do from a fa (much less to sing), but often I don’t feel the music I hear leads to prayer or is really liturgical. Some people just want a bit of “entertainment”, well, if they need to go to Mass to find entertainment, they should have a very boring life.
I really think that to help to discover the value of art in our faith is one big work of mercy. It is charity of a great value, just like teaching to read and write, or technical training.
We have moved on from Mozart to Taste and See.
In my Novus Ordo parish we have one of the best pipe organs in California. Yet it is hardly ever used. The music minister plays a piano in the front with some guitars and drums as accompaniment. In my EF parish no one has studied Latin yet that has not been an obstacle at all. To me it is as being in Heaven.
I share Veritatis Splendor’s sentiment Father : As a musician and a Catholic, I would venture to say this particular piece of yours is nothing short of superb.
Some ample food for reflection:
Even when I was playing certain genres of music in particular venues (both of which could’ve made even the most obstinate of clown Mass fanatics shudder) , I was always easily moved – right to the core, by hearing (praying) a polyphonic Kyrie during Mass (and outside of Mass too). Sacred music is precisely that :”Sacred.”
Modern Catholic Dictionary ; Fr. John Hardon, S.J.
Thanks also for providing a little stimulus for the funny bone Father:
where the church ever got OCP as its default “new” music is beyond me. my pastor handed me 2 giant volumes for me to accompany choir but i am a classical musician and this OCP reeks, it is impossible to play without wanting to throw up…and worse, it garners royalties for its ‘composers”. there are plenty of hymns and hymnals from turn of the century and of course way before if you count chant, that has beautiful music well-constucted well-written, etc…i declined to participate as i can’t stand novus ordo anyway and am tempted to start a gregorian choir on my own.
In the 1970’s a lot of pipe organs were dismantled from our churches presumably because of the cost involved in repair and upkeep. So electric organs were bought and were often placed in the nave since the moving of the new organ into the choir loft was impossible. Then keyboards were brought in because (supposedly) an organ was very different from a piano and there were many piano players available but not many organists. At about the same time, (and I often think here is the culprit) missallettes and other “worship aids” were introduced and all parishes that subscribed had no choice in their music: it was provided by the publisher. This also further degenerated when publishers changed the wording in some instances and even printed a some song based on the psalm. So we now have 4 hymns, plus another between the readings, and the introit and communion antiphon are dropped because a “meaningful” song was found. Fr. Z’s rant is correct. The responses are on target and pastors do not want to take up this battle. (Have you ever been to a Mass where the musician plays over while the priest is praying the Eucharistic Prayer or another spoken part of the Missal?) No longer churches, more like cocktail lounges. UGH!
Brilliant! This, this, this, and ALL OF THIS.
A few observations I have made since being a part of the sacred music staff at my parish:
1. As my brilliant maestro has told me, if I am not ordained, I am NOT a music minister.
2. People have complained about the Missa D’Angelus Gloria, saying that the Latin does not help educate their young child the true meaning of the text. Umm…if they know it in English, they know the meaning of the Latin.
3. As a music teacher and performer, I despise the “traditional” hymns used. There is a crisis not just in the Church, but in Protestant denominations. I’ve introduced a “hymn of the week” in my music classes at school, and 99% of the students could not understand the makeup of reading the stanzas. THEIR CHURCHES USE PROJECTION SCREENS FOR THE HYMNS. I said a quick prayer to St. Cecelia after I discovered that…
4. Let’s not be purists in the sense of compositions. Although Haugen-Haas music is more on the lines of being called “compost” as opposed to “compositions,” there are plenty of new composers out there who are intricately and prayerfully dictating new music that is worthy of sacred worship. Kevin Allen is one I can think of at the top of my head.
Amen to your rant, Father. But there are times when the awful music leaves me more sad than anything else. The parish I must occasionally attend instead of my beloved TLM is a large, active parish full of people most of whom truly love God and want to give Him the best in their worship. Some of them are in church an hour before the Saturday mass. They have a large choir and an ambitious “band” including violins and (oh, pain!) trumpets and obviously take great pains to make the best music they can conceive. The result is as bad and distracting as the poor music of a small dispirited parish. And it breaks my heart because, for all their desire, the people early to mass are not going to confession. The men making a Saturday retreat did not genuflect when crossing the center aisle in front of the tabernacle. And it’s not their fault.
I would also point out that the Latin music at a TLM can also be distracting when either done poorly or unwisely. Those Graduals, for example, can go on forever, one syllable strung out over bar after bar after bar of music while Father waits at the altar and the congregation becomes impatient and distracted. Some organists persist in playing at that most holy of times after the Consecration contrary to all liturgical guidance. And I have seen a second Communion hymn begun far too late again leave the priest and people waiting and waiting. Certainly, for special occasions, more elaborate music is appropriate, but some organists and choirs can get carried away on a regular basis. And not all priests are conversant enough with the relevant Church documents to be able to rein them in. However, in such cases, I do remind my self how unbelievably fortunate I am to have a TLM to be picky about. There was a time when I thought it would never happen.
Our young priest started a Gregorian Chant class. I think this is his stealthy way of improving the music at both the English and Spanish language Masses and bringing the two language communities together–there are people from both language groups in the class and instruction is bilingual.
Because of this, some of the Spanish Masses already use the Kyrie and Agnus Dei. (The English Mass I attend does, too–but has for years.) I think the aim is a Novus Ordo Latin Mass, which will be ad orientem of course. That may be a way off.
I certainly hope Father isn’t transferred to another parish. We really need this to bring the communities together.
Sometimes I feel bad about attending only the FSSP parish here. It’s as if I abandoned the fight because “I’ve got mine.”
This reminds me of my three-month struggle with the music minister at the parish where my husband and I were married. She was pretty insistent that either I or my bridesmaids walk down the aisle to Dan Schutte’s ‘City of God.’ Mozart, Mascagni and I won in the end, but on the actual wedding day, she played all but two of the pieces on the piano as solo instrumentals to avoid the ‘scourge’ of Latin.
Very sad, and I feel sorry for the people of that parish. Thanks for posting this rant, Father!
I’ll grant that there is a LOT of really bad liturgical music being used these days, for example the kind of P&W stuff that comes back from Stupidville conferences and Life Teen. Unfortunately most musical judgments are mainly subjective (like those above, including my own). The makes correcting the problem rather difficult.
For example, look what happened at the Cathedral in Philly where the prelate insisted on dumbed-down music and the superb director was shown the door?
Who needs a cilice when we have BCM? Think of all the souls that could be released from Purgatory by submitting oneself to BCM, intentionally.
I think there may be other BCM applications we are over looking. Now that water boarding is off the table, BCM may provide a viable alternative for information acquisition.
Seriously though, my children have employed BCM in an attempt to get me to comply with some request by singing the following they heard at the Youth/Hippie Mass two weeks ago, “I beat my head against so many walls. I feel like I’m gonnaa fall down. Hold me, Jesus, because I’m shakin’ like a leaf. Won’t you be my Prince of Peace. I’d rather fight for somethin’ I didn’t want than take what you’ve given me. Hold me, Jesus, ’cause I’m shakin’ like a leaf. Won’t you be my Prince of Peace”
My response, “If you don’t stop, I’ll take you to the Hippie Mass on Sunday,” was met with shrieks of terror. “Noooooooo! Moooommy! Please, we’ll do anything you want….not the hippie maaaaass again! I’ll clean my room! Pleeeeease…..NOT THE HIPPIE MASS!”
That song was performed at the “Youth Mass” (//aka Hippie Mass because the only youth other than my children were the “young at heart”) during and after Communion and when there’s supposed to be silence. I don’t think liturgical music should provoke McBealian fantasies of vaulting over the pews and smashing guitars ala Jimmy Hendricks, while the Eucharist is still intact on one’s tongue. Music shouldn’t inspire us in such a way that we need confession before the Eucharist is consumed. IMHO
TCM is an insidious and multi faceted problem that requires serious attention, preferably from laity, like yesterday.
Whether we are prepping or panicking, or both, in these times, as counter-intuitive as it may seem to some (and to others of us it is a no brainer) we are going to require elevating music with which we may sing or chant prayers in connection with our worship.
Currently studying two Schubert Masses in preparation to sing them with full orchestra in a couple weeks with an old esteemed community choir, I have been struck by how devoid our worship is of the experience of the reality of God’s awesome power as well as the glory of being fully alive in God in our times, and how the lack of great sacred music available really supports the undermining of faith.
Even in places which feature musicians who are competent, and even when the themes of the music have to do with rejoicing or joy or sentiments of happy togetherness, the actual music and presentation carry undertones, sometimes more or less prominent, which have a despondency or a quality of bottomless melancholy. Do others hear this also? To me it’s like a contraceptive mentality applied to the Mass which lurks within the music and deprives us of the fullness of participation in prayer and communion with one another and cuts short the full penetrating reality of our Creator with us. How could things get to this point after all of the good intentions about active worship in Second Vatican?
Whether we know it or not, we desperately need to sing. Yes, there are many excuses. Yes, schools are teaching junk in substitution. Yes, like many things if we want it we have to put it together ourselves, on scarce resources, when it is difficult.
I was recalling how surprised I was paying tuition for a private, lay run “catholic” school when the music department director announced to the little kiddies in elementary that for an entire semester, they would watch “The Yellow Submarine” (which is drug propaganda piece of the 60s meant to sell more records and unjustly enrich already filthy rich rock band members), for the ENTIRE SEMESTER and not only that but that the little tykes were all to sing Beatles for an all Beatles “concert” schoolwide at the end of the semester and that these guys also were to sing that soul paralyzing ditty “Imagine”. I did a quick mental calculation: I could save tens of thousands of dollars in tuition and ruin my son’s faith and his appreciation of the good, true and beautiful, all by myself by showing him all of these within a couple hours on a weekend afternoon, you know, “for free”. In the end, I decided to homeschool him and our home has never lacked for music all the day long in all sorts of genres, combinations, instruments, traditions, including performance and study. If we are going to proceed in the world but not of theworld in this culture of death, we are going to need to be able to sing, play a little piano, chant the ordinary, a little bit. It’s that simple. And it is simple really. The hardest part by far is to change our attitude of the myriad reasons why we can’t.
Also for the readership’s information, at a Catholic summer camp a couple years back over the course of about three or four days, with about an hour per rehearsal, a group of kids, middle and high schoolers, who had never even attended a TLM, prepared with the guidance of an able young man, the complete ordinary and special chants for the Feast of the Assumption, with the propers, and a pieceo of polyphony and it was beyond beautiful, it was transporting, moving, glorious, prayerful. Just saying. Pop up scholas, y’all. It can really be done, on a shoestring, on the go, especially given the vast resources, free, available to listen and practice. A home that teaches the catechism but not this crucial form of expression of it is really negligent in my opinion. The schools are not going to do it, we accept this and keep moving. It’s up to us and it’s not hard. In rougher times in this country people learned a little piano or to sing with very little in the way of resources and in many other places the world over and continue to do so in other places today. If people think that teaching their kids real music somehow softens them they are wrong. Depriving them of the opportunity will not help their fortitude, it’s the opposite to that. We need it.
Homeschoolers among us are aware of the excellent ongoing work of the Circe Institute (and note well one need not “homeschool” to “homeschool” music, the arts, the faith…call it, say, enrichment, or family fun or 4-H). Here is a great podcast from this week exactly on the matter of what families can do to provide this in the essentials:
I know I grew up with the same iconoclasm that told us to remove statues, candles, kneelers, icons and get with it, which also essentially preached that sacred music was an indicator that we thought ourselves as a Church “triumphant” , or, domineering, over other people, not humble, but also that we were peasants behind the times. I have to say after praying in a lot of places over the years I think it’s the opposite of that, a confidence in God’s love and mercy lends itself to glorious singing, even if we are poor sinners. What’s happened in Church music has tended to cordone off the full light and power of God, in effect prohibiting our communication with Him. It’s almost as if not wanting to appear triumphant people decided that to not speak or or acknowledge God in our midst at all was the better ,more sterile approach. Sadly.
I give up! Twice, my long comments have gotten erased by this iPad before I could post them. I even copied my comments, the second time, and they copy got erased from the buffer when I, inadvertently, copied a link address.
Damian Thompson is right in his rant, but not in his history. When he writes:
“There’s no precedent in the history of church music for such a clumsy cobbling together of musical ideas and styles…”
he is, simply, wrong. I have written, twice, now, showing how the history of Church music is rife with the co-existing of musical styles and ideas, including secular infiltration. I’m not going to try a third time. This period in history, however, is the most, “in-your-face,” of all of these periods in music history. If you only knew how this music got into play…it was idiotic liturgists, not musicians who did it, so, yell at them. Mnsr. Richard Schuler, the famous pastor and musicologist, recorded the sordid details:
Fortunately for me, I have never had to go to our NO Church music leader and explain the niceties of Church music – she is a serious, orthodox, traditional musician (the pastor hired her specifically because she knew how to sing chant) and the other Church I attend has the TLM, with Gregorian scola from the Liber Usualis. If I were in a Muzak Mass, I would not sing, because it might cause scandal. It might look like I considered the music to be acceptable. Ultimately, both pastors and bishops have the say about liturgical matters, but, if they have any ounce of humility, with regards to music they should consult musical experts. I am qualified to teach music in any major seminary in the country, but at least in my diocese, who would listen? Simply being right doesn’t, usually, cut it. People in the pews have been brain-washed into thinking that there should be no difference between the secular and the sacred. Blame that on the mis-implementation of Vatican II. Think of Abby on NCIS – she wilts when classical music is played in her lab. Many pew-sitters are just plain uncultured, let’s face it. Their musical tastes have been so eroded by pop music to the point where they wouldn’t recognize sacred music if it were written in the sky with neon and sung by the Heavenly Chorus. No, I am not being elitist. I teach college students, most of whom do not go to church, and have very poor aesthetic musical sensibilities, outside of music majors.
I could rant on, but what’s the use? There was almost no oversight (at least until recently) by the Vatican on liturgical music, leaving it up to the bishop’s conferences to decide on these things. Gasp, doesn’t Pope Francis realize that if he leaves things up to bishop conferences, our Catholic marriages are going to become like our Catholic music (shudder)?
Strange, frjim4321, I am of the opinion that what comes out of Steubenville Conferences is good BCM (though still usually scandalous to play at Mass, save a few songs). At least it usually is not heretical and actually does speak to youth more than the Hagan, Schutte, and co. stuff, while being more (I’m going to say it) relatable than Chant and polyphony, especially if the chant is done poorly. Unfortunately, many youth these days, never having been exposed to such musical splendor and having subsisted upon a diet of BCM their whole lives, do not know how to contemplate, just in general, but especially with music in a different language with instruments that they never hear used elsewhere.
I would rank Catholic Music as follows
1. Gregorian Chant
3. 17-19 century hymns
4. The simple, pious songs consisting of a scripture verse to a simple tune that emerged from the Charismatic Revival/Cursillo movement (All in All, etc.)
5. “Modern” P&W (Maher, Tomlin, etc.)
6. Most OCP music
If you have a gripe about Catholic liturgical music in your parish then do something about it. We did. We started a men’s Schola 12 years ago. We’ve been privileged to sing at many different liturgical events: countless weddings, funerals, Masses, Expositions, Solemn Vespers, Tenebrae, Baptisms, Ordinations, and much more. We’ve done simple English Masses, fully-chanted OF Masses, and even a Pontifical EF Nuptial Mass. Our group is all men, we meet twice a month for an hour and a half of rehearsal, and we wear cassock and surplice, use the Liber Cantualis and Kevin Allen Motets. We’ve branched out into other areas of sacred polyphony over the years.
It’s not hard.
frjim wrote, “Unfortunately most musical judgments are mainly subjective (like those above, including my own). “
There’s a reason classical music is called classical.
I fear that when a culture becomes so base so as to define that which is ‘easily digested and popular’ as the pinnacle of it’s aesthetic, social, political and religious expression, then it is no wonder that the issues of which Professor Day so long wrote have manifested themselves throughout that culture’s way of thought and life. Especially with regard to all that is holy, one should disdain vulgarity…not rejoice in it.
Bad Catholic music is terrible, but most Catholic churches near me keep on with the terrible music. Makes me nuts.
Don’t forget though, polyphonic music underwent its own persecution for a bit.
It’s never too late but getting familiar with Gregorian Chant- there are resources. FSSP has some great resources, St. John Cantius, & there are some great CDs out there with the lyrics in English and Latin like The Monks of Norcia has out (and in Italian as well) it’s a labor of love getting the music to be appropriate for the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass but without complaints and in good humor like the late great St. Philip Neri, we can bring the Mass to it’s Heavenly Heights(we can agree we are at rock bottom so we can only go up from here!) No one said it would be easy. Very grateful we have Fr. Z’s blog because every post and comment section have great nuggets/suggestions to spur us on and connect us.
In my relatively short time as a Catholic, I have been fortunate to find three parishes with truly sacred music during Mass, but such as these seem to be in a tiny minority. At my previous parish, we once heard “This Little Light of Mine” as a “gathering song”. I thought one of the “Gloria” arrangements sounded like a show tune – I kept expecting the choir to come out and form a chorus line. I found the music was at best distracting, at worst cringe-inducing.
Now we attend a parish where I have not yet seen an electric guitar or drum set. The organ is used, the choir chants the entrance antiphon, and the proper Reponsorial Psalm and Alleluia are sung. The bulletin from time to time has a note from the choir director with quotations from on the chapter on sacred music from Sacrosanctum Concilium. It does not seem to recommend the latest pap from OCP.
The homilies are clear and orthodox, and Holy Communion is distributed to those kneeling at the altar rail.
There are eight Sunday Masses, and three weekday Masses except on Wednesdays and Saturdays, when there are four. I can’t testify about all the Mass times, but Sunday mornings and weekday noon masses are very well attended.
I remember reading somewhere that one of the Sunday Masses was known as the Music Lovers’ Mass – no hymns were sung!
“Unfortunately most musical judgments are mainly subjective (like those above, including my own). The makes correcting the problem rather difficult.”
Impossible, actually. Fortunately the Church has not left it up to individual taste. (How could she, with something as important as the proper worship of God on the line?) She has clearly spelled out what is appropriate for music at mass – first, Gregorian chant, then polyphony and modern compositions, if they follow the spirit of the chant.
Vatican II gave “first place” (often translated as “pride of place”) to chant in the liturgy, on account of the chant’s close connection with the liturgical text. Yet most of the time these liturgical texts – the propers of the mass – are completely ignored to the point that most Catholics are not even aware of their existence. In the vast majority of churches, hymns and songs have replaced these liturgical texts, and along with this, endless battles about musical style and “taste.”
But this is really a sideshow. The important thing is that the proper texts are sung – the introit, offertory, communion antiphons – for which the Church has given us beautiful settings in Gregorian chant. Hymns are really a fish out of water in terms of liturgy – they are not liturgical texts, and most were written for a service where they are the liturgical action at the moment. This simply a poor fit for the mass, where (for the most part) they are sung during other actions (procession, offertory, communion) – and yet these have pushed out the chant, the very music the Church has held up as her own music, “proper to the Roman rite.”
It is one of the ironies of the post-Vatican II era that singing a non-liturgical text (hymns) while other liturgical things are going on has become the standard for “active participation” in the liturgy!
Fortunately or unfortunately, while Gregorian chant does have pride of place (which at least implies that it should not be entirely omitted, but does not imply that other things have to be statistically exceptional), the Church has not chosen to fix liturgical musical style on a certain pattern.
She might have once: at Trent the Council fathers were all but decided to fix it entirely on Gregorian chant, without exceptions. But Palestrina – at least according to the legend persuaded the Council fathers to think better of it. They heard what new compositions could do, and decided to take the risk. (Polyphony itself was a novelty once. So was the classical mass by composers like Hadyn, Mozart; the typical Christmas mass by Karl Kempter; and so on.)
Nor is “hymns and songs” a “liturgical reform thing”; that thing was once called “pray-sing-mass” and Franz Schubert and Michael Haydn, for instance, together with their librettists, have composed astoundingly beautiful settings to it. Meanwhile, the priest stood at the altar and made sure that someone got the praying of the actual Mass done.
That thing actually conforms better to the TLM than the Novus Ordo, because in the latter, and only there, it means that things must be left out – in the TLM only that the congregation does not hear it, but then in the TLM the congregation does not hear everything in any case.
Dear Veritatis splendor,
what about the classical Mass compositions?
Also, while theoretically of course the Gregorian chant has pride of place, and is comparatively easy to do once the congregation gets a bit trained in it…
in practice, polyphony masses will be some singled-out Masses for special occasions, regularly first-class feasts, and thus will be felt as rather more elated than chant.
Dear Mary of Carmel,
at least the organist did sing, instead of waiting for the congregation to shyly make their way into the song.
If someone sings badly, it’s the job of the other singers to sing loud enough that you don’t hear it.
I had forgotten the classical Missas. I would probably put them tied with polyphony, though that is a matter of taste, one which I am not really capable of judging, since there is a great dearth of both in my area. One should be careful with the Missas though, as it is entirely possible to develop a performance mentality to them.
As to your other point, it depends on your perception of feasts. I see them as demanding increased solemnity, which would call for chant. Honestly though, I hope that we would be happy with either, as long as we escape the dreadful stuff.
I notice that by sacrificing our Beauty (liturgical, musical, architectural, and artistic), we also compromise one of our three routes of evangelization, which if I recall is the route by which our esteemed host was drawn to the Faith. Then by weakening our claim on absolute Truth, we compromise another, and weaken the third (Goodness) as well. We’ve spent the last 50 years destroying our media of evangelization. Luckily, we are beginning to rebuilt a little, but it is still under attack.
Chant is so good. Everyone can follow, plainchant (rather than polyphony) leads to contemplative prayer… Like the Jesus prayer really. Beauty in simplicity. Hire a soprano and a tenor for a sacred music concert, but let everyone chant together.
Interesting tidbit about the council of Trent. Thank you!!
Our parish is composed of 6 churches, staffed by 2 full time priests, several chaplains, and a couple of retired priests. Every church has a different “flavor” with some full-on hippy-dippy music, but the two we choose from only play pieces composed before 1960. Our organist that plays at those two churches is first rate and also teaches the youth choir during the week. Two of my children are in the choir, where they are learning Latin hymns and Gregorian chant. Just this past week, my 6 year old was humming Laudate Dominum for 20 minutes before she asked my husband to write down the words and teach it to her so she could sing it properly. While I so wish we had a TLM closer than 3 hours away, I am grateful for the beautiful music our family is exposed to every Sunday.
Earplugs. That is the only way I have been able to cope with the music in our parish. May God keep us all alive in this famine.
I have even read the comments yet but I feel I have a good story to share. As I get up to go to communion yesterday, the organist regaled us with “America the Beautiful” as a prelude to some other mess that should distract you while you go to communion.
Forgive me if I sound harsh but I have a cold. Thank you for giving me some place to complain.
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