Seeking Spiritual Union

Many of my Catholic sisters and brothers desire two colors. White. Black. Period. White and black give perfect clarity in all situations, and help one know exactly what to do. In the case of liturgy, when to sing, what to sing, and even perhaps, how long to sing it.

I’ve been recently banned from commenting at one of my favorite church music sites, the Chant Café, for suggesting that the Mass is not a concert setting in search of a performance (among other things). But one commenter, Jared Ostermann posted:

And the response is to delete all comments on the thread? The push-back burns! Now, if this had been a forum of well-meaning parish musicians less-familiar with the documents (or perhaps a liturgical workshop), Todd or some other liturgical “expert” may have been able to carry the day and influence parish policy for years down the road with a glib comment that we shouldn’t do choral introits, offertories, or communios. That is the really disturbing thing here. It is absolutely imperative that we get the folks in the trenches at least somewhat familiar with the documents.

I’m not sure what Mr Ostermann is getting at. I think the definition of a liturgical “expert” is someone conversant with the documents, not just someone willing to rewrite them to suit a personal opinion or matter of taste.

If I were to program performance music for Entrance or Communion in my parish, I would be immediately challenged by music ministers and parishioners. And rightly so. One can cite options within the GIRM, but for Communion, the relevant point is this:

While the Priest is receiving the Sacrament, the Communion Chant is begun, its purpose being to express the spiritual union of the communicants by means of the unity of their voices, to show gladness of heart, and to bring out more clearly the “communitarian” character of the procession to receive the Eucharist. (GIRM 86)

The purpose of the Communion chant is to permit Christ’s priestly people to express a spiritual union. It seems the way this is most readily achieved is by a communal song, not a performance piece.

I’ve been in parishes where people did not sing much at Communion. The reason why I would continually invite people to sing and never program performance pieces is that I believe in the goal of spiritual union as expressed in GIRM 86. Spiritual union is needed in practically every faith community. Even if it weren’t in the Roman Missal, it would be a good value to cultivate. And if it can be encouraged within the bounds of the choices given in the Missal, so much the better.

People “in the trenches” (too much warfare imagery, but that’s another matter) need to know the intent behind the legislation, so that good pastoral judgments can be made in particular circumstances.

If I were hired in a parish that employed performance music during Communion, I would further the option of a post-Communion song of thanksgiving. I’m okay with the spiritual union being achieved a little bit later in the Communion Rite.

I’m hugely skeptical of the “stuffed Mass” solution, to sing the antiphon, then sing regular or plainsong music for the “second movement,” then do  a third thing at the end. Does such an approach achieve or build spiritual unity? Or does it keep our cred with various constituencies?

If I were convinced of the value of the Propers as musical texts, but my parish sang Communion songs with gusto, I’d be very, very leery about moving on that frontier. Five to ten years of switching out an entire repertoire is a huge undertaking. But anything less would be detrimental all over the board. For most parishes that are singing and that have successful music ministries, it’s playing with a fire I don’t see as crucial to spiritual fruitfulness. Retire non-Scriptural texts like Panis Angelicus and Gather Us In? Sure. Locate superior settings for select psalms and Gospel passages for the Propers? Absolutely. The parish ready for a reform2 hymnal is probably a parish building from ground zero or that never sang. Those resources are probably about a century behind the times. Or minimally, fifty years.

My main problem with the reform2 crowd as constituted at the Café is the unwillingness to engage on a level that requires discernment, good judgment, and a true dialogue with spirituality. Which isn’t to say that Café drinkers aren’t individually discerning, judging, and dialoguing. They seem to get into a problem when other people who have done so confront them with alternate ways of doing good liturgy and music. Banning people is just a symptom of a deeper issue.

That issue seems to be connected to a deeper need to be correct. And setting aside other viewpoints as incorrect seem to be part of the operation. And then we’re not talking about theology or liturgy at all. It’s all about politics and psychology. And maybe less about spiritual union.

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About catholicsensibility

Todd and his family live in Ames, Iowa. He serves a Catholic parish of both Iowa State students and town residents.
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3 Responses to Seeking Spiritual Union

  1. Well, I certainly lament the direction things took in that particular article thread, Todd. It abets my perception of, as you say, further entrenchment and intransigence. I am now skeptical of the medium, once a source of joy, learning, sharing, etc., that seems to have devolved into black holes rather than portals to enlightenment.
    I’m very uneasy of late that “church people” of all stripes now feel empowered 24/7 to pass assessment upon each other based upon caricature, typologies, myopic perspective and general tight-assedness. That someone of Mr. Osterman’s quite capable intellect would finally and exasperatingly declare that they, (who’re they?), the great unwashed, only need to be EDUCATED so as to arm them against the indoctrinations of “salesmen” like Todd Flowerday, and not recognize that he, Osterman, is advocating indoctrination(!) sums up the frustrating nature of the medium.
    We, you and I, everyone else too including good Liam, keep having the same ol same ol conversation over and over again about this insanity. And yet we seem equally disinclined to wean our own selves from this engagement.
    From your chronicles of the Ignatian process, what are we learning about ourselves in relation to each other and to Jesus from these estrangements?
    One codicil from your post: the “stuffed Communion” you described is exactly what goes on at Masses with my two choirs, and our congregations have never once, individually/corporately, demonstrated any pushback. Of course, as you and I have always concurred, skill in performance practice is a huge mitigator. But I have no inclination to defend it to you or Mahrt or Screwtape, much less sell you on it against your skepticism.
    We, if we’re dedicated and professed to be “all that we can be” in Christ and in ministry, will always be targets for lauds and derision both, because we’re front line people, not those cowering in the trenches. Amen, so be it.

  2. Todd says:

    There’s no question that I don’t provoke internet people from time to time. A few things I manage to avoid: direct namecalling of people, though I will label behaviors, thoughts, and activities. Some people associate themselves with their stances, and take personal insult to that. Hence I’ve been called a heretic, a protestant, a troll, an idiot, and other names that don’t really further any sort of discussion. And truth be told, I’m more than happy to practice not-calling names but to keep up the conversation–with the hope that it will eventually turn right.

  3. Lee says:

    Sorry for your vexations. I’ve been involved in a few internet disputes myself and they can be irritating and frustrating – and even hurt. One thing I’ve discovered in terms of myself and my involvement in such disputes, though, is that while I may have been right in what I had to say, sometimes my way of saying what I had to say helped to fan the flames. I didn’t have to call people names or directly insult them, but the attitude that came through rubbed people the wrong way.

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