How To Improve Church Music II: What the Diocese Can Do


Sacrosanctum Concilium 44 gives some direction here, if you’ll pardon our getting ahead of our Vatican II study, and recommends an actual institute “consisting of persons who are eminent in these matters, and including laymen as circumstances suggest. Under the direction of the above-mentioned territorial ecclesiastical authority the commission is to regulate pastoral-liturgical action throughout the territory, and to promote studies and necessary experiments …”

For those territories concerned about “spending a fortune” on such things, Vatican II also suggested dioceses might want to merge resources and work together on such projects.

The consensus is that liturgy is nowhere near where it could be, so my first question to a bishop is this: Where is your liturgy institute?

I think it may be time to retire seminaries, at least in the sense of an institution devoted exclusively to educating priests. It would seem to me that institutional learning replacing seminaries would have many benefits:

– Students in many disciplines would learn side by side with seminarians. Rather than set up a culture of separation, bonds of communion would be set up between students of liturgy and music and future priests.

– Future colleagues in parishes would form friendships and associations during the formative years of study.

– Seminarians need training in singing and music appreciation. A music institute is a better location to do that than a seminary.

– The obvious advantages for the diocese include economics (saving a bishop from supporting two or more higher learning institutions) as well as forming its ministry students in a common philosophy of ministry and a shared emphasis on theology.

There’s no way out of it. Every diocese should have at minimum an association of organists and other church musicians to serve as a model and as mentors for younger musicians and students. Music students in the institutes and Catholic colleges could be serving as assistants in parishes.

We have to recognize that parishes organically develop large numbers of competent musicians in the volunteer ranks. An effort needs to be made to bring the opportunity for music learning to every parish music leader. A diocese should have, at minimum, a list of organists, pianists, voice teachers, guitarist, and other instrumentalists who are available to teach those who are willing to learn. In addition, the bishop must take the lead to instill a culture of improvement. Any serious musician is never satisfied with her or his own status quo. Steer the desire for novelty into a desire to learn new techniques, new repertoire, new ways of doing old things.

Composer forums should be set up regionally, at the very least. I think publishers might do well to refuse publication to works which have not been tested in a parish and which have not been peer reviewed in a composer forum. Bishops and dioceses could be responsible for setting up such an effort.

That’s probably enough for now. Any other suggestions?


About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in the Pacific Northwest, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
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