“We do not need a reform of the reform!”


I was struck by Cantor’s observation of Steven Warner’s address at NPM last week. I didn’t go (and I haven’t gone to an NPM convention in almost twenty years) but I couldn’t let this pass by without comment:

Ok, much of it was good, but at one point he glorified the guitar Mass (enh…), talked about how we need a full implementation of Vatican II (yes…), and then turned and stated, “We do not need a reform of the reform!” (Applause ensued.) Whoa there, Wilbur! Many of us were feeling a mite uncomfortable, even unwelcome, after that – and this at a convention whose theme ostensibly was, “that all may be one”.



As a composer and musician with one foot solidly in the monastic tradition, (his twenty-years collaboration with Chrysogonus Waddell and Gethsemani Abbey) Warner is far from the guy I would expect to glorify any music of less than the highest quality. If he’s advocating instrumental ensembles or the place of the guitar within them, we need go no further than Monteverdi to see the heights of what was accomplished in the era of polyphony.





I read a transcript of Warner’s talk . Maybe the translation to the printed page affects things, but I don’t grok a guitar glorification at all. Just a few stories and experiences. Cheering of conventioneers notwithstanding, I don’t see the connection with feeling welcome or unwelcome. I’m sure Cantor would not be insisting that strong opinions or even facts be sugarcoated. Cantor had to know that a large subset, if not a majority of NPM convention-goers, do not subscribe to the traditionalist-leaning groupspeak of “reform-of-the-reform.” Some of what’s wildly popular in St Blog’s circles is just not flying in mainstream Catholicism.





At worst, “reform-of-the-reform” is a weak expression of what many progressives and traditionalists share in common: the recognition that the modern Roman Catholic liturgy is not all it could or should be, that music and preaching could be better, and that more hard work is needed to effect a better reality.





What do the reform2 people give us? A contrary slogan that hides the congruence. An all too easy way to attack and insult the four decades of work many of us have done while some were pouting in exile with early music groups. Maybe it’s hard to be a signatory to the principle of liturgical reform, period, when ideological adversaries have already claimed the high ground on it. That’s not so hard to understand. But many of us raised in the 60’s and 70’s have readily embraced plainsong. If it’s possible for us …





I do realize that many young musicians have no history of pouting or avoiding hard work. They offer a refreshing perspective needed to improve Catholic liturgy. And their efforts are welcome. Very, very welcome. But I hope they will not buy into the embittered few who still nurse wounds three or four decades old.





Just say you want better liturgy. Just say you are willing to join with others who have worked hard to make improvements. Just say you want a soul-inspiring reformation. Then I’ll stand up and applaud you.


About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in the Pacific Northwest, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
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8 Responses to “We do not need a reform of the reform!”

  1. Gavin says:

    talked about how we need a full implementation of Vatican II… and then turned and stated, “[stupidity censor]

    Well, if not “reform of the reform”, what would Warner call a “full implementation of Vatican II” for a liturgy which hasn’t quite received it? And what if what he’s calling for is just more of the status quo? Can you blame anyone for not being on board with that? Rather he chose to disrespect people who forked over money to hear him. He’s certainly showing less tact than even most (well, some…) trads. And, before you ask, yes, I would be equally critical (maybe more so) if someone at CMAA took time in a speech to bash anyone who plays Haas.

    I do not like NPM, and I would suggest that not liking NPM is a hallmark of a reform2 musician. You speak of joining together with those who work hard to make improvements. What if they haven’t made improvements? Would you give the little old lady playing Marian hymns at the local low Mass a pat on the back for her work? For that matter, would you congratulate me over a beautiful choral Sanctus at my parish? I grant a wide berth to other musicians and always presume that they’re doing what they think is best. However, if I want to advance my own vision of Church music, I have to align myself with others like me. I’m not defending nastiness towards others (and I’m sure you’ve noticed I’ll not tolerate it in my presence either) but I’m also saying that it’s understandable if I don’t want to work hand-in-hand with Mr. Warner.

  2. Todd says:

    Gavin, it’s not clear to me you bothered to read Warner’s talk. When he says “we have not yet begun to taste the profound fruit of the Second Vatican Council,” and follows it up with examples, it seems clear to me he’s not calling for the staus quo. Especially when he’s encouraging musicians to get out of our comfort zones.

    If you feel disrespected because somebody criticizes reform2, you may be identifying too much with the little slogan. Bashing someone who plays Haas is not quite the same thing as being honestly critical of pc speech in general.

    It might be said that those who are genuinely interested in reforming a reform lack the courage to actually attempt a reformation of the liturgy. And the liturgy is far more vital to the Church than the little details of little old ladies or three-chord strummers standing pat with last season’s repertoire.

    I’d be cautious about identifying one’s group by dislikes. Sometimes it can be darned hard to discern what you actually stand for.

  3. Gavin says:

    I just did, Todd, and it does appear I read him wrong. I don’t like what he said, but I’ll get into that later.

  4. Gavin says:

    Well, I didn’t burn it, but that doesn’t mean I won’t.

    His speech seems to deal with being open to new things. But the one word I never saw in there was “discernment”. That’s the big problem. I agree, one has to be open to new and different things. A musician ought to be able to integrate non-Western music into his program. That doesn’t mean “let everyone run wild.” This is a fifteen page speech, so I don’t think it’s too hard to get a word in edgewise about discriminating between what’s appropriate or good and what doesn’t belong.

    As I explain in wedding and funeral discussions, as music director it’s my job to decide what’s appropriate and what’s not. That means the “kid with the guitar” only plays so long as I judge his contribution as appropriate and prudent. If I say no, it doesn’t mean I’m closed-minded or a heartless stale old grouch. It just means I was hired because my boss trusts my judgment as good enough to make those decisions for the parish. If someone comes to me wanting to play rock music at my parish, you’d better believe they’ll get turned down. If an Eastern rite chant choir comes asking to perform, I’d say “thank you, I’ll see if I can use your talents.” Same with a good spiritual arrangement.

    Mr. Warner’s speech could well have been given at a reform2 conference because it demonstrates what went wrong with the past 40 years. His line of logic towards the end is “Well, when I was a kid playing Peter Paul and Mary for Mass, people tolerated me, so you should tolerate anything that’s newest and hip also.” Sorry, but two wrongs don’t make a right. There are a great many of us liturgical workers who don’t judge the introduction of the folk idiom to be a success. And perhaps the reason is that no one ever DID make a discernment about them. No one ever said, “Ok, Farrel’s music is in, don’t use Haugen’s hymns, and Mary Beth Sue isn’t allowed to sing into the microphone. And put down the tambourine.” My mother is again a good example. She tells me of how she would pick songs and perform them on guitar for her parish. My mom is a brilliant woman, but I trust her liturgical judgment as much as I trust my own judgment about cellular biology. What if a music director (I suspect there was none) would have just said “Well Wendy, we’d love to have you play, and these are the songs you should do”? That would be discernment. I remember being at a contempochurch myself and playing a Metallica song during communion with the guitarist. I have to wonder if there wasn’t a person or two who was offended by that and said something only to hear “Well you’re just closed-minded to the contributions of youth.”

    If the members of NPM can’t decide what’s good, appropriate music and what’s not (and from my experience with NPMers, they can’t) then their contribution to the Church is unneeded. Steven Warner does make a good point about being open to new contributions, new styles, new trends. But if he can’t advocate discernment, his words negate any benefit that can come from such openness.

  5. Todd says:

    Gavin, I see a serious problem with your reply. Omission of a principle on a particular occasion is no evidence the writer or speaker is opposed to such a principle or even avoids its use.

    In fact, a careful reading of his talk will show he indeed advocates discernment, first in his approval of the “unpacking” that went on on the trip home from the prison. Second, he does describe a bit of his thinking process regarding instrumentation. A third example, though a negative one, is his stated decision not to “recommend” music to the conventioneers. Lacking any outreach on your part to contact the man and quiz him yourself to uncover a negative approach to discernment, I think you’re off base not to assume the best of him. His years of experience don’t necessarily give him a free pass, as it were, but he has a track record that would find him closer to traditional music sensibilities than most people in campus ministry, let alone music ministry. In part, the objections to his talk on the net strike me as more evidence of the fussbudget character of his critics, most of whom haven’t bothered to read his talk at all. In fact, amy refused to post my link to it on her site. I suppose ignorance can jack up visitor hits more than actual information.

    Now, if you’re talking about choices of particular repertoire (and looking back over your post, it’s not crystal clear to me exactly what the heck you are talking about) then I think you’ve substituted the wrong word for judgment. When you and I make choices about music selections, we make judgments, generally not discernments.

    Thankfully, neither you nor I make large-scale decisions about whose contribution to the Church is needed or not. To the extent we make such decisions well or for ill in our own parishes guides the process of the sanctification of our people. The final result there is up to God. And at the risk of rubbing some noses in it, neither Warner nor I are going anywhere.

    In the meantime, I do think that working with people does involve discernment. You seem to have a lot of worry about the extremes: Metallica and other kids running wild. In my experience, the gray areas are a lot tougher to work with. Not to mention looking for people who can fill a genuine need in the parish. I believe pretty much everybody who comes to my office has a fit. Sometimes that fit is not at all obvious. Finding a wise fit is real discernment.

    I guess the bottom line for me is that I wouldn’t bother trying to find what’s objectionable in Warner’s talk and making a big hooey about it. If one of the NLM folks moved to KC and wanted to start up a chant schola, she or he would have a fun, supportive, and decent time of it coming to me and wanting to do it in my parish. I’m doing well enough, but not so well I can afford to tell people they’re not needed.

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