From The Podium

Liam linked Chironomo’s post predicting three developments on Catholic liturgical music. As fodder for “gossip,” it’s somewhat interesting, I guess. Like many conservatives or traditionalists, I think the blogger in question has a few blind spots. I’m generally doubtful of a comment referring to “the beginning of the end of the liturgical music nightmare of the last 40 years.”

Try a few hundred years. When was the end of the polyphonic era again? How many concerts do they do for the pope with sacred music from 1960? Or 1920?

1. There is going to be a transformation of the discussion/debate concerning music at Mass within 6 months.

More heat maybe. Not more light. It took Trent and a few generations to clean up and tighten up seminaries and clergy training after the shock of the Reformation and the long centuries of scandal and laxity prior to that. The reform2 folks are generally dismissive of anything that’s not Musicam Sacram. They don’t even look at the Roman Missal rubrics. They don’t seem inclined to accept the new USCCB document. Many prefer just turning the clock back to 1962. In doing so they’ve marginalized themselves in Catholicism.

2. There will be a definitive statement from Rome concerning Sacred Music at some point in the next 18 months.

There may or there may not be. My guess would be 2010 or later. But such a statement, if indeed it’s in the pipeline, will likely address not just the First World bogey stories about “Kumbaya.” Rome is always concerned with the big picture, not just the whining from the ivory towers. Will this statement cover any new ground from the Roman Missal or from Musicam Sacram? What else is there to say? Musicians would be far better off attending to the rubrics today than waiting for a rescue in writing.


3. There will be a new Curia office to oversee Sacred Music established within a year.

My prediction: this will do little or no good. It’s a frequent conservative appeal to want a higher authority to come in and set wrongs right. Does it happen? A few thousand dioceses, hundreds of thousands of parishes: somebody with a video cam will always have a place to go to generate outrage. Some musician will be unjustly fired. It probably happens once a day somewhere in the world.

Rather than predictions to fuel heated gossip, I’d prefer to offer suggestions on what will really make liturgical music better:

1. Bishops could found regional institutes for liturgy and music, and foster vocations to the ministries of the liturgical arts.

2. Bishops and pastors could commission outstanding composers to write good and needed church music, bypassing some of the market-driven aspects of promotion and acquisition.

3. Pay church musicians a just wage.

4. Explore ways in which volunteer musicians in small rural and urban parishes could develop their skills and leadership, perhaps partnering with larger wealthy parishes.

In striving for quality, musicians will be far more inspired than some half-hearted appeal to loyalty to a document or to a new layer of Roman bureaucracy.

Change will come more quickly with episcopal leadership. But I don’t think the American bishops possess the competence or the energy to tackle liturgy. Out of 200-plus bishops, we have lots of canon lawyers, theologians, and a few pastors. Any liturgists? Any spiritual directors? Any contemplatives?

If I were counting on higher-ups to make better liturgy with the wave of an administrative magic wand, I’d be a pessimist indeed. I prefer to make the best liturgical music I can for the next twenty, twenty-five years, God willing. There’s not a bunch more any of us can do at this point.


About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in the Pacific Northwest, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
This entry was posted in Commentary, Liturgical Music. Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to From The Podium

  1. John Heavrin says:

    First: the video cams don’t “generate” outrage, they record it.

    Second: as for who’s “marginalized,” time will tell on that one, pal.

  2. RP Burke says:


    While you and I don’t agree on everything, I think you’ve really hit the nail on the head with your four recommendations, especially nos. 2, 3, and 4.

    Even Archbishop Weakland recognized that the bishops took a walk on music, letting the marketplace reign, and the mess we have is the result. Episcopal leadership right here — not from daddy in Rome — is where constructive change and improvement will start.

  3. John Heavrin says:

    “daddy in Rome”

    Why the hostility towards Rome?

  4. RP Burke says:

    My “hostility”, as you put it, is toward those who look to Rome for all solutions when, under the principle of subsidiarity, have all the authority to deal with the problem themselves.

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