Missing The Judgments

Jeffrey Tucker at NLM fumbles a bit on the eve of the replacement document for Music in Catholic Worship. The reform2 crew seems dismayed because …

Word on the street is that the new document on music from the USCCB retains the threefold judgment on music in liturgy: liturgical, musical, and pastoral. This is unfortunate because this test confuses more than clarifies. The major problem is how to weight these concerns.

This test is hardly confusing, and the weight of the concerns is obvious: take the judgments as they are given. In other words, just read the document sections 26 through 41. If you don’t want to sully your bookshelf with inconvenient teachings of the Church, just look it up online.

To the best of my knowledge, nobody has actually leaked the new document, so Jeffrey can’t be sure it doesn’t make it more clear. I don’t think another generation of traditionalists will be reared with MCW as a scary bedtime story. An adult consultation with what the document actually says: that would be more helpful.

Do you think the NLM folks have a problem with any of these quotes? They are all part of the sections on the three judgments:

To admit the cheap, the trite, the musical cliche often found in popular songs for the purpose of “instant liturgy” is to cheapen the liturgy, to expose it to ridicule, and to invite failure.

(Musicians) must find practical means of preserving and using our rich heritage of Latin chants and motets.

The choice of sung parts, the balance between them, and the style of musical setting used should reflect the relative importance of the parts of the Mass or other service and the nature of each part.

In liturgical celebrations each one, minister or layperson, who has an office to perform, should do all of, but only, those parts which pertain to that office by the nature of the rite and the principles of liturgy.

While there is no place in the liturgy for display of virtuosity for its own sake, artistry is valued …

A well-trained choir adds beauty and solemnity to the liturgy and also assists and encourages the singing of the congregation. The Second Vatican Council, speaking of the choir, stated emphatically: “Choirs must be diligently promoted,” provided that “the whole body of the faithful may be able to contribute that active participation which is rightly theirs.”

Or even a direct quote from a Vatican liturgical document used in MCW 40:

The instruction of the Congregation for Divine Worship, issued September 5, 1970, encourages episcopal conferences to consider not only liturgical music’s suitability to the time and circumstances of the celebration, “but also the needs of the faithful who will sing them. All means must be used to promote singing by the people. New forms should be used, which are adapted to the different mentalities and to modern tastes. The document adds that the music and the instruments as should correspond to the sacred character of the celebration and the place of worship.”

Remember when we looked at Liturgicae Instaurationes this past summer? The roots of the three judgments are found in that document. Section 3 is the source of the reference in MCW. Curious how Musicam Sacram is trumpeted as gospel, but other post-conciliar documents are virtually ignored by liturgical conservatives.

I guess it’s hard to read past the titles. Heck, most conservatives would take one look at the cover page of Inter Oecumenici and without cracking the text, write it off as modernist pandering to Protestants.

Serious liturgists, church musicians, and scholars of those two disciplines know they have to go deep into the Church’s documentation. In other words, do serious theology.

If you need evidence on what passes for scholarship in some circles, look at bits of the discussion on the MCW thread at NLM: “Or perhaps you put green pea soup in a thurible, lit it, and inhaled …” or “we’d be luckier if the USCCB would just shutup …”

One commentator sums up the reform2 credo:

I guess if the document is bad we can read it, critique it, kill it, and keep doing what we are doing. We have the momentum on our side – but we have a long way to go.

Indeed. And this from a self-identified priest.

Let’s not kid ourselves. For many dabblers in liturgical music, it’s not about the liturgical, musical, or pastoral judgments. Those things can be danged hard to understand and apply. Much easier is the Personal Judgment, backed up by the maximum possible proof-texting from Vatican documents that have an intelligible title.

Go read Jeffrey’s editorial. He does remark that a misapplication of the three judgments is a problem. His caricature of their abuse does have some faint roots in the truth of it: that parish musicians and even – gasp! – clergy sometimes misuse the three judgments and superimpose their own Personal Judgment.

The truth is, there are a lot of people sleeping in that bed.


About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in the Pacific Northwest, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
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28 Responses to Missing The Judgments

  1. Diana says:

    The revised document does indeed retain the three judgments. Overall, the document is good, especially its section on multicultural music. It’s much longer than MCW, heavy with footnotes, and not as poetic as MCW, though it tries to be.

  2. Randolph Nichols says:

    I, too, wished Jeffrey had identified his source. By not doing so, he incited the kind of polemical rant that too often occurs at NLM and other blogs.
    Despite your quotations, however, there are distinctions between Music Sacram and MCW. The former is clearly a compromise document between tradition (thus the pride of place nod to chant) and local tastes. The concern is that MCW pandered excessively to the latter and did little to check the excesses of influential publishers like OCP.
    Perhaps a helpful suggestion would be to avoid using “conservative” or “liberal” in discussions about music. These terms also incite and hardly do justice to some parishes, like my own, where great choral and organ music go hand in hand with open minded preaching.

  3. Liam says:

    People looking for more gossip (at least based on somethings that pass as news stories) about the main two* developments that are pending can slake their thirst at


    * The new music document to be reviewed if not approved by the USCCB next week AND possibly, further out, the creation of a dicastery in Rome concerning sacred music

  4. Darwin says:

    I think he makes a good point that “pastoral” is often used as a code word for doing the wrong thing so as not to offend people — or at least doing something sub-optimal in order not to offen people.

    Even on “dumb stuff”. Last night at the pastoral council meeting when someone advocated pruning the rose bushes one of the priests responded: “I think we need to be very careful and pastoral on that. [Name] said when he donated them that he wanted to do all the pruning, and even though he lets them get overgrown I don’t want to hurt his feelings.”

    It’s becoming one of those words that, while useful, has unhelpful connotations.

  5. Liam says:

    Unfortunately, pastoral has come to be used more often to mean what politique means. And it has been tainted as a word in the process. Consequently, I suspect it would be better if the word were retired for a generation in the ministerial context.

  6. Todd says:

    Randolph, thanks for commenting. Given the 1972 publication of MCW, I think the best we can say is that church documentation wasn’t up for the task of addressing market-driven factors in sacred music publishing. I agree it’s an issue, but I’m not sure it’s the ideological bogeyman the conservatives suggest it is.

    I do think you’re right that some parishes have moved beyond the labels of “conservative” or “liberal.” My parishioners are certainly concerned by what they see as my leanings in either department.

    Neither the NLM folks nor most of their loyal following haven’t really shown me anything to suggest they’re any more than hide-bound conservatives. The appeal for the label “orthodox” or other terms with less political baggage is just pc-speak. They have the politics. They have the baggage. For the most part, they know what they believe, and nobody, not even the Church, can tell them otherwise.

    If Jeffrey or someone else from NLM would like to make the case otherwise, they’re welcome to try.

    Regarding the discussion on “pastoral,” I have to confess being mystified. MCW itself, as does Liturgicae Instaurationes makes clear what it means to an accommodation to the people’s spiritual needs. I’d be happy to make a deal: if the conservatives stop talking about “orthodoxy” for a generation, I’ll give up “pastoral.”

  7. Darwin says:

    Regarding the discussion on “pastoral,” I have to confess being mystified. MCW itself, as does Liturgicae Instaurationes makes clear what it means to an accommodation to the people’s spiritual needs. I’d be happy to make a deal: if the conservatives stop talking about “orthodoxy” for a generation, I’ll give up “pastoral.”

    But what exactly do we mean by their “spiritual needs”? Far too often people say “this meets my spiritual needs” to mean “I like this” or “this makes me feel spiritual”. Thus “this is what suits the spiritual needs of the parish” means, “this is what we think the parish likes.”

    If there’s a “pastoral need” to use “On Eagle’s Wings” rather than the communion propers in chant, that basically just means that people know On Eagle’s Wings and they like it — it doesn’t mean that there is some deep spiritual need that existed for 1900 years of Christianity until On Eagle’s Wings was written and now can only be filled by the use of that song.

    So while I think that the folks at NLM are sometimes too sanguine about their own kind of change (“Hey, let’s universally go back to the old missal and then start the reform all over again from scratch — that kind of instability won’t give anyone whiplash.”) I think there is a real tendency to use “pastoral sensitivity” as an excuse to not pick a historically Catholic worship style/environment based on what assumes people will like or not like (or could or could not learn to like.)

  8. Todd says:

    “But what exactly do we mean by their “spiritual needs”?”

    See MCW 39-41.

    “Far too often people say “this meets my spiritual needs” to mean “I like this” or “this makes me feel spiritual”. Thus “this is what suits the spiritual needs of the parish” means, “this is what we think the parish likes.””

    In this case, the fault lies with those who apply a judgment and call it “pastoral” when it actually means something else.

    A specific example:

    We’ve pondered introducing a Latin Agnus Dei for regular use. A visiting Gospel Choir actually did last year at our parish. But given a few factors: the indifference of the congregation for the chant hymns introduced over the past two years, the complaints about the new EM procedures, and the concerns about the cassock + surplice combos, I thought it better to lighten up on those concerned about “turning back the clock.” I haven’t given up on the idea, and a Latin chant ordinary is still very much on the table with the music people, but the timing could be better.

    I don’t see that so much as pandering but as balance. Congregations need to be challenged from time to time.

    If Jeffrey or anybody else wants to actually attend Mass at my parish and call me on the poor use of the pastoral judgment, or even come up with a specific example from elsewhere, I’m happy to entertain the discussion. Till then, we’re talking hearsay, and little more.

  9. Liam says:

    “Pastoral” does not mean “appealing to taste”. But often it is the default equation through a series of equivocations: that it is pastoral to give people a message in a medium they are more likely to hear, that they are more likely to hear a medium that they like, therefore that it is pastoral to give people what they like. Frankly, I have rarely encountered that word being used in actual parochial practice that does not involve that equivocation.

    Orthodoxy has a less common (in parochial practice, at least) parallel if more attenuated journey of equivocation. When it’s used as a hammer, you can see that at work. But used as a clarifying device, I have no objection. There’s a difference in tone and timbre in the usage.

  10. RP Burke says:

    On the NLM website I commented that it was important to look forward, not backward. Usually saying something like that is flame bait, but so far no one has risen to it.

  11. John Heavrin says:

    “important to look forward, not backward.”

    I’ll rise…

    Perhaps no one has responded because to do so would be to accept the (rather inane) premise of the statement, that is, that the NLMers are not “looking forward” but instead are always “looking backward.” It seems to me that NLM and suchlike are engaged in trying to help reconnect the Church and, frankly, Western Civilization, with its cultural tradition. The way I see it, what they’re trying to do is all about “looking forward,” that is, to the future of the Church.

    I will say that I–and perhaps the NLMers–are amused by the constant attention paid by this site to theirs. I assume Todd is banned over there, or he’d be over there taking his shots instead of putting up all those “can you believe what they’re saying now” posts over here; perhaps he should petition for readmission.

    In any event, I admire those who won’t be baited. Wish I were better about resisting.

  12. Liam says:


    Todd still posts over at NLM periodically. I believe that, because he has his own blog, bloggers tend to spend more time at their own blog commenting about other blogs than actually going to those blogs and taking up combox space there.

    My own sense is that Todd enjoys picking a fight with those who are fond of picking fights themselves. So you can add to that chain if you’d like, I am sure Todd won’t mind.

  13. Todd says:

    John, I don’t intentionally bait you. I do value your input and contrary voice. Consider how critical I’ve been of the dittohead phenomenon. If I had soaring site visits and those people were all saying, “Good job, Todd. Keep at those nasty tradis,” what fun would there be in that?

    I like to be provocative and I might overstate my case on occasion to see what response it will bring up. I don’t think that’s a secret. Liam has the measure of me all too well.

    I do prefer to move discussions here. Like the NLM people, I do get a bit of a personal lift from increased site visits.

  14. John Heavrin says:

    “My own sense is that Todd enjoys picking a fight with those who are fond of picking fights themselves.”

    If he wants to “pick fights,” why not go over there and do so? Posting over here about what they’re posting about over there strikes me as silly. I’m trying to remember the last post on NLM that started “Well, you won’t believe what ol’ Todd said today…” but I can’t.

    But it ain’t my blog, obviously.

  15. John Heavrin says:

    “Good job, Todd. Keep at those nasty tradis,”

    Most of the commentary here, and most of the shots at NLM, “Rome,” etc., do basically boil down to this. You’re dismissive, frankly contemptuous, of traditionalists and conservatives, but, boy, you sure spend a lot of time reminding your readers what they’re up to. In face, other than the long march through Vatican II’s greatest hits (and the astrology and the occasional lib talking point), what else is there on this blog?

    With all the old documents, one might accuse you of running a museum too, Todd. Of “looking backward,” trying to figure out what the hell went wrong, it was all right there in the documents, etc.

    The past contains burlap as well as lace; there’s more than one mudpatch to get stuck in back there.

  16. Liam says:


    But NLM does periodically does do that very kind of thing, just rarely with Todd (they’ve made it clear they won’t encourage him that way). Other bloggers in sympathy with NLM do fisking as a matter of course – Fr Zuhldorf’s blog has been reduced almost entirely to fisking since the MP was issued – which is, btw, pretty pathetic.

  17. Liam says:


    Astronomy. Not astrology. Big difference.

    Todd also addresses pastoral and practical liturgical and musical questions regularly.

    What do you want to see him address that’s missing here and that you feel unable to address or is unaddressed elsewhere?

  18. Liam says:

    And the documents Todd has led St Blog’s in discussing for the past few years are far more current and relevant than, let’s say, some discussions I encountered this week at NLM about rochets, unbleached candles, the history of altar palls (vs. antependia), et cet. I realize yet another discussion of apparelled albs is less of a museum piece than discussing the rubrics of the current Liturgy of the Hours, but de gustibus non est disputandum.

  19. Liam says:

    Finally, I get to pick on Todd, don’tcha’ know?

  20. John Heavrin says:

    Zuhlsdorf isn’t “fisking” other blogs, he’s pointing out errors and problems in official communications from bishops and their staffers. I consider that to be a vital service, not “pathetic.”

    Can we appeal to site traffic to measure “currency” and “relevance”? If so, NLM is 15-20 times more current and relevant than “Catholic Sensibility”. But, that’s probably an oversimplification.:)

  21. John Heavrin says:

    astronomy, astrology, whatever…I like the Hubble pictures as much as the next guy…even a “conservative” can appreciate the wonders of the cosmos…but no horoscopes, please. :)

  22. Liam says:


    It is pathetic when it’s what the blog’s reduced to. And fisking is a good description of it. Hey, I love fisking – in moderation. He’s just gone a bit OCD in the fisking department.

  23. Liam says:

    And, yes, it is an oversimplification. ANd to offer a counter-oversimplification: perhaps NLM generates more traffic because it has a marginalized niche audience that is less able to have real instead of virtual conversations than those outside its base audience. Call it the internet ghetto effect – in the first Ghetto (Venice’s, that is), dwellings were a couple of stories higher and much more densely packed….

  24. Todd says:

    I’d say that the fisk has jumped the shark as a style of blogging. If we didn’t have ctrl-C and ctrl-V, it never would have come to prominence at all.

    On a related note would be bloggers who cut and paste an entire news note from CNS or Zenit or some source, add a little phrase at the beginning like, “Look what he said:” and consider that a post. At least AmP will post a link and admit he doesn’t have anything substantive to add.

  25. Rob F. says:

    John Heavrin:

    Personally, I love the long march through the V2 and later documents and the IGLH. Keep it up Todd.

    Liam: I also love discussions of liturgical history. Let’s hope the the NLM keeps on posting about unbleached candles.

  26. John Heavrin says:

    “perhaps NLM generates more traffic because it has a marginalized niche audience that is less able to have real instead of virtual conversations than those outside its base audience.”

    Ah, the freaks-in-their-Mom’s-basement insult. The traditionalist “niche” is growing all the time, friends; it now includes the Holy Father. Poring over the minutiae and felled forests of the last forty years, now there’s a niche.

    Liam, just maybe NLM’s just a more attractive blog.

    As for Fr. Z: now he does have a niche. He understands translation and he is expert in both Latin and Chanceryese. He is applying these skills to the various screeds and misinformation, as well as the better offerings, from official sources like Bishops and their staffers, and also unofficial ones, like publications. He’s wired in with a lot of the important Ecclesia Dei types in Rome and what he’s doing is very important. You don’t like it, so it becomes “pathetic.” I hope he keeps it up; there’s a lot of work to be done to prevent Summorum Pontificum from being strangled in the cradle, and he, unlike most, is in a good position to do it.

    I wonder what his numbers are…

  27. Liam says:

    Actually, JOhn, I don’t disagree with all of his critiques of the documents. And I don’t find them pathetic as such. What I find pathetic is reducing the blog content to that – remember, you were complaining here about limited content, so that’s the connection I was connecting to…I didn’t think I’d have to explain that.

  28. Virginia says:

    As a teacher and a christian -you should be teaching about biblical Judgments. all your doing is adjusting the pictures on the wall of the titanic as it plunges to it’s death. Do you know that there’s a judgment we can miss by doing just one thing while were on Earth.
    John 5:24(NKJV)
    “Most assuredly, I say to you, he who hears My word and believes in Him who sent Me has everlasting life, and shall not come into judgment, but has passed from death into life. Jesus has ( past tense)Died for our sins . It is Finished. Recieve His FREE Gift.

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