Lacking Imagination and Confidence

William Mahrt’s lengthy review of Sing to the Lord is online at Musica Sacra. There’s a lot to digest in it. Like many reform2 musicians, Mahrt seems disappointed that the Right’s favored method of “fire, aim, ready” wasn’t applied by the bishops to the sins of modern church music.

I’m always struck by the naiveté that the vast sins of parish musicians can be scrubbed away by fiat. How many thousands of parishes offend the orthodox sensibility in America? While I’m sure that Dr Mahrt would be willing to shoulder the burden of a dozen parishes pining for plainchant, I’m less certain there are enough qualified rock musicians (let alone church musicians) to cover the needs out there.

I don’t have time today for Mahrt’s other oversights and miscues, other than to address the topic of other instruments.

One is grateful that the place of the organ is asserted: among instruments, it is accorded “pride of place” (¶87). It is praised for its role in accompanying congregational singing, improvisation to accompany the completion of a liturgical action, and playing the great repertory of organ literature, whether for the liturgy or for sacred concerts.

Fair enough for the pipe organ. Mahrt probably knows, as most church musicians do, that this pride of place does not extend to synthesizers and other instruments imitative of the pipe organ.

The recommendation of other instruments, however, raises a few questions. Instrumentalists are encouraged to play music from the treasury of sacred music, but what music for instrumentalists is meant? Is it the church sonatas of the seventeenth century, requiring an ensemble of string players and keyboard? One hopes it is not a recommendation that the treasury of organ music be played upon the piano or that secular piano music be played.

As an ensemble player and a musician with no little appreciation for and understanding of early music, I find this kind of blindness simply incredible. From the times before Trent and long after, instruments have been employed for sacred music. My own hero contributed great ensemble music to the Church’s treasury. I can understand a chant expert like Mahrt would focus exclusively on the vocal repertoire. I can understand that an organist would be flush with knowledge of Bach, Alain, and everybody in between. But a church musician of any pedigree should certainly know the historic place of instruments, and even how the great composers and music directors utilized these instruments to support choirs, reinforce part singing, and composed for them.

The commentary on instruments ends with a pessimistic note:

The wider issue that this raises is the suitability of other instruments. The document does not state the principle (sic) reason for the priority of the organ: it is primarily a sacred instrument. Other instruments do not share that distinction. A citation of Old Testament usage of “cymbals, harps, lyres, and trumpets” (¶89) begs the question of their associations in the present culture. The document proceeds to allow “wind, stringed, or percussion instruments . . . according to longstanding local usage, provided they are truly apt for sacred use or can be rendered apt” (¶90). This avoids the vexed issue of whether instruments with strong associations with popular music, such as those of a rock band, but even the piano, are really apt for sacred use.

Take the saxophone for example. The instrument is virtually synonymous with jazz. But it wasn’t invented for jazz. While there is very little sacred literature particularly for the saxophone, it doesn’t follow that adaptation, improvisation, and new compositions would not find a place in church. Jan Garbarek‘s collaboration with the Hilliard Ensemble comes to mind.

The reform2 philosophy as elucidated here has two tragic flaws in my mind: a lack of imagination, and a lack of confidence.

A lack of imagination is a terrible thing for a musician to suffer. Music at its core is about “playing.” We might perform. We might read. We might practice. But all of those aspects, including our own styles and the expectations of the listener, are lensed through the essential of play. If a musician isn’t playing with imagination, I have no interest in listening in.

A lack of confidence in the transformative and sanctifying power of Christ is a terrible thing for a minister to have. When we get weirded out by a piano or a saxophone because the cabaret or the jazz joint uses them too, it reveals less confidence that God can work grace from the neutral palettes of human life. Is the demonic influence of percussion, the electronic amp, or the horn so strong that it will engulf the liturgy and all within it?

The issue may be vexing, but perhaps only to the cowardly spirit of people who cannot bring themselves to trust that God’s power to transform really works. For musicians like Mahrt, it’s all about and it’s only about what’s inside the treasure chest inside the church doors. For optimists, it’s also about the possibilities of the treasures that await in the courtyard, down the street, and out in the fresh air.

About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in Minnesota, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
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50 Responses to Lacking Imagination and Confidence

  1. JPaul says:

    So does this mean no more washtubs & broomsticks?

  2. Todd says:

    No tissue paper over combs either. Darn.

  3. PrayingTwice says:

    Todd,

    After reading your blog for a couple years now, I’m afraid this is going to be it. Your posts have finally beat me into submission.

    I’ve been hanging on by a thread for maybe the past six months, only sticking with you to hear your take on “Sing to the Lord”, but I’ve decided to jump ship. Your hypocrisy and lack of charity in many of your posts has finally convinced me that it’s time to call it quits.

    The same arrogance you condemn when coming from the conservatives, I find often in your posts. I find the phrase, “So-and-so just doesn’t get it” coming from your blog at least once a week. What pomposity, since the implication is that you do get it, seemingly on nearly every Church topic. It gets pretty tedious and disheartening.

    Though I haven’t read Prof. Mahrt’s critique yet, and only read a bit of your response (I stopped when I got to “I don’t have time today for Mahrt’s other oversights and miscues” (wow), he has always come off as a man that always speaks charitably towards those that don’t share his views. He is a wonderful blend of intelligence and humility, and we could all stand to gain from this mix.

    Though I respect you as a knowledgable musician, and love you as a Christian brother, your hubris turns me off to your writings and therefore, I believe I’ll follow the comments to this post for a bit, and then delete your RSS feed from my bloglines account. God bless you in your ministry.

  4. JPaul says:

    WOW! WWJD?

    How fine is the line dividing Pomposity, Confidence, & hubris?

    The thought that God cares what instrument is used screams shallow to me.

  5. Todd says:

    PT, your charges are serious.

    I don’t know that my approach in criticism is much different from other bloggers. Your own comments on music and instruments can be pithy and sharp at times. Though you are hardly offensive.

    Those of us blogging and commenting these years all know that something read in print on the web and the full communication person-to-person, in person is far different.

    I’m not the first person accused of being more rough-and-tumble online than in real life. I have no reason to question your experience of Dr Mahrt as a charitable, intelligent, and humble man. But I’m afraid my first read of his essay left me with none of those qualities in mind. Additionally, his take on instruments left me with the impression the man does not know his history. He may disagree with the use of instruments to reinforce vocal lines, or he may detest Monteverdi, but it seems dishonest to play the organ pride of place card to the extent other instruments are excluded of any place at all.

    I’ve always regarded my more conservative, traditionalist, and classical colleagues with great respect. I’ve enjoyed my opportunities to collaborate with them. We often speak of our shared trials in opening eyes to the value of beauty, quality, and prayerfulness in liturgy–seemingly always struggling against other budgeting priorities in parishes and schools. And we enjoy the input of varied perspectives on performance, style, and liturgy.

    On the other hand, when a perfectly valid instrument like the piano is dissed: it is hard not to take offense. And I freely admit that I feel offended by many internet musical gurus. I consider their in-print essays fair game for a reasonable critique.

    As for hubris, the blogging format is itself an exercise in it. It revels in it. Look at me: writer, authority, theologian, guru, higher than the bishops and pope; read me and follow me and buy my books and come to my speaking engagements and all that.

    But let’s be clear about the difference between having an opinion and defending it with confidence versus being a blowhard. I back up my strong opinions. I think I’m fair in avoiding generalization. When you speak of “the implication is that you do get it, seemingly on nearly every Church topic,” I don’t discount that. But I also recognize it comes from your own subjective experience.

    Let me suggest that instead of a divorce of RSS and links, you suggest a topic, preferably narrow enough to keep us on track, and we cross-blog on it in a conversation format, maybe like a Siskel and Ebert thing. You can get off your chest the important stuff, we can keep each other honest about gratuitous comments and insults and the like, and we develop a shared understanding of not a common ground. What do you say?

  6. PrayingTwice says:

    Todd,

    Thank you for the thoughtful response. I’ll stand by my previous comment, but I appreciate your time in responding.

    I’ll decline your invitation to cross-blog. You’ve probably noticed that I post pretty infrequently as of late. I have two young children that need attention and I feel guilty spending an inordinate amount of time on the computer. I just wouldn’t have the time to engage in something like this.

    My hope is that my previous comment will just encourage you to blog in a spirit of charity, suppressing the urge to make comments such as the one that I listed above. I shall try to do the same on my own blog.

    PT

  7. G Jones says:

    Music speaks or sings to people at many levels. If guitar or piano or saxophone or violin brings them closer to God, why would we take those away?
    And as for the organ being sacred, do these people not know that it’s the Mighty Wurlitzer organ that was used in silent film showings complete with bells and whistles to bring out the emotions of the film? (You can still see one of these used in this way at the Paramount Theater in Seattle.)

  8. Todd says:

    PT, your response was more than gracious and fair. I appreciate your comments and I will honestly consider more thinking before typing.

    For others reading along, I will repeat my offer of an open invitation for anyone taking exception to my opinions. Simply send me a rebuttal by e-mail or hyperlink. I have no problem putting someone else’s comments in an actual post, or with linking a dissenting view.

    The comment box is always a vehicle for shorter pieces, of course. Aside from spammers, visitors are not barred here–the happy consequence of a minor blog, and the only edits I make on comments are for gross insults, especially directed at other comments.

    All private correspondence I will honor as strictly private unless you explicitly give me permission to blog it.

  9. JPaul says:

    I feel guilty

    Now that’s something we can do without………..heh

  10. G Jones:
    Yes, the WurliTzer evokes much emotion. But raw, human emotion is not what the Mass is intended to bring us.

    To All:
    Dr. Mahrt IS right on with his remarks. They were carefully prepared for the original sharing with the Bishops’ Liturgical Commission over a year ago, which was open to comment to the entire spectrum of US Catholic musicians. He, and many of us, have been virtually “underground” since shortly after Vat. II, but we ARE still here. Personally, I have been involved in all sorts of Catholic music since childhood. While organ is my main instrument, I have even used my accordion at a “folk Mass” – both to add a “winded” melody line, and to lead the entire congregation in a standard repertoire “hymn” that the folk group could NOT! My oldest son plays the bagpipes, and he and I perform for weddings, funerals and special occasion Masses. My youngest son plays the clarinet, and he has performed at Mass both at his home in Houston, and in Charleston where I now reside. So I am not totally limited in musical instruments at church.

    But the piano is totally out of place. First, it is a “percussion” instrument that happens to be controlled by a keyboard. Its music is a constant assault on the ears – strike/fade, strike/fade, … – and can only “fill in” vacant harmonies on held melody notes by rambling up/down the keyboard with totally distracting arpeggios. Second, and related to the first, it cannot sustain any melody note – indeed, it takes a very experienced player to even bring the struck melody note out over the accompaniment! The instrument MIGHT be somewhat appropriate to accompany a choral piece where the choristers already know their parts and need no melodic leading.

    And third, the main reason why the instrument invaded the sacred space in the first place, it is merely a replacement for the guitar. Yes, all those 1960s “Peter, Paul & Mary” dropouts, who used to drag their instruments to church with them, all but dropped out themselves when they got married, had children, got real jobs in the real world, etc. They were around just long enough to get some people “hooked” on them, and the clergy (most of whom were brainwashed with this style of music in their Seminaries!) wanted that music to continue – at least at one Mass every weekend. So the organist had to become a keyboardist and fake his/her way through all that vapid music just to keep his/her job! (That is unless you are in the “Bible Belt” where converting Baptists who wanted more simply replace exiting cradle Catholics, and brought their own style of music with them!)

    What is painfully obvious here is that you, and millions of US Catholics have been sold a bill of goods by people who were severely “left leaning” even before Vat. II, who seized power with the help of some equally leftist bishops. Their vision of the Vat. II reform does not relate in the slightest to what anyone within Vat. II envisioned. But most of you fell for it hook, line, and sinker, just as P.T. Barnum would have expected!

  11. known as 332 says:

    Todd, gotta tell you. Although I studied brass primarily, I’m enough of a saxophone nerd to have recordings by Marcel Mule, Fred Hemke and others (definition of saxophone nerd – has classical saxophone recordings ). I’ve composed and arranged for saxophone…(omitting an overkill of data that says I like the instrument)….

    But on a simple test – does it help me worship God during Mass as He should be worshiped, or not – it fails. Chant, organ, even organ+brass quartet…the music becomes part of the Mass. Saxophone (and admittedly other instruments), and I hear the music apart from the Mass.

    One person’s opinion. But, gosh, help those of us not strong enough to worship Him appropriately with avoiding the distraction of instruments that don’t fit historically.

    Final feeble attempt to reinforce my bona fides…listening to Phil Woods as we type.

  12. Michael says:

    But on a simple test – does it help me worship God during Mass as He should be worshiped, or not – it fails.

    Yep. That describes my response to the pipe organ and chant (and probably to saxophone). Ymmv.

  13. JPaul says:

    Ok how is it that God needs to be worshiped?

    Who is any mortal to say how?

    We can only guess through our own interpretation. Oh my, what if we are all wrong? What if God dislikes the pipe organ & the piano?

    But on a simple test – does it help me worship God during Mass as He should be worshiped, or not – it fails.

    This is a interesting comment, I like the first part of it because the user states “does it help me?” with the key word ME. This shows ownership, confidence, & a good general sense of what this person needs.

    But then it all goes down hill for me when the phrase “as He should be worshiped”. The key word here is the dreaded SHOULD, this sends the message to me that if I don’t worship God a certain way then SHAME on me. For me mortal life is far too short to waste any of it in something so evil as shame.

    just me humble opinion………..

  14. john m says:

    Dr. Mahrt’s discussions on music in the Liturgy are always characterized by two traits that seem to be rare amongst church musicians: humility and obedience.

    Dr. Marht is not about what he wants to hear in Church, but what the Church asks of the musicians in her service. I heard him mention recently that if he could have the music that he likes during Mass, it would be the piano sonatas of Mozart. But the Liturgy is not the place for this music, and he is fine with that.

    As a Church musician, I am privileged to collaborate with the Church in her work of the salvation of souls. But, beyond those areas which are entrusted to my judgment, I do not call the shots. The Liturgy belongs to Christ, and is entrusted to the care of his Church. Therefore, the Church makes the rules; not me.

    I am thankful that I have the authority of the Church to fall back on when I make musical decisions about the Liturgy. When I am adhering to the documented norms of the Church and someone challenges me, I have a defense. If I depart from the norms and someone challenges my decision, I am defenseless; I have nothing beyond my personal opinion, which is as good as anyone else’s opinion. Respect for the musical norms of the Church frees me from the destructive strife of conflicting opinions and allows me to be about the work of praising God.

  15. David Andrew says:

    Todd,

    I could (and in fact began to) compose a rebuttal full of rich prose, pointing out your terrific lack of any intellectual insight in contradicting Dr. Mahrt’s position, taking exception to your use of words clearly meant to bait us, like naivete, blindness, lack of imagination and my favorite quote, “The issue may be vexing, but perhaps only to the cowardly spirit of people who cannot bring themselves to trust that God’s power to transform really works. For musicians like Mahrt, it’s all about and it’s only about what’s inside the treasure chest inside the church doors;” accusing you of the self-same lack of courage to face the issues presented by Mahrt with any kind of well-reasoned argument, pointing to the fact that you excuse yourself from the need to do so (“I don’t have time today for Mahrt’s other oversights and miscues”), suggesting that you take the time, so that you could convince us that your rant has merit.

    I could do.

    I decided I’d just tell you to boil your head instead.

  16. Todd says:

    David, in that case, the music discussion remains at the level of personal taste. But let me point out that Mahrt takes the position of being critical of the bishops, and he criticizes often. Some of that critique is warranted, and perhaps that kind of critique deserves a wider audience.

    But it strikes me as being false to suggest a person is critical of bishops yet humble and obedient too.

    I have no problem with being critical of bishops when they deserve it. But you seem to be arguing the point that because he is a learned and experienced musician, and because he agrees with you, he is beyond criticism himself.

    So get real. You either like Monteverdi or you don’t. Either you stand in obedience to SttL or you parse its omissions and errors. But don’t pretend obedience and humility if you do so.

  17. john m says:

    Dr. Mahrt is being critical of an advisory document, not a bishop. The document has flaws when measured against the juridically binding norms of the Church.

    My own bishop asked me to criticize the draft edition of Sing To The Lord. I did so quite thoroughly. He did not regard it as a criticism of himself.

  18. IanW says:

    Todd,

    I thought JPaul’s comment informative. He asks:

    Ok how is it that God needs to be worshiped? Who is any mortal to say how?

    The question suggests a failure to grasp the collective nature of our understanding and practice of the faith. We believe and worship within an historical community, which under the guidance of God develops its understanding and practice over significant time-spans.

    Now, I’m sure you don’t take responsibility for comments other than your own, but I do hear echoes of JPaul’s approach in this blog posting, which appears to emphasise the musician’s creativity and originality at the expense of the Church’s tradition and teachings (forgive me if I mis-interpret).

    Which is not to say there isn’t an interesting discussion to be had about the role of particular kinds of music and instrument in the liturgy – I’ve sung masses and cantatas alongside chamber groups and orchestras in liturgical settings, and it has been very moving. Indeed, your blog began to touch on this before it lost its way in the enthusiasm of polemic. And it’s such a shame that polemic was directed at one who has worked long and hard, as both musician and scholar, to explore and foster the church’s ideas, teachings and practice in this field.

  19. Todd says:

    “Dr. Mahrt is being critical of an advisory document, not a bishop. The document has flaws when measured against the juridically binding norms of the Church.”

    I’m being critical of a critique of said document. I don’t see how that is worse than being critical of the document itself. I don’t have a problem with critique as such. The only thing I see is I’m poking at somebody’s hero. Bishops are nobody’s heroes.

    “And it’s such a shame that polemic was directed at one who has worked long and hard, as both musician and scholar, to explore and foster the church’s ideas, teachings and practice in this field.”

    A shame? Really?

    I was very particular in my criticism of what I think are flaws in Dr. Mahrt’s approach to instruments. As of this post, nobody has attempted to correct me on the aspects I think Dr. Mahrt has missed. Instead I seem to be reading, “Oh, poor Dr. Mahrt, to be so misunderstood by a head-soaked stick-in-the-mud. I just can’t read any more.”

    Like many academics, I’m sure Dr Mahrt has had his share of philosophical tussles. I have no doubt he conducts himself with the utmost class in all of them. I admit my curiosity on his disdain for instruments. I’ve been a church musician and chorister for almost thirty years now. I’ve had to play and sing mighty poor repertoire chosen by someone else. I’ve had to play and sing with less than inspiring colleagues, directors, and members. It has happened at bad liturgies, in dreadful acoustics, with poor instruments. I even confess I’ve programmed music I dislike and I think is less good than other possibilities simply because other things were priorities. I have to live with my outright errors, but the ministry of music, I trust, has a higher focus and a greater end in sight. I try not to become embittered or resentful about it.

    Sure, SttL could have been a far better document. There is much to criticize in it. And most all church musicians trend to being harsh in their own opinions, myself included.

    I’ll take your offense at my criticism of Dr Mahrt to heart. I intended to be provocative. I apologize for giving needless offense as I did so.

    And Ian, I would not say that a musician’s creativity and originality are to be developed at the expense of Tradition. But they do have a place in how divine inspiration is communicated to others.

  20. john m says:

    “I’m being critical of a critique of said document. I don’t see how that is worse than being critical of the document itself.”

    In your critique it is very difficult for the reader to distinguish between your criticism of Dr. Mahrt’s essay and of the man himself. You yourself stated in the article that you “don’t have time today for Mahrt’s other oversights and miscues” and you make generalized (might one say bigoted?) statements about “musicians like Marht”, You seem to have time to accuse the author of oversights and miscues but you claim not to have time to explain what you mean by this.

    Dr. Mahrt’s statement, on the other hand, contains no attacks on the authors of SttL. It only holds up for examination and questioning the ideas and the conclusions therein.

    If look forward to your posting of a refutation of Dr. Mahrt’s statements that is studied, logical and respectful of its author, when you have time.

  21. Todd says:

    john, if a reader isn’t prepared to look at Dr Mahrt’s essay critically, then she or he will look to criticize the messenger. It’s human nature.

    If it helps, his criticism of a lack of leadership in the episcopacy is spot on. The gaffes on SC 123 and the failure to produce a document with a stronger pedigree of authority stand out in my mind.

    But the oversights in his essay would include his misapplication of the three judgments (see today’s post), a supposition that musical styles other than chant are not subject to the qualification of SC 116, some of the discussion on Communion chants, the ambiguity (or purpose) of episcopal documents, and possibly the elevation of Musicam Sacram above the GIRM. The claim of an “anthropocentric focus” has almost become a cliche, though I think given the lack of direction from the hierarchy up and down on matters sacred, maybe it’s not a stretch to read it into the clergy. Most Catholics I know, even poor musicians, know why they’re at Mass.

    I wouldn’t say I have a bigotry toward conservative musicians. I think there’s a good amount in the treasure chest of history. And there’s good music waiting to be utilized or even composed. Given the advances made over the past forty years, I can’t help but see the current music situation with optimism. Like Mahrt, I think it’s getting better.

  22. IanW says:

    Todd,

    As I understand it, your arguments are (i) the superiority of the Creative’s imagination over the opinion of the Church (ii) the presence of instruments other than the organ and the voice in the work of a number of great liturgical composers.

    Argument (i) is perfectly good outside of the parameters of Catholic thought, but on a hiding to nothing within it. Argument (ii) is the beginning of a reasonable discussion, which argument (i) makes it difficult for you to have, because you are reluctant to accept that tradition and teaching may place constraints on the discussion.

    That’s the context of my suggestion that it’s a shame you choose to criticise Dr. Mahrt. Not because he’s a good egg who works hard, but because he’s a practising Catholic musician and scholar who’s willing to work within the tradition of the Latin Rite. Frankly, the alternative’s a bit played out by now.

  23. JPaul says:

    I wonder if it is possible to have a discussion regarding anything Catholic without shame?

    Maybe a topic best discussed in another forum………….

  24. john m says:

    Thank you, Todd, for your calm and reasonable response. I look forward to reading a future post with your arguments fleshed out.

    As for the three-fold judgment, it is my opinion that, logically, the musical judgment trumps the others. As poor music has no place in the Liturgy in the first place, it should not survive the musical judgment. I think we need to assume that only good music is even under consideration, and therefore only liturgical and pastoral judgments apply.

    The three-fold judgment was invented out of whole cloth for MCW, which was also not a juridically binding document. Therefore, as far as it is concerned, one person’s opinion is as good as the next.

  25. Todd says:

    Thanks for the exchange of opinion, Ian.

    “As I understand it, your arguments are (i) the superiority of the Creative’s imagination over the opinion of the Church (ii) the presence of instruments other than the organ and the voice in the work of a number of great liturgical composers.”

    Not quite, if I read your (i). Did you mean to cap “Creative?”

    The Church wisely differentiates between legislation and guidance. Pipe organ has pride of place (because it works so well as an accompanying instrument)–no argument there. But other instruments are permitted: it’s part of SC, Musicam Sacram, and other church documents. The Church also permits music outside of the existing repertoire of treasure. So I would say that individual musicians and ensembles bring a spark of divine creativity to their playing for liturgy. But I think you overstate the case. It certainly wasn’t my main point in the original post.

    “(Y)ou are reluctant to accept that tradition and teaching may place constraints on the discussion.”

    I disagree. I’ve said nothing about denying or refusing tradition. I’ve said tradition is wider than organ+plainsong+polyphony.

    “That’s the context of my suggestion that it’s a shame you choose to criticise Dr. Mahrt.”

    Again, I don’t see the shame.

    ” … because he’s a practising Catholic musician and scholar who’s willing to work within the tradition of the Latin Rite.”

    So am I. And so are a lot of church musicians with lesser skills and scholarship.

    “Frankly, the alternative’s a bit played out by now.”

    I would rephrase this. My sense is that church music was in bad shape before the council. Afterward, contemporary music was minimized and sidelined in a lot of places. I certainly think that there’s a greater awareness of and appreciation for musical tradition and church legislation and guidance on music over the past thirty years.

    That’s not to say some backward pastors and poor musicians don’t still muddy the pool. But I don’t think that’s the whole tale to tell.

  26. Todd says:

    Thanks, john, for your reply.

    “As for the three-fold judgment, it is my opinion that, logically, the musical judgment trumps the others. As poor music has no place in the Liturgy in the first place, it should not survive the musical judgment. I think we need to assume that only good music is even under consideration, and therefore only liturgical and pastoral judgments apply.”

    I agree. There is also good music, and there’s better music, so the judgment of musical quality isn’t trivial. If people want to eliminate all the non-good music, then apply liturgical and pastoral judgments, I have no quibble with that.

    “The three-fold judgment was invented out of whole cloth for MCW, which was also not a juridically binding document. Therefore, as far as it is concerned, one person’s opinion is as good as the next.”

    Not quite. Like SttL, it was promulgated to provide guidelines for clergy and musicians. In 1983, it, along with LMT and EACW were commended by the US bishops with the following language: “The norms and guidelines of these documents should be followed by pastors and all those engaged in the liturgical arts.” The bishops conceded that in matter of music and art, one cannot mandate quality.

    If good music were so easy, it would be more common. We might ask the question of our culture: why isn’t it?

  27. noel jones says:

    Your observations are thinly strung together in opposition to the tightly constructed guidelines, written over centuries by people much more able to understand the picture than you, or I, who have a mere 50 years to look at. This is the fault of the church that removed the tight restrictions on what was church music in the 1960’s and let anyone do anything they felt like doing. Intellectual decisions do not result from working off feelings.

    Just one glaring example….the sax. Why is it not a liturgical instrument? What do YOU think of when you hear a sax, taken out of context. Do you automatically think, the True Presence?

    Variety is not the church. Consistency is. Vernaculat hymns are not new. Bad music is not new. Both have been in the church before and then they have been purged. Many times over and over.

    That’s why chant, polyphony and the organ are appropriate for liturgy and all other music and instruments are lacking.

    Dr. Mahrt will go down in history for his thought and action And change, especially reform, can happen now and quickly. Gregorian chant was a reform movement that came about and was put into place within the short years, less than a generation, that he was Pope. He may not have written it….but during his time it achieved its supremacy which has been maintained since. The youth of today think that folk masses are funny…they do not understand that folk musicians brought about needed change in society and that spilled over into church. Having done their job they retired from the scene.

    Except from the church where they are still embraced by those who ignore or have not been exposed to the teaching and history and tradition of the church, all of which are the reason for its continued existence.

    It’s hard not to ramble when going over these issues.

    I do not know Dr. Mahrt. But from what you have written you are no Dr. Mahrt.

  28. john m says:

    ““The norms and guidelines of these documents should be followed by pastors and all those engaged in the liturgical arts.””

    But the fact remains that MCW and LMT have been superseded by SttL, and SttL is not particular law, but only advisory. So it has in fact canceled MCW and LMT without putting anything binding in their place. Therefore, all that it contains (other than that which is cited from liturgical law) is debatable.

  29. Liam says:

    John m is correct on the point of the status of MCW and LMT and STTL: the first two are superceded and no longer binding in any way, and the last is expressly not binding except insofar as it cites liturgical law. That was the one bit of clarity STTL provided. And it is an important one. No longer do AMerican CAtholic musician have to figure out how to reconcile MCW/LMT with Musicam Sacram and other liturgical law.

  30. Todd says:

    Thanks\, noel, for commenting.

    “Your observations are thinly strung together in opposition to the tightly constructed guidelines …”

    This is hardly true, my friend. The Church’s guidelines are wide open in permitting things in addition to the pipe organ. The classical repertoire alone shows that.

    “This is the fault of the church that removed the tight restrictions on what was church music in the 1960’s and let anyone do anything they felt like doing.”

    Yet neither before nor after has the Church ever been able to legislate quality.

    “Just one glaring example….the sax. Why is it not a liturgical instrument? What do YOU think of when you hear a sax, taken out of context. Do you automatically think, the True Presence?”

    Fair question. It’s not a liturgical instrument when it’s not at liturgy. When it is played at liturgy, it has the success or failure based on the ability of the player and the receptivity of the people. If I assume the player has his spirit in the right place, which I’m obliged to assume, then at minimum, it is a prayer.

    As a musician, I listen for quality, and context is part of the picture, too. There’s a difference between Garbarek playing with the Hilliard Ensemble, a Faure classical piece, John Coltrane, or your garden variety saxophonist.

    “… folk musicians brought about needed change in society and that spilled over into church. Having done their job they retired from the scene.”

    I hardly think acoustic folk music has retired. Certainly, the culture sees it as less profitable than it did.

    “I do not know Dr. Mahrt. But from what you have written you are no Dr. Mahrt.”

    And thank goodness we’re each our own person.

  31. Todd says:

    Liam, john, I have no quibble with your points about the role of SttL. But the original comment was about the validity of the three judgments. Don’t pull a bait-and-switch on the rules when you don’t like the answer.

    In any event, the bishops had no intention, either in 1972 or in 2007 to provide their dioceses with an authoritative document with rules to follow. You make the common error of reform2 musicians in that regard.

    Another discussion, possibly a fruitful one, would be what sort of rules *should” be provided. That one has legs.

  32. john m says:

    No bait and switch has been pulled. I stated my point in a previous post that the validity of the three-fold judgment is open to debate and opinion. And this is precisely because the juridical status of the documents in question allows this.

    “In any event, the bishops had no intention, either in 1972 or in 2007 to provide their dioceses with an authoritative document with rules to follow.”

    At the November 2007 USCCB meeting, SttL was on the agenda for submission to the whole body of bishops for voting into particular law, which would have made its directives binding. I own a copy of the draft document, (rather different from the version finally approved) along with the accompanying language as to its proposed juridical status.

    And now I have the pleasure, sir, to wish you a good day.

  33. Liam says:

    Todd

    I agree with John that this was not a bait and switch but flowed as a natural clarification from your own citation of MCW and LMT.

  34. Todd says:

    “I agree with John that this was not a bait and switch but flowed as a natural clarification from your own citation of MCW and LMT.”

    I disagree. The original point was the validity of the three judgments. They do not originate with MCW, my friends, but with Musicam Sacram, as we discussed here: https://catholicsensibility.wordpress.com/2007/04/27/musicam-sacram-general-norms-5/

  35. Liam says:

    But Todd that’s not the argument you presented earlier in this thread. John’s point stands, and it seems you are more switching than he. At least to me.

  36. Liam says:

    And, btw, even your post from last year does not argue that the three judgments arise from Musicam Sacram. So there’s another switch (I am not inclined to say bait, but it is playing very loose with your argument, and shows you are tired.)

  37. Todd says:

    Liam, thanks for the comments. I have to confess I’m not sure where the conversation here is going. I am tired and it has been a long weekend.

    Obviously, I agree that SttL lacks juridical force. That’s not been an issue.

    What seemed to be at issue is the principle of the three judgments, which john argues “was invented out of whole cloth for MCW.” That was the statement to which I took exception.

    “Invention” is clearly not the case, as these three judgments are spoken of in Musicam Sacram 5 when discussing that “the practical preparation for each liturgical celebration should be done in a spirit of cooperation by all parties concerned, under the guidance of the rector of the church, whether it be in ritual, pastoral or musical matters.”

    To me, the three judgments (or “matters,” if you prefer) represent a practical and logical approach. Some traditionalist musicians seem to refuse such otherwise good advice based simply on the principle they haven’t been told to do it. That strikes me as irrational.

  38. Liam says:

    No, Todd, MS doesn’t speak of those three areas of cooperation in anything like the three judgements of MCW. Areas of cooperation are quite distinct from principles.

    It may be a practical approach but it doesn’t trump the actual principles in liturgical law – but advocates of MCW’s approach have often approached in that way (either directly or indirectly) and that’s why I suspect you’re getting the reaction (and not only from traditionalist musicians) you garnered on this point.

    And that’s what I think merits clarification.

  39. Todd says:

    Liam, thanks for the thought, but SttL seems pretty clear. The document claims the three qualities/judgments are “one evaluation.” Like MS, it is meant for use during the planning stage, mentioning the cooperation necessary between planners. Unlike Mahrt’s contention that musical quality is somehow the “last,” SttL is clear that any of the judgments are essential.

    I’d have to question those who oppose the three judgments if indeed they question the application of musical quality, liturgical appropriateness, and pastoral considerations in planning music. If some people go overboard in their application of these (though frankly it’s hard to see what damage would result–these judgments would provide any music planner appropriate and “orthodox” guidance) it’s probably a judgment I could forgive if others have abandoned them entirely.

    I’m curious about your effort to be falsely fair-minded, Liam. I think you know my approach to the use of rubrics and liturgical law. I’m certainly not ignorant of either of them. You seem to be arguing against either musical quality, liturgical adherence, and pastoral appropriateness. I don’t think Mahrt even came close to that.

    john said the three judgments were “invented out of whole cloth.” That’s obviously not the case. I would suggest traditionalist musicians, and those sympathetic to them, need to acknowledge the judgments/qualities are not a fabrication. Additionally, they might need to qualify which of the three judgments they opppose, and show where in liturgical law these principles are expressly forbidden or refuted.

    I can appreciate an emotional reaction to the extreme abuses they have suffered or seen in liturgy. But that still doesn’t excuse what I would see as a subjective approach a little unhinged from SC, MS, GIRM, and the rest of the authoritative Catholic tradition.

  40. Liam says:

    Todd

    My only point has been that the “three judgments” arose from MCW, not MS, and to thus to clarify their provenance and authority qua authority. I am not arguing “against” them. I am only arguing about defining their context properly. Do you disagree with that?

  41. Todd says:

    Mostly yes.

    We’re speaking of the realm of liturgy planning, not liturgical celebration. Even the authoritative documents don’t presume to legislate the former, offering suggestions that musicians and clergy work together, and suggesting that planning be done with the “guidance” of the church rector.

    But this discussion has convinced me that some clarity is needed on the three judgments, how they arise from the very first norm on liturgy preparation in MS 5. I’m still mystified that you don’t get the difference between what Rome knows it can (and should) legislate for liturgy, and what it (or the US bishops) might recommend for liturgy preparation.

  42. Liam says:

    Todd

    The reference in MS is not a reference to three judgements. It is merely a reference to three areas of cooperation. The actual principle articulated is (1) a spirit of cooperation and (2) under the guidance of the rector. The areas themselves are not judgments as such. I don’t see what you appear to see in this – that’s what I am mystified by.

    There is a practical effect to the context here. Were one to see these judgments as foundational or in the first order, then one may get quite confused about the actual principles. The “judgments” are not the pre-clearance system – they are applied *after* the principles are applied. I’ve seen a lot of argument (in person, too) mis-ordering these things, usually relying on MCW/LMT.

  43. Todd says:

    Liam, the obvious question is what is the alternative? Am I missing something obvious and more authoritative in the realm of preparing liturgy? I’m afraid I do not see the distinction you’ve strained out here.

  44. Liam says:

    I guess we are talking past each other. My clarification is coming from my experience of watching people put the cart before the horse.

    For example: should we sing the Gloria on Sundays outside Lent and Advent? Well, if one *starts* with the threefold judgment as a preliminary threshhold, then often the answer was NO and the issue of the fact that liturgical documents place a relatively high value on signing it is not even reached or that we would retain an obligation to try to sing it regularly as a goal even if on a given Sunday there was a practical problem with doing so.

    I suppose you think that itself is the “liturgical judgement” but I think it’s quite wrong to assume the “liturgical judgement” simply subsumes all applicable liturgical law as a kind of thing to be balanced by the other judgments – but that’s how lots of people in practice have done it because they have thought that’s the way it’s suppposed to be done (when it’s not).

    It may be you have never witnessed this confusion in action. I have. Hence my insistence on clarification.

  45. Todd says:

    Thanks Liam. Perhaps I should put into a post how I would apply the three judgments, how I see them as a distillation of rubrics and liturgical law, then allow for commentary from that point.

    I’ve up-to-speed on MCW since 1980 when I first got involved in parish music. Over the last twenty years, it’s usually been applied under my guidance or leadership in a parish. I can’t say I haven’t seen some or even made a few horrendous isolated decisions, but I don’t find the three judgments at odds with good liturgy. Which is probably why I tend to see the opposition to them as a possible result of personal stubbornness, occasional irrationality, or an unwillingness to align with a perceived progressivism in liturgical reform.

    In that case, I would suggest to john, Dr Mahrt and others to offer a superior alternative.

  46. Liam says:

    Whereas I’ve seen them invoked in ways not too substantially different from: “the congregation doesn’t get much out of singing the Gloria – which is so boring because the text never changes – so as a matter of applying the pastoral judgment our emphasis in the opening rites should be on the opening hymn”

    Or “we should only sing one thing in the entrance rites – either the opening hymn, penitential rite or Gloria – because doing more than that would overload those rites from a pastoral perspective”

    To repeat (and others I am aware of): I am not objecting to there being a judgment. I am clarifying context, authority and priority. I don’t see what the problem would be with that from your perspective, except that you seem to fear it would give succor to those who would roll back the reforms. Whereas I think failing to do this gives them dangerous fodder.

  47. Todd says:

    Your example of the Gloria being bumbled seems a misapplication of the three judgments: my old bugaboo of pragmatism. (Why be generous when stingy will do?)

    To me it seems simple: those three opening rite pieces may all be sung. As a general rule, I do two, but never one. My parish usually sings the Kyrie when the Gloria is omitted. This year our priest in residence prefers the confiteor. The spoken Lord Have Mercy seems to work in connection with that.

    I have worked with pastors who insisted on singing the Gloria during the Sprinkling Rite “to save time.” If you pressed me, I’d say that’s a wrong judgment, not a musical, liturgical or pastoral one. If people are blaming MCW or SttL for the outright errors of those trying to apply it, I’m afraid that argument just doesn’t make sense.

  48. Liam says:

    Actually, it goes to the heart of the matter: their lack of clarity.

  49. Todd says:

    As a pastoral person, musician, and liturgist the application seems very clear to me. But I’ll easily grant that examples might help.

    The framers of MCW seemed to have an unbridled confidence that clarity was to be taken for granted among parish leaders. I’ll admit that may not be so.

  50. Jimmy Mac says:

    “The thought that God cares what instrument is used screams shallow to me.”

    Tsk, tsk. Wash out your mouth! We all know that True (as opposed to AmChurch) church liturgical bureaucrats have decided the instruments of Genesis 31:27, Exodus 15:19-21, Judges 11:30-32,34-35, 1 Samuel 18:6-7and Psalm 149:2-4 just don’t apply to Real Christians.

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