Fr Weber on Sacred Music

The first of a two-part interview with Father Samuel Weber, OSB is up at Zenit. He will head the Saint Louis archdiocese’s sacred music institute. I see a bit of the revisionist mindset that pervades the reform2 crowd well in place in the interview:

After the Second Vatican Council it was the pop and folk style music of the late 1960s and 1970s that dominated newly composed music for worship — Catholic and Protestant. Despite the Constitution on the Liturgy’s emphasis on the “pride of place” for Gregorian chant in the liturgy, the council’s teaching was ignored, and chant virtually disappeared.

I think secular styles caught a lot of attention in the post-conciliar period. And there’s no doubt that non-conservatory people: parish musicians, catechists, seminarians, and others were writing a ton of music. Campus parishes and schools were seeing a lot of it. But on the ground in parishes through the seventies, I don’t remember folk groups “dominating.” Far from it. Some groups were given a mid-morning Mass. Often they were relegated to less-attended liturgies. It wasn’t for nothing Ed Gutfreund got lots of laughs when he sang about the folk group getting the 3AM slot.

In my middle-class Rochester New York parish I heard lots of organ hymns. Music by Kreutz, Peloquin, and some old Protestant classics. I also knew a number of Catholic musicians in the 80’s serving Protestant parishes–where they were getting a decent wage.

Weber assumes chant “disappeared,” but the truth of it is that Catholics in the US never had that much of it anyway. I hope his new students set him straight in Saint Louis. If you can’t diagnose a problem accurately, you’re bound to fumble on the remedy.

When Weber spoke of a complexity of the Church situation, he did get that right:

But one major element was plain confusion and misunderstanding. The liturgical reform following the Council was astoundingly rapid, and serious upheavals in the secular world of those times also affected the anti-authoritarian mood within the Church. This was played out dramatically in the liturgy. Changes were made precipitously with too little consultation with the bishops.


Bishops and pastors concluded that the same people who had been doing church music or no or little pay for decades would continue to provide parish leadership. As women (and some men) left religious life (and the clergy), parishes lost a lot of relatively cheap labor. Some of that labor wasn’t really up to speed on liturgy and sacred music, but they did leave a vacuum that was filled by people who might have been, if anything, less prepared to render professional services to the Church.

Bishops, naturally, took little or no leadership. Archbishop Burke felt the love when he announced his sacred music institute, but the move was suggested in Sacrosanctum Concilium and other post-conciliar documents. In the US, it’s largely been left to higher education and the motivation of lay people to fill the gap. And naturally, such people bear the brunt of criticism from the reform2 section. It’s rather convenient to be the critic when one has been nearly absent from the sacred music scene for the past few decades.

About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in the Pacific Northwest, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
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3 Responses to Fr Weber on Sacred Music

  1. Charles in CenCA says:

    Todd, did you ever read Mary Jane Ballou’s take on “wha’ happened” in da USA as the vernacular tide swept the land in the late 60’s, early 70’s? It’s in the last Winter issue of SACRED MUSIC (CMAA.) I think her perspective is pretty accurate, but the thrust of it has to do with how the ever-Faithful PIPs have remained fairly passive over the last hunnerd years or so since Pius X; kind of like toll takers at the same booth watching the evolution and wonderment of new cars streaming through constantly, who just then get used to the “latest thing” and go “ho hum.”
    One day, I’ll write my memoirs from when I started at Oakland’s (in)famous St. Francis de Sales Cathedral in ’70 to the present. I hope to document what you sketch: “wha happened” cannot be embellished or diminished to advance a positive or negative conclusion supporting a liturgical philosophy. Things have always been great here and there, insufferable elsewhere, hither and yon. And yes, the bishops, then as now, remain mute until it’s time to sing “Salve Regina.”

  2. Todd says:

    Charles, can’t say that I have read it. As for “how the ever-Faithful PIPs have remained fairly passive over the last hunnerd years or so,” it seems that story changes depending on the topic. What gets Bishop Trautmann a sackful of ridicule will usually get your garden variety conservative blogger a pass when it comes to talking about the poor, passive, ignorant faithful.

  3. Charles in CenCA says:

    I’ve had the opportunity to read the entire interview with Fr. Weber, and while I am supportive of his newly commissioned office that should benefit the St. Louis Archdiocese, I am likewise troubled with what I consider to be rhetorically insufficient and merely convenient statements throughout the interview. He seems to be sure in the advancement of an argument (inwhich he employs logic to abet and make conclusions,) but he also seems disposed to pre-emptively dismiss contradiction by employing “the party line” polemics of papal documents, the majesterium, and TRADITION. And while I see this disinvitation to dialogue because it would be regarded as mere contradiction, Fr. Weber seems not to recognize self-contradiction in many of his own statements.
    I don’t want to invite rancor from any quarter, but I do want intellectual honesty from our acknowledged leaders such as Fr. Weber. I realize it was an easy to digest interview, but it has too many holes to hold the water completely in my estimation.
    More to follow. My CMAA friends will likely disown me. Sigh.

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