When Bad Things Hover Around Good People

A few words on bad experiences with church musicians. Like many people I succumb to the temptation to gossip. I was not good at avoiding it when I was young. Things on this blog and in others’ comboxes probably slip out that shouldn’t.

Those of you who follow me or are bothered by me probably know a meme I frequently return to is that orthodoxy is no guarantor or virtue. In other words, I don’t think that using chant and Latin, being against abortion on demand, or anything else that can be pigeon-holed as “conservative” means the person in question has some moral elevation over those who aren’t “conservative.” The same is true for social justice advocates, whether their stance comes from a sense of white guilt or from a more mature and considered desire to be on God’s side to set things right in the world.

On another site, a comparison was offered between NPM and CMAA. That contrast has been brewing this week here and there on the net. I wasn’t terribly impressed with this reported sentiment on PrayTell:

Heard at the CMAA church music colloqium: “How not to alienate Catholics in the pews, many of whom have never heard sacred music in church.”

It’s a variation on a theme. Not a wise one from the perspective of the spiritual life. Just when you think you have it all figured out, God will sneak up and surprise you badly. It happened in the Bible. It happened to the saints. It still happens today.

While comparing different “orchards,” Charles asked if I was painting a negative picture of CMAA, while suggesting that NPM is absolutely committed to better liturgy through better music and well-formed church musicians. And if they’re so different, I suppose, CMAA must not be committed to the good stuff.

Maybe it’s part of a paradox with which human beings must wrestle, but clearly both organizations and nearly all of their members are decent to excellent musicians committed to good liturgy. Why then, do their viewpoints conflict so much? One might conclude the liturgy wars aren’t really about good liturgy at all. But that would be dangerous. So it’s easier to malign the other camp as either ignorant of sacred music or Vatican II.

I recall my very enjoyable experience bantering with Jeffrey Tucker on Catholic Radio 2.0. It’s too bad we can’t bypass more of the mess in St Blogs with more efforts like that. But, of course, that would be dangerous. It would actually be evidence that the Catholic Church possesses that certain credal quality. Being One.

I’m more and more convinced that bad experiences with other believers are just that: singular bad experiences caused by one or both sides being stubborn, prideful, willfully ignorant, angry, or whatever. And they have little or nothing to do with the essence of liturgy, or whatever the topic of discussion might be. It’s the main reason why I avoid the term “liturgy wars.” I don’t believe in them. And when I see (or participate) in such a tussle, it’s really more about the people and the things of people,  rather than about God and the matters of God.

About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in Minnesota, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
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10 Responses to When Bad Things Hover Around Good People

  1. jeffrey says:

    Todd, I think you are precisely right. Btw, I’ve never in my own mind been able to document the supposed connection between chant and political conservatism. I know the legend is out there and pervasive, widely assumed, etc., but I can’t seem to find the evidence from personal experience. My own experience is exactly the opposite – but I know that might be biased too. In my own parish, most of my singers have far-left political views while the champions of praise music are Republican fundamentalists. I’m not saying that there is or is not a connection but I can’t make sense of it either way.

  2. Liam says:


    I’ve long noticed that people’s liturgical preferences very often do not align with what one might expect their political preferences would be. I never presume to read one from the other. There are, to be sure, people who crave an alignment (at both ends of the pole) and use it as a reinforcement of an overall worldview; they tend to be louder than their numbers would justify, and they tend to resent the folks who are not burdened by such a need, as it were.

  3. Randolph Nichols says:

    My parish (and Liam’s), located in a town both affectionately and derisively known as “The People’s Republic,” exemplifies the seeming incongruity between political progressivism and traditional liturgical style.

    There are a couple of things rarely considered in these kinds of discussions. To begin, many of us, though we may be reluctant to admit it, harbor both conservative and liberal notions and thus are not as easily pigeonholed as is commonly believed. (If anything, our senatorial election last week demonstrated that.)

    Another factor to ponder is whether the manner in which each of us is uniquely wired causes some to gravitate toward the casual, informal, more improvised form of worship and others toward structured, formalized rites. Are there such fundamental differences within individuals, even those reared in the same cultural environment, that any talk of universals can only meet a dead-end? Perhaps a knowledgeable student of neuroscience can enlighten me.

  4. I am intrigued by the overall thrust of your post, Todd.
    However, I think in the little paragraph that follows your paraphrase mischaracterized what I actually asked over at Jeffrey’s blog, ie., your quote:
    “While comparing different “orchards,” Charles asked if I was painting a negative picture of CMAA, while suggesting that NPM is absolutely committed to better liturgy through better music and well-formed church musicians. And if they’re so different, I suppose, CMAA must not be committed to the good stuff.”

    What I really said in Jeffrey’s combox:

    Todd, I’m not sure, given your stated negative experiences with CMAA (or some of its specific members) that you meant the negative implied contrast by stating “NPM is dedicated to improving liturgy in the parishes.” What do you perceive CMAA’s dedication and mission to be exactly?
    I hope you’ll notice that I give you the benefit of the doubt in the first place that the inference by contrast was not your intent. Then I simply asked you for your perception of CMAA’s dedication.
    Subtle difference there, I think.

  5. Todd says:

    Thanks for clarifying, Charles. I see your point, and I’m sorry for any insult in what I’ve written here.

  6. No worries, mate, we’re headed the same Way.
    Thank you for all your work.

  7. Jimmy Mac says:

    Sacred music:

    my —


    is sacred ——— and yours if different is not?

  8. Sam Schmitt says:

    Well, we can’t *all* be right, can we? :)

    I would put it differently. It’s not a matter of “my” taste, preference, etc., but that the Church’s tradition is sacred.

    In my experience, most clergy / musicians are simply not interested or deny this altogether.

  9. Tony says:

    orthodoxy is no guarantor or virtue

    Heterodoxy os no guarantor of orthopraxy, but the odds are better.

  10. Tony says:


    “Orthodoxy is no guarantor of orthopraxy”


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