Confronting Wreckage

Jeffrey Tucker asks a good question:

Should people confront musicians who wreck the Mass, however inadvertently they do this?

If you ask me, I’m inclined to hold my tongue, unless I think I can make a difference.

When I was much younger, my inclination was to be more confronting. When a good music director I knew and respected was unjustly fired, I suggested we (the local gathering of musicians) blacklist the pastor and his parish. Calmer heads prevailed. Fortunately.

When a diocese I worked in slashed the liturgy budget by two-thirds and expected the diocesan commission to pick up the slack, I told the vicar general it would be a better use of the remaining funding to just give it to the poor, dispensing with the illusion that liturgy was any sort of priority in the diocese.

When I’m on the road these days, I usually offer a word to the musicians. I thank them, at minimum. If there’s something good to say, I try to be specific.

The musicians in my own parish are my responsibility, more or less, via our five music directors. Giving good example and emphasizing certain principles (minimal announcements, taking time between readings and psalms) and carefully explaining liturgical law and custom seem to work.

Getting back to the question, I see it as a classic reaction or action dilemma. One might react to particularly bad liturgy when it annoys or infuriates. And usually, one cannot be sure of the result. It might be that the pastor has insisted on something, so criticism could be seen as undermining his authority. If you’re hundreds of miles from home, you might hand out a business card, but otherwise people won’t have any idea who you are.

This is why I’ve chosen the action route: the hermeneutic of addition, if you will. For the past twenty-five years I’ve volunteered in my diocese of residence to do workshops. I’ve been part of the active membership in the local NPM chapter, or its equivalent. I play for diocesan events, and people in other parishes know who I am. Occasionally, they come to me for input.

This was the example I noted from church musicians when I was first getting involved in liturgy back in my twenties: dedicated parish musicians who did workshops at my parishes, who played and sang for the Chrism Mass and other diocesan events, and who were mentors and guides for others. Be like them, was the message I got.

The question about church music is not only about not-wrecking the Mass, but building up the Church one bit at a time. That sort of work is just as important (I would say more so) than critiquing one’s worship hosts about over-amplifying voices or substituting words in the Gloria or other offenses. Once people know who you are, they are willing to accept not only yours words of praise, but suggestions for improvement.

The prime example of what not to do to expect results is to imitate my exchanges on traditionalist-leaning sites.


About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in the Pacific Northwest, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
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3 Responses to Confronting Wreckage

  1. Gavin says:

    I would tend to agree. When I visit a parish, even with bad music, I try to take a minute to introduce myself to the musicians and tell them what I liked in their liturgy. If they are passionate about what they do and wish to strike up a conversation, I’ll inevitably share some of my own experiences with church music (good way to prove to them that chant IS done) and leave my card should they have any questions. No need to rake them over the coals for something they’re likely unaware of.

  2. jeffrey says:

    Excellent answer. thank you

  3. David D. says:

    I ask in all seriousness, what about congregants who inadvertently wreck the Mass? If even well intentioned priests and musicians can be said to wreck the Mass then surely so too can well intentioned congregants.

    I was recently present at an OF Latin Mass sparsely attended by what appeared to be many out of town visitors unfamiliar with the people’s responses. The gentleman a few pews behind me, however, was apparently so well-versed in the responses that he felt compelled to utter them in an alarmingly loud and brisk manner. Not only that, he would not allow even a brief pause after the priest’s parts before pouncing so that he was nearly completing some of the shorter responses before the rest us had even begun. This was so distracting that I and probably many others just gave up. The Mass essentially devolved into a dialogue between the priest and this fellow.

    At one Church I used to attend regularly, there was another fellow also with a booming voice. But rather than sing the response too quickly, he dragged out the responses so that he was completing them a full second or two after everyone else had returned to silence.

    Finally, at a Church I now regularly attend, there is a woman with a strong and decent voice who is so consistently flat in her singing that every hymn, no matter how well sung by everyone else, is accompanied a very noticeable dissonant line.

    Is there such a thing as overactive participation or unwanted participation? In each instance above, it is undeniable that the Mass would have been better or at least sounded better if the offending person refrained from participation. Yet I would never even think of saying anything to any of these people.

    What would you do?

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