Accompaniment and Dialogue: Good Liturgical Principles

The never-ending liturgy wars heat up a bit on PrayTell this week with the post announcing Pope Francis helping in the observance of the fiftieth anniversary of the use of the vernacular in Rome by Pope Paul. Of course, 1965 wasn’t the first time the Mass was prayed in the vernacular by a Bishop of Rome. I’m sure the switch from Greek to Latin was a scandal for some the first time it was tried, and Latin was long the vernacular … in another millennium.

In the comments, music professor Peter Kwasniewski suggests:

If a liturgy that has failed to attract or retain huge numbers of Catholics over the decades can be called a “successful reform,” then it’s time to dust off our copies of George Orwell’s 1984.

I don’t know what science fiction has to do with liturgical reform. Especially since the brand of religion most favored by the Catholic Right has to do with pronouncements, the alteration of language, and correct group-think.

That said, it is undeniable that the reformed liturgy was unable to restore a sense of American ethnic parishdom. Sacrosanctum Concilium didn’t keep people praying, paying, and obeying. Tongue-in-cheek, I happen to think the Beatles are as much to blame as SC. Correlation is as good as causality in many people’s thinking.

But perhaps the Beatles deserve a closer look. And the automobile, television, the internet, the counterculture (naturally, so to speak), the Pill, Vietnam, and all sorts of upheavals for which the Church may well have been ill-prepared to tackle. Post-WWII lots of people were inclined to treat authority with suspicion. From some perspectives, Nazis and communist leaders deserved suspicion. But free world leaders really took it on the chin–and still do–for immorality so vast and grave it naturally makes people wonder about anyone in charge.

Do we suggest in mixed (Left and Right) company that Humanae Vitae was also an utter failure? Based on results, we certainly can make a case without getting fired by our bishop. Was something in the message? In the theology? Or can we say that it was sabotaged? And if we say that, perhaps reform1 defenders can trot out all sorts of correlation, if not evidence, that the modern Roman Rite has been undone by hecklers, schismatics, recalcitrant prelates, Liturgiam Authenticam, and all sorts of bogeyfolk.

My own sense is that the Church has been singularly unwilling to engage in dialogue and accompaniment with people in the world. Including many of our own. Big shots don’t walk and talk with people, let alone always walk their own talk. My sense is that liturgy is not going to budge people no matter how well-reformed the pages are. That sums up my disappointment with reform2, what I believe to be largely an exercise in institutional narcissism. They sure didn’t learn from the mistakes of reform1.

Getting back to accompaniment and dialogue: they are honored ways of doing music. And liturgy, too. Get off the written page and do more talking and walking with, rather than talking to, then walking away.

About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in Minnesota, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
This entry was posted in Commentary, Liturgy, The Blogosphere and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Accompaniment and Dialogue: Good Liturgical Principles

  1. Chris Sullivan says:


  2. Todd, Peter Kwasniewski is NOT a music professor at WCC. His PhD is, ahem, in Philosophy and that is what he teaches. That and his lifelong avocation of sacred music composition, IMO, provides Peter with his salient perspectives, on a par with yours, I’d say. I’d also offer that his said perspective is diametrically opposed to yours, and that’s why I listen to both of you. If you’re familiar with the writings, particularly of today, by Msgr.Charles Pope regarding essentials of liturgy vis a vis a Bendectine XVI ordering, then you would better understand Kwasniewski.
    His music is pretty good, too. Sometimes I feel like I’m the only soul programming him and other new “classical” sacred composers west of the Big River.

    • Todd says:

      Msgr Pope is an interesting, at times curious read. He has a populist strain that’s appealing. But like Peter, he also gets caught up in the flow of his surroundings. I think not so highly of Pope Benedict’s liturgical sensibility, as most of the readers here might surmise. Point taken on Peter Kwasniewski’s vocation–thanks for that.

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