Musical Misconceptions

220px-Liber_Responsorialis_1895_p054Jeff Ostrowski at CCW blogged about the “problem” of not having approval for non-Gradual liturgical music or, I think, music composed and published by people adhering to an antiphonary yet to be really updated after Vatican II. In it he referred to a “landmark article” here.


In speaking of the entrance chant, GIRM 48 gives four options:

  • This chant is sung alternately by the choir and the people or
  • similarly by a cantor and the people, or
  • entirely by the people, or
  • by the choir alone.

So the problem is not with choices on this list, but with the ones on this:

In the Dioceses of the United States of America, there are four options for the Entrance Chant:

  • (1) the antiphon from the Missal or the antiphon with its Psalm from the Graduale Romanum, as set to music there or in another setting;
  • (2) the antiphon and Psalm of the Graduale Simplex for the liturgical time;
  • (3) a chant from another collection of Psalms and antiphons, approved by the Conference of Bishops or the Diocesan Bishop, including Psalms arranged in responsorial or metrical forms;
  • (4) another liturgical chant that is suited to the sacred action, the day, or the time of year, similarly approved by the Conference of Bishops or the Diocesan Bishop.

It seems that the wide range of options given in the Gradual Supposedly, the matter of USCCB approval for numbers 3 and 4 was settled a number of years ago in closed meetings of publishers and bishops. Both sides more or less got what they needed. Music publishers greased the wheels for MR3 in English with a rather minimal dissent. Bishops accepted some small edits in song texts here and there. The publishers likely worked hard for a little wave of income off new Mass music. The bishops found willing partners to roll a new Mass ordinary onto the people’s lips.

Daniel Craig conducted a correspondence campaign. And he wondered why he got nowhere, and received minimal responses:

On 25 June 2013—three months after my initial inquiry—I received a letter from Msgr. Hilgartner, spokesman for the BCL. His message was somewhat muddled, leaving my question unanswered, and only two parts are germane to our discussion. First, he confirmed that the statements attributed to him were “not inaccurate.” Second, he wrote:

“The situation remains somewhat complicated because of the lack of a centralized process and the custom that had been in place prior to the Roman Missal, Third Edition (2011), and the General Instruction of the Roman Missal (2003).” —Msgr. Rick Hilgartner, 25 June 2013

I could not accept such a response.

Here’s my sense, offered with the caution that I have no deep inside sources within publishing, and I draw conclusions based on what I see coming out of publishing houses:

  • The “custom” that has been in place prior to MR3 is that publishers will accept a modest degree of input from bishops.
  • Bishops will give publishers a fairly broad leeway.
  • A fairly small number of publishers will continue to supply most parishes with what they are looking for: relatively easy and well-known music established from the days of the Low Mass four-hymn sandwich. With room to grow for parishes with any kind of leadership.
  • If JP2/B16 bishops were satisfied with a pragmatic approach, I tend to doubt modern bishops looking to the peripheries are going to buck the Holy Father’s emphasis from this past weekend, “There are two ways of thinking and of having faith: we can fear to lose the saved and we can want to save the lost …  Even today it can happen that we stand at the crossroads of these two ways of thinking … (Jesus) does not think of the close-minded who are scandalized even by a work of healing, scandalized before any kind of openness, by any action outside of their mental and spiritual boxes, by any caress or sign of tenderness which does not fit into their usual thinking and their ritual purity.”

Not only is Pope Francis ordering church priorities toward the people who are really hurting, he seems unwilling to praise those afraid to venture outside their spiritual boxes.

And on the music front, let’s be clear. This is not about chant all or nothing. This is not about 0 or 100% faithfulness. This is about people complaining what others beyond their influence are doing. The bishops got these letters from Mr. Craig. I suspect it was more laughing material for the prelates: what they get when they are named to a diocese the hopeful communication comes in requesting some kind of inquisition.

On the parish side, I’ve welcomed a fair number of new pastors. “Here,” they say as they hand me such a letter, “Have a laugh.”

People are taken far more seriously when they are willing to roll up sleeves and work for the Gospel, not point out what the heretics are doing.

To be sure, the days of reform2 are as dead as the folk era of liturgical music. It’s been a good ride: this train went a bit farther than a Ray Repp choo-choo. Publishers are now paying attention to the antiphons, and a few are providing music mostly superior in quality to what the small “faithful” publishing houses are offering. Bit by bit, the overall quality of sacred music published compositions is on the rise. That’s a good thing, especially if we all adhere to the first options of GIRM 48 about giving the people a slice of their song.

About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in Minnesota, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
This entry was posted in Hermeneutic of Subtraction, Liturgical Music and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

7 Responses to Musical Misconceptions

  1. I agree that the RotR momentum seems to have slowed down. But we have to admit that there’s no conceivable tool to measure and verify that, and more to the point, why bother? As a recent blogger posted at Patheos, if your derriere has occupied a pew for decades in which nothing but crap music has pervaded the joint, that’s on you. The rest of us have, one way or the other, moved on. The misconception, ironically ripped off from a failed TV show, “Save the Liturgy, save the world,” was indeed buttressed by an elegant idealism espoused by B16/Guardini, and rationalized by the deconstructions by Dobszay and so many others. And the “concept” portion of the cliche has some anecdotal evidence of effect, but only in pockets of parishes here and there. It does represent the pure theological notion of worship in the Divine Liturgy as a mystigogical, transformative “experience” of the Lamb’s Supper being celebrated simultaneously in saecula saeculorum.
    But, in a world with HF Francis or not, the rest of Christianity faces challenges that are perhaps so uniquely consternating, not even the era of the Crusades, the religious wars of the post-Reformation, the 20th century collapses of WW’s I/II and the Great Depression, were ever witness to such deprivation and depravity.
    So, successful and beautiful liturgy can bring them in the doors. But what does it do for them when they leave the doors and “go out into the world and spread the Good News?”

    • Todd says:

      I would agree, “Why bother?” But many people like to know their efforts make a difference. It is only human to want some confirmation: are my energies spent in vain, or is God really working through me?

      Generally, I see more bitterness among the minority today than I recall from the 70’s. So-called “folk” musicians weren’t trying to take over the Church. They were just doing their bit. In contrast, folks like Daniel Craig seem to nurse enough grudge to send out dozens of letters to bishops. And to what effect? Would the man be better off saving his postage and attending a Colloquium? Visiting his nearest Benedictine monastery? The Pewsitter headline for the piece was hugely amusing: it’s all a big conspiracy, and the pope isn’t someone we can trust anymore.

      A garage door schola can sing the Propers like crap as we all know–and as many Catholics have experienced. If quality is the issue, by all means, lets promote quality. If a select repertoire that was sidelined two generations ago is the issue, I think that boat has long since left dock.

      And honestly: no problem from me if individual persons or mom-n-pop publishers want to explore the seascape. As I’ve said before: it’s the attitude that’s the problem.

      And yes, your last thought: fruitful liturgy is the aim for all of us. The only difference between me and Jeff Ostrowski is that my toolkit has everything his has, plus a whole lot more.

  2. Liam says:

    My own surmise, such as it is, is that our current age only *seems* uniquely consternating because technology enables us to behold more. If film and photos of pre-modern times were as readily available, we might have a better perspective on that. But, then again, I operate on the idea that human nature doesn’t change that much.

    I do get the idea of “It does represent the pure theological notion of worship in the Divine Liturgy as a mystigogical, transformative “experience” of the Lamb’s Supper being celebrated simultaneously in saecula saeculorum.” One of the problems of post-modernity is that we are more ready to see the arbitrariness in ritual forms, because the authority of handed-down forms not longer has the purchase it once did (a centuries-long process with several inflection points – for example, the Great Famine of the late 1310s that probably started things off but that most folks are unaware of (it was the first great sign of the Little Ice Age after the Medieval Warming Period), the Black DeathS, the Reformation, the Thirty Years’ War and iterative wars among modern nation-states to maintain the balance of power in Europe, the French Revolution and Napoleonic Wars, the Industrial Revolution, and what I would call the Seventy-Five Years Wars (1914-89)).

    And even ISIS would suffer in comparison to the Timurids who rendered a quarter of Christendom into a vestigial remnant.

  3. Liam says:

    I would have a more simple critique of tone issues plaguing folks who blog and comment about liturgical issues: the strong whiff of the smoke of nurtured resentment. I am not favoring a false irenicism, but I certainly see folks whose favored impulse is to grind and the wheel of resentments. And resentment is *never* of God. (As opposed to more honestly-come-by emotions.)

    There are times I wonder if the patron saint of St Blog’s should be St Marvin the Martian. What’s the Latin for “This makes me very angry, very angry indeed”? “Hoc me exasperat, quidem exasperat valde”?

  4. Uh, yup, we’re all in agreement, apocalypse inevitable!

  5. Todd says:

    In contrast to some of the reform2 bloggers, I remember a man about 20 years my senior. He led a guitar group for years in his parish, pastored by an organist. He was earnest. Read documents. Did the Mass settings dictated. Rehearsed weekly. Learned music for RCIA, and other such when asked. And to what thanks? An organ choir member offered to cantor that Mass if I fired the group.

    This man certainly had reason for resentment, but he viewed playing at Mass and organizing a group to be a ministry, a service to God and to the parish. He didn’t blog. He didn’t suggest the organ choir add guitars.

    To be sure, I have known chant folks and traditional music types in parishes too. Sometimes they stick it out in an organ choir doing four-part hymns and the weekly special after Communion. Sometimes they exit for a TLM parish an hour away. Most of them don’t blog or try to get people fired.

    The people who headline a story, “How the USCCB works to undermine liturgical music” have serious problems I can’t address. Mainly because I’m not ordained to listen and give absolution.

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