CDCN Positive Proposal #7: Publishers

Of the positive proposals offered by the concerned musicians of earlier this year, the seventh is the one I find most troubling.

7. In the past, Catholic publishers played a great role in spreading good examples of sacred music, old and new. Today, the same publishers, even if they belong to dioceses or religious institutions, often spread music that is not right for the liturgy, following only commercial considerations.

I think the charge of “only” is an extreme exaggeration. Indeed, larger liturgical publishers are more commercially successful than small businesses that target the traditionalist clientele. But the “not right for the liturgy” label is a matter of subjective personal opinion.

Many faithful Catholics think that what mainstream publishers offer is in line with the doctrine of the Catholic Church regarding liturgy and music, when it is frequently not so.

I don’t think that Catholics equate hymn and song texts with doctrine. The biggest problem with traditionalist criticism of contemporary music is that the argument often defeats itself. Most often, I’ve seen musical styles criticized. But contemporary music is a vast improvement over the preconciliar hymnody it replaced because so much of it is based on Scriptural texts.

Catholic publishers should have as their first aim that of educating the faithful in the sane Catholic doctrine and good liturgical practices, not that of making money.

I don’t agree that education is the primary aim of worship. Liturgy is defined as worship of the Father. Believers are sanctified by grace, and worship is a means of receiving and cooperating with that grace.

It’s hard not to read between the lines here to see a bit of envy. The more commerically successful publishers offer material of a wide appeal. One might say their approach is essentially catholic.

The full document may be found here.

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CDCN Positive Proposal #6: Training in Music and Liturgy

Leaving off from positive proposal #5, I can’t argue with a stronger effort to form clergy in music.

6. Liturgical and musical training of clergy should be a priority for the Bishops. Clergy have a responsibility to learn and practice their liturgical melodies, since, according to Musicam Sacram and other documents, they should be able to chant the prayers of the liturgy, not merely say the words.

Music appreciation, too:

In seminaries and at the university, they should come to be familiar with and appreciate the great tradition of sacred music in the Church, in harmony with the Magisterium, and following the sound principle of Matthew 13:52: “Every scribe who has been instructed in the kingdom of heaven is like the head of a household who brings from his storeroom both the new and the old.”

No argument from me on this point. What about you readers?

The full statement may be found here.

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Leaving Early

Sister Theresa Aletheia Noble lists five reasons to stay till the end of Mass. A friend posted this on facebook, which drew my cynical comment that people leave early because the parish offers them nothing more of value.

The parish, its leadership, and its liturgy may be able to do nothing about a worshiper’s work schedule, short attention span, or fussy children. But let’s click off what happens after the reception of Communion:

  • Quiet time. A lot of Catholics still come early and still enjoy a relatively quiet time to pray before Mass. I would offer a caution against assuming that most people who leave early also come late. Some people find they have even more quiet in their homes, in nature, and at other times in the parish church. If a parish is doing liturgy well, perhaps there is enough calm at other times of the Mass to suffice.
  • “Meditation” or performance music. A lot of music ministries offer a performance piece toward the end of the communion procession or in the period between tabernacle closing and the next prayer. Maybe that offering is well-conceived and rehearsed well. Or not. There’s already been a lot of music at Mass, so maybe early departees think they’ve already had enough. Or, maybe the music played or sung here is played or sung poorly.
  • Post-Communion Prayer. The Mass already has a lot of prayer texts. The new Roman Missal hasn’t made the prayer after Communion any more attractive from an artistic viewpoint. Just more convoluted. How many times at Mass does the priest give a prayer narrative? Is one more really noticed?
  • Announcements. Most of these are already in the bulletin, print or cork board or online. And most parish events are of no interest to nearly all parishioners. Sometimes the announcements aren’t well-read, and most of the time they are not rehearsed. Of the possible moments when lay people speak at Mass, this may be the poorest in terms of quality.
  • Final blessing. One might say the greatest blessing most people experience at Mass is the reception of the Eucharist. That experience is quite personal. The priest’s final blessing is brief, given to everyone at once, and like the post-Communion prayer, not all that attractive as a ritual text (the threefold final blessings get relatively little use).
  • Final song. People have already sung and listened to a lot of music–I’ve already mentioned that. Speaking as a music director, I confess I don’t put much effort into a final song, usually. I prefer good work during the psalm or Communion song.

I don’t think people leaving early is cause for deep worry. Think about Christianity’s chief competitor in the religion department: sport. People leave sporting events before the final whistle all the time. Leaving early is a statement of sorts. The team won easily. The team lost. Not to mention the importance of not being at the end of the final procession out of the parking lot.

I think if a parish or a liturgist or pastor wants to worry about people leaving early, then it would seem incumbent on them to provide something of value after Communion. If this were your parish, where would you start?

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CDCN Positive Proposal #5: Latin Mass, Fully-Sung Mass

More on the importance of cathedrals and basilicas:

5. We suggest that in every basilica and cathedral there be the encouragement of a weekly Mass celebrated in Latin (in either Form of the Roman Rite) so as to maintain the link we have with our liturgical, cultural, artistic, and theological heritage. The fact that many young people today are rediscovering the beauty of Latin in the liturgy is surely a sign of the times, and prompts us to bury the battles of the past and seek a more “catholic” approach that draws upon all the centuries of Catholic worship.

Maybe. Maybe not. I’ve heard young people also tire of the Church’s involvement in the culturewar. And a truly “catholic” approach is not only one for all times, but for all lands and cultures.

Does Latin have a place? I think it does. Does an unreformed missal have a place? According to the council bishops, no.

With the easy availability of books, booklets, and online resources, it will not be difficult to facilitate the active participation of those who wish to attend liturgies in Latin. Moreover, each parish should be encouraged to have one fully-sung Mass each Sunday.

Only one? That’s the model of the old High Mass, something I would very much like to see vanish. Getting the priest to sing has its own challenges. In doing so, does he draw too much attention to himself? I don’t think the dialogues are a problem in most places. But I’ve met enough priests and deacons who do not have a comfort with leading worship in a musical form. Priests coming and going in parish leadership mean that different pastors have different liturgical priorities. The end result is that clergy singing is seem as a personal expression, and less an ecclesial one. In my current situation, our parish has four semi-retired priests. One sings. It is very much seen as his “thing.” That’s unfortunate in my view. But I don’t know how unavoidable it is. If I could ask all Catholic clergy for one of two improvements, preaching and singing, I’d take better homilies every Sunday.

The full document may be found here.

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Keeping Watch

One favorite Jesuit saint of mine somewhat in the news these days is Peter Canisius. A prayer of his:

Let my eyes take their sleep,
but may my heart always keep watch for you.
May your right hand bless your servants who love you.

And a good reminder for the times I’m tempted to become contentious online:

(I)t is a mistaken policy to behave in a contentious fashion and to start disputes about matters of belief with argumentative people who are disposed by their very natures to wrangling. Indeed, the fact of their being so constituted is a reason the more why such people should be attracted and won to the simplicity of the faith as much by example as by argument.

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On My Bookshelf: Luna (Wolf Moon)

I like fiction–books and movies–with balance. What I mean: characters have good things. And a conflict emerges because something good is threatened. Their loves. Their activities. Their lives. The reader or viewer is on edge because they can’t imagine losing a spouse, a lover, or a personal accomplishment.

It helps if the threat is not ever-present. Otherwise, what kind of life is it, always on the edge of catastrophe? And in the case of book 2 of Ian McDonald’s moon series, what if nobody is an attractive character?

Like the first in the series this book as lots of sex, brutality, violence. And a libertarian’s dream society. If my friend Jeffrey Tucker went to outer space …

And it takes place mostly on the moon, which is a dream–at least from the perspective of a space aficionado like me.

At the end of the last book, one of the moon’s five ruling families/corporations is blown out (the airlock, literally) and people on the Earth’s natural satellite (and the home planet, too) are getting nervous and edgy about the instability of the situation. In this volume, what’s left of the defeated Corta family lick their wounds and plot revenge. Other members of the lunar 1% scheme for domination, survival, and pleasure. Depending on the character, not necessarily in that order.

Ian McDonald has never world-built as well as he does here. But it took me two books to crack why I don’t feel this is a totally successful effort. I can tolerate the bad guy winning–at least at the end of a volume in a multi-book series. But what if there are no good guys? Sure, the moon is a harsh mistress, as they say. But no character in this novel has any moments of tenderness, companionship, or even community in their lives. At least not from the reader’s viewpoint. What could have been an interesting vector–a pack of (human) “wolves” banding together–is mostly told from one point of view and meets a collective bad end in a rather casual way toward the end of the volume. Some characters seem almost ready to give their loyalty and/or love to another, but are generally rebuffed, badly treated, and chased off. Maybe that’s part of the über-libertarian society the author has planted in this sf series: everybody for her- or himself.

Thing is, with the moon being such a difficult environment, I find it hard to believe that the prime directive here would be an anarchy of individualism. Vacuum suits need to be checked, dangers like dust need to be defended against, and cooperation–even in business–would seem to be the wiser philosophy.

Too much relentless bad news on McDonald’s Luna. Too bad, because this is as well-plotted and characterized as any sf I’ve read in the past few years. One flaw: like the last book, it has slow moments moving forward. The scenes on planet Earth were somewhat unconvincing, though they seem to be needed to further the plot and the events of the climax of this book. One key character goes to the Earth, presumably to assemble support in person. But he seems to spend nearly all his time in a hotel room being looked after by a medical team.

I will keep reading this series, but mainly because this is better-than-average writing. And like watching a crash in slow motion, I’m curious to see if anybody comes out alive. Guilty pleasure? Perhaps. And perhaps not unlike a book filled with guilt, pleasure, and combinations of both.

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CDCN Positive Proposal #4: Cathedrals and Basilicas

Big and important churches, especially where the bishop resides, should set a good example for exemplary liturgy: I agree.

4. Higher standards for musical repertoire and skill should be insisted on for cathedrals and basilicas. Bishops in every diocese should hire at least a professional music director and/or an organist who would follow clear directions on how to foster excellent liturgical music in that cathedral or basilica and who would offer a shining example of combining works of the great tradition with appropriate new compositions.

Overemphasis on the organic growth thing:

We think that a sound principle for this is contained in Sacrosanctum Concilium 23: “There must be no innovations unless the good of the Church genuinely and certainly requires them; and care must be taken that any new forms adopted should in some way grow organically from forms already existing” (SC 23).

I think it’s an important consideration. But it’s not the ultimate in post-conciliar liturgical theology.

The full document may be found here.

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