CDCN Positive Proposal #1: Re-Affirming Chant, Polyphony, and the Pipe Organ

Too often I read massive criticisms of the Church, from most any ideological viewpoint, with no suggestions for improvement. I might disagree with a diagnosis or treatment, but I would still commend any group that puts out proposals for moving forward. But as a progressive, you would expect that of me.

The church musicians behind Cantate Domino Canticum Novum spell out a frank admission before they offer “Positive Proposals.”

It may seem that what we have said is pessimistic, but we maintain the hope that there is a way out of this winter. The following proposals are offered in spiritu humilitatis, with the intention of restoring the dignity of the liturgy and of its music in the Church.

Agreed on pessimism; disagree on the “winter.” Very little positive news has been shared in this document. No word on small publishers who have worked long and hard to make inroads with the music they promote. No recognition of projects like Psallite or By Flowing Waters or the handful of new hymnals. No acknowledgement of the organizations that have supported this statement and promoted it on their sites. It’s not hard to get the notion that the world and church as they are are one-hundred percent bad and wrong and the signatories alone have the roadmap for the way out.

That said, let’s read carefully eight proposals offered, beginning with this one:

As musicians, pastors, scholars, and Catholics who love Gregorian chant and sacred polyphony, so frequently praised and recommended by the Magisterium, we ask for a re-affirmation of this heritage alongside modern sacred compositions in Latin or vernacular languages that take their inspiration from this great tradition; and we ask for concrete steps to promote it everywhere, in every church across the globe, so that all Catholics can sing the praises of God with one voice, one mind and heart, one common culture that transcends all their differences.

This would be a significant challenge. The culture of complaint has raged long and hard among many Catholics. Swallowing a tongue accustomed to cattiness and backbiting can be difficult. While western European music certainly has something significant to offer a worldwide “common culture,” I don’t think of Europe as the embodiment of a certain unity of style. If we cannot accustom ourselves to a broad acceptance of differing styles, a sense of “I wouldn’t do the music that way, but I recognize it is sacred, spiritual and holy for others,” I think this statement, this effort will do little more but underline modern bitterness.

The “concrete steps” mentioned above are cited in the subsequent proposals.

We also ask for a re-affirmation of the unique importance of the pipe organ for the sacred liturgy, because of its singular capacity to elevate hearts to the Lord and its perfect suitability for supporting the singing of choirs and congregations.

The problem is that pipe organs are far from universal in the First World. Most churches in the developing world lack organs at all. And most of the organs in existence today are not pipes, but based on electronic or digital. Are the Church’s musicians prepared to explain to non-musicians the merits of pipe instruments? Speaking from personal experience, I can tell you it is a challenge.

The full document may be found here.

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CDCN: Remuneration

The sixth and final point of “the current situation” from the statement Cantate Domino Canticum Novum treats the issue of money. Do we pay for what we get?

6. We also see the problem of inadequate (at times, unjust) remuneration of lay musicians. The importance of sacred music in the Catholic liturgy requires that at least some members of the Church in every place be well-educated, well-equipped, and dedicated to serve the People of God in this capacity. Is it not true that we should give to God our best? No one would be surprised or disturbed knowing that doctors need a salary to survive, no one would accept medical treatment from untrained volunteers; priests have their salaries, because they cannot live if they do not eat, and if they do not eat, they will not be able to prepare themselves in theological sciences or to say the Mass with dignity. If we pay florists and cooks who help at parishes, why does it seem so strange that those performing musical activities for the Church would have a right to fair compensation?(Cf. Canon Law 231)

On this point, I’m in full agreement with my colleagues, with no reservations whatsoever. What about you readers?

Remember, the full document may be found here.

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Who Orbits?

From Pope Francis’s TED talk this week:

How wonderful would it be if the growth of scientific and technological innovation would come along with more equality and social inclusion. How wonderful would it be, while we discover faraway planets, to rediscover the needs of the brothers and sisters orbiting around us.

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Wedding Lectionary: Psalm 118: (24), 1 & 4, 24-25, 26-27, 28-29

When I served at the student center, a Spring wedding wasn’t uncommon. That often meant an Easter season liturgy. It came up once or twice: the suggestion to use the 118th Psalm, a frequent song of the early Sundays of Easter. At weekend Masses, we programmed the Marty Haugen setting, with our own twist. And what better expression of joy on a nuptial occasion than the shout of joy of the antiphon?

This is the day the Lord has made;
let us rejoice and be glad.

If I were consulting on a Lectionary update, or on the new Order for Celebrating Matrimony, I would have suggested the addition of a Psalm 118 option, with these verses:

Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good,
his mercy endures forever.
Let those who fear the LORD say,
his mercy endures forever.

This is the day the LORD has made;
let us rejoice in it and be glad.
LORD, grant salvation!
LORD, grant good fortune!

Blessed is he who comes in the name of the LORD.
We bless you from the house of the LORD.
The LORD is God and has enlightened us.
Join in procession with leafy branches
up to the horns of the altar.

You are my God, I give you thanks;
my God, I offer you praise.
Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good,
his mercy endures forever.

Elsewhere this site, I commend Neil’s commentary on this Psalm. One piece of that addresses one of the verses above:

Jesus tells the Pharisees that “you will not see me until (the time comes when) you say, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord’” (Lk 13:35), so that Psalm 118:26’s description of an entrance into the temple becomes a vision of Jerusalem welcoming its Messiah.

A few things strike me in this reflection. First, the importance of a Christ-centered marriage and wedding liturgy. You might ask about the connection between Jesus and an Old Testament text. But verse 26 has long been applied to the Lord, and utilized at every Catholic Mass in the song of praise that is part of every Eucharistic Prayer.

The name Jerusalem includes the root of the Hebrew word for peace (s-l-m, shalom, “___-salem”) and is often translated as “abode of peace.” A preacher might do well to liken the Christian marriage as the forming of an abode or a house of peace for the wedded couple. The subsequent inviting of one’s Messiah and divine Lord into one’s house strikes me as a recipe for grace, fruitfulness, and joy in a marriage and family.

A Christian couple also recognizes the importance of community worship. A wife and husband join with the rest of their community in a certain “enlightened” state and “join in procession” regularly to the altar of joy and delight (Psalm 43:4).

The more I reflect on Psalm 118, the more I’m convinced it might well be a superlative choice for a couple who might manage to combine human joy, dedication to God, and a connectivity between home, worship, and our Judeo-Christian traditions.

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CDCN: Clericalism

The fifth point on the statement Cantate Domino Canticum Novum‘s assessment of the “current situation” deals with clericalism. I found this point to be somewhat confused, as the charge is laid:

Another cause of the decadence of sacred music is clericalism, the abuse of clerical position and status. Clergy who are often poorly educated in the great tradition of sacred music continue to make decisions about personnel and policies that contravene the authentic spirit of the liturgy and the renewal of sacred music repeatedly called for in our times.

Priest/pastors are the bosses by design. Some handle this well. Others less so. A lack of formation is not an indicator of clericalism. At worst, one can label it ignorance. Ultimately, bishops oversee the seminary and ongoing formation of their priests. Liturgy is sometimes a priority in formation of clergy. Music certainly less so.

That priests make poor decisions about anything: music, liturgy, personnel, finances, their personal spirituality, or what-have-you isn’t necessarily a problem of clericalism.

Often they contradict Vatican II teachings in the name of a supposed “spirit of the Council.”

Lots of people misunderstand Vatican II and its follow-up documents. Again, it’s not a defining point of clericalism. And I see and read much from traditional-minded Catholics that contradict Vatican II.

Moreover, especially in countries of ancient Christian heritage, members of the clergy have access to positions that are not available to laity, when there are lay musicians fully capable of offering an equal or superior professional service to the Church.

It’s difficult to argue against what the musicians present here as a matter of discernment. Who is best able to serve as a leader in parish music ministry? Rarely would it be a priest. The Catholic Church continues to struggle with expecting its clergy to cover all the Pauline apostolic gifts: administration, prophecy, teaching, intercessory prayer, and often more. Sure, the occasional gifted person may well be able to lead in multiple roles. But does such a system do justice to individuals who might be extremely gifted in a few, or one? And be able to delegate and administer and unite a ministry effort as a collective endeavor?

What’s your assessment of the diagnosis of clericalism? hit or miss for the musicians?

The full document may be found here.

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Keep ‘Em Guessing

On my facebook page this morning, recommendations to join these groups: Traditional Orthodoxy and Ultimate Lesbians. Also something suggesting I go for a hot air balloon ride in Sweden. Only 20 000 kronor.

I make it a habit to minimize my likes, groups joined, and such. I’m sure that’s a baffle to those who want to devise an algorithm to determine how I can support my global corporate masters.

Still, somebody in cyberspace is on to what I’ve been ordering from Amazon. The dietary supplements of the young miss are of great interest to somebody out there.


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CDCN: Disdain for Tradition

Picking up on the perceived rejection of plainsong, more from the statement Cantate Domino Canticum Novum:

4. This disdain for Gregorian chant and traditional repertoires is one sign of a much bigger problem, that of disdain for Tradition. Sacrosanctum Concilium teaches that the musical and artistic heritage of the Church should be respected and cherished, because it is the embodiment of centuries of worship and prayer, and an expression of the highest peak of human creativity and spirituality. There was a time when the Church did not run after the latest fashion, but was the maker and arbiter of culture. The lack of commitment to tradition has put the Church and her liturgy on an uncertain and meandering path.

To one extent, I can agree that we can fruitfully attend more deeply to tradition. But there’s too much caricature in this portrait as painted here.

Music and art serve a higher good, namely the liturgy. When the liturgy reforms, music and art must adapt. It is part of a mindset of service. That Roman Catholic music did serve select communities so well for so many centuries is not an entitlement for the present age. At times, the Church has resisted new developments. Critics might dismiss them as “latest fashion(s).” Time will tell.

The attempted separation of the teaching of Vatican II from previous Church teachings is a dead end, and the only way forward is the hermeneutic of continuity endorsed by Pope Benedict XVI. Recovering the unity, integrity, and harmony of Catholic teaching is the condition for restoring both the liturgy and its music to a noble condition. As Pope Francis taught us in his first encyclical: “Self-knowledge is only possible when we share in a greater memory” (Lumen Fidei 38).

This is where I would part company from my musician colleagues behind this document. I’ve written many times traditionally-inclined Catholics rely too much on the “continuity” principle. It gets one and only one mention in Sacrosanctum Concilium. And that, in a particular context. It ignores the essence of religious conversion. Sometimes a believer must make a break from a previous life. When a person becomes an adult, the ways of youth are set aside. An adult doesn’t need to deny positive experiences of childhood and adolescence. Healthy adults build on those experiences. But they move forward.

As for a “unity, integrity, and harmony of Catholic teaching,” I’m not sure of the place of this in a document on church music. Nearly all of the Church’s liturgical repertoire is a matter of prudential choice. Is the Gloria less a song of praise sung after Communion? Is Peace better placed before the Preparation of the Gifts? Unity is a tricky thing, and uniformity is a dangerous substitute.


The full document may be found here.

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