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Sunday, April 19, 2015

Rubrics and Relevance

At this morning's Mass, our celebrant preached an impassioned homily regarding the beauty of the sacred liturgy.  He stressed how important it is that we follow the rubrics as handed down to us by the Church.  In fact, he read to us an account by St. Justin Martyr on the liturgical practices, circa 150 AD.

This is not the first time that the celebrant has preached on the importance of rubrics.  Yet, this time, there was a sense of urgency to his words.  He touched on the themes of obedience and propriety of music.  I found his words both comforting and encouraging, as he tries to live up to what he professes.  Since Advent, he has been celebrating Mass Ad Orientem and he has encouraged us to be more reverential before, during and after Mass to the point of admonishing us not to applaud the choir and to be mindful of the presence of the Blessed Sacrament.

He reminded us that, after the Resurrection, Jesus spent 40 days with the surviving 11 Apostles, teaching them and stressing to them that He would remain with them through the Eucharist.  What He did at the Last Supper and at Emmaus, Jesus now wanted the Apostles to learn to do.  Through their words and actions, Jesus would continue His real Presence; however, they had to understand the Eucharist and what they were supposed to do.

Fast forward to 2015.  Although the format of the liturgy has evolved (somewhat), the Mass still resembles what St. Justin Martyr wrote about nearly 1950 years ago.  However, lamentably, it seems that our collective understanding has changed, and not for the better.  For whatever reasons, we seem to have taken it upon ourselves to make "improvements" to the Mass, on what we perceive to be our own authority.  We want to make the Mass more relevant to our youth by using insipid, commercially-produced music that we believe to be more "meaningful" to our young people.  As Benedict XVI rightly pointed out, we have attempted to cobble up for ourselves our own version of the Mass.  It is almost as though we were committing the sin of Adam and Eve.  We "know" better than the Church as to how our Lord is to be worshipped.  We, rather than the Church, have become the masters of the liturgy, treating it as our own personal property.

We choose substandard, catchy music that is theologically poor because we believe that it will appeal to the youth, never minding that young people hunger for something real, something transcendent.  We believe that our own efforts will help make the Mass more relevant, forgetting that the Lord, Himself, is the author and master of the liturgy.  It seems as though, liturgically, we have fallen prey to the "dictatorship of relativism" that the former Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger warned us about in the homily he preached at the Conclave Mass 10 years ago.

The celebrant's homily seemed to have touched a nerve on some, especially when he spoke of the music.  He stressed how important it was to expose the youth to what the sacred liturgy should be.  They need to spend quiet moments with Our Lord in contemplation during Holy Hour.  They need to be exposed to music that enhances the sacred nature of the Holy Sacrifice, not detract from it.

Interestingly enough, late this afternoon, when I was checking my Facebook feed, I found that someone had posted a picture of the homilist at her Mass taking a "selfie" with the CCD kids.  She tagged a Facebook friend of mine and thus, all of the mutual friends were able to see it.  A newly ordained priest opined that he had hoped that this wasn't taken during Mass.  Sadly, the person who originally posted it confirmed it.  I explained to the person, not a Facebook friend, that while the intentions were good, it was not the most appropriate thing to do.   Her response was that she and her CCD teachers make it a point to reach out to the youth and try to make the Mass more relevant to the kids.  In my response, I wrote to her that if we are looking to make the Mass more relevant to the kids, then we have lost the real meaning of the sacred liturgy.  It seems to me that we no longer believe that what the Church gives us is good enough and that we have to invent something for ourselves.

To this, the morning homilist said that we are not being obsessed with liturgical law.  Liturgical law helps ground us on the sacred.  It is akin to the liturgical law that no less than God the Father gave to Ancient Israel, wherein He dictated to His people just how He was to worshipped.  Whenever Ancient Israel deviated from what God had ordained, they were punished. In fact, some met with fatal results.   This is not to say that we advocate engaging in such measures for the New Israel, although Francis Cardinal Arinze was quick to make the comparison some 11 years ago in an address he delivered.  Nonetheless, just as Ancient Israel was obligated to obey the Lord in all things, especially where worship was concerned, so to are we, the New Israel, obligated to obey the Lord.

Maybe what the good CCD coordinator could do is to study the liturgy more thoroughly and allow herself and her team to be enriched and imbued with the supernatural graces that are enhanced when the Holy Sacrifice is celebrated properly and reverently with the tools given to us by the Church, including sacred music.  Maybe if all of us study the Mass and allow ourselves to be enveloped in its beauty, we can begin to understand what it means to offer fitting worship.

The Mass doesn't need to become relevant; rather, we need to change ourselves.  The rubrics can help us reach that end.

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Right and Just

In St. Mark's Gospel account of the Passion, he presents the story of a woman who anointed Jesus' head with expensive oil.  The disciples criticize her because the oil cost roughly 300 days wages.  Jesus rebukes them, praising the woman's great act of love.

The woman is not stingy with Jesus.  She generously pours out the oil over his head.  She gives of herself to him.  She gives her heart. What she does is right and just.

In the Roman Missal, the faithful acclaim that "it is right and just", as they respond to the celebrant's invitation, "Let us give thanks to the Lord, our God."  But, what does "right and just" mean, especially now that we have begun Holy Week?

I believe that it means that we allow ourselves to delve deeper into the sacred Mysteries that these beautiful rites present to us.  I believe that if we can take the time to study what these mean and engrave them in our hearts, we can work towards an authentic and deep offering of what is "right and just" to the Lord.

Two friends of mine, on different occasions, each sent me a private message regarding my concerns about the matter of sacred music and why we should concentrate on offering the Lord what is certainly most appropriate and best.  One of my friends likes and exclusively uses OCP's Spirit and Song collection.  Both of them asked me if it was sinful.  In my responses to each, I explained to them that we should not reduce music to the lowest common denominator.  We miss the point of liturgy.  We miss the point of offering what is "right and just."

We have only to look at the example of Cain and Abel.  Both bothers offered sacrifice to the Lord; Cain offered him the produce of the land, while Abel gave him the finest, fatted lamb.  The Lord favored Abel's sacrifice because, like the woman who anointed Jesus, Abel spared nothing for the Lord.  In fact, in the Roman Canon, Abel's sacrifice is mentioned.  Sadly, in his envy, Cain murdered his brother. He lost focus amd offered the bare minimum to God.  When he saw that the Lord favored Abel's sacrifice, Cain became enraged.  We know the rest of the story.

This is not to say that my friends were sinful.  They, like many of us involved in some sort of liturgical ministry, want to offer the best to the Lord.  But, how can we get to what is "right and just"?  
The best way could be to use the richness and beauty of the Roman Missal as a guide.  The Roman Missal presents with the foundation and framework for the Church's liturgies, especially during Holy Week.  The rich texts of the Collect, the Offertory, the Prefaces and the Prayer after Communion, help us to elevate our souls, hearts and minds to the sacred mysteries that unfold before us.  The Roman Missal even guides us to the correct music with its Antiphons.  During Palm Sunday and the Paschal Triduum, the Roman Missal even provides us with the chants.  

Chants are the liturgical equivalent of the expensive, aromatic spikenard that the woman used to anoint Jesus. Chant is costly, in that it takes time and effort to learn.  It is not impossible to learn, thanks to YouTube and other resources.  Chanting the actual prayers of the Mass gives unity to the liturgy.  It helps it flow the way it was meant to be.  One doesn't need to do this in a grand, baroque cathedral.  Even the most modern can do.  Suitable, sacred hymnody, such as "All Glory, Laud and Honor", "O Sacred Head Surrounded" and "What Wondrous Love Is This" help to bring the tenor of the Holy Week liturgies.  The Reproaches, which lamentably, nearly all of the parishes in my little corner of South Texas ignore, make a stirring parallel to what the Lord did for His people during the Exodus and what we have done to Him on Good Friday.  
The prayers of the Roman Missal help stir up within our souls a deep love for God.  When we love someone, we want to offer the very best we have for that person, not counting the cost.  Should we not do the same for God? Should we not break open the fragrant spikenard and give generously and lovingly to the One who did not even spare His own Son for us?

Some may say that engaging in learning the liturgy is time that could be well spent doing something else.  Why do we need to learn, folks may ask, if it's just about the music. Others, like my two friends, would rather depend on what the publishing house suggests.  Sadly, this kind of attitude would be reminiscent of the disciples who jeered at the woman.  

Let us not be afraid to break open the spikenard so that, like the woman, whose generous act of love continues to be told even today, we may offer to the Lord what is "right and just."

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Cleansing the Temple

Today's Gospel presents us with the account of Jesus cleansing the Temple.  While not a few homilists have taken on the social justice mantle (Jesus was railing against profiting at the Temple), the celebrant at this morning's Mass took an entirely different approach.  He focused on the sacred nature of worship space and how the activity that Jesus forcefully stopped went against the First Commandment.

The celebrant reminded us that the space where the vendors and money exchangers set up shop was sacred, as it was the Court of the Gentiles.  This space was set aside so that the Gentiles could come and worship the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.  Recall that Scripture calls it "a house of prayer for all people."  Just because the area was not quite crowded with Gentiles, that did not mean that it was any less sacred than the rest of the Temple.

The sacred mattered to Jesus.  After all, as God, He was greatly concerned about what was going on in His house.  The celebrant held that the same issue that concerned Jesus then concerns Him now.  The Tabernacle, which holds the Blessed Sacrament, is greater than the Holy of Holies.  How many times do we ignore Jesus in the Tabernacle when we enter the main body of the Church?  How many times do we engage in meaningless conversations when He is right there, wanting us to engage with Him?

The medication that the former Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger wrote for the Ninth Station of the Cross seems to me to be an accurate diagnosis for the state of our liturgies today:

What can the third fall of Jesus under the Cross say to us? We have considered the fall of man in general, and the falling of many Christians away from Christ and into a godless secularism. Should we not also think of how much Christ suffers in his own Church? How often is the holy sacrament of his Presence abused, how often must he enter empty and evil hearts! How often do we celebrate only ourselves, without even realizing that he is there! How often is his Word twisted and misused! What little faith is present behind so many theories, so many empty words! How much filth there is in the Church, and even among those who, in the priesthood, ought to belong entirely to him! How much pride, how much self-complacency! What little respect we pay to the Sacrament of Reconciliation, where he waits for us, ready to raise us up whenever we fall! All this is present in his Passion. His betrayal by his disciples, their unworthy reception of his Body and Blood, is certainly the greatest suffering endured by the Redeemer; it pierces his heart. We can only call to him from the depths of our hearts: Kyrie eleison ­ Lord, save us (cf. Mt 8: 25). 
Lord, your Church often seems like a boat about to sink, a boat taking in water on every side. In your field we see more weeds than wheat. The soiled garments and face of your Church throw us into confusion. Yet it is we ourselves who have soiled them! It is we who betray you time and time again, after all our lofty words and grand gestures. Have mercy on your Church; within her too, Adam continues to fall. When we fall, we drag you down to earth, and Satan laughs, for he hopes that you will not be able to rise from that fall; he hopes that being dragged down in the fall of your Church, you will remain prostrate and overpowered. But you will rise again. You stood up, you arose and you can also raise us up. Save and sanctify your Church. Save and sanctify us all.

The homilist talked about the fact that the acred character of our liturgies needs to be respected.  He cited weddings as one of those liturgies that tends to witness the most violations of the sacred.  However, as excellent as all of his points were, he failed to make note of the fact that when we use substandard music, we FAIL to respect the sacred nature of the Mass. Weak music leads to weak liturgies and these lead to weak Faith.

When the music takes on a horizontal nature, we run the risk of "celebrating our wonderful selves" as the late Fr. Richard John Neuhaus put it.   One of the songs that the choir members wanted to use for this morning's Mass was "In These Days of Lenten Journey", written by Rev. Ricky Manalo, CSP, and published by OCP.  

In these days of Lenten journey, we have seen and we have heard the call to sow justice in the lives of those we serve. 
1. We reach out to those who are homeless to those who live without warmth. In the coolness of the evening we'll shelter their dreams, we will clothe them with mercy and peace. 
2. We open our eyes to the hungry and see the faces of Christ.  As we nourish all people who huger for food, may their faith in our God be renewed. 
3. We open our eyes to the weary and hear the cry of the poor, to the voices that echo the song of despair, we will show our compassion and love. 
4. We call on the Spirit of Justice and pray for righteousness sake.  We will sing for the freedom of all the oppressed; we will loosen the bonds of distress.

The sentiments seem okay, but, the song glorifies what we are doing and speaks very little about our own need for God's mercy.  It's about the "we" rather than the "He."

Compare that with the Attende Domine:

Hear us, O Lord, and have mercy, because we have sinned against Thee.

To Thee, highest King,
Redeemer of all,
do we lift up our eyes
in weeping:
Hear, O Christ, the prayers
of your servants.

Right hand of the Father,
way of salvation,
gate of heaven,
wash away our
stains of sin.

We beseech Thee, God,
in Thy great majesty:
Hear our groans
with Thy holy ears:
calmly forgive
our crimes.

To Thee we confess
our sins admitted
with a contrite heart
We reveal the things hidden:
By Thy kindness, O Redeemer,
overlook them.

The Innocent, seized,
not refusing to be led;
condemned by false witnesses
because of impious men
O Christ, keep safe those
whom Thou hast redeemed.

This hymn, the Par Excellence chant for Lent, drives home the point of the season, repentance.  It is also not very hard to learn, contrary to what some of the choir members claimed.  

People criticized Jesus because He actively took measures to cleanse His Father's house and restore the sacred nature of the Temple.  Not a few of us have been criticized, even by priests, for caring about the restoration of the sacred nature of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.  The sad thing is that there are those who care more about following what OCP says than what the Church says.  There are those who are more interested in having music with a "meaningful message" than in providing for the sacred.  

Aside from continuing the good fight, all we can say, as the former Cardinal Ratzinger wrote, is "save and sanctify your Church.  Save and sanctify us all."

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Making it meaningful

Lent is my favorite time of the year.  The haunting beauty of the chants, the smell of incense and the solemnity of the season bring a deep sense of joy into this penitential season.

A few weeks ago, I met with a couple of friends to talk about liturgy.  The conversation eventually turned to music.  One friend of mine said that the music needed to be meaningful.  He talked about a couple who sings their own compositions at Mass and he thought that these made the liturgy more meaningful because they had a "message."

It took a lot for me not to choke on my Dr. Pepper as my friend was saying this.  The comments left me perplexed and rather saddened.  The Mass already has a "message", it is the re-presentation of Our Lord's Sacrifice on Calvary.  Even the Propers work to convey that fact, while stressing different aspects according to the readings and liturgical seasons. 

My friend's sentiments seem to echo, almost verbatim, those expressed by OCP whenever we enter a new liturgical season.  "Make your parish's liturgies more meaningful", the emails from the publishing house stress.  And yet, the music that OCP offers fails to respect the penitential nature of the season, focusing mostly on the horizontal aspects, rather than on the vertical, spiritual dimension. "Beyond the Days" by Fr. Ricky Manolo, CSP, is one such example.   The song really doesn't really address the Lord at all.  It talks about what "we" are doing, as opposed to what "He" is doing.

Contrast that with "Attende Domine" or "Parce Domine", which helps us to call to mind the heart of the Lenten season, our recognition of our sins and our desire for mercy.  Both of these sacred chants encourage us to beseech God, asking him for mercy. 

Then, there are the Propers for the Lenten season.  Here is the Introit for Ash Wednesday, for example:

Your mercy extends to all things, O Lord, and you despise none of the things you have made.  You overlook the sins of men for the sake of repentance.  You grant them your pardon, because you are the Lord our God. 

Contrast that with one of OCP's suggested songs, "Ashes": 

We rise again from the ashes, from the good we've failed to do.  We rise again from ashes, to create ourselves anew.  If all our world is ashes, then must our lives be true, an offering of ashes, an offering to you.

This is vague. It really doesn't really carry much of a message. The song could be about anything, really.  The piece pales in comparison to the actual texts that the Church gives us for the sacred liturgy.  But, this is a chronic problem that afflicts OCP.  

I told my friend that there is a way to make the Mass "meaningful".  "How", he asked.  I told him that we could start by actually looking at what the Church asks us to sing, as opposed to what the publishing houses dictate that we should sing.  "But, what about that couple whose music has a message", he persisted.  I explained to him that if we examine the Propers, then we will find the "message" of the liturgy.  Benedict once said that the liturgy is not something that "we cobble up for ourselves."  It is something that we receive from the Church.

By the end of our conversation, my friend wasn't quite convinced; however, he was somewhat intrigued by the notion that the Church has already given us a set of texts to use for every Mass.  He seemed open to at least looking at the Propers.  I hope that if he does peruse the Propers, he will find that they do "make" the Mass "more meaningful."

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Beware and Repair

For whatever reason, when a new liturgical year begins, folks tend to take this to mean that they can let loose the dogs of liturgical abuse, justifying it as experimentation.

This certainly would hold true for St. Patrick's Parish in Seattle, Washington, as this video demonstrates. One could easily have mistaken this episode for a parody the likes of something Steve Colbert has done in the past.  Unfortunately, this is not the case.

As the former prefect for the Congregation for Divine Worship, Francis Cardinal Arinze, observed:

There has never been a document from our Congregation for Divine Worship and Discipline of the Sacraments saying that dance is approved in the Mass. 
Now, some priests and lay people think that Mass is never complete without dance. The difficulty is this: we come to Mass primarily to adore God -- what we call the vertical dimension. We do not come to Mass to entertain one another. That's not the purpose of Mass. The parish hall is for that. 
So all those that want to entertain us -- after Mass, let us go to the parish hall and then you can dance. And then we clap. But when we come to Mass we don't come to clap. We don't come to watch people, to admire people. We want to adore God, to thank Him, to ask Him pardon for our sins, and to ask Him for what we need. 
But when you introduce wholesale, say, a ballerina, then I want to ask you what is it all about. What exactly are you arranging? When the people finish dancing in the Mass and then when the dance group finishes and people clap -- don't you see what it means? It means we have enjoyed it. We come for enjoyment. Repeat. So, there is something wrong. Whenever the people clap -- there is something wrong -- immediately. When they clap -- a dance is done and they clap. 
Most dances that are staged during Mass should have been done in the parish hall. And some of them are not even suitable for the parish hall. 
I saw in one place -- I will not tell you where -- where they staged a dance during Mass, and that dance was offensive. It broke the rules of moral theology and modesty. Those who arranged it -- they should have had their heads washed with a bucket of holy water! [laughter] 
Why make the people of God suffer so much? Haven't we enough problems already? Only Sunday, one hour, they come to adore God. And you bring a dance! Are you so poor you have nothing else to bring us? Shame on you! 

What was also disturbing were the other abuses that were heaped on to this one.  There was no greeting after the "opening ritual".  The dance infiltrated the Penitential Rite.  The altar was moved off to the side as though it were a some sort of a stage prop.  The priest (who wore his stole outside of his chasuble, something not allowed under the GIRM and reiterated by Redemptionis Sacramentum) stood off to the side, acting more as a spectator than as the celebrant who is supposed to be leading the faithful in prayer.  The crucifix was missing.  There was no discernible evidence of a Tabernacle.  It is as though Christ was not the central figure of the Holy Sacrifice; the dance troupe was.

The whole affair reminded me of a scene from Cecil B. DeMille's second version of the Ten Commandments (with Charlton Heston as Moses).   After the Lord had given Moses the two tablets on which the commandments had been written, He admonished Moses to descend the mountain for the Hebrews had depraved themselves.  Sure enough, once Moses had reached the base of the mountain, he was greeted by a loud ruckus, with people dancing around the Golden Calf.  After having blasted Aaron for allowing this to happen and for smelting the "idol" (even though Aaron flatly denied it), Moses then laid his wrath upon the unfaithful lot.

Abuse of the liturgy is abuse aimed at God.  It violates the First Commandment that admonishes us to love and serve God FIRST.  When folks make their own idiosyncrasies more important than what the liturgy mandates, they have turned their own "made-up" rites into an idol.  Their "creation" becomes the Golden Calf.  Sadly, pastors who allow this become like Aaron.  They can blame their "pastoral associates" for making this stuff up, just as Aaron told Moses that he "threw the gold into the fire and the calf came out".  These priests are just as much to blame as Aaron.

Well did Cardinals Burke and Canizares-Lloera state that weak liturgies lead to weak faith.   The parish in question has video history of these abusive practices.  It is sad when one takes pride in disobedience, flaunting it for the world to see.    As Redepmtionis Sacramentum states:

6.]  For abuses "contribute to the obscuring of the Catholic faith and doctrine concerning this wonderful sacrament".14 Thus, they also hinder the faithful from "re-living in a certain way the experience of the two disciples of Emmaus: 'and their eyes were opened, and they recognized Him'".15 For in the presence of God's power and divinity16 and the splendor of His goodness, made manifest especially in the Sacrament of the Eucharist, it is fitting that all the faithful should have and put into practice that power of acknowledging God's majesty that they have received through the saving Passion of the Only-Begotten Son.17 
[7.]  Not infrequently, abuses are rooted in a false understanding of liberty. Yet God has not granted us in Christ an illusory liberty by which we may do what we wish, but a liberty by which we may do that which is fitting and right.18 This is true not only of precepts coming directly from God, but also of laws promulgated by the Church, with appropriate regard for the nature of each norm. For this reason, all should conform to the ordinances set forth by legitimate ecclesiastical authority. 
[8.]  It is therefore to be noted with great sadness that "ecumenical initiatives which are well-intentioned, nevertheless indulge at times in Eucharistic practices contrary to the discipline by which the Church expresses her faith". Yet the Eucharist "is too great a gift to tolerate ambiguity or depreciation". It is therefore necessary that some things be corrected or more clearly delineated so that in this respect as well "the Eucharist will continue to shine forth in all its radiant mystery".19 
[9.]  Finally, abuses are often based on ignorance, in that they involve a rejection of those elements whose deeper meaning is not understood and whose antiquity is not recognized. For "the liturgical prayers, orations and songs are pervaded by the inspiration and impulse" of the Sacred Scriptures themselves, "and it is from these that the actions and signs receive their meaning".20 As for the visible signs "which the Sacred Liturgy uses in order to signify the invisible divine realities, they have been chosen by Christ or by the Church".21 Finally, the structures and forms of the sacred celebrations according to each of the Rites of both East and West are in harmony with the practice of the universal Church also as regards practices received universally from apostolic and unbroken tradition,22 which it is the Church's task to transmit faithfully and carefully to future generations. All these things are wisely safeguarded and protected by the liturgical norms.

What is St. Patrick's transmitting to the faithful when it engages in these practices?  Is it the True Faith of the Church or is it the parish's own idiosyncratic liturgical abuses that St. Patrick's is handing down?

At this point, we must beware of invented practices that circumvent the sacred character of the Mass and we must repair the damage before we all suffer the fate of the Golden Calf.  Kyrie Eleison.

Update:  Since the publication of this post, the video has now been labeled private.  Nonetheless, I believe that the practices employed by this parish merit scrutiny and the intervention of the Archbishop of Seattle, the Most Rev. Peter J. Sartain.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

OCP's Grail Fail

When OCP touted composer Bob Hurd's new settings for the Grail Psalter, I met the news with some guarded optimism.  I was hopeful that perhaps OCP and Hurd had both turned a page and that something sacred would finally come forth from the publishing house and its composer.

The actual Grail Psalter is a beautifully translated text that is far superior to what we have in our present lectionaries.  The language is sacred and unambiguous.  Surely, such a sacred text deserves to be clothed in proper music.  The music should be the light that highlights the beauty of the text and the salt that gives it taste.

Unfortunately, Grail Psalms for Sunday Worship does neither.  The light it is supposed to shine towards the text winds up blinding it while too much salt kills the composition.  In his introduction to the compilation, Hurd paraphrases from the Introduction to the Lectionary, writing that "the primary focus of the assembly during the Liturgy of the Word" is "meditation".  He writes that "the responsorial psalm is key to this mediation, or 'chewing the cud' of the Word."  He later explains the method he employed for his compositions:
"Given this distinctive role of the responsorial psalm, it seemed to me that its musical form could be distinctive, too: leaner than the usual song form, more proportionate to the unfolding readings, and most especially, more conducive to a meditative posture of chewing the cud of the Word.  To accomplish this, I have blended chant and meter in these settings.  The refrains are in a contemporary, metered style.  The verses begin with chant tones and then turn back into metered music part way through in order to segue smoothly into the metered refrain."
While Hurd may have meant well, the compositions he created accomplish neither.  Music is supposed to be the handmaid of the sacred liturgy, not the other way around.  What Hurd wound up doing is to make the music matter more than the words that it is supposed to accentuate.

His setting for Psalm 16, "Lord, You Will Show Us the Path of Life" repeats the refrain for the sake of the music, rather than letting the text speak for itself.  The verses start off well, but, wind up turning into something that is more fit for a pop song than for the liturgy.  The setting for Psalm 19: "Your Words, Lord, Are Spirit and Life" also falls into the same trap.  There is no need to have the refrain repeated twice.  The verses can be salvaged if the same chant tone for the first half can be carried into the second half.  Psalm 90, "Fill Us with Your Love, O Lord and  We Will Sing for Joy" carries with it an unnecessary repetition of the second half of the refrain.  Hurd forces the text into his music instead of the other way around.  He makes his musical setting more important than the words themselves.  Psalm 63, "My Soul Is Thirsting for You, O Lord, My God" could have worked, however, the second half of the verse has too much of a contemporary feel and the musical interludes between the repeated refrain do not give it the character of a proper responsorial psalm.  Psalm 40, "Here Am I Lord, I Come to Do Your Will" unnecessarily repeats the refrain. Rather than compose a clean and pure setting, Hurd adds too much salt to the composition, failing to give the text its proper seasoning.  Psalm 34, "Taste and See the Goodness of the Lord" suffers from the same fate;  its repetitive refrain does not really work.  If the refrain is sung once between verses, then it could certainly work.  Psalm 103, "The Lord is Kind and Merciful" (different from the one reviewed below) also carries the same double refrain that does not really help.  The music is the same the setting reviewed below, however, the repetitive refrain would be a strike against it.  Here, as in the other compositions, Hurd makes the music more important.  It would have been better to compose a different setting instead of recycling one that he previously used.  With the exception of those reviewed in the next paragraph, the rest of the Grail Psalm settings suffer from the same fate.

There are some small glimmers of hope. Hurd's version of Psalm 23, "The Lord is My Shepherd" is perhaps one of  the most passable of the group.  He was able to keep some of the integrity of what the responsorial psalm is supposed to be like.  However, even here, the over-use of instrumentation drowns out the beauty of the text.  The verses are not as overloaded with music as is the setting for Psalm 23.   Psalm 98, "The Lord Comes to Rule the Earth with Justice" is another one that seems hopeful; however, the verses would have to be tweaked as there is that over-emphasis on the music that leaves the words in the dust.  Psalm 19, "Lord, You Have the Words of Everlasting Life" is perhaps the most hopeful.  He does not repeat the text and he manages to preserve some semblance to what a responsporial psalm is supposed to sound like.  With some tweaking of the second half of the verse, this could work.  Psalm 103, "The Lord is Kind and Merciful, Slow to Anger and Rich in Compassion" is another one that is hopeful.  With some minor tweaking of the second half of the verses, it could also work.

Hurd would have been better off using the settings by Joseph Gelineau SJ for the Grail Psalter.  Gelineau's settings are beautiful and quite in tune with the sacred character of the liturgy.  They highlight the text, but do not overwhelm it.  Even Owen Aslett would have been better suited for the task.

I wish I could have found more psalms from Hurd's collection that would have been useful, but, after listening to the 27 compositions in their entirety, it was difficult as I could not chew the cud properly due to over seasoning.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

The Real Pharisees

These past two weeks or so, the Gospel readings centered around Jesus' dealings with the Pharisees.  In one form or another, the Pharisees try to trap Jesus, accusing Him of infractions with the law.  The irony in this is that the Pharisees assail the Giver of the Law, Himself, without taking into account their own abuses.

During the Babylonian Exile, there was a group of pious Jews which understood that the reason for their banishment was because Ancient Israel had repeatedly violated God's Law through its infidelity. This group became the Perushim, the separated, because they wanted to ensure a way to protect the Law so that Ancient Israel would not violate it.  What the Perushim did was to build a hedge around the Law, devising minor ordinances to protect the precept that the Lord had given.

Unfortunately, the Perushim (who evolved into the Pharisees) built such an elaborate hedge around the Law that they made these minor ordinances more important than what God had ordained.  In other words, they added to the Law and valued their additions more than what came directly from the Lord, Himself.  This is what Jesus railed against whenever he upbraided the Pharisees.  The same group that was trying to protect the Law wound up violating it by additions they made on their own authority, not God's.

In this day and age, we have our own Pharisees, but the identity of these folks is rather surprising.

In a previous post, I wrote about the notion that not a few people have that those of us who care about liturgical integrity act like Pharisees.  I have been accused of that a few times.  The irony in all of this is that the very folks who level this charge against me (and others) are the same people who will defend usage of their liturgical innovations over the Church's norms.  Just as the Pharisees were so meticulous in following their own idiosyncratic additions to the Law, these individuals firmly hold fast to their own liturgical creations and will not cede any ground, even when these practices run contrary to the Church's liturgical law.

This is especially true in children's liturgies.  Those who are in charge of planning these Masses tend to spend significant time rehearsing how the youngsters will gather around the altar and perform some sort of mime interpretation to the Pater Noster or how they will process up to the altar bearing globes and other objects for the offertory.  Yet, the organizers tend to see little importance in having the students learn the sung Ordinary of the Mass or proper conduct during the liturgy itself.    Liturgies for youth and some ecclesial movements fare no better.   The latter tend to place more emphasis on the innovations that they have created as opposed to doing what the Church asks.

We need to remember that the Mass is not our own personal property.  We cannot do with it as we please. It is the Church's supreme act of worship with its very foundations going back to the time of Ancient Israel when the Lord dictated to Moses how He was to be worshipped.  He strictly enjoined Ancient Israel not to deviate from these sacred practices.  Lamentably, every time Ancient Israel committed an infraction against the Law, things went very badly for her.

The Pharisees thought that they could improve on the Law and protect it by adding "sub laws" to it.  They thought that their own innovations were helping things. Jesus gave them the short answer: "No."   What they did was make their "improvements" more important than what God, Himself, had set forth.

The new Pharisees seem to follow the same modus operandi.  They seem to think that by adding their own personal stamp to the Mass, they have made it better.  However, once again, the answer is a resounding "no".   As Redemptionis Sacramentum reminds us:

[7.]  Not infrequently, abuses are rooted in a false understanding of liberty. Yet God has not granted us in Christ an illusory liberty by which we may do what we wish, but a liberty by which we may do that which is fitting and right.18 This is true not only of precepts coming directly from God, but also of laws promulgated by the Church, with appropriate regard for the nature of each norm. For this reason, all should conform to the ordinances set forth by legitimate ecclesiastical authority. 
[8.]  It is therefore to be noted with great sadness that "ecumenical initiatives which are well-intentioned, nevertheless indulge at times in Eucharistic practices contrary to the discipline by which the Church expresses her faith". Yet the Eucharist "is too great a gift to tolerate ambiguity or depreciation". It is therefore necessary that some things be corrected or more clearly delineated so that in this respect as well "the Eucharist will continue to shine forth in all its radiant mystery".19 
[9.]  Finally, abuses are often based on ignorance, in that they involve a rejection of those elements whose deeper meaning is not understood and whose antiquity is not recognized. For "the liturgical prayers, orations and songs are pervaded by the inspiration and impulse" of the Sacred Scriptures themselves, "and it is from these that the actions and signs receive their meaning".20 As for the visible signs "which the Sacred Liturgy uses in order to signify the invisible divine realities, they have been chosen by Christ or by the Church".21 Finally, the structures and forms of the sacred celebrations according to each of the Rites of both East and West are in harmony with the practice of the universal Church also as regards practices received universally from apostolic and unbroken tradition,22 which it is the Church's task to transmit faithfully and carefully to future generations. All these things are wisely safeguarded and protected by the liturgical norms. 
[10.]  The Church herself has no power over those things which were established by Christ Himself and which constitute an unchangeable part of the Liturgy.23 Indeed, if the bond were to be broken which the Sacraments have with Christ Himself who instituted them, and with the events of the Church's founding,24 it would not be beneficial to the faithful but rather would do them grave harm. For the Sacred Liturgy is quite intimately connected with principles of doctrine,25 so that the use of unapproved texts and rites necessarily leads either to the attenuation or to the disappearance of that necessary link between the lex orandi and the lex credendi.26 
[11.]  The Mystery of the Eucharist "is too great for anyone to permit himself to treat it according to his own whim, so that its sacredness and its universal ordering would be obscured".27 On the contrary, anyone who acts thus by giving free rein to his own inclinations, even if he is a Priest, injures the substantial unity of the Roman Rite, which ought to be vigorously preserved,28 and becomes responsible for actions that are in no way consistent with the hunger and thirst for the living God that is experienced by the people today. Nor do such actions serve authentic pastoral care or proper liturgical renewal; instead, they deprive Christ's faithful of their patrimony and their heritage. For arbitrary actions are not conducive to true renewal,29 but are detrimental to the right of Christ's faithful to a liturgical celebration that is an expression of the Church's life in accordance with her tradition and discipline. In the end, they introduce elements of distortion and disharmony into the very celebration of the Eucharist, which is oriented in its own lofty way and by its very nature to signifying and wondrously bringing about the communion of divine life and the unity of the People of God.30 The result is uncertainty in matters of doctrine, perplexity and scandal on the part of the People of God, and, almost as a necessary consequence, vigorous opposition, all of which greatly confuse and sadden many of Christ's faithful in this age of ours when Christian life is often particularly difficult on account of the inroads of "secularization" as well.31

Just as the Pharisees in Jesus' time caused confusion with their additions to the Law, so, too, do their liturgical descendants, with their creative innovations, contribute to the uncertainty and perplexity that Redemptionis Sacramentum warned against.