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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.  

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Disarming the Liturgical Winchester


A few years ago, I took ill with a bad case of the flu.  It necessitated my having to stay home for a couple of days.  During my convalescence I stumbled upon a marathon of an old Western TV show called "The Rifleman".  To say that Lucas McCain (portrayed by the late Chuck Conners) was sharp with that repeating Winchester was an understatement.  That rifle went off more times per episode than I could count.

From what I gathered, repeating rifles pretty much won the West and were quite useful for hunting and protection.  The rapid-fire repeats were a life-saving necessity...

...but, not when it comes to the sacred liturgy.

In his great opus Tra Le Sollecitundini, Pope St. Pius X warned against the dangers of mishandling liturgical texts when setting them to music.  He strongly exhorted that 
The liturgical text must be sung as it is in the books, without alteration or inversion of the words, without undue repetition, without breaking syllables, and always in a manner intelligible to the faithful who listen. 
In other words, the musical compositions need to respect the integrity of the liturgical texts and maintain the status quo.

Furthermore, the venerable Pontiff observed that:
It is not lawful to keep the priest at the altar waiting on account of the chant or the music for a length of time not allowed by the liturgy. According to the ecclesiastical prescriptions the Sanctus of the Mass should be over before the elevation, and therefore the priest must here have regard for the singers. The Gloria and the Credo ought, according to the Gregorian tradition, to be relatively short.
These wise words, written 110 years ago, remain the standard used to govern our liturgical music and should be followed.  Yet, there is a phenomena that crept into the Church with a vengeance over the course of the last 40 years, something that seems to be diametrically opposed to the instructions set forth by Pius X:  the Responsorial Gloria.

Both OCP and GIA have assaulted parishes with various lackluster compositions that employ the "repeating Gloria."  Marty Haugen, David Haas, Dan Schutte, Bob Hurd and several other composers have made use of this format of the Gloria with poor results.  Schutte's "Mass of Christ the Savior" version of the Gloria sounds like the theme from "My Little Pony".  Spanish versions of the "Responsorial Gloria" are equally horrid and the bilingual versions, which really are discouraged for use in liturgy, are cause for disdain, with one of the worst being "Missa Santa Cecilia" from OCP, which reduces the Gloria to a sound that can only be described as akin to "Latin Night" on Dancing with the Stars.

The Gloria is a text that is meant to be prayed straight-through, either recited or chanted.  Inserting a response to the Gloria breaks up the natural flow of the prayer.  Just as it would sound strange to insert a refrain to the Gloria when it is recited, it is equally jarring to do the same thing when the prayer is set to music.

Furthermore, when the Congregation for Divine Worship released the revised translation of the Ordinary of the Mass, then-prefect Francis Cardinal Arinze warned national episcopal conferences that the Mass settings needed to be faithful to the text.  He cited Liturgiam Authenticam No. 60, which notes that:
60. A great part of the liturgical texts are composed with the intention of their being sung by the priest celebrant, the deacon, the cantor, the people, or the choir. For this reason, the texts should be translated in a manner that is suitable for being set to music. Still, in preparing the musical accompaniment, full account must be taken of the authority of the text itself. Whether it be a question of the texts of Sacred Scripture or of those taken from the Liturgy and already duly confirmed, paraphrases are not to be substituted with the intention of making them more easily set to music, nor may hymns considered generically equivalent be employed in their place.39
If we look at footnote 39, it references the General Instruction of the Roman Missal (GIRM), which specifically states that:
53. The Gloria in excelsis (Glory to God in the highest) is a most ancient and venerable hymn by which the Church, gathered in the Holy Spirit, glorifies and entreats God the Father and the Lamb. The text of this hymn may not be replaced by any other. It is intoned by the Priest or, if appropriate, by a cantor or by the choir; but it is sung either by everyone together, or by the people alternately with the choir, or by the choir alone. If not sung, it is to be recited either by everybody together or by two choirs responding one to the other.
Now, there will be some who will say, "But the documents don't prohibit a 'Responsorial Gloria'.  Even the GIRM allows it!"  Hold on partners, not so fast.  "By the people alternately with the choir" does not necessarily mean that the people sing a refrain during the Gloria.  If one has ever participated in the Liturgy of the Hours, one will note that praying "alternately" means that one side prays one part of the Psalm while the other side takes up the next part.  In the case of the Gloria, this citation from the GIRM simply means that the choir can sing one portion of it and the faithful can join in with the other (but, not repeating the same thing). 

In addition, the next statement reminds composers of the importance of setting the Ordinary to fitting music because: 
61. Texts that are intended to be sung are particularly important because they convey to the faithful a sense of the solemnity of the celebration, and manifest unity in faith and charity by means of a union of voices.40
These words are noble prayers and should be treated with the solemnity and dignity they convey.  Using a setting that sounds like something from a Disney cartoon or a pop song does the liturgy a terrible disservice.

Now, insofar as bilingual Mass settings are concerned, these are not necessarily a good idea, especially when a "Responsorial Gloria" is employed.  Pope Benedict addressed this issue in 2007 when he issued his Apostolic Exhortation, Sacramentum Caritatis. He noted that:
62. None of the above observations should cast doubt upon the importance of such large-scale liturgies. I am thinking here particularly of celebrations at international gatherings, which nowadays are held with greater frequency. The most should be made of these occasions. In order to express more clearly the unity and universality of the Church, I wish to endorse the proposal made by the Synod of Bishops, in harmony with the directives of the Second Vatican Council, (182) that, with the exception of the readings, the homily and the prayer of the faithful, it is fitting that such liturgies be celebrated in Latin. Similarly, the better-known prayers (183) of the Church's tradition should be recited in Latin and, if possible, selections of Gregorian chant should be sung. 
Latin is the unifier because it is the language of the Church.  When we split up the Gloria into a mishmash of English and Spanish or whatever combination of language is chosen, we run the risk of breaking up the important significance of the prayer and running the flow.  It also runs the risk of unduly prolonging the prayer because, more often than not, this will include a "Responsorial Gloria", as evidenced in the dreaded "Missa Santa Cecilia". 

Repetition may work for rifles and learning, but, when it comes to the sacred liturgy, it is time that we fully disarm the Liturgical Winchester known as the "Responsorial Gloria."

Sunday, August 3, 2014

The Lowest Common Denominator

H/T to Cartman who manages to capture the accuracy of a situation.

In November 22, 1903, Pope St. Pius X issued his famous Motu Proprio on music in the sacred liturgy, Tra Le Sollecitudini.   The Motu Proprio addressed the major problem of secular influences creeping into the sacred liturgy.  At the time of the venerable Supreme Pontiff, opera started infiltrating the music used at the Mass.

Pope St. Pius X wrote that:
Sacred music, being a complementary part of the solemn liturgy, participates in the general scope of the liturgy, which is the glory of God and the sanctification and edification of the faithful. It contributes to the decorum and the splendor of the ecclesiastical ceremonies, and since its principal office is to clothe with suitable melody the liturgical text proposed for the understanding of the faithful, its proper aim is to add greater efficacy to the text, in order that through it the faithful may be the more easily moved to devotion and better disposed for the reception of the fruits of grace belonging to the celebration of the most holy mysteries. 
The liturgical texts use beautiful, elevated language as a means of worshipping the Lord.  Thus, the musical settings for these sacred texts should certainly provide fitting "clothing" for these words.  While opera certainly has its elements of beauty, its profane nature does not lend itself to the solemn majesty and dignity that the liturgical rites require.
Now we hit the fast-forward button to the 21st century.  Lamentably, the same issues that Pope St. Pius X sought to correct persist 110 years later, only now, the secular pop musical genre has replaced opera as the chief culprit.  Rather than clothe the sacred liturgical texts with fitting music, this particular genre, especially the Praise and Worship style, tends to cheapen the solemn majesty of the liturgy with a casual tone that is more suitable for the Sirius XM pop stations than for the Mass.

In 2003, another canonized Pontiff, Pope St. John Paul II, revisited this issue when he wrote his Chirograph on Sacred Music.  The venerable Pope wrote that
3. On various occasions I too have recalled the precious role and great importance of music and song for a more active and intense participation in liturgical celebrations[9]. I have also stressed the need to "purify worship from ugliness of style, from distasteful forms of expression, from uninspired musical texts which are not worthy of the great act that is being celebrated"[10], to guarantee dignity and excellence to liturgical compositions.  
In this perspective, in the light of the Magisterium of St Pius X and my other Predecessors and taking into account in particular the pronouncements of the Second Vatican Council, I would like to re-propose several fundamental principles for this important sector of the life of the Church, with the intention of ensuring that liturgical music corresponds ever more closely to its specific function.  
4. In continuity with the teachings of St Pius X and the Second Vatican Council, it is necessary first of all to emphasize that music destined for sacred rites must have holiness as its reference point:  indeed, "sacred music increases in holiness to the degree that it is intimately linked with liturgical action"[11]. For this very reason, "not all without distinction that is outside the temple (profanum) is fit to cross its threshold", my venerable Predecessor Paul VI wisely said, commenting on a Decree of the Council of Trent[12]. And he explained that "if music - instrumental and vocal - does not possess at the same time the sense of prayer, dignity and beauty, it precludes the entry into the sphere of the sacred and the religious"[13]. Today, moreover, the meaning of the category "sacred music" has been broadened to include repertoires that cannot be part of the celebration without violating the spirit and norms of the Liturgy itself.  
St Pius X's reform aimed specifically at purifying Church music from the contamination of profane theatrical music that in many countries had polluted the repertoire and musical praxis of the Liturgy. In our day too, careful thought, as I emphasized in the Encyclical Ecclesia de Eucharistia, should be given to the fact that not all the expressions of figurative art or of music are able "to express adequately the mystery grasped in the fullness of the Church's faith"[14]. Consequently, not all forms of music can be considered suitable for liturgical celebrations.
St. John Paul II stressed the importance of maintaining continuity with St. Pius X meaning that the essence of the 1903 Motu Proprio's teaching has not changed.  What was problematic then remains problematic now.  For whatever reasons, banal music crept into the Mass immediately after the Second Vatican Council with such insipid and uninspired compositions as "You are Near", "Glory and Praise" and "Sing to the Mountains".  Recently, compositions such as "Rain Down", "Table of Plenty", "Bread of Life", and other stuff from OCP's "Spirit and Song" collections have also seeped into the Mass, especially within those liturgies "targeted" towards youth.

Oddly enough, the Fathers of the 2005 Synod on the Eucharist echoed the similar observation that both Sts. Pius X and John Paul II made when they issued their Instrumentum Laboris:
In other responses some lamented the poor quality of translations of liturgical texts and many musical texts in current languages, maintaining that they lacked beauty and were sometimes theologically unclear, thereby contributing to a weakening of Church teaching and to a misunderstanding of prayer. A few responses made particular mention of music and singing at Youth Masses. In this regard, it is important to avoid musical forms which, because of their profane use, are not conducive to prayer. Some responses note a certain eagerness in composing new songs, to the point of almost yielding to a consumer mentality, showing little concern for the quality of the music and text, and easily overlooking the artistic patrimony which has been theologically and musically effective in the Church’s liturgy.
Incidentally, while the Fathers specifically mentioned the problem with "Youth Masses", their observation is not merely limited to this particular matter.  At least in the United States, the music used in Spanish-language liturgies is just as problematic, if not worse.  Sadly, OCP is also the chief culprit.  In most cases, the genre of music used ranges anywhere from Mariachi to Caribbean to Ranchero and everything in between.  Even the texts tend to be problematic, as some of the compositions, such as "Pueblos Nuevos" seem to be inflicted with tinges of Liberation Theology.  This certainly contributes to a "weakening of Church teaching and to a misunderstanding of prayer" that the Synod Fathers warned against.

In 2007, Pope Benedict XVI, in his Apostolic Exhortation, Sacramentum Caritatis, maintained this hermeneutic of continuity with the teachings on sacred music held by his predecessors when he wrote that:
42. In the ars celebrandi, liturgical song has a pre-eminent place. (126) Saint Augustine rightly says in a famous sermon that "the new man sings a new song. Singing is an expression of joy and, if we consider the matter, an expression of love" (127). The People of God assembled for the liturgy sings the praises of God. In the course of her two-thousand-year history, the Church has created, and still creates, music and songs which represent a rich patrimony of faith and love. This heritage must not be lost. Certainly as far as the liturgy is concerned, we cannot say that one song is as good as another. Generic improvisation or the introduction of musical genres which fail to respect the meaning of the liturgy should be avoided. As an element of the liturgy, song should be well integrated into the overall celebration (128). Consequently everything -- texts, music, execution -- ought to correspond to the meaning of the mystery being celebrated, the structure of the rite and the liturgical seasons (129). Finally, while respecting various styles and different and highly praiseworthy traditions, I desire, in accordance with the request advanced by the Synod Fathers, that Gregorian chant be suitably esteemed and employed (130) as the chant proper to the Roman liturgy (131). 
Unfortunately, this particularly important teaching has been lost on composers and publishing houses and those at both the diocesan and parochial level who oversee liturgical music.  It is as though all four groups, with some rare exceptions, tend to resort to the lowest common denominator when it comes to selecting music for the Mass.  Sadly, a lot of what these folks promote and use winds up sounding like Faith +1, the pseudo Praise and Worship band featuring South Park character Cartman and his animated cohorts.  The baselines, drums and keyboards may sound great on the radio, but, it is hardly a joyfully sacred noise.

According to Pope St. Pius X (and repeatedly affirmed by his successors, most notably, Venerable Pope Pius XII, St. John Paul II and Benedict XVI):
Sacred music should consequently possess, in the highest degree, the qualities proper to the liturgy, and in particular sanctity and goodness of form, which will spontaneously produce the final quality of universality.  
It must be holy, and must, therefore, exclude all profanity not only in itself, but in the manner in which it is presented by those who execute it.  
It must be true art, for otherwise it will be impossible for it to exercise on the minds of those who listen to it that efficacy which the Church aims at obtaining in admitting into her liturgy the art of musical sounds.

The aforementioned "Rain Down" sounds more like a piece that one would hear at a jazz bar than within the context of the sacred liturgy. "Alabare" sounds more like a Ranchera-type piece that one could listen to at a fiesta, but, not at Mass.

St. John Paul II echoed his venerable predecessor's words when he noted that:
12. With regard to compositions of liturgical music, I make my own the "general rule" that St Pius X formulated in these words:  "The more closely a composition for church approaches in its movement, inspiration and savour the Gregorian melodic form, the more sacred and liturgical it becomes; and the more out of harmony it is with that supreme model, the less worthy it is of the temple"[33]. It is not, of course, a question of imitating Gregorian chant but rather of ensuring that new compositions are imbued with the same spirit that inspired and little by little came to shape it. Only an artist who is profoundly steeped in the sensus Ecclesiae can attempt to perceive and express in melody the truth of the Mystery that is celebrated in the Liturgy[34]. In this perspective, in my Letter to Artists I wrote: "How many sacred works have been composed through the centuries by people deeply imbued with the sense of mystery! The faith of countless believers has been nourished by melodies flowing from the hearts of other believers, either introduced into the Liturgy or used as an aid to dignified worship. In song, faith is experienced as vibrant joy, love and confident expectation of the saving intervention of God"[35]. 
Thus, for St. John Paul II, the issue of sacred music for the Mass was not an "anything goes" style; rather, it needs to be "worthy...of the temple."  It needs to "perceive and express in melody the truth of the Mystery that is celebrated in the Liturgy."

We cannot and should not settle for the lowest common denominator when it comes to the Mass.  When we use substandard music, pieces that fail to respect the dignity of the Mass, we contribute to the erosion of the solemnity of the Sacred Liturgy.

Authentic sacred music, such as Chant (Propers come to mind), enhances the beauty of the liturgy and allows our minds and hearts to be elevated to the sublime Mysteries that unfold before us.  It brings us in tune with the heavenly realities that unfold before us.  It is too precious to be relegated to the lowest common denominator.