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Monday, September 10, 2012

"Teach the children well..."

While driving to San Antonio with my father, I switched the radio from Sirius to the regular band and caught my dad's favorite station, KONO, an oldies station.  I caught the beginning of Crosby, Stills and Nash's hit, "Teach the Children" (at least, that is what I think it's called).

The song seemed appropriate enough because the night before, a friend of mine and I were talking about what his parish planned on doing for the CCD students and Youth Group this year.  As we are on the cusp of the great "Year of Faith", I asked him how his parish was going to incorporate the Holy Father's vision into his parish's plan.  "What do you mean," my friend asked after a pregnant pause.  "Just what is the Pope's idea?"  I explained to my friend that Pope Benedict XVI called for this "Year of Faith" to strengthen the Church and to re-open that door of faith that Christ, Himself, had opened for the Apostles as they went all over Judea and the Roman Empire.  I further explained that one of the areas where the Holy Father wanted to stress the issue of faith was the sacred liturgy.

As Pope Benedict XVI wrote in Porta Fidei;

It will also be a good opportunity to intensify the celebration of the faith in the liturgy, especially in the Eucharist, which is “the summit towards which the activity of the Church is directed; ... and also the source from which all its power flows”. At the same time, we make it our prayer that believers’ witness of life may grow in credibility. To rediscover the content of the faith that is professed, celebrated, lived and prayed, and to reflect on the act of faith, is a task that every believer must make his own, especially in the course of this Year.

My friend asked me what the Holy Father meant about the Mass.  I told him that Pope Benedict XVI wants us to rediscover the beauty and the sacred nature of the Mass.  We need to pray as we believe.  I went on to suggest to my friend that he could encourage his parish to help the children and the youth to get a better understanding of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.  My friend told me that his parish does this by having a Children's Mass and a Youth Mass.  Each group has a Mass "tailored" for them, including music.  They use "kiddie" songs for the Children's Mass while the youth have music along the lines of "Praise and Worship", drawn from OCP's "Spirit and Song."

I told him that this may not necessarily be the best means to transmit the Faith and the Church's form of worship, especially where the music is concerned.  Sacred music is our birthright and to deny the children and teenagers this sacred heritage is to cheat them out of something that is rightfully theirs.  "Kiddie songs" like "Venimos/We Come", may be alright for CCD, but, they really don't give the children any sense that what they are doing at Mass is something sacred, something important.  "I Will Choose Christ" may work as an anthem during a youth-oriented prayer meeting, but it's too much "Me-oriented" for the Mass.  The parents might think that this is all "cute" and "hip", but, it really isn't.  If we reduce the Mass to something "cute", "fun" and "hip", we run the risk of losing the very ones we are trying to attract and retain.  Kids and young people will grow out of the novelty.  Sadly, not a few of them will eventually grow out of the Church because, based on their experiences as youngsters, they were not given very much to develop.  It's all show and very little substance.

My friend was taken aback by my comments.  He railed a little, asking me how I can offer an opinion if I do not have any children.  I replied that my status in life is not relevant, as I am going by my own experiences as a child and as a youngster.  I was a kid a decade after the council and came of age in the early 1980s.  Even though the nuns exposed us to much of the new and trendy stuff from the St. Louis Jesuits (which, after awhile, lost its new and trendy feel and was somewhat tired), they also gave us a very healthy dose of traditional sacred music.  This sense of the sacred was also re-inforced by my paternal grandmother who had no qualms about encouraging her oldest granddaughter to grab a hymnal and belt out "O Come, O Come Emmanuel" and "Pange Lingua".  During my college years, I went to a parish that was across the street from the University of Texas and, although the preaching was a bit on the liberal side (some of the time), the music, surprisingly enough, was nearly completely sacred.  The faithful, young (children, included) and old, appreciated the beauty of the music. To this day, the parish still continues to maintain its solid reputation of sacred music and those little ones who were CCD students in the mid 1990s are now members of the schola and the regular choir.

On the way back from San Antonio, my father and I took up the conversation.  He told me that he could see my point; however, he has no qualms about making the Faith accessible to the young outside of the liturgy.  He did that for many years when he was in charge of the CYO.  He made the faith accessible to the kids by way of basketball.  But, he was not (and is not) in favor of bringing the roundball and the hoops culture to the Mass.   The kids, he told me, need to learn what the Mass is all about and not simply be entertained.  He told me that, as a kid, my grandmother would take him to Mass and she made sure that he learned his responses in Latin so that he could serve.  He said that the beauty of the Mass and the sacredness of the music made an impact on him.  In fact, he tries to instill that same love in the altar servers that he now trains.  While the priests at his parish would play basketball with the kids and chaperone the dances, they instilled in their young charges (my dad included) the fact that the Mass is the Church's highest prayer and her most valued treasure.

Having read through Porta Fidei, I believe that this is what the Holy Father is trying to recover in both young and old.  However, this recovery and rediscovery can only be accomplished if we truly work to "teach the children well."


Over at the Chant Cafe blog, Fr. Christopher Smith offers some food for thought to his brother priests regarding the importance of using solid musical resources, especially those provided by the Church Music Association of America.   While this is all and good, Fr. Smith makes what I consider a painful observation:  the serious dearth of the same kinds of liturgical musical resources for Spanish-language parishes.

Several months ago, I reviewed the latest incarnation of Flor y Canto, the Spanish-language music book published by OCP.  When I read the promotional materials, I had such high hopes for this publication, but, as I indicated in my review, I found that the actual product differs sharply from what the Church's authoritative documents on music state.  Reading Fr. Smith's observations made me revisit the issue once more.

It seems to me that when musical pieces are offered for use in Spanish-language Masses, they seem to focus more on ethnic culture than on the Church's form of cultic, sacrificial worship.  The pieces, ranging from Ranchera to Mariachi to light Spanish pop, seem more secular than sacred.  Along with stylistic problems, the lyrics, too, seem to focus more on ourselves than on God.  In a couple of instances, they also seem to have serious theological issues that might border on Liberation Theology.  Case in point, "Hombres Nuevos", re-titled "Pueblos Nuevos" or "Danos Un Corazon."  If you look at the lyrics, the song makes the plea to "Give us a new heart"; however, even though God is implied, He does not make an explicit appearance in the song.  It's more about fighting for justice here on Earth, ignoring the realities of Heaven.   "Amor de Dios" talks about "building the community", but, I find it devoid of any real reference to Christ.  "Ven al Banquete" seems to remove any real notion of sacrifice within the Liturgy, focusing, instead, on the meal aspect of the Mass.

As Fr. Smith reminds us, "hymns are not a part of the Roman Eucharistic Liturgy."  While the point is slowly getting across to English-speaking parishes, the concept is still quite foreign to those who assist at Spanish-language Masses.  It's as though we don't think that giving the faithful this kind of exposure to sacred music in their language is important.  It's as though we want to pander to some sort of cultural experience  instead of educating the faithful in the Church's mindset on what it is to "sing the Mass", instead of merely "singing at Mass."

Sadly, this is a problem that was created, in part, by the very publishing house which is supposed to be of service to the Church.  While I can understand that things, even liturgical publications, tend to be market-driven in today's world, such should not be the case when it comes to the Mass.   I do not want to "create" liturgies that are "vibrant and engaging", that reflect our different cultural experiences.  While there can be a place for inculturation (and the Spaniards, for the most part, showed some of this back in the 16th century when they colonized Mexico), we cannot make culture the end all and the be all of the sacred liturgy.  The Holy Sacrifice of the Mass is not the time for cultural pandering; it is the time to offer fitting worship to the Lord.

God willing, when we come to the new Jerusalem to participate in the heavenly liturgy, we will not be hyphenated Catholics (Mexican-American Catholics, Italian-Catholics, German Catholics, French-Catholics, British-Catholics, etc), we will be one Church.  Our earthly liturgies should reflect that heavenly reality.  So should our music.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012


I have been having some formatting issues with this blog and this has affected the quality of my previous post. Please accept my apologize for the slipshod appearance.  I will be working to resolve these issues so that the end result will look more polished.

Mea culpa.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Adding and subtracting

If one were to casually read this past Sunday's Gospel account from St. Mark, an immediate interpretation could be that Christ advocated disregarding tradition and the Law.  One could say that to Jesus, the "rules" did not matter.

However, is He really saying that when he blasts the Pharisees for burdening Ancient Israel with human traditions, or, is his message about something deeper?

Notice what the Gospel reading says:

(1) And there assembled together unto him the Pharisees and some of the scribes, coming from Jerusalem. (2) And when they had seen some of his disciples eat bread with common, that is, with unwashed hands, they found fault. (3) For the Pharisees, and all the Jews eat not without often washing their hands, holding the tradition of the ancients:(4) And when they come from the market, unless they be washed, they eat not: and many other things there are that have been delivered to them to observe, the washings of cups and of pots, and of brazen vessels, and of beds. (5) And the Pharisees   and scribes asked him: Why do not thy disciples walk according to the tradition of the ancients, but they eat bread with common hands? 
(6) But he answering, said to them: Well did Isaias prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written: This people honoureth me with their lips, but their heart is far from me. (7) And in vain do they worship me, teaching doctrines and precepts of men. (8) For leaving the commandment of God, you hold the tradition of men, the washing of pots and of cups: and many other things you do like to these. (9) And he said to them: Well do you make void the commandment of God, that you may keep your own tradition.
Making void the word of God by your own tradition, which you have given forth. And many other such like things you do. (14) And calling again the multitude unto him, he said to them: Hear ye me all, and understand. (15) There is nothing from without a man that entering into him, can defile him. But the things which come from a man, those are they that defile a man. 
Understand you not that every thing from without, entering into a man cannot defile him: (19) Because it entereth not into his heart, but goeth into the belly, and goeth out into the privy, purging all meats? (20) But he said that the things which come out from a man, they defile a man.
(21) For from within out of the heart of men proceed evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications, murders, (22) Thefts, covetousness, wickedness, deceit, lasciviousness, an evil eye, blasphemy, pride, foolishness. (23)All these evil things come from within, and defile a man

Jesus is not talking about disregarding Sacred Tradition and the 10 Commandments.  Compare this with the first reading that we heard from the Book of Deuteronomy.  

(1) And now, O Israel, hear the commandments and judgments which I teach thee: that doing them, thou mayst live, and entering in mayst possess the land which the Lord the God of your fathers will give you. (2) You shall not add to the word that I speak to you, neither shall you take away from it: keep the commandments of the Lord your God which I command you.

Notice what the second verse states:  "You shall not add to the word that I speak to you, neither shall you take away from it."  When the Babylonian exile took place,  Ancient Israel lamented the fact that she had fallen into error and sin, as the exile was God's justice.  The Pharisees, whose movement came about during the exile, recognized that sin was the reason behind the forced move to Babylon.  They believed that they needed to do extra things to keep from falling into sin.  However, in their zeal to restore some sort of order to Ancient Israel, they did the very thing that God told them not to do in Deuteronomy.  They added to the Law, imposing the priestly purifications to the entire community of Ancient Israel.

This application was what Jesus fought against.  These "traditions" that the Pharisees enforced had nothing to do with the Law and with the faith of Ancient Israel.  In another Gospel account, Jesus specifically stated that He did not come to abolish the Law, but, to fulfill it.  Thus, to interpret yesterday's Gospel reading to state that Jesus was against the Law and Tradition is to completely miss the point and ignore the real context of what Jesus did in light of what we had also read in Deuteronomy.

In our day and age, we, too, find ourselves facing the dilemma of additions and subtractions.  In our case, though, these edits pertain to the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.  The Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy makes something very clear:

22. 1. Regulation of the Sacred Liturgy depends solely on the authority of the Church, that is, on the Apostolic See and, as laws may determine, on the bishop.
2. In virtue of power conceded by the law, the regulation of the Liturgy within certain defined limits belongs also to various kinds of competent territorial bodies of bishops legitimately established.
3. Therefore no other person, even if he be a priest, may add, remove, or change anything in the Liturgy on his own authority.
Doesn't this last statement sound familiar?  To quote the great baseball legend Yogi Berra, "It's like deja vu all over again."  None of us have the authority to add or subtract to the liturgy.  We cannot take a pencil to the Roman Missal, editing things at will.  It does not work that way.  The Mass has its own form.

Yet, we see that many well-intentioned individuals, including some celebrants, have taken it upon themselves to delete here and insert there, basing themselves on a misguided notion of making the Mass "more relevant" and more "community friendly."

Such innovations include imparting blessings in lieu of distributing Holy Communion; having the faithful raise their arms to join in as the celebrant imparts a special blessing during Mass, whether for graduation, a birthday, Mother's Day, or some other special event (such "participation" is actually not permitted under Ecclesia de Mysterio); using music that is neither sacred, let alone, liturgical; substituting songs for the Responsorial Psalm; and, surprisingly enough, using musical Mass settings that still paraphrase the texts of the Roman Missal, inclusive of the Agnus Dei.

When the faithful legitimately complain about these nebulous practices, citing that they go against the Roman Missal and its accompanying General Instruction, those in charge call them Pharisaical.  I have seen this happen too many times in Catholic online forums.  The irony is not lost here, as it is actually those who are making (and supporting) the wholesale additions and deletions who, in fact, emulate the actions of the Pharisees.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Restoring the Sacred

For those of us who love sacred, liturgical music, this has certainly been a banner summer.  In June, the Church Music Association of America hosted its annual Colloquium in Salt Lake City, Utah.  Among the many solid offerings from this venerable conference was an address by Msgr. Andrew Wadsworth, Secretary to the International Commission on the English Language (ICEL).  In August, the Archdiocese of Atlanta hosted its annual Southeastern Liturgical Music Symposium.  Fr. Uwe Michael Lang, whose name regular readers of this blog may recognize, delivered the keynote address.  If that were not enough, even Pope Benedict XVI recently commented on the importance of sacred music in the Mass.

As we near the launch of the Year of Faith, I believe that the subject of sacred music in the liturgy is one of great importance.  Last year, the Church gave the English-speaking world the great gift of a new, improved translation of the Roman Missal.  This elevated, eloquent new language gave the words we pray during the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass an added and much-needed dosage of the sacred.  However, despite the nobility and beauty of the words we are now using in our prayer, lamentably, in many parishes, the quality of the music used in the liturgy continues to suffer.

In this first of a three-part series, I will examine the commentaries that these three individuals made concerning the state of sacred music, and the sacred in general, within the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.  Tonight centers around the commentary made by Msgr. Wadsworth.

In his address before Colloquium participants, Msgr. Wadsworth made reference to this strong disconnect between the Mass and the music used for it.  He offered concrete suggestions as to how we can overcome this deficit:

We should seek to see the exclusion of all music from the Liturgy which does not a ‘liturgical voice’, regardless of style.
The exclusion from the liturgy of music which only expresses secular culture and which is ill-suited to the demands of the liturgy. A renaissance of interest in and use of chant in both Latin and English as a recognition that this form of music should enjoy ‘first place’ in our liturgy and all other musical forms are suitable for liturgical use to the extent that they share in the characteristics of chant.
An avoidance of the idea that music is the sole consideration in the liturgy, the music is a vehicle for the liturgy not the other way around! 

This last statement hits very, very close to home for me.  All too often, well-meaning music directors down here in the South Texas hinterland tend to stretch the "Gathering song" (which is not a liturgical term, but something made up by, I imagine, some publishing house) into eternity.  The celebrant has already arrived at the chair and the choir launches full throttle into the second verse.  According to the Roman Missal and its accompanying General Instruction, the Entrance Chant (yes, it is a Chant) covers the action of the procession, inclusive of the usage of incense.  It should come to an end when the celebrant reaches the chair.  It is almost as though the music director, without meaning to, has made the liturgy the servant of the music and not the other way around.  Pope St. Pius X makes a very strong case against such a move in his Motu Propio, Tra Le Sollectudini:

22. 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 theSanctus 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.
23. In general it must be considered a very grave abuse when the liturgy in ecclesiastical functions is made to appear secondary to and in a manner at the service of the music, for the music is merely a part of the liturgy and its humble handmaid.
The same even holds true for the "Sending Forth" song (again, there is no such liturgical term as "Sending Forth").  The closest term one can find for this is the "recessional hymn".  Like the Entrance Chant, this should be brief and used to cover the action of the procession.  It should come to its end when the celebrant has left.  However, just as with the "Gathering song", this particular piece, in many parishes, goes on into infinity.  

Msgr. Wadsworth makes some very solid observations in the three statements that I have highlighted.  Working our way from the bottom to the top, we see perhaps the most difficult of his observations, the area of musical suitability.  A lot of the parishes down here in the South Texas hinterland use music books by OCP.  A couple of them slavishly use the OCP guidebook, "Today's Liturgy" when selecting  their songs for a particular weekend's Masses, whether in English or in Spanish.  Having leafed through  this booklet, I have rarely found anything that even remotely resembles sacred liturgical music.  Nine out of 10 times, OCP heavily suggests songs written by their own composers instead of anything traditional, let alone, sacred.  Perhaps the worst of the bunch are those selections from "Spirit and Song".  The pieces sound like secular soft pop music.  This is something that Pope St. Pius X warned against in Tra Le Sollecitudini when he wrote that:

5. The Church has always recognized and favored the progress of the arts, admitting to the service of religion everything good and beautiful discovered by genius in the course of ages -- always, however, with due regard to the liturgical laws. Consequently modern music is also admitted to the Church, since it, too, furnishes compositions of such excellence, sobriety and gravity, that they are in no way unworthy of the liturgical functions.
Still, since modern music has risen mainly to serve profane uses, greater care must be taken with regard to it, in order that the musical compositions of modern style which are admitted in the Church may contain nothing profane, be free from reminiscences of motifs adopted in the theaters, and be not fashioned even in their external forms after the manner of profane pieces.
6. Among the different kinds of modern music, that which appears less suitable for accompanying the functions of public worship is the theatrical style, which was in the greatest vogue, especially in Italy, during the last century. This of its very nature is diametrically opposed to Gregorian Chant and classic polyphony, and therefore to the most important law of all good sacred music. Besides the intrinsic structure, the rhythm and what is known as the conventionalism of this style adapt themselves but badly to the requirements of true liturgical music.
Even though in No. 6, the saintly Pontiff was referencing the problem he was facing from the Italian opera works, I believe that this problem has reared its ugly head again, this time in the proliferation of the Protestant Praise & Worship genre that has infiltrated the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass through LifeTeen and OCP's "Spirit and Song".

I received an email OCP this past week urging me to use their products to create "Vibrant and Engaging" liturgies.  Nowhere in the email did I read the words "sacred", "holy", and "reverent."  Even as I leafed through the "United in Christ/Unidos en Cristo" book, the one used by a few parishes in my diocese, I did not find very much that could count as sacred.  Most of the material came from the St. Louis Jesuits and OCP's own stable of composers.  The few traditional pieces of sacred music were heavily edited to the point that OCP removed some very key elements.  For example, the Eucharistic elements of "Alleluia, Sing to Jesus" were whittled away.  "At that First Eucharist" was re-done and when I was leading the hymn during Mass at my parish, the faithful and I had a hard time because we were used to the traditional version of the song and not the OCP edited piece.

Msgr. Wadsworth made a strong case for the use of the Propers.  Not very many parish music directors know this, but, hymns and/or songs, are not the first option to use when choosing music for the Mass.  The Propers of the Mass (Introit, Offertory and Communion Antiphon) are the default music for the liturgy.  However, here on these shores, we have made the four-hymn sandwich the musical standard for our Masses.  The Propers are the liturgical texts that the Church gives us.  When we use the Propers, we are not merely singing at Mass; we are singing the Mass.  When we sing "Gathering songs" in the beginning, we are merely adding an appendage to the Mass.  When the choir and/or the cantor chants the Introit, the Mass is being sung.

But, some may ask, what about active participation?  Aren't we supposed to vocalize everything?  Active participation has probably been one of the most misunderstood aspects of the liturgical reforms brought about by the Second Vatican Council.  Active participation does not merely mean vocalizing the Mass (speaking and singing the parts of the Mass), it also calls for interior participation.  We unite our prayers to those who are chanting the antiphons.  We sing vicariously through them, pondering the words of the Psalms they are chanting.

Finally, we come to the first observation that Msgr. Wadsworth made.  This observation is closely related to the second one.  We need to purify the kind of music that is being used for the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.  When Blessed Pope John Paul II wrote his Chirograph on Sacred Music to mark the 100th anniversary of Tra Le Sollecitundi, he noted that:

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.
5. Another principle, affirmed by St Pius X in the Motu Proprio Tra le Sollecitudini and which is closely connected with the previous one, is that of sound form. There can be no music composed for the celebration of sacred rites which is not first of all "true art" or which does not have that efficacy "which the Church aims at obtaining in admitting into her Liturgy the art of musical sounds"[15].
Yet this quality alone does not suffice. Indeed, liturgical music must meet the specific prerequisites of the Liturgy: full adherence to the text it presents, synchronization with the time and moment in the Liturgy for which it is intended, appropriately reflecting the gestures proposed by the rite. The various moments in the Liturgy require a musical expression of their own. From time to time this must fittingly bring out the nature proper to a specific rite, now proclaiming God's marvels, now expressing praise, supplication or even sorrow for the experience of human suffering which, however, faith opens to the prospect of Christian hope.

Sadly, it's the very group that was closest to Blessed John Paul's heart, that is now suffering the most from a lack of exposure to genuine sacred music.  Well-meaning youth ministers and music directors insist on giving young people heavy doses of "praise and worship" music, even within the confines of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, instead of introducing them to what is truly sacred, truly the "Other", the extraordinary.  They are being exposed to "road-tested" music that is not necessarily in agreement with the Church's concept of Sacred Music.

Perhaps there will be those who will criticize my words and wonder, what gives benedictgal the right to  write such harsh words?  Does she even know how to read music?   Like Udo Kier once said in a vampire movie, "I have heard that before."  In the interest of full disclosure, no, I do not know how to read music...yet.  However, while knowing how to read music is certainly important, knowing the authoritative Church documents on liturgy and sacred music is just as important.  I would dare say that it is even more important than learning how to read music.  Ideally, one should be able to have strong knowledge of both; however, a strong knowledge of where the Church stands on sacred music is perhaps more important.  Knowing the Church's documents is of greater import than slavishly and blindly following the recommendations of a publishing house.

While I do have my frustrations with the current state of liturgical music in my diocese, I do share in Msgr. Wadsworth hope that we will soon turn a corner.  Organizations like the CMAA are certainly playing a leading role in this  Had it not been for composers like Adam Bartlett, I would not have been exposed to the beauty of the Simple English Propers.

As Fr. Z likes to say, "Brick by brick."