Saturday, July 9, 2011

A looming battle

Okay, it's Saturday, and you're busy and all, and so am I--but do NOT miss the comment section beneath Jeffrey Tucker's recent bombshell post about the music at Mass. Mr. Tucker points out a new translation of the GIRM that makes it clear that chant is favored, and that hymns and songs are definitely not:
Some of the most advanced thinkers in the world of music and liturgy have long identified the critical problem in Catholic music today. They have pointed out that the Mass itself provides for the texts and the music for the Mass, but in the General Instruction on on the Roman Missal, there appears a loophole. Musicians can sing what is appointed, or (“option 4”) they can sing something else, and that something else is limited only by what the musicians themselves deem as “appropriate.” What this has meant, in effect, is: anything goes. This is why it often seems that when it comes to music at Mass that, well, anything goes.

I’m happy to report that the legislative ground has just shifted, and dramatically so. The new translation of the General Instruction removes the discretion from the music team to sing pretty much whatever it wants. The new text, which pertains to the new translation of the Missal that comes into effect on Advent this year, makes it clear beyond any doubt: the music of the Mass is the chanted propers of the Mass. There are options but these options all exist within the universe of the primary normative chant. There can be no more making up some random text, setting it to music, and singing it as the entrance, offertory, or communion.

I have no doubt that the practice of singing non-liturgical texts will continue but it will now continue only under a cloud. If I’m reading this correctly, any text other than an appointed text for the Mass will now fall outside the boundaries provided for by the authoritative document that regulates the manner in which Mass is to proceed.
Read the whole thing. And, like I said, do NOT miss the comment section.

Why not? Because David Haas (yes, as far as I know, that David Haas) weighs in, with comments like this one:
Dear Transitional Deacon.. there is so much to respond to here, I do not even know where to begin. Perhaps (although all scholars do not agree on this), some of the cantillation patterns go back to the "time of Our Lord." But this still does not prove or imply that these are "embedded in the Roman Rite." In terms of "songs" in today's hymnals being more or not so, keeping with the continuity of the early Church - well, certainly not in terms of genre/style, but YES, in terms of it being music that the community SINGS. I am not sure what your snicker is in terms of my remark about Greek, but the liturgy was in Greek for sometime. Also, it is rather insulting to our Protestant brothers and sisters to refer to their music as "easier, quicker to compose, quicker to teach." Unbelievable. Your claim that the GIRM is undeniably sturdy in stating what is "desirable" in the options. Even if GIRM was so undeniably firm in its wanting "propers only," - then, why did/do they allow for other options? There is no loophole here.. there are options, and there is no rubric or directive admonishing the reader to have a "hierarchical" approach to clarify these documents. Focus on "objectively" what is more "edifying and helpful to the soul?' Where do ANY of us come off telling the People of God, who by the way, have their own spiritual stories and journeys, that one style of music is "objectively more edifying and helpful to the soul?" Are we that arrogant, and that disrespectful of our people - thinking that we know what edifies their soul, and what does not? Geez.....
Respectfully, Mr. Haas--if that is, indeed, Mr. Haas--what if my spiritual story and journey is such that if I ever have to sing or listen to "Song of the Body of Christ" again I will probably start bleeding from my ears? The problem with having an "anything goes" style of liturgical music is that the People of God end up being held hostage to musical pablum and happy-clappy would-be pop tunes of no relevance whatsoever to people's lives or journeys for 40 plus years. I'd much rather believe that the Church has spent centuries developing a style of music especially suited to the Mass than believe that syrupy showtunes and "Look at us, now, aren't we special," lyrics are the best we can offer to God each Sunday.

Readers: I have a feeling these kinds of comment box exchanges are the precursors to a looming battle over liturgical music that will yet be waged, probably in the wake of the new translation of the Mass. Stay tuned.


Patrick said...

This is great news. The day that General Instruction comes out, I'm printing it and marching it down to the parish office. I'm quite serious; the new translation ought to be the rallying standard for the traditionalists.

Siarlys Jenkins said...

Chants can sound nice.

As a Protestant, I love hymns, some of the more original or authentically Biblical Gospel music (there is also a lot of commercialized junk), and Christmas carols (NOT the "Home for the Holidays" stuff, CAROLS).

Joe @ Defend Us In Battle said...

Ms. M:

I will admit, sometimes I am not always appreciative of your "style" but you have won me back ten-fold with "...I will probably start bleeding from the ears."

Yes, this is sign of what is to come. What "Mr. Haas" and others can hang their hat on is: "Why then has it been this way for the recent decades?" We must be strong and answer that we were all too scattered to uphold the liturgy and Mass the way that it should be in this country.

Lines are being drawn. It will soon be time for many to pick a side. I see the Church getting smaller, not bigger.

Liz said...

Can I hope that our music director will please, please listen. I am so tired of politically corrected Protestant hymns. It's actually at the point where Michael Joncas and David Haas (who also make me nearly bleed from my ears) would be preferable. Does anyone even realize how inappropriate it is to sing the theme song of the Reformation or John Newton's Amazing Grace (written by a Calvinist and more appropriate for a revivalist's tent than a Catholic Mass). Our parish priest tries very hard to follow the GIRM can I hope that we'll now ditch the Protestant music, ditch the theatrics, and just follow the norms. PLEASE!!!! The Protestant hymns would have their problems even in the original, but we have to eliminate words like King or brothers, etc. which makes them far worse. I grew up Protestant and I LONG for chant.

Anonymous said...

The day that General Instruction comes out, I'm printing it and marching it down to the parish office.

I would advise against this simply because if your parish is the typical leftist-lay cabal with their iron curtain around priest access, they will just nod politely and keep the music program in Crapville, USA. If the parish office is actually sympathetic to you, you might alienate them. Better to band together with like-minded folk, form schola groups, offer to lift the burden (so to speak) on the music director by programming a few masses, etc.

As far as traditional Protestant hymns, I like them as well. But what happens in the typical parish is that in the 4-hymn sandwich Mass, one or two are actual traditional hymns as a bone tossed to ecumenicism, and the rest is 70's sentimentalist schlock that needs to be taken behind the woodshed and murdered with an axe.

Hector said...

There's some decent contemporary hymns (FTR, I'm Episcopalian, not Catholic, so some of these may not be acceptable for orthodox RC point of view).

I quite like "I Want to Walk as a Child of the Light", by Kathleen Thomerson, and "I Am the Bread of Life" by Suzanne Toolan, and "Canticle of the Turning", and, I guess, "Lord, I have Come to the Seashore". Most of the rest is pretty terrible though. Of course, I suspect this was always the case: the old hymns that our hymnals preserve are preserved precisely because they were the cream of the crop.

I am not sure, FTR, that there's anything theologically calvinist in 'Amazing Grace', is there? The fact that it was written by a Calvinist (and I have no liking for Calvinism, quite the contrary) doesn't make it theologically Calvinistic.

Anonymous said...

I am not sure, FTR, that there's anything theologically calvinist in 'Amazing Grace', is there?

Michael Voris talked about Amazing Grace. I think some of his points were a stretch, but it seems to me that "wretch" is a little too cosy with the Calvinist notion of Total Depravity.

MacBeth Derham said...

So, my mom's parish is having a church music showcase sort of thing, and she had the music folks invite our hsing girl's schola (from all over, but they sing at the TLM at another parish). The music folks in charge happily called the director and told her that his friend Mr. Haas was looking forward to hearing them...I thought the director was going to collapse, but I am looking forward to pushing this point.

Hector said...

Re: but it seems to me that "wretch" is a little too cosy with the Calvinist notion of Total Depravity.

1) John Newton was, personally, quite a wretch earlier in his life, so in this context the reference is correct.
2) saying 'People are wretches' isn't subscribing to Total Depravity. It would only be Total Depravity if you said people are _nothing but_ wretches. The reference to us being 'wretches' is part of the truth, though not the whole truth.

Anonymous said...

2) saying 'People are wretches' isn't subscribing to Total Depravity.

Which is why I qualified it with "cosy".

Maryjohn said...

"I am the bread of Life"

No I am not.
Jesus is.

over and out..........

Anonymous said...

Ha! Maryjohn. I can understand the defense that it is words of Scripture, but there has always been something slightly off when I sing it. Also, I'd point out that there are few songs that make up words out of whole cloth and stick them in Our Lord's mouth which to my mind are worse offenses.

But then we are back to my favorite hobbyhorse: That even if the lyrics are 100% theologically-sound, with a Nihil Obstat and Imprimatur embossed in gold leaf, if the actual music that goes with it is inappropriate, it needs to be junked. An absurd example would be Psalm 23 set to heavy-metal riffs and played on distored guitars. But the sappy, nursury-room/massage-parlor/merry-go-round music we have now is every bit as inappropriate.

John E. said...


Lines are being drawn. It will soon be time for many to pick a side. I see the Church getting smaller, not bigger.

I'm reminded of That Joke of Questionable Taste ...

Siarlys Jenkins said...

Having read romish and mary, I will start by decrying one of the worst "modern gospel" songs I ever heard sung. Better than half the song is a repeat of "I am a friend of God." That MAY be true, in some sense, but it definitely feels wrong for me to say it, or any other human being, especially in public.

I love "Amazing Grace," and Hector is right... John Newton was referring to the fact that he had been a captain of a trans-Atlantic slave ship before turning to God. I'm not a Calvinist either, I lean toward the Arminian viewpoint.

Liz, you sound like the ex-smoker decrying the evils of tobacco. Except, I cannot being to see any sense of a dividing line between "hymns" and "chants." Either can be beautiful. If there is critical theological significance, it lies in the words, which can be good, or bad, some times VERY one or the other.

I think John may have meant to say the same thing I thought, but he is being humorously indirect... I agree, if the RC church strictly follows the path many at this site long for, it will be much smaller, much less influential, and probably do both more good and less harm. I think there is a Reformed Old Catholic Church based in Holland that the rejected can sign up for.

Hector_St_Clare said...

Re: Also, I'd point out that there are few songs that make up words out of whole cloth and stick them in Our Lord's mouth which to my mind are worse offenses.

Correct me if I'm wrong, but I don't think "Bread of Life" makes words up: it's a cut-and-paste of various verses from John 6. Would it maybe be better if they stuck an occasional "Saith the Lord" in there?

I'd agree that something sounds a little 'off to me' when I sing it, but I like listening to other people sing 'Bread of Life', or listening to it on iTunes or whatever.

Geoff G. said...

Just out of curiosity (and not that any parish really has the means to mount such music anyway), what does all this mean for stuff like Bach's Mass in B minor, any of the liturgical music Mozart wrote, say, while he was employed by the Prince-Archbishop of Salzburg, or indeed (to bring us up to relatively modern times) Pärt's Berliner Messe?

Much as I wholeheartedly approve of any reintroduction of the various forms of chant to the faithful, I ought to point out that there is a very long tradition going back to (at least) the 15th century of incorporating even popular secular tunes into settings for the Mass.

I suppose in this drive for musical purity one could adopt the Orthodox tradition of forbidding instrumental music altogether, although that seems a bit extreme even if it does (hopefully) result in some very nice choirs.

Anonymous said...

Correct me if I'm wrong, but I don't think "Bread of Life" makes words up:

That's correct. If you read my sentence before that, I meant that Bread of Life does use words of Scripture, but there are others that do not, however I can't think of any titles off the top of my head (usually when those songs come up, I'm too busy cringing to remember :)).

Geoff G. I'd say the implications are pretty grim for Mass in B Minor and other settings, as in general later composers used it as a form rather than actually intending it for liturgy. I love B minor, but in liturgy it would simply overwhelm the liturgical action. Popular tunes were part of the crackdown of the Council of Trent. But like all crackdowns, it might work for a while, then stuff starts creeping back in. In fact, in my more despairing moments I've said that nothing short of a modern Council-of-Trent crackdown will clean out the musical garbage we have to endure now.

Liz said...

I fully recognize why John Newton saw himself as a wretch. However, for a Catholic who's received sanctifying grace as an infant at baptism to be singing that song is a bit of a disconnect to say the least. It certainly is "cozy" with the Calvinist notion of total depravity, and it conveys an inaccurate theology consequently.

I honestly probably wouldn't mind some of the Protestant hymns from a theological perspective, before they got massacred by the PC folks. Some of them are typical Victorian schlock (the twentieth century wasn't the only one using questionable poetry and music), but I actually still have a fondness for some of Charles Wesley's work. The problem is that OCP has a penchant for removing every reference to King or any masculine words. It's also frustrating when songs you've known your entire life become songs you can no longer sing because they've changed every single verse. If they'd changed them to make them more Catholic it would be one thing. However, that's not it. They changed them to make them more modern.

I do object to songs that convey Protestant theology. I'm sorry if that makes me anti-ecumenical, but when a song was written in the first place to preach anti-Catholic theology in song it seems rather inappropriate for it to be appropriated by Catholic music directors for congregational singing (The Church's One Foundation is a great example, it was meant to refute the notion of Peter as the rock upon which Christ would build His Church).

I do realize that the vast majority of Christmas carols are of Protestant origin, and most of them are theologically sound (and for the most part untinkered with). I still sing them and love them.

I simply feel that this new reiteration of the importance of chant will help us to get back to the place where we see Mass as our sacrificial worship rather than as a place where we simply get our emotions stirred by a sentimental song.

Since our music director has been talking about getting a schola started, maybe we've got half a chance of the instructions getting followed in our parish.

Geoff G. said...

romishgraffiti, I'm not quite so sure that quite a bit of the large orchestral settings of the Mass aren't meant to be used in a sacred setting. Certainly not for an everyday Mass, but for special occasions I think most were at least intended to be used as an adjunct to the Mass. Verdi's Requiem Mass was explicitly meant to be played and sung at Gioachino Rossini's funeral as a tribute to that composer. And of course we've all heard about the mysterious commission Mozart received for his own Requiem Mass, which implies he fully expected it to be played at someone's funeral.

All of this is somewhat beside the point, not just because of the unlikelihood of any fully orchestrated Mass being sung in its proper context anytime soon, but also because there is also a tradition of excellent sacred music meant to be sung outside of the context of the Mass. Indeed, much early secular music is religious in character (Edi beo thu, hevene quene is a good example). Moreover, many classical composers wrote music to be sung in religious settings but outside of the Mass (Couperin's Leçons de Ténèbres is a nice example).

But I guess my advice would be not to throw the musical baby out with the happy-clappy bathwater.

Siarlys Jenkins said...

With regard to a "shift in the legislative ground," I have to ask the timeless question, "Was your singing offensive to God then, or is your singing offensive to God now?" The one true church designated by God and founded by Christ and his Apostles simply can't be that far wrong, ever, or it isn't what it claims to be.

Liz's comments continue to interest me, partly because she is obviously quite sincere, and partly because they are on a bit of a different track than any others. I don't buy the notion that children are born enemies of God, or that they are saved when they recite a designated prayer in public. But with the equally doctrinaire notion of Baptism that Liz offers, I can't help wondering, if Adolf Schicklegruber was baptized as a baby, which in Catholic Austria he may have been, notwithstanding the rumors of a Jewish grandparent, would he be covered by "sanctifying grade" forever after?

I myself object to "The Church's One Foundation" because I'm not Trinitarian. The hymn sounded kind of Romish to me. As for Christmas carols, they seem to me so full of Madonna and child, and many of the most moving derive from such ancient themes (The Holly and The Ivy, e.g.) that I have to set aside Protestant scruples to relax and enjoy them, but I do.

Siarlys Jenkins said...

Sorry to post twice, but I forgot that "Jesus Christ is Risen Today," an almost ubiquitous Easter hymn in Protestant churches, was written, words and music, by an 8th century church father. Where does that stand in this new dispensation? I don't remember the name, but I do read the fine print at the bottom of the hymnal page. I'm getting reasonably good at recognizing 16th century Lutheran style (heavy handed) compared to 17th century (better), from 18th century Wesleyan style (one of my favorites), from 19th century Anglo-Protestant (mostly narcissistic, but some good ones like "Holy, Holy, Holy). Even the best changes over time.

Hector said...

Siarlys Jenkins,

"Holy, Holy, Holy" is an explicit Trinitarian song (the triple repetition is intended to remind us of the Trinity) so I'm surprise you like it. :)

"The Church's One Foundation", as far as I know, wasn't written to combat Roman Catholicism, it was written to combat the liberal (by the standards of the time) theology of John Colenso, the Anglican Bishop of South Africa. The condemnation of 'schism' and 'heresy' certainly seems fairly Catholic/Orthodox to me.'s_One_Foundation

Kate said...

Grrr... a pox on all their houses. I'm sick and tired of the sum zero game and the constant bickering and in-fighting.

bathilda said...

I love the big lovely opening hymn, especially with a big 'ol organ. It really sets the tone for me. I grew up methodist, and was in the choir for that church as well as different catholic choirs. I am not sure what is meant by "chant only". Would that be just by the priest? is it the "monk style" prayer chant? I like the chant type responsorial psalms, but would that be for everything musical? I find that when the congregation tries to chant esp. the complicated "thanks be to god, :-) it sounds kink of hokey and forced. I hope it's just the priest, but our priest has a "not so great" voice, and I find it very distracting when he sings. Our last associate pastor was nothing short of tone deaf. his "chanting" was hideous. really. there is nothing prayerful about it.

I'm with you on many of the songs. Song of the Body is a staple at my church. It's ghastly, and my parish music minister tends to take everything at the tempo of a dirge. it's painful.

okay, I'm rambling, but I really would like a better understanding of "all chanting".

Siarlys Jenkins said...

Hector, I think I have mentioned that I am a non-militant, lower-case, unitarian. Besides, I belong to a Methodist Church. I don't mind singing "Praise father, son, and holy ghost," much less "Holy, holy, holy." I don't deny that Jesus mentioned the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost. I only dispute that we humans, or any of our churches, know beans about what each of them are in relation to the deity.

I admit, though, that when singing the two verses that end "God in Three Persons, Blessed Trinity," I instead repeat the other two closing lines:

"Perfect in power, in love and purity,"


"Who wert and art and ever more shall be."

What do I like about the hymn? Imagery like "early in the morning, our song shall rise to thee," and "All thy works shall praise thy name in earth and sky and sea." And no, I don't mind that many of those references come in threes.

eulogos said...

Siarlys, You really can't call yourself a Protestant if you aren't a trinitarian. It is an insult to Protestants. And why do you attend a Methodist church? They are certainly trinitarian in their origins. They still baptize in the name of the trinity. (I hope that is still true.)

There is a denomination...not a Christian denomination, but a denomination, called Unitarian, or Unitarian Universalist. You sound like a UU. I used to be a UU, in my teens.

But maybe what you really mean is that you think we human beings can't fit understanding of the Trinity within our little brains, just as the child on the beach can't fit the whole ocean in the hole he has dug. In that case, you are in good company. But you have to say that despite that, if Jesus said, it you believe it. Believe it as He understands it.

Susan Peterson