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Musical Musings: Miscellaneous

Musical Pain

by Gary D. Penkala

For many years, at the close of the previous century, traditional Catholics (especially musicians) endured questionable lyrics, poor music and tawdry instrumentation that served as "pastoral" music in the majority of parishes in this country. They (we) experienced disbelief, frustration, anxiety and even pain, as the decibels were amped up and the quality was dumbed down.

Now, in the new millennium, as a liturgical, musical pope takes a realistic and accurate look at Vatican II, the proponents of the "praise and worship" style of liturgical music are feeling the pain. For at least a decade, the more progressive liturgical music journals have been editorializing in an extremely defensive tone. They feel compelled to justify their brand of music that seems to be fading away, the music that seemed so "tied into" a generation, a generation that has matured beyond trendiness.

The defensive barbs have only become more frequent and more pointed. Witness the words of one editorial staffer in the June/July issue of Ministry & Liturgy magazine (online edition), a journal that has earned a "dangerous" rating by the Catholic Culture website regarding its lack of Fidelity.

Today, though, I see friends and colleagues in ministry, my brothers and sisters in Christ, whose song has been nearly silenced. They have indeed been kept from singing, the song in their hearts crushed, at times by a clerical whim.

At first, we not only heard this far-off hymn, we dared to sing it, and with that we began to build a new creation. We learned together what baptism demanded of each of us; we studied and became proficient as ministers with an entirely new depth. Music ministers had perhaps the most difficult task, as they required proficiency in liturgy, Scripture, and faith formation, among other areas. There were always difficult times as we all shifted to what we believed to be a new model of church. We thought the storms of that transition couldn't shake our "inmost calm." What we didn't know was that "the tumult and the strife" that we thought was past was nothing compared to what was yet to come. We are most certainly at a difficult point in the evolution of the church. Pivotal times may require radical solutions.

In this issue, we reflect on music ministry and where it leads us. Virgil Funk writes of his perspective on liturgical renewal (and where that didn't lead us) and the hope that never fails us. David Haas speaks of the need for keeping all ministry in context, so that serving the poor is always a part of what we do. Fred Moleck sees the church as being constantly in renewal; our role is to keep the song going, in company with one another. Ada Simpson reflects on the remarkable life of Sister Thea Bowman and her example of trusting in God while healing divisions and overcoming obstacles.

Despite "earth's lamentation," what we find in these pages is hope. If we are able to trust our God, to believe that there is always a new direction and that the song will never disappear, we can hear that echo in our souls. We who rejoice and sing with the heavenly powers and choirs of angels on the holiest of nights know that there is hope beyond what we now face. "Not only that, but we even boast of our afflictions, knowing that affliction produces endurance, and endurance, proven character, and proven character, hope, and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out into our hearts through the holy Spirit that has been given to us" (Rom 5:3-5). In the peace of Christ and with Spirit-filled hope, how can we keep from singing?

Note the liturgical/musical buzz words of days gone by: "clerical," "build a new creation," "what baptism" calls us to do, "a new model of church," "new direction." How will 70s musicians deal with terms like "hermeneutic of continuity," or "built on past traditions," or even "extraordinary form," which brokers no guitars and hand-clapping?

There has been much frustration and pain all around. We need to work together at finding the will of God in the mind of the Church — we need to be faithful, obedient and humble.

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