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Musical Musings: Liturgy
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What Would I Like to See?

Gary D. Penkala

The Most Reverend Charles J. Chaput, Archbishop of Denver, spoke these words as part of the Hillenbrand Lecture Series of the Liturgical Institute of the University of Our Lady of the Lake, Mundelein, Illinois:

In the post-conciliar era, the professional Catholic liturgical establishment opted for a path, trying to adapt the liturgy to the demands of modern culture... and time has shown this to be a dead end. Trying to engineer the liturgy to be more "relevant" and "intelligible" through a kind of relentless cult of novelty, has only resulted in confusion and a deepening of the divide between believers and the true spirit of the liturgy. [full text here]

These wise words got me thinking. Just what would I like to see happen in Catholic liturgy in the next decade?

  1. I'd like to see the bickering stop. We need to concern ourselves less with ourselves and more with what the Church asks of us in liturgy. Progressives and conservatives, liberals and traditionalists — these are all unworthy labels. The only label that fits is faithful. If you're not looking seriously at what the Church wants from you regarding liturgy, you're looking in the wrong place!
  2. Catholics of the Roman Rite need to be less concerned with hymns and more concerned with propers. Hymns as such are almost entirely foreign to the Roman Rite Mass. They're indigenous to the Divine Office [the Liturgy of the Hours] where each hour begins with a hymn. They're borrowed from Protestant worship. They're not our tradition at Mass. Gradually, with measured pace, let go of at least some of the hymns at Mass. How about a simple Entrance Antiphon with psalm verses [see CNP Mass Propers] once in a while? Further, there's no need for a closing song — the rubrics don't even call for one. Let the priest and then the congregation exit to a rousing organ recessional. It really can work — I have practical and popular substantiation on this!

  3. Organs need to be restored to their proper places in Catholic churches. And I don't mean physically put back in the loft (although that would be beneficial). I mean we need to stop thinking that "cocktail lounge styles" of music, played with piano, easy-listening guitar, and shuffle-beat drum set is in any way appropriate to Roman Rite liturgy. I hope (but I fear otherwise) that we've at least come away from the three-chord strummers of the 70s, blaring their rhythmic twanging over loudspeakers.
  4. The new breed of pastors, trained in seminaries untainted by the wacky theology and liturgics of the late 20th century, should truly embrace liturgical music, and foster its growth in their parishes. With patience, leadership, nourishment and a few pennies here and there, young musicians (also untainted by 90s pop "sacred" hits) can be trained to enjoy and perform real Catholic music (chant, Latin, good vernacular music of today)
  5. "A children's choir in every parish," to paraphrase Herbert Hoover. We must take positive steps to train our young singers in quality music for the Church. A graded choir program [choirs for K-2, grades 3-8, and high school] is ideal for fostering recruitment and retention. There would be a choir for everyone and all singers would "graduate" from one choir to the next, eventually into the adult choir.
  6. Good choral sound — even small choirs can sing well. It is an important job of the choir director to ensure that all the sound produced by the choir is pleasant, beautiful and inspiring in liturgy. Vowel production, breathing, articulation, blend, dynamic distinctions, vocal placement — all these must be taught — and they're different in singing than in speaking. The average American doesn't know the proper techniques for singing. Learn them yourself and then teach them! You'll soon reap the benefits; good choral sound is indispensible. With it, everything the choir sings, from Palestrina motets to simple unison chants, will sound great!
  7. We need a moratorium on sniping at the music director. If, as must be the case, we music directors are attempting to be faithful to what the Church would have us do in liturgy, then personal opinions of various factions of the congregation fade in importance. There would be no reconciling someone who wants "I Am the Bread of Life" with someone who wants a Latin Mass ad orientem. The music director should not be asked to try. Simply look to Vatican documents and the example of Pope Benedict (a liturgical expert even prior to his election to the papacy), and see what we should be doing in our worship. Roman Rite liturgy is not a matter of "making up" a new pattern each week. The Church actually speaks in this area — we should listen to her, not to 1000 opinions in the pews.
  8. Sloppy liturgy must stop! Pastors need to take charge of good liturgy, or find someone in the parish (associate pastor, deacon, sacristan, MC) who can. The parish deserves well-paced, reverent, rubrical liturgical celebrations. I would go further and say that this is as important as good catechetics — hire a competent DRE, but hire someone who knows and cares about good liturgy and music, too!
  9. If bishops are really unconcerned about liturgy (and I believe there are some in this category), they need to at least pretend they care. Diocesan norms, diocesan celebrations, and documents/directives that come from the conference should be solid, faithful and supportive of Vatican teaching. I dare say, the bishops hold quite a bit of responsibility for the poor liturgy and music that existed in the U.S. in the latter decades of the 20th century. I would challenge them to step up to the plate and aid in the course correction that's coming from Rome these days.
  10. I hope for a new English Mass text that, while it's "purity-protected" by ICEL or bishops' conferences, is not sold for profit via royalties. I find it disconcerting that the holy words with which we pray to Almighty God in our humble worship in the Eucharist are being exploitively "taxed" by ICEL and USCCB. No one can print these texts or set them to music for use at Mass without paying royalties to these organizations. On the surface, it appears that the Mass is being sold. The reality, when details of the infrastructure are uncovered, is that both ICEL and USCCB are hoping to recoup expenses involved in producing this new translation. In other words, they spent a lot of money to get us where we are with the English translation and they want to be paid. My question is this: if there's an "outstanding bill" for costs involved in bringing the new translation to fruition, can we expect the royalty payments to go away when the bill is PAID-IN-FULL? May I live to see that day!

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