"It is...Our will that Catholics should abstain from certain appellations which have recently been brought into use to distinguish one group of Catholics from another. They are to be avoided not only as 'profane novelties of words,' out of harmony with both truth and justice, but also because they give rise to great trouble and confusion among Catholics. Such is the nature of Catholicism that it does not admit of more or less, but must be held as a whole or as a whole rejected: 'This is the Catholic faith, which unless a man believe faithfully and firmly; he cannot be saved' (Athanasian Creed). There is no need of adding any qualifying terms to the profession of Catholicism: it is quite enough for each one to proclaim 'Christian is my name and Catholic my surname,' only let him endeavour to be in reality what he calls himself." -- Pope Benedict XV, Ad Beatissimi Apostolorum 24 (1914)

Monday, May 21, 2012

Three Desperately Needed Liturgical Corrections


The three experiences that need reform and a return to classical positions in the Catholic Mass, facing the congregation for Mass, Standing for Holy Communion and Contemporary Music, especially of the praise and worship variety!

What kind of reverence for the Most Holy Eucharist does this create for either the one receiving or the one distributing?????????

Recently I had a conversation with a deacon about the two schools of liturgical music today and that I'm not sure either side will win. There will be for some time in the future some tension between the two groups and within the Church but clearly more traditional chant-like liturgical music is in the ascendancy hopefully to replace the modern kitsch which as afflicted the Mass in so many parishes.

We have inherited since the 1960's the horrid "Folk Music" tradition that invaded our choirs and morphed them into ensembles and groups creating division and strife between folk groups and traditional choirs. In my first parish we had three different choirs at the three Sunday Morning Masses, each with their own director and each creating their own fiefdom. Occasionally we would want a "combined choir" experience for Midnight Mass or some other trans Mass celebration. Talk about tension! We eventually stopped doing that. (This is but one more reason to have a parish Music Director who puts an end to such nonsense between competing choirs.)

Today, folk groups have morphed into "contemporary choirs" using an eclectic mix of music but usually led with piano, guitar, drums and other instruments, but seldom organ. Their music is more upbeat. It's appeal is the same appeal that most of us have to popular music of our liking. It has a nice beat and makes us feel good. It is diversionary. It the same feeling I get when I hear "Bye, Bye, Miss American Pie" as it really is feel good lyrics and music. It has little to do with the "feeling" many of us get when we hear Gregorian Chant, Polyphony or tradition Metrical hymns either of the Catholic or Protestant variety. These have a specific "spiritual" feel when heard and processed, whereas the more "Broadway, rock and contemporary" songs seem to touch precisely that, our "Broadway, rock and contemporary music" experienced in our psyche that gives us an emotional lift.

For the last couple of decades we've had the decadence of "praise and worship" music invade the Catholic Mass as did folk music two generations ago. Our Savannah Diocese Clergy Conference speaker warned us priests about the dangers of "praise and worship" music for our laity. It has no place in the Mass and is questionable even for praise and worship services apart from Mass because it confuses our Catholics about Catholic spirituality when it comes to liturgical and devotional chant and its Catholic ethos. It prepares our young people to join non-denominational churches as we lay the groundwork for that transition. In other words, there is absolutely nothing "Catholic" about praise and worship music--it is non-denominational in genre and thus we evangelize our young eventually to feel quite at home in non-denominational settings that are casual and use this praise and worship music exclusively.

At St. Joseph Church, I have resisted the trend to use contemporary music at any of our Masses. Every Mass knows the same music and each Mass sings the same music, except for any thing the choir might do alone. The only contemporary Mass setting that we currently use is the Mass of Creation, but with organ which doesn't sound contemporary with that instrument. We have begun to learn more chant-like settings of songs and the cantor always chants in English the official Introit, Offertory and Communion Antiphons in additional to hymns from the hymnal.

Apart from "ad orientem" and "kneeling for Holy Communion" the greatest need for liturgical reform revolves around liturgical chant and maintaining a truly Catholic heritage for it. There are many documents to support this recovery written recently and not so recently. Even in the late 1800's the Holy Father warned musicians not to allow "secular music with sacred words" invade the Catholic Mass. Of course he was speaking of concert Masses which were very complicated with many solo parts such as Mozart's Masses and others that were not meant for the Mass but for the concert hall.

Today's secular music set to sacred words is the "Broadway" sounding sounds we hear in the Church especially those accompanied by piano. If you close your eyes and forget the sacred words you are hearing and focus on the melody or sound of the music and if you feel as though you are in a piano bar, then you know you have problems with your music ministry in your church. Let's return to chant, organ and classical orchestral instruments. Let us rid ourselves of the piano, strumming guitars, bongo and snare drums and tambourines in the Church!

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