Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Grass Roots - Improving the Liturgy

Recently I've seen a number of people complaining about the state of the liturgy in many American parishes. Some were disappointed that the recent release from the Vatican (Sacramentum Caritatis) didn't speak strongly enough for traditionalists and for the restoration of liturgy. I havent had time to read it completely yet but I was particularly fond of this paragraph:

Certainly as far as the liturgy is concerned, we cannot say that one song is as good as another. Generic improvisation or the introduction of musical genres which fail to respect the meaning of the liturgy should be avoided. As an element of the liturgy, song should be well integrated into the overall celebration (128). Consequently everything – texts, music, execution – ought to correspond to the meaning of the mystery being celebrated, the structure of the rite and the liturgical seasons (129). Finally, while respecting various styles and different and highly praiseworthy traditions, I desire, in accordance with the request advanced by the Synod Fathers, that Gregorian chant be suitably esteemed and employed (130) as the chant proper to the Roman liturgy (131).
In other words - contemporary music sucks.

But seriously, I hear a lot of people complaining that the liturgy isnt what it should be etc... etc.. and its understandable. But of course, you're part of the problem or part of the solution. Don't just complain about it, do something about it.

A group of guys and I have started a sacred music choir / schola at our parish. We had to keep pressing the issue until it got started but it finally has and has the support of the pastor. Its gonna be a lot of work but a lot of fun. We'll change by example and proactive - positive solutions not by criticism. Here's a good pdf on how to start your own schola. Its a good article even if you're not thinking of doing it.

But this is just one example of doing something positive in your Church. Remember that we are all members of the kingdom of God. Each lay person is a laborer. You're either doing something for the kingdom or you're not. Simple as that.

Not everyone is called to music, if you're not; fine do something else. Do something that is making positive change at your parish no matter how small it is just dont sit around and complain. And the parish we belong to is not a small one either, we have nearly 3,000 families.


japhy said...

I've grown up with the current Roman Rite; I've never attended a TLM, and the only Divine Liturgy I've attended was at an Orthodox church, not an Eastern Rite church. That being said...

I recognize the need for tighter adherance to the actual Rite, better catechesis in our dioceses, and a return to particular practices that help instill in us a sense of piety and reverence for the Eucharist. I've personally been growing in those respects the past few months, and I'm eager to share that growth with others (which is one of the things I try to do on my blog). §3 recognizes the validity of Vatican II and the current Rite, while many other parts of the Exhortation (emphasis mine):

3. If we consider the bimillenary history of God's Church, guided by the wisdom of the Holy Spirit, we can gratefully admire the orderly development of the ritual forms in which we commemorate the event of our salvation. From the varied forms of the early centuries, still resplendent in the rites of the Ancient Churches of the East, up to the spread of the Roman rite; from the clear indications of the Council of Trent and the Missal of Saint Pius V to the liturgical renewal called for by the Second Vatican Council: in every age of the Church's history the eucharistic celebration, as the source and summit of her life and mission, shines forth in the liturgical rite in all its richness and variety. The Eleventh Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops, held from 2-23 October 2005 in the Vatican, gratefully acknowledged the guidance of the Holy Spirit in this rich history. In a particular way, the Synod Fathers acknowledged and reaffirmed the beneficial influence on the Church's life of the liturgical renewal which began with the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council. The Synod of Bishops was able to evaluate the reception of the renewal in the years following the Council. There were many expressions of appreciation. The difficulties and even the occasional abuses which were noted, it was affirmed, cannot overshadow the benefits and the validity of the liturgical renewal, whose riches are yet to be fully explored. Concretely, the changes which the Council called for need to be understood within the overall unity of the historical development of the rite itself, without the introduction of artificial discontinuities.

The Holy Father explains throughout the Exhortation in which ways the riches of the liturgical renewal have yet to be fully explored: appropriate music including Gregorian chant, more serious homiletics, etc. I see the liturgical aspects of this document as being a hand extended to the two "camps" of Catholics (however you want to describe them)... but the same hand being extended to both, not the left hand to one and the right hand to the other.

TheGodFearinFiddler said...

Ive never been to a Tridentine mass either. Im a new convert and the worst mass is better than the best of where I came from.

Anyway, I love the Novus Ordo and I love the Catholic liturgy in general. So Im not trying to say anything negative about that at all.

Helping others to grow and to appreciate the faith like you're talking about is exactly what I'm saying we need to do as lay people. So thanks for being a part of it. I hope we can find more who are willing to step up to the plate.

As for the music, it seems to me that way too many people in the Church have a "Sister Act (the movie) mentality" about it. If your ever saw the movie, the nuns start singing a gospel version of Salve Regina in the vernacular. All of the sudden, people start walking in off of the street because they heard the music.


That doesnt happen. People dont come to the Church because the Church's music starts to sound like the secular music.

Secondly, I dont think there's necessarily anything wrong about any particular style of music, but like the Vatican said - there IS certain music that is just better for liturgy and more appropriate than others. The official Church song book is all Latin and all Gregorian Chant.

"The Church recognizes Gregorian Chant as being specially suited to the Roman liturgy. Therefore, other things being equal, it should be given pride of place in liturgical services"

-Vatican II, Sacrosanctum Concilium

As you might have guessed by my handle, I love bluegrass music. I love country, southern gospel, traditional Protestant hymns, I love classic rock, southern rock jazz blues and a host of other styles even some rap. But I personally dont think any of these styles belong in the mass.

There is an inherent spiritual nature of Gregorian Chant and sacred music. The other genres, you can mix and match. Contemporary Christian music is interchangeable with secular 'lite rock'. Which, (though I personally dislike the style) is fine it just doesnt belong in the mass IMO.

The mass is something ancient, something beautiful and something holy. Heaven & earth meet. We are at the foot of the cross as we commemorate and represent the sacrifice of Christ in an unbloody manner. Do you sing "Shine Jesus Shine" at the foot of the cross?

Aside from the style itself, as a musician (and I'm sure you'll agree as you seem to be one) musically that kind of stuff doesnt compare with the traditional music.

Let me give you an example. My cousin is going to lead our choir. He's not a Catholic and has never participated in a mass. He knows all the mass songs and has perfomed many different versions of them many times over in the original Latin. Now why would he know this? Because he minored in music. Lets put it this way, 100 years from now music majors wont be studying "I'm coming back to the heart of worship". No, they'll still be studying Mozart etc...

Now, I dont think that theres anything necessarily wrong with contemporary music. The Church has obviously allowed wiggle room for non traditional music to be permitted. To the extent where it helps engage people where they're at, Im all for it. Unfortunately I feel like many times it actually fails to do that and most people dont even know about the absolute beauty and rich musical heritage of the Catholic Church which is almost completely lost now. The eastern Orthodox Churches have by in large done a much better job of maintaining their liturgical heritage as far as music goes; and they're still producing some of the best and most beautiful sacred music.

So, by starting the schola in my parish I hope we can offer an alternative to the other styles. The 5 oclock mass there still does contemporary and will continue to. No problems with that. We'll let our choir speak for itself.

The ultimate goal is (regardless of style) to worship in spirit & in truth.

Arlene said...

Bravo to you all for taking the bull by the horns and doing something about the situation in your own parish. Have you considered attending the Sacred Music Colloquium at the Catholic University this summer? It is a week like none other, with expert instruction in Gregorian Chant and sacred polyphony, not to mention fellowship and a lively exchange of ideas with other like- minded church musicians. Check out to find out more.

TheGodFearinFiddler said...

Arlene, yes Ive seen that and if at all possible, I'm planning to attend. Thanks for stopping by.

Stephanie said...

Good for you!!! Way to go!!