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Music and Pope Benedict XVI

Music in the Post-conciliar Catholic Church

An appraisal of the current situation based on a talk given to the Panel of Monastic Musicians
by Nick Gale, 8 September 2008, St Cecilia’s Abbey, Ryde

The cosmic character of liturgical music stands in opposition to the two [prevailing] tendencies of the modern age…music as pure subjectivity, [and] as the expression of mere will. We sing with the angels. Cardinal Ratzinger wrote these words in his book, The Spirit of the Liturgy.

The pontificate of Pope Benedict XVI has once again placed Liturgy at the centre of the Church’s concerns, and rightly so, for as the then Cardinal wrote in 1997, the true celebration of the Sacred Liturgy is the centre of any renewal of the Church whatever.

There can be no doubt that we are currently in the midst of a period of great change in the Church. We are also in a crisis in terms of the Music of the Church. Despite the numerous documents to come out of Rome, both before and after Vatican II, despite the call of the Holy Father to raise the standards of liturgical celebration, despite the restoration of the Chant, largely undertaken by the Monks of Solesmes in the late 19th century, work that still continues today. Despite the fact that the Monks of Heiliger Kreuz Monastery in Austria have been at the number one slot in the charts for months, with their disc of Gregorian Chant. Despite the efforts of notable Catholic musicians who, in may cases, feel reluctantly compelled to work for other, separated brethren because the feel they are fighting a losing battle with the Catholic Church. Despite the many places where choirs exist and are being created to help rediscover the riches of liturgical music which is the Church’s inheritance, and the wealth of new music being written by talented composers in the service of the church. Despite the fact that the monasteries, institutes and congregations which have restored traditional liturgy and chant are gradually filling up once more, whilst many other communities sadly dwindle and die.

In spite of all this, we still will not accept that music in the liturgy is not offered for us, but to God, and must therefore be of the very highest quality that we can muster, both in terms of its composition and its performance, and that the faithful are remarkably receptive to good music, when they are fortunate enough to hear it and, better still, sing it! That is not so say that old music is good and that anything that has been written for the liturgy following the Council is bad. However, the general view of the clergy seems to imply the reverse – that all pre-conciliar music is ‘old hat’ and irrelevant, and that the only music that truly ‘speaks’ to the people of God and draws them into the liturgy is the contemporary ‘popular’ music which we hear in most parishes across the world.

This view is not only false, but extremely dangerous. The Holy Father, again speaking as Cardinal Ratzinger, warns us that ‘mere archaism does not help matters along but neither does mere modernisation’. In 1975 he wrote: ‘We must be far more resolute than heretofore in opposing rationalistic relativism, confusing claptrap and pastoral infantilism. These things degrade the Liturgy to the level of a parish tea party and the intelligibility of a popular newspaper. With this in mind we shall also have to examine the reforms already carried out…’ Ten years later he further commented: ‘since I wrote those lines, other aspects which should have been guarded have been neglected; many treasures that were still intact have been squandered away.’

Music is inextricably linked to the Liturgy and, as we are reminded by the Holy Father, that music be of the best possible quality. Of course, this leads us into the realms of what is to be considered ‘good’, as well as the purpose and effect of music. Is music, including liturgical music, adequately treated when it is left as simply a matter of ‘taste’, of individual response to what pleases? Music is about formation, and not just expression. A constant theme across the centuries is the balance of the need for contemporary musical expression with the responsibility of using music that will truly “sanctify the faithful”. Music should enhance the formative power of the liturgy already represented by the celebration of Holy Mass.

St Pius tells us, in his great motu proprio Tra la solicitudine that, since sacred music is an integral part of the Liturgy, its aim must be the same as that of the Liturgy itself; ie, in St Pius’s words,

the sanctification and edification of the faithful. The ‘chief duty’ of church music is, he goes on to say to clothe the liturgical text, which is presented to the understanding of the faithful, with suitable melody; its object is to make the text more efficacious, so that the faithful through this means may be more roused to devotion, and better disposed to gather to themselves the fruits of grace which come from the celebration of the sacred mysteries.

One of the most shamefully ignored aspects of Sacrosanctum Concilium was its acknowledgement of ‘Gregorian chant as proper to the Roman liturgy’, and thereby having pride of place in liturgical music. Just ten years before the Council began, the French Dominican, Dominique Delalande wrote a theology of the Chant. I am indebted, here, to an excellent talk given by Aidan Nicholls at the Catholic Directors of Music Conference last year for his summary of Delalande’s work.

In his book, Delalande called the chant a ‘given’, which theologians must integrate with their work. The structure and ethos of the Church’s official prayer – the Mass and the Liturgy of the Hours – cannot be fully grasped, he wrote, without reference to the music that accompanies it. In the case of the Roman Liturgy, that music is Gregorian chant, though, as he explained, the Eastern liturgies possess some analogue of Western plainchant – a monodic music, archaic, pure, with a solemn, sacral character, a consecrated music whose origins are lost in immemorial time, but existing, it may be, alongside a more developed or a more popular music, generally of highly questionable value.

Delalande reminds us of the multiple sources of the chant – Jewish, Syrian, Greek –as well as the anonymity with which composers of genius re-worked its materials at various stages of its long history. Delalande calls this a providential anonymity, which enables us to say the more readily: this music comes from the Church as Bride of Christ, assisted by the Holy Spirit.

In his controversial but fascinating book The Bugnini Liturgy and the Reform of the Reform, the Hungarian musicologist and liturgist Lázló Dobszay laments the loss of the Chant in the liturgy of the post-conciliar church. One of his most frequent objections to much post-Vatican II liturgical practice is that attempts to set antiphon texts for the Novus Ordo has given way to what he terms ‘insertion music’ ie strophic hymns, or has contented itself with settings that cannot of their nature bring out the full meaning of the Scriptures. Perhaps increased celebration of the Missa Cantata in the now commonly know as Gregorian Rite encouraged by the motu proprio Summorum Pontificum will remind the faithful that the chant has for centuries successfully and beautifully rendered vocal the precise texts of the liturgical books. Nor should the complexity of the chants of the Graduale put people off – the Graduale Simplex (for the Novus Ordo), the Chants abrégés (a wonderful resource containing simplified chants for the Gradual, Alleluia and Tract) and even the Rossini propers allow even the most modest choir to sing the proper texts of the Mass in either ordinary or extraordinary form. The Church Music Association of America’s spectacular website provides us with every possible resource to achieve this, and all free of charge – I commend to you a thorough exploration of the resources available through

Moving away from the Chant and more towards the general situation of church music in the present day, we find a contradiction between the Church’s historic practice and the present day preference for what Dobszay terms ‘utility music’, whose usefulness at the Liturgy consists in encouraging vocal participation by the people however minimal the artistic standards of the music concerned. This brings up the much-debated question of the nature of participation – the conciliar ACTUAL participation, and the mistranslation often used to justify such impoverished musical contributions – ACTIVE participation. Such a deliberately misguided interpretation of the aims of the Second Vatican Council has given us the increasingly grim impoverishment which follows when beauty for its own sake is banished from the Church.

To return to Cardinal Ratzinger’s writings: One shudders at the lacklustre face of the postconciliar Liturgy as it has become, or one is bored with its banality and its lack of artistic standards. He raises more than a question of taste when he adds in this connexion that such utilitarianism will soon percolate into attitudes to the Liturgy itself, to the Church herself and indeed to the rest of theological reality. He found implicit in this pragmatic and minimalist standpoint a catalogue of errors:

a functionalism which asks only what works for the man in the market-place, an iconoclasm suspicious of beautiful form as such, a congregationalism which rejects the corporate treasury of musica sacra in the name of what appeals to some group here and now, and a Puritanism which fails to recognise the importance of splendour as an intrinsic dimension of the festal. Reverence, receptivity and the humility that is ready to serve by participating in the great works that have already issued forth necessarily stand at the beginning of great sacred music. (Benedict XVI)

Of course, Gregorian Chant is not the only music of the Roman Rite. Sacrosanctum Concilium reminds us also of the wealth and beauty of the polyphonic repertoire, and of the need for new generations of composers to work in the service of the Liturgy. The contemporary composer of sacred music in the wake of the Council has phenomenal possibilities, but always in continuity with the best of tradition – as the council fathers remind us, the contemporary composer of sacred music is not working alone, in isolation, but at the end of a long line of liturgical musicians stretching back through Bruckner, Mozart, Byrd, Gombert and the medieval chant-writers whose names we know not.

So where does this leave us now? We are faced with dwindling numbers attending Mass on a regular basis. We are faced with rapidly emptying convents, monasteries and religious houses. We are faced with dwindling vocations to the secular priesthood – back home in Southwark we are fortunate to be sending eight seminarians to study this year. However, in Wales, where I grew up, a Benedictine friend of mine informs me that there has not had a successful vocation to the Archdiocese of Cardiff for five years. The same can be said for several other dioceses across the UK. We are we are faced with a society that neither know nor cares about God.

However, it is worth pointing out some positive facts. Some of the newer monastic foundations, notably in France, are flourishing – I refer mainly to those institutions which have revived the Missal of 1962 and restored the Latin Office. Le Barroux (and its foundation), Notre Dame de Fontgombault, Notre Dame de Randol, Notre Dame de Triors and the Canons Regular of Lagrasse. The FSSP, the Institute of Christ the King and the Institute of St Philip Neri in Berlin are also flourishing. The Monastery of Solesmes, which has an exclusively Latin, Gregorian Liturgy, in their case rooted in the Novus Ordo, does not lack vocations. The Oxford Oratory, after having been forced to turn away vocations for years due to a lack of space, is now building a new wing so as to take on some of the many young men who wish to give their lives in the service of God through the Oratory of St Philip Neri. The recent renaissance in the Liturgy, brought about largely by Summorum pontificum, has also healed schism, in the case of the Transalpine Redemptorists, and has thrown open new windows for dialogue between the Church and separated groups such as the SSPX, the members of which are currently anticipating a lifting of their excommunication following that of their bishops in yet another generous gesture from our Holy Father.

There has been a recent spate of interest in Gregorian Chant, with workshops all over the UK and the US, not to mention non-English speaking countries, and new choirs being established, full of young men and women eager to embrace music which challenges and stretches them, which is both educating and edifying, and which gives glory to Almighty God.

I have been fortunate enough to combine my work at the Cathedral with teaching at the London Oratory School, a post I held for 7 years. The boys there are taught the Chant from the age of seven, and they sing their paternoster and their Marian antiphons with gusto, as well as their classical masses, Palestrina motets and newly-composed works written for the post-conciliar liturgy by composers such as James MacMillan and Roxanna Panufnik. The Music Department is staffed by a dedicated team of professional musicians, under the leadership of Lee Ward, who also directs the famous London Oratory School Schola, and the School is leading the way among Catholic Schools in the teaching of liturgical music to boys and girls of all ages and abilities. The pupils are not interested in passing musical fads, in liturgical imitations of music that their parents once danced to in the 70s and 80s! Children, more than any of us perhaps, are only too well aware of what is passing, and what is timeless. They recognise and appreciate quality. They understand when they are being stretched and when they are being led to an understanding and appreciation of something truly great. Young people know when they are being patronised, when things are dumbed-down, and when people of previous generations try to ‘get down to their level’ by eschewing quality and artistic merit in favour of pop-like ditties in order to encourage them back to Mass. It is these children who are the future of the Church, and it is our duty to bequeath to them an understanding and appreciation of the power of real church music to lead people to God.

I spoke earlier of the renewal of the liturgy in various religious houses and congregations. This renewal in the liturgy is inseparable from a renewal in liturgical music. Perhaps more than any other art form, music is able to both clothe the Liturgy and reach the hearts of the faithful in a unique way. The Church recognises this fact, and has emphasised it throughout Her history, up to, including and beyond the Second Vatican Council. We ignore her teaching at our peril.

There is a new mood within the world of professional church musicians in the years following the election of our Sovereign Pontiff. His love for the liturgy and music, and his recent pronouncements, have given us hope and encouragement. The renewed interest in the Chant is spreading to the parishes and the schools, and the renewed interest and celebration of the Usus antiquior is, as the Holy Father intended, beginning to have an effect on the celebration of the Novus Ordo, and vice versa. I have been asked to speak to the CCDM (Catholic Cathedral Directors of Music Conference) in Salford this year and to direct chant classes for them – in response to this renewed interest in the Chant. The musical provision for the Usus antiquior was also the topic for an enlightened homily given at the last CCDM conference in Liverpool by a priest of the Metropolitan Cathedral. This is all very positive indeed.

The new liturgical texts prepared by ICEL present us with a unique opportunity – that of being able to discard vast numbers of, frankly, shoddy, banal settings, and has given composers the chance to look, once again, at settings of the Mass. The new texts have a poetry lacking in the last translation, and lend themselves more easily and fluently to musical setting. The recent proclamation concerning the use of the tetragrammaton will remove from the hymn repertoire various liturgical songs of questionable theological, musical and poetic substance, and the Church’s keenness that we should begin to use the proper antiphon texts, in place of strophic hymns, will not only please Mr Dobszay, but give composers a fresh opportunity to look at those parts of the Mass which have been so shamefully ignored for the past 30 years. It is also worth noting at this point that Dobszay is currently working on an ‘English Gradual’, with assistance from many of my fellow UK Catholic Church musicians – I look forward to seeing the fruits of their labours, though I remain sceptical as to the setting of vernacular text to a Gregorian repertoire so intrinsically linked to the Latin text for which it was created.

I make no apology when I say that I hope that the years of experimental liturgy and music are over, and that we can, as the Holy Father wishes, return to a more dignified, solemn celebration of Holy Mass and begin, once more, to offer music that is worthy of the worship of Almighty God, who has given us this great gift in order that we might glorify Him. St Augustine reminds us Qui cantat, bis orat; he who sings prays twice. I hope that henceforth our prayers will include the development of music in our monasteries and convents, in our parishes, cathedrals and schools, and the musicians who are working so hard in order to facilitate good musical practice for the glory of God. And for vocations to our convents and monasteries – may our music lead people to a greater knowledge and love of God.

Bless O Lord our hearts and our minds
and grant that what we sing with our lips we may believe in our hearts,
and what we believe in our hearts we may practise and show forth in our daily lives.
Through Christ our Lord, Amen. Ss Gregory and Cecilia, pray for us.

Nick Gale, September 2009


The Musical Transition to the New Missal

Jeffrey Tucker at New Liturgical Movement provided an excellent exposition on the Third Typical Edition of the Roman Missal and its relationship to music on September 15, 2011. Let’s hear your thoughts.

The Musical Transition to the New Missal

by Jeffrey Tucker

Some three months from implementation, the transition to the Third Edition of the Roman Missal has very obviously avoided the gloom and doom scenarios widely predicted among partisans of the 1970 translation. The dissidents have calmed down, the publishers are printing the Missals, the workshops are proceeding apace, the initial liturgical presentations have been beautiful, and we can all look forward to a vastly enriched liturgical experience beginning in Advent.

But there is another issue that is hugely important to the overall presentation of the Roman Rite, and that issue is music. Commentators tend to underestimate the significance of this factor, but if you talk to average Catholics, this issue turns out to be decisive. The music provides the aesthetic framework that is communicated to the faithful, and it is one they readily understand as a sign of the well being and confidence of the Church herself.

More than any other issue, the music issue was the one that most traumatized Catholics when the first Mass of Paul VI was promulgated. In the same way that this new Missal corrections that serious translations of that edition, so too does this Missal offer a chance for getting matters back on the right track so that the music is fully integrated as part of the liturgy.

The issue of the text has been settled from on high with the promulgation of the new Missal itself. It has simply been a matter of making a new translation and implementing it, and this has been done. The music issue is not so simply solved. It relies on parish-by-parish cooperation in the spirit of the change. Legislation can suggest, the Church can publish, influential voices can explain and guide. But, in the end, it is all about the parish, the pastor, and the directors of music at all levels.

Pastors, however, have come to fear the music question because it continues to divide people like few other questions. Uncountable numbers of people simple refuse to go to Mass because they do not like what has happened to music at Mass, particularly the emphasis on pop music. Those who do attend regularly continue to be as divided as any group that fights over song selections. As for the musicians themselves, no matter what they are playing or singing, they tend to take offense at the slightest suggestion that they have made less than stellar choices and need to change.

All this wrangling is completely understandable given the neglect of the music that is native to the ritual, namely the chant. Chant is music specifically crafted beautifully elucidate the text of the Mass in a stylistic manner than transcends social divisions. It does not draw from contemporary cultural archetypes so that it does not go out of fashion; it is timeless in the sense that it is appropriate at all times. It worked in the first century and it works today to accomplish what liturgical music is supposed to do.

This tradition has been neglected because of a series of missteps following the close of the Second Vatican Council. The Council made a strong call for chant. The Vatican published two books of chant, one before and one after the new Mass appeared. But the voice calling for chant was always an “uncertain trumpet.” The right to pick any music for the Mass, embedded in legislation, led to an untenable situation in which the Mass music, and therefore vast aspects of the liturgy itself, were effectively contracted out to third party publishers – and not just the composition and printing of the music but also every aspect of the text and style.

A few years ago, the tipping point arrived for many Church officials. They discerned that something had to be done about the loss of the chant tradition. The introduction of the new Missal seemed like the best vehicle for this: a more authentic translation should go along with more authentic musical experience of the Mass. This idea was to reduce in our liturgical environments the role of artificial, industrialized, commercial pop music and increase the role of simple chant that people can actually sing and grow to love.

This is why so much effort was put into composing chants for the Third Edition of the Roman Missal. Just enough of the words of the Order of the Mass are changed in the new Missal to make nearly all existing “Mass settings” unusable. The metrical elements of the old text that caused them to be said in a syllable-driven 6/8 meter (“Glory to God in the highest / and peace to his people on earth”) were changed (“Glory to God in the highest / and on earth peace to people of good will”) to be more accurate and eliminate meter and hence encourage plainsong.

Strategically, this amounted to a stroke of genius. With the slate clean, the next step was to formulate music that consistent with the Roman Rite tradition but is also easy enough for parish musicians to sing and implement in their parishes. Further, this music should be in English in order to overcome the great fear of our age of Latin, and doing this explores that largely neglected possibility opened up by the Council.

The chants were made integral to the Missal text itself. ICEL officials have said, time and again, that the Missal chants themselves should be thought of as a baseline music for all parishes. To this end, the USCCB has given approval for all of this music to be used in liturgy in the months before the Missal is scheduled to be implemented.This is why the music has been be given away free online far in advance, so that everyone could practice it. Publishers outside the Catholic Church, however, were not excluded but rather invited to offer settings consistent with the new text and the emerging ethos.

It was all very bold, and brilliantly done. It’s probably the plan that I would have crafted had anyone asked me. It strikes me that this overarching plan had a high probability for success in dealing with the problem, which is that the music in all but a few parishes bears any likeness to the historical experience of the Roman Rite or the hopes of the Second Vatican Council.

If the whole idea was a great one, is it working? For the well-educated musicians in parishes with savvy pastors, the answer is yes. My own private estimate is that perhaps 1000 parishes that were otherwise stuck in a pop-music rut are already making the shift. They are embracing the singing of the Missal chants without accompaniment. These same parishes are using the occasion to implement sung propers (see the Simple English Propers) and make some efforts to unify all the parishes Masses around this theme.

There is no question that this is progress, even amazing progress. It is tempting to look on the downside I will discuss below and forget that all of the above would have been unthinkably wonderful even two years ago.

There were, however, some missing pieces in the bold plan. A major factor has to do with the competence of the musicians in the parish that are to be the front line for implementation. I’m not sure that I’ve seen solid data how many of these people are trained to read music, receive a professional salary, and have knowledge of the structural demands of the Roman Rite. But I can say that in my own experience, most seem to be well intentioned volunteers who, if they are paid at all, receive just a small token for their services.

I’ve given speeches to large gatherings of diocesan musicians and ask for a show of hands of how many can name the minor propers of the Mass; only a few hands in a hundred go up. Fewer still can read basic notation; most follow along with the piano or affect singing based on what they have heard before. The prospect of hearing a note in their heads and breaking a silence to intone the Sanctus absolutely terrifies many of these people.

As just one example, at the largest gathering of Catholic musicians this year at the National Association of Pastoral Musicians, a speaker began singing Ave Maria, and several separate reports suggest that perhaps only one quarter of those in attendance could pick up the singing. And this is with 3,000 people in attendance.

The bottom line is that despite growing pockets of expertise and obvious progress over the last ten years, the major swath of people who have been pressed into service in Catholic liturgy over the country are not prepared to manage what exists much less lead in a transition to a liturgy in which the human voice predominates in chanted settings of the ordinary and propers.

There is, in addition, a deep conservatism that has taken hold in all our parishes, and it takes the form of preferring the status quo to any change. This results from the depleted musical capital just discussed and also a leftover effect of the great upheaval of the 1960s that continues to leave many people in the pews completely shell shocked.

Even among those who eventually became used to the new rite of Mass did not look upon the revolutionary fervour of the period with affection. Forty years later, we are in a strange position of panicking about the slightest change to anything at all. And so it is with Catholic musicians today. The deep irony is that lasting legacy of the Council of change has been a profound fear of change.

The new Mass text changes about ten words in total for the full set of ordinary chants. But based on the level of panic on the part of musicians, one gains the impression that they are all being asked to sing in a long recitative in Swahili and an aria in Galician. My inbox certainly testifies to the level of hysteria. Hardly a day goes by when I don’t receive pleading notes of “save me, save me.” When the head of ICEL gave a talk in New York recently, he took time for questions and they were nearly all asked with a tone of fear and loathing underscore by deep confusions.

What happens to a large community of people who are barely getting by as it is and then are asked to change toward something that is arguably more difficult? They throw themselves at the mercy of the institutions promoting the familiar. This is pretty much what has happened in a large number of parishes, as the old-line publishers who have learned ways to flatter amateurs with settings that get them through the day are thriving once again.

It’s possibly true that ICEL, the USCCB, and Vox Clara all overestimated the capacity of average Catholic musicians to adapt and sing what strikes experience liturgical musicians are ridiculously easy chanted settings of the Mass text. Even so, it could be the case that even this material is too difficult for their current abilities – or, at least, this is what many singers believe.

What about sending teachers out to parishes to get them going? Many of us have done workshops and worked with singers. We’ve made youtubes that have received as many as 7,000 views. We’ve produced editions in four-line staves and modern notes. But all our efforts combined are dwarfed by the influence of the large publishers, who have lobbied hard at every Office of Worship in this country (“you should have one Mass setting for the entire diocese and it should be the one we sell”), done non-stop seminars all over the country, and promoted proprietary music at every stop.

Pastors are in a position to get the musical transition on track with simple interventions. But, again, they are in the habit of not intervening in their music programs and are not interested in starting now.

None of this is to say that there has not been and won’t continue to be progress. After all is said and done, hundreds of parishes will be singing Catholic ritual music whereas they might otherwise after sung something else forever. But all these efforts are too little to amount to a wholesale counterrevolution that many have long awaited.

Some years ago, Michael Joncas wrote a book on sacred music that concluded that if chant were to make a serious return to American Catholic parishes, it would require concerted, relentless educational efforts over the very long term. It would appear that he was precisely right. Is it worth every effort? It is worth as much effort as the faith itself requires.

Remember that this struggle isn’t about us vs. them. It is about creating space to let the voice of the liturgy itself speak and sing. There is every reason to be confident about the long-term future. The high hopes of the Council will eventually prevail.

The Musical Settings for the Revised Roman Missal

By Lucy E. Carroll

Faithful Catholics have waited expectantly for the revised translations of the English missal, which will adhere more precisely to the original Latin missal. The texts have been sent ahead to publishers, and are set to be introduced to parishes at Advent 2011.

The first vernacular translations submitted in the aftermath of Vatican II were very close to those found in the old Latin/English missals. Little by little, however, the International Commission on English in the Liturgy imposed its agenda, and the translations became clunky and even erroneous. The current Confiteor and Gloria, for example, are actually missing entire phrases. One of the memorial acclamations — “Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again” — did not appear in the Latin missal; it was a rogue statement inserted only into the English missal.

With the sudden and jarring change from Latin to the vernacular, new music was needed in a hurry. Music was needed for the Mass parts and for the hymns that would — temporarily, we were told — replace the daily parts of the Mass originally called “Propers,” since those would need more time for composition.

The contemporary musical culture of the late 1960s and early 1970s had a tremendous influence on hymn composers, and a slew of folksy, pop-style hymns wound their way into the Mass. Although the secular culture has moved on, this genre sadly still remains in most parishes, at least in part. In due time, the parts of Mass itself were set to music in the mode of these pop-style hymns. Masses are still in use today that sport a preponderance of percussive accompaniments and non-sacred musical elements. Some of these are published with music underpinning the priest’s prayers, something specifically forbidden even in the Novus Ordo. Pope Benedict XVI wrote in Sacramentum Caritatis (2007): “Certainly as far as the liturgy is concerned, we cannot say that one song is as good as another …. The introduction of musical genres which fail to respect the meaning of the liturgy should be avoided” (#42). Yet the Latin American pop rhythms and soft-rock-style accompaniments play on.

Soon we will be treated to translations of the Mass texts that are much closer to the original Latin missal. This is most obvious in the Gloria, which will match the phrases as they appear in the Latin missal, rather than relying on the chopped-up and re-organized translation currently in use. Along with the revised translations, may we now expect more sacred musical settings?

Sadly, this does not appear to be the case. A mailing from one of the major publishers assured me that the revised translations would be adapted to current settings, and new settings are coming, but from the same composers who gave us the old secular-style settings and hymns. It is an opportunity missed.

At the monastery where I serve as organist/director, we gave up on those Mass settings some time ago. For several years now, we have used only Gregorian chant settings of the Kyrie, Sanctus, and Agnus Dei. Our little congregation knows several of these, as well as two chant settings of the Gloria. We do have a simple chanted setting of the Gloria and Credo in English, which I prepared for the monastery. I have reset these for the revised translations. In the coming year, we hope to include Credo III periodically for special feasts.

Gregorian chant is not simply for choirs and scholas. Pope Pius XII wrote in Mediator Dei (1947): “So that the faithful take a more active part in divine worship, let Gregorian chant be restored to popular use in the parts proper to the people” (#192). Yes, the revival of chant was for the benefit of the people in the pews.

Settings of chant Masses are available for the English translations, but these are sadly deficient. To fit the text, the melody must often be mutilated, for the notes and Latin syllables are very closely wedded together. Besides that, revising must be done each time there is a change in the translation. How can the melodies survive? If one is to sing chant, sing it in the original Latin.

There is a lovely synagogue near our monastery where, for special Shabbas services, the entire congregation chants the entire service in Hebrew, unaccompanied. It is quite inspiring. Are our Catholic congregations less able? If so, it is because we have not given the proper training and the example.

Pius XII wrote in Musicae Sacrae (1955) that the Mass “must be holy. It must not allow within itself anything that savors of the profane nor allow any such thing to slip into the melodies in which it is expressed. The Gregorian chant which has been used in the Church over the course of so many centuries, and which may be called, as it were, its patrimony, is gloriously outstanding for this holiness” (#42).

I propose that until such time as the musical settings of the Mass approach this ideal, congregations should boycott secular music and return to chants. With time, they will come to love them and prefer them. I also propose that classically trained composers prepare new settings for the revised texts and write in a style closer to chant and further from the secular world — free of pianos, guitars, percussion, and pop-style accompaniments. And most of all, I propose that publishers publish them and parishes use them.

Let us not permit this opportunity to go completely wasted.


Lucy E. Carroll, D.M.A., is organist/director at the Carmelite Monastery in Philadelphia. She is also adjunct associate professor at Westminster Choir College of Rider University, Princeton. Lucy E. Carroll’s article, “Revised Musical Settings for the Revised Missal?” originally appeared in the Guest Column of New Oxford Review (July-August, 2011), pp. 36-37, and is reproduced here by kind permission of New Oxford Review, 1069 Kains Ave., Berkeley, CA 94706.

Holy Thursday: Anointed for Battle

Back by popular demand…

Chrism Liturgy

This morning the Priests, Deacons, Seminarians, religious and lay faithful will gather around their Bishop in their cathedral Church.  All will participate in a very ancient rite common to the universal Church since the fifth-sixth centuries.  During this liturgy, “the bishop consecrates the three oils needed for the administration of the sacraments: the holy chrism, the oil of the catechumens and the oil of the sick.”[1]

These oils will be used in the life of the Church through the Sacraments of Baptism, Confirmation, Holy Orders and the Anointing of the Sick.  The most detailed version, found in the Mystagogia (On the Mysteries), is recounted by St. Cyril of Jerusalem who details how the oils were “symbolically applied to thy forehead, and thy other organs of sense” and that the “ears, nostrils, and breast were each to be anointed.” He continues sharing that the “ointment is the seal of the covenants” of baptism and God’s promises to the Christian who is anointed. Cyril taught that being “anointed with the Holy anointing oil [Chrism] of God” was the sign of a Christian and a physical representation of having received the gift of the Holy Spirit. He says, “Having been counted worthy of this Holy Chrism, we are called Christians, verifying the name also by your new birth. For before you were deemed worthy of this grace, ye had properly no right to this title, but were advancing on your way towards being Christians.”(On the Mysteries 3.5)

We should also recall the connection between the Chrism Mass and the Mass of our Lord’s Supper.  Even for our Lord, He was anointed at Bethany before he journeyed to Jerusalem to share the Passover with His disciples.  It is no mistake that the Church connects the biblical events with today’s liturgical events of Holy Thursday. Who else is anointed? Those preparing for war…

Mass of the Lord’s Supper

They gather in the Cenacle having completed all the preparations that Master requested (Lk 22:12-13).  He had desired to share this Passover more than anything (Lk 22:15).  And then, His disciples notice that this commemoration is different.  They are reclining instead of standing (Ex 12:11). He has changed the words and instituting a new covenant (Mt 26:28). Then, mandating them to “Do this in memory of me.” (Lk 22:19)  they are quiet and lean upon His every word.  They wonder, maybe even ponder, the significance of His actions.  They have completed the third cup and then…wait, He is leaving.

We cannot help but think that some of these thoughts were running through the disciples of Jesus.  What was going on?  What is He doing?  From the outset, our Lord intended to offer Himself as the perpetual sacrifice in the mystery of the Most Blessed Sacrament. (1 Cor 10:16)  Do we realize that tonight the Lord is picking a fight and settling all the covenants debts since Adam?

It would not have escaped the notice of our Lord’s disciples that He left before the Passover was complete.  Scripture says that they finished their hymn (Mt 26:30) and traveled to the Garden of Gethsemane as was their custom (Lk 22:39).  As He walked out of Jerusalem, He would have walked through the Kidron Valley up to the Mount of Olives where the garden will become a battlefield.  Maybe as He passed through the valley he recalled Ps 23:4, “Though I walk through the dark valley, I shall fear no evil…” choosing to enter into a mortal battle.  Battle?  How do we know that?  Exodus 12:22 commands that on the night of the Passover all were to stay indoors lest they succumb to the angel of death.  Our Lord purposefully goes out into the night to confront that ancient serpent to secure what Adam lost.

The first battle in the original garden was an epic tragedy – the Garden of Eden.  In Eden, we find Adam failing to obey the command of the Father to shamar (protect) and adovah (work) the garden and all its inhabitants. (Gn 2:15)  In this garden, Adam should have contended with the nahash (dragon – usually translated as serpent) but instead said nothing.  The result was staggering.  He saved his physical life and lost eternal life; He allowed evil to enter into the garden, to dominate it and his bride; and He should have been working/praying but instead, stood doing nothing next to Eve.

Tonight, our Lord, the New Adam goes out singing into the darkness and we find Him in another garden.  Only the victorious sing!  Think of the Song of Roland, The Ballad of the White Horse, or the Lord of the Rings – only the victors know how to sing. Our Lord knew He had already won the battle but no soldier or commander underestimates his enemy.  For this reason, Sacred Song is so important to our liturgies.  The music reminds us of the victory our Lord will win for us through this Blessed Triduum. And the story continues…

He enters into the garden; cares for His future Bride, the Church (embodied by His Apostles); and obeys His Father’s perfect will. (Lk 22:42)  He desires them to tarry with Him so they will not be put to the test (Lk 22:40) but gives them their rest anyway.  He kneels to adovah (means both work and pray).  And the battle begins…

Over the next three days, we enter into the Paschal Mystery of our Lord.  He will fulfill the curses of all the covenants but tonight provokes another battle to win back Eden.  The curses of Eden for Adam are three-fold:

1) “Cursed be the ground because of you! In toil shall you eat its yield all the days of your life.” (Gn 3:17;

2) “Thorns and thistles shall it bring forth to you, as you eat of the plants of the field.” (Gn 3:18); and

3) “By the sweat of your face shall you get bread to eat, Until you return to the ground, from which you were taken; For you are dirt, and to dirt you shall return.” (Gn 2:19).

Jesus answers these curses by: 1) Toiling (remember prayer and work are the same word) on the ground and yielding the fruit of the vine that becomes the fruit of our salvation; 2) His work is so successful that He will be crowned with the work of His hands – thorns and thistles; and 3) His work/prayer is so intense that He sweats blood thus providing Himself as the Bread from Heaven and conquers death.

As we continue to reflect upon this mystery let us join the solemn Tradition of the Universal Church and keep watch in our Churches until the Captain of our Salvation is stolen away from us at midnight.  Every good soldier stays with their commander and every Bride with her Bridegroom.  Where will the world find you tonight?  Will it find you consoling your heart’s desire before His unjust arrest or out and about as if His life doesn’t hang in the balance – because it does!

The story continues but that will have to wait until we find out why Friday is so Good…

[1] Zenit interview with Father Juan Flores Arcas, 9 April 2006 (Rome) Grabbed on March 31, 2010:

Tell Me How You Really Feel…

I love timid opinions. Thought I would share this one concerning liturgical music.

London, England, Apr 14, 2011 / 05:46 am (CNA).- A Grammy winning music director has delivered a stinging attack upon modern Church music.  Joseph Cullen, choral director at the London Symphony Orchestra, says that since the 1960s there has been a “glaring lack of sympathy” for “worthy sacred music.”

Writing in the April 9 edition of the English weekly The Tablet, he praised the music used during last year’s papal visit to the United Kingdom. But he added: “Sadly such excellence is untypical of the vast majority of our Catholic churches. There is a glaring lack of sympathy for the heritage which should be the bedrock of worthy sacred music in today’s Church.”

In recent years Joseph Cullen has risen to prominence due to his close collaboration with some of the world’s leading conductors including Sir Simon Rattle, Valery Gergiev and Sir Colin Davies, with whom he won a Grammy Award in 2006 for their recording of Verdi’s “Falstaff.”

In his analysis, Cullen says the rush to find new musical settings for the Novus Ordo mass in the 1960s led to little artistic scrutiny being applied to the process. As a result, he says, most parish Masses now have poorly composed hymns being used inappropriately as mere “filler” throughout the sacred liturgy.

He writes, “Low-quality material in both inspiration and facility is commonplace. Hymns are set to popular music (for example, “My God Loves Me” to the tune of “Plaisir d’amour”) with little regard to the inappropriateness of the original and well-known words.”

He also criticized the practice of a lone cantor leading the singing in parishes. “The misuse of one booming voice behind a microphone, an ecclesiastical karaoke, seems to have killed off unified congregational singing.”

Perhaps his most stinging attack, though, is aimed at official diocesan musicians who both commission and promote their own music. “The elected church music committees of the bishops’ conferences cannot have vested interests in promoting their own music, or type of music. This would be regarded as corrupt in any other field.”

Cullen is now calling for a greater adherence to the Church’s documents on sacred music and increased training for parishes by those schooled in the choral traditions of the Church.

Happy Monday

A fun little piece to start off your Monday:

Dominus Dixit

To assist in your reflection on this Lord’s Day. The following video is the DOMINUS DIXIT, Introito gregoriano, S. Natale, Schola Gregoriana Mediolanensis, Giovanni Vianini, Milano.

To Prepare You for St. Patrick’s Day

I offer this meditation for you to assist your spiritual preparation for St. Patrick’s Day.

And of course, on a more serious note, the Irish Monks…

Gregorian Chant: The Melodic Voice of the Liturgy

I have asked a dear friend of the Q Continuum to write specifically on Gregorian Chant. Bob Adams and I have been friends for over 25 years and he has taught me volumes on the subject. Enjoy the read!

Dialogue Between God & Man

As Deacon Q has been showing us throughout this week, the Liturgy can be described as a dialogue between Man and the Divine. Outside of the The Sacrifice, this can be found in no better way than in the plaintive song of the Beloved giving voice to the poetry of the Lover. This beautiful intermingling of Heaven and Earth is designed to raise our hearts and minds to Him and to leave us panting for more. Sadly, too often the music that we find at Liturgy, instead of raising our hearts and minds to Heaven, leaves us gazing only at ourselves. It is for this reason that the Church in her wisdom has established for us norms for music so that we don’t lose sight of the purpose of worship. And it is for this reason that the Church, in her Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, Sacrosanctum Concilium, gave us these specific guidelines:

116. The Church acknowledges Gregorian chant as specially suited to the Roman liturgy: therefore, other things being equal, it should be given pride of place in liturgical services.

But other kinds of sacred music, especially polyphony, are by no means excluded from liturgical celebrations, so long as they accord with the spirit of the liturgical action, as laid down in Art. 30.

There are many reasons why, in my opinion, Gregorian Chant is the greatest model of music in the Church, but I want to focus especially on one particular aspect: Chant as dialogue.

Many people mistakenly believe that Chant is just something the choir (schola) sings while they just sit and listen, and when the schola is finished they go back to praying. In actuality, if the priest ever sings a part of Mass and the congregation responds in song, that too is Chant. We could talk about Propers and Ordinaries and all those kinds of things, but I really want to focus on this sung dialogue between the priest and the people. Nowhere else (outside of Communion) is such a close intermingling of the Bride and the Bridegroom to be found. When the Bridegroom sings, the Bride responds in kind, showing her unity to Him. It is like two lovers who are so close that they are breathing the same breath, their hearts beating in unison. It is one of the expressed purposes of Liturgy that Heaven and Earth meet at the eternal moment of Christ’s crucifixion and death: the Bridegroom giving up His life that the Bride may have new life. At times the Bride weeps at the cruelty hurled at her Bridegroom, and at other times she rejoices that now she and the Bridegroom may finally be one. This is what song, and most especially Chant, does for those who see with the heart and mind of the Church. It allows the Bride to enter into that sacred, unchanging time and give her all to the One who has given His all.

Song can move the heart and mind like nothing else, and it reaps rich rewards for those who not only sing with their lips but who can enter into that moment and be with Him “who so loved us”. While Chant can be sung in English, we should not be afraid of it if it is sung in Latin. Many times have I asked young people listening to music what they find so appealing about a particular song. Many of them say that, even though they don’t know the words to the song, they like the way the music makes them feel and it helps them tap into that inner part of themselves that they can’t get to by themselves. As strange as a comparison between modern music and Chant might seem, Chant too can tap into those inner parts of ourselves. Even if we don’t understand the Latin, song has a way of reaching into us and drawing us out. I would even go so far as to say that this is one of the reasons why the young people are returning in such numbers to this music. The sense of the sacred and the sense of the Divine is so palpable when the Liturgy is chanted that it moves us in a way that having it simply spoken may not.

I challenge you, find a church nearby where the priest chants his parts, he may even chant them in Latin. Find such a church and just listen. Take a step back. Hear the priest, hear the people. See if you can hear the dialogue. Do so and your life may never be the same.

Voice and the Liturgy

Pope Benedict XVI said it best,

It is clear that in the liturgy of the Logos, of the Eternal Word, the word and thus the human voice have an essential role to play. (The Spirit of the Liturgy, p. 207)

Within the liturgy, there are a number of “voices” that are heard. You could break the various voices into the following:

  • Oratio – the priestly voice or mode of prayer
  • Lectio – the prophetic voice
    • Prophets: Old Testament reading
    • Apostles: New Testament/Epistle reading
    • Gospel: Read of solemnly sung at High Mass
    • Homily: Teaching voice of the Lord through the deacon, priest and bishop
  • Responsorials – the various responses of the Bride (assembled congregation) to the Bridegroom
    • Psalmady: The response of the Bride to the words of the Prophets encouraging her to act
    • Acclamations: These held great importance in the world of the ancient liturgy (Memorial Acclamations)
    • Antiphonal: The preparation of the Bride’s heart to hear the Word of the Lord
  • New Song – “the great song the Church sings as she goes off toward the music of the New Heaven and Earth(The Spirit of the Liturgy, p. 208)
    • Congregational Singing
    • Antiphonal Singing
  • Silence – the voice of the Bride, when because of the greatness of the mystery, she gasps and is silent yielding to the beauty and quickening of the spirit

As we begin our week, we will look at these various voices and their place in the liturgy. Each has a place and when balanced correctly, sounds like a magnificent orchestra.

The Second Vatican Council was clear. The human voice is the primary instrument of the liturgy. Why? It is an intelligent sound that is directly linked to the movements of the will.

Of all the sounds of which human beings, created in the image and likeness of God, are capable, voice is the most privileged and fundamental. Musical instruments in the Liturgy are best understood as an extension of and support to the primary liturgical instrument, which is the human voice. (Sing Unto the Lord: Music in Divine Worship, paragraph 80)

So, this week, let’s think about our voice and its place in the liturgy. Ever considered that?