First things first

The Trinity, the Paschal Mystery, and music at Mass. How do they relate? Call me crazy, but I think each provides a key to the others. My point in this entry will be that we spend an awful lot of time contending about what kind of music should or must be used, maybe even exclusively, but sometimes without sufficient grounding.

The Trinity. My students are usually aghast when I tell them that God is not within time, as we are, but exists all at once, outside time. What do you mean, they say. How can God be completely separate from us? There is no way God could know us or love us in that case.

God would not have time for us. Literally!

Hold on to your hats, I tell them. God’s existence outside time gives him the most intimate presence possible to us. Pretend you are a fish. Start swimming from Miami Beach and keep going till you get to, say, France. It took a long time, didn’t it? Well, consider this: God does not have to swim from Miami to France. God is the ocean. There is no “going to” the other shore, because the ocean is already there, as well at this shore, and everywhere else. Swimming takes “time.” Being the ocean does not. Yet the two are intimately together, as you can see. God is the ocean in which we swim.

This is backwards from the way we usually think. We always have God coming (from outside) into our work, our loved ones, our lives. But it is just the opposite. All of these are already within God, who is the ocean called love. Mystics see this most clearly, but it is open for any of us to behold: we just have to ask for the grace to see our place within the presence of God.

Objections arise. For example, “how could there be so much evil in the world if everything is contained in God?” To get at an answer, we have to leave the ocean imagery and progress to the Paschal Mystery.

God deals with evil and suffering through the love contained in that Mystery. Instead of abolishing evil with the wave of a wand, Christ, the second person of the Trinity, joined us in the midst of it. Actually, in the first part of his life, Jesus did in fact go about waving the wand, or at least his hand, taking away deafness and blindness and diabolic possession and more. But at a certain point he shifted from this activity and made his way toward an ultimate sharing of life with us, i.e., the passion and cross. This would have been a mere token gesture if it weren’t for the one thing that is stronger than life and stronger than death, the part that lasts when life is taken away: love. The resurrection, or to put it differently, the continuance of love, was already contained within his willing presence on the cross. This passion, death and resurrection is called the “Paschal Mystery.”

Part three. Why would SC say in paragraph #10 that liturgy (esp. the Mass) is “the summit toward which the activity of the Church is directed; at the same time it is the font from which all her power flows”? This seems like a huge statement. The way I explain it to the students has to do with the very timelessness of God we had already gone over. The Paschal sacrifice did take place within time, and it took place once and for all. It cannot be repeated. But notice that the previous two sentences themselves reflect a viewpoint from within time. The sacrifice happened once. we say. That is true. But if you recognize that time itself is within God’s eternity, just as the swimming fish are within the ocean, then “once and for all” is changed. The Paschal sacrifice took place only once, but the “once” is present within God timelessly, without having a past or a future, or rather, incorporating the past and the future. The one redeeming sacrifice is present throughout all time because it still swims within the ocean of God’s existence. Celebration of the Mass does not entail a brand new sacrifice, just the opposite. It is the same sacrifice, presented anew for our participation. No wonder Mass is the source and summit of our work and grace of our lives.

It takes a bit of quiet and prayer to understand this, I tell my young students. I belabor it here not because the reader has never heard such things before, but because of liturgical music. The only possible reason for having music (or anything else) at Mass is so that we may participate in the total union Christ achieves with us in both the good and the bad parts of life. The Paschal Mystery.

This participation is the complete purpose of the worship act we name “the Mass.” Nothing else is bigger than it. Everything else follows from it: the shape of the church building, the configuration of the sound system, the content of the homily—and get this—the style and content of the music sung. This last is the purpose of my writing today.

Can we really claim that each of us derives our views on music in Mass from the reality of the Paschal Mystery? Do we let this mystery trump, as it should, such considerations as the history of music in the Church—important as it is—the type of music we “like” or have studied; the need to eradicate music we disdain because we think it is not up to whatever standards we ourselves follow? Interestingly, do we let it shape our reaction to what translation is used in the Missal? In order to be pastoral, liturgical and properly musical, as Sing to the Lord tells us to be (SL 126-136), our Mass music has to come forth from the Paschal Mystery and proceed directly back into it.

How can we make this happen? Surely through prayer and participation. SL specifies that the ministers at Mass, including especially the musical ones, are worshippers at the divine liturgy, before they are ministers of it (SL 48-49). I can say that I find humility a keystone of the Paschal Mystery; not my or our humility but that of God and of Jesus and of the Spirit. How else would the divine one have sunk so low as to serve us? We can choose music best by sharing that attitude of humility.

Included within this, I should think, would be for all of us to be more gentle and hospitable to other “paradigms” of music (to use Francis Mannion’s felicitous word) besides our own. If we have our souls on straight, we will understand that absolutely everything in life is secondary to the continuous entrance of God/Christ/Spirit into the world through the Paschal Mystery. This statement applies most critically to music. If there is to be a “renewal of the renewal,” however one interprets those words, let it be a renewal of holiness, humility and service, rather than a forcing of the Mass and its music into our own preferences. I specifically include here the bias that occasionally or even often surrounded the “popular” paradigm, insofar as it seemed to work against other paradigms.

Other types of liturgical music can tend toward the same dictatorship, of course, if they are not careful. Certainly chant is a wonderful medium of contemplation and of presenting the actual words of the Mass in musical form. But just like any other type of music, it can become a primary value, vying for first place alongside the real presence of Jesus in his Paschal Mystery. Insofar as it does this, i.e., become “the only way,” it is out of due proportion. It must be evaluated by how well it helps us participate in the mystery. The same is true of each paradigm.

I want to make the principle quite clear: we are created to receive God in the form he has presented himself to us. Human beings are made to receive and take unto themselves Jesus spread out in the very Paschal Mystery by which God has re-invented our lives. This is our primary duty, and everything else in life, including music, flows from it.

We can work together on a renewal or a renewal of the renewal, no matter what “camp” we may reside in when we live this reality. In fact, we simply must work together in this way so that God the Trinity continues to be present to the life of the world through the power of the Eucharist, in its Paschal Mystery, and least of all, in its music.






32 responses to “First things first”

  1. Tom Poelker Avatar
    Tom Poelker

    John says, “The only possible reason for having music (or anything else) at Mass is so that we may participate in the total union Christ achieves with us in both the good and the bad parts of life. ”

    Music professionals seem to constantly lose track of this. In their desire to have the Mass include the best possible musical experience, they either ask the congregation to perform music beyond their capabilities, or do not deign to train the congregation up to its capabilities, or they insert musicians who either replace the congregation or unintentionally intimidate them into listening to the experts rather than singing themselves.

    Please use this time of change to go back to basics and do the job of training local pastors and their congregations in full, conscious, and active participation in communal prayer which is best facilitated by communal song.

    Liturgical prayer has to start with simple vocal music for the congregation to experience itself as a community of prayer. The style of music, the quality of the music, is less important than selecting music and musical ministers which encourage the community to sing the music.

    Musicians may need to channel their abilities into non-liturgical events: prayer services, concerts of sacred music, better cantoring, training of cantors and song leaders instead of choirs. It is ministry to the singing community who are the primary pray-ers of the rite.
    What the ministers do is guide and facilitate what the…

  2. Jeff Rice Avatar
    Jeff Rice

    Still, we avoid the question of the definition of “participation”. I think this is where much of our disagreement arises. Why do some have such a huge problem with asking the congregation to listen to a piece of music? The assembly is asked to listen to readings. If listening isn’t a form of participation, why not have everyone read the scripture aloud together? Why not have all pray the orations aloud? The insistence on having the congregation sing every last piece of music has done harm to the concept of the singing assembly. In my experience the best singing congregations are in places where the roles of the various participants, the assembly, the celebrant, the deacon, the cantor, and the choir are clear, honored, and done well. At times the choir singing alone can draw us into the liturgical action better than having the whole congregation sing.

    Fr. Foley’s progression from the Trinity to the Paschal Mystery is wise. If the liturgy is the intersection of a timeless God with a gathering of the faithful at a specific point in time, the music should reflect both the mystery of eternity and the needs of the contemporary assembly. We musicians have been given many tools to accomplish this, both by the teaching of the Church and the vast treasure of sacred music, both ancient and modern. For any real renewal to take place, liturgical musicians of all stripes need to humbly lay aside their biases and seriously evaluate what the Church intends.

    1. Paul Inwood Avatar
      Paul Inwood

      The insistence on having the congregation sing every last piece of music has done harm to the concept of the singing assembly.

      Actually, I think this insistence is nothing more than a caricature that has come from the ‘choir and chant’ camp — another of those pieces of ‘information’ that are trumpeted on various blogs but have no basis in reality. I don’t know of any serious liturgist or musician who would espouse it.

      In my experience the best singing congregations are in places where the roles of the various participants, the assembly, the celebrant, the deacon, the cantor, and the choir are clear, honored, and done well. At times the choir singing alone can draw us into the liturgical action better than having the whole congregation sing.

      I think we would all agree with the principles behind that. The problem arises when the legitimate role of the assembly is usurped by the choir. (And this can also happen when the style of music is not appropriate to the attainments of the assembly.)

      I also think the way Jeff has expressed it runs the risk of indicating that the different roles are separate. But my vision is for a spatial concept of liturgy, where the different roles all interact and intersect as required, in a way rather similar to a performance of the Monteverdi Vespers in St Mark’s, Venice (or the Royal Albert Hall, London, two weeks ago for the penultimate night of the Proms — it was superb!).

      1. F C Bauerschmidt Avatar

        I’m not sure this really divides along “choir and chant” versus “folk ensemble” (or whatever) camps. I’ve been to Masses where the entire repertoire is contemporary where the congregation barely made a peep, and I’ve been to “choir and chant” Masses with robust congregational participation. In other words, I think the question of style is not really the same as the question of vocal congregational participation (indeed, I find some of the easier chants much more singable that some “folk” pieces).

      2. Jeff Rice Avatar
        Jeff Rice

        Paul, I don’t know if I would call them “serious” liturgists or musicians but I do know several pastors, liturgists, and musicians who find it inappropriate for the choir to sing anything alone and have implemented this in a very real way. A poverty of artistry and beauty, where music (and most every other art form) is reduced to functionalism.

        I think I would agree with your “spatial” description… the various ministries have some unique roles, but also many shared actions, all towards the same purpose.

      3. Todd Flowerday Avatar

        Jeff, I have no reason to doubt that musical performance at Mass has, in your experience, been discouraged. As for your definition, the Ordo Missae gives rather explicit directives for congregational singing. As long as music ministry doesn’t trangress and usurp the assembly’s role, appropriate music done by instrumentalists or choir alone can be a part of liturgy.

        Without specifics it’s hard to say what was discouraged in your past. I’ve had to steer wedding singers away from the Malotte Our Father, except as a prelude. Now no doubt, a great singer can render that prayerfully for a listening/praying assembly. But … there is a liturgical function to consider.

        Another example: suppose a music director wants to prepare a choir to sing a classical Mass ordinary. And the target date might be the same Sunday as the RCIA Rite of Acceptance–oops: no Gloria in that rite.

        Music serves good liturgy. And music also has to be more than just music at the Mass; it must be, primarily, singing the texts of the Mass. And that’s usually going to include a congregation.

  3. Paul Inwood Avatar
    Paul Inwood

    Many thanks, John, for a good and thought-provoking piece!

  4. Jack Rakosky Avatar
    Jack Rakosky

    As a member of the congregation, I expect to sing.

    Only the Sanctus and Agnus Dei are generally sung by most of the congregation. The Gloria, Psalm, and now often the Communion are done with refrains by the congregation. The Entrance, Offertory, and Communion are generally done as hymns. But, as is often the case, if the congregation does not know the hymn, they are really done by the choir.

    In the past decade, more parishes seem to be employing talented musicians and developing their choirs so that Mass led by the choir rather than cantor is increasingly the norm in my experience. Professional musicians are doing a great job of developing the musical talents of the parish members in the choir.

    However all this is a threat to congregational participation for the simple reason that we seem bound to want to get everything into a Mass that does not exceed 60 minutes, 0 seconds! Choral preludes, postludes, and Choral Evensong are not used to absorb the talents of the choir (only an annual Christmas concert and Holy Week), and extra reflection pieces by the choir threaten the tyranny of the clock.

    Today, there is a huge amount of music available on CDs for inspiration listening. We don’t have to go to church for that. I like to sing when most people are singing. Refrains where everyone sings are preferable to hymns where few sing. I can sing along with CDs at home; I don’t need to go to church to be one of the few who sing along with the choir.

    1. Sean Whelan Avatar
      Sean Whelan

      You “expect” to sing? Sounds quite demanding. Nothing in what you described goes against the GIRM. Obviously the psalm verses are handled by cantor/choir, and indeed, the IOM and GIRM give preference to an antiphonal Communion processional.

      It seems something else might be in play if the congregation cannot handle a refrain over a song with both refrain and verses.

  5. Michael O'Connor Avatar
    Michael O’Connor

    Jeff is exactly right. Music, like lection, takes on many forms in the liturgy and I also find that congregations are much more satisfied and participate more when their role is defined and the music appropriate. Style doesn’t matter here. It does matter on another level, though. I love chant and want more of it, but I truly believe that the real need is to raise the level of the music in which we sing the text of Holy Mass. It deserves better than a mundane (in the true sense of the word) treatment. Dignity is a word that comes up time and time again in these discussions. Music can be simple AND dignified. I would suggest that the quasi-pop music that causes many congregants great embarrassment to sing, be relegated to the concerts and devotions in which Tom proposes shunting off the professional musicians. While there may be exceptions, I find it a pretty universal situation that only small children and some women seem to like to sing the status quo music. This is not the participation envisioned by the council, now is it?

  6. Jim McKay Avatar
    Jim McKay

    Is there a role for the Holy Spirit in here somewhere? Isn’t the breath that comes through our mouths the same Spirit that gave us life?

    Repeating Jack’s comment, I expect to sing. Singing is the start of a life given to me to praise and bless God. I’ll sing chant, folk, spirituals, maudlin Marian hymns and pompous anthems. Each is an act of prayer blessed by the Spirit still in me.

    (As I write, my wife is off to church, while I stay home recovering from throat surgery that would make singing painful, so forgive me if I get carried away, like weeping in Babylon. No breath to fill these words, just hope that they will form something in someone’s mind.)

  7. Donna Eschenauer Avatar
    Donna Eschenauer

    Trinity, Paschal Mystery, and Music reflect a way of being in the world.
    The reference to God and time is profound; for the mystic, time is presence.
    In and through the Mass, authentic participation is in the Paschal Mystery.
    And music awakens the mystical imagination!

    Thank you Fr. Foley for a terrific piece.

  8. David Haas Avatar
    David Haas

    I too, want to applaud John for this piece.. lots of food for thought.

    In response to Jeff (#5), when talking about a “poverty of beauty” – this is a very subjective lens… how does one come up with an objective sense of what “beauty” is? For me, purely on an aesthetic level, the Bach B Minor Mass is really a source of sacred beauty for me. The same is true for the German Requiem by Brahms. But on a level of liturgy and ritual, a full throated singing assembly is just as beautiful, just as chilling, and at times even MORE a source of goose bumps for me. It would seem to me, that we are called to provide musical, sung prayer where the primary voice is the community, engaging itself in the paschal mystery of yes, “full, conscious and active participation,” but not participation for its own sake, but rather, participation into the life of Christ and his mission.

    Again – thanks John!

    Reducing to “functionalism?” – Well, liturgical music, music that is truly the song and prayer of the gathered community is functional art… and to me, that is anything but a watering down of art, it is an exaltation. For those entrusted with the vocation of composing liturgical music for example, this is truly a high calling. As John is laying out here – paschal mystery at the center, means that we are looking for music that truly amplifies and embodies this mystery – through the actions, symbols, gathering, smells and bells of our prayer…

  9. Jeanne Marie Miles Avatar
    Jeanne Marie Miles

    “Only the Sanctus and Agnus Dei are generally sung by most of the congregation. The Gloria, Psalm, and now often the Communion are done with refrains by the congregation. The Entrance, Offertory, and Communion are generally done as hymns. But, as is often the case, if the congregation does not know the hymn, they are really done by the choir.” -Jeff, above)

    This is perhaps a reality in some churches; however it is a reality advanced by the decisions of those who are responsible for planning the music and instructing the congregation. If the congregation is given good quality instruction at the introduction of a hymn or a full-text (as opposed to “responsorial”) setting of the Gloria, and given sufficient opportunities to practice those settings, then there is no reason why a congregation cannot learn to sing hymns and full settings of the Gloria, and sing them well. The keys here are good planning, good instruction and good practice.

    1. Jack Rakosky Avatar
      Jack Rakosky

      A Catholic Congregation can learn to sing very well even without a choir if they have music practice before Mass. Only five or ten minutes are sufficient if the music is chosen so that no more than one piece is unfamiliar. This happened in a parish in the 1980s; might have helped that there was an organ, and that the organist could not recruit much of a choir (so she had a lot of incentive to work with the congregation).

      Once parishes and choirs attract professionally talented choir directors, then the composition of the choir tends to attract the better musicians of the parish, and to lose average people like myself even if the choir director tries to retrain them. Particularly, in large parishes there are usually a lot of musically talented people that the choir director can develop as cantors, instrumentalists, and ensembles. All that should be done.

      However, the choir director (or accompanist) should also be practicing the congregation before each Mass.

      And some special attention should be given to average people in the congregation that like to sing but don’t want to join the choir. There should be special practices for them for learning a new Gloria, etc. Several years ago a parish that had a new hymnal held several hymn sing nights to try out new hymns. They got a very good response.

      It would take only 5 or 10 minutes before each Mass and 5 or 10 general parish practices per year to greatly improve the congregation’s singing.

  10. Rita Ferrone Avatar
    Rita Ferrone

    First of all, I agree with the emphasis on the Paschal Mystery and the life of the Trinity, and I applaud John’s use of analogies (the ocean, etc.) and his Christ-centered reflection. There is much to ponder here. But I wonder whether the outcome of hospitality toward multiple (all?) paradigms for music, attractive and irenic though it may be, derives from an omission in the basic premise.

    What’s missing here is acknowledgement of the ecclesial dimension of worship. There’s no explicit ecclesiology in this account. The first person plural is used, but everything that is said could apply equally well to the individual.

    What goes unmentioned in this post—but is extremely important—is the role that music plays towards the realization of the ecclesia. God’s plan for salvation, and the mission of Christ and the Holy Spirit, include the making of the Church. Music, in an unparalleled way, symbolizes and deepens our awareness of the oneness of the Body of Christ, at worship and in mission, as well as our ordered relationships to one another.

    Without attention to the ecclesial dimension, we run the risk of collapsing the worship event into one which sanctifies individuals by putting them into communion with God (in multiple ways) while implicitly reducing the Church to an environment in which this takes place.

    Yet the Church is integral to the communion between God and humanity. The “liturgical act” which Romano Guardini spoke about so poignantly, is an…

  11. Rita Ferrone Avatar
    Rita Ferrone

    ecclesial act. Any account of music that does not grapple with ecclesiology has left out one of its most significant components.

    It’s against the ecclesial background that the question of who sings what, and when and how, and what effects music has upon the corporate body, gain significance (if not always clarity).

    1. John Foley, S. J. Avatar
      John Foley, S. J.

      Rita: Thank you for agreeing with my Paschal Mystery and Trinity emphasis. I am not sure you were able to comprehend the depth of this mystery, though.

      First, you at least seem to make the point (though not explicitly) that hospitality to multiple paradigms will damage the realization of the ecclesia. But that implies that uniform music throughout the Church leads to the unity we all desire. But the Church is not simply a life-style-enclave (in which people go around together because they like to do the same things), it is a true community, based in the Holy Trinity. Rigid sameness of the kind you seem to indicate produces ditto-heads. The Holy Spirit produces true unity, led and modeled by the Trinity. I would submit that the community of the Church is based in that unity.

      Secondly, you are right that there is no explicit ecclesiology in my account above. In 1500 words I covered about as many major doctrines as I could fit in. From my remarks in the previous paragraph, you can see that ecclesiology follows effortlessly from the insights I tried to put forth. But also, considerable careful understanding of Trinitarian action in the Church has to precede such considerations. I suggest that even some mystical knowledge is required if one is to come close to the manner in which the Trinity is one yet three.

      If you conclude that I did not think the pre-Vatican II Mass to be a gathering of individuals (presumably ignoring each other) you would be correct

  12. John Kohanski Avatar
    John Kohanski

    Today our choir sang Dufay’s “Missa l’Homme Arme” as the ordinary, minus the Credo, sung as is our custom to plainchant. It was long, and outside the box as Mass settings go. It really gave one pause to listen and contemplate the texts. Did I sing? No, of course not. But did I actively participate? You betcha.

  13. Tom Poelker Avatar
    Tom Poelker

    Please note that the choir singing the parts assigned to the assembly is permitted but is not the preferred choice of the rubrics.
    It seems to me that lovers of music often find things which they MAY do in the rubrics and proceed to ignore what the instructions, Sacrosanctum Concilium, and various instructions give as the PREFERENCE.
    The argument is not over whether or not people listening are participating in some way or other but whether or not they are participating in the way the underlying structure of the liturgy expects them to participate.
    Many kind things have been said in documents about the treasury of sacred music, but these must be taken in context and understood as intending to allay the fears of those with great attachment to such music. These kind things do not diminish in any way the principle points made in the same documents which emphasize that the people of the assembly should be saying or singing the parts which belong to the people.
    Indeed, no parts belong to the musicians in preference to the people, although many things are better done by trained musicians than by well intentioned amateurs.
    As much experience as I have had in choral singing and as much as I personally prefer and and advocate singing in the liturgy, as a student of liturgy, it seems obvious that it is preferable (1) to have the assembly pronounce its own parts, and (2) not to have additional material added to the service by anyone, commentator, presider, or musician.

    1. Jack Wayne Avatar
      Jack Wayne

      But how can this work in practice? If using choral works is ever to be shunned in preference to congregational singing, then how does one preserve the glorious musical patrimony of the church (much of which is choral) at the same time? If documents commend the treasury of sacred music and ask for its preservation, then how do we preserve it if doing so goes against the higher ideal of everyone singing? Some might say that classical works should be relegated to the concert hall, but I find that unsatisfactory since these pieces were written for liturgical use rather than for secular use.

      It starts to come off as saying “you must do X, but you must also do Y, which is more important and precludes X.” How do you do something that seems to be mutually exclusive?

      1. Todd Flowerday Avatar

        Take care about bringing generalizations into the discussion. Choir-only music does not appear in some rubrics, is a low priority in some, and permitted fairly generously otherwise. Church music is at the service of liturgy, not aural museum pieces that require reenactment. If musicians among us are desirous of a choral Sanctus, it might be this impulse should and must be sacrificed more often than not. But that doesn’t mean such a piece would never be performed at Mass.

      2. Jack Wayne Avatar
        Jack Wayne

        I would caution you also against generalizations (I never implied preserving choral music as a museum piece to the detriment if the liturgy).

        I was basically asking “when is it okay to go against the preference?” The implication that I got from the post I responded to was that it is almost is never okay, but such a notion seems to go against the idea that sacred music is to be preserved (not at the expense of liturgy, but rather in service of it).

        For instance, I recall not too long ago a discussion about the appropriateness of a choral sanctus at the recent Papal Mass. If the use of choral music (which is used so rarely that most Catholics never experience it), is always criticized or frowned upon, then how do we go about preserving it in a meaningful way? (again, I’m presuming that it isn’t being done just to presrve it like a museum piece)

      3. Todd Flowerday Avatar

        Jack, my sense is that the judgment to go against preference is always made at the local level. You and I will never see legislation on it.

        And a suggestion on a comment like this one: “choral music (which is used so rarely that most Catholics never experience it).” This is subjective–your own personal experience. It may well be true. But it is not true for all Catholics, or for all who post here.

        We know you like choral music. We know you rarely experience it. We know you would like to hear more of it. Let the argument stand at that. Don’t assume what it true for you is true for every other Catholic.

        How to utilize certain older music for the modern Roman rite: this is a good question. Off the top of my head, I see no difficulty with a rendering of a choral Sanctus as a prelude, or at the preparation of the gifts. Unless I were at a music conservatory, I wouldn’t program it for the Eucharistic Prayer. But I can listen to a case being made for a few times a year. Christmas. Easter Sunday. But probably not some random ordinary time Sunday when the music director arbitrarily decided the choir was prepared.

    2. John Kohanski Avatar
      John Kohanski

      “It seems to me that lovers of music often find things which they MAY do in the rubrics and proceed to ignore what the instructions, Sacrosanctum Concilium, and various instructions give as the PREFERENCE.”

      Tom–replace “lovers of music” with folk group, praise band, liturgical committee, presider. Any of these options. See what you can get? See what we have gotten over the last 40 years?

      We have 3 Masses on a Sunday, #1 Low–no singing, #2 Sung, organ only, hymns and all Mass parts, with no choir or cantor, the people simply sing, #3 Choral High Mass, with hymns and most responses sing by all, with the choir, and a “choral” Mass setting 3 out of 4 Sundays a month, sung by the choir. The 4th Sunday, the choir is still there, but lead the people in a congregational Mass setting and sing motets at the offertory and communion.

      We are blessed to have a choir that is drawn from the music school of a local university, and have a long choral tradition in the parish. As I described above, we offer 3 Masses in various “styles.” People have the option to not sing AT all, or to sing IT all, or to sing and listen. But trust me, the majority of people that come to the choral Mass WANT to be there and hear this music in the setting for which it was composed. No Council document takes that into account.

      1. Todd Flowerday Avatar

        “See what we have gotten over the last 40 years?”

        Your description of your parish is better than your caricature.

        Two liturgical concerns about your ghettos of liturgical “style.” First, #1 is not an ideal form. It’s permitted, of course, in the sense that some communities may be totally without music. And you can’t force people to do music when they have nobody or nothing to do it with. But it does not express a mature Catholic spirituality of liturgy, especially for a parish with ample resources such as you describe. People can “not sing” in settings appropriate for it, but probably not at Mass.

        The “fourth Sunday” model is a typical Western pragmatism. It may be convenient, but it has no basis in the principle of progressive solemnity. I can think of a few major feast proximities (Ascension and Pentecost, Epiphany and Baptism of the Lord) where one of your “special” Sundays will possibly outshine a higher liturgical festivity.

        And you are right: no council document takes personal taste into account. It might be that conciliar concepts are deeper, wiser, and more spiritually apt for a community to consider.

  14. Tom Poelker Avatar
    Tom Poelker

    Perhaps we are in too much of a rush to prepare new music for the new Missal.

    Is it possible that the average U.S. parish would be better served by several weeks or months of Sundays getting used to speaking the new texts in unison, taking ownership of their parts without the musical embellishments?

    Is it a felt need of the members of the assembly that a full musical program be put into place as soon as possible?

    Or is this need felt only among the hired musicians?

    Or is the need felt in addition only among the choir participants?

    How aware and sympathetic are those involved in any parish’s music regarding the felt needs of the members of the assembly?

    For example, how many parishes have experimented to find out which produces better congregational participation in hymnody: the rehearsed singers of the parish in choir or those same rehearsed people distributed throughout the congregation?

    Those of us who love liturgical or sacred music need to be cautious of imposing our values on the assembly and careful of justifying what we like doing without taking careful notice of what best serves the liturgy in theory or the subjective experiences of parishioners.

    1. Jack Rakosky Avatar
      Jack Rakosky

      My prediction is that the New Missal will be judged successful or unsuccessful largely upon whether the people in the pews who sing the Gloria, Sanctus and Agnus Dei like the new music selections for these better than the old music selections for these.

      Rather than delaying the music, begin now to have music practices for the people in the pews that sing these parts,using both the time before Mass and other times. Try several different Masses. Allow the people are attend these sessions to choose which Masses they prefer and go with their choices when the time for the implementation comes.

  15. Peter Haydon Avatar
    Peter Haydon

    I think that Jack, at #8 above, makes an important observation about trying to cram everything into one service. So we get all our scripture and cathecesis in there and all the singing. If other services, such as tha Daily Office, were more frequently offered that would provide extra opportunity.
    Strictly on music there are some songs that are sung with gusto by many (Father Abraham, for example) that are not really suited to Mass.

    Also Jack in #20 is right to remind us that many of the greatest works of music require such preparation that the bulk of the congregation cannot join in. Yet these surely belong in church and not just the concert hall.

    It seems to me that clergy and musicial directors should strike a balance between aiming for the simplest that all can sing and the more specialised works. The aim should be to inspire and educate the congregation to know and appreciate the best and the traditional.
    Do not forget that we do not all expect our painting or sculpture to be used in Church. Nor do we expect to be able to sing every piece.

  16. Michael O'Connor Avatar
    Michael O’Connor

    “It seems to me that lovers of music often find things which they MAY do in the rubrics and proceed to ignore what the instructions,”

    We’ve been taught well by those who would trash the Proper parts of the Mass and replace them with simple songs. I believe the GIRM places “alius cantus aptus” as the last ditch, yet it is the norm in even the wealthiest of parishes. This, to me, is the weakness of the current GIRM. It offers far too many options. Sadly, the lowest options are too often chosen to celebrate the one true miracle one can witness each week.

    1. Todd Flowerday Avatar

      A gloss on actual history is in evidence here. The time to promote the propers was before the council. Instead we had hymns at low Masses, and spiritual concerts at high Masses.

      There were no resources available for those snippets of Scripture printed in bold in missalettes. It’s a matter less of “trashing” the propers, but a lack of vision from Rome in the 60’s. Or maybe they didn’t see it as the big issue Jeffrey Tucker and others do today.

      The propers still suffer from the big flaw in MR3: a lack of harmonization to the Lectionary, especially in ordinary time.

      Choices have the advantage of lowering the bar for a parish’s 4th or 5th Sunday Mass, or a small parish’s lack of resources. Isn’t it enough that for excellent music programs, the bar is set to a challenging level, both liturgically and artistically?

      And finally, talk to your clergy about those “lowest” options. They might prefer to see miracles in their parish school, on the athletic field, in their community’s social life, or in nice landscaping or a new parking lot. The pre-Vatican II Church taught that all you have to do is get the words right, and what the people do or sing is irrelevant to that miracle. We still see today the argument forwarded that all you need for your “miracle” is a priest. That is the climate in which you struggle to promote a high standard. Not that the liberal liturgists are a bunch of meanieheads.

  17. Tom Poelker Avatar
    Tom Poelker

    Music may have been composed for liturgical use in cultures which did not understand liturgy as is taught by the Ecumenical Council in SC. Such may no longer be appropriate for liturgical use regardless of its musical or inspirational quality. Preserving great church music could have a lower priority than getting liturgy to work for the assembly according to the nature of the liturgy rather than according to cultural custom.

    Why do some people think that occasions where larger than usual numbers attend Mass are when special music should be used rather than being the times when the congregation should experience its own unity and vocal strength?

    MR3 is an opportunity to avoid the mistakes of the 60s and 70s. Explaining the difference between the liturgical experience and the legal minimums of required attendance and ex opere operato sacraments is needed at length and in detail.

    MR3 is a chance to go back to basic principles as to which parts of the Mass belong to the assembly and why and to use the changes in words to change unfortunate practices.

    No good liturgy will evolve if the clergy are not educated and the bishops do not insist on more than certain legalities. This was missed when the vernacular was introduced. The seminary programs were not changed as SC envisioned and the clergy were not able to teach the laity.

    The style of music is unrelated to musical quality and is second to whether the music fits the liturgical goals.

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