Friday, February 25, 2011

Music and the Mass Part 2

I wanted to share a story about the Mass and music

1) A few weeks ago we had an all school Mass at Ritter, and as we were doing a walk through about 30 minutes before Mass, I noticed the 4-5 young ladies who made up our our choir were anxious - the piano player had still not shown up! I went over and talked to them and said, "If we don't have music today that is fine, we're not going to put you on the spot, but why don't you try and sing it without any piano just to see how it sounds." I was just offering some practical advice, but as soon as they started singing I knew we were on to something. The piano player did finally show up, but I asked them if they wouldn't mind singing the opening song the same way they'd practiced it - no instrumentation.

As Mass and the small choir started their piece sans instruments I noticed a couple of things
A) The music was a ton more prayerful because it wasn't overpowering.
B) Because it wasn't overpowering, a TON more kids were singing than normally would. I think that as long as there are instruments going and lots of noise coming from the front of the Church, people aren't going to sing. However, if it is a prayerfully sung or chanted piece, I think it is much more of an invitation to join in.
C) The whole idea of chant is that the congregation realizes "If I don't join in, this song might not make it" by its very nature it invites people and it reminds people "the choir needs your help!" If the choir/flutist/pianist/guitarists/drums and whatever other fathomable musical arrangement is up at the front belting out a hymn, then I know, as a person in the congregation, that "this song doesn't need me." If I stand here with my arms folded and look at the ceiling, the song is going to be just fine.

I learned something last week about how to help transition a parish or community to the type of music that the Church asks for at Mass. The transition can be a lot simpler than it may seem when looking at the vast gap between what the Church is asking for and the typical music you hear at Mass today.

Other ideas for how to make Mass music holier? Other stories of what you have seen work with liturgical music?


  1. I posted a comment on State of Music Part 1 which you might find interesting. With reference to what you have written above, when I was at junior school (ages 7-11) circa 1960 we were taught to sing settings of the Mass and Latin hymns and antiphons for Benediction. The cheap and widely circulated Plainsong for Schools (2 vols) included some quite complex pieces.

    The chant revival which promised so much in the first half of the 20th century was aborted in the headlong rush to vernacularize; in the space of only three years (1964-1967) we moved from an all-Latin to an all-English liturgy with simplified rubrics and an emphasis on informality and 'active participation' - and this was before the introduction of the Novus Ordo in 1970.

    We need to get chant back into schools; children learn quickly and enjoy singing in Latin. The problem is, who's going to teach it? My mother attended a Catholic teacher training college on the eve of WW2 where the students were not only required to study plainchant but were examined on it; I still have her certificate, awarded by Solesmes. Nowadays most priests aren't taught it. I know a monsignor in his sixties who rejoices in the title of Protonotary Apostolic and can't even pronounce Latin, let alone understand it. He ought to be ashamed of himself.

    Pope Benedict has pointed the way forward, but he needs all the help he can get. Lay Catholics with an interest in music should make it their business to learn the basics of chant and volunteer their services. It's not rocket science (should that be 'scientia ballistae non est'?) and you don't even need a particularly good voice. Those in charge of running parish music should take a long hard look at the material they are using. 'I the lord of sea and sky' is musically trite and theologically illiterate. The Kyrie from Mass IX is great music which can stand with the art of Mozart or Schubert. The switching between major and minor in a single song is regarded as a Schubert fingerprint; it is commonplace in Gregorian Chant.

  2. Ditch the Marty Haugen and David Haas music. Their songs are horrible Mass songs!

    Our family has all but stopped attending our regular parish due to the musician. He is a wonderful singer and keyboardist, but his music is all new-agey and it seems so un-holy at Mass.

  3. Historically speaking, music was supposed to provide reflection and beauty at Mass. One thing it was not supposed to do is detract from the solemnity of Mass. If people want tons of guitars, drums, and excitement, maybe they should visit the local Pentecostal churches. Hallelujah! I'm a piano player too, but I'd still rather hear chant or pipe organ versus a guitar at Mass.

  4. A lot of this sounds like personal preference. I think it's important to note that every congregation/parish has a different way of expressing the beauty of the Mass. I'm a fan of all types of liturgical music and the USCCB even says in the document "Sing to the Lord" that many different aspects should be taken into account such as, but not limited to, age and culture. Now, does Gregorian Chant have pride and place within the Church? Abosolutely and it is a beautiful artform! Does the organ have pride and place within the Church/should it be held in high esteem? Aboslutely! But, the Church does say that other types of musical instruments/types of vocal music can be used, "other things being equal" (Musicam Sacram, 50 a.) In regards to instrumentation, other types of instruments may be used "under consent of the competent territorial authority". And yes, the USCCB says we can and we are under their authority since the document "Sing to the Lord" was voted on by the Bishops of the United States and publshed in 2007. "90. Many other instruments also enrich the celebration of the Liturgy, such as wind,
    stringed, or percussion instruments “according to longstanding local usage, provided they are
    truly apt for sacred use or can be rendered apt.” So, with that being said, I feel as if we should remain in the "Bark of the Church", or, in other words, not tend to shift one way or another, but to find a common balance between various forms of liturgical music since we are all there to celebrate the mystery of the Eucharist as a community, as One Body in Christ. Liturgical music is meant to better emphasize the beauty of the Eucharist and to invoke participation from the Liturgy. I would invite all on this blog to read what our Bishops have to say (while quoting other doctrine as well) in regards to composers of liturgical music of our day. Just click on the link I've added and type in "composers" in the search box and it should pop up in the Table of Contents. So, I think I've said enough here. God bless all who read or don't read this! Pax Christi!

  5. This is a nice response to what anonymous says above:

    I disagree that most of my original post was "personal preference." I do believe that certain instruments are "truly apt" but I think it is the "rendering them apt" part that people utterly fail on. The way the guitar (and/or tambourine) are played in the average parish is quite clearly NOT apt.

    Frankly, I find this to be a completely vague passage from your post "to find a common balance between various forms of liturgical music since we are all there to celebrate the mystery of the Eucharist as a community, as One Body in Christ." Does Chant hold pride of place or not? If so, then why are we finding a balance? Who determines the balance? What does celebrating the Eucharist as a community have to do with this argument? Of course we celebrate the Eucharist as one community - we would be doing that if chant were the only thing ever used - we'd still be one community. Is the Eucharist not celebrated as a community if chant IS given pride of place? THIS statement from your comment sounds like personal preference to me.

    As far as invoking participation - I agree wholeheartedly. See my follow up post above on this topic - precisely when we cut the drums and guitars out - it is at those moments when I have experienced people finally saying "I need to sing along and lift up my voice." As long as there is loud noise coming from the band at Mass, nobody is going to sing along because the band doesn't need anyone's help; the song will go on without me. However, when it is chant, people realize that they are actually NEEDED and begin participating.

    I'm just telling you from experience that the Church is quite right to exhort us to seek a "Chant mentality" in our liturgy - I've seen a lot of campfire Masses and I've seen some Masses that are of the "chant mentality" and it is undeniable which is more transcendent.

  6. Here are a few quotes from Sing to the Lord:

    "The Second Vatican Council directed that the faithful be able to sing parts of the
    Ordinary of the Mass together in Latin.70 In many worshiping communities in the United States, fulfilling this directive will mean introducing Latin chant to worshipers who perhaps have not sung it before. While prudence, pastoral sensitivity, and reasonable time for progress are encouraged to achieve this end, every effort in this regard is laudable and highly encouraged.
    75. Each worshiping community in the United States, including all age groups and all
    ethnic groups, should, at a minimum, learn Kyrie XVI, Sanctus XVIII, and Agnus Dei XVIII, all of which are typically included in congregational worship aids. More difficult chants, such as Gloria VIII and settings of the Credo and Pater Noster, might be learned after the easier chants have been mastered."

    The ONLY pieces mentioned by name are these chants pieces so I'd say to any music person quoting from Sing to the Lord - "Call me when the parish has these pieces down."

    There is one passage that seems especially Bernadin-esque: "The “pride of place” given to Gregorian chant by the Second Vatican Council is modified by the important phrase “other things being equal.” These “other things” are the important liturgical and pastoral concerns facing every bishop, pastor, and liturgical musician."

    My question here is this: is there ever two places that are going to have "EQUAL" pastoral concerns or "liturgical concerns"? Of course not so how can that be what Rome was referring to? Sacrosanctum Concilium was clearly referring to something that would only change SOMEtimes, but "pastoral concerns" are ALWAYS slightly different. Instead of clarifying the issue of what the original Vatican II documents meant, this seems to grant license to bring on the Marty Haugen and David Haas because it jives more with my pastoral concerns.

    Musicam Sacram and Sacrosanctum Concilium are clear and do not really need the clarification of our bishops. This line (which the Bishops quote as well) seems very clear (and thus not a matter of my personal preference): "The Church recognizes Gregorian chant as being specially suited to the Roman
    Liturgy." Specially suited!

    Rome is rarely going to say "YOU MUST DO..." - so those who are looking for loopholes in documents issued from Rome will ALWAYS be able to find them.

  7. 'The "pride of place" given to Gregorian Chant ... is modified by the important phrase "other things being equal". These "other things" are the important liturgical and pastoral concerns facing every bishop, pastor, and liturgical musician.'

    This is a highly tendentious and unwarranted extrapolation from two words in SC 116 which will be familiar to economists - 'ceteris paribus'. For a correct interpretation see Father Z;