Friday, August 12, 2011

Conspiracy Against Chant?

Until the seminary, when someone spoke about a Mass being composed, I had no idea what they were talking about. I've come to realize that when someone talks about a "Mass" musically, they mean the following: the parts of the Mass that would be sung on a typical Sunday Mass. Those pieces would include the following:

The Introit (entrance)
Kyrie (Lord Have Mercy...)
The Gloria
Santcus (Holy Holy Holy)
Agnus Dei
Communion antiphon

Some who write a Mass might include the Alleluia and the Our Father. Most Masses that get put on a CD are over the top difficult and are performed usually with highly skilled choirs.

This doesn't mean that all "Mass settings" have to be difficult, however. Sure, Mozart, Bach, Tallis, etc. all composed Masses that are famous, but there are also much simpler versions of Masses in existence.

As part of the New Translation, I recently received in the mail a catalogue offering the sheet music and CD's for more than 50 new Masses that have been composed. These are just some of the Masses that have been composed, hoping to win the hearts (and money) of parishes (and music directors at parishes) around the country

Unity Mass
Mass of Renewal
Mass of the Immigrants
Mass of Light
Mass of Joy
Mass of Joy and Peace
Mass of Grace
Mass of Charity and Love
Mass of Awakening
Mass for the City
Mass for a New World
Black Mountain Liturgy

The list goes on.

Here is the point - although you can buy song sheets, and presider's books, and CD's, and SATB choir sheets for any hundreds of Masses out there - there is nothing out there with the music the Church actually asks people to use first.

That's right - in the new Missal there is a Mass setting that wasn't written by someone trying to make a lot of money, it was put together by ... the Church. The music is in the book that priests use every day at Mass, but its black-listed for two reasons

1. There isn't nearly as much money to be made in helping parishes implement the Mass the Church has given us

and 2. The Mass the Church gives us features the red-headed step-child for pastoral musicians - chant.

Let's first of all look at the difference between chant and your standard parish music you hear in most parishes today. The first clip is a video that popped up when I searched for "All are Welcome" - a standard ditty in most parishes today. That it is being played at the "ordination" ceremony for women "priests" should be telling.

Now compare that to a very simple chant done by the monks of St. Meinrad that could be easily done by a parish community - the community repeats the refrain "by His wounds, we have been healed" while a cantor sings the verses.

Does one sound more prayerful to you?

We've looked elsewhere on this blog at the NUMEROUS places where the Church has said chant is the preferred method for music at Mass. Why - it is really quite simple - chant is prayer, while music is, usually, not prayer. Most of the stuff that passes for Church music in the U.S. today has nothing to do with prayer but is instead very often a bad attempt at theological brainwashing which seeks to produce an army of people passionate about the same fluff that the "composer" finds to be important on his own personal "value index" - an index invariably at odds with the Church's recommendation of priorities. Church music today, far from producing the effect of prayer, is very often a litany of primal chest-pounding which serves to let anyone who cares to listen know how great we are and what we like to do in the realm of social justice. Needless to say, I've never heard anything from the Gather Hymnal and thought "hum, that's really prayerful!"

On this matter, I'd like to bring in Msgr. Valentino Grau, President of the Pontifical Institute for Sacred Music, citing an essay he wrote on chant vs. music

"Congregational Gregorian chant not only can but must be restored, along with the chanting of the schola and the celebrants, if we desire a return to the liturgical seriousness, holiness, sound form and universality that should characterize all liturgical music worthy of the could a bunch of silly tunes, cranked out in imitation of the most trivial popular music, ever replace the nobility and sturdiness of the Gregorian melodies, even the simplest ones, which are capable of lifting the hearts of the people up to heaven?"

The mindset that originally caused those with authority to look the other way as the "pop Mass songs" commenced their liturgical invasion grew out of a larger effort by some to make the Mass more "hip" or "digestible." The young people I work with, and most of the young adults that I know SCOFF at the notion that the guitarish clappy music as it is performed in most parishes today is in any way "cool" or "digestable." My kids at Ritter listen to Little Wayne, Katy Perry, and Beyonce Knowles, and my friends listen to Coldplay, John Mellencamp, and U2 - if anyone thinks that the stuff at most Masses today sounds anything like the music the past two generations listen to is sadly mistaken. The tambourine and guitar ballads that make up much of the Haugen/Haas record label come from a style of music that enjoyed about a ten year window of popularity, a window which has long since closed. If you want to be modern today, you better get some turn tables and a computer program that will crank out some rap beats.


We can give up on the 30 year experiment to be "hip" - admitting, as Cardinal Ratzinger noted, that people might actually prefer (and that God might prefer they have) a different experience at Mass than the same stuff they encounter throughout the other 167 hours of their week.

"But it is so difficult to do chant" some may argue. However, Msgr. Crau goes on "We have underestimated the Christian people's ability to learn; we have almost forced them to forget the Gregorian melodies that they knew instead of expanding and deepening their knowledge of them, through proper instruction on the meaning of the texts. Instead, we have stuffed them full of banalities."

I agree with the Msgr. 100% - it isn't rocket science - I learned chant and I can't read one note of music. Being able to chant has nothing to do with singing ability (see: me). Not everyone can sing; everyone can chant, and quite easily at that!

I close with one last thought from the Msgr. "Why this resistance to restoring, either completely or partially, depending on circumstances, the Mass with Gregorian chant and in Latin [chant can be done in English as well]?...The Church wants this. Why should we lack the courage needed for a "conversion"? Gregorian chant must not remain in the preserve of academia, or of the concert hall, or of recordings; it must not be mummified like a museum exhibit but must return as living song, sung also by the assembly, which will find therein the satisfaction of their most profound spiritual yearnings and will feel that it is truly the people of God. It is time to stop procrastinating, and the shining example must come from the cathedral churches, the major churches, the monasteries, the convents, the seminaries and the houses of religious formation, and thus even the parishes will end up finding the supreme beauty of the chant of the Church contagious."

Chant is awesome, it has changed everything about how I approach the Mass, and what I spend my time during Mass doing (at least at the Masses that utilize chant) and I think we, as a country, can pull off a return to chant that our Church has been calling us and encouraging us to for a long time.

[excerpts taken from "Gregorian Chant and Congregational Participation: the Possibilities and Conditions for a Revival." The essay is found in Musica Sacra - Sacred Music: A Liturgical and Pastoral Challenge]


  1. Your ignorance of what being a pastoral musician astounds me. You clearly state that chant is a "pastoral musician's red-headed step-child." I can't begin to tell you how many pastoral musicians, my friend David Haas included, are using more chant in their writing. Like it or not, the music composed by Haas/Haugen has clearly become labeled as Catholic music. And yet again, you seem to forget where Sacrosanctum Concilium clearly states, "other things being equal." Now, I don't know whether or not you've read the USCCB document "Sing to the Lord", but it states that "In every age, the Church has called upon creative artists to give new voice to praise and prayer." NEW voice. Don't get me wrong, I love chant as you do, but to completely disregard this is a travesty. Just a quick mention: you tend to bash Gather hymnals and writers who submit their work to said hymnal quite frequently. If the theological brainwashing is so intensive (which, by the way, your video example to convey your own personal taste is a bit drastic), then why has the Archdiocese of Chicago given ecclesiastical of approval for each edition? I guess Cardinal George just doesn't know his theology. Shame. Gimme a break. Also, were you aware that Cardinal DiNardo is an avid pastoral musician and recently attended the NPM convention, which was also attended by none other than people like David Haas, Bobby Fisher, Fr. Michael Joncas and multiple others who you tend to bash so extensively in your blog postings. PS: Bishop Coyne used a David Haas song at his ordination. Hmm, interesting. But, I forgot, David Haas' music and any other Gather music isn't suitable for Liturgy. After all, you said so.

  2. Father, as just a regular sheep, I agree with you entirely. FWIW, I'm a member of the generation that thought "folk" music was so great. It has its place, but enough already, not at Mass. I hope chant makes its way back.

  3. As an Oblate of my dear Saint Meinrad Archabbey, I agree with you completely. I would like nothing better than to have Gregorian chant at my home church. There is nothing that moves me like participating in chant. When “on the hill” I feel that am being privileged with the Holy beauty of chant. It should not be this way. We should not have to travel two hours to have chant in our Mass. It should be so common so as to expect nothing else.
    Thank you yet again Fr. John.

  4. Father, agreed...wholeheartedly. Music that is more vertical and less horizontal could only increase the sense of reverence at Mass, something sorely lacking on the part of the laity on most Sundays.

  5. yes Your re right Father the music in most of Churchs is rotten how do we change this other then start going to a latin mass.

  6. Father,
    From personal experience - three plus decades of Gather-ish hymnals, visits to St. Meinrad, and many masses abroad - I feel that any music at mass is best received and sung by the congregation when those leading the music are both confident and competent.

    People are more than likely disinclined to hear themselves sing, but will readily sing along with quality music and singing they feel makes up for their shortcomings as a singer. We see this in churches with accomplished cantors and musicians, and we see it at basketball games when the opposing team shoots an airball (listen, you'll sing "Aiiir-Baaaall" on key...because everyone else is). Despite any theological benefit, folks won't sing out with bad or weak music or something to drown out their own (perceived) shortcomings. And we've all been at a mass to prove it.

    So before some sea change from the status quo to chant, we should instead focus on taking whatever music is available and fortifying it to its potential. Then congregations will be more inclined to embrace a transition because they'll be in the comforting and confident arms of quality leaders. Otherwise, we'll reintroduce chant to a bumbling, reticent Church.

  7. Wow Father, you certainly like to poke bears. Criticizing the music heard in most parishes today is almost as dangerous as criticizing the over use of Extraordinay Ministers of Holy Communion.

    While much of the music heard during Mass may be "good" and approved by the Bishops, I think that most of it hardly lends itself to reverence or prayer. A point in case is the Gloria sung in most parishes. I'm not a professional musician nor did I study music theory and composition, but to me the Gloria sounds like an organ grider's tune and it doesn't appear to sync naturally to the words. In certain parts - words are exentended for no apparent reason but to facility the words of the Gloria and the music to end at the same time.

    Another example of music not encouraging reverence or prayer is the singing of songs during Communion. The Body of Christ remains in our body for 15 to 20 minutes before it is completely dissolved. Why is singing encouraged during this time rather than quiet reflection and prayer with the Lord?

    I think the Pope mentioned once that the music during Mass is very important and should not be a Broadway show tune. Personally, my feeling is that many of the songs in the Gather Hymnal are that. While they may elicit an emotional response, they fall short of encouraging reverence and prayer.

    I'm old enough to have sung Kumbaya and Blowin' in the Wind during many a Mass during the '70s, so don't get me started on the "folk" or "rock" Mass.

  8. To the first commenter - we certainly do love our "Sing to the Lord" don't we. Many people cite sing to the Lord, but never cite Musicae Sacrae Disciplina, Tra le Sollecitudini, the GIRM, etc. This brings up an important point that I should probably do a post on at some point - according to Canon Law, the USCCB has virtually no authority. They can put out documents, but those documents have no authority in any diocese unless the bishop says "I like that, we're going to use it in our diocese." A statement by a bishop's conference and a statement from Rome are INFINITELY different in theological weight.

    Some examples from the past include a letter that the bishops wrote in the 80's that was in some ways pro-contraception. The Vatican had to come in and correct that. Also, the letter they issued in 1983 on nuclear weapons is widely regarded by moral theologians to be severely deficient in the areas of morality.

    So yes, if I were ever a pastor (probably not if I keep blogging:) then I would want to talk to the Archbishop and ask him which of the USCCB documents he wants to hold sway in our archdiocese.

    Obviously not all pastoral musicians treat chant like a red-headed step-child.

    Finally, I'd ask this - are Anthem, Gather Us In, City of God, All are Welcome, and all the other "we" songs appropriate for Mass?

  9. Also, the documents from the 2nd Vatican Council use a phrase that is often translated as "pride of place." Pride of place sounds like "make sure you tip your hat to chant even while you never use it - its like the old uncle that you have to show respect for even though you never visit him."

    Most believe that "pride of place" ought to be translated instead as "primary place." I'm no Latin scholar - but a good description was found on a diocese of Rochester music colloquium web site:

    "the Second Vatican Council which clearly stated that Latin, more precisely Gregorian Chant, has “principum locum” in the liturgy. This has been translated by several “scholars” to mean, “pride of place,” sort of like how Uncle Olaf has a pride of place sitting at the end of the table, head resting in a puddle of drool. No, “principum locum” means “the first place,” “the primary place.”

  10. Here is a stunningly thorough and expertly written review of "Sing to the Lord" for those interested in the intricacies of the issues.

  11. I would say, yes, that they are very much so appropriate for Mass. Far too often, Mass becomes a "me and Jesus moment" for people and we forget that the Body of Christ that we receive is the Body of Christ surrounding us. Ergo, "we" are the Body of Christ. We are joined with our entire Baptismal community (born into life of the Trinity) when we receive Holy Communion. Just break down the word communion and it traces back to the Latin word communio. The Latin roots are the same as community. Gotta think this is done for a reason. Your view of Eucharistic theology is one that is far too narrowed and is reverting back after years of more understanding and knowledge.

  12. what is the ratio in those songs of the word

    "We" to "any word mentioning God" ?

  13. You're right - my Eucharistic theology is one in which it is assumed that we still have need of a redeemer and that we can still sin.

  14. Much of the discussion without stating it by name seems to be wishing for a pre-Vatican II liturgy, etc... The following quote is from esteemed Catholic Theologian Cardinal Dulles:

    "Pope John XXIII, in his opening speech on Oct. 11, 1962, declared that although the church had sometimes condemned errors with the greatest severity, it would best meet the needs of our time “by demonstrating the validity of her teaching rather than by condemnations.” Because the council saw fit to follow this instruction, it did not dwell on the negative implications of its doctrine. "

    Pacem In Dei (في سلام الله)

  15. To follow up on the last comment, Pope John XXIII also stated in the opening of the Second Vatican Council:
    "Christ is ever resplendent as the center of history and of life. Men are either with Him and His Church, and then they enjoy light, goodness, order, and peace. Or else they are without Him, or against Him, and deliberately opposed to His Church, and then they give rise to confusion, to bitterness in human relations, and to the constant danger of fratricidal wars."

    To paraphrase the quote, those that sow confusion, bitterness and division are not of Christ. The continual bashing of everything that does not fit a thoroughly almost Pre-Vatican II view of the church is sowing division, confusion and bitterness. I'm not focusing solely at Fr. Hollowell, but all that don't want to take the time to really invest themselves in the diverse traditions of this great Roman Catholic Church.

  16. "The continual bashing of everything that does not fit a thoroughly almost Pre-Vatican II view of the church is sowing division, confusion and bitterness. I'm not focusing solely at Fr. Hollowell, but all that don't want to take the time to really invest themselves in the diverse traditions of this great Roman Catholic Church."

    I'm curious as to what your definition of "tradition" is. I love it when those who can neither tolerate nor defend agains any criticism of Post-Vatican II innovations suddenly claim that such innovations are tradition. So let me see if I get this logic correct: Because they were traditions, Pre-Vatican II traditions were tossed out and replaced by Post-Vatican II innovations. Now a mere 45 years later (and in the history of the Church, that is barely a heartbeat), such innovations are now to be protected, defended and any criticism of such silenced because they are traditions. Now THAT is rich!

  17. No dice anonymous. The music that infests most parishes today is a case of the elephant in the living room: everyone can plainly hear that this is the music of secular-therapeutic culture and not Catholicism, yet everyone wants to pretend it's not there. The evidence is when someone tries to re-introduce proper things like chant, eucharistic adoration, etc. and are met with howls of protest. There's your division.

  18. Nothing has been said that there aren't issues with some aspects of the changes that occurred as a result of Vatican II. The changes that are set to take place at Advent in the wording of parts of the Mass are a great example of this. Please see ( and all the other podcasts related to it. The Church while Divine in creation is not a rock that never changes. Changes to the Mass, to the Liturgy have taken place several times across the history of the Catholic Church and will continue to change as time continues. Criticism is a great source of inspiration to all of us including the Catholic Church as a whole.

    Pacem In Dei (في سلام الله)

  19. You just said "criticism is a great source of inspiration to all of us."

    I agree - thus my criticism of the abuse in many parishes today with liturgical music - but you tell me I can't criticize? I'm confused.

    Fr. Hollowell (school computer wouldn't let me post as me for some reason)

  20. Based on the statement "The continual bashing of everything that does not fit a thoroughly almost Pre-Vatican II view of the church is sowing division, confusion and bitterness." I think most people would have a hard time believing that the writer of those words subscribe to the idea that "criticism is a great source of inspiration."

    I also find the accusation "Much of the discussion without stating it by name seems to be wishing for a pre-Vatican II liturgy, etc..." tiresome, frustrating and to be honest, intellectully lazy. There are numerous valid concerns and criticisms that can be made of the Novus Ordo Mass. When one voices these concerns or criticisms, he or she is immediately pigeon-holed as a "traditionalist" or "wishing for a pre-Vatican II liturgy" and their concerns or criticims can be promptly ignored. Your earlier words belie your true feelings. You (and others like you I assume since use used the word "us") may pay lip service to criticism but tolerate it you do not.

  21. I welcome criticism and I `end my posts with Pacem In Dei (في سلام الله) so all that I as trying to relay was that harsh condemnation is a way of the past (per Pope John XXIII) and that all of us should attempt to relay our thoughts on the practices of the church in a positive manner and shy away from hard and possibly hate sounding rhetoric that some have written, especially the commenter after my first post.

  22. shy away from hard and possibly hate sounding rhetoric that some have written, especially the commenter after my first post.

    His comments were perfectly acceptable and quite measured considering that it was implied (which I'll in good faith assume was unintentional) that anyone who doesn't smile and nod at all the frivolousness added to the liturgy is against Our Lord. To chop someone's head off and then try to stick it back on with "peace be with you" is smarmy.

  23. And just for fun, would someone help me out with what "Vatican II liturgy" is? Specifically, let's re-visit the list of things NOT mandated by Vatican II.

  24. @romishgraffiti: I like your style! I'm guessing you wouldn't like a Deacon at the Parish I used to attend. He described G.R.I.M as a way for Rome to stick it's nose where it didn't belong.

    On a more serious note, I think that much of the abuses and changes that took place after Vatican II will pass and fade away as time goes by. Like a large animal swollowed by a boa constrictor, a large number of the proponents of these changes within the Church are getting old and retiring. And from what I have seen, large numbers of the priests coming out of the seminaries in recent years (such as Fr. John here) are orthodox and make their number one priority the saving of souls from Hell. I am hopeful about the Church's future. I am also thankful for priests like Fr. John and include him and all the priests in my life in my daily prayers.

  25. Is this blog seriously about liturgical music or authority and who has it? I bet if we put 10 priests in a room and asked them about liturgical music, there would be 10 informed opinions about what constitutes "sacred music" and "liturgical music". And, those same 10 priests would interpret the Church's documents on it. I applaud you Fr. for taking a stand. But just remember this, not all chant is or was beautiful. I'm asking this out of complete ignorance, what is the development of chant? Was it developed only for the Mass or was it used in common everyday music that was later adapted for the Mass?

  26. Chant is specifically liturgical. It developed out of the Mass for the Mass (and the other liturgies of the Church, i.e. morning prayer, evening prayer, etc.)

    Chant did not first exist secularly and then get co-opted by the Church.

  27. Chant-still another way to diminish the "breathe of fresh air" that Vatican II brought to the church. If all are ever going to be welcome, this is not the way to broaden focus. If the goal is for an arch-conservative narrow church-then this is a piece of that.

  28. My understanding is that the "focus" of the Church is to save souls. Did Vatican II actually change this focus?

  29. Chant-still another way to diminish the "breathe of fresh air" that Vatican II brought to the church. If all are ever going to be welcome, this is not the way to broaden focus. If the goal is for an arch-conservative narrow church-then this is a piece of that.

    Again, please cite where Vatican II mandated getting rid of chant. The fact of the matter is that when you look at the denominations that have so-called broadened focus, namely mainline groups such as ECUSA, PCUSA, and the ELCA, they are bleeding membership at an astonishing rate. One of the most broadened-focused Catholic diocese is Rochester, and it is second to last in new vocations, mass attendence is well below the national average, and parishes and schools are shutting down faster than if the buildings were on fire. Meanwhile, places like Denver with Bishop Chaput have attendence above average, a good flow of seminarians, and he is actually opening schools.

  30. anonymous - you highlight in a very specific way the ignorance of what ACTUALLY took place and was said at Vatican II that is such a problem today. So many people have simply IMAGINED what the Council said - and have never actually read or studied anything that the Council actually said. It is most unfortunate that this mentality is in our Church - if we hope to move forward people are going to have to actually LOOK at the Council with an open mind (both the unorthodox and orthodox) and see what the Council actually taught.

  31. Here is a great commentary on chant from The Boston Pilot:


    I especially like this observation:

    If you think about it, chant makes pastoral sense. It rose from the need for all kinds of people to worship God together: literate and illiterate, young and old, professional musicians and those with little or no musical training. It is repetitive, easy to follow, and doesn't rely much on mastering the one skill that is the greatest downfall of parish choirs: counting. The rhythms are dictated not by the tune, but by the words. The notes are rarely too long or too high for a standard issue set of vocal cords. On the contrary, many of the Mass music settings we commonly use now are quite difficult. Many people find the more contemporary music rhythmically difficult, outside their vocal range, and often with unpredictable melodies or odd-sounding harmonies and accompaniments. Sure, these elements can make the music more interesting, but they often make it less singable as well.

    It seems to me that chant is more in line with the mantra of "the spirit of Vatican II" which is invoked as a defense against certain changes to the Novus Ordo Mass. If the "spirit of Vatican II" means more participation in the Mass by thosse in the pews, then chant would appear to meet this goal. Chant is something that everyone can do and participate in as opposed to the numerous new hymns which are difficult or nearly impossible for everyone in the pews to sing.