Friday, April 9, 2010

Theological Problems of Church Music

"But at least this much is clear: the problem of church music is not merely a problem for music, but a vital question for the Church herself"

This central quote neatly sums up the complete argument put forth by Joseph Ratzinger in his 1977 essay "The Theological Problems of Church Music". Though from a time immediately after the Second Vatican the midst of the very worst experiments in liturgical music....this essay still holds great relevance today, not only because of the status of its author but due to the timelessness of its claims.

I would recommend a thorough reading of this essay as it is only 9pages in length, including footnotes. Every time I come back to this essay, as well as a later essay on the same subject Liturgy and Church Music, I find something new and find those parts that are familiar have become more relevant to the current situation of liturgical music in the Catholic Church today.

More on this tomorrow...

Monday, February 15, 2010

Florida Chant Conference

The Florida Chapter of the Church Music Association of America is pleased to announce:
2nd Annual Musica Sacra Florida Gregorian Chant Conference
Sponsored by the Florida Chapter of the Church Music Association of America in conjunction with the Department of Music, Ave Maria University, Ave Maria, Florida.

Friday & Saturday, March 19-20, 2010

This two-day workshop will present both beginning and advanced musicians with lectures, breakout sessions, and rehearsals that will enrich their knowledge of Gregorian chant and its use in the Roman Catholic liturgy.

Led by a faculty of chant specialists from around the state, attendees will learn more about the history of Gregorian chant and its role in the liturgy as well as experience the chant in the context of both the Divine Office and the Mass. Beginning chanters will be introduced to the basics of notation and rhythm according to the classic Solesmes method. Experienced chanters will learn new repertoire and advance their understanding of rhythmic and interpretive nuance. Resources and practical methods for the cultivation of Gregorian chant in the life of the parish will also be discussed. A special breakout session will be devoted to helping priests and deacons with their liturgical chants.

This workshop is ideal for choir members, parish music directors, music students, teachers, parents, seminarians, deacons, priests, and anyone who is interested in learning about the heritage of sacred music within the Roman Catholic Church.

Registration fees are $40 or $15 for students (with I.D.) and include the price of instructional materials and instruction. Overnight accommodations will be available at AMU’s Xavier Conference Center. Participants can choose among various options for room and board. For prices and options, go to

Pre-registration is required. Deadline: Friday, March 5th, 2010
To register, visit:
Contact Information: Susan Treacy (239) 280-1668 or susan [dot] treacy [at]

Keynote Speaker: Jeffrey Tucker – Managing Editor, Sacred Music
Mary Jane Ballou – Director of the Schola Cantorae, St Augustine, FL
Jennifer Donelson – Nova Southeastern University, Fort Lauderdale, FL
Timothy McDonnell - Ave Maria University, Ave Maria, FL
Michael O’Connor – Palm Beach Atlantic University, West Palm Beach, FL
Susan Treacy – Ave Maria University, Ave Maria, FL
Jamie Younkin - Florida Institute of Technology, Melbourne, FL

Registration fees are $40 and include the price of instructional materials and instruction. Students (with I.D.) are $15. Payment is accepted online or due upon arrival at the conference. Pre-registration is required. Deadline: Friday, March 5th, 2010. Registration is available at:

Room & Board Options:
Overnight accommodations will be available at AMU’s Xavier Conference Center.
Participants may choose from among the following options for room and board.
Xavier Conference Center — Single occupancy $45
Xavier Conference Center — Double occupancy ($30 per person) $60
Saturday Breakfast $5
Saturday Lunch $7

Ave Maria University, 5050 Ave Maria Boulevard, Ave Maria, FL 34142
A campus map can be accessed at:
All events except the closing Mass are located in the Bob Thomas Student Union, labeled 05 on the campus map.

Friday, January 29, 2010

The Gregorian Institute on Gregorian Chant

The website of GIA (The Gregorian Institute of America) has a page on Gregorian Chant resources for parish use. It is fascinating in many ways….first that a company named the “Gregorian Institute” would only devote two or three pages of a several hundred page website to...well…Gregorian music. But more fascinating, and a bit disappointing, is how they treat the whole subject of Gregorian chant.

The information given is really not of much use, but then again I suspect it is not supposed to be very useful. The goal seems to be to actually discourage the use of chant while showing that they are at least abiding by the letter of the law in their publications.

From the GIA website….
(My emphasis and comments)

Gregorian Chant for the Congregation
The Second Vatican Council stated that the faithful should be able to sing the ordinary parts of the Mass in Latin (see Sacrosanctum Concilium, the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, no. 54).(It actually says that “steps should be taken so that the faithful may also be able to say or to sing together in Latin those parts of the Ordinary of the Mass which pertain to them. This is important because it makes clear that the Latin language is the important issue, not the chant settings. What steps have been taken by GIA to achieve this?) Catholic congregations in most parts of the world sing at least a few chants in Latin.( “Look! It’s being done elsewhere so we don’t have to worry about it!) But in the U.S., for the most part we have a ways to go in fulfilling SC 54.(Perhaps the understatement of the century…) One need not look far to find resources for basic congregational Latin chant—every major Catholic hymnal or worship aid includes basic congregational Latin chants. ( they’re really token inclusions, but so what?) The easiest places to start are with the Kyrie (which in fact is in Greek) and the Agnus Dei. Then one might advance to the Sanctus and perhaps the Pater Noster. (Take note of the language here…”one need not look far”…”one might advance”…rather than “you can find”…or “you can then advance”. In other words, “one could do this if one were so inclined, but not YOU.) The Gloria and Credo are more difficult because of their length. (so…don’t ever attempt to sing them in Latin? We should never try anything difficult?) In any event, slow progress and pastoral sensitivity are advised. (Good Lord!…why would slow progress be advised? I don’t see any descriptions of works in their choral anthem catalogues claiming “One might sing this for the Sunday after Easter, but only after careful pastoral consideration. If one’s choir is successful in introducing this work, one might then advance to the more difficult selections, but do so slowly.”)

There are several collections with more extensive congregational repertoire: Iubilate Deo, Liber Cantualis, and Kyriale Simplex. (But since we just told you that it should take a long, long, long time to introduce even the basic congregational chants included in our fine hymnals, why would you ever need a more extensive congregational repertoire?)

GIA publishes an edition of an earlier version of Iubilate Deo in modern notation: Jubilate Deo.
(We’re not going to tell you what this is or why it might be useful….just that we do publish it. Notice that we replaced the difficult Latin "Iubilate" with the much more accessible "Jubilate")

Easier Gregorian Chant for the Choir
Many choirs will be looking for easier chant than is found in the Graduale Romanum and the Graduale Triplex(?), especially at first. (Well...if you were encouraging them to look for chant at all they might be doing this, but you just told them to make slow progress and be pastoral) A good place to start is with any of the major congregational hymnals. (But…don’t look in the Parish Book of Chant…stick with the major hymnals!) The Latin chants found there are intended for congregations, but it is likely that congregations are not (yet) able to sing them. (Way to be encouraging GIA, way to be encouraging! I especially like the parenthetical “yet”.) The choir might (why not say “can”?) sing easier Latin antiphons, Latin chant hymns, or chant hymns in English. Hymns are an easy place to start because the same melody is repeated for each stanza of text. Because the melody of a strophic hymn is formulaic and not intrinsically tied to the Latin text, hymns are the one part of the Latin chant repertoire that can be sung in any language. (Well…they wouldn’t really be Latin chant repertoire then, would they? If we sing “O Come All Ye Faithful” in English, we’re not singing a Latin chant hymn simply because it was originally in Latin, are we? This is essentially trying to say that singing vernacular hymnody is a great way to fulfill the call to sing Latin chant. What absolute nonsense.)

Other easier collections for choir are Graduale Simplex and Cantus Selecti.
(We’re not going to tell you what these are either, but they are easier)

Gregorian Chant for the Choir (but not the easier stuff like above)
Much of the Latin chant repertoire was written for a trained choir.( choir isn't "trained"?) Being more difficult, it was sung primarily in monasteries (not like your parish), cathedrals (not like your parish either), colleges (not a parish, so not like you either), and parishes with more extensive resources (more extensive resources than your parish, that is!) In the right circumstances (not gonna tell you what these might be, but they aren't circumstances that apply to your parish) , parish choirs can still sing some of this chant.

Graduale Romanum, Gregorian Missal for Sundays, Graduale Triplex.
(We’re not even going to tell you why we have these books listed here…but they contain some of the chant that you might be able to sing in the right circumstances at a monastery, cathedral, college or extensively resourced parish.)


So….that is, in a nutshell, what GIA wants to tell you about the music for which their company is named. If you were a truly inquiring Director of Music trying to live up to the Church’s call to sing the music of the Roman liturgy, would this encourage you to do so?

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Some Thoughts About "Turning Back the Clock"

I've done a lot of reading (mostly blog discussions) about liturgical reform lately. This is the big topic right now. I mean, it's always been something of a hot topic, but it is now in the forefront in a way that it hasn't been before. Beginning with Summorum Pontificum and continuing with changes to the Papal Liturgies including ad orientem celebrations, Gregorian chant, communion kneeling and on the tongue many Bishops following suit...and then the new translation of the Roman Missal coming to us soon, it has become apparent that the "reform of the reform" is no longer a hypothetical thing, but is now a reality.

Just last week, the Pontical Master of Liturgical Ceremonies, Msgr. Guido Marini addressed the Priests of the International Conference of Clergy in Rome. The topic was the "reform of the reform"... a well organized presentation on 5 points central to liturgical reform:

The Sacred Liturgy, God’s great gift to the Church

The orientation of liturgical prayer

Adoration and union with God

Active Participation

Sacred or liturgical music

However, the presentation was less an academic examination than an instruction, laying out an interpretation of the post-conciliar liturgy that is decidedly orthodox, drawing together many of the issues that have been addressed seperately up to now and creating a coherent foundation for liturgical development going forwards.

And that is what I see as the most important point: This is a forward looking vision for the liturgy, an interpretive foundation for the Missal of Paul VI which brings it out of the morass of inculturating adaptations, innovations and experiments and seeks instead to set it within the liturgical traditions of the Church. This has been the point of Pope Benedicts reforms up to this set the Missal of Paul VI within the context of the Church's liturgical tradition.

And yet, the reactions to Msgr. Marini's address and to Pope Benedict's initiatives all too often appeal to the well-worn cliche: "Let's not turn back the clock".

This is usually followed by noting that things were far from perfect "back in the day" - and the criticism is most often that Priests rushed through Mass and that the people in the pews just sat and watched, oblivious to what was going on until it was time to receive communion, after which they left. And that may have been true in many instances "back in the day".

But I know a great many Catholics who consider themselves Traditionalists, and I attend Mass in the EF on Sundays (8:30AM Low Mass) and have yet to find a single person who wants to return to that way of celebrating the EF Mass. And I have yet to attend an EF Mass in which the Priest desires to rush through as quickly as possible. The Mass this past Sunday was a Low Mass and it took about 55 minutes, including an excellent homily. The faithful followed carefully in their Latin-English Missals (including the children who make up perhaps 1/4 of the assembly), very much engaged in the liturgy. This is the state of the Extraordinary Form in 2010. It has nothing to do with "turning back the clock" and everything to do with moving forwards. There are new churches, new religious orders, new Priests and new faithful, young and old celebrating in the Extraordinary Form.

And so, if the current celebration of the EF isn't "turning back the clock", then how could celebrating the Ordinary Form liturgy, even in the most orthodox of settings, be "turning back the clock"? I have seen Masses celebrated in the Ordinary Form where one gets the impression that the Priest is trying to "move things along", and the now ubiquitous use of an army of EMC's at most Masses can only be explained by a desire to finish communion as quickly as possible- despite all of the rhetoric that it is the "center of our faith journey". There is the frequent ommission of the Gloria and Creed, homilies without substance or relevance and arbitrary limitations on the number of verses in the hymns...all in order to "get out on time". If there is anything today that is similar to "turning back the clock", it would be this.

This is what Msgr. Marini and certainly Pope Benedict are urging us to move away from...that is, celebrations in the Ordinary Form ought to move forward towards a more reverent and orthodox norm as has been done in the Extraordinary Form celebrations. This is what Pope Benedict meant by mutual enrichment - taking those things from each liturgical form that lead towards a greater reverence and sanctification of the faithful and applying them to both forms.

Such progress could be described in a variety of ways, but I fail to see how it is "turning back the clock". May I suggest that it is actually a case of "winding up a clock" that was long ago allowed to run out, hurriedly replaced by a new improved LED timpepiece whose red-against-black square numbers are beginning to look rather dated themselves.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Warm Enough To Snow?

Right now, according to the NWS, Florida is the only place in the country warm enough to snow.


Thursday, January 7, 2010

A Connection?

As I read the January 6th address of Msgr. Guido Marini to priets, I kept coming back to this posting by Andrea Tornielli last August:

The newspaper [Il Giornale] today published a paper devoted to "propositions" voted on last March by the plenary meeting of the Congregation for Divine Worship, presented to Benedict XVI by Cardinal Antonio Canizares Llovera on April 4th. It contains a first outline of the "reform the reform" liturgy that Ratzinger would see implemented, underlining the importance of reverent worship, putting a stop to creativity and abuse, giving more presence to the Latin language in the new rite, publishing bilingual missals (with the Latin text opposite), reconsidering the matter of the "versus orientem" [ad orientem] orientation at least during the consecration [i.e. during the Eucharistic prayer], reiterating that the use of distributing Communion in the hand is an indult, an extraordinary fact, but that the [normative] custom of the law must remain to receive the host on the tongue.

All this, however, will be prepared and presented in the Ratzingerian style: not any short-term document, no sudden imposition destined to go unheeded. Rather, a long and patient work from the grass roots ["from below"], that involves the episcopate. The point of departure and arrival is the conciliar Constitution on the Liturgy, Sacrosanctum Concilium.

What kept getting to me were the main points supposedly in this "reform of the reform" document (Bold in red above), and how they echo the main points in Msgr. Marini's address:

The Sacred Liturgy, God’s great gift to the Church (reverent worship/ stopping creativity)

The orientation of liturgical prayer (ad orientem worship)

Adoration and union with God (communion on the tongue)

Active Participation

Sacred or liturgical music (greater presence of Latin language)

I wonder if this isn't the beginning of that "long and patient work from the grass roots"... the points that Tornielli claimed were in the "reform of the reform" document and the points that Msgr. Marini made in his address are identical. Note also that Tornielli said that the departure and return point is Sacrosanctum Concilium... while Msgr. Marini's address largely concerns an interpretation of the Vatican II reforms in continuity with tradition, quoting frequently from Sacrosanctum Concilium.

I can't help thinking that there is something here that has been carefully thought out.

Sacred or Liturgical Music: from Msgr. Marini's address to Priests

On January 6th, 2010 at the International Clergy Conference in Rome, the Pontifical Master of Liturgical Ceremonies, Msgr. Guido Marini, gave an extensive address to Priests…not just those in attendance at the conference, but to Priests throughout the world. The topic was the Liturgy, specifically an understanding of the foundations of liturgy from a perspective, a hermeneutic, of continuity with the Church’s liturgical tradition. This perspective has developed rapidly since 2003 when Pope Benedict first introduced the term hermeneutic of continuity to the Catholic world. Since the promulgation of Summorum Pontificum (2007) it has become clear that any future development in the liturgy must occur within tradition, not outside of it.

In his address to Priests, Msgr. Marini discusses 5 distinct topics of current importance:

The Sacred Liturgy, God’s great gift to the Church

The orientation of liturgical prayer

Adoration and union with God

Active Participation

Sacred or liturgical music

It is significant that these very topics are also the same as those addressed in Pope Benedict’s Apostolic Exhortation Sacramentum Caritatis, a document referred to by Msgr. Marini’s a number of times.

This address will, no doubt, be examined and studied over the next several weeks…it is a significant text coming as it does from the primary liturgist for the Catholic Church (I apologize if that term if it implies any offense!). Of particular interest to me is the section on Sacred Music…the last topic he examines.

(My emphasis and comments)

Sacred or Liturgical Music. (From Introduction to the Spirit of the Liturgy)
Msgr. Guido Marini – Pontifical Master of Liturgical Ceremonies

There is no doubt that a discussion, in order to introduce itself authentically into the spirit of the liturgy, cannot pass over sacred or liturgical music and silence. (Pope Benedict has expressed similar sentiments in his essay Liturgy and Church Music – that Sacred Music, Gregorian Chant and Polyphony, are an integral part of the Roman Liturgy and therefore inseperable from it)

I will limit myself to a brief reflection in way of orienting the discussion.(This is a big topic…better to just give the main points and begin a meaningful discussion of this going forward!) One might wonder why the Church by means of its documents, more or less recent, insists in indicating a certain type of music and singing (Gregorian Chant/ Polyphony) as particularly consonant with the liturgical celebration. (The liturgical documents at times say “eminently suited”, at other times “integral”) Already at the time of the Council of Trent the Church intervened in the cultural conflict developing at that time, reestablishing the norm whereby music conforming to the sacred text was of primary importance, limiting the use of instruments and pointing to a clear distinction between profane and sacred music.(This was the not the first reaction to secular music in the liturgy, but was the most notable up to that time…the focus was vernacular hymnody and instrumental music) Sacred music, moreover, must never be understood as a purely subjective expression. It is anchored to the biblical or traditional texts which are to be sung during the course of the celebration. (Liturgical music is not about what WE want to say…it is about proclaiming sacred texts as part of the liturgical ritual. This is why the issue of the Propers has come to the forefront in these past few years) More recently, Pope Saint Pius X intervened in an analogous way (analogous to what was done at Trent, and more importantly, analogous to the situation today), seeking to remove operatic singing from the liturgy and selecting Gregorian chant and polyphony from the time of the Catholic reformation as the standard for liturgical music, to be distinguished from religious music in general. (This is an important distinction. There is a place for religious music in the life of the church…but that place is not at Mass) The Second Vatican Council did naught but reaffirm the same standard, so too the more recent magisterial documents. (A reality check: the documents of Vatican II re-affirm, rather strongly, that Chant and Sacred Polyphony have been and still are the primary music of the liturgy, and every document since has only further emphasized its importance…shamefully, most parishes are in conflict with this.)

Why does the Church insist on proposing certain forms as characteristic of sacred and liturgical music which make them distinct from all other forms of music? Why, also, do Gregorian chant and the classical sacred polyphony turn out to be the forms to be imitated, in light of which liturgical and even popular music should continue to be produced today? (The liturgical documents of Vatican II emphasize the development of contemporary liturgical music…and proscribe that it be modeled after Gregorian chant and Sacred Polyphony. There are excellent contemporary composers that do this very thing, and there are other not-so-excellent composers that have rejected this proscription and turn instead to popular and theater music for their models)

The answer to these questions lies precisely in what we have sought to assert with regard to the spirit of the liturgy. It is properly those forms of music, in their holiness, their goodness, and their universality, which translate in notes, melodies and singing the authentic liturgical spirit (As was said above – this music, Gregorian chant, expresses to us the very spirit of the liturgy by means of its integral form and interior holiness, as opposed to music in which we express to others our feelings or sentiments by means of exterior secular forms that have more to do with us than with the liturgy. This is the fundamental flaw of most contemporary religious music as used in the liturgy): by leading to adoration of the mystery celebrated, by favouring an authentic and integral participation (people will sing chant), by helping the listener to capture the sacred and thereby the essential primacy of God acting in Christ, and finally by permitting a musical development that is anchored in the life of the Church and the contemplation of its mystery. (Given the importance of this issue to liturgical development, I don’t think that it is out of the question that there will eventually be something like a second Tra le sollecitudini coming our way. Msgr. Marini’s foreshadow of Pius X making an “analogous” reform for the very same reasons as are needed today should cause one to think seriously about this possibility).

Allow me to quote the then Cardinal Ratzinger one last time: “Gandhi highlights three vital spaces in the cosmos, and demonstrates how each one of them communicates even its own mode of being. Fish live in the sea and are silent. Terrestrial animals cry out, but the birds, whose vital space is the heavens, sing. Silence is proper to the sea, crying out to the earth, and singing to the heavens. Man, however, participates in all three: he bares within him the depth of the sea, the weight of the earth, and the height of the heavens; this is why all three modes of being belong to him: silence, crying out, and song. Today...we see that, devoid of transcendence, all that is left to man is to cry out, because he wishes to be only earth and seeks to turn into earth even the heavens and the depth of the sea. The true liturgy, the liturgy of the communion of saints, restores to him the fullness of his being. It teaches him anew how to be silent and how to sing, opening to him the profundity of the sea and teaching him how to fly, the nature of an angel; elevating his heart, it makes that song resonate in him once again which had in a way fallen asleep. In fact, we can even say that the true liturgy is recognizable especially when it frees us from the common way of living, and restores to us depth and height, silence and song. The true liturgy is recognizable by the fact that it is cosmic, not custom made for a group. It sings with the angels. It remains silent with the profound depth of the universe in waiting. And in this way it redeems the world.” (This final quote recaps three of Pope Benedict's points about liturgy and reform: True liturgy is divinely formed, not manufactured for our purposes. We have now a liturgy which is more manufactured for our purposes. Only true liturgy can redeem the world. And so we can conclude what…?)

What strikes me the most about this address (this is only one of 5 sections....and the shortest section at that!) is the narrowness of the scope (liturgical practice at Mass) and the very specific issues presented. These are the cornerstone issues of liturgical reform...the main points at which the actual texts of the liturgical documents of Vatican II and liturgical practice since Vatican II have differed most notably. In other words, these are the most prominent aspects of the liturgy where we are not following the liturgical documents: Sacredness and Solemnity in the liturgy - Liturgical Orientation (ad orientem) - Active Participation - Sacred Music. These issues are now being presented to priests as "front-burner" issues. They are also those same issues as were addressed by Pope Benedict in Sacramentum Caritatis.
But far from being philosophical reflection on theological points, this address is more of an exposition of a policy position. It outlines the actual policies (Vatican II documents), their justifications (tradition/ magisterium/ continuity) and even some specific suggestions for action. My strong feeling is that this is both a re-emphasizing of Sacramentum Caritatis, and perhaps a preparation for some kind of document yet to come.

I can't help but recall the "rumor" last Summer that Pope Benedict had been presented with a document outlining the main points of the "reform of the reform". Perhaps we are seeing them now....