Friday, May 4, 2007

Reforms to Come: Part II - Revision of MCW

Still no Motu Proprio to comment on yet, so my attention today will turn towards another aspect of Liturgical Restoration going on “behind the scenes”.

In Spring of 2006, although it may have started even earlier, support for a “revision” of Music In Catholic Worship (MCW) began increasing among the various liturgical sub-committees of the USCCB, likely urged by the CDW in Rome and with the support, at least philosophically, of Pope Benedict. Like everything else having to do with music in the Catholic Church (although every liturgical document makes the point that music is essential / central/ of inestimable value/ of the greatest importance/ an intrinsic and inseparable part of the liturgy) the undertaking of this revision has gone largely unnoticed. The task of completing this revision was given to the Subcommittee on Music in the Liturgy, a group of Bishops and music professionals that advises the Bishop’s Committee on the Liturgy concerning musical matters in July of 2006. A conference session was set for October 9th in Chicago where the subcommittee heard recommendations from a virtual “alphabet soup” of the most influential persons and organizations involved in Catholic liturgical music today: GIA, OCP, J.S Paluch, NPM, CMAA, AGO, Adoremus, CanticaNova, Musica Sacra – and still a great many more on the list! The variety of opinions present in the room could well have led to a shouting match, however the conference session was excellently handled and every representative was given a 5 minute spot to give their advice.

To backtrack just a bit, it might be helpful to ask why bother revising Music in Catholic Worship? This document, originally issuing from the Bishop’s Subcommittee on Music in 1972, has been controversial since its inception. It has been praised by progressive musicians and liturgists as an official statement from the Church hierarchy (although an ad hoc subcommittee comprised of 6 lay songwriters and 3 Bishops appointed by a Bishop’s Committee from the Conference of Bishop’s is hardly “the hierarchy”) validating many of the progressive practices that have taken hold in parishes throughout the United States since Vatican II, and it has been decried by Traditionalists for it’s repudiation of Musica Sacra, it’s break with 2000 years of Sacred Music tradition, as well as it’s lack of official standing, having never been approved by the USCCB and issued as a “committee document” instead.

In spite of the lack of approval from the very hierarchy that progressives think it represents validation from, MCW has, without any doubt, become the most influential document concerning music since the Second Vatican Council. Why? Because it supports the very forms and practices that had become the new “status quo” of liturgical music – most notably praising the “progressive-folk” and other pop-influenced styles that had developed as well as the informal liturgical structures of the Folk Mass movement of the 1970’s – in short it had given legitimacy to a movement that had, up to that time, been relegated to Church basements and Masses in the Parish Hall. And so, when parish musicians, diocesan music committees, parish music committees and others concerned with liturgical music have questions regarding guidelines and instruction on liturgical music, they will most likely consult the “committee document” MCW rather than Musica Sacra, a concilliar document which carries primary juridicial force regarding the liturgy as a result of it’s unanimous approval by the College of Cardinals assembled for the Second Vatican Council, as well as the signature of the Pontiff, Paul VI. Why revise Music in Catholic Worship? It’s simple: To bring it into conformity with Musica Sacra and establish a uniform view of liturgical music within the Catholic Church that has an actual foundation in tradition and teaching coming from legitimate sources. That’s why.

On October 9th, 2006, the panel members gathered in Chicago to each have their 5 minute say regarding the revision of MCW. Some of those called to speak had very specific suggestions, while others simply extended a plea to “leave the document alone”… clearly there was some fear inside the progressive camp about where this might be heading. But one speaker stood out, and will, without doubt have the most influence over the revision of this document. William Mahrt, president of the Church Music Association of America, summarized in 5 minutes not only what needs correcting in MCW, but what needs correcting in Sacred Music in general. His “to-the-point” presentation to the panel can be read here . Following Mahrt’s presentation, there was little more that could be said, and other speakers following him cited him in their presentations no fewer than 5 times! If there was a “template” for the revision of MCW following the October 9th meeting, it was probably based on the transcript of William Mahrt’s presentation.

At this time, there has been no disclosure from the committee concerning their progress on this revision. An associate of mine who is a member of the FDLC (Federation of Diocesan Liturgical Commissions) told me in a conversation that Music in Catholic Worship “won’t exist after next October”… meaning October of 2007. This was following a National Meeting of the FDLC in February of 2007. The FDLC had issued a statement calling for the “preservation” of MCW because of its importance in contemporary liturgy and its “stature” among liturgists and musicians. There seems to be some fear in the FDLC camp as well…


Keith Nesbitt, M.A., Healthcare Chaplain (Patient Counselor) said...

Professor Marht's analysis is spot on. More academic expert musicians must be consulted by the Bishops in order rightly to proceed. It is consternating to contemplate that licensed theologians are consulted by the Bishops for a variety of statements, yet when it has come to music, the handiest and sometimes lowest water of "professional" is grabed to hand. This simply has never made any sense.

Scelata said...

I was never more proud to be a member of the CMAA than when I first read Mahrt's analysis of the faults of amd problems with MCW.

I'm curious, who exactly were the members of "an ad hoc subcommittee comprised of 6 lay songwriters and 3 Bishops"?

(Save the Liturgy, Save the World...)

Todd said...

It's not been news that the USCCB was going to revise/rework MCW and LMT in light of Roman Missal III. The intent was also to put a bit more teeth into liturgical legislation that in the MCW era was seen more as directives and guidelines. MCW itself provides little to no language in terms of "mandatory" things. It just wasn't how the USCCB saw the best way of legislating at the time.

That said, the USCCB did approve of MCW, LMT, and Env & Art in Catholic Worship in 1983 as a set of guidelines worthy of being followed by pastors and others "engaged in the liturgical arts." To suggest otherwise is wishful thinking.

If you're referring to Musicam Sacram, it was a 1967 document emerging from the Consilium, and it was approved by the pope. It is a worthy document for study, despite being a product of committee, as we're doing on my blog these days, but in terms of liturgical law, anything promulgated in the GIRM or subsequent revised rites will supercede it, especially items explicitly listed as temporary in its body of text.

Chironomo said...

It is true that the USCCB approved of MCW as a guiding document. The question that was never raised was the points of outright conflict, both with Musicam Sacram and two millenia of tradition, which seemed to say that traditional liturgical music of the church was incapable of fulfilling the requirements of the modern liturgy (my words!)

In my associations with musicians within my diocese, as well as a great many at various conventions, seminars, etc. the awareness of this revision and the accompanying reforms is rather low.

Chironomo said...

Thank you for visiting my blog! The comment about "6 lay songwriters and 3 Bishops" was relayed to me in a discussion back in 1998 with Rev. Fran Patrick O'Brien - who is a composer of liturgical songs for OCP and a member of the FDLC, and who was also a close friend of the Pastor at the Church where I was serving. This information may be anecdotal, or at least not documented, but in the course of our discussion, he noted that the committee which produced MCW was comprised of three Bishop members, and 6 lay advisors, all themselves music professionals and composers. This is not necessarily to imply that they were in any way incompetent. If I can find the information, I will post it here. Thanks...

Todd said...


I've written balanced critiques of MSW in print and on my blog. I approach MS with some caution. A valid document, to be sure, but not terribly prescriptive, and much of it was designed to address interim issues before the new Roman Missal, or to apply SC principles to the liturgy then in use.

In that sense MS was certainly a break from some aspects of Catholic liturgical tradition.

Do you have any examples of drastic deviance of MSW from MS? The musicians ("composers" sounds so much less snarky than "songwriters") and bishops were certainly aware of MS, as it clearly guided both gentle reforms and spawned a bit of the iconoclasm of the late 60's and early 70's.

I should mention that in my liturgical music studies in the 80's, we looked at Mediator Dei and Musicam Sacram both, as well as the introductions to the rites and the USCCB documents.

The notion that MS and other Roman documents were put into dustbins is rather foreign to my personal experience. Which isn't to say it didn't or might not have happened elsewhere. I just know not of what you speak.

Chironomo said...

Thank you for your comments! As far as drastic deviances from MS in MCW, I think that Mahrt's comments to the panel on October 9th of 2006 outline such deviances better than I would be able to. The primary points that come to mind without the document in front of me:

1) The replacement of the concept of "progressive solemnity" with a liturgical model based on the "low Mass" - i.e the "four hymn" idea that is now the norm.

2) The assertion that "The former distinction between the ordinary and proper parts of the Mass with regard to musical settings and distribution of roles is no longer retained. For this reason the musical settings of the past are usually not helpful models for composing truly liturgical pieces today." Was this distiction really no longer retained, or had it simply been abandoned in practice?

3) Finally, there is a considerable "contextual" difference between these two documents... MS assumed a musical landscape in which Gregorian and polyphonic music were still the primary forms, whereas MCW draws on the vast 6 year long tradition of contemporary liturgical songs. (I apologize for the crassness of that remark... my prejudices show through at times!)

As for Bishops putting Roman documents in the dustbin... every document coming from the Holy See pertaining to music since 1969 has re-affirmed the primacy of Gregorian Chant and polyphony, later documents imploring Bishops to restore it to it's proper place. How much of that have we seen?

Chironomo said...

I know I had been to your blogsite before, but I can't find it on my favorites listing (i have several hundred sites there!) Could you please give me that address again? Thanks!

Scelata said...

Catholic Sensibilty -- blog:

The posts of Neil Dinghra (unsure of spelling,) are most worthwhile.

(Save the Liturgy, Save the World)