Friday, January 30, 2009

Virgil Funk's "Commentary" on Sing To The Lord - Part I

Back in July I made a post about a review of Sing To The Lordin OCP's Today's Liturgy Magazine. My point was that the "reviewer" was presenting a less-than-complete portrayal of this document, leaving out some very important points while adding personal interpretations that are not even in the document. This is particularly insidious because Today's Liturgy is a publication that is distributed widely to parish Music Directors, many of whom take such published articles as Gospel Truth without ever checking to see if what is being said is even factually correct.

The LENT-TRIDUUM-EASTER edition of Today's Liturgy puts forth yet another review, this time by former president Fr. Virgil Funk. The status of Fr. Funk at the NPM gives him a particular level of authority within that organization, and so it is all the more regrettable that he has seen fit to put his name to a "review" that is at best deceptive, and at worst is transparently undermining the intention of the Bishop's document by turning some of the document's words to support the very liturgical music agenda that the document is setting out to correct.

This particular article is Part II of a 4-Part series. Part I dealt with Section I - "Why Do We Sing?"... and interesting but largely expository essay on the nature of liturgical singing. Since that section presents a great deal of opinion on the subject, comments made about it are also matters of opinion, and the commenter (Fr. Funk) is totally free to give his opinion about the "normal consequences of liturgical celebration" or whether our liturgical singing is an historical continuation of Moses's song during the Exodus. Without being too dismissive, this first section of Sing To Ther Lorddoesn't really present too much in the way of substance, so I don't get too excited about what a reviewer says about it.

Section II is a different story though... this section presents some very strong and definitive statements about liturgical music and it's practical conduct. This might be a good time to point out a small but important point. At one place in his review, Fr. Funk says "for the first time in an official document..." and then goes on to continue his point. While this is a published document of the USCCB, I would question whether it is an official document in the way that Fr. Funk is trying to imply, as it lacks approval from the Holy See or the CDW. As such, even the strong statements made in this document have no juridicial force, and are little more than suggestions. Perhaps pointing this out would have been a better tactic for Fr. Funk to adopt, noting that while the document calls for some rather radical things, it has no real authority and as such we have to wait for an official document. Instead, he seems to vest considerable authority in the document... and then goes on to misrepresent it!

Where to the introduction to the article

Because this is a pastoral document that provides guidelines for the United States, it begins with a discussion of the Bishop and his staff, and then the roles of the priest and deacon. While some may interpret this approach as hierarchical, such an evaluation would be offset by the fact that the document does not mention the international commission (ICEL), nor the pope or the Vatican commisssion (Congregation for Divine Worship) and its various committees (e.g, Vox Clara).

True... the document doesn't mention those entities, although I'm not sure why ICEL or the CDW would be discussed in a document on US guidelines for music. This fact does not mean that the approach is not hierarchical: it clearly is so. Some points that Fr. Funk left out here.

  • The Eucharistic celebration is an action of Christ and the Church, namely, the holy people united and ordered under the Bishop. (GIRM 91)

  • Every legitimate celebration of the Eucharist is directed by the Bishop, either in person or through priests who are his helpers. (GIRM 92)

  • A priest also, who possesses within the Church the power of Holy Orders to offer
    sacrifice in the person of Christ,81 stands for this reason at the head of the faithful people gathered together here and now, presides over their prayer, proclaims the message of salvation to them, associates the people with himself in the offering of sacrifice through Christ in the Holy Spirit to God the Father, gives his brothers and sisters the Bread of eternal life, and partakes of it with them. (GIRM 93)

  • After the priest, the deacon, in virtue of the sacred ordination he has received, holds first place among those who minister in the Eucharistic Celebration. (GIRM 94)

  • The acolyte is instituted to serve at the altar and to assist the priest and deacon. (GIRM 98)

OK... so the holy people are "ordered under the Bishop".... these include priests "who are his helpers"...the priest "stands at the head of the faithful people"...and "after the priest, the deacon... holds first place among those who minister..." who may include acolytes who "assist the priest and deacon". Can someone explain to me how this is NOT hierarchical? Lumen Gentium is pretty clear on the hierarchical authority within the church.

Since Sing To The Lord draws heavily on Musicam Sacram and Sacrosanctum Concilium, the foundations of those documents have to be considered, and one of those foundations is the authority of the Bishop. The only reason for disputing this would be as a rationale for ignoring those recomendations of the Bishops that you might disagree with. I wonder aloud if this might be the purpose of this particular point appearing at the beginning of the review.

Going on...Fr. Funk quotes Sing To The Lord concerning Diocesan liturgical commissions.

"The Bishop is assisted in his role by his staff in the Diocesan Office of Worship and/or the diocesan music or liturgical commission which provides valuable asssistance in promoting sacred music together with pastoral liturgical action in the diocese"

followed by

Sing To The Lord recognizes that, in the US, paid staff has often overshadowed volunteer commissions in practice.

I searched and read, and read and searched, and nowhere in Sing To The Lord could I find anything like the above statement. It certainly calls for just and adequate compensation for musicians, and as such strongly advocates paid staff. However, the way this is framed by Fr. Funk, it seems to be solely for the purpose of discrediting diocesan liturgical commissions. Not that I am a big fan, but there is a concerted effort in the first two paragraphs of this review to minimize the authority of the Bishop without coming out and saying so.

These points are academic though in light of what follows in this review. A Summary of his review section by section.


While noting that SttL restates already existing directives that the Priest and Deacon should sing those parts of the liturgy proper to them, he can't help bringing up those parts of Music In Catholic Worship which were much less stringent on this issue and contrasting them to the new directives. He goes on to enumerate some of the parts of the Mass that the Priest is supposed to sing, but leaves out some rather notable ones such as...

  • Seminaries and other programs of priestly formation should train priests to sing with
    confidence and to chant those parts of the Mass assigned to them. (SttL 20)

  • Those priests who are capable should be trained in the practice of chanting the Gospel on more solemn occasions when a deacon may not be present. (SttL 20)

  • At the very least, all priests should be comfortable singing those parts of the Eucharistic Prayer that are assigned to them for which musical notation is provided in the Roman Missal. (SttL 20) (Fr. Funk only mentions the preface...)


Fr. Funk points out that SttL encourages the Deacon to...

  • Sing the dialogue at the Gospel and dismissal

  • Sing the invitation "Let Us Pray" of the litanies, the Exsultet, the third form of the Penitential Rite, and the Prayers of the Faithful

but he leaves out...

  • If they are capable, deacons should be trained in the practice of chanting the Gospel on more solemn occasions.
  • Programs of diaconal preparation should include major and compulsory courses in the chant and song of the Liturgy.

Wouldn't these provisions seem to be of any importance? Maybe not since the Gospel would have to be chanted (as in plainchant) rather than be set to an inane OCP published melody. And a compulsory course on chant....? I think the combination of "compulsory" and "chant" in the same directiver may have been too much for Fr. Funk.

Stay tuned for Part II of my "review"...

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