Friday, July 31, 2009

Dom Jacques Hourlier's "Reflections"

For those with relatively little time to catch up on reading but with a keen interest in Gregorian Chant, both its formal and spiritual aspects, there might be no better book to pick up than Dom Jacques Hourlier’s Reflections on the Spirituality of Gregorian Chant.It’s more of a “booklet” than a book…75 pages in a 7’x5’ format… a collection of 5 lectures given by the author during a Youth Seminar at Solesmes in the Summer of 1976. These were published as a collection in 1984 after his tragic death in an automobile accident.

Despite the diminutive size, this book covers a great deal of ground….melody, language, form, liturgical function, symbolism, aesthetics… and of course, as the title suggests, the Spirituality of Gregorian Chant. Although there is an assumption by the author that the reader has at least some knowledge about the Chant, the language is simple and accessible and the most recent edition has been edited and footnoted for a wider readership.

He speaks about the beauty of Gregorian Chant…

Beauty is without doubt the most commonly perceived quality of Gregorian Chant, even though some listeners, probably the majority, could not explain why they find it beautiful. Men and women from every walk of life, including the simplest, hear in the chant something which differs from what they call cheap music. As witness, recall the wide success of Gregorian Chant Masses, or of Gregorian chant records and cassettes, even though all of them do not achieve the same level of perfection. It is useless to try and explain away this success as some kind of passing fad or as the manifestation of a partisan spirit among Christians with conservative leanings. These factors have little or nothing to do with the matter. The simple truth is that when people are exposed to Gregorian chant, they react to a beauty which is capable of affecting even children.

Most amazing is that the words are as relevant today as they were in 1976…perhaps even more so. Any church musician today committed to the “cause” of Sacred Music restoration can take heart from Dom Hourlier’s words about the “authority” of the Chant:

The true authority of Gregorian chant rests not on rubrics or legislative decrees, but rather on the concensus populi (the common assent of the people of God) and the sensus ecclesiae(the supernatural sense of discernment of the church). Led by their Priests and Bishops, the faithful everywhere have always sung Gregorian chant. It draws its authority from a vast number of enthusiastic Catholic Christians. Throughout the ages, it has been the musical language in the Western Church. The authority of Gregorian chant is based on tradition.


The book can be purchased online at a number of sites.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Mail-Order Misinformation- Liturgical Planning Guides

They arrive in the mail several times a year. They are given as “extras” in every package you receive from Catholic publishing companies. They are given out in gift bags at conferences and are posted online at company websites….they are liturgical planning guides and they are an ubiquitous fixture in parish music ministry. They promise to make easier the weekly task of selecting music for the liturgy with bullet-pointed lists of appropriate and exciting musical selections. For the more ambitious choirs, some suggest appropriate choral anthems or separately available Octavo versions of the songs found in the disposable music books. For those who are overwhelmed by the never-ending cycle of the liturgical year and the sheer volume of music in the ever increasing body of resources created by commercial publishers, these planning guides are impossible to resist.

For me, it would be easy enough to disregard these publications if they didn’t have real consequences for the sacred and liturgical music which they methodically expunge from the liturgies in every Catholic parish which makes use of them. And since these guides arrive in the mailboxes of nearly every parish in the U.S, that has to be a considerable number of parishes!

To begin, let’s consider what these publications aren’t, and what they actually are. They aren’t objective guides for preparing and selecting the most appropriate music for the liturgy – that is done rather handily in a very concise book called the Graduale Romanum. Admittedly, the selections in the Graduale Romanum are not always accessible to every parish, but the Graduale does provide us with the most appropriate selections and the selections therein should at least point us in the right direction in terms of what texts are part of the Mass. If the planning guides were actually an objective guide, they might at least suggest the selections given as the first option in the liturgical documents. Consider the instruction in the GIRM regarding the Entrance:

In the dioceses of the United States of America there are four options for the Entrance Chant: (1) the antiphon from the Roman Missal or the Psalm from the Roman Gradual as set to music there or in another musical setting; (2) the seasonal antiphon and Psalm of the Simple Gradual; (3) a song from another collection of psalms and antiphons, approved by the Conference of Bishops or the Diocesan Bishop, including psalms arranged in responsorial or metrical forms; (4) a suitable liturgical song similarly approved by the Conference of Bishops or the Diocesan Bishop.

However, a planning guide might present us with something like the following (this particular example is for the 17th Sunday of Ordinary Time from Today’s Liturgy, Summer/Fall 2009)

Table of Plenty (Schutte) BB/MI 310 CP2 475 GP2 530 H 467 J 744
J2 793 NTY 75 SS1 163 UC 527 VOZ 786 OCP 9846TL

I Am the Bread of Life/Yo Soy el Pan de Vida (Toolan) BB/MI 338
CM 104 CP2 478 H 482 R2 196 UC 561

Alleluia! Give the Glory (Canedo/Hurd) BB/MI 902 CP2 164 GP2 70
H 24 J 520 NTY 3 SS1 5 UC 104 VOZ 113 OCP 9788TL

Now As We Gather (Castillo) BB/MI 309 J 700 OCP 9547TL

Ven al Banquete/Come to the Feast (Hurd) BB/MI 307 CP2 477 H 465
J2 795 NTY 80 R2 204 SS1 164 UC 512 VOZ 779 OCP 10336TL

In This Place (Thomson/Thomson) BB/MI 308 J 999 NTY 18 R2 302
SS1 122

For the Beauty of the Earth DIX BB/MI 624 CM 162 CP2 383 GP2 704
H 382 J 464 J2 642 NTY 139 R 24 R2 293 UC 741 VOZ 602

Praise to the Lord LOBE DEN HERREN BB 203 CM 156 CP2 356 GP2 686
H 360 J 338 J2 597 R 25 R2 253 TM 27 UC 726 VOZ 588

Gather Your People (Hurd) BB/MI 315 CP2 474 GP2 529 H 470 J 681
J2 798 NTY 10 SS1 111 UC 518 VOZ 782 OCP 9699TL

No mention of the Antiphon from the Roman Missal, or of the Psalm from the Roman Gradual, or of the seasonal antiphon from the Simple Gradual, or even of a song from another collection of Psalms and Antiphons approved by the conference of Bishops or the Diocesan Bishop. What we get instead is a list of selections from the 4th and last category, the “other suitable liturgical song” option. And in addition, all of the selections they propose are, not coincidentally, from their own publications (that’s what all of those abbreviations and numbers are) without even a pretense of objectivity. So what these publications actually are is rather obvious. They are lists of songs by the corresponding publisher that can be substituted for the actual texts and music of the liturgy by exclusively exercising the 4th and last option given for the Antiphons and Gradual of the Mass in the Church’s liturgical books.

Of course, I wouldn’t expect that a publisher would recommend selections from another publisher’s product… that would be bad business! But the Graduale Romanum, not to mention the vast body of settings of the Antiphons in Latin and in the vernacular that are in the public domain, are not competition. If a publisher sees them as such, then there needs to be an honest evaluation of whether music resource publishing companies are really serving the Church. Publishing companies most often claim that they are committed to serving the liturgy and providing parishes with the very best resources, or some variation on that theme. And yet there is no mention in the above list of a setting of God is in His Holy Dwelling (the Antiphon from the Missal) or of a setting of Psalm 68 (the Psalm from the Roman Gradual). None of the selections suggested on the list are connected in any way to the actual texts for that Sunday, and this is pretty much the norm across the spectrum.

Instead, the list we are given seems to support the contention that the options which the Church considers to be the least desirable are, in fact, the most desirable to exercise in every instance possible. From there, it isn’t that much of a stretch to conclude that the publisher’s intention is to expunge the actual Mass texts and musical settings in favor of less appropriate selections drawn from their own products.

With the USCCB document on music, Sing To The Lord: Music In Divine Worship, the Bishops have urged a restoration of the actual Mass texts found in the Proper Antiphons for each Sunday:

Proper antiphons from the liturgical books are to be esteemed and used especially because they are the very voice of God speaking to us in the Scriptures. Here, “the Father who is in heaven comes lovingly to meet his children, and talks with them. And such is the force and power of the Word of God that it can serve the Church as her support and vigor, and the children of the Church as strength for their faith, food for the soul, and a pure and lasting fount of spiritual life.”96 The Christian faithful are to be led to an ever deeper appreciation of the psalms as the voice of Christ and the voice of his Church at prayer.

And yet, more than two years after this document was promulgated, there has been no real effort to incorporate settings of the Proper Psalms into any of the major disposable missals, and no effort to even mention them as options for the Entrance, Offertory or Communion in the planning guides. Why not? Even the Bishops have come out and said “We need to be singing the Propers, not substituting other songs”, and yet the publishers have made no effort to respond to this call.

Of course, it’s easy enough to find settings for these Antiphons that can be sung by just about any choir. The Simple Choral Gradual is available online at no charge, and there are very good settings of the Antiphons in psalm-tone settings in the Anglican Use Gradual, also available online for free. Every day, there are more and more settings of these texts made available online, most all of them at no charge, and there are even some published sets appearing from major publishers (although these are not yet showing up in their worship aids). The question then is why are none of these suggested by any of the planning guides? Most of these settings are either copyright free or are published under creative commons and can be used and re-printed with nothing more than a request for permission and acknowledgment. Doing so would give at least some credibility to these guides insofar as they would at least appear to be making an effort to instruct the reader that there are actual designated selections for these parts of the liturgy.

As it is right now, those who would prefer to follow the instruction of the Church, whether that might come from Tra le Solecitudini, Musicae Sacrae Disciplinae, Sacrosanctum Concilium, Musicam Sacram, The General Instruction of the Roman Missal or Sing To The Lord – are going to have to turn to the actual texts of those documents for guidance and keep a copy of the Graduale Romanum (or the Gregorian Missal if their Latin is a little rusty!) on their desk. Such ambitious persons will essentially have to make their own planning guides from resources that they have determined are appropriate for the liturgy. This isn’t really as difficult as it might first seem.

At times, it might be possible to use the actual Gregorian Propers given in these books, maybe in place of an Opening Hymn or Communion Song, or even in addition to these songs. If this might be a bit ambitious for your abilities, these books will at least give you the texts and psalm citations for each Sunday’s Mass. From there, settings can be found from among the options that are available for free or perhaps it might even be possible to find a setting in one of those disposable resources, although If that’s possible, I can assure you that it will not have been given as a suggestion in their planning guide!

It would be an understatement to say that Catholic liturgical music is in transition at this time. There are obvious changes taking place and current liturgical reforms such as the new translation of the Roman Missal and recent liturgical documents such as Sacramentum Caritatis and Summorum Pontificum, even if not exclusively addressing the issue of liturgical music are encouraging a new way of looking at the issue in light of the Church’s musical traditions. These changes are inevitable, and are obvious to everyone it seems except the publishers of these planning guides, where the same handful of popular selections appear over and over again in place of those which might express the actual texts from the liturgy.

It’s my understanding that the Pope’s latest encyclical encourages industry to take seriously the call for environmental sensitivity, conserving valuable resources and avoiding wasteful practices that use them foolishly. Among these resources, I would include paper. Might we propose an excellent initiative by Catholic publishing companies to discontinue the printing and distributing of these Planning Guides? Such an initiative would go a long way towards helping the environment… and Catholic liturgical music!

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Where I'm Coming From

I thought it might be a good idea given the often complicated issues discussed here and on other sites to take a few moments and lay out the “baseline” that I’m working from in any discussion/ argument/ article about music in the Catholic Church. There are some things that I simply accept as fact that are obviously not as widely accepted by some in terms of issues about Catholic music. So in short, this is where I’m coming from when I talk about Catholic music.

1. Official Documents of the Church are the primary source for what the Church says about Sacred and Liturgical music. The documents express the preferences and restrictions put upon music that is to be used in Catholic liturgy, often in simple language, but often in very concise legal wording. Some documents make references, often in footnotes and end-notes, to previous documents that may seem obscure or outdated. They are not… they are the foundation for the liturgical law of the Catholic Church. This is what Pope Benedict is speaking of when he speaks of the Hermeneutic of Continuity…interpreting in light of the past and of tradition. A strong familiarity with the major music documents of the 20th and 21st centuries is really critical when delving into a discussion on Catholic sacred and liturgical music.


Be aware that there are specific meanings for some terms that are too often used as “generic” concepts. Among the most often misused in discussions about Catholic music are:

Sacred Music- Catholic liturgical documents define this term more narrowly than the common meaning of “music composed for use in worship”. Pius X articulated the modern definition in his 1903 Motu Proprio, and that definition has been referred to in all later documents up to the present:

“Gregorian Chant has always been regarded as the supreme model for sacred music, so that it is fully legitimate to lay down the following rule: the more closely a composition for church approaches in its movement, inspiration and savor the Gregorian form, the more sacred and liturgical it becomes.” (TLS II – par.3)

The need for a strict attention to the traditional meaning of this term was argued most recently in the 2003 Chirograph on Sacred Music of Pope John Paul II where he noted:

“Today, moreover, the meaning of the category "sacred music" has been broadened to include repertoires that cannot be part of the celebration without violating the spirit and norms of the Liturgy itself”. (Chirograph on Sacred Music- par.4)

The Church’s liturgical documents, even those from Vatican II, assume that all music used in Catholic liturgy is Sacred Music as defined above.

Liturgical Music- Sacred music which is composed on liturgical texts (texts from the Ordinary or Propers of the Mass) is specifically referred to as “liturgical music”. This would include the Entrance Antiphon, Kyrie, Gloria, Psalm or Gradual, Offertory Antiphon, Sanctus, Our Father, Agnus Dei and Communion Antiphon, as well as the sung settings of the dialogues and prayers of the Priest.

Some interpretations of Vatican II documents allow for the substitution of other selections for some of the above (the Entrance, Offertory and Communion Antiphons), however such selections must still be sacred music.

Hymn – Hymns are settings of metrical religious texts in strophic form (the same music used for all verses). There are some hymns (chant hymns) which are in the category of Sacred Music (Adoro te devote, Tantum Ergo, Veni Sancte Spiritus, Salve Regina), but not all hymns are sacred music, at least in the stricter definition.

Religious Music – Settings of metrical or prose religious texts in either song-form (verse/ refrain) ,through-composed or free-form. Such music is neither Sacred Music (by virtue of its form) nor is it liturgical music (by virtue of its texts). A considerable portion of the contemporary religious repertoire falls into this category. Musicae Sacrae Disciplinae clearly notes that this type of music is not to be used in the liturgy:

D. Religious music.

54. The type of music which inspires its hearers with religious sentiments, and even devotion, and yet, because of its special character (form) cannot be used in liturgical functions, is nevertheless worthy of high esteem, and ought to be cultivated in its proper time. This music justly merits, therefore, the title "religious music".

55. The proper places for the performance of such music are concert halls, theaters, or auditoriums, but not the church, which is consecrated to the worship of God.
(MSD #54-55)

3. Fact vs. Opinion.
Discussions and arguments present a variety of facts and opinions. However, it’s critical to keep straight which statements are points of fact and which are matters of opinion. Heated arguments too often devolve into statements such as “well…that’s your opinion!”
Perhaps that’s true, and perhaps not. If the issue being discussed is a matter of opinion, such a statement could be perfectly valid. An example:

“Awesome God is an excellent song… I think it rocks!”

“Really? The melody sounds like something out of a Barry White ballad.”

“Well…that’s your opinion!”

OK… here we’re talking about something that really is a matter of opinion. People like some songs and don’t like others. That’s a matter of opinion. However this is very different from the following example.

“I like using a really lively song like Awesome God for the Responsorial to get people excited about the Liturgy of the Word.”

“Awesome God? That’s really not appropriate for the Responsorial you know.”

“Well…that’s your opinion! I think it works just fine.”

It might be opinion that Awesome God is a good song. But it is a point of fact that the Responsorial must be a setting of the Psalm from either the Graduale or the Lectionary, and that another song or hymn cannot be substituted. That isn’t a matter of opinion. In this example, the speaker is simply wrong regardless of how he (or she) feels about the suitability of the song.

We may not always like the facts, but don’t claim that they are merely opinions when they are actually facts. If you disagree with what the actual documents say, then just say so and there will be no argument… except that you are admittedly disregarding the laws set forth by the Church. It’s intellectually dishonest to categorize liturgical laws or Church teachings as mere opinion which can be disregarded according to our personal likes and dislikes, even if it is a law or teaching which a great many people routinely disregard. This leads to the next point…

4. The views of the popular majority are useful in discussions about political issues where majority opinion forms law. The fact that an overwhelming majority of the people in a city approves of and desires the construction of a Toll Road is a compelling fact when discussing the wisdom of building such a road. That’s what Democracy is all about! Liturgy, however, is not Democratic, and majority opinion has very little place in a discussion about liturgical issues. “We are the Church” is a great slogan, but attributing to it the force of law leads to the same kind of confusion as the idea that we are “all baptized into the common priesthood”. All baptized persons are not Priests, nor are we all members of the hierarchy which is rightfully given the power to determine laws and doctrine for the Church.

Therefore, although a great many people enjoy this or that type of music, that fact does not lend it legitimacy unless it is already given legitimacy by the actual law of the Church. If a great many people enjoy the Chanted Introit, be assured that it is perfectly legitimate to use it…. not because the people like it, but rather because it’s already acknowledged as the primary choice for that role. If a great many people would rather hear a CD of Andre Boccelli singing “The Prayer” with Celine Dion as the Introit, you can be assured that is not allowed regardless of how many people would like to hear it. Majority opinion cannot legitimize something which contradicts the Church’s law (and that would contradict a number of them). Consensus does not create law in the Catholic Church. The above example only serves to demonstrate that a great many people are either unaware or unconcerned about what the Church teaches, and it’s absurd to suggest that such a group should dictate liturgical norms!

There are so many more points that could be included here, but this has already become longer than I had hoped! Perhaps I will add more to it at a later time…