Sunday, 21 February 2010

The Place of Awful Music

So what is there, then, in ‘Roman’ liturgy that makes some Anglicans murmur quietly to each other ‘N.Q.O.C.D.’?


Well, there’s the music, of course. The CofE has a truly splendid patrimony of hymnody (just think of those unmatched translations of J.M.Neale), and has some excellent, and many good, choirs up and down the country. But not as many as it had, and there are also excellent choirs in the Catholic Church, though not so many, of course. My impression is that many, if not most, CofE parishes now struggle if they want to maintain a musical tradition, largely because there simply isn’t the body of layfolk to draw on. And it also strikes me that the number of parishes replacing Hymns Ancient and Modern with Hymns Weird and Wonderful is increasing. A lot of this is simply because our culture itself is becoming increasingly dumbed-down.


The question, of course, is should we pander to this, or should we set an example and wait for people to discover what riches lie in store for those who take the trouble to educate their tastes?


It is true that our music in the average English Catholic parish isn’t much to write home about, from the point of view of educated taste. But it does have genuinely popular appeal. Oh, not for everybody, of course, (not for me, in fact), but if one were to take my parish here as typical, then things that make me gag, such as:

The ‘Clapping Gloria’

Sing it on the mountains (oh-oh)

He sent me to give the good news to the poor,

I left my boat by the lakeside,

and many other gems really do (mirabile dictu) touch people’s hearts. In some mysterious way they articulate an interior disposition of faith, and tug, I dare say, at the same heart-strings that Donny Osmond tugged at when he sang ‘Puppy Love’. In our case, the motive is to direct this good impulse towards the love of God. If people’s experience in church is a positive one for them, they will feel better about coming again next Sunday, and in the context of all this pap they will hear the authentic word of God and hopefully have it applied in an orthodox manner in the homily; they will be present at the August Sacrifice and receive its fruits.


So why should one put up with low standards? Because I suspect that more of my parishioners listen to Heart FM (or perhaps Radio 2) than to Radio 3. Palestrina would no doubt sound nice to them for a little bit, but they couldn’t keep it up for a whole Mass, and it wouldn’t touch them, and certainly not in the way it would touch me. There wouldn’t be much to bring them back next Sunday, (though if I were a parishioner and there were Palestrina each Sunday, I would be hammering at the doors).


Let’s consider two examples of the successful use of demotic music, one Anglican, one Catholic.

In the nineteenth century, Fr Faber founded, under Newman, the London Oratory. As any fule kno, the Oratory loves splendid liturgy, and only the most splenetic and unforgiving Anglican would find it wanting in the taste department. But Faber understood what St Philip Neri understood; that actually you have to meet people at least half way. Faber filled the Oratory not at High Mass, but at the Evening Services for which his famous (and some infamous) hymns were written. These hymns, which waver between the sublime and the sentimental (sometimes managing to be both at the same time), were set, it is said, to music that Faber heard emerging from the various pubs up and down the Brompton Road. It was an innovation for which Booth and the Salvation Army usually get the credit, but Faber did it decades before. And it worked! The music was awful, but crowds of the poor poured in to worship God. Those who preferred nicer music went to other services, though many (like the then Duke of Norfolk) went to both.

My Anglican example is a local one. The most Anglo-Catholic church in town is on Shoreham Beach, and it belongs (I think) to the Affirming Catholicism movement. At least, its vicar is a vicaress, and an admirable woman who recently entered a den of lions to defend Christianity, but that’s another story. I attended her plumbing-in (a curious affair presided over by the Bishop of Chichester, the only male on the sanctuary, who personally instituted her even though he doesn’t even believe her to be a priest), in a packed church—admittedly plumbings-in are always big events. More importantly, I gather that the church is very successful indeed, Sunday to Sunday. Rare indeed (sadly) for a church of the Anglo-Catholic tradition these days. The music, however, would probably curl your toes: the setting of the ordinary was, er, unique. Imagine Rodgers and Hammerstein, with a touch of Lloyd Webber, and maybe a bit of Sound of Music. I caught the eye of another Anglican colleague, himself a fine organist, to see his eyebrows disappearing into his scalp; we both got the giggles. But the people raised the roof; somehow with them it struck just the right note; that parish has the pitch of the house, it knows its audience and gets it right. For Shoreham, that is; I doubt it would work in Kensington.


So, whether it’s Kendrick or Byrd, Estelle White or Mozart; the important thing is that it is received. It is not my job to educate people in taste; I am supposed to educate them in sound doctrine, and I will be able to do so more efficiently in a context where they feel comfortable.


So, how low am I prepared to sink?


Let us be clear that in my tolerance of awful music one must firmly exclude texts that are heterodox (and they certainly exist), however saccharine the tune—I have a few more of these in my sights at the moment—because even Arius understood the catechetical importance of music.

Second, one must do one’s best to make sure that the performance is as good (in its own way) as one can manage. A dispiriting performance of dreadful music will lift nobody’s spirit.

The music also has to centre upon the Mystery, which is to say, be uplifting when it needs to be uplifting, and be reverential when it needs to be reverential, remembering that the August Sacrifice lies at the heart of what it is all about.


A cleverer question is: Should we do this at Mass at all?


There, the jury is out in my opinion. Hymns were not permitted at Mass in the UK until the mid-1960s, and there is a very persuasive case to be made for their banning once more, since they have a tendency to debase the liturgy for a number of reasons, which I won’t go into here—the New Liturgical Movement site deals eloquently with this debate. But let us not delude ourselves that the mere banning of hymnody at Mass will result in a taste explosion, if I can put it like that.

For a start, you will not change people’s expectations and tastes for at least a generation, and those who will not or cannot take the trouble to educate themselves to appreciate the chant will vote with their feet.

Before permission was given for hymns to replace the proper texts, one must not imagine that the Liber Usualis was duly sung in every parish; in most places, the Introit, Gradual &c texts were instead ‘peeped’, which is to say, sung to a psalm tone, or (in the case of classy choirs) to Carlo Rossini’s or J Edmonds Tozer’s harmonized versions. These were the Catholic equivalent to Salomon Sulzer’s music for the Synagogue, and in their day probably (mutatis mutandis) not a million miles in spirit from Paul Inwood. The Kyrie, Gloria &c were sung almost invariably to Mass 8; parishes with a choir might sing their way through one of the settings in the Cecilian tradition; there were a host of settings of greater or lesser awfulness—I well remember that we were using these well into the 1970s when I was an organist at Epsom.

There were rare town-centre churches that would make a decent fist of the chant, and when a tradition could be built up, the results could be superb. I was privileged to be the assistant priest at one such church in the early 1990s, where the plainchant tradition had continued, at least as regards the Ordinary, and Masses 1, 8, 9, 11, & 16 were lustily sung at their appropriate seasons by the choir and congregation, a glorious tradition shamefully suppressed by another man in the late 1990s. Hymns (good ones), however, replaced the propers.


The next problem is that plainchant, though relatively easy to sing, is not very easy to sing well. When chant is sung well, there is nothing better. When chant is sung badly, there is nothing worse.

It’s usually sung badly.

A nasal drone wheezing its way through an interminable gradual…… Give me joy in my heart, keep me praising, any time!


Is the Mass the place for spiritual uplift? Of course! Can one be spiritually uplifted by bad music? Obviously some people can: the majority of my parishioners believe that they can. I must just put up with it for the sake of the greater good.



Which is all to say………


I wish it were possible for me to have both a Mass with rubbish music and another Mass with decent stuff; I’m sure that if I could offer a genuine choice, people would eventually begin to get the point. But I have three churches, each of which has a Mass and a large majority who do not like what I like. The best I can have is what I call the “music-lovers’ Mass”, which is the Sunday evening Mass, with no music at all.


My people are wonderful people, and as far as I am concerned, the important thing is that they are here at Mass. Our church is full each Sunday, thanks be to God, and if the cost of that is dreadful music, then bring on the tambourines!


My job is not to make people appreciate good taste, but to persuade them to holiness.



That being said, Anglo-Catholics are quite right to point to, and deplore, the presence of deliberate dumbing down among Roman Catholics. This occurs where the people listen to Radios 3 & 4, and the priest listens to Radio 2 or Heart FM, if I can put it like that. It is where the priest imposes his taste on an unwilling people in the wrong direction.


The absolute I will stand by is that a priest would be extremely foolish to impose a private taste upon a congregation that thinks otherwise, especially when things are actually done quite well in their particular style, but that he would be worse than a fool to take a good tradition and destroy it because of some prejudice against what he might call elitism. It was this shocking philiistinism that gave us the cultural revolution in China and the cultural devastation at the Reformation.


If the ‘Patrimony’ will bring us a better musical style, readily available in more localities than at present, then this can only do good. But we must be clear that it will be addressing a particular clientéle: it is unlikely to attract many of those who are now Roman Catholics, because its tradition tends to be its own, neither demotic nor Gregorian (exceptional places aside). But I expect that it will exert another of Pope Benedict’s gravitational pulls as long as it can demonstrate itself to be reasonably successful.


Next, I shall do my best to address sanctuary ritual.


33 comments:

Fr Paul said...

Dear Father, that's a really insightful post. In my parish we have two churches - one of which has an organist and choir who just don't seem able to get the people to really join in and who manage to make even Easter Sunday or Christmas feel like a funeral; the other has a folk group who couldn't manage to sound solemn if you paid them and make a funeral sound like a wedding, but who the people love, join in with, and come along to enjoy. Its good to hear another priest who would prefer better music talk about having to put up with it for the greater good. Thanks a lot, its made me more confident in accepting the bad music.

Anonymous said...

I, a priest of the same diocese as you, found this post positively inspiring. Week after week I put up with a combination of very good and very bad .. and I never know which I'm going to get at which Mass. I hate guitars and all that goesw with them - and I'm not generally known for being a member of the 'taste police'.

But, the church is full at all four Masses, the people are the sweetest I've ever worked with and I am happy. Often I turn a deaf ear and think of the angels, but it'd be amazing to ....

Thanks for your truly Christian approach. A real help.

pelerin said...

That was a great read Father - serious questions with a touch of humour.

I did enjoy the title 'Hymns Weird and Wonderful'. I have sung those mentioned except for 'I left my boat at the lakeside' ( does that really exist?) which I would not be able to keep a straight face for I'm sure. However, I can honestly say that none ever touched my heart and I always hated the 'Clapping Gloria'. I endured the latter at Christmas sung and clapped and danced by an 84 year old priest and felt so embarrassed for him although he did look as if he was ejoying it! How I longed for the Missa de Angelis then!

Your mentioning the Music Lovers Mass with no music made me smile.
Because congregations are made up of so many different ages and cultures choosing hymns to suit everyone would indeed be impossible. But should the music be chosen for the people? Surely it should all be sung 'to the greater glory of God?'

I have not heard of that church in Shoreham and can't quite understand how it can be Anglo-Catholic but have a vicarine. And the thought of the sanctuary being full of women must have been an incredible and surreal sight!

Interesting to learn about Fr Faber and how and why he came to write hymns. As you rightly say they were the modern hymns of his day and to me they remain real 'Catholic' hymns which I can enjoy singing with gusto and often emotion unlike the Catholic Lite hymns of today.

There is one exception to my dislike of modern church music and that is the music of Fr Lucien Deiss a French Spiritain priest who died a couple of years ago. He set many verses of the Bible to music and his 'O Croix de Jesus Christ' which was sung during the Mass celebrated by Pope Benedict in Lourdes is beautiful but unknown here it seems. I have been told that he was more well known in America than in Britain so he must have produced work in English too.

We all have different tastes in hymns - I wonder what the Top Three would be in Britain's Catholic churches?

The ones which never fail to bring a lump to my throat are 'Faith of our fathers', the Lourdes Hymn, and the Salve Regina. Many years passed before I once again had the opportunity of singing these. I think all parishes should have these at least once a year - but no tambourines!

Rubricarius said...

A very interesting post but I am afraid I cannot work out ‘N.Q.O.C.D.' Not quite our???

Accepting that the singing of hymns is not appropriate at Mass surely the reason why they entered contemporary liturgical praxis is because of the paucity of alternatives.

The Solesmes chant (and I write as someone who is completely thick when it comes to music so please forgive any obvious blunders) is beyond the average parish in terms of the Graduals, Tracts and Alleluias I would venture, yet alone the patrimony of wonderful polyphony.

As you rightly indicate many parishes cheated with the plainsong and used psalm tones for it.

I was interested, and again I point out my stupidity with regard to music, to attend a seminar given by Professor Laszlo Dobszay back in the summer. He, with support from the Society of St. Catharine of Siena, is working on an edition of the Gradual containing chant based on Hungarian models that is much easier to sing, and sounds more pleasant anyway.

If the hymns are to go then they need to be replaced with something which most of the congregation in parishes without a professional quality choir can sign and relate to.

Joseph Shaw said...

The trouble is that the debate you consciously leave to the NLM is unavoidably relevant. What the more radical promoters of chant are saying is that the warm and fuzzy feeling conjured up by popular (good or bad) hymns is not the response the Church wishes us to have to the Mass.

In extreme cases this is obviously true. Bring a rock band into church and many people will enjoy it, but it won't help them to pray, even if the band is singing the Kyrie. The interesting question is how far does this phenomenon extend.

Martin Mosebach argues that the singing of hymns - permitted, under the influence of Lutheranism, for centuries in Germany - is innapropriate because hymns are designed to pump up the congregation with religious fervour. This makes sense for a various kinds of extra-liturgical devotions and all kinds of Protestant services, but it is not what is called for in the Mass.

If he is right then the question of music at Mass is never going to be a matter of private taste. There is an objective question of what kind of emotional state does the Church wish the congregation to be in to participate in the Mass. The answer has got to have something to do with the texts and melodies which the Church recommends to us in her liturgical books.

Pastor in Valle said...

N.Q.O.C.D.? — 'Not Quite Our Class, Dear'.
Reputedly said by Edwardian ladies to their daughters on their being approached by suitors deemed unsuitable.

berenike said...

Again, you've written out many of the thoughts wandering half-formed around my head. Thank you!

pelerin said...

Thank you for giving the answer to N.Q.O.C.D.! It baffled me. Never come across it before but thought it was probably something I should have recognised and hoped someone else would ask the question! Thank you Rubicarious.

Malcolm Kemp said...

Thank you, Father, for a very candid and well reasoned post. I speak as one who has been involved in Anglo Catholicism of an advanced kind since 1962 and who, as a well qualified musician, has run the music at a number of Brighton area churches, including some of the more extreme Anglo Catholic. I now sometimes also help at one of your own churches locally.

I cannot believe anyone will, or should, base their decision on which side of the Tiber they will make their home on grounds of musical standards. I hope you would not want such people; one local Catholic priest told me recently that he doesn't want ANY of us! The questions are more fundamental than that and as a musician - regadless of which side of the Tiber - I would prefer to attend a Low Mass (without any unnecessary chanting by the Celebrant at odd points during the Mass)than attend a sung one with either Inwood, Gregorian chant or Vittoria sung badly.

I know what my deciding criteria will be and standards of liturgy and music are not amongst them. Some of us are looking towards Norfolk for guidance.....

cb said...

Everyone has a strong opinion about what should be sung at mass but l am beginning to wonder if anything is ever entirely appropriate. Today we sang the Attende Domine and some of the choir were moaning how dull it was but dig out a Taize, today we sang O Lord Hear Our Prayer after the opening line of the Introit, and it's an instant hit. I have resigned myself to the reality that nothing is ever right despite the fact that l spend time trying to match the text of the music to that of the liturgy of the appropriate week. In my parish, a week doesn't go past when l'm told the Credo is too fast or too slow, the hymns aren't jolly enough, we are singing too much Latin, we aren't singing enough Latin, the congregation aren't singing etc and so it goes on. And the only difference between us and the Anglican musical directors is money. Virtually all church MD posts are paid in the Anglican church and virtually none are paid in the Catholic Church. I wonder if we started paying our directors it would make a difference - at least we'd be able to say that we really cared about the music and we wanted to make a proper commitment to producing decent music in the Catholic church. Meanwhile l'm toying between singing the Audi Benigne Conditor next week and 40 days and 40 nights and too be honest whatever l choose some will love and some will hate and probably my parish priest will have something to say about either. I am beginning to wonder if maybe Lent is actually a great time to sing nothing. PS My commiserations for you having to endure the Clap Gloria. That would have me dashing for the Anglo-Catholic church. Btw l think there is very good music at your neighbouring Anglican church. The soprano there also sings at the Sacred Heart in Hove.

Matthew the Curmudgeon said...

Sad, very sad.
A lot of work needed.

berenike said...

ad Joseph Shaw: why is pumping up emotional fervour appropriate at the Office, but not at Mass?

Pastor in Valle said...

@ Malcolm Kemp
Then I, too, must apologize for the rudeness of one of my brethren. There's no excuse for that!

Annie said...

Trouble is, what will always give some folk the emotional warm fuzzies at Mass will always make others reach for the chuck bucket.

Which is why I go to the said Mass in my own parish, on a Saturday evening. As far as I'm concerned, it's by far the best thing to do and prevents going to Mass becoming an occasion of sin, lol.

Having a C of E background, I never encountered the great singing that the C of E is supposed to be famous for except at Canterbury Cathedral. Ok, the congregations are loud, but the hymns can be every bit as dreadful as Catholic ones. The only ones I vaguely liked were written by Pine Coffin, and I think I liked them more for the name rather than the hymn.

Not sure I think Mass is the place for hymns at all to be honest.

Weronika said...

A quick google of "I left my boat by the lakeside" shows it's the pious campfire song "Barka", one of JPII's favourites, and hence sung with monotonous frequency in many Polish parishes when he died, and still turning up far too often :) Another quick google, and I find: the Polish song was written in 1974 by Fr Stanisław Szmidt, on the basis of a South American song brought back to Poland by one of his Salesian confreres. It was published in a Salesian songbook, and popularised (in the "lots of people" sense) by another Salesian who preached popular (i.e. not for th intelligentsia) missions.

More than you ever wanted to know on the subject :)

Dominic Mary said...

I think that one solution may well be to do what is done at (eg) S. Dominic's in London, where they have TWO Sung Masses on a Sunday : one with 'modern' music, one much more traditional - and everyone is happy.

Annie;
M. Coffin was, in fact, an Old Catholic, and not an Anglican (or, indeed, an Englishman) at all.

Still, he did write some splendid hymns.

Sussex Catholic said...

Dear Father,

I was immediately taken with your reference to the "Music Lovers' Mass" and would like to expand on that point if you will permit me. One of the factors, which many commentators more knowledgable than I, have often identified that keeps men away from Mass is what has happened to the Mass since the reforms. There is no doubt that the staple fare before the Council was the Low Mass with no music (and often no sermon). Although I risk censure from those who feel that Low Mass itself should be the exception, is unliturgical, is a result of lack of resources etc. it had and still has a particular appeal for its silence, its noble simplicity and that it allows one to interact with it on one's own terms. Such an experience was dear to many ordinary Catholics, particularly men, who tend to shy away from forced intimacy of any kind.

These days, aside from the much welcome restoration of the 1962 Low Mass in parishes such as yours, it is possible to recreate something of the atmosphere of that calm, silent and reflective liturgy with the Novus Ordo. The closest thing to this that can be found in Sussex is at Parkminster (albeit the reformed Carthusian Rite) which truly maintains that beautiful, simple tradition and importantly does not allow itself to fall prey to the Bellocian accusation of heresy for lasting much more than twenty minutes!

One of the most visible consequences of the shortage of priests in Sussex is the lack of anything in the Novus Ordo which is akin to your "Music Lovers' Mass" particularly on a Sunday morning. I have thought for a long time now that the Novus Ordo is done best when it is not "dressed up" with hymns, additional prayers, commentary and discourse etc. but is offered simply and prayerfully by a priest assisted by a single server and with a congregation answering quietly and prayerfully (or not at all). This is a long winded way of lamenting the lack of 8am Sunday morning Masses for those of us who prefer to hang on to something of that staple fare that sustained the faithful particularly in this country over so many generations.

The Sibyl said...

Honestly as a Catholic Musician trying to implement good music in the Novus Ordo - I sometimes wish that the clergy would take to heart the extraordinary injuction of the Liturgy Constitiution of Vat II that "pastors teach the faithful those parts of the mass that pertain to them in Latin and gregorian chant"

How can the laity take a choir master seriously if the clergy never do what their supposed to! The "bad music" is an acquired taste just as "good music" is.

One is promoted by the church the other is barely tolerated - My experiance after having been in parish after parish is that the laity are not fools (or caught in a simon garfunkel world) and when the bar is raised and they are offered something better they rise to it.

Forget the pretty palestrina for now do the hard yards with the chant - but for pity sake don't just sit back and think of England.

The Sybil
Australia

joe mc said...

Father, as another Catholic musoe (although I earn my keep in an Anglican parish), I feel that I ought to take up cudgels on behalf of the Sybil. I loved your post, especially the Music Lovers' Mass - at which I am a regular attender! However, are you advocating a kind of 'oh, alright then' attitude to bad music on behalf of the clergy? If anything will guarantee elitism in music, it's the situation where we do clapping Glorias, cos folk seem to like them, at Mass, and then drive home with a CD of Victoria on the car stereo. As a classical musician, I'd be dismayed if the prevailing attitude were that certain people ought not even to be exposed to the treasury of Western art music, in case it upset them. That would be exactly the kind of - unintentional-inverse snobbery which has lead to the current generation of Brits being among some of the most musically under educated in Europe. I'm not some fantasist who longs to hear Gabrieli motets at every Mass I attend, but the self fulfilling prophecy that 'people won't like it, so we'd better not do it' sends an all too familiar shiver down the spines of musicians, especially ones who might like to offer their talents to the Church.

Pastor in Valle said...

Sybil & JoeMc:
As you probably can both tell, I am far from being without sympathy with your point of view. My point is that sometimes the struggle is just too much to be able to manage. One has to have SOME support for a better way of doing things, and if there is none, then it is better to go with the flow and do what can be done as well as one can do it. Believe me, if I thought that there was any chance of getting better music here, and it being accepted, I would go for it. And it is unquestionably better than it was five years ago. It is just that I cannot see now the chance of more than an occasional celebration with something significantly better (as took place at my anniversary Mass last September), when we imported musicians at my own expense.

GOR said...

Great post, Father! And it points up the problems dedicated PPs have in parishes today. It existed in earlier times also, though back then the problems frequently centered about an inherited, deeply entrenched organist!

But I would agree with Sussex Catholic regarding ‘Low’ Mass. Some today think that the only ‘proper’ Mass in the EF is a Solemn High Mass with all the trappings – ministers, acolytes, incense, schola, etc. While it can be the most solemn celebration of the Sacrifice of the Mass, it was never the ‘norm’ in pre-Vat II days. I get the impression from some people that the ‘trappings’ have become an end in themselves rather than, as intended, a means to an end.

I can be as distracted by a long polyphonic rendering of the Gloria or Creed as by a saccharine, guitar strumming rendition of some modern pap. St. Thomas may have declared that: “He who sings, prays twice”, but I am sometimes inclined to the belief that: “He who sings, prevents others from praying once!”

Give me a quiet Mass celebrated reverently according to the rubrics - neither too short to prevent prayerfulness nor too long to induce restlessness.

Matthew said...

I write as someone who as a youngster was taught to play the pipe organ to accompany a good parish choir in the early 1960s. I remained in that position in various parishes until last year, when I found the courage to 'pack it in'.

My last parish was a good, relatively traditional parish, which enjoyed Missa De Angelis and Credo III on major feasts of the year, but was stuck in the 4-hymn-sandwich (albeit sound, doctrinal, Catholic hymns) and ICEL-English low-quality settings of the Ordinary for most of the time. The settings were largely those created in the early 70s, so deliberately excluded many modern settings where the 'composer' (for want of a better word) decided to alter texts to fit in with the musical drivel (s)he produced and a prevailing liturgical theology invented by the many spirits of Vatican II. It was what kept people 'happy' and the singing was pretty good. It was probaly a much more traditional-type balance than most parishes achieve or strive for.

But I longed for spiritual satisfaction that I knew I would only find in the Old Mass I learned to serve as a boy, though I was never a Lefevrist. So after Summorum Pontificum was promulgated, I took the decision to pack in music and go a nearby parish where the Low Mass is offered each Sunday. It wasn't easy making that decision; I didn't want to let down friends and fellow-parishioners; I know that a lot of people are less happy with what they now endure; my decision probably sounds selfish.

However, I am now in the contented situation of having my spiritual needs satisfied; I really feel as if I'm participating in the Holy Sacrifice - and I'm no longer obliged to play, sing or listen to music in Church any longer. Furthermore, a small number of fellow-parishioners are now doing the same.

I appreciate that some may claim that this is not what the Church wants or asked for in Sacrosanctum Concilium - but SC has never been properly implmented, so it's pointless making comparisons to that sound document. At the end of the day, it's my soul I have to save and going to the 1962 Low Mass helps me do that. Moreover, although many find it hard to believe, I genuinely don't miss music in Church one iota.

I sympathise, Father, with your plight. It's much easier for lay folk to take up our bed and walk.

Just my minor, personal contribution to the healty debate.

pelerin said...

This post has reminded me of someone I met who had left her own Catholic parish and now attends a High Anglican Church 'because the music is so much better there.' How sad that music should have come before Faith.

What a pity she did not do as Annie has mentioned and continue to attend Mass at a Low Mass and fulfil her musical wants by going to concerts. There must be other cases where people have left the Church because of 'dire' music.

On a lighter note my father used to enjoy finding hymns with 'funny' lines. He had been a Cathedral Organist and Choirmaster for many years and used to ask me occasionally 'What was the fisherman's hymn?' Answer: 'We love the place O God!' Another one was the Motorcyclist's hymn 'Sunbeams scorching all the day!' I wish I could remember the others.

maryfa said...

Thank you for an interesting post. Could I correct one statement. Hymns at Mass were not forbidden befor 1965. In my Catholic Primary School we had hymn practice every Friday to prepare for the 9a.m. Children's Mass on Sunday. I cannot remember if the hymns we sang were appropriate for the Mass or not! we also learned some Missa de Angelis and some Latin hymns (for Benediction etc.)
Another development before Vatican 2 was a booklet called ' The Mass together'compiled by Fr. Clifford Howell S. J. This was introduced into our parish in early 1961. It was essentially the four hymn sandwich. The Hymns were supposed to be fitting for the parts of the mass, and in fact replaced the proper. The new PP.had sacked the S. A. T. B choir and changed the mass times. The Mass Together lasted for about 7 years in our Parish. The school children at their , now Thursday morning Mass sang nothing else.
The First edition of 'Praise the Lord' 1966 I think, had these same hymns in a section of Music for the Mass. I have a copy.
As school child, teenager and student in S. A. T. B. choirs I was , and remain horrified by what happened in the sixties but I am writing this to point out that the rot had set in before Vatican 2 was even called.

Ttony said...

Excellent post, Father!

Sussex Ctholic's post chimes with me: the comments of some 17 year olds who came to very Low EF Mass as part of an RE exercise and keep coming back are centred on sacred silence. The idea of being corralled in sacred space in silence is radically novel.

I know your post was about the appeal of music, but silence is an option too.

Joseph Shaw said...

Berenike - I don't think the Latin hymns of the Office are really attempting what Lutheran or Oratorian or Franciscan vernacular hymns attempt to do: to create religious emotion. However the move from melismatic to strophistic music does make a difference and these hymns have never had an official place in the Mass.

Matthew J. McKinley said...

Here in California I have become convinced that the horrid hippie music in the many churches are overwhelmingly performed by people between the ages of 55 and 65 who probably wish they had been at Woodstock.

Clare said...

There is only one solution. The musical director of a parish needs to be an official post and they need to be paid for the job. They dont have to be paid very much but the money is symbolic of the fact that the parish is taking its music seriously and ultimately the mass seriously. The debate about what should and should not be sung should be between the choral director and the priest. I cant imagine choosing music for a mass which my priest did not deem suitable.- also i would never hear the end of it.. And Does it matter if you sang the audi benigne or 40 days and 40 nights last week. No probably not. As long as you have a choir.

Pastor in Valle said...

Really, Clare, my point has been about pragmatism, about what to do when you don't have control of the music. In my case here, paying the musicians just isn't an option; we are only just struggling out of debt and are in constant danger of falling back in again. I, too, believe in paying musicians to do a proper job, but this presumes that one has the wherewithal to do it. I suppose I might have sub-titled my post; 'how to make the best of a bad job!'

motuproprio said...

Perhaps we should pay more attention to the current GENERAL INSTRUCTION OF THE ROMAN MISSAL.

The Importance of Singing
39. The Christian faithful who gather together as one to await the Lord’s coming are instructed by the Apostle Paul to sing together psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs (cf. C o l 3:16). Singing is the sign of the heart’s joy (cf. A c t s 2: 46).
Thus St Augustine says rightly, ‘Singing is for one who loves.’48 There is also the ancient proverb: ‘One who sings well prays twice.’

40. Great importance should therefore be attached to the use of singing in the celebration of the Mass, with due consideration for the culture of the people and abilities of each liturgical assembly. Although it is not always necessary (e.g., in weekday Masses) to sing all the texts that are of themselves meant to be sung, every care should be taken that singing by the ministers and the people is not absent in celebrations that occur on Sundays and on holy days of obligation.
In the choosing of the parts actually to be sung, however, preference should be given to those that are of greater importance and especially to those to be sung by the priest or the deacon or the lector, with the people responding, or by the priest and people together.

41. All other things being equal, Gregorian chant holds pride of place because it is proper to the Roman Liturgy. Other types of sacred music, in particular polyphony, are in no way excluded, provided that they correspond to the spirit of the liturgical action and that they foster the participation of all the faithful.
Since the faithful from different countries come together ever more frequently, it is fitting that they know how to sing together at least some parts of the Ordinary of the Mass in Latin, especially the Creed and the Lord’s Prayer, set to the simpler melodies.

Elizabeth from Sussex said...

A great post Father, to which I have humbly linked one of mine. But I was surprised to hear that you do not have control of the music in your parish. (Your last comment implies this.) In our parish - same Diocese - when I mention some musical horror recently perpretrated to a friend in the choir, he sympathises, but says, "Father chooses the hymns and music." Maybe you should ask for a swap!

Pastor in Valle said...

Elizabeth: quite right; the musicians in all three churches choose the music, and have done so for a long time (long before my incumbency). With three churches it is just too difficult for me to keep involved with it, and fighting for control in three places would be just too much aggro. I once made a tentative suggestion about one hymn, and was nearly eaten alive! I mildly made the point that in some other parishes, the priest chooses all the music, and that I very rarely interfere. That fortunately calmed them down and I got my way.

pelerin said...

I am still chuckling over Annie's division of hymn music between 'emotional warm fuzzies' and 'chuck bucket!'

Her reference to the hymns by someone rejoicing (or otherwise) in the name of Mr Pine Coffin made me smile too. Presumably these appeared in the C of E 'Hymns Ancient and Modern' although I must admit that I don't remember that one. The one which particularly amused me when I used to look through the hymn books before services was 'Eternal Father strong to save' which was always announced as being sung 'for those at sea' and I never failed to notice it was by someone called appropriately Whiting! I don't
think I have ever sung this in a Catholic church although it was always a staple during school assembly during bad weather each year.