A coworker of mine was recently reading through a discussion forum and came across a post that said “Since Vatican II, it seems that nothing is too cheap for God.”
I don’t think that Vatican II can be blamed for the mediocrity that passes for “art”, “architecture”, “music”, and “education” in the Church today, but the council can certainly be noted as the point when the decline, which had been noticeable in some areas, metastasized into the whole Church. But you would have to do some pretty incredible acrobatics to attribute the decline to something actually in the documents.
You can look back to the 19th century to find the beginnings of simpering Jesus holy cards and the feminization of male saints in art and holy cards. You can go back to the 1920’s through 50’s to find the decay of architecture which led to churches looking like bomb shelters. You can also find the roots of the rot in seminary education earlier in the century as evidenced by various decrees addressing the problems with education and theology training.
The point still holds that following Vatican II, what had been confined to small pockets of the Church not only spread but became the defacto law of the land without any law to back it up.
It seems that part of the problem is the abandonment of classical education which had pointed to a world where there are absolute truths. Or even more radically, where beauty is NOT just in the eye of the beholder but is actually a tangible quality that can be objectively assessed. In fact, the entire modernist palette of the arts and education is a clear repudiation of both absolute truth and measurable beauty.
Take, for example, your average “Catholic” religious education programs. Most of them have made it on the bishops’ approved text list by being altered just enough that outright heresy is replaced by ambiguous theological statements. There is no goal to teach the Faith and teach it well. The only goal is to sell books, and the less work that is required to make them acceptable, the better.
Or, take your average parish choir. In ages past there was actually an attempt to offer what was best to God. Now, we are subjected to whoever will get up and “sing,” regardless of their actual skill. We are also subjected to the most trite music – I am sure that one of the songs sung at Mass last week was from Jesus Christ Superstar – because the choir director felt like singing it, not because it is a quality piece of music actually worthy of offering to God.
Or, take your average parish church. The churches built today are being built by the most affluent Catholic population in the history of our country and yet the result is usually an auditorium-like building with as little adornment as can possibly be had. In fact, most of these buildings could be converted into theaters with about an hour of work. Is this really worthy of God? How is it that the poor immigrants who came to this country in centuries past were able to build churches that would still be awe inspiring today if they weren’t being torn down to make way for clam shells and concrete boxes?
I believe that the restoration that Pope Benedict wants is starting in the right place – with the liturgy intertwined with sacred music. The liturgy is really the cornerstone of the Faith in visible form. If you have reverent, solemn liturgy it is very difficult to say that it belongs in a concrete box. It is also very difficult to say that the typical music found in a parish choir is worthy of well celebrated liturgy. They are really antithetical.
During the Triduum we attended services at three different parishes. The variations in music and the quality of the liturgy, at least for the weekend, matched each other perfectly.
On Holy Thursday we attended a Mass at a parish that you can always trust to be “okay.” No wacky stuff, bells regularly, decent homilies most of the time and servers who generally know what they are doing. The Mass was reverent but the music was pretty mediocre. Most of the songs were dramatic and sounded like the tunes had been borrowed from Rodgers and Hammerstein musicals.
On Good Friday we attended services at a parish that recently did a renovation that included the addition of a ten-foot Christ in agony crucifix above the altar, the replacement of the “loaf of bread” tabernacle with something that actually is identifiable as a tabernacle and general architectural changes that emphasize the sanctuary and tabernacle as the central focuses in the church. The parish also regularly uses bells and patens and both priests there give excellent homilies that challenge your practice of the Faith in a good way. The music for the liturgy was almost perfect – solemn, well executed, with a mix of Latin and English hymns. The one thing I don’t understand is why, even during Lent, the piano is considered an essential part of liturgical music.
On Sunday morning we attended Easter Mass at Holy Ghost in Denver which has a long-standing reputation for excellent music and liturgy. The church is run by the Oblates of the Virgin Mary and they have shown their dedication to quality liturgical music by hiring a paid! choir that required auditions before its twelve members were chosen. The Latin Novus Ordo Mass was accompanied by a Mass setting, probably by Mozart, that included an orchestra. From where I was listening in the church basement with a sick child, the music still sounded incredible.
My hope is that with the recent restoration of the old rite to a “normalized” status in the Church, the bar for liturgy in general will be raised. From the many posts on the topic by Fr. Z, it appears that this is the Pope’s goal and one that may actually be achieved without a single new document on the subject being issued. As proof, I have heard of parishes in our city actually using a chant ordinary where the mere mention of Latin a couple of years ago would have caused either seizures or spontaneous combustion among the musicians and liturgists. There has also been a general move towards more reverent liturgy in our diocese which I think can be partially attributed to our new (of five years) bishop who seems to think that following the GIRM is actually a good idea and has been encouraging our priests to do the same. It has been several years since I have seen a glass or clay chalice in use and for the most part, liturgical texts are read as written.
I have also heard that one of the parishes in town is revamping its altar server training with the goal of having honest-to-goodness installed acolytes in a few years. I think that would put a parish in our diocese in the rarefied company of Lincoln, NE when it comes to liturgical correctness.
So, how can we assist with the renewal of Catholic culture? First, I believe that a return to a more classical approach to education where truth is actually treated as truth and where an emphasis is placed on understanding the Great Books of Western Civilization is essential. Pearson College at the University of Kansas used to have a classics program that become the root of the Clear Creek Monastery in Oklahoma. One of the founding members of the college, John Senior, wrote two visionary books on the topic of Christian culture that are just coming back into print.
Second, I believe that an actual love of God must be cultivated among all the Faithful. Most people would be aghast if it was suggested that they give the music or the art in their parishes to someone they love as a gift. They would probably choose something of higher quality as a gift. And yet, this lack of quality is what is offered to God each day at Mass. To achieve the goal of love of God will require a lot of patient education. This education may offend people who have come to believe that liturgy is all about community instead of worship and that mediocrity (though they wouldn’t put it in that term) is the best that can be expected. A true love of anything will always naturally bring about an improvement in the quality of attention given to the beloved. We need to abandon the idea that nothing is too cheap for God and return to the notion that nothing is too good for God.
Join us for the 4pm anticipatory Mass at St. Mary’s Cathedral on Saturday January 19th, 2008 for a one-of-a-kind event.
The participants of the Colorado Springs Regional Sacred Music Workshop – all 120 of them – will be singing a chant and polyphony Mass presided over by Bishop Michael Sheridan to conclude the workshop. If you want to hear some beautiful music, this is the day to do it.
I have now heard from someone who spoke to a cardinal in the know and who also heard the same from one of his instructors in the seminary who is friends with Pope Benedict that a new document is in the works on sacred music.
Here’s to hoping!
We received this note from Oregon Catholic Press recently:
we have many more recordings that may be of interest to you. Although it is true that the Laus Tibi, Christe supplement to the hymnals is not discounted to stores, the accompaniment book for it is. You can find it on page 35 of our new catalog. You can also find the Liber Cantualis, the Liber Hymnarius, the Graduale Triplex, the Gregorian Missal, the Graduale Romanum, and the Graduale Simplex on page 37. We have a new resource on page 40 in chant style called “Hear the Prayers that Rise”. You will find chant for the Liturgy of the Hours in Lord, Open My Lips by Fr Cyprian Consiglio from the Benedictine Monastery of New Camoldoli on page 57, Fr Tobias Colgan’s Gentle Shepherd on page 56-(Fr Tobias is at St Meinrad Archabbey). Bob Hurd’s Missa Ubi Caritas, on page 62 is based on the Gregorian Ubi Caritas and Fr Columba Kelly’s Passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ according to _John is also done in chant style. You might also want to check out the Taize chant recordings on page 72. On the same page as O Lux Beatissima, you’ll also find O Day of Resurrection from New Camoldoli, two cds from the Solesmes, and one from the Gloria Dei Cantores Schola.
As you browse our catalog, you will see items marked with a # sign in front of the item number, which indicates a short discount to stores or a (net) after the item number, which indicates that there is no discount. Most of our business is done directly with churches, but we do work well with retailers throughout the world.
So there you have it. In a catalog of hundreds of items, about a dozen are done in a classical chant style. I’m not sure I would have bothered to mount the defense when that’s all one can say.
In part one, I went over some great resources for teaching yourself the basics of chant.
In this part I will review some resources that will be of use once you are ready to move beyond the basics and really get into chant.
Okay, so you have learned the different types of notes and know how to sing the Missa de Angelis, Missa Orbis Factor and Missa Primitiva. You also know some basic hymns such as the Ave Maria, Ubi Caritas and Tantum Ergo. It’s time to see what else there is in the world of chant.
If you want practical applications, I suggest that the next title you invest in is the Graduale Simplex. This volume contains the propers for the entire year… You don’t know what a proper is? Okay, quick lesson in Mass parts. The ordinary of the Mass includes the parts of the Mass that don’t change from week to week. These include the Kyrie, the Gloria, the Sanctus and the Agnus Dei. These are ordinarily done at every Mass, hence the name “Ordinary”.
The “Propers” for a Mass are the parts of the Mass that are “proper” to a particular day. These include the Introit, the Responsorial Psalm, the Sequence (there are only a couple of these left), the Gospel Acclamation, the Offertory Antiphon and the Communion Antiphon. If you have never heard of most of these, don’t worry. Since they are the norm in the GIRM they are almost always overlooked at Mass because the options are much more interesting. >:)
The Introit is typically sung during the opening procession. The Responsorial is sung between the first and second readings, the Gospel acclamation is sung right before the Gospel, the Offertory Antiphon is sung at the Offertory and the Communion Antiphon is sung after Communion. The propers can still be found in the misalette and if you read them you will notice that they tie together a common theme with the readings. It’s really too bad that these are usually ignored because seeing how the same themes run through the psalms and the readings can really help in focusing on the main idea for the Mass.
Anyway, the Graduale Simplex contains the propers of the entire year in Latin in simple to learn chant. If you have a parish that wants to do chant and wants to do chant in Latin, I recommend this volume as the perfect parish resource. If you attend a Tridentine Mass and the standard propers are too daunting, I recommend the book Proper of the Mass (hardback or spiral bound). This book contains all the Sundays and feasts for the Tridentine Calendar as well as organ accompaniment for practice.
If you are ready to take the next step and go all out with the chant, the Gregorian Missal is the book for you. The missal is actually a real missal with all the readings and parts of the Mass for Sunday. In addition, it contains the chants for the propers. The propers in this book are not simple and you really have to have a commitment to learning them in a parish setting for them to work. Personally, I see these chants more for use in a religious community or in a parish by a schola and not by the whole parish.
The Graduale Romanum is the most complete book of chants for the Novus Ordo Mass. This book contains all the propers for all Masses as well as the ordinaries and a selection of hymns. The proper chants in this book are the same ones found in the Gregorian Missal. The Graduale also has three volumes of organ accompaniment for parishes that can’t let go of musical accompaniment for all singing.
If you would like the same type of book for the Tridentine Mass, the Liber Usualis (The Usual Book) is for you. This book contains all chants for the Tridentine Mass as well as the official Vatican instructions for chant singing in English from the 1950s. Whether or not you attend a Tridentine Mass, this book is the gold standard in chant books and should be part of your collection if you are serious about learning chant.
For those who want to really become proficient and be able to discuss the various permutations of chant minutiae throughout history, there are two essential books for you. The first is Gregorian Semiology which is a thorough historical study of the development of chant through the centuries. The second is the Graduale Triplex. The Triplex is the same book as the Graduale Romanum with the inclusion of two very old notations above and below the modern notation. This historical reference is important because chant notation didn’t start out as notes on a cleff but instead as notations by the choir master on a text indicating where to speed up, hold and slow down parts of the chant. Original chant notation looks a lot like shorthand instead of like modern musical notes and gives an indication of the proper way to phrase the music.
Coming soon: Part III – How to introduce chant to your parish.