I was hired by a local parish several years before I converted to Catholicism. The parish had experienced a run of more than ten years of uncooperative music directors, and the parish welcomed this non-Catholic, myself, who submits to leadership, respects authority, and basically does what he is asked in accordance with liturgical guidelines. As I studied the Vatican documents, the GIRM, and Diocesan and Bishops' directives, I came to realize this past year that much of the instruction from our liturgy director and former pastor were not in keeping with liturgical guidelines. Thankfully, our new pastor has given me his blessing and freedom to move our music back on track.
...I discarded 60% of the choral music on file: everything from Broadway tunes, pop songs (yes, even a Beatles song that was used in Mass before I arrived), and beautiful choral pieces with texts that are clearly not in keeping with Catholic doctrine (evangelical/Baptist music).
I stopped selecting pop-sounding pieces from a very popular publisher's paperback hymnal, regardless of how well the text fit, and opted for more sacred or chant-like settings. We began singing more Latin, and I have edged away from the piano and accompany the majority, if not all, of our Mass with the organ.
I was not aware of the number of people passing through our doors each Sunday "parish-shopping." It seems many, many people have grown tired of the pop-song/feel-good evangelical-style Masses, and are looking for parishes with "real Mass," (emphasis added) as many have called it.
Since initiating these changes three months ago, we have received the blessing of our pastor, our bishop, two visiting archbishops and a cardinal to promote and keep pursuing this new direction. Our choir has nearly doubled in size and I had to start a second choir. An opera singer and a professional cellist from Europe selected our parish from the many in our area and have joined our music ministry because of our music selections. I am using much more of my music education. Better yet, for the first time in thirty years of church music directing, I am musically challenged. It is invigorating!
The editor of Canticanova thanked the writer of this letter for the good news, and I would also like to give the music director a hearty "well done", assuming what they say is a true reflection of what has happened.
There are several little red flags that crop up in this little missive. One is the use of the words "real Mass" in the text. Is the author suggesting that it is the music which makes the Mass 'real'?
Another is the description of the people who are "parish shopping." Again, are they simply looking for a church that plays music to their tastes? If so, the practice is not to be praised. Parish shopping- and I speak as one who has done this and will likely do this again- is not a good thing. It discourages the unity of faith- people of all walks of life and professions, joining in the Mass because it is the Mass, there because this is where their church is- to a unity of taste- people coming to this Mass because it has the music they like, or some other reason. In short, the miracle of the Mass is not enough for them.
Furthermore, and the writer of this letter did not mention it, but I would bet a dollar that they also lost some members of the church because they preferred the old music, possibly the same reason the parish shoppers left their church and came to this one. It is unfortunate outcome to changes in the music program, and though I would gladly have any parish church I attend undertake such a music program as this writer has described, at the same time I believe the issue of people leaving the parish needs to be addressed with a better response than the all too usual "good riddance."
And yet, as I said, I have done a fair piece of parish hopping myself. I have looked for churches that look like churches, I have sought out better music programs. I try to justify myself to myself. I tell myself I am doing this because the better churches in their very architecture encourage worship, whereas modern designs only encourage me to think about what the architect was thinking, and what kind of medication they were taking when they designed this 'church'. I tell myself the music is irreverent and improper, it focuses on the wrong things at the wrong time, and that it is out of keeping with the directives of the Church. But what is this compared to the miracle occurring on the altar? Why do I need more?
The Church calls music the most important of all the liturgical arts, but it is not the liturgy itself, and Mass is the celebration of the liturgy. To leave because of the music, or to stay because of the music, is an error. Or so it seems to me.