8 October 2010

Indecisive me, part 2

As I noted in the previous installment, my efforts to try and see two sides to every argument or problems before coming to a conclusion has often left me bereft of the capacity to reach conclusions.  Another instance that outlines this came from a letter written to the editors at Canticanova this week.  Here is some of that letter:

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.

And yet...

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.


Barb Schoeneberger said...

The key to the Mass is celebrating it according to the mind of the Church which we have in the rubrics. That is, according to Father John Zuhlsdorf, "Say the black and do the red."

The Church has reasons for setting the celebration of the sacred liturgy in the manner she does, and this includes the Popes' writings on sacred music. It is right for Catholics to seek parishes where the sacred liturgy is celebrated according to the mind of the Church and they should not feel guilty for doing so.

It is sad that this has to happen, but nothing is more important than that we worship God worthily. That also includes an interior spirit of submission to Him and awareness that He is our All in All. In too many parishes this is impossible, and it is one reason many Catholics are seeking out the Extraordinary Form Pope Benedict restored to clergy and laity with greater liberality in Summorum Pontificum of 7/7/07.

I don't question my fellow Catholics on their dispositions or preferences. I am most concerned about the suitableness of mine.

The author's comment about "real Mass" was a quote from the visitors. I wouldn't judge them, nor those who left for Broadway and hip hop but rather leave the liturgical situation, to the Holy Spirit to work out in each soul.

frival said...

I haven't yet parish hopped because of music, but I assure you there have been many a day when the only thing keeping me from running out the door has been proper manners. There is only so much horizontal musical theology one can absorb before faced with the choice to either give in or avoid it all together.

As music is part of the Mass it also brings with it and portrays a particular theological point of view. When that point of view is directly contradicting right and proper worship as the Church intends then at some point even the heartiest of spirits will reach a breaking point. Put another way, just as lex orandi lex credendi I would argue the law of singing is the law of belief - you cannot sing without what is sung affecting what you believe.

I would like to think that most people who listen contently to patently bad liturgical music do so out of a desire for the type of unity you call to mind - unfortunately I'm more given to believe they simply don't even notice there is a theology, Christology, ecclesiology, even an eschatology behind much of that music which is in the end not Catholic at all.

If, in the end, you are responsible for the state and fate of your soul (God's mercy obviously not withstanding) and those of your family and you find the level of un-Catholic theology in the liturgical music to which you are subjected to be endangering those souls you have not only the right but the requirement to look for ways to resolve the situation. Perhaps this sounds over-the-top and perhaps it is, but I know that as weak a human being as I am I need to go to Mass to be strengthened in my faith and not to have it tested, tried, tortured and twisted.

One final thought. Unity is not true unity unless it is unity around Him who unites. To paraphrase and extend then-Cardinal Ratzinger, Christian unity is not so because we are in the same building or saying the same words or singing the same songs or holding hands - it is so because we are united around Christ and it is our intimate connection with Him that creates that union between each of us and the others around us. If some of that to-be-uniate whole cannot and does not hold to that same Christ then no matter the gusto with which the song is sung true unity cannot and does not exist.

My apologies for the random rambling, this is what I get for commenting before coffee. ;)