It is way past time that someone other than Thomas Day pointed out that almost all of the “pop” liturgical music composed since 1960 (including my own) needs to be thrown into the dustbin of history (“Pop Goes the Mass: The Curse of Bad Liturgical Music, Part One,” October 2008). However, giving short shrift to the USCCB’s November 2007 Sing to the Lord is a big mistake. STL is everything that Music in Catholic Worship was not: First, STL was actually approved by the bishops’ conference; MICW was not. Second, the new document is solidly based on the Vatican originals, including the emphasis on chant. Finally, it places the burden of fostering musical participation by the people of God on the shoulders of bishops, priests, and deacons, who are the principal animators of song by singing the invitations to prayer themselves. I am in the process of training musicians and liturgists to conduct workshops on STL, and the effect on even “liberal” musicians is electric. This one document, if widely promulgated and put into practice, can effect the revolution in musical liturgy that will bring us back to our roots and begin attracting converts (and Catholics) to true worship.
—Deacon W. Patrick Cunningham
San Antonio, Texas
Mary Ann Carr Wilson replies: You are correct that STL was approved by the conference of bishops, and this is important. Even so, STL was approved after major last-minute revisions, one reason it is still considered shaky. MICW was deficient in substance, which was why it needed revision. STL, as a reworking of that deficient document, remains deficient in my opinion and in the opinion of the bishops who did not vote to approve it. Perhaps the largest objection is that where in some areas STL upholds the importance of Gregorian chant, in other areas it takes the tone that many musical styles are equal where the liturgy is concerned. By contrast, Vatican documents consistently uphold the primacy of Gregorian chant and secondly, sacred polyphony.
Moreover, it is crucial to remember that STL is not a binding magisterial document in itself; rather it is intended to serve musicians as a summary of Vatican documents. Considering the negative impact and flaws of its predecessor, MICW—which was also intended as a helpful summary—it is fair to question the need for such documents at all.
I earnestly hope for renewal in sacred music that can “bring us back to our roots and begin attracting converts (and Catholics) to true worship,” as you said. With respect, I find the best plan is to simply teach from the magisterial documents themselves. They are incredibly rich and do not contain any of the baggage of MICW.
Kudos All Around
I just finished reading the October issue of This Rock, and I thought it was exceptional. Anthony Esolen’s article on bad Mass music really hit the nail on the head. I am a recent convert from Anglicanism and a reasonably competent classical pianist, and one of the hardest things for me was to leave the great hymns of the Anglican church and the wonderful service music for “folksy” ditties and guitars. My vocal chords never recovered from puberty—I simply cannot sing without an organ and a good hymn-tune. I welcomed the author’s appreciation of Vaughan Williams, my favorite composer, whose works possess a deep spirituality for me, even though he was at best a self-described “Christian agnostic.” I am fortunate to belong to a parish where good hymns are sung from time to time but have attended churches where bad liturgical music has predominated.
Of course, the problem is not limited to Catholic churches—in many Protestant churches “worship” consists of an interminable series of “praise songs” designed to rouse an emotional response, but which are seriously lacking in musical, literary, and theological value. I think C.S. Lewis complained that in his day hymns were “second-rate words set to third-rate music.” The problem is worse today. With a rich heritage of great music and theologically edifying works available, it is a shame that all too often, inferior pieces are chosen to accompany the Mass.
I also thought Fr. Giesler’s article about the early Christians in Rome (“How the First Christians Changed the World”) was well done (this era being one of particular interest to me; I have written a series of short stories about saints of Roman times). There is a lot we can learn from the early Christians, and his article should be taken to heart. Fr. Harrison’s article (“Why I Didn’t Convert to Eastern Orthdoxy”) was helpful: An Anglican priest I know recently joined the Orthodox church; I was rather turned off by what seemed to me to be excessive devotion to icons. Fr. Harrison’s article tackles the question of infallibility in a way I hadn’t encountered before. His comment that “God has plainly not decided to offer this revelation immediately and directly to each individual” should be obvious—but it frequently isn’t. Jim Blackburn’s article about tolerance (By the Book) was right on the mark—very apropos to a society that has elevated “tolerance” to a cardinal virtue but doesn’t really understand it. I suppose John Lopez (Damascus Road) is still in jail; it seems, though, as if he has come a long way. He also makes a number of good points. Michael Schrauzer’s articles on art (Eyes to See) are always appreciated. So an excellent issue! Thanks to all of you at Catholic Answers.
—Andrew M. Seddon, M.D.
Lord, Send Us Good Music!
Thank you so much for the article on Church music. I very much appreciated it and I look forward to the second.
Since any true reform begins with the spirit, I would like to offer a prayer for good Church music:
God our Father,
Please give us good Church music:
Music which reflects the glories and richness of Catholic tradition;
Music which shows the truth and beauty of the Catholic faith;
Music which glorifies You, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
—John F. Fay
Mary Esther, Florida
Beauty and Grace
I just wanted to take time to thank you for your excellent publication. The quality of the articles reminds us that orthodoxy doesn’t have to be dry or boring. I would especially like to thank Mr. Schrauzer for his “Eyes to See” column. Though I enjoy beautiful art, learning about the more technical and historical.aspects of given pieces has made me even more appreciative and has opened my eyes in more ways than one.
I would suggest, however, that Fr. Serpa be a bit more diplomatic in his “Quick Questions” responses. One thing your magazine makes clear is that telling the truth in the spirit of Christian love and humility is very attractive. I’m sure he is more than humble in person, but some of the good father’s responses have been a bit less than gracious and, I believe, less convincing as a result.