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Monday, 30 June 2008

Dialoguing on Catholic Sacred Music?

I received an email from someone I don't know, or recall, but for whose family I apparently had played and sung a funeral some time ago.
This person thanked me and suggested as we were from different parts of the country, (as well as sized towns, sized parishes, Catholicity of the local population at large,) and of different ages, (my correspondent is very much of that boomer VCII generation that has controlled liturgical music in this country for the past thirty, forty years,) it might be interesting to compare notes and exchange music, from our differing Catholic perspectives.
This person included a Schutte song which their choir does, and mentioned some others of which they were fond.
All in all, I'm eager for the exchange, because I think it's helping me hone my take on things....
Some excerpts from the emails so far, for which I'd welcome (I think,) criticisms and corrections:

Me: Thank you for the [popular religious composer's] music, very interesting.
Beautiful tune, too, very reminiscent of some Sacred Harp tunes.
He certainly has come a long way since [early hit], (which was reminiscent of [advertizing jingle].)
I question the keyboard accompaniment, clearly intended for piano, and the long instrumental coda, reminiscent of saecular ballads and love songs, which seems to be intended primarily to arouse emotion. I think liturgical music ought properly to have less affect.
Note the connection our current Holy Father is asking for between Faith and REASON, not Faith and "feelings."
I don’t know [another song mentioned], but Surely the Presence Of the Lord Is In This Place is already in our parish repertoire. It is very pretty.
I don't use it much because of the ambiguity of the words, it allows of a very un-Catholic understanding of the Real Presence (I have always assumed the writer was an evangelical Protestant.)
I am not sure it is appropriate in an actual Catholic church, with a Tabernacle, to put so much emphasis on some presence of Christ that can be detected by the expressions of peoples' faces, (again, an appeal to "feelings,") rather than directing our thoughts toward contemplation of the Lord's Presence, whole and entire, Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity, in the Blessed Sacrament of the Altar.
Since this is one of the core Mysteries of the Catholic faith, and the one that is the greatest stumbling block for many non-Catholics, and the one that even Catholics are in most danger of misunderstanding or even rejecting;
and since we know that it is only through Faith that we can comprehend this Presence, not through our senses, I think it's important that non-scriptural, devotional songs we may inject into our worship continue to emphasize THAT, rather than other aspects of His Presence.
I am trying, with my programming choices to get a little closer to what is mandated by the Second Vatican Council documents, both in regards text and style of music:
http://www.vatican.va/archive/hist_councils/ii_vatican_council/documents/vat-ii_const_19631204_sacrosanctum-concilium_en.html (Chapter Six is the one on music,)
and really, every papal or authoritative document:
before and since:

utilizing the texts of the propers when possible, the pride of place that is to be given to the "official" music of the Church, sacred polyphony, both classic and contemporary, preservation ofe of the Roman Catholic Church, etc.
Have you read Benedict XVI's The Spirit of the Liturgy? terrific book, what he has to say about liturgical music is very helpful.
Also, here is a wonderful site for free PDFs of public domain music:
And have you seen this?
Excellent, easy to use, inexpensive new book (just published about 2 weeks ago)
Thanks for your reply; that was a lot of work! ...
Obviously you've thought things through much more than I have.
I just enjoy the singing and the praying that goes with it. I wonder, though, if there is an antithesis between reason and feelings as you suggest. Why can't they work together?
It seems to me that music has the unique ability to stir our souls, to get an emotional response from us. And aren't we more likely to act if we have been emotionally moved? I know that people in Africa are dying from hunger, but I'm much more likely to give if I've seen pictures of the suffering.
Of course what we sing must be doctrinally correct, but I see nothing wrong with singing something that moves us or even makes us smile or laugh (although I have to admit, I haven't seen too many of the latter. Several years ago the men in our choir sang "The Virgin Mary Had a Baby Boy", a calypso hymn, in the choral prelude before midnight Mass at Christmas, that did just that.) Do you have anything against "Were You There When They Crucified My Lord"? There's a lot of emotion in that one.
Isn't the purpose of good liturgy to get us emotionally involved with our God?
I hope you're not taking offense at my comments; it's just I found your comments so interesting and different from where I'm coming from.
I'm passing this on to our choir director so he can check out the references and the possible sites for new music.
I'll also try to check out the new music, but I don't read music well enough to figure out the tunes.
You didn't mention anything about [another song brought up in the first email] so I'll send you a copy; I hope you like it.
"I wonder if there is an antithesis between reason and feelings as you suggest"
No, I don't think there is an antithesis between reasons and feelings, nor that there is necessarily anything wrong with having emotions evoked by music.
Reason and feelings can "work together" but the former must be superior to the latter.
I do think that it is wrong for the evoking of emotions to be the primary intent of music used LITURGICALLY (not in worship, generally, certainly not in private prayer or public devotions --but in Liturgy,) and I think it is wrong for that to be our primary response to music, again, when that music is used in the Liturgy, (Mass or the Divine Office, or prescribed rituals for the administration of sacraments.)
This is because feelings are notoriously untrustworthy, and notoriously mutable.
It is a cliché, (and a cliché because it is true,) that one may not "feel" like doing something one "knows" one must do because it is right.
It is a cliché, again because it is true, that ones "feelings" toward another person are subject to change.
Feelings are good only when they support actions and thoughts that are good.
Another problem with the fetishization of feelings is that everyone doesn't "feel" the same way, and Liturgy is corporate worship.
I am not in communion with the Church, with the Pope, with other Catholic Christians because we all "feel" alike, (I'm pretty sure we don't,) but because we all know the same Truths, we all believe alike.
"Isn't the purpose of good liturgy to get us emotionally involved with our God?"
No, not at all.
Liturgy, the corporate worship of the Church has two purposes, the first and most important is the worship of the Triune God.
The second is the sanctification of the Faithful.
Emotional involvement with God or our fellows is completely beside the point.
A good analogy might be to sacramental marriage, (which is meant to be a metaphor of God's relationship with us, with His Church.)
The commitment that we make, the Love that is demanded of us by the sacrament is not to always "feel" the emotion we call "love" toward my spouse, (because we won't, we can't,) but to always act in the way to which genuine love will call us, regardless of whether we feel that way, even if the feelings in which we initially took such delight don't last.
The commitment, once made, the decision of the will, is demanded of us regardless, even in spite of whatever emotions we may eventually feel.
I daresay a great many, (if not most,) Christians have suffered some setback or tragedy in life that left them angry with the all-powerful and providential God.
That does not mean we stop loving Him, and fearing Him and worshipping Him.
One problem with music whose primary appeal to us is emotional, or that we like, rather than that it suitably expressed what the Liturgy us intended to express, is that it takes times and resources away from more important music, liturgical music.
I love Were You There.
We sing it every Holy Week.
But it would be wrong to take the time and effort to learn it an practice it if we hadn't first put the necessary time and effort into the Reproaches.
Or the Ordinary.
Or the other Propers.
Such priorities would be askew.
Well, sorry, I didn't mean to write a novel!
God bless.


Mary Jane said...

Ah, Scelata - you're one who knows the difference between feelings and the will, not to mention the purpose of liturgy.

Knowing you're out there makes me feel (oops, sorry) better after this weekend's sub directing job that included "Cry of the Poor, "Only This I Want," among others.

Chironomo said...

There is a saying about arguing with a fool... when someone makes a statement like "Isn't the purpose of good liturgy to get us emotionally involved with our God?", you have already lost the argument because they are debating from a point of view in which your (correct) view is suppressed in favor of a much simpler, easier to comprehend "emotional" view of liturgy, one which requires nothing of us except to "feel good" about it.

Anonymous said...

Well, Chirononomo, I'm a Christian, and I believe in redemption ;o)
In all seriousness, we've have quite a few years of misinformation and non-formation.
Don't you think there is a chance that we can be a means of informing those who came of age in that era?
And don't you think we have an obligation to try?

(Save the Liturgy, Save the World)

lvschant said...

G: I think you are doing a great job of balancing giving the other lady a bit more information to work with without being condescending or in any way offensive toward her point of view. I know I wandered in the wilderness (musically) for many years before finding the promised land... perhaps you have been put in her path to help her along the way. Bravo!