The problem of religious music

It’s been growing for a long time. Too long. People with sense ought to have recognized what was going on and put a halt to it twenty, thirty years ago.

I’m talking about religious music. Not sacred music, mind you, which belongs in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, which is God- and Heaven-oriented and which helps to foster a sense of reverence and devotion in the singer and the hearer. Religious music: which has religious themes but whose purpose is to entertain, rather than to inspire, and whose end is the artificial retardation of the spiritual life of the faithful.

Yes, artificial retardation.

The religious music of the day is born of the 1970s coffeehouse movement – that protestant charismatic phenomenon that grew out of gospel music, targeted the younger, pop-rock fans of the day, and gave them a Christ-centered alternative to secular pop that promoted sex, drugs and rock and roll. All well and good in and of itself –

But this sort of music needs to stay in the coffeehouse venue. Its purpose is entertainment. It actually detracts from the Mysteries we celebrate during the Mass, fosters an over-familiarity (too often confused with intimacy) toward God.

Too few people believe in the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist any more. And why not? when we get stuck being “catechized” with such drivel as “I Myself Am the Bread of Life,” or “Let Us Be Bread” – both narcissistic, self-aggrandizing twaddle (not to mention utterly heretical!) – how can we withstand the subtle message that Our Buddy Jesus doesn’t really care how we treat him? just so long as we come and hang out for a while –

at the table (not, notice, the Altar) –

We have fostered generations, now, of immature, self-centered, stupid Christians who don’t know what they believe or Who it is they’re supposed to be worshipping.

It’s all about what the people know how to sing (what? Are they now to stupid to learn new hymns?) and what makes them happy (immature children know what they need in order to grow up to be mature and responsible adults?).

I was in conversation with a priest just last week, who rather exploded over how stupid most Catholics are, any more. And he’s right. And it begins with this music.

Some Holy Saturday thoughts –

… not of any particularly holy subject; in fact, most of my noodlings are disappointingly mundane.

Matt directed me to a GLBT blog yesterday (not going to post link here, although he has done in DE) which is decidedly anti-Catholic. The writer is protesting the appointment of Timothy Dolan to archdiocese of New York. She speaks her objection very clearly when she calls him “the darling of the anti-gay … crowd,” but then she makes a lot of smoke and noise, blaming Dolan and the entire Catholic paradigm for the priest abuse scandal.

The irony of her stance is that the sex scandal involved priests with pubescent boys – hence, the issue is a homosexual issue. Pederasty is a subset of the homosexual lifestyle, like it or not (and since my ex- was seduced by a pederast, I “NOT”). And she seems completely oblivious to the fact that her real objection is that Dolan won’t cave to the GLBT agenda.

Matt and I have both posted comments, and this gal is pretty angry with us, too.

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This incident appears (I need to clear my perception with Matt) to have pushed DE into new territory. We began with the premise of opposing FOCA and the pro-abort platform of our new president. Matt particularly wanted to be careful not to be too flagrantly a Catholic voice so we would not alienate other Christians who need help and encouragement in fighting the pro-life battle.  But now we seem to be engaging the broader spectrum of the culture wars. Matt’s posted about this GLBT blog, and particularly her attack on the Church.

She’s come over to DE and posted some pretty hostile comments. That’s okay, so far – Matt’s given her good response, and I think I have, too.

We haven’t discussed any of this, between ourselves, but it seems to me a good direction to be going. engaging the whole culture war.

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Easter Weekend. I love this season better than Christmas – and that’s saying something! It’s grueling for all involved in some branch of Church work, beginning with our priests. There are extra Masses, Confessions, activities. There are changes in the Sanctuary to oversee and implement – the stripping of the altar, for instance, after Holy Thursday. There are rituals to rehearse again – and the ordinary duties of sick calls, emergencies, etc. don’t take a vacation just or a marathon week.

Musicians also have a grueling week. The extra music for the Triduum and Easter Sunday give any choir, organist, or cantor a heavier workout than at any other time of the year.

It’s the music that helps bring the liturgical seasons to life for me.

Thursday night I cantored the Propers of the Mass at a Latin High Mass. For the uninitiated, the “Ordinaries” are those things that remain constant in the liturgy week in and week out – the Gloria, the Kyrie, Sanctus, Agnus Dei, etc. The “Propers” are those things that vary according to the liturgy: the Introit, the Gradual, the Tract, the Communion antiphon. Propers are rarely observed in the Ordinary Form of the Mass – although they are present in the fuller liturgy. During the Latin High Mass, they are sung. In Latin – which isn’t as difficult as it sounds, since Latin, unlike English, has a rigid pronunciation rule. For me, the challenge is to get my eyes to move quickly enough between words and staff, so I get the right syllable with the right tone.

I also helped the choir at this parish sing the beautiful “Attende Domine.”

Yesterday the schola came from Raleigh and carried the major weight of the Good Friday liturgy. There was also a priest visiting from the FSSP (Fraternal Society of St. Peter) who concelebrated with Fr. P., singing antiphonally the beautiful Good Friday Gospel of John. He was a tenor to Father P’s baritone, so the alternating roles were very distinctive and beautiful.

Today I catch my breath, but more importantly I have two pieces to learn for tomorrow: the Vidi aquam (I saw water…) which opens the Easter liturgy, and the Easter Sequence, Victimae paschale.

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A good day at work. Mostly. I’m experiencing the most appalling, embarrassing memory lapses lately. Not just memory, but mental endeavors of all description. Mixing up saints and their particular stories, mixing up titles of books and authors (who knew there’s more than one City of God, and not just Augustine’s???) –

I’m going to go practice the Vidi aquam “I saw water flowing from the side of the temple” – and the Victimae paschale laudes for tomorrow.

Holy Week begins –

Holy Week Marathon now in progress!  I really do love this week, my favorite of the entire year, although the schedule is grueling.

This year is a bit different, and I got thrown a new couple things, yesterday:

Today – Mass in the Extraordinary Form at the Cathedral in Raleigh.
Tomorrow – extra schola rehearsal in anticipation of Good Friday liturgy in Dunn.
Tuesday – my own personal rehearsal with the Dunn music director (keep reading)
Wednesday – an evening off to gather my strength…
Thursday – to Dunn, where I’m filling in with the choir there. Their music director has had a family emergency, is going to be out of town, and his daughters are the two sopranos who read music; hence, I’m going to join them for the weekend. I’ve already booked a room at a bed and breakfast across the street from the Church, so I don’t have to drive back and forth for the
Friday – Good Friday liturgy, after which I get to go back home…
Saturday – I’m going to bypass the Vigil Mass, locally, since I don’t know anyone being received into the Church, and because
Sunday – I go back to Dunn for the EF Easter Mass.

I’ll be putting about a thousand miles on the ol’ Escort this week.

I’m also having to print out the Rossini Propers of the Mass from the internet – a beautiful series of settings, but my computer-printer relationship is shaky. I did finally get the Vidi aquam printed out before giving up; I’ll print the rest off at the store, tomorrow.

Today will be my third encounter with the EF Mass. As I read the Missal, recognize the themes and cohesiveness of the whole liturgy, I’m more and more impressed with the reverence, the beauty and the completeness of this form of the Mass. I do wish I had easier access to this Mass on a weekly basis, though, so I could learn it more perfectly, more quickly. It’s still something of a muddle to me just now –

Obviously, I am going to be meeting myself coming and going this week (still have that payroll job to keep up with, too! LOL ) so just know, now, that you friends will be in my prayers this week.

Corpus Domini nostri JesuChristi..

I knelt yesterday for the first time at a Communion rail to receive the Precious Body of our Lord Jesus Christ. As the priest approached me, making the Sign of the Cross with the Host and intoning the ancient words in Latin…

I felt dizzy.

This really is the Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity of the Creator of the Cosmos!

I read through the prayers of the Mass from the 1962 Missal (a must-have, even if you don’t attend an Extraordinary Form Mass), and was simply awed by the beauty, the richness of the language.

Even if we did the 1962 Mass in English, it would be so much more reverent and beautiful than the ridiculous ICEL/NAB twaddle we have to suffer through now. People would have a far greater sense of the depth and height and magnificent beauty of this Church and of Her Lord –

How NOT to equip the Faithful to be part of the Church Militant

So – I’m informed that one of my former parishes has artificially retarded itself by choosing this songbook.

Now, you and I know that people remember what they sing at Mass for a LONG time, much longer than they can remember the content and substance of Father’s homily.

So why would the Faithful be anesthetized with the drek and drivel of religious pablum contained in this horrid songbook? It’s the worst collection of narrow, insipid, narcissistic nonsense masquerading as Music to be found anywhere. Why would they want to be? Why would an otherwise outstanding priest consent to this – even heretical, in some cases – …

Words escape me. I shudder at the very thought of it.

Double-Dipping (a Confession)

So… what’s a nice Roman Catholic girl like me doing singing with the choir at St. Timothy’s EPISCOPAL Church?

Blame my friend Patricia, for starters. Patricia is not only the choir director at St. Tim’s (I hope you don’t mind, Patricia; I affectionately call my home parish St. Tony’s), she is also a colleague and has become my best friend here in this city where I work and live part-time. Knowing I love music and that I sing, she’d been inviting me since the Open House where we met to come sing with her church choir.

Nah, I’m Roman Catholic. Got to go home on week-ends… can’t sing with the choir at St. Tony’s because I can’t make choir rehearsals in mid-week, but I love Fr. I. and duty is duty.

In the meantime, I as good as lose Christmas altogether this year. No music. Last year I was bogged down in choir work and it was wonderful, even though our choir back home in my former parish does way too much (i.e., ANY) Haugen-Haas Horse-Hockey and, in fact, chooses most of its music from that insipid, cotton-candy non-genre (genre wannabe? — btw, I am an official member of the Society for a Moratorium on the Music of Marty Haugen and David Haas, or SMMMHDH for short – can prove it by looking here!) As a matter of fact, I have not found a parish in the diocese of Raleigh that is not! bogged down in that ooey-gooey-icky-schticky contemporary not-at-all-Catholic “music”.

So Lent is here, Easter is fast approaching, and I’m still music-less. Patricia comes to talk to me again. One of her choir members is on call, her father is terminally ill and there’s a very strong probability she won’t be in town to sing for Easter. Will I please, as a favor, help her out? (there’s also a small stipend, which I could say tipped the balance for me, but I’d be lying and would have to add to my list for Confession this week)

Oh! my SOUL! what music! William Byrd dominated the week — his Gospel settings, his “Ave Verum Corpus”. We also sang the Mozart “Ave Verum Corpus.” Have you ever heard the Gospel sung? I had not. On Palm Sunday two men, one a regular member of the choir, sang the Evangelist and the Lord, and the choir sang all the “mob” parts (which includes the voices of the disciples) The baritone singing the voice of Jesus didn’t merely perform his role; he seemed to be praying it.

Even during the rehearsal, I felt my soul being re-aligned. I hadn’t realized how off-balance I’d become, being in the middle of subtle deteriorations. I felt myself opening up to God all anew in the midst of praying that glorious music. I went home and picked up a long-neglected Book of Christian Prayer, the heavenly Liturgy of the Hours (short form). I felt as if I had come to sit in God’s lap and be loved by Him a while.

So… I sang Holy Week (they celebrate a Triduum, too), Easter Sunday, Divine Mercy Sunday (oh, thank you, Father James! for remembering our dear John Paul II in your prayers that day!) …

Got sick. Oh, how sick I got — I am seriously thinking of taking a bold black marking pen and scratching through the entire month of April, it was so lost and what wasn’t lost was horrible. Allergies like I’ve never experienced before, laryngitis, infections… oh, MISERY! like constantly being in a nightmare of living under water.

Could not talk, certainly could not sing. Equilibrium — spiritual as well as physical — faltered.

Well, folks, I sang again today. I’m not even 75% back to what I was during Holy Week (which in itself was rather a gift) — but, by golly! I sang! The anthem was a wonderful Latin piece, out of France, re-telling the story of the Ascension, which Solemnity was celebrated today. I was AWFUL! but everyone was kind and supported me completely. And once again that amazing, palpable sense of soul re-aligning.

I do hope that, when our new bishop is appointed (we’re due), that he takes steps to bring some decent liturgical music back into our Church!
Because it’s not fair to blame Patricia for something that certainly is not her fault. The choice is mine, so any blame is mine. And my choice is to continue this “double-dipping” act until my own Church in this area realizes that the insipidity of its music is inducing insipid spirituality and mediocrity in the Faithful (not to mention the heresies this stuff promulgates!) and provides something substantial and fitting to stay home for.