Monday, October 22, 2007

A final word on the "Missa in cantu" post

[The comments below remain closed, but I will, ever hopeful, keep them open here in case there are any thoughtful and charitable responses, by which I mean responses that address the points, rather than criticize the point-maker. Good friend and a deeply inspiring disciple of Christ, St. Lizzy, just sent me a very thoughtful email that I want to share. It's my blog, so I get to decide what goes on here :)]

Sherry writes, and I think accurately:

But a longing for the Traditional Mass is a very different thing from scornful derision aimed at millions of non Anglo,non-high culture Catholics who have no part in the culture wars and are just trying to worship and serve God to the best of their ability in their local parishes and families and communities.

Jeffrey, who is rightly concerned about preserving the church's patrimony and re-claiming the sacredness of the Mass as a time when we do things properly, with reverence and per the norms, writes of what he terms the "modal parish":

There are two or three people who can sing, no one has sung a note of chant. Most people are interested in chant but have no idea where to begin. Meanwhile, there is a hardcore that is fanatically attached to music of the 1970s and fears even the slightest hint of solemnity, warning darkly that the new priest is going to take the parish into a new Dark Age.

There are no liturgical materials available in the parish. The vessels are glass or pottery, everything else having been tossed out. So there is no monstrance, no patens, and the tabernacle is buried somewhere where it can't be seen. The available vestments are unworthy.

He comments to Sherry that:

Let me finally add: if you think chant doesn't belong in the Roman Rite, you are either misinformed about the liturgy or you are hoping for the creation of some other rite that doesn't yet exist.

I think that Sherry is not responding from any desire for a new rite, or from a dislike of tradition. Nowhere does she state that chant doesn't belong in the rite. Sherry is responding to what she perceives as putting down of parish life based on broad brush strokes.

And it is those broad generalities that I feel I must address, fearful as I am to appear to be insulting one musical form or another, one particular rite or another, or even one particular blogger or other.

I live in a world of epidemiology, where statistics and statistical accuracy are critical to any actions we opt to take from our data. Anything described as modal means that it is the (or "one of the" in the case of multi-modal distributions) most frequently encountered value in the sample or population. This means that this value is seen more often than any other for this variable, even if it isn't the mean. It is critical that we know if samples or populations are being described, and how the samples were selected.

If we create a list of Parish Liturgical Problems voiced by chant seminar attenders (non-random sample) then there could be several "modes" or most frequently appearing problems: improper vessels, ad-libbing prayers, unworthy vestments, ignorance of music which should be given pride of place in the liturgy, out of tune guitar Masses, etc. This approach certainly gives the liturgist or priest a guide to what to approach first to reclaim the sacredness of the liturgy.

These concerns may be modal for the non-random sample of priests who come to Mr. Tucker for training, but they are almost certainly not modal for the population of US parishes.

Mr. Tucker's post , whether or not he intended this to be so, isn't being read as a modal list of errors. It is being read as a modal list of the current state of things across the US. If you assembled a list of values from the population for any liturgical item (brass chalice, brass chalice, brass chalice, ceramic chalice, glass chalice, brass chalice, etc) or (paten paten, paten, paten, paten, no paten, paten, etc.) , few of the items appearing in what reads as a Jeremiad would rise to modal status.

And that's so important -- We should take care not to describe a population by the traits seen in only a sample being described by those dissatisfied with the status quo. Put another way, a list of chief complaints given by people presenting to the ER (unscientific sample) is important, but it does not describe the health of the entire community (population.) The chief complaints tell us how to plan health care and what needs to be done to improve health, but it does not tell us anything about those not presenting for care.

Sherry hears, and perhaps not without reason, "scornful derision" in what was written. This may not have been Mr,. Tucker's original plan, but it is certainly consonant with other opinions Mr. Tucker may have expressed previously. I hear Sherry giving her opinion, and making important points based on her own observations. Jeffrey states at "Charlotte was Both" that Sherry's points aren't valid, and states that he "addressed them at the blog in question." Dismissive language, even if not intentionally written to be so.

Not for nothing did I so often read at "Open Book" the comment: "Fearful as I am to jump into a discussion on music, I feel I must say....." before someone gave an opinion. We often aren't hearing what people are actually saying; we are hearing only how they might disagree with those things about which we are most passionate.

The blogosphere is, or should be, a place for exchanges of opinions, and discussion that can lead us to mutual areas of understanding. Mutual understanding can begin with clear understanding of the bases of our opinions and of our "stats."

Sherry loves the church that welcomed her in as a new converts. She wants us to stop arguing over liturgy. She's willing to accept variations in music if needed, so long as the Mass is valid. Jeffrey loves the Church and wants us to stop arguing over liturgy. He offers chant and sung Masses as options that don't rely on changing contemporary musical tastes.

I love the Church, and am willing to sit through a guitar Mass with an out-of-tune guitar, or a plodding pianist or even a choir of the few non-music readers who turned out, and will offer my sacrifice of praise as I prepare to meet Jesus. I'm also excited to be planning music for a heavily Latin wedding Mass this Christmas. Having been to Rome, and seen a wide variety of Masses there, I'm far more willing to say "when in Rome" here in the US, as well.

Long enough for now, and certainly not likely to change any minds or cool any emotions. I daresay the "modal" East Coast Catholic is right now (10:55 PM on a Monday) getting ready to watch the news and head for bed, rather than worrying about liturgy. I think I'll go join him.



Anonymous said...

It's not scornful derision aimed at anyone. Before Vatican II, Catholics everywhere attended the Latin Mass and this included both "high" and "low" culture Catholics. My own parents were immigrants and lived on a farm. They were not highly educated. They had missals, with both Latin and English. It was never a problem. I don't see why it's a problem now. The same is true for music. Good, reverent music used to be the norm, not the exception. There's no reason that shouldn't be the case now.


WordWench said...

I think the key here is the description Colleen uses "good, reverent music." Not the KIND or even tone of the music used, but its reverence and appropriateness.

I am a Catholic in the Diocese of Charleston and have lived here all of my 40 years, and I would hate it if the rabid poisonous discussion going on about liturgy in some areas boiled over into any of the wonderful churches I have attended here over the years. I spend a lot of time reading Catholic blogs and I have to say I'm scared that some of the poisonous tones being used in posts everywhere might reflect the thoughts of folks I'm sitting next to in pews.

Why do people have to be so hateful and judgmental about the music folks use at Mass? As long as the Mass is reverently celebrated and is valid, what business is it of yours, ours or mine, for instance, if one church down the road sings Spanish songs with a guitar and the other guys across town favor "smells and bells" with sung Mass and chants? My home town has a wonderful Catholic church that regularly uses traditional African American spirituals at Mass, sung by a marvelous choir and band, because most of the congregation is African-American. This might not be your cup of tea, but what right does anybody have to criticize the music fellow Catholics use while encountering their Savior at Sunday mass? And so what if the guitar choir is out of tune...if the parish where that choir performs is happy with and loves that choir, then it's really none of my, your or our business.

Serious abuses of the Mass and the Eucharist must be addressed, I understand that. I'm just sick of people who seem to think that because THEY don't like a style of liturgical music that NOBODY should use it.. Personally, I don't like the Tridentine rite. I've attended it several times, and I don't like it. However, I would never think of putting down the folks at a nearby church in my current city where the Tridentine rite is favored. It works for that parish. Good for them.

There are so many more serious issues going on in this society and in the Catholic Church than what songs people sing or in which style. I wish we could focus on these issues rather than nit-pick over "On Eagles' Wings" and chants.

St. Elizabeth of Cayce said...

Word Wench:

Well-written answer. You sound like you might have heard Mike Dubriel's session at the 2005 Fire at the Beach on "when in Rome, do as the Romans do." It took care of a lot of my tendency to compare, contrast and complain.

You are so right: There are lots of ways in which our musical offerings can prepare us to meet Jesus. Much of what is written about music can be so very harsh and uncharitable. I keep recalling the words of Lincoln (not a liturgist, as far as I can recall): "With malice toward none, and with charity toward all..."


Anonymous said...


With all due respect, I think you misunderstood me. While I don't think everyone needs to go to the Tridentine Mass, I think the Latin-rite Church has certain standards for music that doesn't accommodate every genre of music, no matter how reverent it might be. And Catholics do have a right to criticize the music at various liturgical celebrations because the Mass is the most place in which we encounter the Lord. It IS our business. The way we worship is just as important, if not more so, than any other issue in the Church today. Certainly, the Pope thinks so. And if Catholics in the past could learn Latin, why shouldn't they be able to do so now?


WordWench said...


With all due respect to you:

first of all I did not mean to take your words out of context. I respect your opinion but I'm sorry, I don't think it is my right or your right as a Catholic to criticize or belittle the way others in the Church choose to express themselves using music. It's perfectly fine to say you don't like a certain style of music or liturgy. We all have our preferences, and I dislike hearing horribly out of tune singing as much as the next person. However, if that singing is being done at a Mass that is otherwise respectful, reverent and valid, I don't feel I have the right, nor does anyone have the right, to belittle the singer or the worshipers at that Mass if they are content with it. And I also do not feel that just because one group of Catholics feels a certain style of worship is the "best" that their opinion should be lord and master over the worship at every church and for every Catholic. The Pope, as I understand it, is concerned that liturgy be sacred and reverent. He has not, however, come out and belittled singers, choirs and others doing the best with what they have, as the essay in question originally did. Benedict also has not said every Catholic has to learn Latin.

Finally, I do NOT consider it your business or my business or anyone else's business to criticize the way OTHER people hold Mass. If you don't like what is going on in your parish, or even in your diocese, then by all means work to change it. However, you do NOT have the right to come to my parish, for instance, and try to change the way we do things because you don't happen to like it. And I do not, as I have stated, have the right, for instance, to head across town and tell the Tridentine folks they should stop what they're doing because their style of liturgy doesn't suit me.

The Mass IS the most important place in which Catholics encounter the Lord. And it is celebrated thousands of times a day and thousands of times each week by millions of Catholics worldwide in many different ways. There is never going to be ONE style of music, ONE kind of hymn or ONE kind of liturgy that suits all of them, nor should there be. The African-American congregation in my hometown is worshipping, fully in English, just as reverently and validly as the folks five miles from me who do the whole thing in Latin. Divisiveness and petty criticism over music will never diminish the one thing all those Masses, in whatever style share -- the union of the worshippers with their Savior, Jesus Christ. The songs to which that union is set should not be the issue.

WordWench said...

Just to add a bit of levity to this discussion: the concern and anguish over out-of-tune singing goes both ways. It's not just in the Roman rite.

My late mother was raised Byzantine Catholic and her familiy remained Byzantine even though eventually move to the Roman rite. Consequently, I have sat through many, many traditional Byzantine sung Masses (mostly in Slovak in that part of Pennsylvania) and several dozen traditional Byzantine Catholic weddings and funerals.

Trust me, there is one good thing about being at a Roman rite Mass where a hymn singer is out of tune. No matter how bad the version of "Gather Us In" or "Gift of Finest Wheat" is, you know it's going to end in a few minutes! If you're at a Byzantine sung Mass and the celebrating priest has a lousy voice, there IS no end until the Mass ends. Dont' ask me how a Byzantine priest can be out of tune while singing and chanting, but it CAN be done.