browsing through our Diocesan newspaper, a front-page item stood out:
an upcoming music workshop being sponsored by the Office of Religious
Education. The aim of the workshop, said the story, was to acquaint
parish musicians with Vatican documents on music in liturgy, the new
GIRM above all, and to get parish musicians started in planning
liturgies for Advent. The promise was to give people something to take
back to their parishes.
Such workshops are legendary for other reasons. They have been a critical venue for the training of parish cadre to implement a vision of postconciliar reform that excluded music that is integral to the Roman Rite. These workshops have typically emphasized not only music but the entire liturgical project of making Catholic Mass look, sound, and feel as unlike historic forms of Catholic worship as possible.
Thus does the seminar leader, armed with a satchel full of seeming mandates and permissions from ecclesiastical authorities, instruct attendees in a host of historical issues and contemporary issues so that amateur musicians can return to their parishes as a part of a vanguard of liturgical elite, ready to lead the people into a new Pentecost of Participation.
That's the history. Would this one be different? One wonders, of course, about a music workshop sponsored by the Office of Religious Education. It also occurred to us that this workshop might be staged in response to a successful workshop in Auburn last year that had emphasized Gregorian chant and polyphony, and a recent invitation extended to the St. Cecilia Schola to the sing at the Cathedral.
Yet it seemed that it might be a good idea to attend, if only to see how the archdiocese managed a workshop, and to see what local Alabamians are actually being taught about the role of music in liturgy.
At 6:00 a.m. we piled into the car to travel to a tiny parish in a remote corner of Alabama. We were surprised to arrive at a very nice, almost imposing church on the edge of a nowhere, tiny town, but next to a car dealership. This presented the illusion, when driving in from the dealership side, that there was a sea of cars in the parking lot of the church! We soon saw that this wasn't the case, but it set us up for the many illusions and revelations we would be encountering later that day.
We were greeted warmly as we walked into the social hall two minutes before the workshop was scheduled to begin, and were pleased to see a respectable number of people in attendance. We were immediately spotted as "big city" folks, which gave us an opportunity to break the ice and share a laugh with our hosts.
To get an accurate picture, one must remember that this is rural Alabama. A look around the room, and brief introductions around the table let us know that those in attendance were real parishioners: volunteers, accompanists, guitarists, choir members, of all races. These were real Catholics, well intended and faithful, not intellectuals and not ideologues, but just regular people who want something applicable to take home with them in their service to the faith.
The workshop was off to a running start, with an intro by the ORE representative that, for the older people attending, opened up a few wounds from the past concerning the changes after 1969. Part of the goal of this workshop would be to provide the missing catechesis that led to such shock in those days.
Next was a power-point lecture by the director of music at a parish in the big city. Church Documents, according to him, should be our guide, but what he meant was documents published since Vatican II, and not only by the Vatican but also by the US Bishops and their liturgy committee. This leader had obvious ties with the ORE representative, who in turn had loyalties to Oregon Catholic Press.
The entire picture became crystal clear in less than two minutes. We knew what we were in for. The only question remaining was what workshop leaders would pull out of their carpetbags next.
The pedagogy began with a brief and highly biased look at "Sacrosanctum Concilium" (no mention of its declaration that chant is "specially suited" for liturgy and should be given "pride of place"). The following two hours were spent explaining the US Bishops’ often quoted but ill-conceived "Music in Catholic Worship," first published in 1972, as well as "Liturgical Music Today" from 1982. (Neither of the documents are published online, and the USCCB permissions office has no plans to do so.)
What these documents emphasize most notably, and what today’s post Vatican II’s music establishment and publishing houses have bought into, is the misguided notion that singing is the only form of active participation at Mass. It is true that part of the aims of the second Vatican council were toward a more active role on the part of the assembly. It is just assumed that this can only mean one thing: get people to sing. Workshop leaders took great pains to convince participants that all their energies should be put into brow beating congregations toward this end, after which the will of the Council will have been achieved.
And there were serious omissions among the "documents" consider authoritative, not only preconciliar music documents, but also "Musicam Sacram" issued by the Pope Paul VI in 1967. Another grievous error was the failure to cite Pope JPII’s 2003 "Chirograph on Sacred Music," published on the hundred year anniversary of Pope Pius X’s momentus "Tre Le Sollecitudini."
The General Instruction of the Roman Missal, which was supposedly one of the draws to get people to the workshop, was brought up after three hours, and then only the older translation that obscures the role of chant as integral. Fortunately both are online, so that people can compare the old GIRM with the more clarifying new GIRM.
We were subjected to highly edited presentations, in which we were encouraged to read only what the seminar leader wanted us to read and see what he wanted us to see, all punctuated with a caricatured version of the liturgy before Vatican II. Core distinctions, such as the difference between sacred and profane music emphasized by Popes in all ages, were given no attention at all.
Rather than sitting passively, we periodically interjected questions: we called the leader on his claim that musicians are free to make up new parts to add to the "Lamb of god," on his glossing over the difference between a formal communion chant and just any-old-song the choir wants to sing, as well as a few other points.
When he was called upon to explain how Gregorian chant and polyphony are the only types of music specifically mentioned in the GIRM as appropriate for the Roman rite, there was mumbling, and a grasp at quoting something out of "Music in Catholic Worship." Interestingly, however, after it became clear to the leader that he would be held to account, the words "chant" and "tradition" began to enter into his seminar vocabulary.
The seminar lasted four hours. Only the last 15 minutes were spent on singing and playing. The music chosen for Advent was predictably simple: several choruses drawn from popular stylings. People went home with nothing new except a few more anxieties to carrying around with them, and the same tired advice being handed down from publishing houses for the past twenty years.
And yet good did come out of this seminar. Participants were alerted to the reality that there are indeed differences of opinion out there, and that the Catholic world did not begin and end in 1972. It was encouraging to see so many people interested, and our presence was good for us and good for the seminar. It helps alert proponents of sacred music of the reality we face, and also just how flimsy and tired are the advocates of bringing commercial pop into worship. They have no new arguments and very little passion left to muster.
The instinct on the part of chant partisans might perhaps be to not participate in such local events. But that approach only causes the true music of the faith to become more isolated. There will be no hope for the directives of the GIRM to be implemented if we don’t speak up. We owe it to the faith to venture beyond a sense of loss or nostalgia, or in our case, the hard won but privileged situation in which we are fortunate enough to find ourselves.
Maybe the first thing to do is make people aware, including music directors and diocesan leaders, that there is a force out there willing to defend what is our true heritage, and, moreover, that this heritage is worth preserving, precisely as the Vatican continues to emphasize. How can this be accomplished? We can start by asking the right questions. People will be shaken up.
In the case of our experience last Saturday, we witnessed how workshop leaders, when put on the spot, suddenly saw the payoff in using words "chant" and "tradition." If they are smart, and some are very savvy, they can only benefit from our vigilance. They are going to have to find out what these words, and the words of the Pope and the GIRM, really mean.
If you do attend a workshop, we offer below a summary of what you will be told and possible answers. Again, there is no need for belligerence or lack of charity. A few well-placed questions, along with a clear sense of the facts, can make all the difference.