Tuesday, December 04, 2007


On November 14, 2007 the USCCB issued the guidlines "Sing to the Lord: Music in Divine Worship" which is provided on the USCCB website. A reader sent in the link and asked what I thought of it. Given that I'm musically challenged, a lot of it doesn't apply to me, and my opinion is colored by that challenge. Nevertheless, I've just scrolled through it, reading at random.

Paragraphs No. 61-66 discuss Latin in the liturgy. No. 62 tells us "At international and multicultural gatherings of different language groups, it is most appropriate to celebrate the Liturgy in Latin." "In addition, 'selections of Gregorian chant should be sung' at such gatherings, whenever possible."

Here in America all of our gatherings are multicultural. Can anyone honestly tell me that at their church there are not a variety of cultures represented? Using No. 62 as the guideline, there would never be anything but Latin and Gregorian chant in our Masses. However, we all know the reality. The practice doesn't follow the document.

As I read that, I couldn't help but reflect on the situation at the church I most regularly attend where the yearly celebration of the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe will be held at the Mass I was planning to attend this coming Saturday, or so I've been told. This celebration includes a mariachi band hired from out of state for the occasion--one that tends to get so caught up in the festivities that they become disoriented and play the wrong part at the wrong time. It seems this has been going on for years. There is no warning in the bulletin Mass schedule that this will take place at a particular Mass this weekend, consequently the congregation will consist of not only culturally Mexican people, but also people from other nationalities. I understand it is quite an extravaganza with a packed house. One wonders why a particular liturgy would pack the church. Could it be that people come for the entertainment value? Looks like it violates the norms of the USCCB. The polka Mass would do the same. So would the jazz Mass.

Paragraph 72 talks about the pride of place of Gregorian chant. I can't remember the last time I heard it in church. Does this mean that we can expect that to change?

Then there are the "Three Judgments" of the qualities of the music: Liturgical, Pastoral, and Musical--paragraphs 126 through 136.

Under Liturgical Judgment we are told that "structural considerations" must take into account the "principle of progressive solemnity". Here again I wonder about the mariachi, the polka, the jazz Masses, and other constructions of entertainment value imposed on the Roman liturgy.

These same themed Masses appear to violate the Pastoral judgment which requires that the "musical composition promote the sanctification of the members of the liturgical assembly by drawing them closer to the holy mysteries being celebrated". The focus of themed Masses is not Christ and the Eucharist. The focus is the celebration of human culture.

Under Musical Judgment paragraph 136 appears to violate the section on Gregorian chant when it says "the Church has not adopted any particular style of art as her own." Paragraph 72 says "Gregorian chant is uniquely the Church's own music. Chant is a living connection with our forebears in the faith, the traditional music of the Roman rite, a sign of communion with the universal Church, a bond of unity across cultures...". This is precisely what the themed Masses are not. While it can be argued that various rites use different musical expressions, we are not talking about various rites here in America. We are talking about the Latin Rite, and these themed celebrations taking place within the Latin Rite. Not the same thing at all as the differing expressions in the differing rites.

Themed Masses subtract from our unity, breaking us up into cultural diversity, and emphasizing our differences. They appear irreverent to many of those who come from a different culture, and they divide. If kneeling during communion is so divisive that we must constantly insist that everyone follow one prescribed liturgical norm, how can it be that we also have such divisive themed Masses? You can't have it both ways, and it appears that the USCCB has decreed that we shall have unity over diversity. Will the parishes conform? Or will we continue to walk into an unorthodox Mass unknowingly?

We used to state that the Mass is the Church's most important formal prayer. Priests "said" Mass just as any of us "said" a prayer like the Our Father. With the change to "celebrating" Mass all manner of diversity arrived in sometimes raucous celebration that does not promote the sacred. The cultural festival that belongs in the street has moved inside the church to the detriment of the liturgical celebration both within the culture and even more so for any who do not belong to that culture. This needs to change if we are to become a unified Church.

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