Diocese of Wichita Pastoral Letter on Liturgical Music
  • MarkB
    Posts: 1,028
    Released on September 13:

    https://catholicdioceseofwichita.org/let-us-sing-with-the-lord-bishop-kemme-urges-in-pastoral-letter/

    Summary points:
    • Desires to restore the sacred nature of music in the liturgy
    • Desires to shift away from hymns and songs at Mass to singing the proper antiphons for each Mass
    • Sing THE Mass instead of singing songs AT Mass
    • Give pride of place to the human voice, the organ, and to Gregorian chant and sacred polyphony
    • Avoid the temptation to sing what is popular; sing what is genuinely sacred
    • For a renewal of parish and family life, renewing the celebration of Sunday Mass must be the highest pastoral priority. It is the most important thing we do each week, and we should treat it as such.
    • Stewardship/offering of life to God is related to and modeled in the Mass, which is the re-presentation of Christ’s freely made self-sacrifice to the Father
    • Mass teaches what a stewardship way of life is, and the Mass is a source of grace to live a life of stewardship, so renewal of the liturgy and stewardship renewal are closely joined
    • Episcopal/diocesan liturgies should model the preference for singing the proper Mass antiphons, incorporating Latin, and singing by the priest celebrant
    • Music should be theocentric instead of about the gathered assembly
    • Recommends consulting the documents Musicam Sacram and Sing to the Lord
  • It's things like this that make me miss being in the Wichita diocese. Lots of great stuff happening over there.
  • This letter is excellent and is comparable to similar works by Archbishop Sample in Portland and Bishop Doerfler in Marquette!

    Gaudete in Domino Semper!
    Thanked by 1mattebery
  • MarkB
    Posts: 1,028
    I shared the letter among music directors in my diocese, which is not Wichita. There was some mild pushback against it, claiming that Bishop Kemme is presenting his personal slant on liturgical music rather than the Church's norms. "It's not that cut and dry," was one criticism. "The bishop doesn't acknowledge permissible variability in music selection and styles of music," was another.

    I responded that the options and permissible variability in music selections and styles for Mass need to be understood within the context of the clear preferences and ideals for music at Mass that the Church has explicitly stated time and time again for at least 120 years: Gregorian chant is to be given pride of place wherever that is possible; other musical styles and new compositions are not excluded, but to the degree that new music departs from the qualities of sacred music identified in "Tra le Sollecitudini," it is not suitable for liturgical use.

    Most parishes exploit the permission for variable styles of music without situating that flexibility in the context of the Church's stated preference for chant. Thus, many parishes will sing the latest OCP or GIA or CCLI music going back no more than 10-20 years in composition dates, but chant is never sung. That's not a Catholic approach because it's disconnected from the centuries-long history of Catholic liturgy and sacred music.

    I think Bishop Kemme acknowledges the reality that few parishes have the resources or the talent pool to realize the Church's vision for liturgical music anytime soon. He has to play the long game, but it has to start sometime and somewhere. I see him encouraging his diocese's music directors and pastors to think outside the modern four-hymn/song model that prevails in way too many parishes, and look again or look for the first time at options for music and at the style of music that the Church has taught is preferable for music sung at Mass: give greater consideration to the antiphons and to chant when choosing music for Mass, get out of the rut of only singing songs or hymns. What's objectionable about that?
  • Gregorian chant is to be given pride of place wherever that is possible

    I would argue that this is always possible, so the qualifier is unnecessary. Although it takes much practice to master in an extremely artful way, simply doing chant is not hard at all. At a minimum it only requires a few singers (or technically one, but Pius X discouraged excessive use of solos), and I think there is nothing necessarily more difficult about it than other types of music.

    Some may disagree, but I think all parishes can give chant pride of place, many just don't want to. I think all parishes could do at least Masses I, XI, and XVII for the various seasons of the year, as well as psalm toned Propers, and the simple Marian Antiphons and Credo III. Healthy parishes with lots of youth should be able to start a chant schola and sing the full Propers, along with most of the chant Masses and Credos, as appropriate for the various Masses throughout the year.

    There is no shortage of beautiful and appropriate chants, there is no shortage of learning resources and books online. Many people just don't want to take advantage of the treasure lying right in front of them. Latin isn't a punishment, it is a treasure which people must learn to understand, and appreciate its great value and dignity. Chant and Latin go hand in hand, they tend to point back toward each other.
  • I think Bishop Kemme acknowledges the reality that few parishes have the resources or the talent pool to realize the Church's vision for liturgical music anytime soon.


    I'm facing this ironic issue -- parishioners at my parish tell me all the time how much I've improved the music and the choir, but now I have people afraid to join music ministry and the choir because they think (incorrectly, IMO) the music's too hard for them.

    Add in how insanely busy society is (and how hard it is to escape that when you have a spouse/children), and it just makes it really, really tough to have a great music ministry.
  • all parishes can give chant pride of place
    The Graduale Simplex is a practical demonstration that almost any group of people could sing appropriate chant for the Mass.
  • TCJ
    Posts: 973
    I think Tim summed up what I'm going through with my choir. I've had many of those exact same comments, but new people seem intimidated by the prospect of singing in the choir.
  • but now I have people afraid to join music ministry and the choir because they think (incorrectly, IMO) the music's too hard for them.
    ditto.
  • MarkB
    Posts: 1,028
    Add in how insanely busy society is (and how hard it is to escape that when you have a spouse/children), and it just makes it really, really tough to have a great music ministry.


    I second that. Attendance at my midweek evening choir rehearsals is unreliable among those who work (especially teachers, who get exhausted), parents with young children at home, and students. The retirees are the most reliable about attending because, well, they have the time.

    I've started recording audio of my choir practices and posting it for choir members to listen to at home if they miss practice or want to review anything on their own. It's not ideal, but I don't think I'm going to get weekly attendance from about half my choir members, and having a recording they can listen to on their own to prepare for Sunday is better than not having it.

    The busy lives that people have definitely makes it difficult to have a quality volunteer parish music program. That's not talked about a lot. It's compounded by the fact that people in choir often volunteer for other things in the parish and elsewhere whose events sometimes conflict with choir practices.
  • I've started recording audio of my choir practices and posting it for choir members to listen to at home if they miss practice
    do you know if anyone actually uses these recordings? I’ve been tempted to do the same more than once, but pivoted to practice tracks instead, which serve a wider audience than just our choir. But I’m open to also doing what you do—if people actually benefit from it.
  • MarkB
    Posts: 1,028
    Too soon to say, as I've only recorded two practices. It's not much work: turn on the recorder for practice, after practice divide the sound file into four segments (due to the website host's restrictions on the size of audio file uploads), upload the segments to the choir website, and voila.

    A least three people each week who were not present at practice have told me that they listened to the recording so far. That's a promising start.

    I think it will be worth continuing to do.
    Thanked by 1ServiamScores
  • Many people just don't want to take advantage of the treasure lying right in front of them.

    This is the problem: they don't want it. Period. My dear daughter recently resigned from a parish as the pianist because she objected to the music she was told to play, music she believed was inappropriate for Mass. She was not allowed to suggest substitutes. The real problem was that the congregation was mourning the loss of their Protestant pianist who, of course, objected to nothing she was given to play.

    My daughter could have done, and offered to do, so much to bring sacred music to the parish, but they did not want it.
  • MarkB
    Posts: 1,028
    Yes, the inertia of expectations based on past decades of poor liturgical and musical choices is often difficult to overcome.

    The two major Catholic hymnal publishers aren't any help. They perpetuate the problem. I buy as little as necessary from either of them, which now is practically nothing.

    "No other parish is doing that," is a complaint I have heard about my music program. What those people intend as a complaint, though, is actually a compliment. I'm glad that I'm not lumped in with those other parishes.
  • but now I have people afraid to join music ministry and the choir because they think (incorrectly, IMO) the music's too hard for them.


    I unfortunately have encountered the same issue. I am experimenting with hiring some university vocal students for Advent and Christmas Masses to bulk up the choir some and hopefully inspire some more to join. Thankfully my parish is on board with an expansion of the music program in this way.
  • I don't think the people who tout "permissible variety" really care about permission or what the Church actually teaches about sacred music. I'm finding more and more parishes and their musical ensembles identify more with their local community club (i.e. "parish") rather than as a member of the Holy Catholic Church.

    I also find that those who criticize chant as being too difficult are just making excuses because they don't personally like it and don't care what the Church teaches. Singing classical polyphony or even modern harmonies requires more technique and rehearsal than simple chants. I formed a schola who simply met 30-45 minutes before Mass and was quite successful . We didn't have time to learn any harmonies or branch out beyond the basics. But it was beautiful and liturgically appropriate.

    I find it's best to convert people based on the text alone. The melodies will follow.
    Sacred Scripture, primarily the psalms. Offering back to God his own Word that he gifted us rather than something some hack at OCP or GIA wrote to express their personal feelings about God (at least in many cases). If someone prefers to express their own feelings and doesn't acknowledge that the Mass is all about God, then there is no point in arguing about the music.
  • francis
    Posts: 10,697
    Wow Earl… well put
    Thanked by 1Earl_Grey
  • You are in paradise in USA and don't know. This is a example of what is music in many parishes in Brazil:
    https://youtu.be/au0ix_dtaKQ?si=hERni9oN_AtUwSq1
    (some of the lyrics: "Jesus Christ will not pass because he is inside my heart. And these people: what people are these? These are the people who will live in heaven").

    In most parishes what is sung is a style of music copied from Pentecostal sects or something called "pastoral music" recommended by documents from the episcopal conference and which is full of lyrics linked to "liberation theology" condemned by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith at the time when Benedict XVI was still a cardinal and was prefect. In most cases the style of this "pastoral music" is "inculturated", that is, copying profane folk dances.

    And here we have the phenomenon of the “pop priest”: priests who sing songs at mass and have a show business routine.

    If you try to do Gregorian chant or even plainchant in Portuguese, the parish priests complain that the people won't participate properly and that you have to sing songs known to the people.
  • MarkB
    Posts: 1,028
    Wow. At about the 9:20 mark they break into a song whose melody is reminiscent of "Polly Wolly Doodle."

    I am confounded that so many adults would willingly attend and participate enthusiastically in something so hokey and childish.

    When there are close-ups of the crowd, it looks to be at least 85% middle aged and older women.

    Cringe.
  • I also find that those who criticize chant as being too difficult are just making excuses because they don't personally like it and don't care what the Church teaches.
    there’s definitely a grain of truth to this. Also, it is hard if you’ve never done it before.

    I was interviewed for a parish podcast recently, and the interviewer quipped to me that he was very skeptical when we started chanting the Kyrie from the Missa de Angelis, because it was hard for him, and very florid, etc. “But now, a few months later, I can totally do it!”

    Yep. That’s the goal.
  • I grew up in an OCP parish with a MD that believed chant was some sort of regression into the pre-Vatican II days that should be avoided. Never really encountered much chant until I started attending Mass at my diocese’s Cathedral. At first, I said to myself, “How do people sing this stuff” because that was the sentiment I was taught with chant, but after hearing it and singing it a few times, it became second nature and wasn’t this monster that a lot of people make it out to be. It’s unfortunate that music ministers pigeonhole themselves into GIA or OCP resources when there are so many beautiful resources available from the Church.

    Chant isn’t any harder than any of the schlock that is found in Gather 4. At least most chant makes musical sense…but people want to act like chant is some sort of foreign language that cannot be deciphered.
  • Chant isn’t any harder than any of the schlock that is found in Gather 4.
    I have long quipped to my choir that “if you could sing any of the St. Louis Jesuit schlock where the rhythm changes on every verse of the ‘hymn’, then you can sing this.” Some of the most beloved hits have awkward melodies and rhythms… yet people happily sing them without complaint. This clearly proves that there’s no reason they cannot sing other, better things. Chant, the hymn tunes of RVW, etc. etc.
  • MarkB
    Posts: 1,028
    Show this video to anyone who says Gregorian chant is too difficult to sing. If high school football players can memorize it and sing it, it's not difficult:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=__G8HxTYmGI
  • I recall the then precentor of Westminster Cathedral saying,to a group with a substantial number of the choir school pupils, that the SLJ music was rooted in chant. Having no musical training I am unable to make an informed comment, it did cause me some surprise (it would be 40 or more years ago).
  • Liam
    Posts: 4,967
    " . . . SLJ music was rooted in chant"

    It's certainly not "rooted" in chant. In very loose terms of form, it often shares the antiphon/verse form rather than the form of hymnody. That's about it. That characterization of rootedness reminds me of when liturgical designers favoring visual austerity liken their handiwork to that of medieval Cistercians - a bit of rhetorical three-card monty implying some small area of Venn circle overlap is congruence.
  • Kathy
    Posts: 5,500
    MarkB,

    I taught music at that school, when those boys were in 1-5 grades.

    Shoutout to The Parish Book of Chant.