chant is the perfect musical expression of Pope Francis’s vision of humility
  • miacoyne
    Posts: 1,805
    James MacMillan says chant is the perfect musical expression of Pope Francis’s vision of humility

    The new papacy of Francis has brought great joy and renewal to the Church and a huge wave of good will from non-Catholics. What will this new Pope bring to our sacred liturgies, which are the beating heart of the Church’s philosophy of love?
    Baroness Warsi, the Minister for Faith and Communities, attended the papal inauguration Mass in Rome and spoke of the way that Pope Francis’s simplicity resonates with people and singled out “his concept of humility, simplicity and going back to values”.
    What does a “poor and simple Church” need in its divine praises? Is there humility in the Americanised, over-the-top, sub-Broadway pop music, dripping with sentimentality, that now infests so much of our liturgy? Is there simplicity in the here-am-I-Lord egotism of so many of our dreadful modern hymns? How does the upholstered, fatuous and banal secularity of so much of Catholic contemporary “praise music” succeed in “going back to values”?
    The dawning of a more austere period in the Church’s mission requires liturgical music of a more austere and simple design: a music that humbly deflects attention from “the music ministry”, a music that is based in Catholic heritage and values, and a music that sounds both Catholic and sacred. The good news is that we have this already, and it is the music that Pope Benedict has been urging us to rediscover over the last decade: chant.
    Music for a sacred ritual needs to project sacredness. In the liturgy “sacred” means “the glorification of God and the sanctification of the faithful”. Gregorian chant gives an elevated tone of voice to the texts of our sacred praises, conveying the special character of the words and of the specific holy nature of what is being enacted and undertaken.
    The chanting of the holy texts raises them up from the mundane and presents them “as on a platter of gold”, in the words of the Jesuit liturgist Fr Josef Jungmann. Gregorian chant is unlike anything from the everyday world but conveys the clear impression that there is something uniquely holy in the actions of the liturgy. Gregorian chant is holy. [As I picked up from the late Msgr. Schuler, sacred music must be sacred and it must be art. It must be artistically written and performed, but it must have both a sacred text and a sacred idiom. Gregorian chant is perfect in those criteria.]
    Gregorian chant is universal as it is supra-national and thus accessible to those of any and every culture equally. It rises above those musics which are either associated only with localised cultural experience, on the one hand, and operates separately from those other musics which are associated with high, artistic, classical derivation and aspiration, on the other. Therefore, it is essentially anti-elitist and simultaneously pure. Gregorian chant is for all.
    The beauty of music is a crucial element in the “edification and sanctification of the faithful”. Beauty is the glue which binds together Truth and Goodness. To paraphrase the Swiss theologian Hans Urs von Balthasar, without beauty, truth does not persuade and goodness does not compel. The general function of music in the liturgy is to draw together a diverse succession of actions into a coherent whole. [Not just draw them together, but draw them together in prayer raised to God. Enough of "Gather Us In"!] That is what makes Gregorian chant beautiful.
    The Gregorian sound, and the practice of chanting, whether by specialist or non-specialist, gives the most perfect context for the hearing of the words of the Sacred Scripture. It provides an elevated tone of voice that takes the texts out of the everyday and confirms them as sacred.
    It provides a goodness of form, which is in itself beautiful, which in turn adds a sense of delight to prayer. It takes our divine praises into the realm of the transcendent and the eternal, and it is the music’s sacred character which enables this.
    There is a melodic and rhythmic freedom in chant which is hard to find in any other music. Chant not only enhances the text, but it also breaks free from the restraints of metre. It is the antithesis of rock and pop with its incessant and insistently mind-numbing beat. It embodies the ethereal and spiritual aspects of the liturgy. It is the freest form of music.

    The Church would stop being the Church without its liturgy. The liturgy is the pinnacle and summit of our entire Christian life. It has to be of our highest and best, whatever the circumstances. Our liturgical music has to be more than mere utility music. Before he was Pope, Joseph Ratzinger said: “A Church which only makes use of ‘utility’ music has fallen for what is, in fact, useless … for her mission is a far higher one. As the Old Testament speaks of the Temple, the Church is to be the place of ‘glory’, and as such, too, the place where mankind’s cry of distress is brought to the ear of God. The Church must not settle down with what is merely comfortable and serviceable at the parish level. She must arouse the voice of the cosmos and, by glorifying the Creator, elicit the glory of the cosmos itself, making it also glorious, beautiful, habitable, and beloved.”
    He went on to say: “The other arts, architecture, painting, vestments, and the arts of movement each contribute to and support the beauty of the liturgy, but still the art of music is greater even than that of any other art, because it forms a necessary or integral part of the solemn liturgy, because it is so intimately bound to the sacred action, defining and differentiating the various parts in character, motion, and importance.”
    The new papacy is a welcome opportunity for us to renew and revitalise our attempts at maintaining and continuing the sacred dimension of our liturgical celebrations. Let us follow Pope Francis’s example in being humble, in being simple, and in rediscovering our basic core Catholic values.
  • GavinGavin
    Posts: 2,799
    That may be so, but that doesn't mean Francis sees it that way.
    Thanked by 1CharlesW
  • CharlesW
    Posts: 11,900
    I hate to be a spoilsport, but I don't look for Pope Francis to do much of anything beneficial to the liturgy. If anything, I look for him to undermine what Pope Benedict accomplished. Pope Francis certainly has a warm and fuzzy factor, but he is not, and has never been, a great proponent of good liturgy.
    Thanked by 1Gavin
  • GavinGavin
    Posts: 2,799
    In a more concrete way, here's my fear about Francis:

    We speak today of the "John Paul II generation of priests," and now the "Benedict generation of priests," and I think before them they simply used a cover-all "Vatican II generation of priests." Each is a stereotypical descriptor of a priest, stereotypical but more or less accurate. The "Vatican II generation" was concerned with making the Catholic faith palatable to as many people as possible and fostering a sense of community. The "John Paul generation" seemed to be more interested in getting lay Catholics involved in the public square. The "Benedict generation" is concerned for liturgical precision and reviving a sense of Catholic identity. You have priests who don't fit the mold, and of course all of them share the same general viewpoints, but we can probably agree these are generally as accurate of stereotypes as if we identified priests by their seminary.

    So what frightens me is, what will the "Francis generation of priests" be like? What kind of men will he inspire to the priestly service? What do these men believe? How do they intend to celebrate the liturgy? What do they think the Pope is leading them to accomplish by their priestly ministry? I don't know the answers to these questions entirely, but I DO know that Francis inspires and emboldens certain types of people. Progressives, liberals, secularists. What men will step up to the priestly service because of him?

    I fear this is the reality: Somewhere there is a "young" man my age, in his mid-20s, watching in disgust as his suburban parish raises a half-million dollars on a new pipe organ while his metropolitan center has a record homeless count. This man sees a pope who rejects the trappings of his royal court, dons simple and comparatively cheap vestments, and exercises a vow of poverty. "A poor church for the poor...." This man is inspired not to give up on the Church, as he felt motivated to do under Benedict, but after much prayer and spiritual renewal, applies to seminary...

    15 years later, this man is my boss. "A new organ?? We already have a new organ!" (referring to the 1980s Allen someone donated when their grandma died) "An orchestra and Mozart Mass for Easter?? Couldn't we give that money to the poor instead?" "A raise?? What do you need a raise for? A new car? You should be more.........

  • melofluentmelofluent
    Posts: 4,160
    I just skimmed (full disclosure) the McMillan post at his blog and I very much appreciate the underpinnings of his points, namely that "reform," like politics is always local and achieveable. I don't see much point in blogdom's obsession with whatever's happening in Rome under HHF's watch. What I am interested in is hearing folks like our friend Paul Inwood finally talk themselves into the inevitable corner of irrelevance with their illogical, often condescending and wholly incomprehesible theories of polyglot musical hospitality and demographics being a rationale for their impositions of repertoire choices, all spouted while chiding others not to impose their rationales that happen to be light years' more aligned with both documents and common sense. But I won't count the seconds waiting for their first musical salvo on how "Sing of the Lord's Goodness" (which I like) is idiomatically more palatable to Asians or Africans than "Quasimodo."

    Geez, I just noticed my second sentence might have set a record for "run on" brevity!
    I've flunked Strunk and White yet again, and Kathy will chide me with a wry smile.
  • kevinfkevinf
    Posts: 1,172
    Forgive me, but I think we spend too much time worrying about what Pope Francis is or is not doing. The reform goes on in my little corner of the world. There is too much work to be done and we accomplish it, little by little, brick by brick..
  • Blaise
    Posts: 439
    Why sure, there may be a seminarian who is watching Pope Francis' simplicity, but hopefully there are some who do not forget about the example of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI (I tell you the truth, it is quite awkward writing "Pope Emeritus" and each day passing does not mean I am more comfortable with it) and what he has done for the liturgy.
  • miacoyne
    Posts: 1,805
    I love Holy Father Francis, he is very inspiring for me, maybe in different ways than Pope Benedict XVI, whom I also love very much. I love what I do. I can't change the whole world, but as Kevin says there is too much work to be done and we accomplish it little by little. The article describes the Liturgy and the chant beautifully. Very refreshing.
  • Liam
    Posts: 4,866
    I think the moral of the story is to cultivate detachment to avoid grandiosity, which is oxygen for the flame of egoism (but rationalized so that egoism is kept in our cognitive-spiritual blindspots). Grandiose gestures of poverty are just as much of an issue (so far, I don't see much evidence of that grandiosity with Pope Francis, but can imagine it among an emerging fan-base just as some of Pope Benedict's fans over-interpreted him in grandiose ways that said more about them than him). It's a good opportunity also to detach from cults of personality around the pope, which is a phenomenon of the penny press of the 19th century and the mass media that followed.

    Btw, one good way to deal with the Organ or Church Renovation vs The Poor is the 50/50 approach: link fundraising for apostolates of feeding the soul and the body. Don't make enemies of them.

    The Little Way can achieve a lot more than the Grand Thought(s). But the Internet privileges the latter over the former.
    Thanked by 3WJA CHGiffen IanW
  • "Sub-Broadway pop music".
    Ouch! That IS what half of the catalogs and more than half of our US parishes sound like.
    Sigh. I can only do the local reform thing, and only because I have a supportive pastor, music staff, and choral volunteers on my parish team.

    Liam, I like your reflections on cultivating detachment to avoid any form of grandiosity. Agreed 100%.
  • Scott_WScott_W
    Posts: 462
    Well, hopefully the Pope Francis that as cardinal called a certain modern cultural phenomenon a "machination of the Father of Lies" will continue that kind of outspokeness and inspire good vocations.
  • I think that Mr MacMillan's thoughts are pungent, potent, and exquisitely apt. I also quite empathise with Gavin's and Charles W's reservations. It isn't likely that Pope Francis will be much of (or, any at all) a voice for those concerns for music and liturgy that most of us here share. This does not, though, negate the veracity and perspicacity of Mr MacMillan's argument. Too, one might observe that one doesn't have to wait for a Francis generation of priests to have the sort of man Gavin postulates for a boss. They are with us now, and always have been. They are the bane of the Church throughout time. We should not be given to pessimism or negativity. These are far greater hindrances than a pope who speaks for the poor. The poor are, after all, edified by beautiful liturgy and music: these things are theirs as much as they are ours. And, more important, they belong to none of us, rich or poor: they are owed to, belong to, and honour God. I have remarked elsewhere that Benedict and Francis are two sides of the same papal and Catholic coin. One is not more nor less of a pope than the other. And, the message of each is incomplete without that of the other. Jesus' concern for the poor was inevitably greater even than that of Francis; yet, he thought the precious ointment was well 'wasted'.
    Thanked by 2CHGiffen IanW
  • melofluentmelofluent
    Posts: 4,160
    Jackson, your posts give me chills for their beauty! Who but you could put "veracity and perspicacity" into the same sentence and still not obfuscate the point? Seriously brilliant.
    Here's the deal: yes, MacMillan splits the arrow in the bullseye when commending the "poor" (not necessarily defined by economics, I would add) as worthy and appreciative of the truly noble elegance/simplicity of "the chant." I've had the humbling honor of hearing from such folk on a regular basis since we've increased the proportionality towards that paradigm, as I can imagine that your parishioners relate to you that what your crew brings to Walsingham is living beauty, not museum artifact. However, the generational concern that Gavin raises is valid, if only because none of our "projections" as to the dialectic can be quantified or qualified by anything much more than anecdotal exuberance, witness and publicity. If we don't generate our own successors and proteges and the proofs of the Madeleine School and St. Stephen's (Sacramento) do not multiply exponentially, the culture of mediocrity will prevail and our "poor" won't have any mentors to provide illumination to the "Other Path" that is true sacred music. With HHFrancis, like June, busting out all over we need to up our game with even more bravery and confidence.

    BTW- the best I can think of now is "incapacity, scarcity and paucity" in the wordfront. Mass of the City, anyone?
  • Fact remains that the Cardinals went into the Conclave guided by the Holy Spirit. I don't always like what I am discerned to do in my life, but trust wholly in the guidance of the Spirit. We, as music ministers know within our hearts what WE are called to do. It's time to stop worrying about Pope Francis' vision of liturgy and continue planning our own liturgies. Do I have concerns that the people of my parish will now call me on sacred literature saying the Pope doesn't like it? Yes, I am. But, that's not going to change who I am and what I feel is proper to the holy sacrifice of the Mass.
  • CharlesW
    Posts: 11,900
    There you go blaming the Holy Spirit again. LOL. As I have said before, He doesn't do all that He gets blamed for.
  • A brief reiteration: to take care of the poor and to offer resplendent liturgy are not mutually exclusive obligations, nor should we let on as if they were. For anyone to suggest otherwise could only result in a blatant, even an amusing, non sequitur. Sobriety, not alarm, will see justice done.

    A few extra thoughts...

    Benedict was unusual in modern times for the emphasis which he placed on liturgy, and was unusually demonstrative of his preferences.

    This emphasis was not found to an unusual degree in any of his predecessors of recent times, and it would be unusual for it to be found in his successor.

    Francis has not said that he 'didn't like' this or that, although he has displayed a simpler aesthesis than we would like. People who didn't like Benedict should not put words in Francis' mouth. (Nor should we let them.)

    If he doesn't sing, it is because of appreciable physical impairment, not because (so far as we know) he doesn't 'like to'. I suspect that he would if he could.

    So, liturgy commitees and such who might point to his 'example' to excuse shabby worship do not really have much concrete in their favour; plus, even if they did, one might remind them of how that their concern for what 'the pope' thinks is rather new-found: they didn't care what the last one thought!

    Gavin's concerns are real, and have basis in our experiential encounter with the cultural realities of our professional and vocational lives. They are not new, however, nor will the Church ever be without them in this world. We have lost one pope who set an example in our favour. He was an historical abnormality. We should take some heart in the fact that Holy Father Francis has said nothing at all to discredit what Benedict taught the Church in word or deed.

  • Scott_WScott_W
    Posts: 462
    From a blogger in the diocese of Rochester:

    Now I note with great interest that among the first acts of actual governance of Francis in the U.S. are the appointment of two bishops in the midwest – both alumni of the Diocese of Lincoln and proteges of the retired Bishop Fabian Bruskewitz. Under his (+Bruskewitz’s) leadership, the Diocese of Peoria thrived - vocations exploded and there were zero reported acts of sexual predation of minors. So one can suspect that these new appointments have been well prepared. Quite obviously, these appointments were in the works prior to Francis’ election, but none the less they are the first to my knowledge acts of governance that applies directly to our side of the pond.

    So he didn't scotch the terna and install Fr. Whateverfloatsyourboat, S.J.
    I'll take that as a good sign.
  • melofluentmelofluent
    Posts: 4,160
    That's not exactly how those appointments were received and analyzed by the loyal opposition over at, well, you know where.
    It's really kind of sad if it wasn't so funny-how the discourse can become a sinkhole in a moment over there, over there..."Don't judge a bishop on one criterion, please." "Yeah, but look who he hangs out with! He's bad I tell ya!" "I thought you wanted to talk about liturgy and lace." "It doesn't matter, we don't like him, niener niener..."
    @PI - comment #51:
    "A positive rise in vocations in itself means nothing, Indeed, as one commentator said, in some places the increase in numbers being ordained may mean nothing more than additional weirdos in the priesthood."
    With respect to both P's response above, and B's earlier, I think you have both proved my point which you both seem to have missed. That point was not to assess a person's viability by a single criterion. And it's both ironic and disturbing that you both thought I was doing just that by the example I mentioned. And P, "additional weirdos in the priesthood," really? I wouldn't have imagined you uttering such a misanthropic statement in a public forum. Sigh....
    Thanked by 1Gavin
  • IanWIanW
    Posts: 754
    Melofluent: when the Hon. Prop. of "Pray, Sniff" originally announced its liberal credentials, I for one misunderstood his use of the term. Since then I've concluded that it's a waste of precious time to attempt engagement with "the loyal opposition" (on either side of the Atlantic). It is characteristically ultramontane rather than liberal; more concerned with the exercise of power to impose its narrow position, its party and financial interest, than sympathetically consider the organic development of liturgical tradition and its practical applications in our parishes and hearts. Life's short and there are too many positive things to be getting on with - not least, chanting our contribution to the great eternal celebration of the liturgy and helping others to do so, too.
  • GavinGavin
    Posts: 2,799
    I'm more curious about the man he appointed to take over in Buenos Aires. Does anyone know anything about him?
  • Mark HuseyMark Husey
    Posts: 192
    Anyone getting rich from a vocation in Sacred Music needs to write a "how-to" book. Nobody follows their calling more faithfully than we. We're not in this for the money. We've already won that battle.
  • Adam WoodAdam Wood
    Posts: 6,444
    Anyone getting rich from a vocation in Sacred Music needs to write a "how-to" book.

    the heart of this useful booklet is David’ ten-step process for liturgical preparation
  • melofluentmelofluent
    Posts: 4,160
    How do you define "rich," Mark?
    Mahrt seems pretty wealthy to me! ;-)