Pope Francis calls for truly "holy" music at Mass
  • chonakchonak
    Posts: 8,466
    In an address to Italy's Saint Cecilia Association, the Pope urged musicians to devote themselves to church music that is "not just any music, but a holy music", integrated with the liturgy: and recalled the characteristics of sacred music as taught by St. Pius X and St. Paul VI: that it be holy, of high artistic merit, and universal.

    My translation of his address is on Chant Cafe, and I was glad to put the work in because the Vatican News story about it was so superficial.

    One Italian news commentary site, Secolo d'Italia (Italian Century), headlined the address this way: "The strumming at Mass even gets on Bergoglio's nerves. 'The music should be holy'." Secolo rightly put the focus on the sound principle he presented: that music at Mass should be "well distinct and different from the kind used for other purposes". So, says Secolo d'Italia, ban the common strumming and the arrangements of sacred songs as though they were the latest hits.
  • Half of me laments that this is almost so vague overall as to be completely meaningless, especially from this papacy. (It reminds me of David Haas claiming that chant is an "integral" part of his "ministry" at the events he hosts.)

    At the same time, half of me knows that any actual binding modern Musicam Sacram would make Sing to the Lord look like a well-crafted, unified masterpiece that fully upholds Catholic tradition, and it would probably hurt us far more than help. (Can you imagine something as "conservative" as even the Simplex not only being produced by the Vatican, but promoted by it, in 2019? I sure can't.)
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  • That our HF Francis said what he said is heartening, even though it was crafted for a society of church musicians (what else would he have said to them that was fitting for such people?). What would, though, be really heartening and effective would be for him to speak thusly to everyone every day - to be sure that those who need most to hear it hear it, and hear it often, so often that it can't help but 'sink in'. If Francis said these things to the whole Church, and said them as if he really meant them, his liberal friends' heads would spin. I can hear them sputtering even now.
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  • chonakchonak
    Posts: 8,466
    Au contraire, Schönbergian. Considering how awful church music is in Italy, and how many stunts have been pulled there with pop music in church, this is a pretty bold statement.
  • It is, on its own - but in the background of the rest of this papacy, who would understand it in that context and follow it to the letter? At least Benedict was consistent on this front and offered a view of music consistent with his entire liturgical credo, whereas Francis's (well-meaning and certainly welcomed) statement is the papal equivalent of the option #1 to be conveniently disregarded by anyone already on their way to "alius cantus aptus".

    The GIRM has holes you could drive a truck through (and many parishes do on a weekly basis), and statements like these will just be ignore by those who feel like it, just like the Apostles' vs Nicene Creed, Roman Canon vs. others, &c. Francis is not convincing anybody who is not already on the "right" side.

    As a side note, I think some real examples need to be given of what is considered "using Gregorian Chant as a basis" on a compositional level. We all know what that means, musically, but the average Joe who thinks him/herself good enough to run a music program probably has no clue, if they even care at all. SEP? Durufle? Renaissance chant paraphrases? The Simplex? How can David Haas retain his "aesthetic" (God forbid) while following this instruction? If nearly sixty years of instructions all saying essentially what Francis's statement entails haven't done the trick, I don't think this will.

    As long as these documents and statements are as vague as they are, it is nothing more than another weapon in our arsenal in the few cases where resorting to documents actually works.
  • chonakchonak
    Posts: 8,466
    A few days ago I added a new item to the list of "routine reminders" that appear on the forum. The new one was "Be grateful for small improvements", and I added it because some users (not you, Schönbergian) engage in lots of useless complaining. They insist on complaining in the face of good news, because .... whatever. Because the OF hasn't been abolished, or because pastors don't support good music, or .... take your pick of enduring problems that, in those minds, invalidate every modest improvement. It's a bitter way to go through life, dumping on other people's small happinesses.
  • Perhaps it is "dumping on other people's small happinesses". However, I find it hard to find anything from this papacy particularly influential, either way. Francis has said and done so much that is seemingly targeted at different, occasionally contradictory groups, that I often find it difficult to understand the true praxis of his papacy. And little of it seems to have bearing on many Catholics, who may find it easier to pick and choose statements from this papacy than from others.

    Francis's language seems similar to that of many Church documents that are routinely ignored in suburban Catholicism and major cathedrals alike. Is it heartening and inspiring that he knows the spirit of those documents and conveys it in that manner? Yes. But how can that effect real change, given this papacy's track record as well as those of the documents?

    I found Benedict's papacy more compelling on that front (as do many of us) primarily because there was less formalism to the whole thing, as strange as that seems. It seemed to me to flow more naturally from the pope who loved music, Mozart above all else, and combined that with a serious focus on the liturgy and its dignity. Francis is the same way with social justice and environment issues - he's not just repeating what the Church has already said, he is adding his own perspective and making it a focus of the modern Church. Like it or hate it (I'm not especially fond myself), he is as successful in that as Benedict was in the liturgy.

    I don't get that with this statement. This feels more like a cautious retreading of the documents since Vatican II. While that's much better than the alternative of promoting something which is inherently bad or unsuited for liturgy, it also feels like preaching to the choir. We know we should read the documents and do all that Francis has told us to. But does this break any new ground, perhaps ground that should be broken? And how will this be backed up by Francis's papacy in its actions?

    Above all, will this convince those who are not convinced by documents to tread the right path? Politicians on both sides in the US see fit to pick and choose which opposing statements by Francis they like and which ones are not applicable for whichever reason. I worry that this otherwise uncontroversial statement will meet the same end by virtue of playing it too safe.
  • CharlesW
    Posts: 10,877
    I'm afraid Francis has talked himself into irrelevance.
  • tomjaw
    Posts: 2,014
    Pope Francis calls for truly "holy" music at Mass

    Great well I suggest Pope Francis leads by example...

    1) As Bishop of Rome he can regulate the music, well I presume he is going to produce a black list to apply across Rome. I look forward to its publication.
    2) While gallivanting around the world we have many Papal liturgies, I am sure the black list for Rome will also apply and all 'strumming' will be banned.
    3) I am sure he is president of the Italian bishops conference, so he can encourage his brother bishops in Italy to also publish and enforce the black list.
    4) I notice that he likes to promote his friends to be bishops, Cardinals etc. No promotion with out applying the Black list.

    Seeing the enthusiasm that has been put to dealing with minor problems in say the Franciscans of the Immaculate (and other persecuted Orders), I am sure similar measures would be appropriate to those that refuse to apply a black list.

    I await these future developments!
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  • dad29
    Posts: 1,973
    Charles has it. The Pope has a parrhesia-problem, and tends to toss off all sorts of things, some good, some confusing, and some really bad.

    But yes, the music situation in Italy is awful, as is the catechesis situation there. Finding a genuinely Catholic church musician over there............lifetime project.
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  • I don't know whether this sort of thing can save the Italians, or convince Haas and friends to put down the guitars and unplug the keyboards. I guess not.

    There are less drastic cases, where people just need a nudge, or some reassurance. Those are the cases I am familiar with (nary a Haas-tune has passed my lips for many years), and this sort of statement from the Pope is potentially helpful in that context (even if it be embedded in a habit of chatter).
  • Regardless of exactly what the Pontiff meant by his address, I fully intend to use his words (in this specific case) to "spin" things in favor of using more chant here. I only have a small realm of influence, but I will use whatever tools I am given to move things in a better direction.
  • I think your (petrus) approach is exactly correct. Providence is a wonderful thing.
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  • I thought that this was one of the most beautiful statements about church music that I've ever read from a Pontiff. Not particularly lofty, but hit the soul of the apostolate in so many ways. It was primarily, I think, a statement directed at the ordinary parish musician. Being one, I received it very gratefully and took much solace and courage from it.

    In fact, the choir guides the assembly, and with its own specific repertoire, is a skilled voice of spirituality, of community, of tradition, and of liturgical culture.

    When I read this, I couldn't help but think of my faithful parish choir. They are all of these things. They are not only the voice of the Church's tradition, but keep alive our local traditions, from German hymns their grandparents taught them, to a body of choral repertoire both before and after the Council, and are the memory (into which I have tapped!) of what has been done before, but is no longer done. Beyond this, there is the tradition of sung liturgy, choral liturgy, at the principal Mass, that they have maintained for over a century in this place (liturgical culture and tradition).

    But they are just the ordinary men and women of the community. Students, farmers, accountants, teachers, dentists, doctors, &c., but by their dedication and practice, they give a voice to the community gathered for the liturgy with which to praise God. The beauty of a volunteer choir, which is what most of us work with most of the time, is something magnificent in its own right -- far from a paltry, make-do imitation of a professional ensemble. I was delighted to hear the Holy Father speak to this.

    I know that your preparation involves sacrifices connected with finding time to devote to practice, with getting people involved, with carrying out feast days when perhaps your friends invite you to come and have fun. So many times!

    I had to read this part aloud to my wife! The Holy Father touched on all of the frustrations, difficulties, peculiar crosses of this calling, and he did so with good humor and a father's affection and encouragement for his children.

    Sacred music also reveals another duty, that of joining Christian history together: in the Liturgy resound Gregorian chant, polyphony, congregational song, and music of the present day. It is as though all the generations, past and present, were there to praise God, each with its own sensibility.

    This came uncannily close to my stated goal and approach in dealing with the difficulty of improving the programming of the Sunday Mass in an ordinary parish, and is a point that is very close to my heart. It's not that we reconstruct an idealized past age when we select liturgical music: rather, we connect the past with the present, enrich the familiar with the ancient, illuminate the ancient with the accessible, and create a visceral sense that, here and now, we worship with the saints who came before us, as we, too, will worship alongside those who come after us.

    For me, this passage was particularly moving.


    All that being said: I'm sure this statement is disappointing from a crisis mentality. If the goal would be to put The Pontifical SmackDown on the people who do The Bad Things, it certainly does not do that.

    How I received it, however, and how I think it was intended, was as a word of encouragement from a loving father for those engaged in an often trying and taxing apostolate. And I was very, very grateful for that -- it came, personally, exactly when I needed to hear it.
  • Carol
    Posts: 660
    Thank you NihilNominus for your eloquence!
    Thanked by 2tomjaw NihilNominis
  • Richard MixRichard Mix
    Posts: 2,247
    If Francis said these things to the whole Church, and said them as if he really meant them, his liberal friends' heads would spin.
    As a liberal friend of Francis, I can assure everyone that the head spinning is not supposed to begin until he espouses geocentrism: the memo was quite clear on that point.
  • Don9of11Don9of11
    Posts: 429
    How do you define "not just any music but a holy music, integrated into the liturgy". The article points to St. Pius X and St. Paul Vi two people who's emphasis on sacred music is unknown to the local parish M.D.?

  • .
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  • I will believe it all (what the Pope said), when i see and hear it done as a consistent regular norm.
    Thanked by 2CHGiffen Don9of11
  • We need objectively expressed and genre specific admonitions that issue from firm convictions, not hollow subjective cliches. Any one reading the likes of '...but a holy music, integrated into the liturgy...', etc., will naturally think that his or her music is being referenced and that it fits those criteria - because everyone very likely thinks that his and her music is 'holy' and fittingly 'integrated into the liturgy'.

    Still, I give our HF Francis credit for the face value of what he said about the music that he must surely have been referencing. He did say it. For that we can be appreciative and grateful. I pray for him daily and hope that everyone does.
  • Ken,

    Surely you mean not that you will believe what he said, but that he means it and intends to implement it. After all, if His Holiness said that contraception is always and everywhere wrong, or that human souls can spend eternity in Hell, you would accept these things as true.
  • MarkB
    Posts: 457
    CCW takes a slap at CMAA regarding the translation:


    For example, the Church Music Association of America posted an English translation taken almost verbatim from Google Translate. Generally speaking, the alterations made by the CMAA were insignificant—yet several of their changes are puzzling, and seem difficult to justify.
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  • ryandryand
    Posts: 1,640
    CMAA says “congregational song.” CCW says “popular forms.” Vatican says “popular music.”

    And this detail matters because _____.
    (Fill in the blank. I don’t know.)
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  • a_f_hawkins
    Posts: 2,396
    And what the pope is reported to have said was
    il canto gregoriano, la polifonia, la musica popolare e quella contemporanea.
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  • CharlesW
    Posts: 10,877
    Tomato, tomahto.
    Thanked by 1CHGiffen
  • chonakchonak
    Posts: 8,466
    For example, the Church Music Association of America posted an English translation taken almost verbatim from Google Translate. Generally speaking, the alterations made by the CMAA were insignificant—yet several of their changes are puzzling, and seem difficult to justify.

    Thanks for mentioning this, since I didn't happen to read the CCW piece.

    I can assure the folks at CCW that my translation was not at all a product of Google Translate, and if I were to use it I would certainly have said so. As I indicated on the page at Chant Cafe, the translation was my own (rather quick) effort.

    While I'm not the most experienced translator in the world, my work in that field seems to be good enough for practical use. Two academic books I translated from Italian have been accepted by respected Catholic publishers, and I will announce them when they are available; the first one is scheduled for release in November.

    I'm really disappointed to see this misstatement on Jeffrey's part, especially considering that it's an insult to my professional skills. If he has questions about my choice of terms, I'm not at all hard to reach, in particular since my e-mail address is up-to-date in CCW's donor records.

  • a_f_hawkins
    Posts: 2,396
    Not just any music, but holy music, ... . Above all, clearly distinct and different from that used for other purposes.
    That must affect our interpretation of la musica popolare.
  • chonakchonak
    Posts: 8,466
    About the specific terms I used:

    When Church documents in Italian or Latin refer to "popular" song, they are speaking of music whose performers are the "people" at Mass, the congregation. When Americans talk about "popular music", they are referring to songs performed for a large audience of _listeners_: the commercially-produced music one hears on the radio. Since those are two different things, I used the term "congregational song".

    Similarly, "contemporary music" has a bit of a misleading sense in our American Catholic subculture, where it's used somewhat narrowly as a formula to refer to the low-brow material, composed in recent decades, in "missalettes" and hymn books. Out in the larger culture, "contemporary music" is a broad term that encompasses new works, including works for choir, organ, and orchestra. So to avoid misunderstanding, it became "music of the present day".
  • Richard MixRichard Mix
    Posts: 2,247
    The hard phrase is Musica popolare. In several languages it's usual to render "popular music" as 'folk music' and I assume the Pope too would shelve Pop under "contemporary". A book Google allowed me to peek into, Made in Italy: Studies in Popular Music, edited by Franco Fabbri, Goffredo Plastino, discusses problems Italians have had translating "Popular Music": musica pop, popular music, musica populare contemporanea and musica leggera have all been considered problematic at one time or another, and musica popolare even enjoyed a vogue in the 90's.

    Coming at it from the other side, Berio's Quattro canzoni popolari (1947) allude to the anonymous source material, while his suite for Cathy Berberian is called Folk Songs (1964) and might nowadays be called world music (I wonder as I wander is at 2:40''), but perhaps the English was just a nod to Mills College.

    A local church had 3 services labeled Traditional, Folk, and Contemporary (the first was occasionally treated to Pärt and Tavener, and the last relied entirely on oral tradition, making it a nightmare to sub there, but never mind). While we're making assumptions about exactly what Francis had in mind, I think they would readily understand Chonak's "congregational song" or hymnody of a 'traditional' flavor as opposed to "present day" music.

  • VilyanorVilyanor
    Posts: 383
    What the heck. Why would you advertise that your translation is basically Google Translate after taking a shot at someone for supposedly doing so?
  • I mean, this is the same guy that tries to replace the Parish Book of Chant with Solesmes scans sold on Lulu, argues that a descending melodic tritone is completely unsingable, and creates a new shell company for each of CCW's new publications. Just the latest antics.
  • ryandryand
    Posts: 1,640
    How’d they pull off the tritone in The Wizard of Oz???

    Maybe because it was demonic monkeys (with special tritone powers)
  • When Church documents in Italian or Latin refer to "popular" song, they are speaking of music whose performers are the "people" at Mass, the congregation.

    I attended a music conference at the Vatican a couple of years ago, and it was very important to keep in mind that the "Euro English" they use is very different from what we use and what ICEL produces. I have often seen them use "popular" as "of the people," and agree entirely with Richard's translation that I quoted above. So much meaning can be lost when translation is done too literally.
  • GerardH
    Posts: 185
    Tomato, tomahto.

    @CharlesW Surely you mean "Tomayto, tomato" ;)
  • CharlesW
    Posts: 10,877
    potato, potayto, tater, totter, potahto, McDonalds.
  • CMAA has always been at war with NPM CCW
    Seriously, this needs to cease, Now.

    Tomjaw, your solution to sacred music in Rome is "stiff" and "rigid".
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  • potato, potayto, tater, totter, potahto, McDonalds.

    You forgot the Hungarian accented rolled T potttado.
  • CharlesW
    Posts: 10,877
    Or as we say in the east, pierogi.
    Thanked by 1CHGiffen
  • a_f_hawkins
    Posts: 2,396
    potato, potayto, tater, totter, potahto, McDonalds, murphy.

    but not PC round here
  • chonakchonak
    Posts: 8,466
    Let's remember: "Critique principles, not people." Our colleagues over at CCW do a lot of good work, and deserve credit for it.
  • chonakchonak
    Posts: 8,466
    To follow up: I see that the blog post at CCW has been updated with a correction; thanks to Jeffrey Ostrowski for it.
    Thanked by 2Don9of11 toddevoss
  • Once, when breakfasting with my father, an old GP, I mentioned gastric problems. In his very practical way, he advised, "More of that," pointing at my water glass, "and less of that," pointing at my coffee cup.

    I am reminded of this, being somehow caught up in this CMAA vs. CCW kerfuffle, and would counsel: Focus more on content, less on commentary (or promotion).

    Or, put another way: Keep calm, and do your ****ing job.
  • francisfrancis
    Posts: 9,172
    We HERE (myself included) can tend to strain at a gnat and swallow the camel. Just sayin'. And that is pronounced GA-NAT!
  • MarkB
    Posts: 457
    Pope Francis needs to make an apostolic visit to OCP. Here's the newest "liturgical" song video that OCP is promoting. Not even good by secular standards, and not at all appropriate for Catholic worship:

  • Archbishop Sample must be rolling in his...oh wait.
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  • ryandryand
    Posts: 1,640
    “Heaven is a place where you’ll hear colors,
    Heaven is a place where you’ll see sounds.”

    Wait a minute there, Mr. Boomer. Are you trying to sell me on faith or psychopsilocybin?
  • MarkB
    Posts: 457
    @ryand, regarding those nonsensical lyrics, if you listen to the interview that precedes the performance, you'll hear Ken Canedo exclaim that those lyrics are profound "poetry" and Tom Booth will explain that they came from a friend of his who had a near-death experience and said while (near) dead he "heard colors" and "saw sounds."

    Besides the irrationality of visual phenomena being received by an auditory faculty and auditory phenomena being received by a visual faculty, the Church has made no doctrinal claim that in heaven the blessed hear colors and see sounds, so it is irresponsible, to put it mildly, to have such lyrics in a song intended for use in Catholic worship. It's in the same vein as "We rise again from ashes...."

    Shows the danger of theological illiterates writing lyrics for Catholic worship music. And supposedly OCP has a rigorous screening procedure to make sure every song is 100% orthodox.

    Heaven is a place where you'll feel odors.
  • Liam
    Posts: 4,206
    Well, as a synaesthete, I get the idea as quite sensical. Not that I have regard for that particular song.
  • MarkB
    Posts: 457
    Interesting. I wasn't aware of synesthesia. In my cursory research it seems to be a strong regular association of, for example, a particular sound with a particular color because hearing the sound reflexively triggers a visual experience of the color. But the color isn't heard nor received by the ear (nor can it be); rather, the (imagined) experience of the color is triggered by the sound instead of the visual experience being caused by the eyes receiving color (visible light spectrum radiation) from a real object that is seen.
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  • It is well known that Messiaen was a synesthete, and that his association of colours to particular sounds and pitches played a large part in the music he composed. Since in heaven we will see humanity in unblemished perfection it isn't altogether off to suggest that this human faculty may or may not be shared by those who dwell there.
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