A thought for the day . . .
  • David AndrewDavid Andrew
    Posts: 1,197
    I was asked by my associate music director on Sunday if I was "happy here" (in my current position). She's the third person who has asked that recently. She also went on to say that as church musicians, we're not entitled to have a "bad day," because it is so quickly and easily reflected in our music and how we do our job.

    This got me to thinking about two very important aspects of what we do as assistants in the liturgy: 1) objectivism versus subjectivism in the liturgy and its music, and 2) humility versus pridefulness.

    On the first subject, ISTM that since the Second Vatican Council we (or should I say, progressivists) have spent entirely too much energy on making the music of the liturgy "moving." Indeed, how many of us who support the advancement of chant and chant-based polyphony have been accused of wanting "tired, old, boring" music rather than promoting "music that feeds and nourishes the people," whatever that means. Over the last two years I've come to the conclusion that chant and its children and grandchildren found in polyphony and hymnody are timeless precisely because they do not rely upon moving the "passions" in the post-modern, new-age understanding of the term. Quite the contrary, I believe that the beauty of chant, etc., lay in the fact that it lives in a realm of purity and objectivity, which has the power to stir the soul, not merely move the "humors."

    This notion of objectivity versus subjectivity I think quite easily leads one to the concept of true humility. I've been reading and re-reading a little article that appeared over at NLM (Nicola Bux: The Liturgy is the Manifestation of the Sacred Reality of God). In it, we read, "Kneeling becomes the most eloquent expression of the creature before the present mystery. And for that reason obedience to the sacred liturgy is the measure of our humility." How often are those of us dedicated to a restoration of the use of the music of the liturgy accused of being insensitive to the needs of the many in the congregation? How often are we tarred with the broad brush of snobbery, elitism or arrogance when we dare to speak the truth regarding the mind of the Church in matters of music and liturgy?

    While charity and humility are sisters, and we must do everything with charity, we nevertheless must not permit those who exercise pridefulness and arrogance in their tampering with the liturgy to their own ends attempt to deflect the true destructiveness of their actions by accusing us of the very vices they demonstrate on a regular basis.

    Take heart, then, and quietly measure your work with all humility, honoring the mystery of God, and let us not fear the truth which S. Paul tells us, passes all understanding.
  • Charles in CenCA
    Posts: 2,416
  • GavinGavin
    Posts: 2,799
    There's a sense in which I agree with you. Catholic culture as a whole is about "me, me, me" these days. I can see it when I talk to the older children of the parish. An 8th grade girl remarked to me "Why do we only use the red book? (we celebrate) Why can't we use songs from the blue book? (you know what that is) We like the blue book songs better!" I said "well, the problem with your reasoning is that it doesn't matter what you like or what I like or what father likes. The church has standards for its worship and the blue book's songs largely don't measure up to those standards." Now I've been charged before that I should NEVER bring up the "suitability" argument around children. But this was about a month before I left, so to heck with that. And the girl didn't freak out or accuse me of partisanism; she dropped the argument. She said instead "Well we find the blue book songs easier to sing." Aha! There's a legitimate point of discussion! All it took was one correction for her to see that Mass isn't about tastes or egos. Unfortunately, the majority of Catholics have not 13 years of being taught Mass is about ego-stroking but 40 years. I always have the same "it doesn't matter what people like" conversation with the same adults. Over and over. Some of the more affected believe their personal tastes (as in them as an individual) should rule the parish! My mother was careful to raise us without that whole sense of entitlement, but most people HAVE drank the Kool-aid.

    It's like my latest trouble situation. I arranged an occasional choir for Pentecost, and an old man who sang with an occasional men's group arrived on the day of Pentecost to sing, even though he had not shown up at any practices. I pulled him aside and said to him "I'm sorry, but if you haven't showed up at any rehearsals, I can't allow you to sing." He threw his music on the ground and stormed out of the loft in front of the priest, who later went on at me about how horribly he thought I handled the situation. I said to Father, "You know, 50 years ago that man would have said 'Yes, sir!' and left without a fuss, and then apologized to you as a priest for wasting time in your presence!" Rather, Mass is about egos now.

    On the other hand, and perhaps a slightly different topic, we have to be careful of making ideologies our enemies. I'm reminded of the Infamous Todd the Progressive Liturgist. Anytime you try to engage him about this or that practice, he says "no true progressive would ever do that, so your criticism is irrelevant." Or if you bring up the propers, he'll say "progressives were doing the propers while Reform2 people were still doing the 4 hymn sandwich!" If Todd's characterization of progressives is accurate (which I bet it isn't, but let's assume it is), then we really have nothing to worry about with them. But still there's a lot of parishes out there that don't care about the propers or that sing all 22 verses of "We come to share our story" and "non-progressive" priests that don't give a darn about saying the black or doing the red. It seems to me that our fight ought not to be carried out in the abstract world of ideologies and groups of people, but against practices. There are, after all, a LOT of well-meaning people for whom Glory & Praise or Gather is "traditional music". Let's rather be like Paul at Mars Hill, "The tradition you love and do not know, I proclaim to you." Yes it'd be all fun to run out anyone who starts Mass with "Good morning" or thinks "To be your bread" is the source and summit of the Catholic faith, but let's start with the errant practices themselves and let the ideology work itself out in the context of good liturgy.
  • G
    Posts: 1,396
    Very, very well put, David, I will link to your words.
    I read, somewhere online, long ago, a young priest, relating words of wisdom from a mentor -- Don't make a god of your "feelings."

    I am sometimes so wearied by liturgists, musicians, priests, congregants, whoever, this great mass of people who treat Liturgy not as worship of the Triune God, not even as a vehicle for their own and others' sanctification, but as some kind of communal Zoloft.

    (Save the Liturgy, Save the World)
  • mjballoumjballou
    Posts: 990
    Of course, when people insult you, it's always a good idea to consider the source. That was one of my late father's words to live by, along with the concept that most free advice is worth what you paid for it. Because of the overwhelming emphasis on feelings in our culture, I find it very easy to spend my time trying to read other people's emotions. When I'm running a rehearsal, am I thinking about the music and the text and the balance? Or am I wondering if a touchy singer will have a fit if corrected and does one of the altos find this motet a bore? In other words, I'm making a god of other people's feelings (over which I have absolutely no control).

    Worse still, when I'm actually playing or singing at a liturgy, do I have one eye cocked at the congregation to see if they've become "animated" yet? If Father yawns during the offertory, does my programming bore him and will I be replaced with a combo? And since the choir does nothing that I asked them to do at rehearsal, do they all hate me? I can cycle through of all these in less than 30 seconds. Thus in the course of a one-hour liturgy, I can freak out dozens of times.

    Maybe I can be a vehicle of grace for some people, but it won't be thanks to my fretting about it or my frenzied efforts to whip up piety, faith, or whatever. That's God's business. And He'd probably prefer it if I'd do mine.
  • Charles in CenCA
    Posts: 2,416
    Friend Gavin,
    Assuming that in one of your paragraphs above you are referring to Todd Flowerday, why do you find it necessary to characterize him as the "Infamous Todd the Progressive Liturgist?" If I've misinterpreted your assignation, forgive me. If not, how does this citation and its use to advance your points advance the notion of acting in humility and charity in all our doings liturgical? As I recall, you contribute rather frequently to the comboxes of Flowerday's CS blog. And as I recall, those exchanges have always seemed civil, intelligent and polite.
    Seems a bit inconsistent. Again, if I have misread which "Todd" you're citing, my apologies.
  • GavinGavin
    Posts: 2,799
    Charles, I meant no offense, and in fact rather did so as a humorous reference to the animosity St. Blog's holds toward him. I have nothing but respect for Todd, although as I indicated I think he overuses the "No true Scotsman" fallacy. There was no insult intended, except to those who write off anything he does simply because he is either "progressive" or a liturgist.
  • Charles in CenCA
    Posts: 2,416
    Thanks for the clarification, Gavin. I rather thought you gentlemen were in good stead with each other. I must've missed his "no true Scots" mantra, and woe is me, as I'm Scots both sides! Blessings.
  • GavinGavin
    Posts: 2,799
    "No true Scotsman" is a logical fallacy where one refutes an argument by saying that it isn't practiced among their group. I do hold Todd in high regard, I think he reciprocates or at least tolerates me. Perhaps a counter-example of the fallacy would be if Todd said "Traditional musicians just want to go back to 'Jesus My Lord, My God, My All'!" and a commenter responded "No true traditional musician wants that!" Perhaps the commenter is right, but that is beside the point we have to deal with of whether we're turning back the clock or not.

    Might be a mislabeling of the fallacy (or even not a fallacy) but I don't find it productive. Still, I enjoy Todd's perspective. Someone who can read church documents and come to a different conclusion than I would is someone I have an interest in listening to.
  • Chris
    Posts: 80
    David, thank you for your insightful offering. St. Paul, prior to those words of wisdom, also encourages us to let our moderation be known unto all men. Truly, let us keep our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus!