A unique experience

I am still amazed that I was there. It was a fascinating experience and an incredible conversation. There were about 15 of us around the table in the hotel conference room for most of the day yesterday. The meeting was held in Chicago and it seems I was invited simply because I direct the Gregorian Chant Choir at the University of Chicago. It was a Consultation on Chants for the New Roman Missal conducted by the Secretariat for the Liturgy of the USCCB. Msgr Moroney conducted the meeting, and Fr. Bruce Harbert, the executive Director of ICEL was present. Cathedral Music Directors from Chicago, Seattle and St. Louis were present as well as the Directors from GIA, OCP and WLP. NPM was represented by its president, and then seminary musicians and chant directors from St. John, St. Meinrad, Sacred Heart in Detroit and St. Joseph, Rensselaer were there.

The Translations of the new texts will undergo many transformations in the next few months. There are, after all, eleven Bishops Conferences commenting on them at the moment, but there are already musicians around the country that are developing the principles by which they will be chanted. One thing is sure, the next edition of the Roman Missal for use in English will have a greater emphasis placed on presider chant.

[UPDATE: comments closed]

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Our man in Chicago from Catholic Light on May 14, 2004 8:28 PM

Fr. Keyes attended a recent consultation the USCCB liturgy office arranged with church musicians, on the subject of the new translations.... Read More


O, to have been a fly on the wall!
Any chance we'll read a transcript, in Adoremus or wherever?

And here I was, sitting around in my living room sorting through stacks and stack of music and papers, a scant 15 miles away! My piddling task of getting the music that's been scattered in school, in an unused confessional, in my car, in my living room, and on my front porch all consolidated in the choir loft as the renovation at St John's winds down PALES beside yours, of moving half a continent away... I really feel for you. Like any unrepentant pack-rat, I hate packing, hate moving,(despite haveing done it constantly throughout my adult life until we settled here in Whiting.)

So, when do voice lessons get added to the seminary curriculum? Or should I say re-added?

Alas, much of the US didn't seem to be represented in the consultation.

One more alas,

Would that chant and song by the people of God would be emphasized!

Well, Maureen, sorry not to have described every detail, but have you noticed a tendency to comment on what is missing rather than on what is mentioned?

The music in question was that which is a dialogue between priest and people and those parts of the mass which priest and people sing together. Congregational singing has been an important part of the liturgy for the last 40 years and there is no need to emphasize it. What has been missing has been presider chanting. A whole tradition seems to have disappeared. When I chant a liturgy it is treated as something that is an idiosyncracy and not something that is normative.

This was the second of two meetings. The other meeting was held in Washington. Many were invited and these are the ones who came. The whole country was included. None of the women invited came.

The norms for priestly formation have always included chant. It seems the seminaries represented take it seriously.

The way things are described can have a lot of influence on the way people take it. I don't think this is just my reaction, either. Attention to nuances of inclusivity pays off big time for everyone.

To describe something as presider chant and leave the implied singing together (Glory to God, and Our Father in practical terms), the dialogues and the assembly responses merely implied or assumed misses the chance to point out that this should be of interest to all who care about praying the liturgy well. It's not just relevant to the priests (and deacons).

The work we were asked to carry out by Paul VI and the preparation of the little collection Jubilate Deo are pretty well-kept secrets. The assembly, and not just choirs, are a part of that vision, so I disagree that enough has been said.
Well, maybe the volume of what's been said is sufficient, but something is still lacking.

Father Jeff, when you perceive your use of chant as interpreted as "Father Jeff's thing," I think you are reading most of the folks correctly. But then, the sense I get in my local scene is that most of us do the same with ALL our presiders. We don't experience their styles as variations on something common, we experience them as pretty much as "I did it my way." And given what our parish has experienced in the last few years, the sensus fidelium is pretty much right on.

Peace, all.

I pretty much align with Maureen's drift on this one. We're essentially talking about more resources and encouragement for priests to sing. But without voice lessons in seminary, plus the artistic encouragement, the rubrics can turn blue for all the good it'll do some clergy resistant to music.

I wouldn't take the laity taking your measure as "doing it your way" too badly. Former parishes do that with me when I've failed to get across the notion that good liturgy is inclusive. Still need a lot more depth work on the participation thing, I'm afraid. But seminary's not a bad place to start.

1. The perception of a local community is not the same thing as the "sense of the people."

2. Simply because a local community perceives something as "Fr. Jeff's thing," does not by that fact cease to make it normative.

I think I am fairly safe in posting this, as he will not read it -- you may not have met him, Fr. Keyes, and certainly did not hear him sing, but there is a priest in Whiting who is as close to tone deaf as God has made any of those He creates in His image and likeness.
But this priest chants virtually everything he can, and it makes the masses over which he presides solemn and beautiful and reverent in a way many another priest with a fine voice can only dream of.
I don't know what is taught in seminaries, so I don't know why most priests do not sing, but in my experience it is not uncommon at all for the pastor to be very insistent, to exhort his flock to "sing out!" -- but he is only talking about a few randomly added songs, which feel to us in the pews as superfluous and unimportant as they are, while he himself sings nothing that would serve to solemnize the Liturgy.

And as to anyone, priest or otherwise, being perceived as "doing things his way" -- that is the fault of the liturgists (I don't necessarily mean someone in a position such as I gather is yours, Todd -- I include especially pastors, who are the chief liturgists for their parishes,) who for as long as I can remember have worked so hard to put their own stamp on things, to inject their own personalities, to indulge their own taste, that very few PIPs have a clue that there IS such a concept as "normative."

I had a recent discussion with a principal from a Catholic H.S. We were discussing the history of its music program. He said how, especially in the old days, the money was never there to support anything like an instrumental music program. Focusing on academics was all they could afford, because it required far fewer expensive resources.

Then he had the stroke of insight that maybe they still should have focused on vocal music, because very little resources are required for that. What a concept! And just imagine how preserving traditions like sacred chant would have been possible, given simply the will to do so. Then, today, it would not be such an uphill struggle, with chant seeming to many to be foreign to the liturgy, whereas it is actually the one form that is most at home.

Peace, Fr Jeff.

"Simply because a local community perceives something as "Fr. Jeff's thing," does not by that fact cease to make it normative."

True. But if the next pastor puts the kabosh on it all, and nobody takes up the cause, then the perception is reinforced, and the norm has become personality-driven, not spiritually inspired.

Father Jeff,

How to communicate effectively about what the liturgy encourages us to do is a question worth some discussion and effort. It's tricky to get such formation/information into the liturgy itself, yet that is where the most people can be reached. Should presider singing need explaining? Evidence says it does; attempting to pursuade those who think it just makes the Mass longer is preferable, IMO, to saying it's "normative."

"Normative" is too strong a word, I think, for most liturgical matters. Alas, we discovered a big if in the sacramentary directions for the Paschal Candel at the Easter Vigil "If incense is used..." So, because of that if, we couldn't have incense. Or for another example, the Instruction says "it is preferable that the faithful be able to receive hosts consecrated in the same Mass" [89] So, those who don't make an effort to give people the holy exchange of gifts have permission to do nothing different, even to continue to manage their hosts on a FIFO inventory system, distributing the tabernacle supply while leaving the gifts of the people on the altar.

Dear Fr. Keyes:

I would like to thank you, for several reasons:

1. For your willingness to share your experiences via your weblog;

2. In particular, for your willingness to share this information about recent developments in the restoration of chant.

3. More generally, for your devotion to the saints, and to St. Gaspard in particular.

4. For your obvious devotion to the sacred chants and to the Divine Liturgy, which you share in common with the great priest/saints, from St. Ignatius of Antioch, through Thomas Aquinas, and finally to such as Junipero Serra and Maximilian Kolbe.

5. For your efforts to restore the venerable tradition of chant to the Roman Catholic Church, both by your example in the service of the Divine Liturgy, and by your participation in groups such as you have mentioned above.

It is unfortunate that your efforts may be perceived by some as just "Fr. Jeff's thing", both because it is an injustice to your efforts, and because chant and sacred song are mandated in and by Scripture, Tradition and Church Authority, particularly as the last has manifested itself in the Second Vatican Council.

If I may suggest, it may be reasonable for you to tell people, both in your sermons and outside them, what you are doing and why. Speaking from my own experience, I have found, as a singer and a choir director of an Eastern Catholic church, that it has been important to repeatedly encourage the congregation, individually and corporately, to sing during the Divine Liturgy. They need to be reminded that in the Divine Liturgy, just as the priest is the icon of Christ, so the congregation are icons of the angelic host in the Kingdom of Heaven, who sing forever in the praise and worship of God.

Again, thank you for being a priest in a world of what otherwise appear to be bureaucrats or time-servers. Tu es sacerdos in aeternum, secundum ordinem Melchizedek.

Wow, What a wonderful compliment. Thank you.

"Normative" is what's supposed to be the norm. The "ifs" are put in for when the situation isn't normal: emergencies, or times when things are totally fubarred. Granted, many people out there choose to use these exceptions in the rule as if they were the rule. However, that is their problem, not the rule's. Closing the loopholes entirely would mean that whenever things got fubarred, the Mass itself would have to stop in its tracks.

Now, why the heck are we talking about this? I thought we were discussing new developments in chant, eh?

I certainly hope that the changes are better and that they don't get politically screwed up to suit some dissenting weirdos like the last set have been. There are a lot of people out here who are extremely distrustful of the whole thing now. We come, we pray, we don't sing, we put it in the hands of God because we understand it as a penance dealt out to us for some reason and that's all.

I have to tell you that unless you are very careful, that attitude is not going to change, either. We have been hurt, and hurt badly for a great long time. Liturgists et al need to know that. It's beyond forgiving and all that. We forgive you. We just don't intend to let you do it again.

These comments prove what is often said by liturgical traditionalists like myself: The Novus Ordo effectively has no rubrics, because its options are endless, and the Haugen-huggers are still in control -- Father mentions that one meeting was boycotted by women, who I would guess are in the majority as liturgical directors on the parish level.

I was at a conference with Fr. Harbert once, and he is a very impressive man. An Anglican convert, I believe, which says something significant. Catholics in this country have always been culturally impoverished, since as noted above our schools historically could only afford to offer basic look learning. The immemorial traditions of the Church preserved the aesthetic integrity of the Mass for several hundred years, but once they were stripped away it was only to be expected that the crass and vulgar would fill the void.

I wish Fr. Harbert and his associates luck, but suspect that they will have very little -- so long as people like Todd are permitted to dictate to parishes what 'participation' means.

And on priests and chant there used to be a saying 'Nulla vox, nulla vocatio.'

Peace, David.

I certainly have heard the sensibilities of many traditional-leaning Catholics. I'm not exactly sure what you mean about "people like (me) are permitted to dictate to parishes." To my knowledge, you've never been my parishioner. It would be easy for me to conclude you have your own eye's view of liturgy, and no other facts will disabuse you of it. I think your assessment of traditions being stripped away with regard to chant is faulty. My current parish has never had chant. That is likely shared by many parishes in the US. You can't strip away a tradition that has never taken root. Blame American pragmatism, distrust of the arts, or the prioritization of needs in a mission land. Blaming me or Vatican II for what took place (or didn't come to pass) in 1940, 1910, or 1880 goes beyond good sense.

That said, your motto, "Nulla vox, nulla vocatio" (something I've heard progressive liturgists support) could be seen as a stripping away of sorts. Nevertheless, I'm inclined to agree with it. Welcome to the terrorist club, my friend.

Just for the record, the subject of the meeting was chant, not translations. Very few people in the room have anything to say or any expertise or authority regarding translations. These musicians simply gathered in service to the church and to its liturgy. Music is a servant of the liturgy. Everyone there was of one mind, that the text has priority. But our only task was music. Assigning these groups with any responsibility for the end product of the translations would be a bit of ignorance.

Todd and David, further name calling will be deleted. You both had important perspectives to listen to, but veered rather dangerously into ad hominems.

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This page contains a single entry by Fr. Jeffrey Keyes, C.PP.S. published on May 11, 2004 8:37 AM.

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