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May 27, 2004

Journal Entry

It was 1985. I was director of Music at St. Edward Catholic Church. Doing packing today I came across one of my old journals. This entry was dated January 21, 1985:

The challenge of the pastoral musician and liturgist is not to come up with new songs and new forms all of the time, but to do what you have with great care and beauty.

Last week in my journal I was developing some other thoughts about liturgical music in the context of interviewing possible music directors.

It is occurring to me that liturgical music seems to be practiced in parishes in our country in two main categories.

The first category: Music is chosen to please us. It is supposed to make us happy, to make us comfortable. It confirms us in our current state. It fulfills us. It may even confirm us in some of our prejudices. It entertains us, it tickles our fancy. It appeals to something deep in our emotions, brings a lump to our throat, or a tear to our eyes. It pleases us and makes us feel at home.

The second category: This music is designed to take us somewhere else, to lift us from our present state and give us a taste of another world. It is supposed to challenge us and convict us. It is supposed to be a vehicle whereby we might give ourselves. This music puts us in relationship, not just with the people in the room, but with the people of the world and with all the cloud of witnesses throughout the ages who have gone before us marked with the sign of the cross.

This is rough thinking. The thesis has not been developed enough. I have only begun chewing on this. The categories seem a bit too black and white. Things are not all that clear. For example, “Holy God, We Praise Thy Name” may fit into both categories. Examining individual songs may not be the way to go, but it may be best to look at the whole parish repertoire and approach to worship in general.

In general, it is my opinion that most parishes in this country are more comfortable with the first category.

Any thoughts?

Posted by Fr. Jeffrey Keyes, C.PP.S. at May 27, 2004 10:35 AM

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dear Father Jeff,

thank you, thank you, thank you,

for saying the categories you laid out are too black and white.

I don't see anything wrong with a hymn touching us in an affective way (that's the high falutin' word for emotional, which puts a positive spin on that part of being a human rather than a negative one.) But certainly it must do more than that.

I also don't see anything wrong with a hymn reflecting the best of the community's cultural heritage, including language. Though I would argue that in most parts of the US, hospitality requires us all to know some hymns in Spanish so that we can sing them at diocesan gatherings, etc.
Ditto for instrumentation, not just organ and brass always and everywhere.

My own personal dislike is hymns that focus too much on us, even when they are "convicting" us -- that's from another stream of the Christian tradition, IMO. Just like the tropes for the Kyrie aren't supposed to focus on our sins "For the times we..." but on God's attributes and God's actions.

There are exceptions to this, of course. I think Haugen's "Gather us in" manages to both speak of us and broaden the connections. I also happen to find "Shepherd me, O God" an affectively moving setting of Psalm 23 (No, folks, not for after the first reading, for some other place in the liturgy.)

I agree with you that focusing on particular compositions is not all that needs to be done, but it is an effective way of illustrating the principles and getting the conversation going.

In the end, I think a mixture from across the centuries, borrowed from other Christian traditions who've been singing in English longer than we have, composed after Roman Catholics began to pray the liturgy in English, English words set to older melodies, and some Latin (especially for fixed parts of the Mass) since that's what the church has asked us to do.

I also think it's helpful to distinguish between religious music suitable for liturgy and for otehr forms of prayer (Taize) and religious music for individual prayer and for entertainment. Some of the stuff that doesn't fit in liturgy is great for concerts, and they are good experiences for Christians of all ages.

Then, too, this month we have the question of what to do about Marian hymns. Father put his foot firmly down, not during Mass, not even at prep of gifts (when are we going to stop calling it "offertory") or as a communion meditation (that may be in the interest of not adding time). The choir wasn't happy doing it before the opening hymn, as our assembly comes in gradually. So, in the end, it was both replude and postlude, but nobody was happy. Is there a give point on things like this?

Enough for now; I look forward to this conversation.

Posted by: Maureen Lahiff at May 27, 2004 2:05 PM

"Gather Us In" is a song I would put into the first category. It is not terrible, but it is a bit too focused on us. I just won't select it ever again.

"Shepherd Me, O God" pulls at the heartstrings. Thanks for saying it should not be considered a psalm setting for the Liturgy of the Word. It is one of the few Haugen songs I think I would ever use again. When I think of Psalm 23 my first thought is of the Gelineau setting. Thinking about it thoug, it still lands in the first category. It takes a psalm, "The LORD is my shepherd," (emphasis placed on "Lord") and take it to my wants, my hopes, etc. (emphasis placed on me.)

Posted by: Fr. Jeffrey Keyes CPPS at May 27, 2004 2:56 PM

I'd like to add the praise God element back into the mix.

it's not clear to me that the Te deum challenges or "convicts" if you insist on using that word. ditto for the Glory to God.

but the Proulx setting of the Te deum is certainly affective and I think fills the Eastern churches' vision to take us somewhere heavenly.

Posted by: Maureen Lahiff at May 27, 2004 4:14 PM

Peace, Fr Jeff.

I'll play the cynic and suggest a third category: music that is done from a sense of obligation (usually misplaced). By that I mean people who are discouraged and burned out (directors and maybe a few assemblies) and go through the motions because the four hymns plus acclamations are "required" and they can't imagine doing anything else. The same selections are rehashed and utillized in a mindless manner, sung and played without spirit, and nobody int he parish: priest, musicians, pew people are ever challenged to grow in faith, much less in music.

Posted by: Todd at May 28, 2004 12:20 AM

I've been thinking about the entire process of music selection as well as the "traditional/contemporary" argument I've seen, based on previous experience. (By "traditional" I mean hymn-tunes, rigid meter, "The King of Love My Shepherd Is", etc. By "contemporary" I mean more free-flowing melody, Haugen's "Shepherd Me" etc.)

Too many times, the "traditional/contemporary" argument seemed to be made from personal preferences, or "category one" arguments. And it's funny, the more I go on, I've found the "traditional" repertoire less and less appealing, to the point where I now put it alongside the "contemporary" as suitable for the liturgy - even though an argument can be made that such selections are generally more singable, more rhythmically predictable, etc.

As far as musical transcendence goes, here's where I stand:

Melodic accessibility, rhythmic simplicity that complements/embellishes the texts, and slower tempi rule. Pieces that employ these are generally more accessible for many choirs (and congregations) willing to go that route. These allow the texts to seep into the consciousness more deeply, making contemplation possible even as words are being sung. From a practical standpoint, such pieces seem to allow the choir to better develop listening skills. (It's awfully hard to listen to other parts while performing one of those runs found in Handel's "For Unto Us a Child is Born", for example.) The Eastern churches have much to teach us in this regard.

Off-track question: Where are the propers in all of this? By that I mean the Opening Song/Introit and Communion psalms and antiphons as found in the Missal. Settings of these, done responsorially with appropriate verses, are possible. It seems there are enough settings of most psalms to go around (metric, chant, lyric-ballad, etc.) to make this switch rather painlessly. And still close with a suitable/comfortable hymn.

At the very least, the prescribed propers could inform music selection. And incorporation of them into the liturgy would provide Missal-based material for a homily.

Using the propers as a basis for composition or a reference for music selection won't mitigate the category one/two argument completely. (After all, Haugen has his name inscribed on "Shepherd Me" just as surely as Michelangelo has his name on the Pieta.) But as an admittedly bookish type, I would have no problem hearing, for example, Haas' "All the Ends of the Earth" as the opening song for the Fifth Sunday of Easter. No, it isn't transcendent, but it's functional and more-or-less faithful to the introit prescribed in the Missal. Though, admittedly, there are those who would perceive this faithfulness as "rigidity" and thus discomforting.

Posted by: Aristotle A. Esguerra at May 28, 2004 10:31 AM

Thank you, Father, for outlining the difference between unliturgical music (about me, me, me and a bane of much modern RC practice) and music that shares the objectivity of authentic Catholic worship. Thomas Day has written much that's very similar. I agree with those who say the two categories don't have to be mutually exclusive - real liturgical music can appeal to one's emotions too. But the distinction stands. Oremus pro invicem.

Posted by: The young fogey at May 30, 2004 6:59 AM

This is all very good reading, thoughtful viewpoints, well expressed, charitably articulated.
Fr. Keyes, I hope you develope some of those journal entrees and thoughts into an essay, even a small book?
My heart goes out to you moving, with a bad back, saying goodby to your schola at Bond chapel -- before met you (or had even heard of you,) and before I got the job in Whiting, I had heard about the masses at Bond chapel and was thinking of trying to talk Bob into making that our usual Sunday morning destination.
Anyway, safe journey, my prayers are with you.

Maureen, I think that while the moment when it is sung is not "the offertory," that piece of music is the "offertory chant" or "offertory song" according to official liturgical documents.

Truly ignorant question, for anyone -- where does one find the words to the proper offertory antiphon/chant? I have never seen it in any missal or missallette (how many double letters in that word? pobably not so many,) it doesn't show up in various lists of "readings for the day" I can find online -- where are they? I try, when I can, to match our entrance "hymns" and communion "songs" in the four-hymn-format we use to the spirit and words of the propers, and would make the same effort with the Offertory songs, if I knew what they were.

Posted by: Geri at May 30, 2004 11:03 PM

There are no proper offertory chants in the current books. It is not an important part of the mass musically.

There is not a four hymn format to the mass. That has been imposed from without. The closing hymn is not part of the mass.

You will find offertory chants listed in the Graduale Romanum and in the Graduale Simplex.

I always use the term Preparation of Gifts unless I am using a chant from those sources.

Posted by: Fr. Jeffrey Keyes CPPS at May 31, 2004 6:41 AM

"There is not a four hymn format to the mass"

No, I know it's not an inherent part of the liturgy's structure -- it's just the format we (and I suspect 95 percent of the parishes in America,) use.
When we don't do a recessional it provokes all sorts of complaints and confusion, and an attempt to use a familar psalm setting for communion or in place of the usual entrance hymn has people reacting as if I'd suggested adding a pig roast and roller skating to the proceedings ("where does she get these ideas? They certainly aren't CATHOLIC.")

Posted by: Geri at May 31, 2004 1:36 PM

“The challenge of the pastoral musician and liturgist is not to come up with new songs and new forms all of the time, but to do what you have with great care and beauty.”

Quite true, Father. Too many liturgical musicians fail to realize the value and pride from being good craftsmen (and women), narrowing their self-worth to their being “creative” and DIFFERENT (!).

You’re also right that sometimes music can (and should) affirm us where we are and that other times music can (and should) help us get to “another place,” to raise our sights, to grow, to look inward with new eyes, to reach out, and to reach upward.

Not surprisingly, all of this is true not just for liturgical music, but for liturgy and ministry in general.

There is another dimension that should also be discussed: who is “us?”

Music must deal with the diversity of our congregations and our Universal Church, not just diversity of race, gender, and national origin; but also diversity of age, of life experience, of Church experience and knowledge, of relative theological sophistication and tastes, and of musical sophistication and tastes.

So, Prospective Music Director, are you still sure you want the job?
(I was sounding like the job interviewer from that Jiffy Lube commercial.)

Fortunately, you don’t have to do it all in a single weekend.

Also, what distinguishes an excellent pastoral musician (or pastoral minister, for that matter) is the ability to affirm and challenge so that the people grow, in and by the grace of God.

Posted by: penitens at June 1, 2004 1:57 PM

Diversity of instrumentation is worthwhile, and culturally appropriate instrumentation is quite valuable, but the organ does retain an important place in the liturgy of the Church universal.

Maureen’s point about the Kyrie is well taken.

Liturgy is not just about ME or even about US. We should not be afraid of focusing on God in our communal prayer (note to celebrants: you do not have to maintain eye contact with the congregation every second of the liturgy – it can be appropriate to lift up your eyes a little when what you are saying at the moment is specifically addressed to God).

This allergy to Marian hymns is getting out of hand. Was there a Vatican document that said you couldn’t sing them during Mass? On the other hand, throwing in favorite Marian hymns “just because it’s May” is inappropriate. A good liturgy committee (or music director or whatever) can judiciously select music that relates to Mary and to the themes of the particular Liturgy in a way that upholds the best of our tradition.

“Gather Us In” is often done nauseatingly and is probably also done too much. The title makes it sound as if it would be a perfect “gathering hymn” but people forget that that first song functions in the place of the Entrance Antiphon (usually based on a Scriptural or traditional text and theologically tied to the prayers – and sometimes the readings as well). A well-chosen opening hymn shouldn’t so much focus on the act of gathering as it should help set up for the rest of the celebration (here I echo Aristotle – Esguerra, that is).

Posted by: penitens at June 1, 2004 2:29 PM