Monday, October 29, 2012

Hand-wringing Over Handbell Ringing

Look what we have to look forward to at the Cathedral in December! Here’s the announcement from the parish’s on-line bulletin (my emphases):

Handbell recital – on Saturday December 22, a great Christmas Handbell recital will be held in the Cathedral at 1 PM. You don’t want to miss this recital which will leave you fascinated at the dexterity and artistry of Phyllis Tincher, handbell soloist, who will perform a collection of Christmas hymns, carols and melodies. You may have seen handbell choirs with a few people ringing bells, but this is a one-person performance, which you have to see it to believe it, handling 16 or more bells at the same time.
[Ummm…I think I would call that a juggling act!]

She will be accompanied by pianist Sean Rogers, who has been her accompanist for the past few years. … They have a few CDs of their music, which will be for sale at the recital on December 22. For more information, please visit their website at I’ll give you more information as the date approaches, but please reserve the date. With the beauty of the Cathedral at Christmas time, especially with the Christmas decorations, this promises to be a much anticipated Christmas concert.

Umm…What am I missing here? The date of the recital is set for December 22; the next day is the Fourth Sunday of Advent. So that makes me wonder: What "Christmas decorations"??!? We’re not supposed to have Christmas decorations before, well, Christmas!

There are few other problems with this whole scenario. First of all, the intention is obviously to hold the recital in the Cathedral. And given that a handbell concert is not just an auditory treat, but also a visual one that involves the showmanship of the bell ringer with her gloved hands and graceful movements, it’s a pretty sure bet they won’t have her perform from the choir loft. No, I’m pretty sure she’ll be in the sanctuary, in front of the altar, so that everyone can see her.

Why do we act like the sanctuary is a stage?! Sigh.

And then there’s the music itself. A document, "Concerts in Churches", published by the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Sacraments in November 1987 (Protocol No. 1251/87) addresses these issues. Here are a few excerpts:

The principle that the use of the church must not offend the sacredness of the place determines the criteria by which the doors of a church may be opened to a concert of sacred or religious music, as also the concomitant exclusion of every other type of music. The most beautiful symphonic music, for example, is not in itself of religious character. The definition of sacred or religious music depends explicitly on the original intended use of the musical pieces or songs, and likewise on their content. It is not legitimate to provide for the execution in the church of music which is not of religious inspiration and which was composed with a view to performance in a certain precise secular context, irrespective of whether the music would be judged classical or contemporary, of high quality or of a popular nature. On the one hand, such performances would not respect the sacred character of the church, and on the other, would result in the music being performed in an unfitting context ….

e. The musicians and the singers should not be placed in the sanctuary. The greatest respect is to be shown to the altar, the president's chair and the ambo.

[There will also be a symphony orchestra concert in the Cathedral in November – it’s become an annual event. The orchestra is always seated in the sanctuary.]

f. The Blessed Sacrament should be, as far as possible, reserved in a side chapel or in another safe and suitably adorned place (Cf. C.I.C., can 928, par. 4). [This is not usually an issue at the Cathedral, thanks be to God!]

g. The concert should be presented or introduced not only with historical or technical details, but also in a way that fosters a deeper understanding and an interior participation on the part of the listeners.

Let’s see…what music will the handbell ringer play? I’m guessing it will be some “hits” from her Christmas CD, such as: 

  • I'm Dreaming of a White Christmas
  • Jingle Bell Rock
  • Parade of the Tin Soldiers
Yeah…sacred music...religious character…original intended use of the songs…interior participation…uh huh. Not.

Here’s another issue: the performers are Protestants. They see these recitals as their ministry. The mission statement on their website says:

 The mission of Ring Praise Music Ministry is to tell the saving story of Jesus Christ through music, scripture and hymn history.

Okay, that doesn’t sound too bad. But “Ring Praise” is not a Catholic ministry. Why are we having Protestants come in to give a concert in a Catholic church…a Cathedral, no less?! Are they going to have an “altar call”? Will people be invited to come forward to accept Jesus into their hearts? Why are Protestants being allowed to conduct a Protestant ministry in a Catholic cathedral?!?

I have a great suggestion: hold the handbell recital in the parish hall!

There’s a stage there – people will be able to see the performance just fine! People can even have refreshments during the performance! No rules will be broken concerning concerts in churches; the Catholic identity of the Cathedral will be preserved; the sanctuary will be saved from sacrilege; and concert-goers will possibly remember that it’s still Advent, and that the Christmas season has yet to begin.

Not. Gonna. Happen.

No matter how much I wring my hands.


  1. Unless and until the Pontiff, Cardinals and Bishops insist on adherence to the laws of the Church this sort of thing will continue to happen. It is all about "community", popularity, and feel good rather than about reverence.

  2. Brillant idea : Have the handbell recital in the PARISH HALL!
    A no brainer to you and me : but to those liberals and those of the church of nice...they are going to do it their way. God help us all.
    And yes UNTIL we hear from the Cardinals and Bishops and even Our Holy Father about the adherence to the laws of the Holy Catholic Church this will continue...and they will continue to OFFEND Our Precious Jesus right their in the sancutary and give it no thought you know why ??
    Either they do not REALLY believe that is Jesus , or they actually think it is okay and the good God would not mind at all.
    Now you pick which one .....but as for me , I NEVER want to offend my God by any form or irreverance ...we should all come into the House of God and fall on our knees in ADORATION ...IT IS TRULY JESUS , ALIVE IN THE BLESSED SACRAMENT !

  3. Reformation in the Church will eventually get to the point where things like this don't happen, but it's going to be a long, hard struggle. The most difficult obstacle is the widespread belief that because things are better now than they were in the past, we have no need of further reform. As your wrting shows, we have a long way to go.


Please be courteous and concise.