Friday, February 22, 2013

Liturgical Muzak Concert and Workshop in Bend, OR

I was appalled interested to see the following blurb in the Diocesan bulletin in the “Parish News” section:

Catholic Composer, author, and workshop presenter David Haas will present an evening concert at 7:30 p.m. Friday, March 8 and liturgy workshop Saturday, March 9 from 8:30-2:30 at St. Francis Church in Bend [Oregon]. A few of Haas’ well known songs are “You Are Mine,” “Blest Are They,” and “We Will Rise Again.”

Actually, I have no problem with these people bringing in David Haas for a “concert”; there’s no accounting for personal taste, after all. I do wish they would hold the concert in the parish hall rather than the church itself, though; that kind of “worship” music really does not qualify as sacred liturgical music, and so shouldn’t be presented in a church setting. The proof is in the pudding, indicated by this addendum:

People involved in all ministries from all faiths are welcome to attend.

How very ecumenical. There are probably people from “all faiths” who like that music, largely because there’s not very much authentically Catholic about those tunes. So let them all join the fun, but let’s not pretend that it’s the sacred liturgical music of the Catholic Church.

So it’s not the concert, but rather the “liturgical workshop” that bothers me. To my mind, the composer of “pop” worship music has no business conducting such a workshop. For one thing, his music has no place in liturgical worship!

In our Diocese, far-flung as it is, with little communication between parishes, there are different modes of “worship music” being used, but mostly things are pretty sad, with plenty of piano and guitar accompaniment, and the occasional tambourine thrown in for good measure. In the “Spanish” Masses, there’s often a tendency toward mariachi band music, or just the use of what seems to be the standard Hispanic hymnal, “Flor y Canto”.

I know of at least three priests who are trying to improve the quality – and liturgical correctness – of the music used at their parishes. One priest went on a quest to find something to replace “Flor y Canto” in his largely Hispanich parish; I do not know whether he was successful. Another priest replaced the standard OCP fare with a “The St. Michael Hymnal”. Still another is implementing training of the “choirs” in his cluster of parishes to sing the “Gloria” that is included in the new Roman Missal.

That last development brings us to another point: the “new translation” implemented in Advent of 2011 brought us a new edition of the Roman Missal which includes more music than any other previous edition. The intent of the bishops was clearly to induce the priests and the faithful to “sing the Mass”, rather than to “sing AT Mass”. As I’ve noted before, prior to the implementation of the new translation, the USCCB’s website promotion of the changes stated (my emphases):

[The Church] has been blessed with this opportunity to deepen its understanding of the Sacred Liturgy, and to appreciate its meaning and importance in our lives… [T]he parish community should be catechized to receive the new translation.  Musicians and parishioners alike should soon be learning the various new and revised musical settings of the Order of Mass.

That did not happen in our diocese. Oh yes, there was some “training”, almost after the fact, but it did not emphasize singing the Mass, nor were the musical settings of the Order of Mass given much attention. The main thing that happened throughout the diocese was that cards were placed in the pews with the new words people needed to learn for the Gloria etc., but there was no mention that we should be changing our liturgical music habits as well. And we didn’t.

There was an attempt in our Diocese by the Society of St. Gregory the Great to bring the idea of “singing the Mass” to our parishes. The Society is a membership association of Catholic laity formed in 2008 to promote divine worship in accordance with the Supreme Magisterium of the Church.  Though it’s been somewhat squelched by the powers-that-be, the Society, for a time, had its own schola cantorum, and regularly sponsored presentations and workshops on the Sacred Liturgy, Gregorian chant, and sacred polyphony. This isn’t happening currently…and sadly.

Without the leadership and direction of the bishop, there will not be uniform changes to the liturgical music used in a diocese. Across the US, there have been some bishops who took action toward catechizing the faithful about the music: Bishop Thomas Olmsted in the Diocese of Phoenix; Bishop Joseph B. McFadden of the Diocese of Harrisburg; and Bishop Alexander Sample of the Diocese of Marquette (and, please God, he may bring new life to liturgical reform in the Archdiocese of Portland when he takes on his new assignment!). I’m sure (at least I hope) there are others, as well. But not here.

Here, in the Diocese of Baker, we see those few priests already mentioned struggling against the OCP pop music tide; but then we find that the pastor of a large and influential parish (where a new church seems to be supplanting the Cathedral as a place for ordinations) is promoting exactly the kind of music other priests are trying to eschew. Lord help us!

Although Bishop Vasa did address some liturgical abuses through his pastoral letters when he was our bishop, he did not do much about the music. (Of course, he was transferred to Santa Rosa before the New Translation was instituted, so I don’t know what he might have done with that.) When Bishop Vasa came to the Cathedral for Christmas, Easter, and the Chrism Mass, he would often chant the preface and some other parts of the Mass. It was always a startling disconnect to hear him intone a prayer only to have it followed by a country western version of a sung response be the people, complete with tambourine-jangling and upbeat guitar-strumming. I always wondered why either he or the “folk group” did not hear the discontinuity and adjust for it!

When, oh when, will priests and bishops recognize and respond to the facts that a) Gregorian chant has pride of place in the Mass; b) the organ has pride of place in the Mass; c) Gregorian chant propers (and ordinaries) are the preferred music – in particular the text of those chants – for the Mass? The few bishops who have provided leadership in this area give me hope, but I am tempted to despair when I look at the Diocese of Baker.

“Save the liturgy, save the world”, says Fr. Z. If bishops all over the country don’t start to understand this and do something about it, things are going to get worse and worse in the world.



  1. Do I take it this hootenanny is taking place at the new St. Francis church? Maybe the St. Gregory the Great society should gather its choristers and arrange to have a chant lollapalooza at the old St. Francis on the same date and time as this other shindig, to provide an alternative for those who like real music.

  2. Yes, Anita, it is at the new church, and the Stations of the Cross will be canceled to accommodate it! The SSGG doesn't really have a schola at this point, since no EF Mass has been celebrated in Bend in over a year, I believe. And there are other "politics" at work, too.

    Again, the most troublesome thing to me is the workshop that is also planned. Let the Haas fans have a concert (in the parish hall, or somewhere more appropriate than the church), but why pollute liturgical landscape with a workshop that features this kind of "music"?!?


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