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Letter To Praise And Worship Musicians
The Wanderer Press .Com ^ | Thursday, December 18th, 2008 | By JEFFREY TUCKER

Posted on 12/18/2008 11:52:10 AM PST by GonzoII

Letter To Praise And Worship Musicians

Photo by Matthew Gray

Msgr. Charles Pope of the Archdiocese of Washington, D. C., on December 8 offered the first Traditional Latin Mass at Mt. St. Mary’s Seminary in about 50 years. Mt. St. Mary’s is located in Emmitsburg, Md.; the Mass was celebrated in the seminary’s Immaculate Conception Chapel.

Letter To Praise And Worship Musicians


You are part of a Catholic generation that has chosen music as a path of spiritual dis­covery and expression within Catholicism, and music has been central to your own path toward greater understanding of the faith and its place in your life. You are us­ing this gift to give to others, precisely as St. Paul instructed the Corinthians to do. You do this in retreat settings but, more and more, in worship settings, including Mass, as a means of helping others find what you have found.

You are not unaware that the style of music you have chosen has no liturgical pre­cedent in the history of the faith. It is not that you have overtly rejected tradition in favor of innovation. Many of you have writ­ten to me that you would greatly appreci­ate a parish setting in which Gregorian chant and polyphony ( the only two musi­cal forms explicitly cited at Vatican II as proper to the Roman Rite) were sung as part of Mass.

But this is not the parish setting you in­herited and it doesn’t seem like an option now. The historical context here is every­thing. You were the third generation raised after the major changes following the Sec­ond Vatican Council. When your parents were very young, the standard music was new and innovative, but by the time you heard it, it had grown old and tired.

And there didn’t seem to be much of it: the same few Glorias and Holy Holys, and about 20 or so songs sung again and again, most of it suggestive of half- hearted at­tempts at folk music of some sort. This was what was considered “ traditional Catholic music,” and it didn’t seem to mean much to young people by the time you were com­ing of age.

The music problem reflected a larger problem. In your childhood and early teen years, you were part of a parish structure that had settled into a kind of routine that you found to be uneventful and static, even faithless. The catechism materials used in your CCD classes, even for Confirmation, were unchallenging and clichéd. The adult teachers and leaders in your parish lacked enthusiasm.

Even Mass, as much as you tried to throw yourself into it, began to seem blasé. There were new and odd names for every­thing: Confession behind a screen became face- to- face reconciliation, CCD became CFF, Mass became the “ Eucharistic Cele­bration,” processionals were “ gathering songs,” and you knew nothing of tradition­al devotions like holy hours and novenas.

The ghosts of the Catholic past were ev­erywhere in movies and popular culture: people kneeling for Communion, priests in black for requiem Masses, Latin, elaborate vestments, stories of rigorous server train­ing, incense, and tough nuns in schools — but you knew none of this. In many ways, the world in which you grew up had already been thoroughly de- Catholicized, and this was tragically true even of your own par­ish.

Gregorian chant was the same. It vari­ously became popular on the radio and in bestselling CDs but it was sung by monks in far- off lands. It wasn’t the music of the parish. Even such common tunes such as Pange Lingua and Adoro Te — the last remnants of a repertoire of tens of thou­sands of chants — were finally put to rest sometime in the 1980s. No one in the par­ish knew a thing about chant, and neither did there seem to be a way to find out more.

It was your misfortune that you inherit­ed what can only be described as a desert, and you can vaguely recall being bored with the whole thing. At some point in your teen years, that changed with a retreat or a par­ish mission or possibly World Youth Day or some other occasion. There was a spir­itual awakening in your life, and it centered on the realization of the powerful presence that Christ can have in your life. It brought you back to the confessional you had long neglected, and gave you a new apprecia­tion of the Real Presence in the Eucharist, as well as the power of the rosary and of features of Catholic life. This was a trans­forming event. This event was tied to the form of music called Praise and Worship, with its charac­teristic repeating phrases and dramatic beats and sounds. You could hear it on the ra­dio. You bought the CDs. You followed the Catholic bands of the new generation. And yet in your own parish, the music was very different. It was then and still largely re­mains that “traditional Catholic music” from the 1970s that had made such a splash in the years immediately following the Second Vatican Council but didn’t inspire you in the same way.

This was when you decided to apply your own musical skills to making a difference, usually for a Mass that the pastor set aside as LifeTeen or the Youth Mass. No one said that there was anything strange about this. Sure, some people objected to the style of music, that it was more like rock music than sacred music. But this is really an argument about taste. Why should you be expected to adopt the tastes of your par­ents and their parents? Their music too was based on the style of their times, and it doesn’t speak to your generation. This new Praise and Worship music connects with your time and your own religious revival. To sing it for Mass is only a matter of shar­ing your gift with others, in response to the call for evangelization.

What about Gregorian chant? You grant that there is an appeal here. You among many have the impression that choosing a chant rather than a Praise and Worship piece is merely a judgment call, a choice based on resources and timing. It is possi­ble to sing Adoro Te instead of something else. In so doing, you are doing what Vati­can II called for. All the better, perhaps, is to add some good chords and rhythm un­derneath it and sing it in a more familiar style.

What is truly tragic is that no one has alerted you to the real significance of chant. It goes far beyond using a chant as one of the four songs you can pick for Mass. The Gregorian chant grew up alongside the Mass itself, one step at a time. Some chants might date from the early Church, which sang the Psalms exclusively. The tra­dition developed as the liturgy developed over the next one thousand years as the parts of the Mass were organized and sys­temized into a liturgical year. There was music to go with the prayers. It was sung by martyrs and saints and heard in all times and all nations where the faith thrived for century after century.

The essential musical structure of the Mass as it emerged in the Middle Ages had an entrance prayer that was set to chant. This is called the Introit. Sometimes you hear the first word of the chant used to de­scribe the Mass of the day. This is where we get the terms “Gaudete Sunday,” “Laetare Sunday,” and “Requiem Mass.” What is called the “gathering song” or the “proces­sional hymn” is really a replacement for this Introit.

When Vatican II said that the chant should have primacy, what it means is that this In­troit should be sung, and that when it is not possible to sing it, the preference for chant still remains.

It is true with other parts of the Mass too. The offertory is not a musical intermission but the name of a real prayer that is set to mu­sic. The same is true of Communion. These are gorgeous chants. Even the Psalm has a melody in the chant books. The more you get to know these treasures, the more it strikes you just how unified the text and the music are. Their assignment is not at all random.

Often the melody clearly reflects the story of the text, so that the melody goes up when speaking of Heaven and down when speak­ing of humility. The complexity of them can be enrapturing the more you study them. You find beautiful presentations of Gospel narra­tives and parables. Each chant serves a par­ticular musical function. The introit and offer­tory are processional chants, for example, so they have a forward motion with less elabo­rate musical expression on individual words. The Psalm chants are more for reflection, so they are long and elaborate.

The chant, then, is not just one choice among many. It is the music of the Mass it­self, and the only form of music that truly qual­ifies by definition. It is attached to the Mass, a given part of its structure.

The chants mentioned above are called “propers” and they change week to week. There are also chants for the “ordinary” of the Mass, so-called because their text remains the same. There are parts for the people: Kyrie, Gloria, Credo, Agnus Dei. You have heard a few of these, most likely the ones people have started to sing for Lent. But the Church has given us fully 18 sets of these piec­es of music, and you can see from their struc­ture that they are intended for everyone to sing.

In the experience of our parish, people can pick up these ordinary chants rather quickly. They love singing them. They don’t need ac­companiment. They use the human voice alone, the very instrument that God has giv­en all of us. This way there is an absence of elitism in this music. It needs no specialists who know how to play piano and guitar and drums. Actually, you don’t even need the mu­sic really. In fact, for the first thousand years of Christianity, the chant was sung without being written out in a way that could be wide­ly distributed. It was learned and carried for­ward by frequency of use, the way people learn Praise and Worship music today.
There are other marks of chant that make it distinctive. It lacks a regular beat- style rhythm such as what we hear in rock, coun­try, soul, blues, or any other style. It is what is called plainsong, so there is an underlying pulse but it doesn’t cause you to want to tap your toe or dance. What it does do is draw the senses upward toward the Heavens. It as­sists in the goal of all liturgy, which is to take us out of time and help us pray and listen to eternal things. In contrast, music with a beat keeps us grounded and internal.

Another feature of chant is its humility. A major problem with Praise and Worship mu­sic is that it tends to focus everyone on the person doing the performing. The bands are featured in the front of the church. The band members are showered with compliments. The singing style elicits a kind of egoism that probably makes you uncomfortable but is in­tegral to popular styles. Chant is completely different because it does not seek to put the talent of the singer on exhibit. Instead, it is all about community prayer. The ego is bur­ied. It doesn’t unleash the self but rather re­quires a submission of self to holiness. In this way, it is like the faith: As St. John the Bap­tist said, let me decrease and let Him increase in me. This is what the chant does — what the chant requires.
You are right to suspect that chant requires a substantial change of pace. It is not just a matter of substituting one song for another. The chant leads the embrace of a complete­ly different approach to liturgy itself. The mu­sic serves the liturgy and the liturgy serves God. Where does that leave the singers and the community? Precisely where we should be: not as consumers but as servants.

You are all too aware that you were cheat­ed out of a robust form of Catholicism when growing up, not by design but merely because of the unfortunate timing. These were difficult days. In the same way that many aspects of the faith were not well presented to you, the music of the Church has not been presented to you either. But you were born into these times, as a musician, for a reason. Perhaps you are being called to make a difference.

The Pope has made the restoration of sa­cred music a centerpiece of his liturgical goals. He speaks about the issue often, and has written so much about it. Perhaps it is time to consider that he is onto something pro­foundly important here. The Pope speaks of “two fundamental types of music.” One he associates with Apol­lo, the ancient mythical god of light and rea­son. “This is the music that draws senses into spirit and so brings man to wholeness. It does not abolish the senses, but inserts them into the unity of this creature that is man. It ele­vates the spirit precisely by wedding it to the senses, and it elevates the senses by uniting them with the spirit. Thus this kind of music is an expression of man’s special place in the general structure of being.”

The other type of music he says is Diony­sian: “It drags man into the intoxication of the senses, crushes rationality, and subjects the spirit to the senses.” Rock music may have merit outside of liturgy, but in liturgy, the Pope writes that it is “in opposition to Chris­tian worship” because its musical structure encourages people “ released from them­selves by the experience of being part of a crowd and by the emotional shock of rhythm, noise, and special lighting effects. However, in the ecstasy of having all their defenses torn down, the participants sink, as it were, beneath the elemental force of the universe.”

Where does Praise and Worship fit into this divide? Be honest with yourself and consider that it tends more toward Dionysius than Apollo. That doesn’t mean that you must stop liking it or singing it or performing it. But providing music for Mass carries with it a spe­cial obligation. Everyone is asked to make a sacrifice and defer to the ritual. Musicians are being asked to do this too. But with this sac­rifice and obligation come liberation and the discovery of the purity and beauty of the faith. Every Pope since the earliest years has made a similar distinction between the sacred and the profane, and it was Pius X who stat­ed so clearly that the standard by which all music at Catholic liturgy must be judged is the chant.

That doesn’t mean that chant is the only music appropriate for Mass. Renaissance composers sought to elaborate on the chant with new forms that retained its spirit, and many modern composers are doing the same. There is also a place for English chant and for newly composed Psalms. What the chant provides in these cases is a standard to measure its suitability. It is essential that it remain the foundational song of the Catho­lic Church, for if we don’t know or under­stand the foundation, it is impossible to make any judgment at all.
If the enterprise of learning something completely new sounds daunting, keep in mind that no one can become completely fa­miliar with all chant. That would take several lifetimes. We are all in a state of relative ig­norance on this subject as compared with the mind of the Church and the experience of tradition. It is the same with Catholic theolo­gy: No one can know it all. But that should not stop us from learning what we can, prac­ticing what we can, and doing our part to hand on the tradition to the next generation. We have a job to do, a job that we have been assigned. We are not the first to have been given this task. At other points in his­tory, the chant was nearly completely lost, buried in the confusion over passing musical fashion. It returned again and again through the prayerful efforts of faithful musicians who were willing to give of themselves to bring the beauty back and make it live in our parishes in glorious ways.
The first step is to encounter the chant and consider its beauty. “The encounter with the beautiful,” writes the Pope, “can become the wound of the arrow that strikes the heart and in this way opens our eyes, so that later, from this experience, we take the criteria for judgment and can correctly evaluate.”

Perhaps the chant will touch you as it has touched me and millions upon millions of oth­ers since the earliest years of the faith, and will continue to touch people until the end of time. If it does, you too might enter into the stream of living persons who have sung the chant and played some role in showing the world the most beautiful music this side of Heaven.

+ + +

( Wanderer readers can contact Jeffrey Tucker at:

The Wanderer has been providing its readers with news and commentary from
an orthodox Catholic perspective for over 135 years. From vital issues
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TOPICS: Catholic; Prayer; Religion & Culture; Worship
KEYWORDS: chant; latinmass; liturgy; music
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1 posted on 12/18/2008 11:52:10 AM PST by GonzoII
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To: GonzoII

I play in my church’s band. We rock the house with the likes of Lincoln Brewster, Third Day, Hillsong, I think Christian Rock is better today than anything in the “secular” world.

2 posted on 12/18/2008 12:10:01 PM PST by randog (What the...?!)
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To: GonzoII

Good post. As an Evangelical Christian, I can say I experienced much of the same as Catholics and long for a return to humility and prayer during the worship service experience.

I must say that I also appreciate the modern praise and worship experience and feel that it was a necessary part of my faith journey. I still like it today, but don’t expect a deeper experience from it.

3 posted on 12/18/2008 12:12:35 PM PST by freeagle
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To: freeagle
“I must say that I also appreciate the modern praise and worship”

I don't know if Jeniffer Knapp fits that genre, but I always have her CDs on hand, love to listen to her while I'm driving.

4 posted on 12/18/2008 12:16:59 PM PST by GonzoII ("That they may be one...Father")
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To: randog
I play in my church’s band. We rock the house with the likes of Lincoln Brewster, Third Day, Hillsong, I think Christian Rock is better today than anything in the “secular” world.

Same here...last week I taught the worship team Lincoln's new tune...."The power of Your Name".

when I first got the CD that song stuck out and I know we had to play it...

5 posted on 12/18/2008 12:30:13 PM PST by Gone_Postal (We are not interested in the possibilities of defeat)
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To: GonzoII

Ping to read later - looks interesting.

6 posted on 12/18/2008 12:31:19 PM PST by Alex Murphy ( "Every country has the government it deserves" - Joseph Marie de Maistre)
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To: freeagle
I must say that I also appreciate the modern praise and worship experience and feel that it was a necessary part of my faith journey. I still like it today, but don’t expect a deeper experience from it.

what I see during Worship...when I get a deeper experience is when the songs are song TO Jesus and not just about Him...where you pour out your heart and soul to Him. seems to me when ever that is the case the Holy Spirit comes and evokes true worship

7 posted on 12/18/2008 12:36:30 PM PST by Gone_Postal (We are not interested in the possibilities of defeat)
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To: GonzoII

If the Latin mass was good enough for Jesus then its good enough for the rest of us ;)

8 posted on 12/18/2008 12:40:05 PM PST by Jibaholic ("Those people who are not ruled by God will be ruled by tyrants." --William Penn)
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To: Jibaholic

“If the Latin mass was good enough for Jesus then its good enough for the rest of us ;)”

Jesus spoke Aramaic??

Propably new some Latin though.

9 posted on 12/18/2008 12:49:41 PM PST by GonzoII ("That they may be one...Father")
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To: GonzoII


10 posted on 12/18/2008 12:50:30 PM PST by GonzoII ("That they may be one...Father")
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To: Gone_Postal

Oh my Jesus... I want you for my BO-OY-friend.

11 posted on 12/18/2008 1:09:38 PM PST by ichabod1 (Reagan wouldÂ’ve fired them.)
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To: randog
I play in my church’s band. We rock the house

Our church had a band that "rocked the house." They turned mass into a carnival. When people objected to their music, the pastor responded by publishing a music schedule in the weekly bulletin. The rockin' mass was always poorly attended, save the musicians' relatives and other people caught unawares. Eventually, it was just their relatives, and the other masses were over crowded.

I led the effort to do away with them and succeeded. They now put on concerts on Saturday nights, in the church, with primarily their families in attendance. I'm sure they miss their "captive" audience, but we were all tired of listening to hippie guitar licks and full drum kits during communion.

Rock it somewhere else, buddy. There's little enough tradition and reverence left in the church.
12 posted on 12/18/2008 1:11:43 PM PST by ConservativeWarrior (In last year's nests, there are no birds this year.)
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To: ichabod1

not quite what I had in mind

13 posted on 12/18/2008 1:32:33 PM PST by Gone_Postal (We are not interested in the possibilities of defeat)
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To: GonzoII

The author seems to be addressing an audience that exists only in his own head. This is a tiresome literary style that he would do well to drop; instead, he could exercise the humility he professes to admire and simply state his opinions as such.

14 posted on 12/18/2008 1:42:05 PM PST by Tax-chick ("And the rum is for all your good vices.")
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To: GonzoII
I have to say, as a 20-something-year-old convert to the Church: this letter is really spot-on in alot of ways. For some reason, many “in the pews” seem unable (or unwilling) to see the danger of losing our musical patrimony in Catholic liturgy.

Really and truly, “lex orandi, lex credendi”: the way we pray (i.e. worship) profoundly affects the way we believe - even in those effects are incremental over time. To pretend as though the Church got it way, way wrong for nearly 2,000 years in composing and preserving Gregorian chant in her liturgy is foolish, imho. It is ridiculously cavalier to assume that we are sooooo much smarter than those who saw value in preserving the special and unique musical components of the Mass.

If you argue that “chant was fine for people back then because it was a different time, we need modern music to make worship more relevant,” I'd say your very confused. You see, chant has always been the purview of the Church and only the Church - it was, and always has been, intimately connected to and associated with divine worship. There has ALWAYS been secular music apart from the music of the Mass. Why we have become so arrogant so as to think that WE know better than the past two millenia of Church members and that we not only CAN but SHOULD mix and confuse sacred and secular music is beyond me...

Just my 2 cents. Tucker is ahead of his time if you smell where the liturgical wind is blowing in the Catholic Church...

15 posted on 12/18/2008 2:22:56 PM PST by DogwoodSouth
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To: DogwoodSouth
I should add: The reason I mentioned my age (20s) is to illustrate the point that I count myself among many, many younger Catholics who do not appreciate the condescending assumption that “young people” need/crave/want/desire “relative” music in the Mass.

My experience in my own large parish has been that o'er and o'er, it is younger singles and families who fight for a RESTORATION of the things sacred so callously disregarded and jettisoned by an aging clique who is SHOCKED that we want to change what they've implemented over the past decades (banal music is just one example). I think Tucker is under 40 himself.

16 posted on 12/18/2008 2:27:58 PM PST by DogwoodSouth
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To: GonzoII
You are not unaware that the style of music you have chosen...

Music! I was wondering what that awful racket was throughout the Mass. Now I know.

17 posted on 12/18/2008 2:45:48 PM PST by Jeff Chandler (You don't have a soul. You are a Soul. You have a body. -C.S. Lewis)
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To: Jeff Chandler

You must have been there the day the guitar played the “Santo” in 3/4 while the choir sang it in 4/4 and the drum played in 9/8. I think it was negative ions or something.

18 posted on 12/18/2008 2:58:31 PM PST by Tax-chick ("And the rum is for all your good vices.")
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To: ConservativeWarrior
Rock it somewhere else, buddy.

LOL!! The church's mission is based around the non-traditional, and it works for them. People do come in and don't like it and leave, and others stay, just like any other church. I stayed and decided to join the band. This church isn't for everybody, but it wasn't intended to be. BTW, I still go to my neighborhood catholic church. I like the traditional, too.

Merry Christmas!

19 posted on 12/18/2008 3:17:17 PM PST by randog (What the...?!)
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To: Gone_Postal

Our favorite new song is “Today is the Day”. A great way to start service; very uplifting!

20 posted on 12/18/2008 3:19:59 PM PST by randog (What the...?!)
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