Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Musicianship at Mass

Building a Musical Foundation on Rock

Over the summer I had the fortunate opportunity to work on an ongoing research project concerning sacred and liturgical music and the Roman Rite of the Mass under the mentorship of Father Michael Joncas, professor of Catholic Studies and Theology at the University of Saint Thomas. The summer afforded me the chance to look at Church documents and the Mass and music in a way I could not in the classroom yet had wanted to explore for a long time.

For the first phase of my research, I read numerous documents from Pope Pius X’s Tra le Sollecitudini through Sing to the Lord! Music in Divine Worship written by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops in 2007. I quickly realized sacred music and liturgy do not have the clear cut explanations I thought they might. In fact, I just became more and more confused as the research progressed. I began a second phase of the research which involved “participant observation”, that is, attending a Mass while observing reactions from the congregation, music style and performance, attention to rubrics, and other elements of the experience of Mass at any given parish.

These observations are not immune to my own personal reactions. In fact, my reactions are key. I was raised in a fairly “traditional” parish; many of the more “progressive” parishes stretched my sensibilities and made me ask serious questions about my own faith and prayer life, areas of critical importance when planning a career as a Church musician. Through all the subjective and varied opinions, I had to take a step back and search for the objective, some grounded truth on which I could be as one “who dug deeply and laid the foundation on rock [which] could not [be shaken]…because it had been well built” (Lk 6: 48). Music at Mass is not just a service to the Mass. It is meant to become the liturgy itself. Hymns are secondary. The true music at Mass are elements like a chanted Eucharistic Prayer, the Great Amen, or a sung Responsorial Psalm. If music is liturgy, then how is musical artistry appropriately used?

Benedict XVI, then Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, wrote Spirit of the Liturgy in 1999. As a theologian from the Second Vatican Council, as one deeply devoted to music and liturgy, and as one elected to the Apostolic See of Saint Peter, I figured he would be a good place to start. He writes in his chapter, “Music and the Liturgy” that “Artistic freedom increasingly asserts its rights, even in the liturgy. … It is clear that these opportunities for artistic creativity and the adoption of secular tunes brought danger with them. Music was no longer developing out of prayer, but, with the new demand for artistic autonomy, was now heading away from the liturgy; it was becoming an end in itself…[and] alienating the liturgy from its true nature” (145-146). It is prudent to note, he was talking about the “Great Tradition” of Catholic music, that of the Middle Ages!

In our transitions as a culture from one age to the next, we find trends in the any era but especially the modern one, to see “music as pure subjectivity, music as the expression of mere will” (155). The Catholic musician must ground himself in the doctrine and devotions of the Church, using it as the inexhaustible source for further artistry and expressions of faith. Benedict reminds musicians that “Humble submission to what goes before us releases authentic freedom” (156) in the life of service to the Church.

As a musician, it is easy to fall into the “musician’s ego”, to worry about each last detail and be so consumed by the music you forget about the Mass and Who you glorify in the work. As Catholics, musicians need special devotion away from making music. Daily Mass and reception of Holy Communion, Eucharistic Adoration, devotion to the Blessed Mother, and contemplative silence are just a few concrete ways to build a steady relationship with the Divine. Many of the problems in maintaining a sense of orthodoxy to the Church and making the Mass accessible to all is a loss of the foundational devotion that has fed the Church for centuries. My purpose here is not to condemn or lift up one musical style over another. All genres must be analyzed with an orthodox heart and conscience.

The music before the Second Vatican Council was not broken; it worked and fed thousands of saints on the way to holiness! The test of time proves what works and what does not. Contemporary musicians ought to draw on the success of the Catholic Church’s store of musical treasures and once the house has been built on rock, then move forward to develop the Church in the new millennium, in the call of Pope John Paul II, “The New Evangelization”!

Trust Mother Church in all things. She has never steered a saint wrong yet!

This article was written for The Signature, the student-run newsletter of the Department of Catholic Studies at the University of Saint Thomas, Saint Paul, Minnesota.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Top 10: Sunday 6 September 2009

Here are the top 10 reasons why today rocked (in no particular order):

1. I attended the Minnesota State Fair.
2. We were back to celebrating regular Masses on campus.
3. I had brunch in the cafeteria.
4. I ate Alligator on a Stick.
5. I ate Sweet Martha's Cookies until they came out of my ears.
6. Most of the fraternity and my entire house has moved in.
7. I felt really good when I got up this morning.
8. Mother Teresa is watching out for me.
9. I finished The Mysterious Benedict Society.
10. Frances introduced me to Alexi Mordoch.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

12 Years in Heaven

Mother Teresa of Calcutta, humble sister of the slums, went to her Heavenly Father twelve years ago today. In marking the feast day of this servant of Jesus, let us pray to the now Blessed Teresa of Calcutta that we may have the grace to see Christ in the poorest of the poor.

Saint Paul Seminary in Saint Paul, Minnesota has a relic of Mother Teresa in their chapel, a piece of her hair. How blessed I felt to be able to pray before it begging her intercession on this, her feast day.

It is right and good that we go out and seek the poor, the suffering, help the third world countries, seeking to fix poverty and sickness in it's worst form. We should never forget, however, one of Mother Teresa's most frequent messages and pieces of advice. Seek the poorest of the poor right where you are. Who is Christ waiting to be helped, loved, cared for, satiated?

Christ's thirst on the cross, a thirst for souls.

We are United in the Hearts of Jesus and Mary!

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Marking Time

The past few weeks have been a whirlwind of marking time. Mom is starting a new job. Patrick is off to college as a Freshman. Today, I returned to the University of Saint Thomas for my junior year of college. Things are coming around to me for the second time: campus ministry retreat, familiar faces, greeting a new class of Freshman, catching up with friends I haven't seen all summer.

And time is marked as new experiences show themselves. I will no longer be taking theory. The campus landscape changes by the day. I am taking on new responsibilities and I do not look at things the same way I did one or two years ago. (Hopefully I am more Eucharistic centred.) One of the biggest changes is living in the Catholic Studies Men's House. I moved in today to a house owned by UST where I will live with four other men coupled with another house of four in the Fraternity of Saint Michael. Suddenly I am back at school but in a way I have never been before. Life seems to take form. God has his hand in everything and I am giving it all to Him. May I be able to take life moment by moment; may I always find God in everything.

We never know what direction our lives will take us. We never know when things may begin. We never know when things may end. In all things may God be glorified. As our faiths deepen, we can be more sure that we are right where God wants us even in our biggest struggles.

I'm told Sister Briege McKenna has said:

"Give it all to Jesus. He'll take care of everything!"

We are United in the Hearts of Jesus and Mary!

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Recent Events and My Musings

It has been nearly two months since I last posted. So much has happened! News channels are brimming with stories, scandals, and debates. What a critical time we live in.

Healthcare Reform
The absolute worst way to reform healthcare is to pass the public option and begin socialized medicine. We can all agree, healthcare needs reform. The government should not, however, be given this power. Make reforms in the private sector. Make reforms in insurance companies. The 47 million uninsured number is blown up to a crisis number. If analysed, we can figure out better ways to get people quality healthcare. To hurt the quality of care for those who have good healthcare is as much of an outrage as those who have none. (Not to mention the disrespect for life throughout HR3200's 1,018 pages.)

Death of Senator Kennedy
I tip my hat to the lion of the Senate. Glenn Beck, FoxNews host, put it well and I agree: I don't like the man man's politics but he always stood up for what he believed in. Dick Morris, former advisor to President Clinton, also put it well: He is a compass to the left. You may not want to go left but at least you know which direction is which. He did a number of good things during his career but he did not stand for life. He claimed Roman Catholicism and at the same time claimed support of abortion. His funeral was a laugh in the face of Catholics to have it broadcast on all the cable networks from the Basilica of Our Lady of Perpetual Help in Boston, with Sean Cardinal O'Malley present, particularly the policized General Intercessions. Please read a statement from the president of Human Life International, Reverend Thomas J. Euteneuer.

CIA Enhanced Interrogation/Torture
The CIA is a nasty game to play and I am in awe of those who take on the job of protecting our country in this manner. Shooting from the hip: Waterboarding is not torture. Former Vice President Cheney is right. This investigation is going to weaken the CIA system and make those who work there scared of what accusation will come next. Let us be realistic and vigilant in the protection of our country.

Scotland and Lybia
A terrorist who killed a plane-full of people should not be released on "compassionate grounds". There is Christian compassion and then there is international security and relations. A killer returned home to a hero's welcome and now there are reports of the bomber's release being the result of a multi-million dollar oil deal. Outrage.

And so...
Your comments?