Friday, July 08, 2005

NAPA(L)M's Star Lectures in Milwaukee

Fr. Michael Joncas, well-known Modern Hymnist, spoke at the National Assoc'n of Pastoral Musicians (NAPM--or as we know it, NAPALM) Conference held here in Milwaukee last week.

"I believe any style of music may potentially bear the weight of mystery unless proven wrong in practice." he said.

Now one might very well ask: what does THAT mean? Well, maybe this will help:

"People will ask questions about the texts we sing, not about the notes we sing. You have got to look at the words. Was I captivated by the music or by what the music was singing about?"

That's at least partly correct. Text is, indeed, primary. Of course, "rap" music emphasizes text...

Pressing on: Joncas stated that "differences of opinion" have existed for hundreds of years--that in the time of Thomas Aquinas, the argument was 'whether music in itself should be used or not.' This is an interesting take on history. Since numbers of Popes have written on the topic of Sacred Music BEFORE 1200AD, and since St. Augustine and St. Paul BOTH emphasized 'singing Psalms' (etc., etc.) I don't know how Fr. Joncas can state that there was some controversy about the use of song.

But never mind.

According to the report in the Catholic Herald (, Father went on to clarify which "main ideas" all styles should follow: "...which form actually leads our parish into common prayer," was his answer. Another way to express it: "Whatever turns you on."


He went on to explain that 'some parishes prefer to sit and quietly sing along with the hymns, [while] others find themselves moving their entire body and clapping along to the beat, praising with their whole body and mind.' If we ignore the horrific syntax, we get the idea.

Let's set the stage with a couple of definitions. Hymnody, strictly speaking, is a form which is different from chant. It is also different from sacred music. Some hymns, such as the Adoro Te, are thought of as "Chant" because it is included in "Chant" books--but it is a hymn.

Sacred Music differs from hymns by virtue of the text: whereas a hymn is generally composed music with meter specific to the text's meter (you know, "feet" per line), musica sacra is composed using texts from the Mass or from Scripture which are not necessarily metric (e.g. the Gloria from the Mass.)

Basically, Fr. Joncas is addressing hymns, although there's enough imprecision in the news report and in the quotations they provide to speculate that he's also talking about musica sacra.

It seems that Joncas has decided to ignore the 800-pound canary: Pope Pius X's writings on the topic of music for the Church, which do NOT admit of "any style" and which have simply not been abrogated. Pius was quite clear: the music must have form (that is, it has to have artistic integrity), and it must BOTH "edify and sanctify" the Faithful while "glorifying God." Pius X went on to say that the closer church music comes to Gregorian Chant in 'style,' the better it is for worship. While Pius X did not reference Psalm 47/7, Cdl Ratzinger did--and to no one's surprise, the results were the same: "Singing in accordance with wisdom implies a word-oriented art, which is not concerned merely with intelligibility but "stands under the primacy of logos" and makes demands upon our highest moral and spiritual powers. The second translation, artfully, tells us that encountering God challenges a person to respond to the best of his or her abilities. God gave Moses detailed specifications for the tabernacle; artistic endeavor in the book of Exodus is portrayed as a participation in God's creativity."

It should be apparent that SOME "styles" will simply not 'glorify God' and may not 'edify' the Faithful. SOME "styles" will not 'sanctify' the Faithful, either--such as rock'n'roll, whether 'soft' or 'hard.' And some musical offerings simply do not cut the mustard in terms of the artistic requirements.

Fr. Joncas ignores Pius X perhaps because he also hears the footsteps of another Pope--the current one, Benedict XVI, who has made a number of insightful and worthwhile comments on the music/worship situation.

In an article hitting the high points of Cdl. Ratzinger's thoughts on the matter, the author quotes R.: "Music in particular has split into two worlds: pop (a manufactured commodity) and rationally constructed high-brow music (an elite, degenerate form of "classical" music)." In Ratzinger's opinion, NEITHER of these is suitable for church. Fr. Joncas' ouerve of music, by the way, falls largely into the "pop" category...

Even more devastating to Joncas' "whatever turns you on" theory of church music is the following:

"What are the new and better ideas of the liturgical experts? They insist on two basic values: "The 'primary value' of a renewed liturgy is, we are told, 'the full and authentic action of all persons.'" The people of God proclaims its identity in song. The second value judgment follows: music is the power that brings about cohesiveness within the group. Celebration, ergo, becomes creativity; the "how" becomes more important than the "what." "

To this, Ratzinger responds:

In actuality, the Church is the communio sanctorum of all places and all times. Romano Guardini has elaborated upon the momentous consequences of realizing that the communion of saints... is the true subject of the liturgy. The Church's liturgy has an objective and positive character, because it lives in three ontological dimensions: cosmos, history and mystery. Liturgy has a cosmic dimension because as believers we do not create it, but participate in something greater that transcends us all. As a result of its historic dimension, it develops as a living thing while maintaining its identity (cf. the discussion of biblical culture, above). Finally, liturgy's dimension of mystery means that we do not initiate the liturgical event; rather, it originates in a call and a divine act of love, to which our response is obedience.

Finally, the Catechism actually has something to say:

The new Catechism, on the other hand, sums up the best insights of the Liturgical Movement. Liturgy means "service in the name of/on behalf of the people." But "the People of God is not simply there, as the Germans, French, Italians, or other peoples are; it comes into being again and again only through the service of the Son and by his lifting us into the community of God which we cannot enter on our own . . . Every liturgical celebration is an action of Christ the priest and his Body which is the Church (p. 134; cf. CCC 1069-1070)."

Certainly not a "do your own thing" teaching, is it, Father???


Anonymous said...

I'm suspecting a bit of editorial liberty was taken with the musically relativistic subtitle given to the article.

I'll provide some additional grist for the mill, though. Stay tuned.

Bernard Brandt said...

Bravo, sir, Bravo!

Excellent debunking job.

Do please continue to give them Hell (that is, the liturgicides). Perhaps that way, they might avoid Hell in the next life.

Brian Michael Page said...

Bernard, I love that term "liturgicides". Never heard that one before! :-))

Excellent work on both Dad29's and Aristotle's articles.