söndag 30 juni 2013

If you don't like the heat get out of the kitchen

This post a couple of weeks ago aroused a lot of animosity because the musicians concerned chose to identify themselves. Which of course they did not need to do - they could have kept a low profile, taken notice and put their house in order.

Being in charge of church music is like driving a bus. A lot of people are listening or watching - it is a very public affair. Those in the driving seat can expect criticism if they do it wrong. It is common sense for them to keep their backsides covered by making themselves familiar with the regulations and sticking to them. The music in the Catholic church should follow the calendar or occasion, in accordance with Sacrosanctum Concilium and the General Instruction of the Roman Missal. The Mass is not a concert and it leaves little leeway for personal taste.  If the choir is up to the task, it might do Britten's Missa Brevis, which would not be particularly to my liking but since it follows the text, there would be no grounds for me to complain.

If musicians cannot take flak, then they should not put themselves in the position where they might receive it, especially if they are paid to do the job. As the saying goes, "If you don't like the heat, get out of the kitchen".

fredag 28 juni 2013

Traditional Latin Mass Phobia

Msgr. Moises Andrade's Tridentine Mass
The previous posting (Turn round, Father) stirred up a surprising amount of antagonism. It seems as if there is some kind of phobia against the celebration of Mass facing the direction that orthodox Christians have done for 1900 years, and in Latin. It might be called Traditional Latin Mass Phobia. It is even widespread amongst priests, who refuse even to talk about the subject. You have to wonder what they have been taught at seminary and even why they want to become priests at all.

Yet it is a misapprehension to imagine that we have understood the Mass if we have understood the words that are being said. This seems to be linked with the idea that the Mass is a re-enactment of the Last Supper which seems to be linked to the celebration of Mass facing the people which makes the altar look like a communion table which is presumably Protestant. As a convert from Judaism I find this disturbing in the extreme, as the Catholic doctrine of Mass as Sacrifice is so clearly a continuation of the Jewish concept temple sacrifice and its replacement in post-Temple Judaism by an additional commemorative service.

Thus it is distressing to me to see the Catholic church cutting itself off from its Jewish roots in this way. There is a lot of work to be done. This could usefully start by celebrating Mass more frequently facing the same way as the congregation, which would help people to understand that it is being done on behalf of the people. When people talk about the priest turning his back on the congregation, it is a sign that they have not got the point.

tisdag 25 juni 2013

Turn round, Father!

Monseigneur  Jean-Yves Riocreux
God is of course omnipresent but Mass takes place within a cultural context. We bring all our past experiences to it, which connect to, and then associate with, what is happening in front of us.

In both the contemporary and historical cultural contexts, this confrontational versus populi configuration has been about with power. Such a universal association cannot be simply brushed away.

The celebration of Mass facing the people has nothing to do with the Novus Ordo as such. It began as a 60s fashion based on an erroneous understanding of the architecture of some ancient churches in Rome. The effect is that many priests behave like actors, or worse - haughty and arrogant.

When the priest celebrates Mass in the same direction as the congregation, it is clear that the priest is both servant and leader. When the priest celebrates Mass with his face towards the people, he looks like some kind of chief or ruler. Or perhaps a shopkeeper or petty official. We pick this up unconsciously as oppressive, as an emphasis on the priest's power and inequality. It is surprising that liberal Catholics, of all people, have almost never picked this up.

söndag 16 juni 2013

Horrible liturgy last Sunday

This was the Introit for last Sunday, the 11th of the year.


The translation is
Hearken, O Lord, unto my voice which has called out to you; deign to be my help, forsake me not, do not despise me, O God my Saviour. Ps. The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear?

We did not get to hear it at my local church. Instead, Mass kicked off with a blast on the organ that would have been right for the start of a circus, followed by a version of "Morning has broken", the children's hymn that was recorded by Cat Stevens in the 1970s. The rest of the liturgy was pretty dire as well.

I mentioned this to some friends over coffee afterwards. They couldn't see the point I was trying to make. Their response, and it is a widespread view, is that Protestant hymns are a good thing to have in the Catholic Mass because we should be ecumenical in our choice of music. The problem with this is that the texts might not even be in accordance with Catholic doctrine, but even if they were, it means that the texts and associated music that have belonged to Catholic the liturgy for more than a millenium get squeezed out and replaced by something that does not belong. This is like putting one's heirlooms of Old Master paintings in the attic and replacing them by cheap prints.

Apart from being inappropriate, this was in breach of the regulations in the General Instruction on the Roman Missal. The latest version (2002) says:

"There are four options for the Entrance Chant: (1) the antiphon from the Roman Missal or the Psalm from the Roman Gradual as set to music there or in another musical setting; (2) the seasonal antiphon and Psalm of the Simple Gradual; (3) a song from another collection of psalms and antiphons, approved by the Conference of Bishops or the Diocesan Bishop, including psalms arranged in responsorial or metrical forms; (4) a suitable liturgical song similarly approved by the Conference of Bishops or the Diocesan."

How "Morning has broken" is an appropriate or suitable substitute for a entrance antiphon on a penitential theme - the readings were about Mary Magdalen - is beyond my understanding. I would guess that it was chosen because of the Cat Stevens association.

It didn't get any better as things went on. The Ordinary was one I had never heard before, the first of the readers swallowed most of his words, the sermon was too long, there is no musical setting to the Creed in Swedish but nobody thought to sing Credo 3 even though the parish all know it, and we finished with that piece of Victorian Anglican bombast Holy, Holy, Holy to the setting by J B Dykes. I was glad when it was over and could not get out of the church fast enough.

Praying for a power cut

The organ was grotesquely loud for most of the time, drowning out the singing, with the organist bashing out discords in the bass, creating unpleasant sounds that could be felt rather than heard. I ended up praying for a power cut. It was not answered.

I gather that there have been complaints about the organist for years and the parish priest ought to get a grip of the situation. The organist should assist the worship, not get in the way of it. The organ is in any case bigger than is needed for the size of the building and the organist needs to be given strict instructions to play the instrument with due restraint.

I normally go to an Extraordinary Form Mass somewhere else to avoid this hour of unpleasantness, not for any other reason. Unfortunately it is being suspended for the summer. It was salutary to be reminded how bad things are at my local parish. When the Novus Ordo Mass is normally done so badly, no wonder there is still a demand for the old form.

torsdag 13 juni 2013

Post-modern worship

One of the reasons why I am so keen to see the wider use of the traditional forms of Catholic worship is that it draws in the atheists by addressing them at that level of cognition which cannot be answered by the intellect.

I wish our theologians were better informed on recent developments in neuroscience and cognitive psychology - they would then realise that the 1960s thinking that still seems to dominate in intellectual circles of the Catholic church has run its course. The architecture and liturgy that was leading-edge in the 1970s can have little appeal to the generation born in the 1990s. Why can we not learn from our Russian Orthodox brothers whose Church has sprung so vigorously back to life in the past decade, out of next to nothing, on the basis of traditional forms of worship? It is depressing to compare the start of this liturgy with that in my local parish. Mass begins with a fanfare blasted out by the organist, which would be exactly right to herald the entrance of the performing elephants at a circus.

It is the worship of Byzantium and Counter-Reformation Rome that can engage with the spirit of Post-Modernism. I suspect these Russians know exactly what they are doing.

onsdag 12 juni 2013

A dispute far from settled

I had a discussion with a friend the other day about the benefits of using Latin more widely in the Catholic liturgy. His response was that we should concentrate on getting a better Swedish liturgy and then to walk off.

Of course one does not preclude the other, but it is over forty years since the vernacular was introduced into the Catholic liturgy and one would have thought that things would have settled down to the point that it would no longer be a contested question. Unfortunately, things never have settled down.

The situation here in Sweden is in many ways better than in Britain, but it is far from satisfactory. In Britain, the vernacular was hampered by a banal translation that took liberties with the text. In due course the Ordinary was set to mostly banal music by composers with little talent, but more often, the hymn sandwich came be standard practice: hymns either newly written or of Protestant origin, interspersed with the Ordinary of the Mass spoken by the congregation -the resulting sound being, "rhubarb, rhubarb, rhubarb." There was never a satisfactory English setting for the Creed.

Now that there is a new English translation, things are almost back to square one. There is a new interest in singing the new Propers instead of falling back on metrical hymns. Unfortunately, the rhythm and syntax of the English language means that it is difficult to set texts to Psalm tones in a way that makes sense of the meaning of those texts. Nor do the Gregorian settings for the Ordinary go well in English. Attempts to set the Creed to existing Gregorian music also fail on the texts because the emphases end up in the wrong places. There are some old Anglican settings that would probably work, such as the sixteenth century Marbeck Creed and Our Father, but there seems to be little interest in following that avenue.

The situation in Sweden is in some ways very different. There is an over-use of metrical hymns of Protestant origin. These set a Lutheran tone to the liturgy as a whole. It is not undignified but it does not establish the Catholic sensibility set by the kind of liturgy, wholly in Latin, one would hear at somewhere such as the London Oratory or Westminster Cathedral. When the music is English and borrowed for use at a different season or occasion the effect can be ludicrous. I recently went to an ordination where one of the hymns was to the tune of "Abide with me", Britain's favourite funeral hymn!

There is, however, a wider use than in the English liturgy of modal music in the Gregorian chant style. The language and psalm tones work together. There have been adaptations of some of the old liturgical texts that cannot be faulted - for instance, for Good Friday. Someone has produced an excellent set of Office Hymns for use by religious communities. Settings of the Ordinary are of mixed quality. Some are good adaptations, but others are clumsy. The Advent/Lent Sanctus is sung all the year round, like food out-of-season. There is no setting for the Creed, which makes it hard to remember. The overall sound of the language is harsh in comparison to Latin.

In Sweden, a new translation and service book, Cecilia, were issued earlier in the year, but unfortunately, the problems were compounded rather than addressed. With over 1300 pages on very thin paper and 2mm type, the book is not easy to handle and use.

There was insufficient weeding-out of the protestant metrical hymns. There is recent music of indifferent quality which did not deserve to be included. There is still no setting for the Creed. The Gregorian settings of both Swedish and Latin were issued in a new type of five-line notation that makes the music hard to read and impossible to sing with any expression without much annotation; the pieces are unrecognisable to anyone familiar with the same music in traditional notation.

This has done little to help in the aim of improving the quality of the Swedish liturgy. What needs to be done? It would be useful if all the Swedish texts, were re-set in Gregorian four-line notation. As an experiment, I tried this with one of the Ordinaries during Lent and the result was an immediate improvement in readability and in the quality of the sound. The Good Friday hymn "Höga kors, du enda ädla" also gained from being put into Gregorian chant notation. The Office Hymns in particular, would benefit from having the music written out for every line. It would also help religious communities if the Swedish translation of the Office was issued with the music, but that would be a huge labour of love, and an expensive printing job to boot. Which then raises the question of whether it is really worth the effort when the Latin liturgy is already available in turnkey form?

The majority of Catholics, including the priests, are immigrants and as Swedish is not their native tongue, there are foreign chaplaincies: thus there are many parishes where Mass is said in half a dozen different languages but not Latin, the official language of the Catholic church! One effect is to split parishes into language groups, and from that point of view it would help if people were brought together with a single liturgy. Getting the Swedish liturgy into better shape, with an authentically Catholic sound is, in my view, a project worth pursuing, but I believe this needs to run alongside the improvement of the liturgy through the wider use of Latin.

Latin is one of the three Holy languages. Its universal use is both a sign and means of ensuring the Catholicity of the Roman church. This needs to be firmly pointed out to anyone who says "I don't like Latin in the liturgy".


måndag 10 juni 2013

A New Recusancy?

The English composer William Byrd was a Catholic in Recusant times, when they were persecuted for their faith. The music he wrote for the underground Catholic community features in this edition of the BBC Early Music Show.

The English Reformation was a slow process on the ground, as many priests did their best to maintain the practices of Catholic worship despite the changes that were going on all round. This was largely a story of betrayal by the Catholic bishops and clergy - the faithful bishops were in a minority and only St John Fisher paid the death penalty. There was, however, no firm break until Pope Pius V excommunicated Queen Elizabeth in 1570 and then the serious persecutions began. Known as the Penal times, the persecution of English Catholics did not come to an end until the 1680s, and the last legal disabilities were not removed until the nineteenth century.

For the man in the pew, the transition time must have been a difficult one to negotiate, as it became necessary to discern the essentials. There is a contemporary resonance wt. It is widely accepted that the liturgy is a mess, though many would deny this. Some blame the Second Vatican Council and the Novus Ordo Mass, but that is an argument that is difficult to sustain. It is perfectly possible to celebrate the Novus Ordo Mass in a way that virtually identical from the Tridentine form of the Mass. All that is necessary is for the priest to face the altar Ad Orientem and to follow the liturgy in the current edition of the Graduale Romanum ie to sing the Proper and the Kyriale in Latin/Greek according to what is in the book. This is not difficult. If the will to do so is present, there is no need for liturgy committees or even for hymn books as it is perfectly possible to celebrate Mass without hymns; these will usually be of Protestant origin and carry with them a destructive Protestant spirituality. There is no requirement for the disruptive Sign of Peace.

But the will is not present. In the majority of Catholic parishes, this does not happen. There is no contemplative sense. Attendance at Mass is a penance in these circumstances. Christ is still really present, but in the context of a liturgical rubbish heap. Such a thing is, if not impossible, difficult within the tightly defined framework of Tridentine Mass. This then raises issues about the Novus Ordo Mass, not in itself, but in relation to the rules that govern it, or rather, fail to govern it. Priests could help the situation, and bishops even more so, but as a rule they do not and then become part of the problem.

söndag 9 juni 2013

Perverse or what?

Latin is the official language of the church. This was affirmed by the documents of the Second Vatican Council. The only Masses round here that are celebrated in Latin, however, are those in the Usus Antiquior ("Extraordinary Form", I don't like to use the term as it is a mis-translation and suggests something weird). These are poorly attended because neither is at a convenient time and one of them is a twenty minute journey out of town.  Thus the number of people who go to them is no indication of the demand. One of them got the chop a few weeks ago as the curate had to go away to care for a sick parent. The other one will stop for several weeks because the priest who normally says it is taking an extended break. The alternative priest who was asked to say it has flatly refused. Worse still, he refused to say it in Latin in the Novus Ordo form, which should have presented no difficulties for him. That would have been a reasonable and acceptable compromise and way of meeting parishioners half-way. But no.

Yet we have in the parish, four Masses on a Sunday in the vernacular (actually the mother tongue of only a minority of the parishioners), as well as regular masses in Polish, Croatian, Spanish, Chaldean, Hungarian, Slovenian and English. Everything, in fact, but Latin. Having Mass celebrated in all these different languages divides the parish into lots of separate groups who rarely get to meet each other. The English Mass is dire because the celebrants and readers are struggling with the language, a problem aggravated by the new ICEL translation. The vernacular liturgies are not very good either because there is little decent music for the language - there is no musical setting for the Creed and there is an over-reliance on depressing Protestant hymns. Matters are made worse because the parish musicians engage in a sort of acoustic terrorism and nobody has the gumption to stop them. It is all very depressing.

lördag 8 juni 2013

Four decades of Catholic music - 7


The choir's period at St Peter's, Hove, came to an end when the parish priest finally ditched the Latin Mass in 1986. We all determined to continue and set ourselves up as the SPEM choir, which stood for St Peter's outside the walls. Graham who ran the choir had someone to design a badge (above), though letters on a shield are bad heraldry. There were ties for the men, whilst the women had purple gowns. Our services were much appreciated by the Latin Mass Society and we sang at their events several times a year, with visits to London, Arundel, Portsmouth, St Leonards and West Grinstead, amongst other places.

The bishop was niggardly in his consent, given under the 1971 Indult which permitted the celebration of Mass in the 1962 Tridentine Rite, and one has to ask why? The Masses were generally at inconvenient times and at places that were not easy to reach, and consequently they were not well attended. It was only a few determined souls that made their way to these events, but those that did were consistent in their support.

Relieved of the necessity to prepare music every Sunday, we were able to devote time to expanding our repertoire. The choir continued for about fifteen years. Graham retired and his place was taken by the organist Ron, who, like many organists, was less good with the singers. He died young and was replaced by Teresa, who also died young. Her funeral was conducted at St Mary Magdalen's Church by Mary Berry herself - a great honour. After that, Reg took over. He took a more academic approach and got us to pay closer attention to the neum notation in the Graduale Triplex. We also managed to maintain our link with Mary Berry's Schola Gregoriana at Cambridge. By around 2005 we were all getting a bit old to continue as a choir and we reluctantly called it a day.

Then came the election of Pope Benedict and the Motu Proprio of 2007 which revealed that the Tridentine Mass of 1962 had never been abrogated. It is not overstating the matter to say that the universal imposition of the Novus Ordo had been by deceit. We had kept the tradition alive for two decades during its darkest period. In the meantime the Latin Mass Society was no longer a fringe group of elderly diehards. A new generation had taken over as the beauty and deep spirituality of the traditional Catholic liturgy was being re-discovered.

måndag 3 juni 2013

Concert or liturgy?


INTROIT • Cibávit eos ex ádipe fruménti, allelúja (Solesmes) from Corpus Christi Watershed on Vimeo.

Yesterday we had a Blessed Sacrament procession through the city, led by the Bishop. As far as I know, it was the first for 75 years. It is a wonderful thing to be able to do this in a country where for centuries it was forbidden to be a Catholic, and at a time when people all over the world are suffering for their Christian faith. For reasons which are particular to Sweden, the Catholic church has not suffered the catastrophic collapse which has led to the implosion which has been experienced throughout most of the western world.

So it seems churlish to complain about the liturgy, but since the near- collapse of the church in so many countries today began with the collapse of the liturgy forty years ago, if one is concerned about the future of the church one should be aware of what is happening in the liturgy. If things continue on their current path, the present happy situation could prove to be a flash in the pan.

Being about one-third of the way back in the Protestant church used for the occasion as the Catholic church is too small, (though cause for celebration in itself), I actually saw next to nothing. The altar was too low and too far forward, the church presumably having being re-ordered in imitation of the changes made to Catholic churches after the second Vatican Council. Unless they are sitting in the first half dozen rows, those in the congregation will be looking at the heads in front of them. Nor were things helped because the Bishop preached from the sanctuary instead of using the fine raised pulpit put there for the purpose.

My real criticism, however, was the music. Some thought it was beautiful. I was quite impressed with some of it. It was the choice that was wrong - an eclectic mixture which failed to add up to a coherent whole. It was was more of a concert than a liturgy and gave the impression that its main purpose was to demonstrate the prowess of the choir. If you knew what actually should and could be sung on this feast day, you would have been left with a nagging feeling of dissatisfaction. This is more than a question of artistic judgement or preference or taste. It is about the propagation of the faith into the future.

The service began with Parry's "I was glad", a piece of Anglican bombast written for the coronation of King George V at Westminster Abbey in 1911. I don't like the piece for its harmonies and tonality and felt a sense of relief when it was over, but that is only part of the point. It should not have been sung at all. It did not belong. Nor did some of the other pieces that were sung.

The service ought to have started with the Introit for the Feast of Corpus Christi, Cibavit Eos (above). The Latin text is: Cibavit eos ex adipe frumenti, alleluia. Et de petra melle saturavit eos, alleluia. (Psalm 81) Exultate Deo adiutori nostro, Iubilate Deo Iacob. The translation is "He fed them with the finest wheat flour: and with honey from the rock, and they were satisfied, alleluia, alleluia, alleluia. Rejoice in God our helper: sound the trumpet to the God of Jacob."

This captures the essence of the feast day. It is then reinforced by the great compositions written for the feast day by St Thomas Aquinas:  the sequence Lauda Sion, of which just a fragment was sung in Swedish, and the processional hymn Pange Lingua, which was not sung at all.

These pieces are integral to the liturgy for the day. They have an important catechetical function. They are a means by which the people gain an understanding of the nature of the Blessed Sacrament, which lies at the core of Catholic belief. The music is beautiful. It is not difficult to sing. Other appropriate music would have been Ave Verum Corpus - the Elgar, Mozart and Byrd settings are quite easy, and Farrant's O Sacrum Convivium.  There is no excuse for not singing the right music on the Feast of Corpus Christi.

If this were an isolated incident I would not be making this comment but this is a general pattern: we get fine music which is out of place. It destroys the coherent structure and integrity of the liturgy. In the short term it is just an irritation. In the long term it will dissolve the church as people lose their sense of the theology it is presenting. It needs to stop. The clergy need to take charge and insist that on the correct liturgy, the starting point being the Graduale Romanum.

It would help, too, if there was a wider celebration of the Tridentine Rite, which specific about what may, and may not be sung. Priests should ensure that their parishioners get to hear the Mass in this form a few times a year. Feast days such as yesterday's would provide a good opportunity. If they did that, priests would also have to make sure that congregations were familiar with the structure of the Tridentine Mass, through instruction of their parishioners and Catechumens, notes in the parish newsletter and on the web site, and by using the Roman Canon regularly in the vernacular Novus Ordo Mass so that the people know what the texts meant.

The Novus Ordo and Tridentine forms of the Mass need not be mutually exclusive. The Novus Ordo can have an important didactic function enabling the faithful to experience the more powerful though perhaps less easily accessible signification of the Tridentine form.

The Journey East #2

The state of the Catholic Church A few years ago I visited Riga, the capital of Latvia. At 9.30 in the evening, a crowd of young people cam...