Category Archives: Music

The Divine Office explained

…by Fr Jeremy Driscoll, OSB of Mount Angel Abbey

A popular book these days is Rod Dreher’s The Benedict Option: A Strategy for Christians in a Post-Christian Nation. The monks at Mount Angel Abbey are benedictine. If you find Dreher’s perspective meaningful, then these monks offer a picture of that option — not to say you should enter a monastery (though maybe you should), but you might consider doing the Divine Office every day. Some would argue this is not really what Dreher means, but I say it at least is part of the soil out of which any consideration of any kind of Benedict Option must grow, otherwise it’s something else, perhaps just marketing spin.

About Fr Jeremy Driscoll, OSB

About Mount Angel Abbey

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I would have embraced the folk-mass

Not long ago I sat in a pastoral council meeting at my parish church. We were discussing the form of Mass, use of music, etc., and I heard an older gentleman, a servant of the church, exclaim that he loved the liturgical changes brought on by the spirit of Vatican II, and thought they were one of the best things that ever happened to the Church. His words gave me pause.

Catholics waiting for someone to bring them a folk-mass. Just from this image alone one might imagine the younger generation of that day reacting to a perceived ossification.

Catholics waiting for someone to bring them a folk-mass.
Just from this image alone one might imagine the younger generation of that day reacting to a perceived ossification.

I have become increasingly interested in the very solemn-style, traditional Mass which many see as harkening back to a pre-council time. Consequently I tend to dislike what I perceive as the terrible music and bad art so common (I assume, from what I hear and read) in contemporary worship services today — all brought on by Vatican II according to popular legend. But then I had to step back a bit and think about it. Am I right in my opinions? Perhaps yes, but perhaps no.

Folk mass 2

I’m not sure this is from a Catholic Mass or Protestant service, but you get the idea.

I’m not a folk-Mass or guitar-Mass kind of guy, but I think I would have embraced the changes the Church experienced in the 1960’s if I had been a young man then. I too would have thought those changes represented a great change to a more authentic and grounded expression of faith. However, I think I would have eventually changed and embraced a more traditional style as I got older. I say this because, as a Protestant, I went through a similar experience in the 1970’s and early 1980’s. I grew up in a rather conservative, staid kind of Baptist church, but I began to embrace Christian rock, and enjoyed how the youth groups changed with the times, and then “big” church changed to a more rock-n-roll ethos as well. I don’t like rock-n-roll church either, but I did years ago.

I don’t believe this question of what kind of music is appropriate at Mass is a question of taste, though taste plays a part. It’s deeper than mere taste, for it has to do with the fact of the Real Presence and human nature. How one feels at Mass is not as important as what Mass is; in other words, it’s an ontological question, not an emotional one. Folk and rock are great genres of music, but they are arguably inappropriate for the Mass because of the Real Presence and human nature, and the very purpose of the Mass itself. So why would such changes been made if all this is so obvious?

I don’t think it was that obvious, at least to a certain generation at a certain time and place.

Of the many shifts of the 1960’s, one was towards a kind of youth leadership. That is, youth began proclaiming its divergence from older generations, and grabbed the reigns of its own destiny. This shift was, perhaps, nothing terribly new, but interestingly the older generations embraced the change, often declaring their own generation had lost its way and only the youth have the answers. Some telling slogans appeared in popular culture: “I hope I die before I get old” was a line from the band The Who in their anthem My Generation. “Don’t trust anyone over thirty” was a phrase coined by Jack Weinberg in the heady days of the Free Speech Movement. This shift also precipitated a revolutionary spirit, leading to many protests and the belief that the youth could really change the world if they just let love reign. In Protestantism there was the Jesus Movement, a kind of hippie Christianity that had profound ripple effects throughout Protestantism, and also Catholicism (as many Catholics became fascinated with the more emotive forms of Protestant spirituality in light of the perceived deadness in their own). In fact, it became a sweeping movement of sorts, and many, many people were caught up in it — not unlike being caught up in the spirit.

Folk music and then rock music were powerful cultural expressions of the spirit of that age, and continue so today.

May 5, 1973: Hundreds of Calvary Chapel members line Corona del Mar beach for baptism ceremony.

May 5, 1973: Hundreds of Calvary Chapel members line Corona del Mar beach for baptism ceremony. Calvary Chapel, lead by Chuck Smith, was a major influence on modern American Christianity.

But this shift in the zeitgeist of 20th century Christianity also had humble, simple, and personable expressions. Expressions that, I believe, constituted a kind of healthy “reformation” within the Church — often drawing people into a closer, more intimate relationship with Jesus Christ.

There was a craving for authenticity: authenticity of living, authenticity of worship, authenticity of emotions, authenticity of self. Needless to say, old forms of worship seemed terribly stale to many — though that probably says more about that generation and their knowledge of those forms than it does about the forms themselves. Regardless, it became an easy step to ask how could one possibly have a genuine relationship with Jesus while sitting in old churches and singing old hymns. (Not a very analytical question, but a visceral one for sure.) Thus grew the folk music movement (followed by the rock movement) within Christianity, for both Protestant and Catholic. [Note: I have played guitar at numerous church and youth worship services — so I’m am also part of the so-called “problem” if there is one.] [Note: The issue much of the time is not about what instrument is being played. Guitars are not really a problem, except for their symbolism.] Of course there is a lot more to be said about this history, but my point is that if I had been a youth or young adult at that time I’m sure I would have fully embraced the so-called spirit of Vatican II, at least in terms of worship. AND… I actually love a lot of the folk-mass/folk-christian songs — having sung many from the old, brown Young Life song book back in the day — though some (like the ones in this post) seem rather sappy nowadays. And let’s admit, as well, that many old hymns are dusty, that they were contemporary once, and being old now does not mean they are good.

FolkMass0021

Consider how one (maybe you) feels after having gone to a deeply emotional and moving (perhaps even Christian) rock concert, with its powerful music and light show, and the next morning you go to church and it seems so blah. Couldn’t you argue that you were “closer to God” at the concert? At least you felt that way, right? The same feeling would have been common in the 1960’s with its folk music, which seemed so much more authentic than dusty old hymns. I understand this. Bob Dylan was a prophet. “The Times They Are A-Changin'” is a better homily than is mostly ever preached by any priest. Peter, Paul and Mary sang truth. “If I Had A Hammer” is a more viscerally powerful sermon than most any Baptist preacher can muster. A young adult looking for such a connection at church just might welcome a couple of guitars and some bongo drums in the service of a passionately sung worship ballad in four-four. I have been that young adult and, if I am honest, I still am to some degree.

Given all that, after hearing that older gentleman wax positive about those changes of yesteryear, I realized my tendency to denigrate those changes of the post-Vatican II era is not an entirely honest tendency. Nor might it be entirely empathetic or loving. I still prefer a more traditional form of Mass, and I tend to think that guitars generally have their place outside of Mass, but I cannot assume I’m really any different than anyone else. I have come to this position over time, and I’m still on my journey. I am sure my current preferences are in reaction to my own experiences over a number of years. I too am a fish in the stream of history — and it just goes to show how easily I can forget myself.

Folk Mass Frances Mary Hunter Gordon

Final note: Let us not forget the Real Presence at Mass. The question of proper form and proper music at Mass flows from this profoundly radical fact. It’s not ultimately about a particular style, or particular instruments, or specific lyrics, as much as it is about appropriate reverence and worship, which includes proper action, and what it is that leads us to that. Understanding how much of contemporary music, especially folk and rock, does not fit within a Catholic liturgy may require a sensitivity and a knowledge most of us are unlikely to have; not because we can’t understand, but because our culture has trained us not to.

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Ubi caritas

The following is a truly, truly beautiful version of the Ubi caritas by Maurice Duruflé (from what I can tell). It is performed by the Maîtrise Notre-Dame de Paris Chœur d’adultes, under the direction of Henri Chalet.

According to the Duruflé version, they only sing the words of the refrain and the first stanza, but here it is in Latin:

Ubi caritas et amor, Deus ibi est.
Congregavit nos in unum Christi amor.
Exultemus, et in ipso iucundemur.
Timeamus, et amemus Deum vivum.
Et ex corde diligamus nos sincero.

Ubi caritas et amor, Deus ibi est.
Simul ergo cum in unum congregamur:
Ne nos mente dividamur, caveamus.
Cessent iurgia maligna, cessent lites.
Et in medio nostri sit Christus Deus.

Ubi caritas et amor, Deus ibi est.
Simul quoque cum beatis videamus,
Glorianter vultum tuum, Christe Deus:
Gaudium quod est immensum, atque probum,
Saecula per infinita saeculorum. Amen.

And here is the English translation:

Where charity and love are, God is there.
Christ’s love has gathered us into one.
Let us rejoice and be pleased in Him.
Let us fear, and let us love the living God.
And may we love each other with a sincere heart.

Where charity and love are, God is there.
As we are gathered into one body,
Beware, lest we be divided in mind.
Let evil impulses stop, let controversy cease,
And may Christ our God be in our midst.

Where charity and love are, God is there.
And may we with the saints also,
See Thy face in glory, O Christ our God:
The joy that is immense and good,
Unto the ages through infinite ages. Amen.

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Gloire à Dieu: The Gloria sung in French

Here is the text of the Gloria as it is in French:

Gloire à Dieu, au plus haut des cieux,
Et paix sur la terre aux hommes qu’il aime.
Nous te louons, nous te bénissons,
nous t’adorons,
Nous te glorifions, nous te rendons grâce,
pour ton immense gloire,
Seigneur Dieu, Roi du ciel,
Dieu le Père tout-puissant.
Seigneur, Fils unique, Jésus Christ,
Seigneur Dieu, Agneau de Dieu,
le Fils du Père.
Toi qui enlèves le péché du monde,
prends pitié de nous
Toi qui enlèves le péché du monde,
reçois notre prière ;
Toi qui es assis à la droite du Père,
prends pitié de nous.
Car toi seul es saint,
Toi seul es Seigneur,
Toi seul es le Très-Haut,
Jésus Christ, avec le Saint-Esprit
Dans la gloire de Dieu le Père.

Amen.

Here are some variations of it being sung at Mass:

I think I like the last one best.

If you know of any others, send them my way. Thanks.

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Arvo Pärt: The Woman with the Alabaster Box

Now when Jesus was in Bethany, in the house of Simon the leper, there came unto him a woman having an alabaster box of very precious ointment, and poured it on his head, as he sat at meat. But when his disciples saw it, they had indignation, saying, To what purpose is this waste? For this ointment might have been sold for much, and given to the poor. When Jesus understood it, he said unto them, “Why trouble ye the woman? For she hath wrought a good work upon me. For ye have the poor always with you; but me ye have not always. For in that she hath poured this ointment on my body, she did it for my burial. Verily I say unto you, Wheresoever this gospel shall be preached in the whole world, there shall also this, that this woman hath done, be told for a memorial of her.”
(Matthew 26: 6-13)

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The Nature of Beauty and Sacred Art: A lecture by David Clayton

David Clayton is a professor at Saint Thomas More College of the Liberal Arts in Merrimack, NH, where he has designed the Way of Beauty program which focuses on the link between Catholic culture and liturgy. I think this kind of talk is very important. I would like to see more people, more “average folks,” more in-the-pews people, that would think about these things, and speak up.

I am curious what others think. Do you think about these things? Do you care, or think they are important? I recognize that most folks are not into listening to lectures, but the connections between beauty (one of the transcendentals) and the Christian life, especially the liturgy and Cristian architecture, music, and other aspects of worship, seems really important.

A comment on the production: I am continually finding it troublesome that lectures on art and architecture seem to be video recorded by rank amateurs. Lighting is almost always bad, framing is generally poor, camera quality and movement indicate they are using cheaper equipment, and overall it always seems like recording lectures is, at best, an afterthought. I understand most of the time they cannot get professionals because of the cost (though more professionals should volunteer as a way of supporting the Church and tithing) but they can still do much better. In short, video of art lectures should be beautiful and well done, and they almost always are not, including this one. If the lectures rely heavily on PowerPoint (et al.) then get the presentation and add it directly to the video — don’t video the screen; at least use two cameras, one for the lecturer and one for the screen. Just as we Christians generally tend to lack the commitment anymore to build beautiful churches or commission beautiful liturgical music, we make lots of bad videos. Nonetheless, I do appreciate the content of these lectures. And I’m glad someone captured the lectures at least.

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Arvo Pärt: Sanctus and Agnus Dei from the Berliner Messe

Sanctus
Latin:
Sanctus, Sanctus, Sanctus,
Dominus Deus Sabaoth.
Pleni sunt coeli et terra gloria tua.
Hosanna in excelsis.

English trans:
Holy, holy, holy,
Lord God of hosts
Heaven and earth are full of your glory.
Hosanna in the highest.

Agnus Dei
Latin:
Agnus Dei, qui tollis peccata mundi,
miserere nobis.
Agnus Dei, qui tollis peccata mundi
dona nobis pacem.

English trans:
Lamb of God, you who take away the sins
of the world, have mercy on us.
Lamb of God, you who take away the sins
of the world, grant us peace.

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