Thursday, June 28, 2007

Critical Mass: Style and Substance

This week, the Arlington Catholic Herald has come out with a staff-written piece on the role of music in various parishes of the diocese. Other blogs have already commented on it, among them The New Liturgical Movement.

The article attempts to put a nice face on the attitudes that have permeated music in Catholic worship in recent decades. While quoting from an early-1980s document of the bishops' conference that is of dubious value at this point (hence the current process of revision), the article makes absolutely no mention of the role of Gregorian chant, as spelled out in the Second Vatican Council, as having "pride of place." A token reference to our "heritage" just doesn't cut it. If, in the words of one music director, “[m]usic should unite, not divide," well, what is it about music that unites anything? If one is to believe this article, it's all about style, never mind substance.

I personally got a big kick out of this quotation:

Monica Perz-Waddington, director of music at the 11:15 a.m. Sunday Mass at Our Lady, Queen of Peace Church and the 6 p.m. Sunday liturgy at St. Charles Church, both in Arlington, said that she tries to foster participation and prayer within the gathered body of Christ by “making the music beautiful and the prayer irresistible.”

To do this, she incorporates all different styles of music, whether it’s a song from a 1970s musical, a traditional Creole tune or a re-working of “Amazing Grace.”

Oh, come on, she didn't really say "a 1970s musical," did she?

I know Monica personally, having performed with her at benefits and other events in the past. She's a real sweetheart, not an old grouch like yours truly. What she lacks in technical ability with the guitar, she more than makes up for in leadership qualities and stage presence.

Stage presence. Maybe that's the problem. It's not that she's a showoff. And I don't say this to be mean. It's just that, being up front leading the music, and being carefully crafted as a dominant personality in any worship setting, eventually it's all about the personality -- in other words, it's all about whomever that personality would be, sorry! -- as opposed to the object of our worship. (That would be God, by the way.) I'm a musician; I know these things. And having played with "folk mass" groups when I was younger, one can always tell where one is on the food chain. It's not just that some lead and others follow. It's that some are there to be seen, and others could get up and walk away and no one would notice.

Where is God on that food chain, I wonder?

The article does NOT mention some local trends that really DO matter, like the increased use of Latin, of singing the Ordinary of the Mass in plainchant, of the increased role of chant in the celebrant's prayer, and in the people's responses. (Funny how those examples didn't quite make the final draft. Hmmm...) They just got a few nice quotes from various music directors, to make it look like there's something for everybody, as if personal taste were some sort of acceptable criterion. I missed that in my reading of Sacrosanctum Concilium. Probably because it isn't there.

I'm afraid this sort of attitude is prevalent even in the Garden of Orthodoxy that is alleged to be the Diocese of Arlington. The Herald missed a great opportunity. I was very disappointed.

But not surprised. I live here, remember?

POSTSCRIPT: I suppose I should say this out of fairness. I would consider the Herald to be an outstanding example of what a Catholic diocesan periodical should be. I would say that even if the current editor, who is a fine gentleman and a true professional, had not given me the opportunity to write for him on more than one occasion during his tenure. The piece mentioned here is simply an affront to the otherwise high caliber of material to which readers of the Herald have become accustomed. The paper is capable of far better than this, and I am outraged that such nonsense is dignified in its pages, much less considered worthy of the sacred liturgy. (Broadway show tunes? ARE YOU SERIOUS???)


Denise said...

I've already emailed my letter to the editor. We'll see if they publish it.

Garret said...

I'm working on mine too. It's going via snail mail though, and will include references to various relevant documents, including those to Vatican II.


Dad29 said...

My statcounter tells me that the Diocese of Arlington's already been on your entry AND mine on this topic.

Garret said...

What do you mean, dad29? (Pardon my ignorance.)

David L Alexander said...


I thought I might have been a little rough. Then I read yours. Whoa!!!

WI Catholic said...

My sister lived in Alexandria for awhile, now lives in Springfield. They go to Queen of Apostles. I read the article, and have to agree. I have heard some really very good Music when visiting her out there at QoA.

Went to a wedding here once, with the singer very definitely trying to be the star of the show, appearing to be 'on stage' performing. Attention was at times diverted from the Bridal couple who should have been the focus during that Mass, with ALL directing attention to Him, who was both
witnessing and joining the Covenant being made at that altar that day.

God bless!

Dymphna said...

I've been to Queen of Peace once. When Mass was over I fled and never once looked back.

David L Alexander said...

Oh yeah. I know about Queen of Peace. That's why I'm at the Cathedral Parish. Oh, and if anybody from the Diocese is lurking THIS week, I can prove those bozos are led by a bunch of heretics. Ya got that, fellas???