Sunday, April 29, 2007

Browbeating the faithful into mediocrity

In hundreds of parishes across the country, the directors of music are exercising an inordinate power over the liturgical culture of the parish, and most pastors have no idea that this is happening, since they believe that they are too incompetent to speak to matters of music. The music that goes on week to week isn't great, and the pastor knows this but it is not so bad that he is willing to take such a drastic step of firing the person. But just such a shake up is essential--or at least a serious crackdown is necessary--if they are going to regain control of the Mass and re-Catholicize the liturgy.

By way of example, let me tell of a conversation I recently overheard between a director of music and a young couple planning a parish wedding (it's not my own parish so I have no hesitation about telling the story). The young man and his bride-to-be were going over details with the director of music. The musician was telling them what music she would play, and thereby presented a list of contemporary standards such as that which she has just played in Mass that morning, the usual light-rock muzak that oozes in and out of Catholic liturgies every week in the USA.

The naive young man clarified with some firmness: "We really do want a traditional Catholic wedding, so we really want traditional Catholic music." He didn't have anything specific in mind. Indeed, what the young man called "traditional Catholic" is just a code for something meaningful and important, something holy and transcendent, something momentous and prayerful, something right and true and integral to our heritage -- something other than what this woman is capable of providing.

The voice of the director of music firmed up to the point of scolding: "Well, we must keep in mind that the people of God have very diverse tastes, so we must use music that appeals to everyone, not just those who agree with you."

He quickly backed down and said that he would have to trust her judgment.

Then she moved on to the all-important point: the payment. That will be $100 now and $100 one week before the wedding. And, by the way, she will not attend the rehearsal.

The meeting ended. And so the plot to wreck the most important day of his life is complete. He is the paying customer and his desire was for something fully Catholic but he was treated like an intolerant bigot and sent on his way, $200 poorer.

And why? Most likely because she is not up to the challenge. She wants to continue to do what she has always done. She is inflexibly committed to what she does, and refuses to learn, grow, expand, or took toward any ideals. It is also possible that the word traditional just hits her wrong, and she fears it. It is hard to say.

But this much I know: the pastor was nowhere to be seen during this conversation. Does he know that his parishioners are requesting traditional music? Does he know how poorly his own director of music is treating these people? Does he know precisely who is responsible for reducing every liturgy to ooze week after week? Does he know how much power she has?

It seems to me that in these cases--and there are hundreds like them--a fresh start is essential.

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