Wednesday, January 25, 2012

The Singing Priest

This is a message about priests from someone who knows. Fr. Pasley is the chaplain of the Church Music Association of America. He speaks here very bluntly about a pervasive issue concerning the singing of the Mass.

The CMAA Colloquium and the Priest
By Father Robert C. Pasley, KCHS
Chaplain of the CMAA
Rector of Mater Ecclesiae, Berlin, NJ

The annual CMMA Colloquium has been an overwhelmingly wonderful experience for over 20 years. It has been open to anyone interested in the Catholic Church’s official understanding of Sacred Music and its proper use in the Sacred Liturgy. Most of the attendees have been lay people with a small smattering of priests each year. In the last 5 years, a class on the correct tones for the celebrant has been added for priests and seminarians. The problem, however, is that most of what was taught was not printed in the liturgical books. Well, with the new Missal, this has now changed. The priest’s chants are printed from cover to cover.

I would like to extend a special invitation to priests and seminarians to consider attending the Sacred Music Colloquium XXII at the Cathedral of the Madeleine in Salt Lake City, Utah. June 25-July 1, 2012. If the Liturgy is to be restored, if chant scholas are to be formed, if the people are to learn to sing the Mass and not just sing at Mass, if we are going to be faithful to our tradition, then of all people, bishops and priests, must once again learn to sing the Roman Rite according to the tones of the Roman Rite.

Just recently I was watching the Mass on EWTN. The Franciscan priests of EWTN have done a superb job learning the chants of the new Missal. One day, a guest priest said the Mass, a good priest and a great preacher, but when he opened his mouth to sing, a Syro, Byzantine, Anglican, modified Roman, with a modern interpretive touch chant came out of his mouth. It was jarring and distracting and it was wrong.

It was not the priest chant of the Roman Rite. It was either what he was taught in the seminary, or what he heard another priest sing and liked, or his own invention, but it was not the proper chant of the Roman Rite. I am not trying to tear this priest down but just make a statement of fact, and he is not alone. So many priests mean well. They want to sing the Mass, but in the last 45 years they were taught nothing or next to nothing. There has been a breakage with our Catholic, liturgical, priestly musical traditions and it must be corrected. Now is the time for every priest and seminarian to buckle down, force themselves to unlearn bad habits, and learn the right way to sing the Rite.

The CMAA wants to help seminarians, priests and Bishops. We have many resources on We have Sacred Music Magazine and we have the magnificent Colloquium. Many priests might be intimidated by the Colloquium. “But Father, Father, I would like to come but I am not a musician. I can’t read music, and I’ll feel self-conscious around all those professional musicians.” First, you don’t have to be a musician but someone who wants to learn. If the priest doesn’t sing, the Sacred Liturgy can never be celebrated to its fullest extent. You are absolutely necessary, not only sacramentally but musically.

Second, to sing the Mass you will have to have some basic knowledge of chant notation. This year, all first time clergy and seminarians, unless you are a musician priest, will have to spend each morning in the basic chant scholas. This is necessary for a good foundation and it is a good way to see how greatly people will sacrifice to give glory to God. Third, there is no place for self - consciousness. Priests are the servants of God, His people and the Sacred Liturgy. They must do everything possible to learn how to pray and sing the Mass according to the mind of the Church.

The class on the chants of the Missal will be offered each afternoon. Not only will the new Missal be covered but the basic principles of music for the priest found in the Liber Usualis will be discussed. Orations, readings, prayers, the Eucharistic Prayers and chants for the Ancient Form of the Mass will be covered.

The highlight of the day is Holy Mass in the Ordinary and the Extraordinary Forms. The chants, the polyphony, the organ, and the variation of great styles of the sacred treasury of Catholic Music will be at the service of the Liturgy. These liturgies are meant to be paradigms of liturgical practice, musical excellence and moments of the most intense and uplifting prayer. You will be immersed in all things Catholic.

Finally, there is the social part of the Colloquium. You will meet priests, seminarians and people from all over the country and the world, who are filled with zeal for Sacred Music. You will network with priests, seminarians and people who want to do what is right. You will hear inspiring stories. You will be uplifted by the talks. You will be exhausted from the liturgical Opus Dei. You will laugh, be inspired and come away a better priest or seminarian and person.

Most dioceses offer their priests a stipend for further education. Check into it. Use that money for the Colloquium. You will not be sorry. I long to see many more priests and seminarians at the Colloquium this June. God Bless You!

More recent articles:

For more articles, see the NLM archives: