Monday, June 03, 2013

Is There Any Case for Pop Music at Mass?

Here is my new piece at Crisis.

It is a long reflection on this important topic of the role of pop music as something we need to appeal to the young.

An excerpt:
What is the standard by which we should judge the music we hear or sing at liturgy? That’s a huge and controversial question, but a recent experience revealed to me something interesting. It suggest an answer that is completely different from what you hear from the defenders of pop music at Mass, especially when it is pushed as a way of appealing to teens.

Here’s the story. In preparing music for this past Sunday, the schola at my parish ran out of time to prepare the authentic Gregorian Introit. There is nothing wrong with that. We are all volunteers and there’s only so much practice time. Gregorian chant should be given “first place” at Mass but it is not always possible.

Plus, aside from this, we sang two pieces of Renaissance polyphony, the Gregorian communion, an English proper chant for Offertory, a Psalm and Alleluia, plus all the ordinary chants of the Mass and the dialogue chants. That is actually a gigantic amount of music for an amateur group that sings with no instruments. We’ve been working together more than ten years now, and this is the fruit of that long-term work.

The feast was Corpus Christi, and the liturgical books assign the entrance Cibavit Eos. I had to find a replacement for the procession. My first thought in finding one, after years of doing this and feeling rather comfortable with the genre nowadays, was: what does the real entrance sound like? There are many options out there today, thankfully, and to select among them requires that you have some grounding in the character of the ideal music of the Roman Rite.

At least, I can only say that I would no longer feel comfortable replacing a Gregorian chant without having some familiarity with the thing for which the replacement is substituting. It’s taken a long time but I feel like I’m finally getting and practicing what the Church has long taught, that the appointed chants are the standard by which we measure whatever we end up doing. I ended up choosing a simple choral number by the composer Richard Rice, very beautiful and stately with a clean presentation of the text.

The translation of Cibavit Eos, the original text of the introit for this day, reads as follows: “He fed them from the fullness of the wheat, alleluia. And sated them with honey from the rock, alleluia.” It’s hard to imagine a better text for the day. It’s the first thing you hear at Mass, and it should be just right. Fortunately, as Catholic singers, we don’t have to make up texts or choose among them. It is given to us right there in our music books for the Roman Rite and often even printed in the Missal itself.

I’m grateful for this. It keeps our singing grounded. It provides a challenge. And when we can’t do the Gregorian, or when we are seeking to introduce more variety in styles, we are at least in a position to choose some rooted alternative that is part of the structure of the liturgy itself. This doesn’t remove personal discretion entirely, but at least when we exercise our own judgment over something as important as an entrance song, it is tethered to tradition and expressive of the embedded liturgical Word itself.

The very day that I was going through these exercises in my mind, I bumped into the transcript of a speech by Fr. Robert Schreiner, who is a powerful voice in the Life Teen movement that recommends singing “praise and worship” music at Mass. The text is from a speech he gave in 2010. This speech has become the canonical defense used by the rock group in your parish, the one that sings music with repetitive words that have nothing to do with what’s in the liturgical books and accompanies that music with pop rhythms. You know the type, so I don’t need to go on with my description.

Read the entire article at Crisis

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