A liberal discovers chant and traditional liturgy

The question I was asked to answer was: “How is it that a liberal such as you has become interested in chant and traditional liturgy?”

Implicit in that question is something like: How do you reconcile traditionalism with progressive theology?

And further, for clarification: How traditionalist are you? How progressive? What do those words even mean to you?

To answer all of that requires a bit of backstory, and before that, some quick cataloging of my various progressive and traditionalist leanings.

I call myself a progressive/liberal (and sometimes a “heretic”) because:

  • I believe (very strongly) in women’s ordination. This is not a matter of fairness or power, but one of theology – specifically, Christology. I believe that the exclusion of half our race from “in Persona Christi” is a grave error, and a deep wound in Christ’s body.
  • I believe that the all three Persons of the Trinity can and should be referred to using feminine language in addition to the traditional masculine forms.
  • I believe in open Communion.
  • I believe that legitimate and healthy liturgical praxis can take a number of forms, and that Mass and other rites can and should look different depending on cultural and community context and local needs.
  • I like the music of Haugen, Haas, the St. Louis Jesuits, the Dameans, Hurd, Bolduc, Maher, Taize, Iona, and all the rest of the folk/pop/contemporary people, and regularly program it, alongside more traditional forms at my parish. (I work at an Episcopal parish, but I would probably program a very similar lineup at a Catholic parish as well).

I call myself a (semi-)traditionalist because:

  • With the exception of my above-mentioned heresies (or… differences of opinion), I am deeply orthodox in my theology, and find myself ever more so each passing year. (I have coined the term “Otherwise Orthodox“ to describe this position.)
  • I believe that “what earlier generations held as sacred remains sacred.” While I have no particular affinity for the Extraordinary Form of the Mass, I’m glad that those who desire it have access to it, and I support NLM’s “Summorum Pontificum in Letter & In Spirit“ campaign.
  • I believe that the Latin text of the Missal and other ritual books should be the standard for liturgical practice, and that the vernacular translations should be as faithful as possible. With a small handful of exceptions, I like the new translation.
  • I strongly believe that all Catholics should be able to chant the congregational parts of the Ordinary in Latin. I also believe that all Catholics should know traditional Gregorian hymns.
  • I believe that the Propers represent the best, first choice for the Entrance, Offertory, and Communion.
  • I believe that those involved in preparing and celebrating liturgy should “Say the Black” and “Do the Red” as accurately as possible.
  • I love Gregorian chant and sacred polyphony. I think that all Catholic musicians should be trained in chant, and that it should form the basis for any parish music program.
  • I do not support most attempts at “creative” liturgy.

So…. How did THAT happen? How can I be both?

I grew up in a progressive Catholic parish. I didn’t know until much later just how progressive it was, compared to anywhere else, and especially compared to official Church teaching. Contemporary Catholic folk music (guitars, pianos, and drums) was pretty much the ONLY music. We had liturgical dancers. We had lay preaching. We had female altar servers before it was allowed. We had a booklet of alternate “Professions of Faith” for use instead of the Creed. My parish hosted the monthly Mass for the Catholic Gay and Lesbian ministry of the Diocese. I was the music director for those monthly liturgies when I was in high school.

We were a vibrant, and rapidly growing, parish. We were firmly “Spirit of Vatican II.” I loved it.

Is all of that why I’m a progressive (or a heretic, if you prefer) today? Am I just a product of my upbringing, and a perfect example of why devout Catholics should shun those practices?

No. You can blame that on Eucharistic adoration.

I certainly started my theological life as an ultra-progressive – that’s all I knew – but I have found myself growing ever more orthodox each passing year: Yes to the Real Presence. Yes to the Virgin Birth. Yes to moral teaching. Yes to the Trinity. Yes, yes, yes. Goodness gracious, I even believe in Purgatory these days.

Sitting in contemplation and prayer with the Blessed Sacrament over a number of years, and discussing shared prayer experiences with my wife, going back to long before we were married, I have come to a series of beliefs about women’s ordination, the gender of God, the nature of Eucharist, the cause of salvation which I can only describe as heretical (by which I mean, against Church teaching), but which I have no choice but to accept as true.

I came into the most subversive aspects of my personal faith within the center of Catholic teaching: the Real Presence of Christ in the Blessed Sacrament. Because of that, I started to think that maybe, just maybe, if more people were devout, and praying whole-heartedly for right faith, for truth, for the Kingdom of God to be made manifest on earth as it is heaven, that maybe more people would come to the conclusions I did. And in any case, we all would come to better conclusions than we would otherwise.

But what makes a folk-Mass progressive become so enamored and won over by chant and traditional liturgy?

Well, for one thing, there are the Episcopalians.

In Boston, my wife and I started experimenting with Episcopalianism– it’s like a gateway drug. We attended Mass for a time at Trinity Church on Copley Square. Female rector, and two female priests on staff (along with two males). One of the priests was pregnant, so I had the mind-expanding experience of seeing an expectant mother celebrate Mass. The preaching, the teaching, the very nature of what was going on in that parish was progressive. On the other hand, I have never been to a more traditional liturgy in my life. Organ and choral music and old, old hymns. Not much chant and polyphony, but still very traditional compared to anything I had seen in any Catholic parish. I learned more about Epsicopalianism and discovered that this blue-state urban parish was not unique: the Episcopal church is steeped in its liturgical tradition (to the point of suffocation, sometimes) in a way that American Catholicism simply isn’t. And yet, not only do they have female priests, they have a female Presiding Bishop who referred to Christ as “Mother” in the sermon at her elevation Mass. It’s like the 20th century rationed out an allowance of progress-points and the Catholics blew them all on silly songs and dancing, while the Episcopalians actually got something done. Made me wonder what might have happened if the reforms had gone differently. Made me wonder what would happen in the next 40 years if we stopped wasting our energy on “fixing” the best thing about Catholicism: the liturgy.

Additionally, during my time in Boston (parallel to my experiences at Trinity Episcopal and then with a liberal Catholic parish) my wife and I became closely involved with a small non-denominational house church. The core group of this community had grown up in the South in the Church of Christ – a denomination famous for its unaccompanied singing. While the ideology banning instruments was nowhere to be found with this group, the love of unaccompanied singing stayed with them. I had grown up with and still love pianos, guitars, drums, and woodwinds as part of liturgical music. But sitting in a living room with ten other people, worshiping with nothing but the human voice, gave me a real understanding of how our music can be “on earth as it is in heaven.” I started to realize how much more prayerful, how much more natural, this approach to music was than the over-produced concert music of contemporary Catholicism. And the only thing I could find in my own tradition which approached this kind of noble simplicity was unaccompanied plainchant.

Then came the Church Music Association of Ameria. Or more specifically, Jeffrey Tucker.

Basically, I wanted to be more involved with Catholic liturgy again. The Catholic parish we ended up at after some time at Trinity Episcopal had very little need for my musical ability – Boston has a glut of talent – or my liturgical input – they thought physically moving the altar during Mass in order to make room for dancers was a good idea. So, I started blogging. And I started following some major blogs (PrayTell, NLM, GSGP) and participating at the Musica Sacra forums. I didn’t really have any idea at first how (generally) conservative and traditionalist the Musica Sacra forums were – I just thought it was great that I had found Catholic musicians talking about Catholic music online. And I started reading Jeffrey’s blog posts, first at New Liturgical Movement, later at Chant Cafe.

Even though I didn’t want to, I kept finding myself agreeing with him. There were, and continue to be, real differences of opinion between us, but I couldn’t help but notice how often what he was saying made complete sense. And you can’t help but be drawn to someone so ridiculously friendly and genuinely excited about everything. He answered my emails before he knew who I was. I’m pretty sure he read my blog early on. He never acted like I was bothering him, and then all of the sudden he started asking for my opinion on things. Here’s one of the most recognizable names in the Catholic blogosphere, and he’s just about as approachable as can be. I ended up going to a weekend chant workshop in Houston, as much to meet Jeffrey as to learn more about chant. I have to say: if you’re interested in promoting your agenda, or winning advocates to your way of thinking, Jeffrey Tucker is a pretty good model for winning friends and influencing people.

I had a passing knowledge of Gregorian chant – the folks in the Catholic Gay and Lesbian Ministry were into it, so I programmed chant hymns whenever I could – , but I didn’t know much else about legislation on music, or the propers. Through JT and CMAA, I learned how to chant. I learned about the propers of the Mass, and the difference between “singing the Mass and singing at Mass” (a distinction which immediately made sense to me). When I started to read through the texts of the propers, and then even more so the various hymns and chants in the Parish Book of Chant, I couldn’t help but realize how impoverished was the theology of the music I grew up with. There are a lot of contemporary songs and hymns that I think are wonderful and rich, but I had never, ever been at a Mass and sung any sentiment as evocative as “Blood of Christ, inebriate me,” nor sung any melody quite as sweet as “Ave Verum Corpus.” There are untold riches here, and the contemporary liturgical movement has pretty much just forgotten about them.

I started to wonder: If my progressive ideas are true, and I arrived at them through engagement with the Blessed Sacrament and deep prayer – how much more might that truth spread and be understood if there was greater engagement with the deep spirituality of traditional liturgical forms?

I have come to believe that these texts – the propers, the traditional Latin hymns and prayers – are as important to our communal liturgy and spiritual journey as any portion of the Ordinary (which most of us would hardly think of omitting), and in fact am increasingly baffled by the widespread ignorance of them. As is common practice with the congregational acclamations in the Ordinary, I would like to see contemporary and diversely-styled settings of these chants, hymns, and prayers. I understand the CMAA’s preference for chant-style, but I think calypso propers would be a vast improvement over what happens in many parishes.

And aside from the text, there is something about traditionally sacred musical styles. As a musician, I cannot deny the incredible beauty of well-performed Gregorian chant. I’ve always been curious about it (I bought a Graduale Romanum when I was in high school… didn’t know what to do with it). I am still a little bitter at my various music teachers and training programs for not introducing me properly to the music which forms the foundation of every other style of Western music. As I became more experienced in chant, I started to notice that my musical abilities – even with regards to contemporary and pop styles – improved. And even moderate amounts of polyphony (singing, studying, and directing) has had noticeable impacts on my homophonic choral part-writing. The simple fact is: traditional sacred music makes you a better musician. Once I realized that, I was hungry for more. And, as someone who cares about the future quality of musicianship in the Church, it made me want everyone to be exposed to these genres.

But it’s not just about liturgical music as conservatory for culture, although that is an important side issue. The beauty of chant teaches us something about the beauty of God. The quietness of chant gives us a peace which passes all other forms or styles, a peace which music of the world simply cannot provide.

Do I think chant should be the only form of music used at Mass? Of course not, nor does the official Church (as far as I can tell). But it seems to me that part of “pride of place” (or “first place,” if you like) is not just about quantity, but about inspiration and motivation.

So that’s something like what got me to this point. Where am I now? I work and worship at an Episcopal parish in a liturgical context which is (due to my influence, and with the blessing of the liberal Anglo-Catholic rector) increasingly diverse and increasingly Catholic. We do chant regularly (in Latin and English), alongside unaccompanied music from the American Protestant tradition, typically-Episcopalian organ hymns, and contemporary Catholic folk/pop music.

In my blog, and my other online activity, I try to champion the use of traditional sacred music, and (even more important to me) high quality music in any style which is faithful to the texts of the Mass and the spirit of the Liturgy. I like to think of myself as bridge builder between the traditionalists and the progressives, while knowing full well that neither one of those sides really gets where I’m coming from.

As a composer, I’m interested in how the Chant tradition interacts with contemporary American religiosity, and to that end have been working on an unaccompanied Mass setting based on Shaker melodies. I’ve also started to work on Praise and Worship styled settings of the propers (I’ve got about one-and-a-half Introits… it’s a start).

I’m hoping to be around for the next wave – the Reform of the Reform of the Reform. I’d like to see genuinely contemporary worship which has actually grown out of (rather than replaced) the traditional forms. I’d like to see liberals and progressives (and heretics!) championing Gregorian chant and the Mass propers, because they understand that their beliefs, while perhaps differing from the official party-line, have been drawn from the same deep well of Catholic spirituality and practice which nourishes the ultraconservatives.

Most of all, I hope that my “work” (if that’s what you can call reading blogs and writing opinions) encourages church musicians of every persuasion to heed Christ’s second commandment with ever more faithfulness. I find over and over in discussions online that the traditionalists and the progressives, the liberals and the conservatives, barely know how to talk to each other. Sometimes I think they must be speaking different languages or living on different planets. If I can help translate a little, or act as a mutual friend, or even a mutual enemy, maybe we can have more actual communication, more healthy dialogue. And if we can all talk to each other, maybe that will make us a little better at loving each other.

I’d like to end by telling everyone why I care about liturgy and music. Sometimes I worry that we all get a bit too wrapped up in these issues – issues which seem, from what I can read, to have been fairly unimportant to the Teacher from Nazareth. He cared about feeding the poor, clothing the naked, caring for orphans – not about translations or modes or altar placement or any of the rest of the things that liturgists and musicians are into. How can we, in good conscience, spend our time obsessing over these external elements?

I think a certain amount of obsession, by those who are called to it, is actually quite worthwhile. It is in the public liturgy of the Church that we come to understand the love of Christ which we are called to emulate. It is in the sacrifice of the Mass, dwelling in the sacrifice of Jesus, that we hear our calling to sacrifice ourselves. Recognizing Christ in the Eucharist, recognizing Christ in the assembled family of believers, gives us the eyes to recognize Christ in His “disturbing disguises” out in the world. We know how to clothe the naked because our God has clothed us in the garment of Baptism; we know how to feed the hungry because our God has fed us with his very body; we know how to comfort the dying because Our Lord has died in our midst; we know how to visit the imprisoned because God has visited us in the prison of our sin; we know how to care for orphans because our God has given us a spirit of adoption.

Adam Wood is a liturgical musician and composer, and he blogs at Music for Sunday.

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53 comments

  1. I think you would find that most mainstream parish musicians stick to the Vatican 2 call (taken from the Gospel we heard proclaimed yesterday) to bring forth the best of the old and the new. Simply attending the NPM Convention showed that a majority of folk are just as glad to sing contemporary and chant.

    And regarding the Propers obsession some have – I’m sure a great number of people would get on board if they reflected the 3 year cycle. The Macek/Tate project and Teitze’s Introits are good ways to make them even more accessible, but again, they work far better when they do match with the scriptures, or at least the theme/mood of them.

    1. Outside of the season of Advent, Lent, Easter, etc., I don’t believe the Propers harmonize much better with the one-year cycle in use before V2 – an exception being the communion antiphon which then sometimes (and even moreso now) reflects on the Gospel.

      I think the 3-year cycle is great – but I don’t understand the call by some for everything (propers, orations, etc.) to completely harmonize with it. The Word of God in Mass should be able to be had both in relation to the scheme of the 3-year cycle (i.e. the Responsorial Psalm and often the Communion antiphon) and apart from it (the Entrance antiphon, Offertory chant, etc.).

      I’ve enjoyed making the focus of my creativity not be so much in trying to replace propers (or translators replacing orations) handed down to us by tradition, but in trying to find parallels between Scripture passages there and in the 3-year Lectionary that may on the surface seem unrelated.

      1. I agree that we need not make each hymn and prayer a direct feed from the scriptures of the day. However, I think there can be greater harmonization between prayer, song, and scripture. The architects of “The Lost Missal” found it important to craft 3 separate collects, which at least gave similar feel/thrust of the day’s liturgy.

        What I disagree with is trying to fit a circular peg into a square hole. If the propers do not match the scriptures or “feel” of the day (an entrance psalm proper of lament when Jesus is proclaiming that our joy may be complete), then toss it out. To me it cheapens the experience and sells the assembly short. Just like homilies on Mothers/Fathers/Independence/Memorial/Labor Day etc… which all magically fit so well with the readings of the day!

    2. I agree to a point. The problem is the crafters of the “Lost Missal” were not (or at the very least as interpreted nowadays) in a position to do that. I theorize one reason Rome did not choose to use a three-year cycle for the propers when fashioning the Missal in 1969 was because of the trouble it would cause if trying to harmonize them with the treasury of sung chanted propers.

      Already the chant propers assigned in the Graduale do not always correspond exactly with those given in the Missal – and this has been discussed other places online. But, if Rome crafted entirely new Propers for a three-year cycle, we would face a similar problem to that in the Liturgy of the Hours, where the frequent composition of new (admittedly sometimes more appropriate antiphons) lead to the need for an entire guide listing the traditional chant substitutes for those wishing to chant them in Latin.

      This is not to say, however, that I believe that they must be chanted in Latin or that that is ideal in all situations – just that perhaps Rome was trying not to create too big a disconnect for those who wished to preserve that tradition…

      P.S. Sometimes the text of the chanted propers in the Graduale (vs those in the Missal), particularly the Communions, is actually more in line with the Gospel reading, including options for all three years of the Lectionary cycle.

  2. I think that many people who love the Extraordinary Form of the Mass also love the Ordinary Form and love the fact that both are available and that the Ordinary Form has a great deal of flexibility in terms of music, style and options while the Extraordinary Form has a predictability and stability in its three styles, low, high and solemn high. I certainly would consider this attitude of loving both forms of the Latin Rite Mass as a rather liberal attitude to say the least.

  3. Brilliant personal essay, Adam! Though I am Lutheran (and will not likely change again–long story), your understanding of your church resonates very much with me. One of my professors one time commented that he found it funny that I had such very progressive theology (women’s ord., open communion, feminine imagery, etc.), but that I liked chant and vestments and ritual and things that some progressives are turned away from.

    Thank you, Adam and thank you, Pray Tell, for posting this!

  4. Thank you, Adam, for such an open and profound personal testimony. It reminds me (once again) that sharp disagreement with someone on some issues does not preclude deep and broad respect for him as a person.

  5. Adam:bravo on such an honest and open testimonial; I’m surprised it has elicited so few comments to this point, but suspect it has something to do with the fact that virtually every paragraph constitutes food for thought and a posting subject in its own right. My quick two cents worth: your seemingly contradictory liberal orthodox combo doesn’t strike me as odd in the least – I have known plenty of Life Teen / Young Adult / Praise and Worship / Charismatic liturgy participants who are in ALL other respects virtually lockstep Uber-orthodox!!!

    1. >> I’m surprised it has elicited so few comments to this point

      I wonder if it’s placement in the Featured Post box, instead of the main blog scroll is hampering traffic.

      Not that I’m complaining, and I’m pretty thrilled about this whole thing.

  6. Thanks, Adam, for sharing the diversity of your life experience.

    Whether in politics or religion, the polarization between liberals and conservatives is vastly overemphasized and is mainly a product of the media including the new media of blogging. The reality in both politics and religion is that most people are in the center, and have very diverse combinations of so called liberal and conservative characteristics. I once had an e-mail conversation with a sociologist expert in this area, and she assured me that it was very, very difficult for people to communicate outside the straight box of categories propagated by the media.

    In some ways this post illustrates well the sociologists point since the great diversity of its experience is framed within the conventional media categories even as it challenges those categories.

    The post also reveals how external those categories are to the experience of life. We don’t experience life as progressive or traditionalist until someone else points this out:

    I didn’t know until much later just how progressive it was, compared to anywhere else, and especially compared to official Church teaching.

    I didn’t really have any idea at first how (generally) conservative and traditionalist the Musica Sacra forums were –

    Because of the diversity of our country and its economy more and more of us are coming to have the diversity of experience and thinking evidenced in this post. As Ken remarks above “every paragraph constitutes food for thought and a posting subject in its own right.” so that in some ways it is a shame to waste our time discussing the media framework.

    The challenge for this blog, its posts, and its commentators, and especially its many readers who are not yet commentators but have rich experiences and thoughts to share, is to get beyond the repetitious opinions on the same subjects to offer some of the rich diversity of life and thinking that is present in our lives.

  7. The OP said: “It’s like the 20th century rationed out an allowance of progress-points and the Catholics blew them all on silly songs and dancing, while the Episcopalians actually got something done. Made me wonder what might have happened if the reforms had gone differently. Made me wonder what would happen in the next 40 years if we stopped wasting our energy on “fixing” the best thing about Catholicism: the liturgy.”

    This point really hit me since it was something I’ve sometimes thought too. The most liberal Protestant groups, while allowing for more progressive forms of worship as an option, seem to really prize and foster their traditional liturgical and musical traditions. It has sometimes made me question the old “prayer informs belief” saying.

  8. There is so much wisdom here … as someone said above, almost every paragraph could be a blogpost in itself. I do sense, however, that there is a fundamental difference I think, informing our disputes. It is not well described in terms of traditionalism and progressivism; though certainly –it’s more about what we in the end mean by liturgical participation. One school of thought never abandons the idea of the liturgy as something which the priest does, and with which the people are merely associated: the accessibility of the ritual as such is therefore secondary, and the participation comes from silent adoring observation. The alternative view, nourished by the Council, sees the liturgy as the action of the whole people, and therefore makes all its liturgical judgments in terms of how well they involve the assembly in the liturgical action. For all his provocative avocation to ‘traditionalist’ customs, Adam remains resolutely on the second side throughout.

    Perhaps this observation reflects my UK background, where Eucharistic adoration never died out in ‘progressive’ circles, and where newer music generally exists alongside, rather than replacing, older hymnody.

    I’m haunted too by how the ‘traditionalist’ approach reflects a Lutheran theology of grace and transformation: it happens outside us and we participate in something which is not ours. Conversely, the ‘spirit of Vatican II’ echoes Trent in its stress on how our full selves, however improbably, are involved in the action of God’s grace.

  9. >>For all his provocative avocation to ‘traditionalist’ customs, Adam remains resolutely on the second side throughout.

    This is a good point. I like chant hymns in particular, because they foster congregational singing.

    I do also believe strongly in a both/and approach to participation. Listening is a form of participation. So is singing. Both watching and doing are important. And I think that the official liturgical books and documents both make that clear and provide for it. We need neither liturgical innovation (on the one hand) to goad the people into more activity, nor historical revisionism (on the other) to make them more… (what?) docile… contemplative.

  10. “Chant hymns” is not familiar terminology to me.

    What does this mean?
    Does it only refer to hymns chanted in Latin, such as those from the Liturgy of the Hours?

    Does it include English texts in chant style?

    Which five or ten are most liked by your congregations?

    1. Chant hymns.
      I mean things like:
      -Ave Verum Corpus
      -Pange Lingua
      -Adoro Te Devote
      -Ave Maria

      I would include vernacular renditions of such in the “Chant Hymns” category, also the Sequences, and probably a lot of other things. I love chant hymns in particular, because they seem to be the best of both worlds: easy to sing like hymns, peaceful and heavenly like chant. I like the melismatic chants of the Propers, but I LOVE chant hymns.

      My congregation really likes the English version of Adorote Te Devote in the 1982 (Humbly I Adore Thee), and they sing it very well. I didn’t know this when I tried to introduce Adoro Te Devote at rehearsal- halfway through the first line someone said, “We know this already.” So we do it in English out of the Hymnal. It’s wonderful, although getting the organist to NOT play something that’s in the hymnal was a bit of an undertaking.

      We’ve done Ave Verum Corpus as a choir piece, which they loved and the congregation seemed to take to as well. We did Pange Lingua on Holy Thursday, which was new to them but they seemed to like it and sang it very well without accompaniment (we did one verse in Latin and then the entire thing in English). I simply adore “Of the Father’s Love Begotten” which we used on Christmas Eve (it’s got like 10 verses, which is perfect for our slow-moving communion line). We did a new text of mine to the chant tune Conditor Alme Siderum, choir loved it.

      It’s possible to think of any of those as simply “Hymns” and sing (and accompany them) as if they are essentially the same as German Lutheran hymns from the 1982 (or other boring hymnal of your choice), but I have found from semi-controlled experiments (i.e. doing them multiple ways) that a Gregorian-ish approach (unaccompanied, unharmonized, vaguely-informed sense of Solesmes rhythm and phrasing) has the best effect by any measurement.

      For a fantastic collection of Gregorian hymns and other chants for choirs and congregations, check…

      1. When I first heard “Of the Father’s Love Begotten” (during a Communion procession), I had the same reaction as I had to “Creator of the Stars of Night” (Conditor alme siderum) — I thought to myself, “Surely this is a translation of some venerable Latin chant, set to the same tune.”

        Both are beautiful (in their simplicity and profundity) to sing and to hear sung.

      2. I bet you have less than 25 characters to go in order to give the citation you had in mind, because that is about how far off the character counter we can see is from what the black box actually does.

        So, what is it I should check?

  11. With you 1000% on Of the Father’s Love! Are the additional verses (10?) easy to find with on-line searches? I think that 4 or 5 is the most I’ve seen in any hymnal printing; most definitely agree that it shines it’s brightest unaccompanied..

  12. And that apostrophe in “its” was not my idea! iPhone doesn’t know that I was a 2-time county spelling champion in middle school and kind of know what I’m doing!

  13. From Sean: What I disagree with is trying to fit a circular peg into a square hole. If the propers do not match the scriptures or “feel” of the day (an entrance psalm proper of lament when Jesus is proclaiming that our joy may be complete), then toss it out. To me it cheapens the experience

    Definitely know where you’re coming from here, Sean. The Lectionary cycles are not a factor when singing Introit texts for Advent, Christmas, Lent, and Easter…as seasonal reflections from Scripture, they fit like a glove. The Ordinary Time Propers tend to turn up -some- “thematic mismatches” with the Lectionary readings; once we had sung these for a year or so, it actually surprised me how few fit the complete-disconnect situation you describe (yes, some do!); for the most seemingly out-of-whack mismatches, we generally sing that Introit as a prelude piece (our parish has a lector make brief opening announcement before having assembly rise, so we get the ‘orphaned’ Introit text in before the announcement and then sing a hymn or a ‘Lectionary matched’ song to accompany opening procession. We resort to this option far less often than one might think we would need to…
    Only comments with a full name will be approved.

    1. In general terms, it means that reception of Communion is permitted to all regardless of their religious affiliation / faith tradition. The opposite is “closed communion”. Some communities have somewhere in between. A completely open communion would welcome atheists, for example, whereas a partially-open communion might be open to only (baptized) Christians. The Catholic Church has a mostly closed Communion, with exceptions made for individual cases for some, and for general cases for various Orthodox churches, if I remember the law correctly.

      1. The current canonical position of the church on this matter, as on so many others, e.g. clerical celibacy, women’s ordination, is as much about power and control as it is about theology, ecclesiology, or the gospel.

        Walter Kasper is on record has having said that if a person is able to say ‘Amen’ at the end of the anaphora and mean it, they ought to receive communion also, to the point of implying that there was an obligation on them to do so, if they had remained for the recitation of the eucharistic prayer. The consuming of the eucharistic bread and wine is ritually identical with the saying of ‘Amen.’

      2. Here is a chunk of Kasper’s address on 18 June 2004, edited to fit the space provided. (For more of the relevant portion, and for the whole address in German, check here)


        The question of sharing of the Eucharist or Lord’s Supper remains. For us the Eucharist is the Sacrament of Faith. “The mystery of faith”, we say, every time after the words of institution or consecration. At the end of the Eucharistic Prayer the assembled community responds to it with “Amen”: “Yes, we believe,” and at the reception of Communion each individual repeats this “Amen”: “Yes, this is the Body of Christ”. This “Amen” of course means more than a purely intellectual assent to a dogma: it is a Yes that must be given with one’s life and must be clothed with a Christian life. For this reason there can be no general open invitation to Communion, even for Catholics.

        The basis for admission to the Eucharist is the question of whether one can say “Amen” with the whole assembled community at the end of the Eucharistic Prayer and at the reception of Communion with an honest heart: “Amen” to what happens in the celebration of the Eucharist according to the Catholic Faith; and whether one is bearing witness to this “Amen” with one’s life. Luther and Calvin would not have been able or willing to speak such an “Amen”, because their protest against the papacy was aimed most strongly against the Mass. Thanks be to God, we have come a fair way along with the Lutherans over this question; but even today there are still serious differences.

        So the rule of thumb holds: one goes to Communion in the Church to which one belongs. There are good biblical reasons for this rule (1 Cor. 10:17) and a long common tradition that reaches all the way to the ’70s of the twentieth century.

      3. Here’s the following section:

        ‘Alongside this basic rule there is a second one. The Council says: “the grace to be obtained” commends common worship in some cases (Decree on Ecumenism, 10). [Trans. note: actually #8. –RC] Similarly the Catholic code of canon law says: “The salvation of souls is the supreme law” (CIC c. 1752).

        For this reason canon law foresees that in certain extraordinary situations a non-Catholic Christian, providing that he shares the eucharistic faith and witnesses it in his life, can be admitted to Communion (CIC. c. 844; Instruction “Redemptoris sacramentum”, 85)’

        We have seen in another context, how, for some people, an ‘extraordinary’ situation may become the ordinary.

  14. Why on earth would a athiest want Holy Communion?
    Now that I know whats meant, its obvious nonsense. A degredation of the Most Blessed Sacrament

  15. >>Why on earth would a athiest want Holy Communion?

    Why, indeed?!

    Nevertheless…

    I believe that the incredible, overwhelming grace bestowed by those who literally ingest into themselves the Body and Blood of Christ is a gift the Church should not deny, for Christ himself- while we were still sinners- did not deny us the Sacrifice of his own life and body on Calvary.

    Who exactly do we think we are to restrict access to God’s grace?
    Afterall, even the dogs get the crumbs that fall from the table.

      1. A couple of years ago, Princeton Alliance Church (in Plainsboro, NJ) had a Eucharist experiment of sorts, where they celebrated the Lord’s Supper by having people receive bread and wine and stand in small groups, eating and drinking together and talking about the experience. In a related blog post, their senior pastor wrote:

        “We will be looking at the two sacraments practiced by the Protestant Church – communion and baptism. Communion symbolizes the doorway to the church. Christ’s sacrifice on the cross paves the way for personal cleansing and a relationship with God. Josh will be sharing this weekend and I ask that everyone be praying for a clear message and call concerning the sacrifice of Christ and the elements of communion that facilitate our remembrance of that event. We trust some will make a decision this weekend to enter that door they have only previously gazed at from a distance. Then we hope they will be baptized the following week.”

        I remarked on my blog about how this sounded backwards to me, that the apostles preached baptism first. Acts and the epistles don’t spend a great deal of time on the Eucharist (1 Cor 10-11 being a major exception to that), but baptism comes up repeatedly.

        The Roman Catechism calls baptism the doorway: “The fruit of all the Sacraments is common to all the faithful, and these Sacraments, particularly Baptism, the door, as it were, by which we are admitted into the Church, are so many sacred bonds which bind and unite them to Christ.”

      2. Indeed, here is a place for an awareness that the initiation sequence is Baptism, Confirmation, Eucharist.

        Let’s not get things out of sequence.
        First Baptism, then Eucharist.

        None of this willy-nilly jumping the gun :-]

    1. It is quite clear in scripture that you should be of the right mind and free of sin before you approach The Lord. Now I am aware that no one is worthy. But I think a certain amount of effort is called for on the part of the communicant. Otherwise it becomes very casual. A situation, sadly, all to common today, even amongst Catholics.
      I would concede though, that it would not do the recipient any harm. So I do appreciate your point.

      1. Maybe he had Isaiah 6 in mind, or Exodus 3; in one, God has Isaiah’s lips purified, symbolically cleansing him to make him fit to preach, and in the other God has Moses remove the sandals from his feet because he is on holy ground.

        But then, Jesus approaches sinners all the time.

  16. >>It is quite clear in scripture that you should be of the right mind and free of sin before you approach The Lord.

    I’d like to spend a little more time exploring this, but off hand I would say the exact opposite seems true. Jesus approaches us in the midst of our sinfulness, not waiting behind a veil (or a rood screen or an altar rail) for us to get our act together first and then come to him already clean.

  17. Thank you Adam for a posting with such depth. It is not always clearly recognized that concepts such as conservative/liberal/ or Orthodox/Progressive or whatever labels might be used actually apply independently to concepts such as theology, Christology, Ecclesiology and liturgy…particularly music. Simply because a person advocates “conservative” music in the liturgy does not necessarily mean that they are similarly “conservative” in all other aspects. While it is sometimes true that those who hold conservative views in one aspect also hold them in others, there is no real reason why this has to be so other than a sort of reliance on “Tradition”, whatever that might mean.

    There are some conflicts… traditional hymnody and chant generally shun “inclusive language” and so might seem repugnant to one who has particularly strong views about sexual equality as it applies to liturgy. Similarly, one who holds rather conservative/orthodox views about liturgical theology (I’m referring here to those who might tend towards the EF) could have some problems with some current music that is drawn from a different liturgical theology. I don’t want to call out titles, but i think you might know what I’m talking about.

    I do however think that many individuals that might be viewed as “progressive Catholics” have developed their views and specific identity within the liturgical practices of the post-Vatican II Church, and therefore are inseperable from them in many ways, at least up until now. I think that is changing, and more cross-pollination of liturgical forms (the OF and EF are obvious examples, but this would also apply to ROTR celebrations of the OF such as one might experience at St. John Cantius, etc…) has brought to the surface more individuals such as yourself who find themselves bringing diverse practices and views together.

    1. >>traditional hymnody and chant generally shun “inclusive language”

      True on the English.
      Not so much with Latin Chant.

      In Latin, if you mean a male person, you say so.
      If you mean a non-gender specific person or group of people, or the particular concept of “human,” you say so.
      And verbs don’t require gendered pronouns (he/she/it did such-and-such).

      1. It’s not as simple as that, Adam. Deponent verbs and verbs in the passive voice are gender specific. And the masculine plural form is also used as a common plural.

      2. Yes, and in Latin tables and chairs have genders, too- I get that.

        But the biggest, most important (to me) issue with inclusive language is the inappropriate conflation of adult males with humanity generally. That problem doesn’t exist in Latin. (And shouldn’t have existed in the New ICEL texts if LA had been followed more closely).

      1. I’m Chironomo, Tom. It is the name I am known by to my friends online and to fellow bloggers. It comes, of course, from my vocation and profession of teaching and conducting chant (Chironomy).

  18. Only comments with a full name will be approved.

    Jeffrey Herbert :

    I’m Chironomo, Tom. It is the name I am known by to my friends online and to fellow bloggers. It comes, of course, from my vocation and profession of teaching and conducting chant (Chironomy).

    My new vocabulary word for today!
    Thanks.

  19. Jeffrey,

    In my younger days, chironomy was often referred to as “fish-flapping”. What does yours look like?

    1. Is that in reference to the hand motions of the “conductor”? (I don’t know the right terminology, clearly.) I’m thinking of what I remember of Scott Turkington directing us at a CMAA workshop back in September 2009, and the way his hands fluttered in the air… perhaps comparable to a fish flapping out of water.

  20. What a fascinating story of a fascinating journey. Thanks so much Adam.

    A missing piece I’m curious about, is how your believes in authority, infallibility, and church structure have progressed over the years. Who was placed in the care of whom, who was infallible about what, etc.

    To a lesser degree, I’m also curious when or whether Theology of the Body ever fell into your journey 🙂

    Thanks very much!

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