Consistency and Diversity

For Lætare Sunday, we sang the Gregorian chant introit and communio (listen here and here) at Saint John’s Abbey. Not quite as smooth as I would like, but I’ll take it. But that’s not why I’m posting. Rather, I want to raise the issue of mixing musical styles within one liturgy. At this Mass with these schola chants, plus Latin Sanctus by assembly, everything else was a style other than Latin chant. The MemAcc and Amen were English chant (OK, “amen” is Hebrew) and I think that fit OK with the chant Sanctus. Psalm and GospelAcc with organ. And this: a fantastic, moving spiritual sung by a Bahamian student at Prep of Gifts. Closing hymn in what you might call classical “Protestant” (I prefer “ecumenical”) style.

Does all this hang together??

I’m of two minds. I’d very much enjoy hearing what you think. A part of me is a purist (you already knew that) and would very much appreciate a liturgy entirely in chant, or entirely unaccompanied with chant and some vocal harmonies, or entirely classical hymns with organ-based service music, or entirely in African-American idioms. Another part of me thinks it is pastorally advisable and more engaging for our people to do a variety of styles within one liturgy. I suppose stylistic diversity reflects the reality that our culture is postmodern (to use a word I’d rather not). And I think of the Austrian church musicians who, after the 1903 chant restoration, argued that you couldn’t use Latin chant in Austria because it just doesn’t fit alongside their rich tradition of orchestral church music. Fast forward a generation or two, and on the eve of the Second Vatican Council, the Austrian musicians were arguing that the highest model of Western sacred music is High Mass with orchestral Mass ordinary and (you guessed it) Latin chant propers.

Consistency or diversity? Whaddayathink?



  1. I think, by and large, you have a good approach. First, I think that the “pride of place” of Gregorian Chant ought to be respected (and far too rarely is). However, that doesn’t mean that we can’t build around the chant (or that English chants can’t also be used, provided we have good settings). A good option might be a) chanting all the propers and ordinary (vernacular or Latin) and then b) adding a hymn (sung by all) before the introit, after the communion, and for the recessional. As members of the Roman Rite, the chant is automatically suitable to every community. The hymns chosen ought to be suitable to the sensibility of the particular community and “mesh” well with the chant. From how you described your approach above, I think that the hymns provided did mesh well to your local situation. I think we ought to say that we should never reject what is the heritage of our rite, but shouldn’t think that means that anything else ought to be rejected without good cause.

  2. Mixed approach is much more practical.
    For one thing, it’s more likely that you’ll be able to “be all things to all, to save at least some.”
    It’s more likely to keep people engaged. Most people would become bored with a whole Mass of “the same, the same, the same.”
    In parish life, the alternatives are not good: chant alone (which would drive people away), some other style alone (which would be inauthentic, and also drive people away), or separate Mass times with separate styles (8am High Mass, 10am Folk Mass, 12pm Spanish, 6pm LifeTeen)- which unduly separates the Body into little music cliques (plus- what do you do on Feast Days?)

    Finally- having a variety of styles that are artfully combined into a (postmodernly) unified whole turns the “Hermaneutic of Continuity” into a living breathing reality instead of some boring theology from far away men.

    1. The interesting thing is 90 percent of our parishes are doing the same thing over and over and over again week after week. The “Gathering hymn” (whatever that is) in the style of Haugen or Haas or perhaps reaching a little farther back in the tradition to St. Louis Jesuits. The psalm is whatever setting OCP tells them they must do, or the same psalm week after week even if it has nothing to do with the Lectionary for the day, or worse a song in the above style. The offertory–again the same. Communion–yup you guessed it (although maybe a Taize refrain if they are feeling like changing it up a bit). And last but not least is the “sending forth song” that sounds just like the others. Mixed in with this is the mandatory Mass of Creation.

  3. I would say contrapuntal, rather than consumerist, diversity.

    That is:

    1. Stylistic uniformity for its own sake is not a particularly significant bonum.
    2. The choice in each idiom should be of high quality; mixing and matching levels of quality is the problem, not mixing idioms as such.
    3. Avoid the Chinese take-out menu approach to selection (“one from Column A, one from Column B”…); over time, there can be an insidiously consumerist pull in this process. Instead, adopt a consciously contrapuntal approach: choices should be designed with the liturgical texts of the day and season as the Goldberg Variation harmonic canon, as it were, and they should complement and contrast in relation to each other. This is where deeply musical and prayerful contemplation is invaluable….

    The mortar should be the presidential chants, of course.

    * * *
    I have fond memories of encountering cantillation at St Columba’s in Oakland, with Gospel-style incipits and terminations, as it were. It suited the Roman liturgy very well.

  4. Interesting you should ask this question. As I left the abbey Mass this Sunday with a few people we talked about how the music styles didn’t really fit with each other. I like all of them individually, but this week they seemed disjointed.

    This isn’t to say that one style should rule every Mass. Rather, it’s that there were too many styles being put together this time.

    That said, I do greatly enjoy the variety of music the abbey tends to have from week to week. Perhaps that’s a better way to include variety instead of within each Mass itself. Perhaps part of this variety comes from the fact that there are at least two of you who plan the music. (Is that how it works? I just assume you plan the Masses you play.) It’s obvious who leans toward what styles, and I find that to be a benefit not a detriment.

    And I LOVE the Polish introit and communio chants…they are stunning. Given the starkness of the abbey’s design, the music “decorates” it.

  5. In a perfect world: Gregorian chant at mass, polyphony and orchestral masses in concert, St. Louis Jesuits when I’m singing to my daughter.

    Praise God that we live in a culture where we can worship in freedom and have discussions like this!

  6. I would consider separating the spirituals from the 4-square hymns, mainly to separate the American idiom from the German/British idiom.

    These tunes would combine nicely in a Mass with spirituals:
    Land of Rest
    New Britain
    Faith (Moyer)

    These might not:
    Winchester New

    The American tunes are like mellow running rivers, without severe modulations.

  7. I’ve been fortunate to be in parishes for the past 25 years which have had a full time organist/music director. The eclectic Liturgy is usually the case for all Masses. We sang “spirituals” in the parish with a nice mix of races. Only when I began to celebrate the OF once a month in 2002 with the new MR entirely in Latin did I experience for the first time a “Gregorian Mass” where everything sung was of the same idiom. It was beautiful. Since 2007 with the EF Sung Mass once a month the same–all Gregorian except for the “traveling music.” Apart from hymns of a national origin or language, I do think that a more harmonious approach to the Mass itself would be beneficial and bring about consistency as long as the idiom is harmonious with our Catholic heritage of sacred music for the Mass.

  8. “2. The choice in each idiom should be of high quality; mixing and matching levels of quality is the problem, not mixing idioms as such.”

    I couldn’t agree with Karl more. Diversity of styles pursued with (1) true devotional fervor and (2) an uncompromising standard of excellence will result in well celebrated liturgies. This can include, within the rhythm of a community’s worship, both a diversity within and among celebrations (i.e. “all chant” or “all Gospel” style masses along with masses that incorporate many styles within one celebration).

  9. Mine is a small Ukrainian Catholic Parish just north-west of Toronto, Canada. All liturgical services are sung a cappella, usually by the whole congregation. We sing primarily, Gallician Chant but we also use Kievan, Carpatho-Russin, and Znamenny. For the latter we use a schola which means it is restricted to week day services. These are all various chants from the Byzantine-Slavic tradition. Children and young people take to them readily. My point is that the congregation can be actively and consciously participants with music that is solely liturgical. Visit our website and view the YouTube section to experience a sample.

  10. Common sense comes into play. Just as most of us each morning coordinate colors when choosing what to wear (well, maybe not you monks), liturgical music works best when the individual components complement the whole. As in thoughtfully constructed concert programs, this doesn’t necessarily preclude stylistic variety. It is a stretch, however, to juxtapose Mozart’s choral Ave verum with offerings of a mariachi band and expect everyone to be pleased.

  11. I like a variety of styles when I plan music for my parish. I usually work directly from the Scriptures of the day and choose songs that match those themes and texts. I also try to mix “traditional” hymns with more current songs, and throw in some really upbeat and rhythmic music for the people who always aske for “more upbeat” no matter what the choir is singing. My parish loves this variety, though, and I’m sure I would get an earful if I did the same style of music for a whole mass.

    I think you need to be in tune to what your community likes, responds to, and sings well. And use your own “liturgical, musical, and pastoral” judgments to fulfill the needs of your community.

  12. I have done parish music in both ways: diverse styles within each service and diverse styles from one Mass to the next, with each one of a particular genre of its own. In a large parish with several Sunday masses, I have found it more practical to center each Mass around a certain genre. On a typical feast day, we might have adult choir/brass/organ at one Mass, children’s choir/woodwinds/organ/piano at another, cantor/organ/handbells at another and cantor/lead/rhythm/bass guitar/drums/keyboard/flute at another. While you can do a certain range of styles well with each group, the nature of each group fits some styles better than others. I did not ask our contemporary ensemble to play Palestrina, nor did I ask our classically-minded adult choir to sing Spirt and Song music. Since you can’t have every ensemble at every Mass, it is more practical to focus each liturgy on the resources at hand.

    1. Also, “something for everyone” at a given Mass can quickly turn into “something to offend everyone.”

  13. We have only one ensemble at our parish – portions of it sing at one mass and the rest of the group sing at the other mass on Sunday morning, but we all sing the same music for all three masses on any weekend or feast.
    Our repetoire varies widely. We do (or have done, depending on resources available) Latin chant, Latin motets, English chant, chant/melody pieces [Psallite, for example} through composed traditional hymnody, and the music of of the more modern composers. We have not gone into Christian praise music partially because no one has asked to do it and partially because it is not my cup of tea. 🙂
    We use a mix of these genres within the masses, rather than splitting the assemblies according to musical preference.

  14. Lynn Thomas: Our fairly large parish pretty much defines ‘diverse’ [20% Hispanic, and among those at an English language Mass the pastor once counted more than 40 first languages], and our music reflects that. The choir’s music is pointed toward the readings or ‘event’ of the day, and often mixes styles during Mass. While this isn’t always the most emotionally comfortable or musically consistent approach, it does ensure that there’s something for most tastes at most Masses. The things I tend to feel most ‘comfortable’ with are the things I experienced growing up in a much less diverse community, after all, and leaving others feeling left out just so I’m comfortable would be wrong.

    Among the music groups there is a great deal of consistency in the selections each week, but not an unvarying uniformity. For our parish, it works quite well and folks seem genuinely pleased with the music even when it’s not necessarily ‘their’ style. In fact, we have that rare thing, a parish…

  15. Despite my absolute enchantment with the “pride of place” forms of sacred music since having joined CMAA and attending colliquia and chant intensive, I don’t believe that programming eclectically should be avoided entirely. I remember that Msgr. Mannion articulated four “models” of sacred music styles that, if I remember correctly, he seemed to endorse the strict adherence to employing one model for one specific Mass. For example, the utilitarian model could have everyone singing Richard Rice’s SIMPLE CHORAL GRADUAL Propers, an Andres Gouzes’ Ordinary and some Taize ostinatos. One can easily see the merit to this sort of consistency.
    However, I still think that in the modern American parish that employs the Latin rite, there remains a desire for diversity and variety when the leadership chooses repertoire of distinction with discretion, and performs and leads with excellence.
    The MCW 3-fold judgment needs killin’. CMAA’s motto should be taken up instead: SACRED, BEAUTIFUL,…

  16. The thing is, with diminishing numbers of priests, merging/clustering of parishes, and diminishing numbers of Masses, people are now celebrating together who never had to until recently. Congregations are now made up of people whose worshipping traditions may have been very different, but who have now come together out of necessity. We are therefore faced with the task of presenting Eucharists in which all present can have some stake.

    I believe it is pastorally inexcusable to say to such people “You only like style X, but we’ll only be having it once every three weeks; so for the remaining two weeks your Mass will be comparatively unfulfilling. Get used to it.” We need to find ways of incorporating Styles X, Y and Z into the same celebration, so that all have at least something they can identify with as feeding their spirituality in every Mass.

    This in turn means that everyone has to give up something for the sake of the common good. (Continued)

  17. Adam, You describe a beautiful Mass, but my preferences differ a bit. I will mention only two points – first, in my context, I would not care for Mass to take that long, if only because my parish is big enough to offer 7 Masses each weekend and the two priests would like to eat lunch and maybe take a bathroom break on Sunday! Such long Masses would also cause untold parking problems on our campus. This is not intrinsic to Mass, but an issue that would distract me from the doings and so it affects my preferences. In a stand-alone world, a two-hour Mass is not necessarily a bad thing, but to hold my attention it would have to be executed very well. Second, I would skip the incense, or severely limit it. When we use it, it inevitably drifts right into the choir, and I am utterly incapable of sneezing on key or in time. From the responses of my fellow choir members, this is a common deficiency in our skills. There is no good way to move us, either. Your music balance is near mine

  18. (Ctd) It seems to me that this element of self-sacrifice, with everyone giving up something, should seem natural to Christians, but on the ground it does not yet appear to be so. I think this is because music is something which is rooted deep in our guts and arouses correspondingly strong emotions.

    My code-name for this self-sacrifice is Ritual Hospitality, and of course it has deep implications for the way in which we tackle multi-ethnic and transcultural celebrations too.

    I don’t think you can just have a random mélange of styles, however; it needs to be more systematic. The introductory rites in Style A, Liturgy of the Word in Style B, Liturgy of the Eucharist in Style C, Communion and concluding rites in Style D is an obvious way of using this pastoral exigency to help point out the structure of the rite. Acclamations in Style X, Litany-forms in Style Y, Antiphons and Psalms in Style Z could be another. Perhaps varying the system each week would work well. (Ctd)

  19. (Ctd) All this assumes, however, that you consider that every style has (potentially) equal value, which some posting here clearly do not. The underlying question here is whether all music is potentially capable of being used in the praise of God, if our fallible human bodies are sufficiently adept to make it so, or whether only certain types of music are suitable for humans to use as expressions of their worship.

    Historically, the music of the Church always kept pace with, and even led the way with, the musical idioms of the secular world. It was only in the 19th century that the ‘antiquarian’ movements spearheaded by such as Guéranger in France and the Caecilians in Germany re-erected the twin pillars of mediaeval plainchant and 16th-century polyphony as paragons of liturgico-musical virtue. That can be seen as a fossilizing move as well as a resoration, depending on one’s point of view, and we can reflect on whether we would even be having this conversation if they had not…

  20. I really like your choir sound, Father! But sounds like they now need to work really hard on their rhythm. Sounds … wrong. Which edition do they sing from?

  21. Hi Ralph – we sing from the early neumes in the Graduale Triplex in the semiological understanding of rhythm taught by Cardine at the Pontifical School of Sacred Music in Rome. It’s become a fairly standard rhythmic interpretation in Europe in the last 40 years or so. It’s not the equalism and ictus (etc.) approach that reigned until the 1960s.

  22. How is it “pastorally advisable” to encourage the impression that the Church takes liturgical direction from the ethnic and stylistic contingencies of a given congregation? This strikes me as supine. The Church should, in its central act of collective prayer, represent a different, transcendent culture of holiness, and thus a robust challenge to secular culture.

    1. Uhmm, have you read any of the documents from Rome, starting with Vatican II, or from the US bishops, on inculturation? This is a naive statement unworthy of the Church’s teachings and directives on the topic.

  23. Yes, I have read them, Father, and have thought about them. I do think the Church loses something in the process of inculturation, although it gains things, too. Recently, it seems to me that a good bit is being lost and that a stronger assertion of distinctively Catholic things should help. I am not, obviously, a member of the clergy, just a commenter, so if my statement is “unworthy” etc., then there is little need to stamp on it. I admire your book, by the way, and think your choir’s singing is marvelous.

    1. Anthony – thanks for your kind and complimentary words. I apologize for overstating my criticism – I guess I’m overly sensitive to anything which sounds like a “transcultural ideal” (I know you didn’t use that term). I read the documents as advocating a more nuanced symbiosis between liturgy and a given culture.

  24. And with your spirit, thank you. I would say the documents advocate a “careful” symbiosis, carefulness being attuned to making the Roman rite and its meaning more fully understood and realized. In this, I understand the Church is to be in the stable, not waffling, position. It has a strong culture already, by organic tradition, and this culture already has great (“inestimable” is a word used in the documents) value. It has nourished and challenged our saints. Sometimes, it is in danger of losing its distinctive savor. May God bless you in your priesthood.

    1. My own experience of the Catholic Mass since the reforms began, especially with music is that we lost our way. Inculturation may have had a big part in this. For Americans, it was folk music and hymn singing and borrowing from Protestant hymnals more and more. What was not the focus was singing the actual Mass, either in a chant mode in English or something else. That has changed over time, but our primary focus still seems to be on hymns of a variety of styles as highlighted by Fr. Anthony. Current contemporary Catholic music let’s say from OCP sounds like bar piano music or borrowed tunes from Broadway hits. Most of us have very eclectic experiences at Mass due in large part to a loss of Catholic identity in music and tradition. I only became more cognizant of this in 2002 when our parish began to sing a monthly Mass with only Gregorian chant and some Latin motets. The spirituality of this style of singing the Mass is much deeper than the superficiality we impose upon the Mass today in the name of diversity or cultural sensitivity. It’s the closed circle that Pope Benedict decries.

  25. “we sing from the early neumes in the Graduale Triplex in the semiological understanding of rhythm taught by Cardine at the Pontifical School of Sacred Music in Rome. It’s become a fairly standard rhythmic interpretation in Europe in the last 40 years or so. It’s not the equalism and ictus (etc.) approach that reigned until the 1960s.”

    Father, I have a sizable collection of Gregorian chant CD’s, many from Europe, but none of them sing the rhythm like that. Can you please point me to a website where I can buy CD’s that use that rhythm?

    1. Ralph, having sung with Fr. Anthony’s schola during my student days at St. John’s, I have a good sense of what he’s speaking about. It was a hard-sell for me (at first) to abandon the equalism and neum-grouping Solesmes, but once I did, I found myself retooling my CD-collection.

      You might start by searching, or better yet, for any of the following conductors: David Eben, Godehard Joppich, Marcel Peres, Franz Karl Prassl, Alessio Randon, Alberto Turco — these are the the names that I look for, whose performances I’ve found most impressive (read: textually intelligible and rhytmically engaged).

      1. A while back I really enjoyed the Millennium of Music broadcast that compared the Schola Hungarica with Ensemble Organum. Was quite interesting. Thanks for these additional names!

      2. Thanks for the tip. My cd of chant conducted by Fr. Joppich arrived yesterday. Has been in my cd player constantly since then. It’s the only chant cd I have that includes the verses of the offertory responsories. The offertory for the Ascension (Ascendit Deus) is more than worth the entire cost.

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