O yeah, the people – I keep forgetting

Michael Sean Winters at NCR writes:

Pope Benedict was not wrong when he said, in his comments at an ecumenical prayer service in Westminster Abbey, that “the choir sang” the entrance hymn “Christ Is Made the Sure Foundation.” The choir did sing. But, so too did the congregation. As I watched that moment, I wondered if Pope Benedict grasped the beauty of congregational singing. …

During EWTN’s coverage of the papal ceremonies, Mr. Raymond Arroyo and Father Robert Sirico snickered at the inclusion of female altar servers, suggesting it reflected “an agenda” when, in fact, it reflected standard practice in the UK, as it does in the U.S. Sirico also commented that the anthem sung by the choir at Westminster at the start of the service seemed out of place, when it, too, was glorious. There is plenty of room for musical and liturgical diversity in our Catholic faith. I hope Benedict came away from the hymn singing of the Brits with the question, “Why don’t we do that here in Rome?”


    1. Graceless?

      I’ll tell you what ‘gracelessness’ (and worse) is:

      the Pope, accompanied by several attendants, walks in solemn procession up the aisle of Westminster Abbey, during the singing of a congregational hymn (being thundered out by organ, choir and full congregation), and neither he nor any of his attendants make any effort whatsoever to join in the singing.

      That’s ‘gracelessness’ and far worse. See for yourself:


      1. The headline is graceless and insulting, with the implication being the His Holiness forgets about us poor folk in the pews.

      2. Uh, but he did precisely that in mentioning only the choir, no?

        Or is the real message that no one may ever criticize the Pope in your opinion? Blessed John Henry Newman disagreed pretty strongly. He said this about the pope (then Pius IX) reigning too long: “It is anomaly and bears no good fruit. He [the Pope] becomes a god, has no one to contradict him, does not know facts, and does cruel things without meaning it.” He described the papacy of his day as a “climax of tyranny.” Newman once lamented “The Holy See was once the court of ultimate appeal” and not the “extreme centralisation which now is in use.”

        @ John Drake: Was Blessed JH Newman graceless and insulting in these cases?


      3. This is a question of ars celebrandi. I think ‘best practice’ is for the celebrant to join in the hymn –which is what the US bishops call for in Sing to the Lord, including carrying a hymnal in procession if need be. There are problems with not joining in – it could signal that the celebrant doesn’t think he’s part of the congregation, or that he doesn’t think the hymn is part of the liturgy, or that (in the case of Mass) he thinks that only he offers the sacrifice and he must concentrate himself for what he’s about to do.

        Every justification I could think of for the celebrant not joining in the processional hymn seems to come from a pretty lousy theology of the liturgy, the nature of sacraments, the nature of the church, and the nature of ordained ministry.


      4. After a quick look back at the video, here’s my take. The pontiff is 80 something years old. Perhaps he is more focused on just getting up the aisle, and perhaps Msgr Marini, who appears to be about the only other one not singing, is focused on making sure His Holiness doesn’t have any difficulties. Maybe the pope isn’t that comfortable singing in English? To me, it seems uncharitable of this blog’s many contributors to find fault in every conceivable move the pope makes.

        As to Newman’s criticism of a pope…well, I guess lots of folks on this blog will be beatified in a century or so.

        I, for one, hope Benedict is granted many more years. I wish he had had the opportunity to succeed Peter a decade earlier than he did. (And that is not a knock on JPII.)

      5. John, I wouldn’t nit-pick about your logic except that you’re using it to misunderstand, and perhaps dismiss, others. That Newman criticized the Pope does not mean that everyone (on this blog or elsewhere) who criticizes the Pope will be beatified. No one claimed that here. But it could mean that criticism of criticizing the Pope is out of line. That was the point, I believe.

      6. It was heartening to see the Pope walking up the aisle of one of the great churches of Christendom with the congregation singing the entrance song and not wildly applauding, shoving towards the center aisle, even standing on the chairs as happens at the solemn papal liturgies in St. Peter’s. Meanwhile the Sistine Choir, in its customary dirge-like tone, drones on, quite as background music to the generally indecorous mayhem. I have often wondered why before the procession begins an announcement is not made in several languages, inviting the assembly to join in the entrance chant and to refrain from applauding.

        This is my repeated experience over thirty-two years. (Though I have to say that Archbishop Piero Marini brought greater dignity, reverence, and participation to Masses in the piazza, which at times in the past came close to being picnics. But still there is applause.)

  1. Papal liturgies are not exactly the best models for good celebration. Presiders and ministers do not join in the singing, the homily is largely a reading session, and there is always an overabundance of clergy. These liturgies appear too much to be exercises in adulation, celebrations of superstardom.

    1. IMHO, I prefer read homilies because they tend to display something measured, controled, pondered–exactly the opposite of superstardom. Moreover, at least the current pope joins in with the singing of the common parts of the mass, even when the creed is chanted in Latin.

      Overabundance of clergy? Would you prefer them all to be saying individual masses privately?

      1. “Would you prefer them all to be saying individual masses privately?”

        No, but some of them could be in mission territory spreading the Gospel. Or celebrating the Eucharist.

  2. I wonder if the writer remembers that BXVI hails from Bavaria, where hymn singing has at least as strong and long a history as Britain.
    The same observation applies when poking through the pope’s choir quote.
    Much ado about nothing.

    1. Yes, he does hail from hymn-singing Bavaria. But how is that relevant to this question, or how does it affect the writer’s post? You don’t tell us what your point is.

      “Much ado about nothing” could be read as insulting and dismissive, I think. Others consider liturgy, sacred music, ecclesiology, ordained ministry, etc., to be pretty important – not “nothing.”


      1. The point being that BXVI comes from a tradition in which the people sing, so of course he appreciates the people singing.
        To put one (nonexclusive) quote above his background and oft stated love of people singing the parts that pertain to them is out of proportion. Hence the much ado comment.
        The thing you mention are important, to us and demonstrably to BXVI.

      2. I think (and hope) that you’re right that these things (including congregational singing) are important to B16. But if it’s “demonstrably” important to him, this would have been a good time for him to demonstrate it by his word choice. Too bad his team chose the wrong words for him. But not the biggest problem on the planet, either.

  3. I agree with MSW. The commentary on EWTN was shameful and triumphalist. I do believe the Archbishop of Canterbury was singing on his way up the aisle. The liturgies themselves were glorious. The Lutherans and Catholics of Germany do love to sing would love to hear congregational hymns at St. Pete’s, not “Roman” enough I guess. Oh well, hats off to the Brits !

  4. Without meaning to sound too cynical – most of these liturgies are “performances” of the highest order. Do the majority of people come to these liturgies to truly give praise? May be… but I am sorry.. a huge majority, in my opinion, come to “see” the pope…. and the traditionalists (EWTN and others) constantly critique contemporary liturgies as being performances – my gosh, look at these celebrations on TV…most of the time they are indulgences in triumphal performance, far beyond anything you see happening in parishes. Cameras, videos, applause (and yet these same people often complain about clapping in church – give me a break!)… and Doyle singing at the opening mass from Les Mis…

    Please… save me.

    1. The JPII world travels were fine as a one time celebration of the global nature of Catholicism and its many diverse cultures. Those spectacles were as much about cultures and Catholicism as JPII.

      Ratzinger rarely went with JPII. I thought he considered them spectacles in line with his criticism of the liturgy, and had hoped he would scale back radically his trips and develop an alternative model of the papacy. So far he has not been successful.

      I found a reasonable explanation for B16’s disastrous PR performance in this interview of Austen Ivereigh by John Allen


      Ivereigh: “Make sure that the pope’s spokesperson meets regularly with the pope and sees his speeches beforehand. That’s why it worked very well with Joaquin Navarro-Valls and why it doesn’t work now with Fr. Federico Lombardi. I think that’s the fundamental problem. Now I think communications is seen as something that gets involved after the Secretariat of State is finished with it.

      There is a very powerful tension between the “civil service” mentality of the bishops’ conference secretariat or the Curia, and the demands of the modern media. That’s just a natural tension. The civil service deeply resented Navarro’s role. Under John Paul, the tension was resolved in favor of the communicator. Under this pope it’s been resolved in favor of the Secretariat of State, with disastrous results for communications.

  5. EWTN – Arroyo and Sirico. Review both of these guys backgrounds and education. Barely a masters degree between them; no expertise or training in liturgy, music, theology, etc.

    Sirico’s delayed vocation; skipping from religious order to diocese to diocese raises some real concerns as does his life story.

    Both have a tendency to ax grind with the belief that this is their true calling. They remind me more and more of the catholic church version of the Tea Party folks.

    Per Fr. Anthony’s comment policy, do not want to make a personal attack but, on the other hand, these folks protray themselves as experts on the church to a significant portion of the church and its most vulnerable. It is at times very appropriate to actually look at someone’s credentials, education, background, who is paying their salaries, etc. If they make their living in the media, then all of this should not be off limits – it is part and parcel of who and what they are.

    Continue to be dismayed that the USCCB does not “investigate” EWTN.

    1. For what infraction would you have the bishops investigate EWTN ? How would you feel about an investigation of the National Catholic Reporter?

      1. Would welcome both. EWTN – we play a game in which we never actually formally or officially make a declaration that could be labelled heresy. On the other hand, many reports are so patently biased that an uninformed, vulnerable, or person who only looks for certitude accepts the inaccurate, slanted, and often times incorrect reports as the church speaking. And EWTN makes no effort to clarify this; rather they play on these sympathies; they reinforce the notion that they are the truth, etc.

        NCR also has an ax to grind and you can find biased reporting and at times they do exaggerate to the point of incorrectness.

        This proves nothing but compare the level of person who contributes articles to NCR vs. contributors at EWTN. Compare the difference between the media methods – paper/internet vs. TV, paper, internet, etc.

        Would bet that between the two – NCR would welcome an honest and fair investigation; have my doubts about EWTN. Start with how each is financed and list the major donors. Would guess that EWTN will say that is confidential.

      2. I don’t watch EWTN much because I don’t watch TV much, but I once happened to tune in during a bishops’ conference meeting and was shocked at the theological incompetence. A viewer asked why the bishops were even discussing topic X, when it is the Pope who is the Vicar of Christ. The priest next to Raymond A., instead of clearing up basic misconceptions and pointing out that every bishop is a vicar of Christ in his diocese (according to V2) and episcopal conferences are a legitimate structure, said, “That’s a good point,” and proceeded to confirm the stupidity of the caller. If this is any indication of the level of their theology…


  6. I’ve never seen a celebrant commend the congregation for singing – I have seen them commend the choir (sometimes even asking that people give them applause). I’m not really sure why one would criticize the Pope for essentially doing something a lot of priests in ordinary parishes would do – I think most people recognize that choirs and church musicians tend to put a lot of extra effort (practice outside of Mass) and don’t feel slighted when that hard work is recognized. I’ve also been to Masses with congregational singing where the people themselves comment about how beautiful the choir was. The comment above really comes off as reaching for something to be angry about and strikes me as little different from those criticizing the use of altar girls and claiming its part of an “agenda.”

    1. But Pope Benedict has clearly criticized thanking or commending the choir during the liturgy (that’s not what he did in Westminster Abbey), and I agree with him on this point. The post, rather, is raising important fundamental questions about what the liturgical act is. It is you who is reaching – and you’re contradicting the pope’s own views in your attempt to defend him at all costs. Legitimate opinion will be defended on this blog.


      1. Sorry for getting part of it wrong – but even in light of your comment it really does come off as reaching. Sorry, you’ve not convinced me, and it has nothing to do with wanting to “defend the Pope at all costs.”

        Perhaps I think the Pope deserves the benefit of the doubt. I try not to ascribe motives to people for every little thing they say when I don’t have any reason to.

      2. I saw the pope singing the Gloria with the rest of the congregation. I wonder why this was never considered when making the point above about a non-singing celebrant and what it may come across as. I hope this wasn’t “conveniently” overlooked.

  7. In fact, during the Papal ceremony at Westminster Cathedral, four hymns were sung by the congregation – more than at Westminster Abbey! The congregation also sang the psalmody and Benedictus at Lauds (just before the Pope’s entrance), the opening dialogue with the Pope (in Latin), the response to the psalm, Credo III, the preface dialogue, the Pater noster and the closing dialogue.

    As for the Pope not singing during the procession at the Abbey, he is a German pope living in Italy. It is unlikely that he is familiar with a tune written by Henry Purcell or its English text. And he wasn’t given an order of service to read/sing from.

    I think Mr Winters ought to have done a little bit more thinking before posting on this topic.

    1. If that’s your excuse, why wasn’t he given an order of service? Doesn’t he have professionals (MC and his staff) who should know how to handle such things? Wouldn’t they want to get the liturgy right??

      1. I disagree with your assumption that the Pope should be obliged to sing the hymn, therefore I don’t offer any excuse.

        I often attend Mass and participate in a sung text without singing it. Well meaning liturgists keep telling me that’s impossible, but clearly it isn’t, as I do!

      2. I was there and think Mr East’s points about why he didn’t sing are probably about right. I’d only add that he’s elderly, was doubtless rather tired -he’d just come from the Westminster Hall speech, which must have been taxing – , and maybe wanted to husband his energy. Nor do I think having an order of service would necessarily be sufficient if you don’t know the hymn, as he probably did not.

        In normal circumstances I wouldn’t disagree that the celebrant should sing the hymn. But these were hardly normal circumstances. And, incidentally, the pope was not strictly the celebrant, nor was this a mass, it was evensong, so I don’t see that the point really applies here. It would have been nice if he had but I think it’s straining at a gnat to quibble about it, let alone call it graceless.

        On the wording he used: unfortunate but I suspect almost certainly a simple oversight in the drafting of the speech, and I think he tends to stick strictly to his script.

      3. “If that’s your excuse, why wasn’t he given an order of service?”

        Traditionally, a Bishop in his jurisdiction (and therefore the Pope everywhere) blesses the people during the entrance procession, though I don’t have a post-Vatican II Ceremonial of Bishops handy and can’t watch the video on this machine. With one hand for blessing the people (even if only occasionally) and one hand for holding his pastoral staff he’d need three hands to hold an order of service too.

  8. Anthony Ruff, OSB :

    Uh, but he did precisely that in mentioning only the choir, no?

    Could it be that whichever cleric drafted his speech was given unclear information by the organisers as to what was sung by choir or by everybody? Or did the Pope’s use of the word “choir” in fact refer to everyone singing the hymn?

    1. It could well be that the cleric drafting his speech got it wrong. An unfortunate mistake – but we all make mistakes.

      1. I disagree – it’s a non-issue, written about by a journalist looking to pick nits. Why not discuss something which is really controversial, like the fact that at the Westminster Cathedral Mass the Sanctus was sung to a polyphonic setting by the choir alone? Isn’t that an unforgivable sin? And if so, why did the Pope allow it?

  9. Anthony Ruff, OSB :

    This is a question of ars celebrandi. I think ‘best practice’ is for the celebrant to join in the hymn –which is what the US bishops call for in Sing to the Lord, including carrying a hymnal in procession if need be. There are problems with not joining in – it could signal that the celebrant doesn’t think he’s part of the congregation, or that he doesn’t think the hymn is part of the liturgy, or that (in the case of Mass) he thinks that only he offers the sacrifice and he must concentrate himself for what he’s about to do.
    Every justification I could think of for the celebrant not joining in the processional hymn seems to come from a pretty lousy theology of the liturgy, the nature of sacraments, the nature of the church, and the nature of ordained ministry.

    Are you suggesting that if the congregation sings an offertory hymn, the celebrant should interrupt his prayers over the gifts and join in the hymn in order not to separate himself from the “assembly”? That sounds like pretty lousy theology to me!

    In this case it’s pretty obvious that B XVI was not given an…

    1. No, Tom, I wouldn’t suggest that, so your comment helps clarify the difference between processional and Prep of Gifts. When a hymn is accompanying what the celebrant does (eg at Prep), the celebrant does his part. But during a procession – I’m agreeing with the US bishops here – the celebrant joins in with the congregational hymn.

      1. See below, Anthony – what if the choir sings the Introit alone?

        More importantly, can you find a better case to examine to discuss this issue, as an ecumenical service in a protestant church in the UK presumably doesn’t come under the USA bishops’ guidelines?

      2. Hi Tom –

        You raise good questions, and this is helping me to clarify my own thinking.

        My point isn’t that US bishops’ guidelines are ‘binding’ in non-RC churches outside the US. Rather, the principle in the US bishops’ document is a good one which I think applies to pretty much all Christian worship, viz: worship leaders are part of the congregation who join in the congregational music unless if their ministry requires otherwise.

        Hymns are hymns, introits are introits. Hymns are meant for everyone to sing, and that includes the celebrant. Choral introits are meant for everyone to listen to (i.e., participate by listening), and that includes the celebrant.


      3. Yo Anthony –

        Indeed, you have clarified your thinking and put forward a common sense argument (introits = choir, hymns = all) which could be applied to all Christian worship. But without exception? Is this a norm, or is it a rule which must never be broken?

        If you examine the video clip in detail, you will see that as the hymn starts the Dean of the Abbey points to his order of service and talks to the Pope. The Pope nods as if he understands and points down to the order of service. We can only guess what is said, but it appears to be related to the order of service. The Pope then walks in not singing. (Off topic: notice that several times Canterbury gives blessings to people on his left, but the Pope doesn’t – the irony is that they were probably seeking the Pope’s blessing!) Once they reach the sanctuary and it is the Pope’s turn to speak, he is given not just his text but A PAIR OF READING GLASSES. Do you think the simple explanation is that the Pope didn’t sing because he would have required his reading glasses to see the text, but then couldn’t walk while doing so?

      4. Tom and all –

        I agree, we should cut the Pope some slack. There are good practical reasons why the Pope didn’t sing along, and it’s probably his staff, not he, who wrote his comments about the choir singing the hymn.

        I’m satisfied that at least this discussion has served to put out there the ideal that the celebrant (or leader or co-leader or any other liturgical minister) join in the congregational music.


  10. Mr. East – you confusing different parts of the ritual – they are not all the same. But, the entrance is part of the ritual in which all participate in the same action (singing) even when some stand and others process.

    It in the overall scheme of things is a minor point and yes, he is advanced in age but others have raised legitimate observations and questions.

    1. Then would you argue that when the Introit is sung by the choir alone, this is wrong because the congregation is not joining in?* (A reverse of the situation described above where the Pope is not singing but the congregation is.)

      And if you do, how do you explain that it happens thus at a Papal Mass?

      * Note that I deliberately do not use the word “participating” here

    2. Tom and all, actually the order of preference given in GIRM 48 is: 1. choir and people; 2. cantor and people; 3. people alone; 4. choir alone.

      Choir alone is an option, but it would be a curious option when the custom is 3, 2, or 1. It’s certainly as lawful as a non-Scriptural song or hymn. And given the Church’s preference for a musical dialogue at Entrance, one might say our “best” practice involves utilizing the introit and psalm verses in some form of dialogue.

  11. Mr. East – we had another, earlier blog on the whole question around antiphons and the GIRM suggested priority order in terms of how best to do antiphons, etc.

    If my memory serves me, the GIRM places the highest emphasis on the antiphons being sung by all; cantor and all, cantor/choir; then finally choir.

    Those who compose music can best respond. One comment I see is that some hymns have been composed based on the antiphon, scriptural words; so, to always juxtapose antiphon and hymn is not always correct. If the principle is to have the scriptural roots in the liturgy, then how this is done musically may change given the nature of the community; the skills, musical education, etc.

    1. Mr. deH (if I may) – if what you write in your 2nd paragraph is correct, then clearly an Introit sung by the choir alone is a legitimate option.

      I do not, therefore, see how it can be argued (notwithstanding purely practical issues mentioned above) that the Pope should be obliged to join in an opening hymn.

      Bear in mind, too, that in this scenario the Pope is in Westminster Abbey, a protestant church, at an ecumenical service. I don’t think it’s a particularly good example with which to try to demonstrate this point, either way.

  12. Tom East wrote The congregation also sang the psalmody and Benedictus at Lauds (just before the Pope’s entrance)

    Actually they didn’t. The choir did, and some of the priests present; but the congregation was largely mute.

    I wonder if anyone noticed the Pope singing along with Chris Walker’s Alleluia at the Vigil in Hyde Park? He didn’t need the words, and the music, though somewhat repetitive, obviously moved him.

  13. Paul Inwood :

    Tom East wrote The congregation also sang the psalmody and Benedictus at Lauds (just before the Pope’s entrance)
    Actually they didn’t.


    Actually you are wrong, they did. Lauds was sung in dialogue between cantor and congregation. The choir wasn't present. You obviously weren't there either!

    1. In dialogue between cantor and clergy. Very clearly. I didn’t mention the choir at all. The congregation was largely mute, as previously stated.

      I was not there, but I watched the liturgy on TV on two of the channels covering the service, and on a computer simultaneously giving a live webcast feed, in order to have the largest choice of camera angles and sound sources.

      1. Paul, you very clearly DID refer to the Choir in fact. Why don’t you read your post again? And as someone who was in the congregation I can tell you that we did join in the psalm singing and were making lots of noise!

        I had a look at the tv coverage later on and this part of the service wasn’t broadcast other than just a small background clip to the pre-service commentaries. Given this and your self contradiction it seems to me that your posts are misleading to put it mildly. Now why would you wish to create a false impression of what happened at Wesrminster?

      2. Tom, this is a cheap shot, lacking any serious discussion of the composer you mention by name. Desist, please.

  14. “The headline is graceless and insulting, with the implication being the His Holiness forgets about us poor folk in the pews.”

    (It would appear he does forget about us…with this new translation being forced upon us, without any input from the faithful)

    1. Are you proposing to have a committee of lay people to approve it? If so, how many lay people and how would they be chosen? And if I then don’t like the result and I wasn’t on that committee, could I demand that it is put forward for approval to an even larger group which includes me? But then somebody in my parish might not like it, so perhaps it could be revised again with his or her approval, and so on. Where would we be then?

  15. Anthony Ruff, OSB :

    Tom, this is a cheap shot, lacking any serious discussion of the composer you mention by name. Desist, please.

    No, Anthony, it’s not a cheap shot. Please read the series of posts by Paul Inwood and my replies. The cheap shot is the attempt by Mr Inwood to lead people into believing (by posting untruths about the participation during the Mass at Westminster) that the music at Hyde Park was more successful as not only the large crowd, but the Pope too, joined in.

    I have nothing against the music of Chris Walker but I don’t think Paul Inwood should be allowed to make these sorts of comments or insinuations unchallenged.

    Is it not interesting that the only music the Pope refers to (and praises) in his resume of the UK visit is that from Westminster Cathedral?

    By the way, aren’t you interested in the Sanctus issue?

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