Pro-Active Participation

I went to Mass with a devout Catholic friend a while ago who is an accomplished singer, musician, and scholar of medieval music.  When I warned her that the liturgical music at that particular Mass was likely to give her a headache, she responded that she knew better than to come to Mass unprepared — she had ear plugs in her purse, at every liturgy she attended.

This friend stands for what I have come to call pro-active participation at Mass, the kind of embodied presence I bring to worship so as truly to be open to encountering the Triune God.  Such pro-active participation will be specific to each individual worshipper:  it might mean earplugs for a highly-trained musician; it will mean hard labor for mothers of infants (as I well remember); and it will entail yet something else for a woman wheeling her mother who suffers from senile dementia to Mass in a wheel chair.  Moreover, this kind of pro-active participation does not only apply to pro-active preparation but rather accompanies the liturgical celebration as a whole.  And it also has nothing to do with what one might call “activist” participation but rather is an attentive, pro-active opening toward what beckons us — and to what might hinder us, as the particular person we are —  in being present, in worship, to the Triune God.  (Which means that right now, I really need to get ready to hop on my bike, so as not to have to race to Mass but be able to cycle in prayerful anticipation :).


  1. Sometimes I bring my Boze headphones to screen out the noise before Mass.

    But I am very tempted to use them to supply my own music instead of “noise” provided by the choir, and even more by the “noise” of the homily.

  2. I always tell my assembly that if they don’t like the sound of someone singing, they should sing louder and drown them out. Even as a professional singing, bad singing never bothers me. No singing (by the assembly) bothers me!

  3. I’m not sold. What’s the point of going to liturgy if you’re not going to be with these people (as opposed to one’s extremely cool friends) in this place? I appreciate the “pro-active” notion of preparing your heart for the liturgy (and the scaling down of expectations involved in going to mass with small children, etc.) but that’s not what the earplugs represent.

    One young theologian confided to me at a conference cocktail party several years ago that because he’s such a good family guy he always goes to the local parish with his family “for the kids” — but is always sure to bring a recent journal with him to read during the lousy homily. I smiled gamely at his cleverness, but inside I’m thinking “what a jerk.” And I’m wondering about the lessons that this sneering kind of “presence” at liturgy is teaching his kids.

  4. I wish I could be as charitable as you are about bad singing, Kevin. I agree that no singing is worse, but an individual or small group mangling the music is a serious distraction for me. In a large group I suspect the good and the bad all blur toward a tolerable middle [muddle?]

    1. Jeffrey Tucker of “Chant Cafe” fame has a point. Why not have a couple of people chanting English propers (even recto tono). Isn’t it far better than having to endure mangled music?

  5. I agree with Mr. Keil. How presumptious to assume that one voice is better than another. I think God appreciates every effort we make at praising him. Just out of curiosty, did this women use ear plugs when the Mass was in Latin with just the same amount of awful singing that sadly is present in many parishes today. I remeber the Mass in Latin, and just as now very few parishes had music programs that did the Tridentine Liturgy any service. Did this women ever offer her services to help make the music better?

  6. It’s not just about singing talent. It’s about whether what is being played or sung really seems to belong in that context, whether the music is really music for Mass or some other genre dragged it because the music group likes it or whatever. This is the real issue.

    The view that one needs earplugs at Mass is one held by a vast number of Catholics, and I’m glad to see this acknowledged here. There are also millions and millions of Catholics who will not go to Mass for this very reason. It is just too painful and embarrassing.

  7. It would seem the easiest solution would be to get parishioner input regarding the music, but then how does one go about telling the music director and lead soprano that adding trills to every phrase is distracting and usually wrong for the music?
    That said, ideally the music direction reflects the best from all our traditions, modified by local preference. I like most of the music I sing in choir, but not all of it. that’s a matter of personal taste. The important thing for me isn’t whether I like the music, but whether the congregation finds it conducive to prayer.
    Based on my own experience, I would say that if, for whatever reason, you can’t tolerate Mass at one parish, make the effort to find a parish that suits you. It is most likely the parish liturgy suits the tastes of the pastor, so it is unlikely the liturgy will change. Better to attend Mass where you can focus on the Mass rather than on all the things that irritate you.

  8. This all sounds like a result of our general failure to do liturgical education in the places it is needed most, during Sunday Masses. The GIRM permits the homily to be instructive on the liturgy, something which has not been done in most parishes because the priests themselves are not well instructed in liturgy.

    We still have great confusion about the role of music in liturgy. Basically, music is used in liturgy to encourage the unison prayer of the assembly. All else is lagniappe, cultural adjustment.

    I try not to grimace at birthday party singing nor at sports events. Given the absence of drunks, church singing is usually better, but I would rather have all participating in the song, even by speaking what others are singing, than to discourage any individual from this communal participation.

    OTOH, I have also resorted to bringing articles, especially commentaries on the lectionary readings, to give me some appropriate focus during predictably poor preaching and lengthy musical concertizing. It is better for my soul than the anger these practices induce when I attend to them.

  9. The ND Study of Parish Life 1981-1985 clearly showed that music was a problem area. Read Reports 5 and 6.

    “It would appear that the evolving practice is to use music only as a way to get the congregation to join into the peoples’ parts, in contrast to the classic tradition of East and West of setting the entire liturgy, whether done by priest, monks, or people, to music.” (Report 5, p.12)

    “A clearer indication of the weakness of congregational singing is the fact that in only 12% of all Masses did the overwhelming majority of the people join in hymn singing; in another 18% at least two-thirds joined in. The singing of the common parts of the Mass (i.e., Kyrie or Gloria, Sanctus, etc.) was wholehearted at between a quarter and a third of the Masses. From this information, two things seem clear: the general level of congregational participation in the sung parts of the Mass is far from impressive, but the congregation does slightly better with repeated, familiar texts like the Sanctus than with texts which change from week to week, like hymns.” (Report 5, p.15)

    “In Report 5, we demonstrated the importance of music and singing to the overall quality of people’s participation. Parishioners are critical of the musical fare they experience at Mass, but they seem to want something better. Only 4% would really prefer to have no congregational singing; 67% are happy that there is singing and another 26% said they do not mind. So, while parishioners are generally happy to sing, a sizable proportion of them are unhappy with the music used in their parish Yet 37% and 40%, respectively, are dissatisfied with the quality of music and singing. Compared with the figures on the readings, prayers, and ritual, it is obvious that there is room for improvement. (Report 6, p.3)

    If 40% of the people put on headphones during singing, maybe we would face the music problem rather than denying or running away from it.

  10. Today, like other Sundays which fall around or near patriotic holidays, I struggle with singing America the Beautiful or God Bless America, or whatever song is sung. I really dislike the use of patriotic music at liturgy.

    That said, I really struggle and sometimes, like today, remain silent. It pains me to feel like I am separating myself from the community.

    Earplugs? Honestly, I can’t believe it. It just feels so self-obsessed, so self-contained and so affected.

    1. “Earplugs? Honestly, I can’t believe it. It just feels so self-obsessed, so self-contained and so affected.”

      I agree with this statement heartily – the liturgy is not about your personal likes and dislikes! The liturgy is about the gathering of the people of God to offer praise and thanksgiving through community prayer and song, remembering the salvation obtained for us by Jesus!!
      If one finds the music at one’s parish so terribly offensive as to need earplugs, one should find a different parish.

    2. My college age daughter made the comment that America the Beautiful and God Bless America are no longer sung by high school choirs precisely because these songs have assumed the status of hymns. Whether or not she is correct, if the songs are offered as sincere prayers for our country, then I think they are appropriate. If they are offered as triumphal statements the “God is on our side”, not so much.

      1. I think such prohibitive strictures so often and ludicrously inflicted in many public school districts is often mitigated regionally. For example, in the San Joaquin valley district I retired from (choral instructor) we seldom encountered any such censure or public pushback, and we programmed sacred and patriotic works as “bread and butter.” How does one have a valid choral curriculum absent of sacred literature? But we had teachers and administrators who had acumen and discretion.
        On the other hand, up Highway 99 a bit there was a nationally publicized flap over a hamlet district’s superintendent (who thankfully left our district long ago) banning a kid from riding his bike to school due to the kid’s adorning it with Old Glory.
        Makes Cuba and the Peoples’ Republic look like the Land of the Free and Home of the Brave, as some public school gurus contemplate navel lint and look pleadingly at their risk management flunkies.
        Now, back to our regularly scheduled flame-throwing! 😉

      2. Brigid, I appreciate your sincerity – but these songs as hymns, prayres for our country? It is a bit hard to manage the “God is on our side” part, IMO anyway. Anyway, that’s just my way of seeing it.

        I would always suggest the use of Finlandia if a patriotic holiday demands a song.

        Anyway, I hope that the good nature of my comment is apparent; I am nto here to fight, just discuss. Thank you.

  11. By the way, I’m not entirely convinced that we’ve had an answer to the problem of music in the ordinary form. For 40 years, we’ve had to choose between 1) old hymns, 2) new commercially inspired songs, and 3) the Graduale Romanum.

    Hardly a surprise what has come to dominate.

    This is all about to change in about two weeks.

    1. This is all about to change in about two weeks.

      Is this another revised date for Rapture? Do you know something the rest of us don’t, Jeffrey?

  12. Rapture, ha ha. Enraptured maybe. The Simple English Propers appears in book form. This is…well…I’ll be a one-note samba about this in short order, so I’ll stop there.

  13. There is that wonderful quote from Charlie Gardner years ago: “the pastoral musician must learn to love the sound of a singing congregation above any other sound.” All of our efforts should point toward THIS sound…

  14. This whole thread seems like a bad joke.
    Upwards of 80% of the people I serve sing the entire Mass with enthusiasm. It may have something to do with my love for praising God with song. We use Gather Comp. We know about 6 Mass settings. We choose music the people know well. The music director and choir members and I have long since gotten over the need to add more of what we really like. I am sure, however, that there are folks who don’t care for our tastes or selections….or even people who don’t like “all the singing”. There are more than 15 parishes in the area to choose from.

  15. Just to be clear: this was NOT really a post about congregational singing. Rather, the post tried to reflect on what we ourselves, given our own particularities, need to bring to worship, pro-actively, in order to be present. Now, for all of you who wrote to defend singing congregations –in whatever key — thank you. I am with you. (But I also remember being told by the music director of a new parish whose choir I had joined not to worry about a particular melody we all seemed to get wrong because “it wasn’t that important” — so all your examples of parishes making a joyful noise unto the Lord can also mask some that practice simple pococurantism).

  16. A thought from left field (sports metaphor, not politics). One of the underlying causes of so much bad worship is anxiety, widespread and deep anxiety.

    Two images: Mass and Benediction when I was a youngster, before the Council. Say what you want about its theological balance, etc. but for both the priests and the congregation it was unquestionably real. And really divine. And as long as the proper rites were performed, its reality did not depend on us.
    We did not create it; it enveloped us. It was not perfect, but,
    aside from the very occasional scrupulous priest, it was without performance anxiety.

    Second image: an avant garde Episcopal Church in California, a veritable laboratory of intentionality, scholarship, effort, consciousness, etc. Extraordinary worship. And wonderful music (a capella) with both choir and congregation engaged.
    But over time, I became more and more uncomfortable with the constant cheerleading, exhortation, welcoming, explanation, the self-consciousness of it all. After a while, the whole thing was, for me, infected with anxiety. The liturgy was extraordinary, but it was a production. A production of the congregation, choir and clergy.

    Perhaps its my character, but in my years in religious life, years ago, I came to dread the Mass precisely for that reason and to prefer the sung Office, which had so much less “outcomes” pressure imposed on it. No “summit and source”, no “full, conscious, active.” No cheerleading or homilizing. It was a like a river, a Catholic prayer wheel where you could just sink into the flow and let it envelop you. To me, it seemed still to belong to God and the ancient Communion of Saints. No anxiety.

  17. I appreciate Stephen’s comments above. I was born long after the Council, but I can say that, for me, Exposition, Adoration and Benediction is a great deal more sublime and edifying than the typical celebration of the Roman rite. And I am not talking about a dramatic self consciously solemn show. Simply myself and a few hand fulls of others. The Tantum Ergo, sung from memory with no instrumental assistance, directing or aggrandizing, sometimes brings tears to my eyes and I take great comfort that, almost anywhere where Benediction is offered, it is likely to be sung.

    Its the only time that I really feel as though I am humbled in some kind of awe, wonder or submission alongside fellow Catholics, together centred around Our Eucharistic Lord.

    1. Tantum Ergo is one of my absolute favorite hymns. I recall the first time I ever attended Benediction (I was an adult – it wasn’t offered when I was little if I recall correctly). It was a particularly well attended one, with about forty people or so, and it was amazing when almost everyone started singing Tantum Ergo and O Salutaris – in Latin from memory. It was probably the first time I ever heard a group of Catholics sing, which made it startling because the typical Catholic Mass sounds like one person singing hymns through a microphone.

  18. Award-winning writer J.F. Powers always sat alone in the balcony of the abbey church for Sunday Mass. The speakers were not turned on for the balcony because this provided too much amplified sound and made it more difficult to hear in the nave. In the balcony, Powers could hear only the chanting and singing, not the spoken word (e.g. the homily). He wanted it that way. At daily Mass he sat in the last row of the choir stalls every day, where one could hear everything.

    I was once part of a worshiping community for a time (I won’t say where this was) where I remarked at table to several other regular worshipers that I didn’t mean to be negative, but the preaching of the various priests left something to be desired. Each other person at table had a well worked out scheme of avoidance which they had never had reason to share with others until now. One closed her eyes during the homily and did centering prayer or the Rosary. One came early to get his favorite spot, from which he could see the altar but not the pulpit, and this helped him block out the homily. Another also had his favorite spot, from which he could best see the stained glass and statuary and contemplate these rather than listening to the homily.

    Everyone at table was a devout Catholic, two of them daily communicants. All of them were advanced students of theology.


  19. Thanks for these vignettes above, they are examples (without the “earplugs” that raised peoples’ hackles) of what I was seeking to name: that we each have to bring to worship our own best presence and participation (given the particulars of our lived life) and that there is no “active participation” without attention to those particulars. I called that attention pro-active participation. I am thinking more and more that we need a thick description of real, embodied, liturgical “presence” before we emphasize active participation, or we loose the importance of liturgical presence of, for example, those with severe disabilities or the unborn or the senile woman in the wheelchair.

    1. Well it is one thing for an atypical person because of their talents, disabilities or circumstance to have to make special preparations for the liturgy, it is quite another thing when the typical person has to do this.

      Of course before Vatican II many, perhaps most of us made special preparations, i.e. I brought my Latin-English missal to Mass to pray while the priest did his thing at the altar. Many prayed their rosaries or said other prayers during Mass.

      Why today when we should be praying the Mass together, do we find that many people have to do the equivalent of a Latin-English Missal to get through the Mass? I find the Eucharistic Prayer is done so poorly by so many priests, that I now mentally sing it in order focus my mind. Most of the homilies that I hear are interruptions in the Mass; they do not seem to come from a life of prayer and reflection on the scriptures or lead me to further prayer. I would be better off doing something else during that time. That is often true of the hymns chosen at Mass, too.

      Why are so many Catholics unwilling to face the problems of bad liturgy: poor hymns, poor homilies, poor prayer leadership? Andrew Greeley reports the 2000 General Social Survey shows that while 36% of Protestants rated the clergy’s preaching as excellent, only 18% of Catholics did so. Worship services were rated as excellent by 38% of Protestants but only 28% of Catholics.

      I once thought of myself as being atypical; my liturgy standards were too high. Then came the Vibrant Parish Life Study of 46000 plus people in 126 parishes of our diocese. People throughout the diocese and in my parish ranked liturgy as first in importance but halfway down the list in being well done. It was time to go to bat for the typical person who wants better liturgy.

      If we had real community (also highly desired but poorly done in the VPL study) we would encourage people to be honest, use earplugs if that helps, and try their suggestions.

      1. Most of the homilies that I hear are interruptions in the Mass; they do not seem to come from a life of prayer and reflection on the scriptures or lead me to further prayer. I would be better off doing something else during that time.

        I have been thinking about the question of how to get better homilies for quite some time. What can we lay people do about it? Here are some possibilities that I am considering:
        – Have a reading group that together reads and reflects on the lectionary a few days before Sunday, and ask the pastor to join us to help us: it might help him too, and improve his homily.
        – Plant some details in his life that might help him. For example, the other day I pointed out to the pastor that our church had a stained glass window representing the Emmaus disciples, precisely the theme of that day. His spontaneous answer: “Oh, I had never noticed. I wish I had known that before!” Had I thought of mentioning it to him the previous Sunday, it might have made its way into the homily, and perhaps would have made it a little better.
        – More generally, be one step ahead of the pastor. If he prepares his homily 3 days before, meditate on the readings more than a week ahead of time, and pray for ideas. Look out for opportunities.

        What not to do: offer to help. It’s his work, and ultimately it’s his inspiration that goes into the homily. In addition, he most definitely does not want my help.

  20. For some reason, my comment regarding David Haas’ admonition that ALL our efforts as music leadership should be directed towards effecting the sound of a congregation fully engaged in singing, and Tom Poelker’s question asking for clarification, has been removed.
    Tom (and David)-
    1st point: To direct “ALL” our efforts towards achieving FACP 100% stands in direct contrast to both the delineations of nearly all documentation, including SttL. I’m sure David meant to exhort leaders to cultivate actual vocal participation and attentive listening in order to offset a perception that RotR objectives necessarily include diminishing the congregations’ right and role in “singing the Mass.” All well and fine, but no one I’ve known then and now has ever advocated taking “the singing audience” out of the equation. On the RotR side of the aisle there is plentiful evidence to the contrary: the recognition that new settings, inspired by genuine techniques and melodic language of chant, of propers and ordinaries in English (and other vernaculars), are specifically “engineered” towards congregational participation. JT has specific fervor, rightly so, for the upcoming debut of Adam Bartlett’s “Simple English Propers” among many other similar projects by Jeff Ostrowski, Frs. Weber and Kelly, and Richard Rice et al. It would be incorrect to presume that these composers or RotR proponents insist that these efforts have been made to purposefully replace other forms of singing, responsories or strophic hymnody or the liturgical “song.” To the contrary, these new collections will enter the marketplace of ideas and it is up to us to see if implementing and inculcating the chant ethos on a widespread basis will take root and thrive among congregations.
    (To be continued)

  21. This is just as much an integral component of post-conciliar legislative instruction as is FACP. But, there will still remain aspects of the liturgy that are assigned to specific offices, none more obvious than the dialogues between celebrant and faithful.
    To be honest, I have a great personal discomfort when the sensibilities of the faithful might be confused when the grafting of a Viennese classical Mass to the OF occurs, and I’ve made that known on my side of the aisle. And as noted elsewhere, the abusive use of Missa Papa Marcelli recently should never have happened as it did. But, as Dr. Wm. Mahrt points out, a congregation that is steeped in chant for year after year will actually welcome the occasional (once/twice per year) polyphonic ordinary taken up by the schola alone. He has plenteous anecdotal evidence of that.
    I use for the first point’s “exegesis” my V2 Spirit Guide, Todd F. I think he’d agree!
    2nd point: In my neck of the woods I informed my choirs, and the others in our parishes that during Lent all amplification, ALL amplification would be eliminated. What a revelation that provided us. We’ve simply continued that since AWeds. It is a wonder and marvel to behold the effect. I have plenty of anecdotal evidence from our congregants endorsing this change.
    Regarding my proposal to David, I’m sure he values the pure acoustic benefit of the amplification-free environment when it’s advantageous and possible. But if one considers that his mission takes him into dry hotel ballrooms, church acoustics that vary radically from place to place, and arena presentations, the use of amplification may be S.O.P. to accomplish his message and example. (tbc)

    1. A nearby parish with good acoustics had an ‘a cappela’ Mass during the summer, just a leader who used the mike very sparingly to get people to begin together, then stepped back. A refreshingly different way to spend the summer.

      At a parish several decades ago, we had an organist but no choir. She practiced with the people before Mass and of course used the organ to support the people. (We were the choir!). The best congregational singing that I have experienced. Visiting priests often remarked about it.

  22. So, I am not condemning David as “needing” to maintain a “Mr. Caruso/Big Voice” presence that over-lords over the Charlie Gardiner ideal sound, I was just suggesting that he ought to (and perhaps he already has) try going unplugged in whatever environment he’s assigned. I truly believe it could change many people’s misconceptions about the absolute necessity of massive amplification. And that, to me would bode well for uniting active listening to active singing. We, as choral musicians, know that to coax out “beautiful” singing, listening to our compatriots in song is more necessary while we sing, and over half the battle’s effort. So, cutting out the PA as much as possible, whether in a wet or dry acoustic, provides everyone an auditory benefit.
    I hope I haven’t mucked up the points further, Tom.
    Peace and out.

    1. CC,
      You seem to have cleaned up some of the muck for me.

      One of my oldest complaints about church music may be compatible with your points.

      Does anyone else feel that loud organ accompaniment discourages congregational singing?

      1. Indeed. The organ should support, rather than lead, singing.

        That said, for a work where the congregation will thunder on, I don’t see a particular problem with the organ and other instruments contributing to the noise. Eg Vaughan William’s coronation setting of the Old Hundredth (though I am aware that, at the coronation itself in 1953, there are reports that there were differing approaches to the cadences that kinda collided when the various congregants went on autopilot).

      2. Absolutely. When the organ drowns us and I can hear neither myself nor my neighbors singing, I just want to stop. In general I find that organ accompaniment is typically too loud for my taste.

      3. And it’s not just organ. It’s all amplified voices, instruments and percussion, for that matter; I’ve certainly witnessed the liturgical version of the Phil Specter Wall of Sound.

        This is another reason I have deep reservations about open-air worship for large groups (that very much includes papal mega-Masses, but is hardly limited to them). I think worship is very vulnerable without the way a space with proportionate acoustical resonance can provide a aural sheepfold, as it were. Far too much of our discussion of worship spaces concerns their visuals; I believe the aural dimension merits at least as much consideration.

  23. Thanks, Tom.
    Regarding your question about the volume of organ accompaniment, sticky wicket that.
    I can dovetail my “unplugged” experience to that question by attesting that has helped that concern with my schola/congregation. Even though our instrument is a digital Rodgers with antiphonal speaker placements, our very gifted organist now is provided a very clear audio “picture” which has resulted in not only more better discretion in volume relationships, but also with verse to verse, or segment to segment registration issues. It’s been a total win/win for us.
    However, another school of thought regarding accompanying congregational singing is summed up by this maxim- each person who joins in a common song led by the organist needs hear only two things: the sound of the organ and his/her own voice. Pardon the pun, but that is a disquieting notion of itself, and certainly I’ve heard more PIP’s complain about overwhelmingly loud volume levels than the opposite.
    Just as all things, I tend to think that “all politics are local.” But your concern is one that music leadership must constantly assess.

  24. I realize that I am pretty marginal to this blog, being a recent reader, a fitful commentor and having had very little to do with Roman worship in the last while (though the opposite was true for 20 years). But perhaps the odd thought of an outsider might be of some interest.

    I tried to raise this issue once over at New Liturgical Movement and got summarily, soundly and huffily dismissed: Is the kind of liturgy –in this case, music– found nowadays among Catholics something that men can, as men, participate in?

    All the hot-button stuff is about women, but my humble estimation is that while only males are clergy (and many of them are gay), parish life is otherwise utterly dominated by females, and by female concerns and styles. Worship among them. Is the kind of gesture, language and, yes, music available something that a man could take part in without feeling somehow not himself?

    One small example you’ve probably heard umpteen times before. What self-respecting man could sing Eagles Wings without feeling that he was trapped in Oprahland?

    Christianity itself is, IMHO, already a powerful feminization of Judaism, privileging affiliation and depotentiation. Christianity has been a problem for men for quite some time, and with the revolutionary feminist dominance in the West, men in general are at sea. Does the experience of worship in a Catholic parish reflect this, even exacerbate it?

    Does anyone ever ask the question about a piece of music: “Would a man want to sing this?”

    1. Do you have to remind me how little self respect I have?

      I think Eagles’ Wings is a very masculine song. Its core image is of strength, and the swell of the music reinforces that. These are not wings that gather children under them to protect them, but wings of courage that carry the singer from cowering in darkness to shining from the heights of the sky.

      What do you think make a song masculine?

    2. You are not alone in your overall diagnosis; analysists have long noted a “feminization” of the church (at least since the 19th century); concurrent calls for a more “muscular Christianity” are the other side of that coin. Wherever one stands with regard to those phenomena of church life, my basic refrain holds true in any case: gender matters profoundly in the life of the church.

    3. Well, given that the verse of of OEW are a fairly proximate paraphrase of Psalm 91 (and the refrain is a mingling of phrases from that psalm and other books of Scripture, something that is not unique to the genre), it can’t be the text that’s Oprahlandish.

      As for the music, many men happily sing drippy Irish ballads and sentimentalized patriotic songs and whathaveyou.

      I will say this, however: back in the day before contemporary liturgical music, there were plenty of Catholic men who labored under the taboo that men don’t sing in church, period. Even Holy Holy Holy and Holy God We Praise Thy Name. My father was a counterexample and modeled the reality that masculinity is not compromised by singing at Mass; his model was *much* more important than the genre or words of hymnody. Changing the association starts with fathers gritting their teeth and doing their duty in this regard.

  25. Several years ago, then Archbishop Flores here in San Antonio, relaxed the “rules” requiring Catholics to attend Mass within the boundaries assigned by the Archdiocese. His reasoning: one parish might have a better ministry to youth, another better homilies or choir or whatever… but the goal was that we were to attend a Mass where we participated and were attentive, and not because it was a Sunday and the Church said we “had” to attend Mass. Another stated goal was to keep people from leaving to other denominations. An unforeseen goal: when collections dropped in those parishes with poor choirs, bad homilists, etc., those people strove to provide a better choir or better homily or youth program or whatever… no one has “forced” the boundaries since… and as I travel around the Archdiocese, I have found many who travel 20 and 30 miles – but they are also VERY involved…

  26. SM:
    “All the hot-button stuff is about women, … parish life is otherwise utterly dominated by females, and by female concerns and styles. Worship among them. Is the kind of gesture, language and, yes, music available something that a man could take part in without feeling somehow not himself?

    Does anyone ever ask the question about a piece of music: “Would a man want to sing this?”

    So many churches are so fussily decorated that I could scream. “Noble Simplicity” may be alien to the urban American female mind.

    Much of the”spirituality” stuff introduced into parishes also seems to come right out of a feminine, touchy-feely psychology rather than out of a Scriptural sense of spirit. I am not sure that males and females, in general not totally, do not also have different reactions to the natural world. Perhaps males want to conquer the world while females want to experience what it “says” to them.

    Since my seminary days of forty years ago, there have been maybe two instances in an RCC where I could hear that I was praying as one of many male voices.

    OTOH, at least once a year I must hear someone say how pleased they are to have heard my deep voice from behind them. Occasionally, though, I wonder if this is just the first thing they think to say when they have turned around to see where the strange sound originates.

    I have often wondered if the accompanists could play everything an octave or two lower to see if that would get more males to sing because they would be hearing sounds in a range more comfortable to them.

    Somehow, Tantum Ergo, A Mighty Fortress, Holy God We Praise Thy Name, and a few other older songs feel more masculine to me than does most of the modern repertoire.

    1. “So many churches are so fussily decorated that I could scream. ‘Noble Simplicity’ may be alien to the urban American female mind…”

      Much of the ‘spirituality’ stuff introduced into parishes also seems to come right out of a feminine, touchy-feely psychology rather than out of a Scriptural sense of spirit…”

      Wow. I am at a sheer loss for words to express the deep misogyny and sheer offensiveness of these two quotes. I invite my sisters on this board to find some…but I’m still sort of spluttering and would only rant incoherently.

      So I will only quote the delightful Olympia Dukakis from Moonstruck and say, “What you don’t know about women…is a lot.”

      1. Your response is to a generalization I did not make.

        Look at the stuff in five parishes and see how much of it is ecclesiastical versions of decorating and insights from women’s magazines.

        Ask around about how much male input there has been.

        Ask the males around you what they think of it and see if the responses can be reduced to letting the women do what they want even if it does nothing for me.

        None of these things have anything to do with misogyny.

        You take offense unnecessarily and thereby denigrate the feelings of men.

      2. “urban American female mind”–can you explain how that is not a generalization?

        “feminine touchy-feely psychology”–ditto?
        (and I never implied I believe your POV is shared by all men…God, I hope it’s not…my comments were directed at you and you alone.)

      3. This sidebar colloquy is a classic illustration of the learned wisdom of avoiding characterizing another person’s perspective and sticking assiduously to describing one’s own without doing so to another. Sometimes, the best thing to do before heading down a path to a feedback loop of umbrage is to self-translate what someone else says as if it been said with that wisdom in mind…..

  27. (Following the post itself and comments #s 3 and 23, since the post wasn’t about congregational singing…)

    When we enter into a community–church, family, matrimony, whatever–we freely let go of the option to check out when it’s messy, when the choir is out of harmony or we don’t like the sound of our neighbor’s voice. (When I go home for holidays, I don’t get to sit and enjoy the feast but pop in earplugs to block out my abrasive uncle.) If pro-active participation is to mean “the kind of embodied presence I bring to worship so as truly to be open to encountering the Triune God”, as the author suggests, then we must welcome all aspects of our (personal and communal) embodied presence—the good, the bad, and the ugly—that make us holy, together, and open us up to encountering the living God… as Embodied Presence.

  28. Boy, I am not sure where to start Charles with your comments about what I should be doing or not doing, since I remember meeting you only once briefly many years ago… Charles… I am not an advocate of over amplification; I go unplugged quite a bit of the time in the pastoral settings where I work. Before you make summary statements about how I approach sound, acoustics, and the like (and what I should do and adapt differently).. I would suggest a different tone, and that you actually speak from a place of knowledge. Obviously, in some of the conference settings where I find myself (hotel’s and so forth as you mention), a certain amount of amplification is necessary (unfortunately). In these settings however, when the assembly is singing a refrain of a song; or when they sing through a strophic hymn, or when they have a response in the midst of a litany, I ALWAYS either step back from the microphone I am using, or more often or not, I stop singing all together in order for their voice to be primary.

    All I was doing was submitting Charlie Gardner’s quote as a goal to be admired.. I am frightened when I hear things that infer either overtly or covertly, that the voice of the assembly is being either diminished or discouraged. I am not always clear where you and others stand in the midst of this. My understanding is this: Liturgy is inherently communal; the dynamics of liturgy cannot tolerate an audience (read Gabe Huck on this); and while, yes, there are moments unique for the choir/schola/cantor, I still uphold the grounding principle, that our energies (percentage-wise) should be in trying to engage the community to sing their common worship. I am not sure everyone agrees with that, and that is fine. But that is how I read the spirit of the documents. While “interior” participation is certainly and important dynamic of worship – let us remember the words: “full, conscious, active.” It is not “halfway, mindless, passive.”

    1. David,
      I’m glad that Tom Poelker provided me an opportunity to revise and clarify (as best I could) my points about your brief post. I hope you’ve had a chance to read those, as I agree that my “tone” in the dropped original could have seemed presumptious. Sorry. I think we’re both trying to get passed our recent bouts. But I do appreciate your risk-taking when you venture “across the aisle.”
      Cheers, and pax tecum.

  29. (Con’t)

    I must confess I am concerned about the debate between “musical aesthetics” and “participation.” I believe they are very much compatible… but when we get into the subjective arguments as to what is beautiful or proper for liturgy.. this, to me, gets very complicated. The story of the woman with the ear-plugs.. the fact that some here have actually applauded or affirmed such things..really terrifies me. I certainly do not enjoy bad music making at liturgy; I too get stomach aches when the music is presented in a horrible fashion. And I certainly promote the cause of improving the situation. But I do not believe we are going to improve the situation by the endless battles of “propers vs. hymns;” “this style over that style,” and the condescending and downright cruel tones that so many of these discussions have. I am not totally innocent, that is for sure. Sometimes in my passion for a stance, I lash out.. that is unfortunate, and I am sorry for that. I understand that we all care very deeply about these things. But whether we like it or not, as an example, when talking about the entrance chant… we have four options. They are all valid. They are all potentially helpful for the cause of the introductory rites, and they are potentially problematic. I wish, O how I wish, that the debate and conversation in this particular example, would be more concerned about what is outlined in GIRM #46 and #47, rather than the particular ways these principles and values are carried out (GIRM #48). I cite this as one example of where I find the conversations frustrating… and the fact that one “side” or the other has to somehow judge the other side’s intents and approach as somehow, less solemn, or less true to the liturgy. Why is it so hard to embrace or at least, “tolerate” an approach that is different than our own – again using the example of the entrance chant. Does whatever of the 4 options employed “open the celebration, foster the unity of those who have been gathered, introduce their thoughts to the mystery..” and so forth? Can we honestly say only “our particular” approach accomplishes these aims?

    1. David,

      One problem is how so many practitioners and commentators cherry pick their emphases in the legislative texts. I have come to believe that the texts are deliberately crafted with tensions that cannot be credibly elided in favor of a single hermeneutic of praxis, but are instead designed so that communities may, over the arc of time, come to discernment that will, over an even longer arc of time, inform how the Church as a whole identify best practices, as it were.

      For example, how many communities actually are deeply familiar with the experience over time of all 4 options laid out in GIRM 48? How can the community come to an authentic discernment without such a familiarity? (And do so with a huge discount for ministerial voices that rudder too much already.)

      If we evaluate things on a liturgy-by-liturgy basis, and from the perspective of ministers who are engaged in repetitive actions many times in a given Sunday, versus over time (weeks, months and years) from the perspective of congregants who tend to assemble at a particular time of Sunday, with a broader sense of what it means for ritual to repeat, then we get huge distortions. And our talk here and elsewhere reveals that. Practitioners and commentators are very well entrenched in defending territory and/or ideology gained; the good of the congregation is more of a pretext than a real participant.

  30. “When I don’t like a piece of music, I make a point of listening to it more closely” (French composer Florent Schmitt)

    Hopefully the woman with earplugs gets her kids through Suzuki darn quick.

    “One problem is how so many practitioners and commentators cherry pick their emphases in the legislative texts.”

    Amen. It takes time to read the review the whole documents, but it’s hard to take a church musician seriously who hasn’t made the attempt. It’s a big reason why I find the reform2 sites so tedious. A performance mindset and (only) a little liturgical formation is a dangerous combination.

  31. Cecelia Flitwick :

    “urban American female mind”–can you explain how that is not a generalization?
    “feminine touchy-feely psychology”–ditto?
    (and I never implied I believe your POV is shared by all men…God, I hope it’s not…my comments were directed at you and you alone.)

    If you want to take them as negative generalizations, you can stew in that all you want. However, ther is no need for you to self-identify with those kinds and types of women mentioned. Just because somethings are feminine versus masculine cultural practices does not mean that they are intrinsic to feminine nature. The ‘women’s magazine’ sort of woman may not be your type, but it is a recognizable type.

    Taking things out of context and attacking the choice of words, though, is a dangerous rhetorical road. How about you go back and deal with the thought you think I expressed so poorly?

    In the mean time, I recommend that you not be so quick to jump to the defense when there is so little evidence of attacks on women in general. The subject was the way things in church appeal to males. If you insist on males seeing things as females see them and that no distinctions can be made, you are going to have a great deal of difficulty in getting men to see your own particularly female point of view.

    You do not know enough about me to accuse me of attacking women on the basis of these few words. Would you like to have my references from my many friends in RCWP?

    In your own words, “I’m still sort of spluttering and would only rant incoherently.” You decided in your knee jerk reaction to a few word that they are generalizations and express an entire point of view. You have no logical basis and insufficient information. Please call off your attacks.

    1. I am not attacking you. And for presenting the impression that I was doing so, I apologize. I meant only to critique your choices of words.

      I am stating (now that my spluttering has abated) that when you suggest that the “American urban female mind” is incapable of grasping the noble simplicity of the Roman Rite, you are drawing a generalization about the female mind in general. And that when you identify a particular branch of spirituality, which may or may not be intrinsically feminine, as “touchy-feely,” and as non-Scripturally-based, you are making generalizations both about that branch of spirituality and about those who practice it. I never called these “attacks”; I can only say that I found them to be deeply offensive, of themselves and of their implication that behind these qualities is some over-arching reality that is “feminine,” and that the presence of that reality is damaging to male participation in the life of the church.

      I will withdraw the word “misogyny” as entered in my initial comment, on the grounds that logically I should not assume that your comments constituted a hatred or conviction of the inferiority of women. But I will say that, as a woman of a very tradition-based and Scripture-based spirituality, who is deeply committed to the noble simplicity of the Roman Rite, I found your comments hurtful and demeaning. That most of the over-decorated churches I’ve known in the past 20 years have been the work of men, that most of the music generally attributed to this “touchy-feely” spirituality has been composed by men, and that the spiritual leaders of EVERY parish I have ever encountered have been men, are all fairly irrelevant, but they do address your arguments, as you asked me to.

      Your point, I think,and that of Mr. Manning, was the dilemma of how culturally-conditioned males and females might better understand each other and find a mutually helpful approach to liturgical ministry. If nothing else, this conversation…

  32. Tom,

    I too, as an urban female, would like an explanation of what you had in mind when you used the term “urban female mind.” I observe many different types of mind among urban females. Noble simplicity is not alien to women as such, and I can’t believe you think it is, so I would appreciate a clarification.

    It is difficult sometimes not to feel stereotyped or boxed by statements about “the feminine” or “the female mind.” I do understand Cecilia’s reaction. There is a long and extremely hurtful history of women being relegated to a certain lower status because of such stereotypes. Therefore I would want to know just what you were driving at, if you could explain it better.

  33. I am suddenly wondering if this thread is, in hidden form, a way to explore how we may receive the new Missal: if we don’t like the new translation, what is acceptable for us lay people to do?

    How about starting an “ear plug movement”? Those who don’t like the new translation, instead of quietly thinking about something else without anyone noticing, would bring ear plugs and wear them, so that their way of doing “pro-active participation” would be visible.

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