The Agony and the Ecstasy: The Fundamental Importance of Liturgical Chant in the Roman Missal and Our Celebration of the Eucharistic Mystery

Msgr. Andrew Wadsworth, executive director of the International Commission on English in the Liturgy (ICEL), gave this address yesterday at the colloquium of the Church Music Association of America. Thanks to Jeffrey A. Tucker over at Chant Café for making this available to us.


  1. One can round up the usual suspects about why we don’t have a chanted liturgy: Vatican II, the sixties, the Irish, etc. Those are just excuses; they are not going to provide a solution.

    The solution is easy; follow the Orthodox pattern.

    We need a married clergy whose ranks are chosen on the basis of their ability to sing, and their love and understanding of the liturgy. I would add to this a great love of scripture. Seminaries would be models of the liturgy were the Office is sung daily and scripture is studied to provide great homilies.

    Like the Orthodox, this clergy would be free from temporal administration of parish. I would free them from “apostolic” administration, too. By apostolate I mean all those many groups in the parish that promote Catholicism that are more the work of the laity than of the clergy. We have many competent laity that can do this as well or better than priests.

    This married clergy would have ample time to celebrate not only the Mass but also the Divine Office as well as spend as much time as Protestant ministers do in preparing their homilies. They would also provide a solid biblical catechesis for the parish, and still have ample time for their families.

    Catholic priests and bishops spend much too much time being managers of large corporations rather than priests and teachers.

  2. Jack;

    Wouldn’t this just make the Roman Catholic Church essentially indestinguishable from the Orthodox Church(es)? I agree with you about the administrative functions…the current model is a throwback to a time when the parish had 6-8 priests and the Pastor had fewer day-to-day liturgical demands (Hospital visits, confessions, daily Masses, home visits, etc..). I truly don’t understand why there isn’t a “parish administrator” whose sole function is running the business end of the parish with no connection to the liturgical function. More like a business manager.

    1. When I compare Roman Catholicism to Orthodoxy, the big advantages of RC are:
      1. Much more apostolic activity to sectors of society (education & social services) and to nations (missionary activity)
      2. A greater diversity of spiritualities mostly stemming from religious orders (Benedictines, Mendicant, Jesuit etc.)

      I hope the outcome of V2 will be the empowerment of the laity to take over much of #1 and #2 as part time replacements for many of the things that religious formerly did. Laity in modern society have the time and education to do many things that religious formerly did.

      There will still be a place for a smaller number of religious with more prophetic roles rather than being general apostolate ministers as many had beccome.

      Much of the “good” I see in V2 was a return to Orthodox tradition: vernacular liturgies, the importance of bishops, emphasis upon the Resurrection more than Nativity and Passion, valuing the Patristic heritage more than Scholasticism. So I am willing to go a little further in the Orthodox direction with more emphasis upon a chanted liturgy, the Divine Office, the Holy Spirit.

  3. A key point of Msgr. Wadsworth that can perhaps find unique agreement on all sides here:

    ” In this respect, the current enthusiasm for chant, and a growing competence in its performance, particularly in celebrations of the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite, is not so much the recovery of a recently lost tradition, but rather the realization of the authentic principles of the Liturgical Movement as canonized by Pope St Pius X in his motu proprio of 1903, Tra le sollecitudini, underlining the centrality of Gregorian Chant, guidelines which were largely unimplemented both at the time of the Council and in its wake.”

    From a recent anecdote along these lines:
    “The Mass of Pentecost celebrated by Fr. John Arthur Orr at Holy Ghost Catholic Church in Knoxville (TN) was the most beautiful parish TLM that I have experienced in person (either before or after Vatican II).”

    Indeed, I first attended Sunday high Mass at various Catholic churches in that same area, during the 1950s, and never did I experience in those pre-Vatican II days a Mass such as the one described.

    So I think it is reasonable to mention that many of us sympathetic with the EF and OF reform movements today hope not to recapture some allegedly halcyon days of yore, but rather to promote now what we believe to be the authentic goals of Vatican II. Which, I believe, can be either attained or negated in either Latin or vernacular.

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