Finding Common Ground?

OK, so we’re pretty divided on the question of communion under both species. . . and the Ordinary vs. Extraordinary Forms. . . and the value of the post-Conciliar reforms. . . and the quality of the new translation of the Missal. . .

But perhaps we can all agree that the music played as the Pope censed the altar during the stadium Mass in Germany was absolutely wretched: Opening of Berlin Papal Mass.

I particularly like the expression on the Pope’s face at the end.

Hat tip to Rocco Palmo.


  1. I did not object to the instrumentation as much as the composition chosen. It seemed like an improvisation. I wonder if something horrible happened, such as the planned music was lost, and they just had to “fill in.” There must be a story behind this. I’m sure somebody’s head will roll.

  2. Not having seen what took place before, I suspect that the entrance music was completed, and nobody told the musicians the pope was going to incense the altar at that point. Did I catch an ending of some music at the very beginning of the clip?

    The drums and sax I have no problem with. I’m disappointed there wasn’t a real piano.

    I improvise at liturgy too when the situation calls for it–any good liturgical musician should be ready for it at any time. But there’s room for good judgment when this is done.

    Ah well, maybe we can apply the Phoenix Principle. Since German liturgical improvisation sucks, maybe we need to do it that way in North America, too. We don’t want to get too far ahead of the Europe, eh?

  3. What might have been more compelling to the Berlin artistes would to have emulated the collaboration of a soprano sax master such as Jan Garbarek improvising while a schola, a la The Hilliard Consort sang some Ars Nova polyphonic proper (they’ve already done this, you know.) No drums and hand percussion, yada yada.
    But it’s really disturbing that whatever liturgical functionaries deliberately flaunted their disdain not only for the Holy Father’s reasoned and measured commentaries on Lit/Sac. music at worship composed over decades, but chose to insult the very documents that are the backbone of our rite’s worship: the human voice is the supreme instrument for that act. Add to that the tacet approval by some German prelates, you have an obvious, strategic offense being perpetrated upon the liturgy. There was a time in my life as a jazz musician that I would have exulted in the “coolness” on exhibit, but then 1Cor 13 kicked in.
    At least at National’s Stadium, the planners meant no purposed disrespect and reflected a genuine ethos for their part.

  4. Where are Carlo Rossini’s, The Liturgical Organist (volumes I through LXI) when you need them? Or at least Flor Peeter’s “Thirty Miniatures”?

    Come to think of it, where are J. Fischer and McLaughlin and Reilly?

    Gone to graveyards everyone . . . when will they ever learn? When will they ever learn? (changing genres)

  5. It sounds like something The Paul Winter Consort put together. His background is an Episco-pagan hybrid, and he has a recording made in the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in NYC titled Missa Gaia. Besides his prominent soprano saxophone, it involves lots of piano, some organ, human voices, percussion, strings and recordings of animal sounds (whales, bird cries, and the like). He does a lot of that sort of thing, including the music for their annual winter solstice celebration. I think it’s pleasant to listen to, but not as liturgical music.

    Just a little pet peeve about a lot of liturgical music: most musicians and music directors think the music is about them and their talent. To me, that is the root source of most of the complaints about music in church today. The music should be about the liturgy and the congregation’s participation in the liturgy. Sadly, for most music directors it is more about featuring their personal talents than the liturgy or the congregation.

    As a result, the tendency is that you either have thinly talented musicians who have a ‘set’ list that they feel comfortable with and they just wear it out regardless of the readings or feast, and no one much likes it. At the other end is the very talented musician that wants to show off his/her talent. People like this person to begin with because it is good and pleasant to listen to, but when week after week the hymns sound more like the finale of a Broadway musical than a communion hymn the shine starts to fade. That same person will make a comment that she wished the congregation would sing more, and I think: no, you don’t, or you would choose a hymn that they could sing. That is especially true when the hymn is something that isn’t even in the hymnal. There are those who use their gifts to enhance the liturgy and to act as leaders who seek to have participation by the people, but they are too few.

    So, as inappropriate as the music might have been in the video, it is no worse than a lot of what goes on in parishes today.

    1. Charles, I think it’s a lot worse. It happened at a papal Mass. The whole world was watching. The only way it could have been worse was if the music itself was incompetently performed. On second thought, badly played music could have masked something of the delicious irony of the moment.

      No, I’m with Fritz. I’m laughing about it. Sorry reform2.

  6. 49. When they have arrive at the sanctuary, the Priest, the Deacon and the ministers reverence the altar with a profound bow. Moreover as an expression of veneration, the Priest and Deacon then kiss the altar itself; the Priest, if appropriate, also incenses the cross and the altar.

    50. When the Entrance Chant is concluded, the Priest stands at the chair and together with the whole gathering, signs himself with the Sign of the Cross.

    Some people think the Entrance Chant should cover only the actual entrance (which might have been lengthy in this case), but the GIRM says it should cover the incensing of the cross and altar.

    The Pope after the incensing of the altar sat down in the chair rather than Greeting the people. If I remember previous papal visits, this might be the place some local bishop greets the Pope?

    47 When the people are gathered, as the Priest enters with the Deacon and ministers, the Entrance Chant begins. Its purpose is to open the celebration, foster the unity of those who have been gathered, introduce their thoughts to the mystery of the liturgical time or festivity, and accompany the procession of the Priest and ministers.

    In one local parish, the Entrance Hymn is always completely sung and the priest stands at the chair singing it with us. In penitential seasons he incenses not only the altar but the whole congregation walking around the church much like a priest/deacon in the Byzantine tradition. In other words the emphasis is upon the unity of those who have been gathered, introducing their thoughts to the mystery. The priest simply begins the Mass with the Greeting and the Penitential Rite without any opinions of his own. This seems to work very well.

    Other parishes sing two stanzas to cover the entrance of the ministers, followed by the priest articulating his opinion of why we are there. That is focusing on the coming of the priest (Pope?) rather than the gathering of the community.

  7. One of my favorites – use during meditation. And the “mission” story (actual history) is fascinating – talking about power, politics in the church and trying to bring the gospel in a people’s own culture, language, music, etc.

  8. Charles – your comment about most liturgical musicians caring only about themselves and their talent.. I am curious how you can make such a statement. As one who travels quite extensively, and one who experiences liturgical music in the context of worship in many different settings (suburban, urban, rural – rich, poor, and the like) and even in the midst of various levels of “quality” musicianship, I can attest to just the opposite. While musical skill level is certainly not consistent, it is my OVERWHELMING experience that most liturgical musicians care deeply about the people in their parishes, are very concerned and passionate about the participation of the assembly, and are very dedicated (in their various abilities and skills) to help their music be experienced as prayer. Be careful about making sweeping comments and evaluations…

    1. Thanks for your comment, but I just have different experiences than you. And while I would never claim that my experience is as broad as yours, I think that my experiences are nevertheless valid. As a point of clarification, I do not think that the people don’t care about their parishes, but I do think that they are not thinking very clearly about how to encourage participation. So, when someone says they wish people would sing more after a Mass in which two of the hymns just chosen were not in a hymnal, I still ask: what do you expect? I have no doubt they care and really wished people would sing, but not enough to set aside their egos. I may have made it sound worse than I intended but it’s still a valid point.

    1. Agree, Beth. Thank you David. God bless you for the beauty you have brought into my life and life of my parishioners.

      I think Charles’ comment exemplifies the cynicism that has spawned the unfortunate resurgence of the non-reformed liturgy.

  9. If Charles had said that some liturgical musicians care only about themselves and their talents, we could all have gone along with that. There are of course instances of this. The fact that he said most liturgical musicians is what caused the problem.

    Charles, if, in your limited experience, you have indeed only met egocentric musicians, then I think we can all join in the commiserations. If, on the other hand, you are taking one or two isolated instances and projecting them on to everyone else as a kind of universal law (which is precisely what Rome does in the area of liturgical abuses, incidentally), then I think you need a reality check!

    1. The music should be about the liturgy and the congregation’s participation in the liturgy. Sadly, for most music directors it is more about featuring their personal talents than the liturgy or the congregation.

      Charles negative comments should be read in light of his positive goals. In the Vibrant Parish Life Study of 126 parishes with 46,241 respondents the people gave the liturgy mediocre ratings (halfway down the list) for being well done. So the mediocrity that is exemplified in this humorous post is not that unusual. So who is to blame? When it is music, it is very easy to blame the musicians as in this instance.

      But what I suggested in my post above with regard to this instance is that it comes down to the ambiguity of the principles that govern the liturgy.

      If the GIRM notion that the Entrance Hymn should cover the incensing of the altar had been observed there would not have been a need for “mood music”.

      In this instance and most instances in the parish where singing of the Entrance Hymn is limited to two stanzas excessive emphasis is placed on and accompany the procession of the Priest and ministers purpose of the entrance hymn rather than on the foster the unity of those who have been gathered, introduce their thoughts to the mystery of the liturgical time or festivity purposes.

      Like Charles, I find musicians often ask me and others to sing Entrance Hymns that are unfamiliar. This is against the principle of fostering the unity of those who have been gathered to which I would give first priority. Why do musicians do this? It is easy to put it down to their preferences as Charles does. Sometimes it is clear that they are picking unfamiliar hymns because they have to do with the feast. Who knows?

      Vibrant Parish Life rated Parish leadership that listens to the concerns of parishioners 29th out of 39 items in being well done. Listen, Listen, Listen, or people will assume the worse of your motives. Charles experiences are common.

      1. Jack, like Paul, the only problem I have with Mr Day’s comments is the incorrect diagnosis, confusing the terms “some” and “most,” or at minimum, not qualifying his own subjective experience.

        Like practically every other person on this thread, we do cultivate both the art and craft of liturgical music and tend to turn our noses up at something less than excellent.

        One problem in this context with the advocacy of the unreformed liturgy is self-inflicted. You dress up the notion of beauty with a cloak of smarmy elitism.

        The root problem is with the whole megaMass and all the usual complications. Maybe Americans tend to do it passably well. Maybe the pope’s entourage, the musicians, and the local organizers got too cocky and we had some amusing filler music.

        In parishes where the liturgy is pieced together by a prayerful, committed team–priest(s), musicians, liturgists–you don’t have moments like this.

        I remember an opera singer once botching “Shepherd Me O God” during Communion. Who was to blame? Marty’s setting is serviceable and singable. The publisher’s edition was accurate and readable. The organist was more than competent–she was the best one in our parish. Couldn’t complain about the quality of the singer’s voice; she even knew when to pull back from her stage voice and otherwise her ability as a cantor was unquestioned. So what happened?

        She tried to sight-read the fourth verse that she didn’t know, she didn’t expect, and for which she wasn’t prepared. Things like that happen when the liturgy and its music isn’t taken seriously.

        That’s what happened in Germany. Lack of preparation and lack of communication. Not an indictment of the sax, of jazz, or the lack of a poker face from Vatican muckety-mucks. A simple failure of ars celebrandi. Laugh about it and move on.

  10. During a Confirmation once, when Communion went well past the amount of sung music that had been prepared and since the meditation motet was to begin only after Communion was completed (or “over” in Vox Clara’s US Northeast Regional usage), the organist (roughly my age) “improvised.” During the reception afterward, in the hearing of the Auxiliary Bishop who had done the Confirmation (roughly my age), some attendees were remarking on how nice “that Gregorian chant piece the organist played toward the end of Communion” sounded. The Auxiliary, catching my smirk, leaned over and whispered, “Who sang A Whiter
    Shade of Pale?” I replied: “Procol Harem in our time, Your Excellency. Annie Lennox more recently.” The Auxiliary laughed, “Great Gregorian Chant from the 1960s!” “From the Summer of Love to be specific,” I said. I think we were the only two who recognized it (well, the aging hippie organist too, I suppose).

    1. Bart Simpson once slipped sheet music for Innagadadavida into the organist’s playbook. Eighteen minutes later, Rev Lovejoy realizes “that sounds like rock and/or roll.”

      I am glad to know such things really happen.

  11. As far as the appropriateness of the music chosen for that liturgical function at a Papal Mass, OMGoodness, how did that get past the papal and episcopal censors? Shame on them.

    As for Mr. Day’s analysis of the motives of most Church Musicians, OMGoodness Gracious, does he realize that if most musicians were in it for themselves, they’d be Baptist or some other form of evangelical, where most musicians get paid a living wage? Most parish musicians are underpaid and overworked and undertrained. Realize that most of your musicians haven’t had liturgical training and haven’t been catechized on proper liturgy other than what they pick up by actually playing at Mass. Not that they don’t want to learn, they have to juggle their job, their family, their rehearsal schedule and their sanity and try to find time to practice themselves. This is where NPM comes in. Haven’t seen much from CMAA, Not saying they don’t teach, just haven’t seen much going on on that front outside of chant scholarship, which is over all pretty good. Neither groups seem to get an overwhelming amount of support from the hierarchy.

    1. Thank you, Brent!

      I mean, really? I spend hours selecting and preparing music that I hope will lead the assembly into a richer, more prayerful celebration of Eucharist. I agonize over sound levels to support singing but not overwhelm the voices of the people. I spend my days off preparing presider’s texts and preparing for special events and prayer services. I rally seeming armies of volunteers to prepare inserts, song sheets, supplements and worship aids. And I think the music is about me and my talent??? The parish where I work, the musicians who I am blessed to work with, and the professors who trained me in liturgy would all be shocked to hear that, since they’ve seen no evidence to support such a statement! And I don’t think I’m a lone voice, crying in the wilderness!

  12. I rarely check into this site anymore, having come to realise that it is for the ‘elite’. But please could many of the posters above reflect on how conceited their opinions are of anything that is not to their taste. So much of this is about personal taste and opinion. Why always must we try and impose ours on others. No wonder my pastor says liturgists are the worst possible people to be let near the planning of liturgy.

  13. Some years ago, a priest friend of mine, and an excellent vocalist to boot told this story. He was attending a major liturgical event in a large parish church with an outstanding music program. While they were in the sacristy, waiting to process, the organist was playing very well and loudly. Comments included “wow, he’s good” “who wrote it I wonder, Bach, Mozart.” I, however, was standing in a corner, laughing my a-s off. He was playing variations on “Three Blind Mice.”

  14. The words from “Amazing Grace” fit the tune of “Gilligan’s Island” and vice versa. I used to threaten the pastor that the organist and I were going to do that as the opening hymn.

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