The Katholikentag (“Catholic Fest”) is now happening in Mannheim, as Vatican Radio reports. The German Catholics have been doing this since 1848, and this year some 60,000 participants are expected. UPDATE: 80,000 participated, according to organizers.
This year’s theme is Einen neuen Aufbruch wagen – “Dare a New Breakthrough.” (That’s almost impossible to translate idiomatically, btw.) You can watch the opening celebration, complete with dance, here – scroll down to “Eröffnungs-Feier.”
Here is the official Mutmachlied – “Courage-Making Song” (That’s almost impossible to translate idiomatically, btw.) It rhymes in German, but not in my rough English translation:
It is time to arise from sleep,
to view the day with clear eyes,
With open hearts and watchful senses,
intent on attaining the hidden treasure.
Life is a breakthrough into God’s time.
For this he has given us days and hours,
Believe in the future he promises us.
Life is a breakthrough with the Holy Spirit.
It is time to abandon the fortress
and open old barricades,
To understand humanity’s longing for God
and to walk with them into the open.
Life is a breakthrough into a new land.
Jesus extends his hand as a brother.
Hear his voice and follow his star.
Life is a breakthrough with Christ the Lord.
It is time to divide the cloak,
to heal lovingly with words,
To treasure the dignity and riches of others,
and take steps for giving and receiving.
Live is a breakthrough into the Kingdom of God,
already here and at the same time distant.
Trust in his word that brings reconciliation.
Life is a breakthrough with the power of God.
You can listen to the Mutmachlied here – click “Leben ist Aufbruch anhören” down on the right side.
The music setting for the closing Mass, apparently composed for this Catholic Fest, is really interesting. The Missa pro nobis is what German-speakers call “Sacro-Pop.” There are congregational responsorial refrains for each acclamation. You can listen to each Mass part here – scroll down on the right side. “Anhören” means “listen to,” and I’m sure you can find “Kyrie,” “Gloria,” “Credo,” Sanctus and Hosanna,” “Agnus Dei” there.
Pretty amazing, ja?
Any of us could easily write up the critique (or attack) from traditional quarters: this is secular, not sacred, unworthy of the sacred mysteries, artistically mediocre, contrary to church teachings, not what Vatican II intended, not what Pope Benedict XVI wishes, not inspired by Gregorian chant which should have pride of place, doesn’t sound “Catholic,” sounds like a night club, and so forth.
One could always throw in that it no doubt comes from aging hippies stuck in the 60s trying to keep alive a failed revolution. We’ve heard for at least thirty years now, and will probably hear for at least another thirty, that the time for this sort of thing has passed.
What do I think of the sacro-pop Mass setting?
I don’t like it, mostly. I prefer Latin chant, English chant, choral music from Palestrina to Pärt, organ-based English Mass settings, ecumenical mainline strophic hymnody, loud organ music, and brass.
I purposely put that in subjective terms (“I prefer”), to avoid claiming too easily that I speak for God, that my convictions are identical to God’s. In questions of aesthetic judgment, it is important to acknowledge that one comes from a particular time and place. This is true also of official Church directives, which of course have changed much over the course of time and can’t be cited too hastily as objective truth or the final word.
It goes without saying that official directives should be taken seriously. It goes without saying that liturgical, theological, musical, musicological study should inform our judgments and help move us a bit closer to an objective judgment. But the subjective element will always be there.
With all that in mind, I’d say something like this about the Katholikentag Mass setting.
I wonder if this setting has the associations you want for an occasion like a Catholic fest. It sounds happy and joyful, and that’s a good thing. The part of my soul that happy and generous and open (yes, it’s down there somewhere in me) genuinely likes this music. But there is a possible danger that it sounds too lightweight for the participants. It could even give the impression that the Catholic Church doesn’t really know what its identity is and is grabbing at straws. On the other hand, you don’t want your music to be so confident about Catholic identity that it sounds triumphalistic and pretentious. We’ve done plenty of that down through the centuries, and the Gospel stands in judgment of it.
I wonder if it wouldn’t be possible to have music that better says “Catholic tradition, connected to the past but still alive and developing, confident of itself and also open to dialog with the modern world.” I don’t know, maybe a fairly traditional setting with brass, sounding like an old German congregational hymn, but with little hints at jazzy harmonies here and there. Or maybe a newly-written melody that sounds rather like an old folk hymn, but with contemporary major-seventh and minor-seventh chords.
You have to find a way to avoid being unreconstructed retro, as if the Catholic faith is a museum from the past, hermetically sealed from anything in today’s evil world. The good thing about this setting is that it engages the modern world and tries to say that Christianity is still alive in it.
I suppose all that sounds rather vague. It’s kind of hard to describe music. So let me give you an example of a festive Mass setting I’m fond of: the Eucharistic acclamations of Michael Joncas’s Missa ad Gentes, with alternation between choir in Latin and congregation in English. You can listen to it here. The melody writing is like in traditional hymnody, almost. Good, solid, step-wise with logical leaps, but with just a few jumps vaguely reminiscent of pop music without sounding cheesy or being too difficult to sing. The harmonies and voice-leading are pretty much traditional polyphony, but it sounds quintessentially American. One hears the influence of Brahms or Vaughn Williams, but even more Bernstein. It is solid, festive, exuberant, but the beautiful, soft harmonies prevent it from sounding too regal or militaristic.
I’d prefer if the German Catholics had found their version of a Michael Joncas and created something a bit classier and more traditional, but still fresh and new.
But. In such matters, the But is important. All of us on all sides must be ready to question our own assumptions and preferences and well-thought-out positions, and be ready to respect the worldview and liturgical work of fellow Catholics who take different approaches. I have many Buts.
I’m critical of the Katholikentag setting, but I don’t know the cultural context as a native. I’ve read about the horrific scandals and the turmoil the Catholic Church has been through, but it’s not for me to say what the pastoral need is now. I gather that Catholic tradition and the Catholic hierarchy have credibility problems in Germany. The majority of theologians and theology professors have signed a statement calling for reforms and changes in Church teaching. Frustration with Church officials seems to be pretty high. All this plays a role in music selection. Perhaps the German planners had good reasons for wanting a setting that said “new, innovative” as a sign of hope for a demoralized Church with demoralized clergy and pastoral ministers.
I’m critical of this setting, but I would hesitate to call it “secular” and not “sacred.” There are massive theological problems with drawing this distinction too sharply. Everything God created is good, including blues notes and jazz chords. The incarnation is about bringing sacred and secular together, about the divine entering into our human world.
There are musicological problems with the sacred/secular distinction as well. For much of church history, great composers did not make the distinction. Think of the great similarity between Palestrina’s Mass settings and his madrigals, or between Bach’s chamber music and his church cantatas. The distinction between sacred and secular music mostly dates to the 19th century, when the sociological context was the Church’s retreat from what was seen as a hostile modern world.
This setting isn’t my preferred style for the occasion, but I wouldn’t push too far the point that it is “secular.” Every jazz or blues chord can probably be found somewhere in the music of Messiaen or Poulence, however different the context. The Katholikentag Mass is too jazzy for my tastes, but I must say that it sounds like quite good jazz to me. The harmonies are musically interesting and appealing. And this is an important aspect: the “sacred” has to do with quality, not just style. “The glory of God is in a human fully alive,” as Irenaeus said, and I find more of the spirit of God in good jazz than in mediocre, dull, second-rate imitation of the past that are supposed to sound “Catholic.”
Last Sunday was Baccalaureate at St. John’s University, and I was responsible for the music at the abbey/university Mass. I took a quite different approach for this festive occasion than what we see at the Katholikentag (see it online here until next Monday morning – it starts at the homily because Your Truly forgot to tell the media people that Mass started a half hour earlier than usual.) The leaflet is here, here, and here.
With the music we went pretty classical, dangerously traditional. What’s with the monks, I thought they were liberal progressives?!
I didn’t intend to give in to my tastes so thoroughly, but it got away from me. The suggestion was to do Latin chant for the prelude as a way to quiet the noisy congregation (I admit, I wish Catholics wouldn’t do that in church before Mass) and establish the sacred context. We did traditional hymnody, (two hymn tunes most everyone knows) because that seems to work better in this space than more contemporary music with syncopation and quick-moving notes. (I wonder how that will work for thousands of Germans, btw.) Then I decided to have a few women sing Vidi aquam during the Sprinkling because they had just sung it a week before and knew it, and that seemed like a nice relief between the loud hymn and the loud, festive Proulx Gloria.
When the congregation is coming in from all over, you have to do either a Mass setting that everyone knows, or call-and-response music that works instantly. With the new Missal, we don’t yet know whether Haugen Creation or Proulx Community or Janco Wisdom or something else is widely known, so that left call-and-response. As much as I like Joncas Gentes, I feared that the switch of languages would impede participation for this assembly (we’ve done Gentes at Midnight Mass and the Easter vigil with very good results, but the congregation there is more used to our abbey worship.) We did Proulx Corpus Christi , based on the chant Adoro te devote. The congregation seemed to pick it up and join in quite well.
The schola sang Tallis, with its text that fits the day’s Scripture readings. But near the end of Communion – after all that traditional, Western music, the schola provided some welcome diversity with a Kenyan folk song, “Wana Baraka” (here is an excerpt from this piece at the Easter vigil).
I think the Baccalaureate Mass was a good celebration, and I’m happy with the music we did.
But. Just as we must add a “But” and question our criticism of others, so we must do with our own work.
I think the upbeat hymns and trumpet and Kenyan choir piece made for a joyful celebration, but I wonder whether the music as a whole was too serious, or too far above the sensitivities of the participants. Maybe there should have been some well-known “contemporary/popular” Catholic liturgical music.
I think the use of Latin chant was OK – we do that all the time here – but I wonder whether the music as a whole gave the right impression of a Benedictine monastery and Catholic university in today’s world. As music director I bear a weighty responsibility for the image and public witness of the abbey and university. (And I admit that I don’t consult with the public relations office… or the development office.)
It’s interesting to compare the two, Katholikentag in Mannheim and Baccalaureate in Collegeville. We took a different approach, but I can’t claim that we got it right or that they got it wrong. We can critique others, and we can put forth the rationale for what we do. But. Don’t forget the But.