Saturday, April 1, 2006


Bishop Edward J. Slattery of Tulsa, OK, continues his excellent series on liturgy in the Eastern Oklahoma Catholic, the bi-weekly newspaper of the Tulsa Diocese.

This excerpt geared toward music:

Music can be a distraction
In my travels around the Diocese, I have noted certain communities where the music at Mass has tended more toward entertainment than toward prayer.The choir or cantor consciously draws the attention of the congregation to their performance and really stirring performances are rewarded by the congregation’s grateful applause.
In this case, the placement of the choir, cantor or musicians in the most visible and prominent part of the sanctuary, not only proves to be a distraction to the congregation, but provides a kind of center stage for a concert of religious music. In this case, the music becomes the center of the experience, the sacramental transformation of the worshipper is reduced to his or her mere inspiration and the liturgical action of the Mass becomes itself a distraction.
While such a scenario is still quite rare in our Diocese, I think we are in danger of moving in that direction and it concerns me as your Bishop.

So true in a lot of cases - everything from kiddie choruses to the adult music ministry. Rumor has it my predecessor had the choir convinced that everything was "performance". I've seen so many cases where a choir of little ones would go up front, right on the altar steps, and sing the worst pieces imaginable (in most cases this came from the infamous Hi God collection). One cannot help but get such reactions as "oh, ain't that cute!" The end result - applause! Yeah, do that downstairs in the hall after Mass, during coffee and donuts.
Bp. Slattery's middle paragraph says it all in regards to choir location. Three things can solve this problem in many cases, depending on how your church is built:

1) choir loft
2) choir loft
3) choir loft.
(and some good, reverent, CATHOLIC music is a big help too).

Here's some more.

...I want to discourage in the strongest possible way, those Masses which are sometimes called “teaching Masses” during which the celebrant stops the sacred action in order to make an historic or theological point of explanation.

There was this one curate I used to work with (I can't believe this guy's a pastor somewhere now), just before the offertory, who used to say, "Now, the Mass is divided in two parts, the liturgy of the... WORD, and the liturgy of the... EUCHARIST. Not that we didn't know it before, now.

In that same vein, I want to discourage any extraneous comments or commentaries on the readings or the parts of the Mass which might interrupt the sacred action. The proclamation of the readings, for example, ought not to begin with an introductory comment provided by the lector,“In this morning’s first reading, the Prophet Isaiah consoles the Israelites” – First of all, such explanations are properly given by the celebrant or the deacon in the homily when he brings together the day’s readings and places their proclamation in the context of that parish’s lived experience; and secondly, an explanation offered as part of the liturgical proclamation could easily lead to a confusion between the inspired Word of God and the possibly helpful insight of the liturgy committee or the lector himself or herself.

Let me tell you a story of a former nun I once had to deal with for a funeral. This goes back about 13 years or so.

You see, I get a call at home on a Tuesday evening for a funeral that was coming up on Friday. The call was from the soloist. Very prominent soprano soloist I might add, and very good. We went through some music, and the call went over far better than most calls I was used to getting at the time. This lady actually knew liturgy. The funeral, incidentally, was concelebrated. Principal celebrant, Bishop Louis E. Gelineau, who was our Ordinary at the time. Still a punk in my late 20's then, I thought, "way cool!"
The next day I got a call at my day job. This call was from a former nun, and regarding the same funeral. Well, she had apparently turned around and hired four more guys to do the singing, and had the entire funeral Mass, music and all, mapped out. And her arrogant little line was "this is how it goes or you don't get paid". Well, excuse me! I get paid, no matter what. After all, it was at Precious Blood, and I was music director there at the time.
What does this have to do with the paragraph from Bp. Slattery that I just quoted above? Well, let's fast forward to Friday, 10 AM. The funeral starts with Bp. Gelineau blessing the casket and doing all his work properly, followed by five of us guys (myself included, also accompanying on the III/26 Aeolian Skinner built in 1947) upstairs belting out "Yahweh, I know you are near". Following that should have been the Opening Prayer (Collect). Instead, we got this TWENTY MINUTE INTRODUCTION by this former nun. And to boot, she had an intro for nearly EVERYTHING that happened at Mass. I could only imagine what the Bishop was thinking, let alone Fr. Gagne (then pastor), who was normally mild mannered in all things but stupidity. It was a 90-minute horror show, that could have been done in 60 minutes without the blabbering of this battle axe.

There is much more good stuff from Bp. Slattery. Read the rest of the article. It starts on page 3, and continues on page 12 (page 10 of the .pdf file).



Anonymous said...

Question about the horrific funeral experience:

Why didn't you go over her head and talk to the pastor or the bishop about it? I certainly would have...

Brian Michael Page said...

It was bad enough hiring the four extra tenors. To me, that didn't affect much. I was kinda used to the fact that undertakers in the city of Woonsocket had a tendency of pushing the use of soloists, who would go around from church to church in the greater Woonsocket area to sing funerals.

As for those liturgically abusive speeches, that's a debacle I knew nothing of until the funeral had already started. To boot, she had COPIES of the program, speeches and all, for all the priests, including the bishop.

Unfortunately, it was out of my hands.


Jeff Miller said...

Wow that is great. I freed it from the evil PDF format and have the letter in full on my blog.

David L Alexander said...

If that were me in the casket, I would have risen up, rattled a few chains, and sent that feminazi out the door screeching like the banshee she undoubtedly was (or maybe still is -- somewhere...).