Build Your Faith

Let’s Revisit "Praise and Worship Music is Praise But Not Worship"

Most articles in the blogosphere have a very short shelf life, which is why I am quite surprised that an article I posted on Chant Café on 2 June 2011 keeps reappearing on blogs and in my social media newsfeeds every so often.  Why Praise and Worship Music is Praise and Not Worship seems to keep being resurrected, which I can only surmise because the discussion it continues to elicit is still quite relevant, and the questions it raises have not been answered to everyone’s satisfaction.  What’s more, following the comments on social media on the article has been very interesting, and I think telling about where we are now with regards to the situation of praise and worship music in liturgy.  Perhaps a revisit is in order.

The article has three main components. In the first part, I share my own experience with a particular use of praise and worship, the Lifeteen Mass, which was twenty years ago now, and how it caused me to reflect at the time and now on its appropriateness for the sacred liturgy. What I have found most interesting is that the most negative reactions I have come across to the article tend to parse this first section and then ignore the other two. My response to this is the following: My experience is obviously not going to be the experience of everyone; some will resonate with that experience and others will not. That’s why it is a personal reflection. I am delighted to read that there are those who have not had anything like the experience that I had with Lifeteen. I am also dismayed to read that, twenty years later, some people are having exactly the same experience I have had. I am told that the organization Lifeteen itself has repudiated many of the abusive liturgical practices which made my exposure to it so distressing, and that the guidance of Bishop Olmsted of Phoenix has been exemplary in this regard. I rejoice that this is the case. Surely it is in some way testimony to how Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI’s rich theology of the liturgy is finding its way into the Church’s life. I am also aware that there are a significant number of priests, seminarians and committed young lay faithful who credit Lifeteen and similar initiatives as powerful in their formation as Catholics.  All of that is to the good.  And none of that invalidates my experience, any more than it invalidates the experience of those whose history with these initiatives is entirely different than my own.
Yet, this is exactly the neuralgic point with taking experience as a locus for deciding how the Church should pray the sacred liturgy.  One of the main points of the article is that we have effectively reversed what we are supposed to be doing in the liturgy: if praise is something we offer to God, then however we may seek to praise Him with a sincere heart is certainly an oblation pleasing to God. But worship is not something we offer to God, when it comes to the Mass.  The Mass is the self-offering of Jesus to the Father in the Holy Spirit. Our participation in the Mass is not constructing this event under a ritual form which we find meaningful; it is a liturgical and sacramental surrendering of ourselves to the action of the sacrifice. The Mass is something Christ does in us, in that sense.
The most virulent criticisms of the article center around the pronoun “I”. I do not like what the article says because I do not feel it to be consonant with my feelings, and so I reject the idea that praise and worship is inconsistent with the theocentric, and not anthropcentric, objective of the liturgy. The injection of the subjective as the principal criterion by which many have come to evaluate their appreciation of the liturgy has led precisely to the idea that, because I like it, it must be right. A predilection for Gregorian chant, Latin, or the treasury of sacred music is then demoted from its status of connaturality with the Roman liturgy, which is supported by Sacrosanctum conciliumand Musicam sacram, to a mere option in exercising one’s preference.
The second part of the article records eleven observations about the inappropriateness of praise and worship music for the sacred liturgy.  I would like to list them here:
  1. P&W music assumes that praise is worship.
  2. P&W music assumes that worship is principally something we do.
  3. P&W music assumes as its first principle relevance.
  4. P&W music assumes as its second principle the active participation of a certain age group.
  5. P&W music self-consciously divides the Church into age and taste groups.
  6. P&W music subverts Biblical and liturgical texts during the Mass.
  7. P&W music assumes that there can be a core of orthodox Catholic teaching independent of the Church’s liturgical law and tradition.
  8. P&W music consciously manipulates the emotions so as to produce a catharsis seen as necessary for spiritual conversion.
  9. P&W music confuses transcendence with feeling.
  10. P&W music denies the force of liturgical and musical law in the Church in favour of arbitrary and individualist interpretations of worship.
  11. P&W music prizes immediacy of comprehension and artistic ease over the many-layered meaning of the liturgy and artistic excellence.

As soon as we enshrine the principle of subjectivity in the realm of liturgical music, it is hard to see how we can avoid a situation in which our worship is balkanized along taste fault lines.  The very fact that the discussion over the article remains acrimonious is because we have not moved past that principle, and in fact, as long as we are stuck there, we won’t. It is important to note that nowhere in the article do I state that the music which has grown up in the Praise & Worship milieu has no place in the life of the Church.  But that is different than saying it should be in the Mass.
If we take Mass to be something that we do to “attract” people to God, then it makes sense to craft an experience which corresponds to what they feel they need in order to commune with God.  But, if we truly understand that the Mass is not that, then another set of concerns comes to the fore.
The assumption that praise and worship music is appropriate at Mass because the people who make the music are sincere and the lyrics are about sacred things does not make it sacred music appropriate for the liturgy. The mind of the Church in this matter is very clear, in her documents.  The General Instruction of the Roman Missal, Sacrosanctum concilium and Musicam sacram all point to a different set of concerns about the choice of music at Mass.
Namely, the sacred liturgy is something which we are given, not something we create. If we are to sing the Holy Mass, rather than sing at Holy Mass, we must sing the actual texts of the Mass: in the first instance, the Ordinary of the Mass; and in the second instance, the Propers of the Mass. The concern over the texts given to us is matched by a clear predilection for certain things in the music at Mass: Latin, Gregorian chant, and music free of vulgar or popular associations are all mentioned specifically in the documents. The issue is not the date of composition of the music, it is its dignity for the sacred liturgy.  While it may indeed be the case that there are places where there are great numbers of people who “like” praise and worship music at Mass, it is not as self-evident that the documents of the Church, which express the mind of the Church on the sacred liturgy, in any way support the subversion of the liturgy by the criteria of relevance, numbers, or comfort.
The witness of many seminarians and young priests bears this point fruitfully. I have come across numerous budding levites who were formed in the praise and worship mentality, many of whom because there was nothing else their parishes was offering them. Many of them remain grateful for what they received, because it was something that connected them to their faith.  And many of them also, either upon entering the seminary or at some point before or after, actually started to read the documents of the Church which spell out the expectations of the Church on sacred liturgy and music, as well as sound liturgical theology.  Many of them retain an affection for the music of their Catholic adolescence, but their perspective has been broadened and formed by something much deeper. They understand that the people in the pews they have just traded in for the sanctuary are often far from that full, conscious and active participation in the liturgy as the Church envisions it in her documents. And they also want to bring those same people to it. The big question for them, and for many of us in pastoral ministry is, how do we bridge the gap?
So let us keep in mind the eleven things I mentioned in the third part of the article:
  1. The Church’s musical and liturgical tradition is an integral part of worship, and not a fancy addition.
  2. While Praise is a high form of individual and small group prayer, it is not Worship as the Church understands the corporate public prayer of the Liturgy.
  3. Worship is not principally something that we do: it is the self-offering of Jesus Christ to the Father in the Holy Spirit, the fruits of which are received in Holy Communion. Worship is Sacrifice and Sacrament, not Praise.  
  4. Relevance is irrelevant to a liturgy which seeks to bring man outside of space and time to the Eternal.
  5. Participation in the liturgy is principally interior, by the union of the soul with the Christ who celebrates the liturgy. Any externalizations of that interior participation are meaningless unless that interior participation is there.
  6. The Church’s treasury of sacred music is not the province of one social-economic, age, cultural, or even religious group. It is the common patrimony of humanity and history.
  7. The Church must sing the Mass, i.e., the biblical and liturgical texts contained in the Missal and Gradual, and not sing at Mass man-made songs, if it is to be the corporate Worship of the Church and not just Praise designed by a select group of people.
  8. Orthodox Catholic teaching on faith and morals must always be accompanied by respect for the Church’s liturgical and musical teaching and laws.
  9. The deliberate intention to manipulate human emotions to produce a religious effect is abusive, insincere, and disrespectful of God’s power to bring about conversion in the hearts of man.
  10. While music does affect the emotions, sacred music must always be careful to prefer the transcendent holiness of God over the immanent emotional needs of man.
  11. The Church’s treasury of sacred music inspires and requires the highest attention to artistic excellence. It is also an unfathomable gift to the Church, and must be presented to the faithful so that they may enjoy that rich gift. 

When I wrote this article in 2011, I was a doctoral student without the care of souls. I could afford a more theoretical and speculative look into this question, and did so against the background of my own experience.  At this writing, I am pastor of a church which in many ways is like any other parish in the country: filled with people searching for God, and for love, wanting to bring others searching for the same thing into the House of God. Every time I ascend the altar for the Sacrifice of Redemption surrounded by my amazing flock, I know that it is nothing that we do which will bring that about. It is all a grace, it all is the work of God. If we celebrate the sacred mysteries as the Church gives them to us, in the beauty of holiness, then God will use that, and not our creativity, to work out His purpose in the world. And it is precisely there that the most creative work happens.

Build Your Faith

Read "Go Set a Watchman" Yet?

Who knew that Harper Lee’s characters had entered the fray regarding how the Almighty should be worshipped in song!
I’m not sure if this flouts copyright law, so rather than post the entire section that tickled me, I link

she went down the aisle to corner Herbert, who had remained behind to shut the windows. Dr. Finch was faster on the draw:
“—shouldn’t sing it like that, Herbert,” he was saying. “We are Methodists after all, D.V.”
“Don’t look at me, Dr. Finch.” Herbert threw up his hands as if to ward off whatever was coming. “It’s the way they told us to sing it at Camp Charles Wesley….The music instructor… taught a course in what was wrong with Southern church music. He was from New Jersey,” said Herbert….
“He said we might as well be singing ‘Stick your snout under the spout where the Gospel comes out’ as most of the hymns we sing. Said they ought to ban Fanny Crosby by church law and that Rock of Ages was an abomination unto the Lord….He said we ought to pep up the Doxology.”


Build Your Faith

Review: Mass of St. Philip Neri, part the second

Paul Jernberg

In the second installment of my review I have to remind any readers that our employment of Mass of SPN is also mitigated by some omissions of various movements. Paul’s Gospel Acclamations are one of those, as well as his Amen. I have an affection for our friend Chuck Giffen’s “Ascensionis” settings of those movements.

One of the aspects that I’ve noticed in larger, more orchestrated Mass settings and musician-rich parishes is an inclination to employ grandiose instrumental introductions to the Sanctus, and to a lesser extent the Memorial and Amen acclamations. The key word to remember is acclamation. One of the best changes in MR3 was the last imperative word of the Preface,  “acclaim!” That means “Better  start PDQ, Mr. Bach, it’s an ACCLAMATION!”  So, whether by a simple hum by the dirigent, a brief chordal iteration of Tonic F via organ, or the first half phrase of the Jernberg “Holy” by organ, that propulsion or momentum I mention in the “Glory” is even more present here. I believe the richness of the “orthodox-ian” homophony is found more in the rhythmic movement that’s glove-in-hand tight. And even without time signatures but with traditional note values, to me the phrases come off the tongue more like chant than hymn. The same harmonic construct between relative Major to minor is used with precision nearing perfection. I suggest that the tenors in the first phrase and last phrase use the high F because it enhances a closed position triad very effectively. And  if you have enough soprani, or a few children trebles, there’s a pedal C hum (or “ooh”) that craftily enters on “est” of the first “highest,” and it glides over the Benedictus so sweetly until the last “Hosanna.” And, of course, the director can use different rubatos for the final cadence with that lovely suspension/release in the altos.

For the Memorial acclamation, again it should start immediately after “in memory of me.” We use Accl. “C,” “Save us…..”  It is compact, and the terrace effect from phrase one to two to final three (“You have set us free”) is easily acquired. But the most wonderful effect is adding just a bit of detaché before cueing the word “free” with a tad of cres/decres. or even another lowering of volume.

We do not generally sing the Our Father in our parishes, pastoral edict. But the setting in this Mass is one of the most beautiful and worthy to replace either the MR3 Gregorian, the Snow or the Pater Noster.

Lastly, that paradoxical effect of sweet tenderness that seems the natural ethos of so many Agnus Dei settings is certainly operating in this Mass. The simple chordal progression of “vi (Dm) – V/vi (A)- V (C)- I (F  on “world”) with the reply “ii- V/visus4-V (As-A on “us”)  is introduced, and then again terraced upon for the second phrase, but with the phrase ending using the suspended V of I (Cs-C) as essentially a deceptive cadence. Then the third phrase still uses the same rhythmic assignments, but starting on tonic I (F) moving to a somewhat dramatic unprepared suspension in the tenors (“God) to V/vi (A) which leads to “vi” which abets the final statement of “sins of the world” via the minor tonality. Then comes the reward, “Grant us peace” with old standby “ii- Vs-V-I.” And the same affect if you stretch or have a whit of space after “us” to “peace” is simply heavenly.

James Michael Thompson
Again, the audio CD/download is an even better way to audition this most worthy of Masses in decades, and post MR3, as every sacred word including the lections is sung, and some choice classic polyphonic motets adorn the proper processions. Bravo, maestro’s.


Build Your Faith

Review: Mass of St. Philip Neri by Paul Jernberg (Part one)

Image result for Mass of St. Philip Neri Paul Jernberg image

I don’t know if it was God’s master plan or God inspiring Jeffrey Tucker years ago, but I’ve been blessed a number of times by a number of composers to review their works at the Café. In many a combox I’ve touted many Mass Ordinary settings which I’ve vetted (a very risky, personal choice) by the real process of having them sung by our schola and the congregation/ministry at our 8::30am Sunday Mass. Our schola’s nucleus membership is two decades along. I’m, at heart, a choral guy and they are chorally inclined. We have sparingly employed Gregorian Masses, or simile settings by folks like the great Ostrowski in unison. But choral floats our boat.

After one of those toutings at MSF or somewhere, Paul Jernberg (and his cohort, my old friend and greatest choir director of my era, J. Michael Thompson) took notice of my exuberance. So Paul honored me by asking for a review. It’s been a weird summer, total staycation, lots of physical injuries to me and mine, yada. But I promised Paul I would review what I know after at least one year’s use (according to Wendy) that I’d give a personal, seasoned look-see.


First of all, for those who’ve not only purchased the score but also listened to JMT’s inspired recording (complete with real canting lectors, deacons and celebrant), Paul Jernberg’s setting is probably the most ideal setting according to the intents and purposes of the three principal documents of the Vatican II liturgical documents, and for that matter the 1903 motu proprio of St. Pius X, Tra le sollecitudini. By that I mean not only is the sole instrument of worship is the human voice, but that the entire ritual in the ORDINARY FORM is rendered with the same ideal and intent of the Solemn High Mass in the EF. Simply, this is the embodiment of the latest exhortation “Sing THE Mass (not sing at Mass.)”

That said, in full disclosure I have to confess that though my group can render this and other similar works (the choral settings by Richard Rice come to mind) a capella, blessed with an extraordinary organist, we sing the Jernberg with organ. Secondly, I’ll only comment upon exactly what portions of the setting we’ve employed as we’ve not a celebrant whose talents could enable us to realize the piece as intended (tho’ I am working on that!)

For the last year we’ve used Paul’s “Lord, have mercy II” after the Confiteor. Wendy intones the first iteration, the choir enjoins the second in SATB, and we’ve chosen to nine-fold it with a second repetition. The elegant factor about that choice resulted from the deliberate upward terracing of each of the intonations. The congregation can clearly hear the shift per invocation moving up a third by the cantor, but we’ve found that in addition we’ve noticed the subtle ability of the congregation (in all movements for that matter) to sing ad hoc what they perceive as the choral harmonies. It’s quite something.

The cadence of the Kyrie  we’ve  chosen to “imperfect” so as to have the tenors end on a Bb. (Mea culpa.) But that sets up a simple invocation for the celebrant or cantor to intone the “Glory to God in the highest” in a descending scale from Bb4^ to tonic  F to which the congregation and choir respond “and on earth…” We take this response at about allegretto, or q=104. The fairly close-voiced homophony (eastern emulating ala Proulx’s Oecumenica) allows the altos and tenors to add some sweet jelly passing tones to the bread and peanut butter of the bass and soprano lines, all of which are, again intuitively learned and taken up by an aware congregation. Jernberg adds a quarter-note triplet that moves downward in all voices from “heavenly” to “King” and which serves to set a transition to the reverent allargando “Lord Jesus Christ” which eventually leads to the relative D minor with some carefully prepared secondary dominants in the alto voice, with an abbreviated cadence at “Son of the Father” ending on Vs4-/V (As-A) which then resumes with an a tempo (or accelerando) “you take away” still in the relative Dminor. There is simply very well planned propulsion which I believe is precisely what “Gloria” settiings must employ. Remaining in Dm, the altos are repeatedly featured with the prepared suspended fourth of the dominant AMajor, which they must crescendo over 2 beats at repeated cadences before relief on the third beat of a semi-cadence. And then the propulsion reappears at “For You alone….” which then emphatically prepares, via two quarter-triplet figures, the declaration “Most High, Jesus Christ.” Just brilliant. And the final cadence uses the Dminor to set up via Gminor 2^  to V6/4-V to “home,” F on “Father” sung at a forte (full, not loud.) Then we drop to piano for the Amen.  I can hear Officer Marge Gunderson from the great film “FARGO”  saying “Easy as pie!”

The balance in Part II

Build Your Faith

Give Chant a Chance

A new school year is just around the corner, and the bright young children will soon be sitting in their uniforms in our Catholic schools.Now is the time to give them access to their hereditary music as Catholics: Gregorian chant.Mary Ann Carr Wilson h…

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