Category Archives: church teaching

Life-changing liturgy

Tonight I returned home after attending the 2009 Sacred Music Colloquium in Chicago. From Monday evening, June 22, through this morning, we rehearsed Gregorian chant and polyphony daily, sang at Mass, and attended workshops and lectures. Tuesday morning after Mass I thought, "If we participated in Masses like this every week, it would change our lives." It is impossible to be indifferent to such a Mass. Such a Mass is so profoundly otherworldly, so oriented to the transcendent, so powerfully prayerful that it is impossible to be lukewarm. One must choose whom one will serve.

If you haven’t been, you can’t imagine the joy of being with and singing with 250-some like-minded people—all of them talented singers, music directors, and/or instrumentalists—who know the church’s teachings on sacred music, support them fully, and will never say "Why do we have to sing all this Latin?"

These Masses were the closest thing to perfect liturgies that I’ve ever seen or heard. The rubrics were respected. The church’s wishes for liturgical music were respected: full Gregorian propers for every Mass (except for Tuesday, for which English propers were sung) as well as Renaissance motets. For two of the Masses choirs sung polyphonic ordinaries (Mass parts).

You can listen to some of the sound files here.

Here is the advanced women’s chant schola (including yours truly) singing "Tu puer," the Alleluia from the Graduale on the feast of the nativity of St. John the Baptist. Our conductor was Dr. William Mahrt, one of the finest chant scholars in the world. Dr. Mahrt is president of the Church Music Association of America.

Here is Cardinal George’s homily–with an excellent message for church musicians.

When the Gregorian Alleluia from today’s Mass is posted, I will post a link. It included the most beautiful solo chant I’ve ever heard, by a soprano who obviously has not only a profoundly beautiful instrument but also a great mastery of chant technique.

Did you say you are not yet a member of CMAA? Join this year for $36. Dues increase next year to $48. At any price, membership is a bargain and includes a subscription to the excellent quarterly journal Sacred Music.


An introduction to the propers

I’ve just finished a project I started more than a month ago—writing a brief introduction to the propers of the Mass. I attempt to explain what the propers are, what the church says about them, why we should sing them, and where settings can be found.

You can read my attempt on this site. I’ve also cross-posted the page to the website for the East Tennessee chapter of the Church Music Association of America.

the church has something to say

Most Catholics—including, perhaps, many directors of music, priests, deacons, and religious—seem to see the selection of music for the sacred liturgy as a private matter, determined by personal preferences and what are “our favorite songs.” Certainly the culture of American Catholicism fosters that impression. A recent issue of a diocesan newspaper included an article explaining the U.S. bishops’ new advisory document Sing to the Lord. The article correctly notes that STTL “places a special emphasis on the use of the organ and the singing of Gregorian chants in Catholic Liturgies.” It continues,

But the music directors at three [diocesan] parishes don’t see the document as signaling a return to traditional music and a phasing out of popular contemporary music. A balance of music styles is needed, the directors said, to give participants the music they find spiritually moving.

The diocesan newspaper in question is an especially good one, and I’m not slamming the editors or writers.

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but have you read the documents?

The selection of music for Mass can be a highly charged topic, in part because we usually become fond of whatever we grew up with. The church calls us to a higher wisdom and offers a great deal of guidance. Most Catholic musicians don’t realize that the church offers guidelines and preferences for the choice of music. If you aren’t sure that the church’s ancient music is still relevant today—and preferable to most of what has been composed in the last half-century—have you read the documents? Two good places to start: the Vatican II document Sacrosanctum Concilium and the General Instruction of the Roman Missal. I plan to post links to more documents in the coming weeks. But you couldn’t do better than to start exploring the documents linked to on and In addition, I will gladly e-mail copies of a document I created that summarizes the church’s preferences. Just drop me a line. —————- Now playing: Alexander Blachly & Pomerium – Nuper rosarum flores via FoxyTunes