In my blog thus far, I’ve attempted to show that there is a Catholic music scene; however, the artists in the scene are relatively unknown due to the Catholic church’s liturgical structure, Western European cultural influence, and tradition. Now I will be outlining ways the Catholic Church can support these artist.
1. An argument for contemporary music a Mass
Obviously the best way for Catholic artists to gain exposure is by showcasing their music at Mass. This is the most effective way because a good majority of Catholics only come to Mass and thus Mass is their only exposure to Christian music. The use of contemporary music at Mass is very controversial.
If you recall in my last post, I linked to an article by Peter A. Kwasniewski. He argues against contemporary music at Mass. His main thesis is that using music with secular origins conforms the mind to the world instead of to the divine mysteries and does not foster a contemplative atmosphere. Furthermore, he argues that the instrumentality of the music is what lingers in the soul, not the lyrics. He states, “A piece of music carries with it and conveys not only what its maker may be thinking and feeling, but in a deeper way, the thoughts and feelings of the context and culture out of which the musical style or its elements emerged.” (1). He proclaims that, “our calling as Christians is to bring holiness from the altar into the world, and, as much as we can, to transform the world, renew it, sanctify it by the power of the sacred mysteries. Christians have never seen it as their job to bring elements of the fallen world from the outside into the temple, remaking liturgy, preaching, and art forms into reflections of that world.”(1) I’d like to respond to this argument.
First, I would like to ask, isn’t all music inherently secular? Music, in my opinion, has always found its origin in human society and culture. Perhaps the only exception would be Plainsong or Chant since this style directly relates to the Hebrew chanting of the Psalms. As time went on, this chants would become more elaborate. In fact, Gregorian chant is derived from a synthesis of Roman and Gallican chants.(2) It would go on to replace the local chant tradition of Rome. According to David Wilson, Gregorian chant was promoted, not by the church, but by Charlemagne, who ordered it performed by the priests upon pain of death.(3) This brief history summary serves to showcase that even music written for the church and by the church had cultural influences. If culture can influence the early church’s music choices, then it can continue to influence the music of the church today.
Furthermore, Kwasniewski doesn’t just support plainsong, but also Renaissance polyphony. He states, “Traditional Church music is derived from sacred precedents: Christian plainchant from Hebrew chanting of the psalms, Renaissance polyphony from plainchant (when singing a motet by Palestrina you can feel the Gregorian influence upon every line), Baroque styles from Renaissance ones;”(1) This is hypocritical when one considers the origins of Renaissance polyphony. According to Msgr. Charles Pope, Renaissance polyphony emerged as harmony was introduced into Church music. (4) He describes that harmony entered into church music as a culture shift occurred due to the reintroduction of Greek Philosophy, “Several factors influenced the introduction of harmony. First, there was the reintroduction of Greek philosophy and some of its views back into the Western world through scholasticism.” (4). Likewise Msgr. Pope points out that,
” the music was not without controversy. There were two main problems with this new style called polyphony. The first problem was the intelligibility of the text. With multiple harmonies being sung, the Latin text, often staggered across many parts and voices, became harder and harder to understand. Clergy in particular complained of this, arguing that the sacred text was taking a backseat to musical flourishes. In addition, the “theatrical showiness” seemed secular to many. The second troubling issue was that many of the composers of the day drew from secular melodies that were often heard in taverns, in theaters, and on the streets. They would often take these recognizable melodies and set them as a cantus firmus (musical theme or foundation) of sacred compositions, including the parts of the Mass.” (4).
Hence it seems hypocritical of Kwasniewski to promote polyphony when he accuses contemporary music of have the same problems that originated with Polyphony. I believe he can be criticized for having a slanted view of the history of sacred music. I also believe he misunderstands the nature of contemporary worship music. Kwasniewski seems to think that contemporary worship music involves slapping Christian lyrics onto secular music. The reality is that Contemporary worship music and gospel music arose as spiritual hymns for the 21st century church. It arose to sanctify the secular, to take what was secular and make it holy. Contemporary worship music especially gospel music was not an attempt to secularize the sacred like Kwasniewski believes. However, since contemporary worship music at mass remains controversial, I have a few guidelines.
`1. Whenever possible use Catholic sources and Catholic artists
This avoids two criticisms. First, it avoids the criticism that this music is not sacred because it did not originate in the church. Second, it avoids the criticism that funding contemporary music funds protestant artists, which in turn promotes heresy. The vigil project is a good example. It is a group of Catholic artists, who currently have written 7 songs for the Lent liturgical year and they are working on Advent as well.
2. Save the upbeat song for the recessional.
This allows the church to be mindful of the sacredness of the mass and allows room for contemplation.
3. Absolutely no secular music
If it is not written by a Christian or Catholic artist and is not in a hymn book, don’t use it.
4. Avoid theatrics, Mass is about contemplation, not entertainment.
5. Coordinate the music to the Gospel message
This makes the use of Contemporary worship music less like a gimmick and more like it is relevant
There are less controversial ways to allow artists to promote their music.
2. Adoration with live music
Here in the Virginia Beach area, we have a ministry called Catholic Underground in which there is adoration accompanied by an acoustic guitar and a singer. Afterwards there is a free concert featuring a Catholic artist. Unfortunately, this only happens twice a year.
3. More Diocese should host and sponsor Catholic music festivals.
So far the only dioceses that I know that sponsors an annual concert are the Toledo Diocese and Diocese of Cleveland. They sponsor Exclaim and the Fest respectively. One criticism I have of these festivals especially the Fest is that they fail to invite Catholic artists. If you are going to have a Catholic festival make sure you have at least two Catholic artists; otherwise, you become indistinguishable from other protestant sponsored festivals and promote the belief that there are no good Catholic artists.
4. More Catholic conferences like Steubenville and market the conferences as open to all ages.
Maybe I’m bitter since I wasn’t Catholic in middle school and high school, but why is every single conference geared towards youth or college individuals? There is very little for older Young Adults or even adults. Likewise this is a great way to get Catholic Artists on board. In fact The Josh Blakesley band recently gained popularity from touring with Steubenville youth conferences.
5. Parishes should allow more room for Charismatic prayer groups.
Worship in the Holy Spirit by its very nature is improvisational and therefore offers a great way to incorporate Catholic contemporary worship. I would also like to see more Charismatic Masses offered by individual parishes.
The main point is that Catholics deserve to have opportunities to express themselves through contemporary praise and worship. If not at Mass, then the Church should find other avenues to offer these opportunities. While silent contemplation should reign supreme, people also crave worship music that is relevant and allows them worship with their whole body and allows improvisational prayer expression. A balance of both modes of expression is what is needed in today’s church.