Monday 3 December 2012

Junk food and junk music

A Deacon, Tony Flavin (@miserpeccator on Twitter) has taken me to task for bullying Paul Inwood.

Being traditionally inclined, my natural inclination is deference to those in Holy Orders of whatever degree - and proportional to the degree of orders.  Thus a priest trumps a deacon, a bishop trumps a priest and the Holy Father is (below God) the Ace of Trumps.  However, that natural inclination is somewhat tempered by the times we live in, which see confusion all around us, and contradictory messages from different members of the episcopate, let alone the diaconate.

In this instance, Deacon Flavin (is that the correct way of referring to him?) seems to be misunderstanding my point.  I am clearly losing that gift of clear communication for which I was, heretofore, renowned...  He thinks my complaints against Inwood were centred on musical taste.

If you read my criticisms of him (here and here) you will see that I was not, in fact, talking about his musical style for more than one sentence (a passing mention of the Gathering Mass, to which I did not even add a derogatory adjective, though I think my dislike was clear from the context).

However, I do think there is link between the points where I do take issue with him (hostility towards the EF, mis-understanding or misrepresentation of others and placing himself in judgement on the Holy Father, in an offensive manner) and his music.  It is the ecclesiololgy behind it all; his 'vision' of the Church is clearly very different from mine, and is, I think, incorrect.  Given his influence, and the fact he is directly employed by the Church, I think that is a serious issue, and I think he exemplifies one of the problems the Church in this country faces: a bureaucracy that has grown up over the years that is hostile to Rome and to Catholic tradition.

But now I do wish to turn to his music, and its like.

It is easy to mock the Alleluia-cha-cha or whatever it is called.  However, as Deacon Flavin points out, many people like it.  Indeed, according to him, and I have no reason to doubt him, hearing hordes of kids singing their hearts out to Shine Jesus Shine in the school chapel is powerful testimony.  Surely, the argument goes, we should not object to music which brings people closer to Christ, merely because it is not to our taste.

My point is that such music may have its place (and in its place may indeed start the process of drawing people closer to Christ) but that place is not the liturgy of the Church.  It is probably infant school and possibly junior school.

'But they like it in the senior school, too,' the answer will come. 'They certainly don't want to be singing all that Latin and chant.'

This is where (at last) the junk food of my title comes in.  What children like and what is good for their growth and health are not the same thing.  That also applies to adults.

One of the responsibilities of parents and teachers (and Deacons, come to that) is to wean people off the high-sugar high-satisfaction junk and onto a healthier diet.  Merely because my kids would like a Mars bar and a bottle of pop for their packed lunch does not mean that I should acquiesce.  Nor is my failure to do so a matter of personal taste - I too have a sweet tooth.

But the best advice I can get, from the competent experts and from the wisdom of ages, suggests a different diet, and I ignore that to my children's detriment.

The same applies to music for worship.  The constant diet of saccharine-soaked music with sugary lyrics may well be popular (though it does induce nausea in many, and the number of teenagers so moved by this music that they continue to practice the Faith on leaving school is lamentably small).  However my contention is that it does not grow people spiritually, nor does it offer fitting worship to the Triune God, to whom we should offer the very best we can.

The expertise both of the Church's official teaching on music and of the wisdom of the ages suggests that certain types of music - in the first place Chant, and also Sacred Polyphony - are fitted for worship and others aren't.  That is not a matter of taste: musically, my instinctive taste is fairly cheap - I love the Beatles and I love big Romantic symphonies.  But I would want neither in the Liturgy, because what they are doing, and the way they are doing it, are both inappropriate.

So out of a spirit of obedience I have sung chant and polyphony for many years, and - guess what - come to love them and find in them a depth of spirituality that Inwood et al's music will never approach.  Surprise surprise: Mother Church was right.

Oddly enough, my kids, who in some cases have lamentable taste in contemporary music in my judgement (or in Ant and Dominique's case, a fondness for Disney songs...) have also learned to recognise the transcendental and prayerful qualities of sacred music - because I have subjected them to it for years.

Trying a bit of chant once or twice in a School Mass, and then concluding that children can't relate to it, is quite simply the wrong approach; of course they will vote for the Mars bar, in that context... We need to have the courage of the Church's conviction, and educate them in the Faith, culturally, intellectually, aesthetically and every other way we can.


Lazarus said...

Having rather grumpily experienced a rather poor choice of hymns at my parish's OF Advent Mass, I couldn't help contrasting it with recent Christmas concerts where my children's (secular)choirs pretty much spent the whole time singing in Latin including versions of the Mass.

Whatever else can be said here, we shouldn't be delivering children into an adult world with the thought that Christianity is aesthetically childish. And the irony for me is that the strongest challenge to such childishness often comes not from the liturgy itself, but from secular, concert performances.

I know this wasn't precisely your point, but aesthetics do matter: God is beauty, truth and goodness -and to fail to do justice to any of them is to misrepresent the fullness of Catholicism.

Sitsio said...

Very persuasively argued, I have to agree.

blondpidge said...

My sweet tooth has cost me dear,I have a massive amount of tooth decay requiring a lot of expensive and painful dental work, otherwise I run the risk of losing my teeth.

The same thing is happening in terms of my knowledge and appreciation of liturgy. It's unfamiliar & difficult at times, but equally every bit as necessary.

Tony Flavin said...

You can address deacons how you like. The correct title for Permanent deacons is Reverend Mr. We are styled reverend, but generally we are known by our fist name, so for me it's Deacon Tony.

The schools I work in, and the ones I work most closely with all have Chapel Choirs so your diet of music is well known, however, it just doesnt have the following.

The canteens also serve a vegitarian option every day, they're never the most popular option either.

Ben Trovato said...

Thanks, Deacon Tony!

Genty said...

I am always struck by the irony that sacred music sung in secular spaces, or in church concerts, are sell-outs.
Yet the very places where this music should an integral part of the liturgy is rarely heard.
The answer to getting children involved in Latin chant is to get them young. It's adults who keep saying it's too difficult for them. For children taught young it's normal, as is any foreign language.
I was at a Holy Communion prep Mass when the priest asked the children if they knew their school motto. One boy recited it in Latin.
With rolling eyes and an exaggerated "ooh!" the priest gave the boy a put-down in front of the congregaion. How clever he was, said the priest, because he had had to learn Latin to be a priest but had never understood it.
The youngster shrank into his seat and I would be surprised if the lad opened his mouth in front of that priest ever again.
Needless to say, Latin chant is never heard, but a tape of the clapping Gloria is a staple at all Masses.

Tony Flavin said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Tony Flavin said...

Well get in there and offer your services then.

We can't do the Clapping Gloria now anyway, nor the Peruvian.

You've uncovered another myth for me. Never heard someone say Latin is too difficult for a litt'lun, I only hear reports of Latin fans having heard it said.

Simon Platt said...

You're right on target there, Ben.

And, yes, it's "Mr" for deacons, all other things being equal. (I wouldn't say "reverend mister" except in those very formal situations in which I might also say "reverend father". Besides, I don't think it's very reverend for clergy to sneer so at their interlocutors, still less to impugn their honesty.)

Part-time Pilgrim said...

I don’t think you can argue that the Church forbids the use of “Shine Jesus Shine” (I wish it did!) in Mass and mandates Gregorian chant or polyphony.

The section in the Catechism on Singing and Music 1156 to 1158 doesn’t mention Chant at all. It talks of a treasured tradition of inestimable value that it preserves and develops. It says the music must be beautiful, solemn (in the liturgical sense I am sure) and participated in by all where this is appropriate. The words must “be in conformity with Catholic doctrine” and chiefly drawn from scripture or the liturgy.

SACROSANCTUM CONCILIUM does say that Gregorian chant “should be given pride of place in liturgical services” all things being equal. It goes on to say: “But other kinds of sacred music, especially polyphony, are by no means excluded from liturgical celebrations, so long as they accord with the spirit of the liturgical action, as laid down in Art. 30.” Article 30 talks about active participation.

To argue that only Chant and polyphony are allowed is wrong it seems to me. In fact with that approach to music in the liturgy we would have no Tallis, Haydn or Motzart (to name but three) in church. I would also say that some modern music is good and appropriate for use within the liturgy; even some Paul Inwood compositions. As Catholics we are blessed with a rich heritage of music composed over the last 2000 years and music from any age can and should be used to enhance our worship.

On the question of what should happen in Masses at school, well I think that depends where the school is. For me the most important thing to develop is the attitude that prayerful singing is an appropriate way to worship Almighty God. “He who prays sings twice” – St Augustine. In a school were the students are reluctant to sing (which would raise questions about the music provision in the school, wouldn’t it?) then choosing hymns students are familiar with or those which have tunes where the musical conventions match those students already understand will be important to encourage participation (Art 30 of SC). In other schools where the singing is better students can be exposed to the wide range of liturgical music old and new that is part of our heritage.

This point about heritage is important. Even in schools where the tradition of prayerful sing is just developing students should know what Gregorian chant is. It’s just that Mass is not the right context to introduce it taking in to account where the school community is in terms of prayer and worship.

It does make sense to ask students what they want and respond in part to this but we should never make the mistake of assuming the whole student body have uniform musical taste. Neither should we simply stick to what they say they want. We wouldn’t do that for maths and we shouldn’t do it for Mass either. We certainly should not (as often happens I believe) choose the musical settings that we think they will like or that we liked at that age.

I am sure that at CVMS they sing the parts of the Mass in Latin to Gregorian chant much of the time. This is what all schools should aim at but most of us are not there (or even nearly there) yet. Criticising Catholic (I am not saying this is what you are doing) schools for this is unfair. We just mirror what happens in church on Sunday.