Saturday, January 01, 2011

The St. Louis Jesuits and What's Now Called Liturgical Music

Never mind "We Really Used To Sing This": chances are your nearest Catholic parish STILL sings "Earthen Vessels," "You Are Near," "Only This I Want," "Be Not Afraid," and more by the St. Louis Jesuits.  LC has their best-selling album Earthen Vessels.  And without them, the pervasive Glory and Praise hymnal simply would not exist.

In "The Mystery of the St. Louis Jesuits," the indispensable Jeffrey Tucker reviews a book that came out in 2006 called The St. Louis Jesuits: Thirty Years, edited by Mike Gale. Some comments:

The St. Louis Jesuits have indeed succeeded in transforming the sound and shape of Catholic liturgy, so much so that the authentic sound of Catholicism has been largely relegated to the land of CDs and specialized liturgical settings. [Then later Tucker adds:] What was once the “folk Mass” in the typical parish became the family Mass and, finally, the only manner of celebrating Mass. [How many guitars do you find at a Lutheran service, for example?]
You might almost forget that we are speaking here of the simple, well-worn, and recognizably popular melodies, written in that pseudo-folk style of the period, that have achieved ubiquity in millions of parishes, and can be (and usually is) sung and played by people (usually on guitar) with little or no formal training in music. [Fr. Z has written much about the implementation of Vatican II versus what the documents really said, including Chapter VI of Sancrosanctum Consilium: "Composers and singers, especially boys, must also be given a genuine liturgical training. The Church acknowledges Gregorian chant as specially suited to the Roman liturgy: therefore, other things being equal, it should be given pride of place in liturgical services."  How many of us raised post-Baltimore Catechism even know of this?  According to the book, only John Foley has formal musical training of any sort.]
Their first venue was the campus liturgy at the College Church and the Jesuit House of Studies. As Foley, who could play piano but learned guitar in seminary, says “Just at the time, the guitar started to be allowed in the new liturgy. I thought ‘well, they need music, so let’s go.’ ” Indeed, at every step they were encouraged by their superiors to bring the music that they thought of as popular song into Mass. Says Schutte: “I never would have continued these stumbling attempts at music had it not been for the encouragement of my Jesuit peers and superiors.” Hence, they were not seminary’s equivalent of campus rebels. They were cultivated and promoted and encouraged by their teachers and superiors. [I have often wondered how much of this revamping of liturgical music was really a grassroots movement and how much was brought on by a restive bunch of USCCB types who'd had enough of all that Sancro-whatever.]
For decades, Catholics have been fed a very restrictive diet of music [which I suspect is the same complaint supporters of said music say toward chant and polyphony], and it will take time to broaden people’s understanding of what music at liturgy can and should be [not the least of which is trashing this whole idea of The People Run The Mass Because VII Said So]. Certainly, there must be transitional measures that include vernacular plainsong and new polyphony. Truly sacred music does have advantages in this struggle. It is the music of the Church and not some interloping foreign voice. It is inspired and true. It demands more of the singer and listener, which means that people are going to be called to a higher sense, and challenged to achieve it. It demands humility and deference to truths we cannot always entirely understand. It calls forth a radical change in our liturgical sensibility. It will be as new to this generation as the music of the St. Louis Jesuits was to the generation coming of age a third of a century ago.  ["But it's too HAAAARRD!" the Bishop Trautmans and the readers of the Baltimore Catholic Review will say (nod to Fr. Z).  I say, take a look at your parish's empty pews and ask yourself: How's that working out for you?  Wasn't the dumbing down of the liturgy and the introduction of "folk" music supposed to bring MORE people to the Church?]

I'll cheer loudly when every last Glory and Praise is tossed in a nice big bonfire.


LC said...

I like, no love, the Earthen Vessels album. I love singing the songs and playing them (on gasp..the guitar). I also love chant and polyphony and traditional hymns.

I hate snobbery on either side of the issue related to music or the attitude of "my music is better than your music".

Church music is about one thing and one thing only. The Praise and worship of God and bringing God's people to a place where they are praising and worshiping God.

Sometimes your more traditional pieces are done with an attitude of performance rather than ministry. Even though they sing all the right words and notes beutifully if they are not singing to God and God alone it lacks. Some of the modern or folk music (especially the early stuff) is either watered down so you can't even figure out who they are singing to or its so trivial it lacks any Spritual power at all. And yet a really well done folk music peice especially when done to a psalm truly helps me to worship and Praise our God. A traditional hymn or chant humbly sung to the Lord does the same.

Always remember it's all about God and should never be about us!

Wine in Thyme said...

Allelujah brother. I wouldn't miss Glory and Praise for a nanosecond.

Wine in Thyme said...

I was a teenager when folk masses first started and I really enjoyed them. But I also attended the standard mass on a regular basis. they both had a singular beauty. At my current church, it could be said that all our masses are folk masses, with the exeption of the Sunday 5.30 mass (family mass). It's more like a Dress-down Friday mass.. People actually come in sweats. I think it's important for the priest to interpret God's word, but it's equally important to share the richness of the Catholic faith and heritage. I wish the leaders would quit diluting the Catholic message.