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Andrew Motyka is the Archdiocesan Director of Liturgical Music and Cathedral Music for the Archdiocese of Indianapolis.
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They were not ashamed to lay their hands on Sedulius, on Prudentius, on St. Ambrose himself. Only in one or two cases does some sense of shame seem to have stopped their nefarious work. They left “Ave maris stella,” “Jam lucis orto sidere,” and St. Thomas Aquinas’s hymns alone (they would have made pretty work of “Sacris solemniis”). In 1629 their mangled remnants were published.
— Rev’d Adrian Knottesford Fortescue (25 March 1916)

Cub Scouts, Abel, and Liturgical Music
published 20 March 2013 by Andrew R. Motyka

s someone who works in the Office of Worship, I see a huge variety of opinion as to what music is appropriate for Mass. Part of my job as the Archdiocesan Director of Liturgical Music is to help in forming musicians, specifically music directors, for appropriate praise to God through song.

This is incredibly challenging. It may be difficult to believe, but we music directors can be pretty opinionated about our choices of music for the Mass (say it isn’t so!). Any opinion that doesn’t exactly mesh with what we are using on a given Sunday sounds like (or is taken as) a personal attack on musicianship, integrity, and holiness. Nevertheless, there must be some standard for the choice of music at Mass.

Our culture doesn’t help on this front. We have a difficult enough time dodging relativism in morality, never mind music. Since taste in music is subjective, many people simply throw up their hands and declare all discussion moot. How do we engage the Church musician who denies any concrete standard of music and liturgy? I offer this starting point:

Do your best.

That looks pretty trite, now that I read it. But what has long been the Cub Scout Motto has pretty far-reaching implications for any person of faith. In all things related to the worship of God, we should give our best. When selecting a piece for your choir, ask yourself, “Is this the best I can give to God?” Is your preparation for Mass the best you can give? If you continually give less than your full effort, less in quality than you know exists, there is a serious problem. If you cannot give such to the liturgy, the worship of God which is the source and summit of our lives, then your priorities need examination.

Abel knew this well. Abel offered the best of his flock to God, while his brother did not (Genesis 4:3-5). Which offering did God prefer? We need to give our very best in worship as well, even if we have to suffer for it, as Abel most certainly did.

Now, the average Church musician may not have the time, skill, or physical or financial resources to execute the same music as your diocesan cathedral, but that is no excuse not to give it the best you can. If we can agree on the Cub Scout Motto as a starting point in discussing musical preparation for Mass, a real discussion can blossom. Our discussion can move beyond musical relativism and become an exploration of what is good, what is the best.