About this blogger:
A theorist, organist, and conductor, Jeff Ostrowski holds his B.M. in Music Theory from the University of Kansas (2004), and did graduate work in Musicology. He serves as choirmaster for the new FSSP parish in Los Angeles, where he resides with his wife and children.
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“In everything of any importance at all, Sarum (and all other mediæval rites) was simply Roman, the rite which we still use.”
— Fr. Adrian Fortescue (1912)

A Simple Plan To Improve Music At Mass
published 24 November 2013 by Jeff Ostrowski

AVE YOU NOTICED that a good movie director always selects the perfect music for each scene? Please carefully watch the following 1-minute excerpt from Disney’s Peter Pan:

      * *  6682 • Disney’s “Peter Pan” (1-minute)

Did you notice the brilliant use of music? Movie directors understand and respect music’s power in a way seemingly forgotten by the Catholic Church.

A friend studying film production explained a fundamental principle of his trade: “If someone tells you he liked your video, that means he liked the way it sounded.” Take a moment and allow your mind to process that statement.

FULTON J. SHEEN WAS A MASTER of explaining our Faith using “every day examples.” Had he been born twenty years later, I’m convinced he would have used Disney’s Peter Pan to explain the Mass. Before providing a plan to improve our liturgies, I’d like to mention a few of these parallels:

Basic “plot.”   If you stop and think about it, very little actually happens in Peter Pan: 1) the children arrive in Neverland; 2) Peter shows Wendy the mermaids, encountering Hook and Tiger Lily; 3) having met the indians, Wendy decides to leave. Apart from the final confrontation, that’s all … yet, so much happens along the way! There’s a parallel here. According to Catholic Theology, two things happen at Mass: 1) Jesus Christ is made present on the Altar; 2) Jesus Christ is offered to His Heavenly Father. That’s it. However, with the different liturgical seasons, prayers, and readings, there’s so much more, even though the fundamental sacrifice remains the same, over and over.

Multi-layered.   In almost every scene of Peter Pan, numerous events happen simultaneously. Even in that 1-minute clip above: a) Hook’s relationship to Pan is introduced and explained; b) the crocodile is introduced; c) Mr. Smee is trying to shave Hook, adding comic relief; and so forth. Multi-layered “counterpoint” is only natural, and the traditional Mass (and Eastern Rites) are multi-layered. While it’s true that post-Conciliar reforms made the OF “linear” (not multi-layered), this arrangement will not endure, in my opinion, because it’s unnatural.

Full range of emotions.   Peter Pan touches a whole host of human emotions: everything from the love we have for our mothers (as Wendy sings everyone to sleep, including the pirates) to the emotional instability of jealous love (Captain Hook’s manipulation of Tinker Bell). Even small details — e.g. Hook and Wendy’s father share the same voice — are pregnant with meaning. Similarly, the traditional Catholic liturgy “has it all.” The familiar yet mysterious Scripture passages, the truly sacred institution of the priesthood stressed on Holy Thursday, the Good Friday singing of Fortunatus’ Pange Lingua, the sights and sounds of Christmas midnight Mass, and on and on … the ineffable way the liturgy is geared toward the human psyche is astounding.

Something for everyone.   Peter Pan can be enjoyed by a toddler, a teenager, or an adult. It has real depth, yet one can jump into it halfway through (never having seen it) and instantly know what’s going on. The same is true of the Mass. The liturgy will continuously edify the greatest Scripture scholar … or a Catholic who knows very little theology.

THE FINAL PARALLEL I SHALL MENTION is two-fold and extremely important: Peter Pan “keeps it moving” and employs great variety. When it comes to “keeping it moving,” each section flows effortlessly into the next, and the plot exposition and foreshadowing is masterly. Regarding variety, the overarching story has a marvelous “shape” to it — whoever planned out each section was a genius. These two principles ought to be understood by those responsible for the liturgy. It is easy to make sure the liturgy keeps moving: the music director, pastor, and altar servers must discuss and rehearse in advance the ceremonies. (Needless to say, the music director must be paid a just salary.) But what about the second half — how can liturgy have variety?

I’m glad you asked! Here’s a possible plan which is (hopefully) self-explanatory:

      * *  PDF Mass Outline • Variety for today’s attention span

FOR A PLAN LIKE THIS to succeed, it must remain unaltered week after week, and the congregation requires some kind of hard-bound Ordinary Form Missal with full propers & readings. To peruse other similar plans, check out this one by László Dobszay, or an article of mine from several years ago.

Please notice that I’m not advocating mixing different musical styles. This was often attempted in the 1980s — a Broadway piece, followed by Gregorian chant, followed by folk music, followed by Machaut, etc. — and such things are foreign to the liturgy. To understand why secular styles are forbidden, read what Fr. Adrian Fortescue wrote in the Introduction to his hand-missal:

ACH MASS CONTAINS the slaying of the Victim, not repeated here in the West after centuries, made once only long ago in Palestine, yet part of the sacrifice offered throughout the world each morning. All Masses are one sacrifice, including the death of the cross, continuing through all time the act of offering then begun … Every time we hear Mass we look across that gulf of time, we are again before the cross, with his mother and St. John; we offer still that victim then slain, present here under the forms of bread and wine.

Each congregation has different needs, and my proposed plan can easily be adapted. For example, some might desire an entrance hymn in addition to the Entrance Chant (which is allowed in the Ordinary Form).