About this blogger:
Richard J. Clark has served since 1989 as Music Director and Organist at Saint Cecilia Church in Boston, Massachusetts. He is also Chapel Organist (Saint Mary’s Chapel) at Boston College. For the Archdiocese of Boston, he directed the Office of Divine Worship Saint Cecilia Schola. His compositions have been performed on four continents.
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“Except the psalms or canonical Scriptures of the new and old Testaments, nothing composed poetically shall be sung in church, as the holy canons command.”
— Council of Braga, 563AD

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The Art of Negotiation in Liturgy
published 22 August 2014 by Richard J. Clark

HE MASS IS THE MASS, is it not? Yes it is. Say the Black. Do the Red. Sing the propers. End of story. Ite missa est. Experience tells us this rarely is the case. Reasons for this are as plentiful as the stars in the sky.

For many musicians, the idea of negotiation or ongoing give and take is distasteful. We’ve worked hard to cultivate our skills. The Vatican II Documents validate our views in no uncertain terms, e.g, “112. The musical tradition of the universal Church is a treasure of inestimable value, greater even than that of any other art.” (Sacrosanctum Concilium.)

Consider as well, the following language from Vatican II:

118. Religious singing by the people is to be intelligently fostered so that in devotions and sacred exercises, as also during liturgical services, the voices of the faithful may ring out according to the norms and requirements of the rubrics. (ibid)

HERE IS A UNIVERSAL REALITY that the typical parish is very far from understanding, no less implementing, the liturgical ideals put forth by the Liturgy Documents. They may lack financial resources, training, or support from leadership. Furthermore, it is vital to understand that progress is never made by making declarations or even quoting the liturgical documents, even if we feel justified in doing so. It doesn’t work and never will. So what will?

Here are four important steps:
    1 • Stop complaining and start mentoring!
    2 • Meet people where they are at and challenge them little by little from there.
    3 • Model the ideal whenever the opportunity presents itself.
    4 • Know when to push the envelope and when to put on the brakes. (This avoids backlash from too much change, too fast.)

You expect this to be easy? Forget it. This is the work of a lifetime!

FFECTIVE NEGOTIATION IS LARGELY EMOTIONAL. So, if there is one thing to put into daily practice it is this: Acknowledge the emotional importance a particular view plays in another’s life. Even if you do not share that view or preference, in doing so you begin dialogue by validating the other’s emotion. This is essential because the other feels that they are being listened to and are not necessarily entering into an adversarial dynamic. Dismiss this emotional dynamic, demand 100%, and assuredly you will be left with nothing no matter how justified your position. Acknowledge the emotion and the door may be cracked open for mutually constructive dialogue.

A SIMPLE AND COMMON EXAMPLE: A couple has an emotional connection to a pop song that they absolutely must have at their wedding. Begin by directly expressing your understanding that this piece is personally important to them. (Remember, the wedding is not about you.) Continue with a brief layman’s explanation of why it would not be appropriate in the sacred context. Be prepared to offer alternatives, even if not up to your personal standards. (Meet them where they are at and try to challenge them a little.) Finally, suggest another way they can use this song that is so important to them, perhaps at a special moment during the reception.

Dismiss the pop song that has emotional relevance in their life, and you have just made your job a lot harder. It takes more energy to be kind. Furthermore, keep in mind that citing rules is the fastest way to get people to leave the Church. Being kind will open the door for them to stay or return.

Practice this in smaller matters, and over time you will develop better skills. In doing so, you will be far better equipped to handle more important matters such as the musical education of our children and uplifting liturgical standards.

Meanwhile, revel in the support of colleagues. Read and reread the liturgy documents, for they are inspiring. Above all, remain passionate for God and your work, for your example may be most persuasive of all.