About this blogger:
Richard J. Clark is the Director of Music of the Archdiocese of Boston and the Cathedral of the Holy Cross. He is also Chapel Organist (Saint Mary’s Chapel) at Boston College. His compositions have been performed worldwide.
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“In the 17th century came the crushing blow which destroyed the beauty of all Breviary hymns. Pope Urban VIII (d. 1644) was a Humanist. In a fatal moment he saw that the hymns do not all conform to the rules of classical prosody.”
— Fr. Adrian Fortescue (d. 1923)

Changing the Culture: Progress, Not Perfection
published 31 January 2014 by Richard J. Clark

NLY GOD IS PERFECT and we are not. As theologian Fr. Michael Himes is often fond of saying, “God is God and we are not.” This seems like a ridiculously obvious point. Strangely, it is a point worthy of reinforcement.

Musicians and liturgists are something of a perfectionist lot. We often berate ourselves for lack of perfection and are highly critical when liturgy falls short of rubrics or expectations. This is understandable for myriad reasons and a topic for another day.

“God is God and we are not” bears repetition. Yet, God loves us in our brokenness and frailty. Humanity is by definition, flawed and weak. Should this bring us discouragement or joy? That God holds us in our weakness should be a constant occasion for joy. That notion also bears repeating every day.

So what does this have to do with liturgy? Quite a bit actually. For progress is not an excuse to not give our best or strive for the ideal. In fact, achieving progress is very difficult. Very difficult. It requires vigilance. It requires years of slow and incremental change. It requires years of consistency.

Having been in my current position for over nearly twenty-five years (gulp) a colleague once mentioned, “It takes that long to get something done.” Perhaps hyperbole, perhaps not, there is truth to this statement regarding the arc of progress and the arc of changing the culture.

No one likes change. I don’t like it. But progress only takes root if the culture or system is changed. This is the hardest thing of all, and one must not become discouraged. This will take a lifetime.

R. WILLIAM MAHRT DISTILLED THIS POINT simply and gently at the close of the Sacred Music Colloquium in 2013. What he said was striking because we had all been fully immersed in sacred music and chant. After such an intense experience, we heard him directly concluded the following (I am paraphrasing): that upon returning to our parishes, one perhaps might find that one can only add one piece of chant in the liturgy. But by doing so, beauty and dignity have been added to the liturgy. In short, his emphasis was on progress in the light of the reality that the ideal is not immediately possible.

Nor should it be immediately possible. Fifty years after Sacrosanctum Concilium, changing the culture that took root all this time will not be easy. One may find it possible to expose congregations to chant and polyphony while still offering some of what is still in their comfort zone. This is not easy. This is why progress is perhaps even harder than insisting upon perfection (not to be confused with shoddy performance). For progress brings along the entire community—or at least as much of the community as possible. Perfection makes demands that require an immediate decision to stay or go, i.e., let the chips fall where they may.

I have barely scratched the surface on this important topic and it will require more discussion and follow-up.

N THE MEANTIME, I WANT TO EXPRESS MY GRATITUDE to the readers of “View from the Choir Loft.” (This quite related to the ideas of progress.) I have been writing for “Views from the Choir Loft” for a little more than a year. When I began I absolutely did not have the time, between two jobs and children. However, the discipline of writing something every week has been a blessing far greater for me than perhaps for anyone else. It helps keep me focused on prayer and mission. This is made possible by the readers. I hope that what is presented here helps make progress despite my personal emotional baggage or perhaps wrong assumptions. I hope that my weekly “bloviations” assist in some small way. I hope we can make progress together. The readers have helped me make progress in my own professional and personal life.

Thank you!