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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A lot of the favoured new settings are musically illiterate, almost is if they were written by semi-trained teenagers, getting to grips with musical rudiments. The style is stodgy and sentimental, tonally and rhythmically stilted, melodically inane and adored by Catholic clergy “of a certain age.” Some Catholic dioceses run courses for wannabe composers to perpetuate this style. It is a scandal. People with hardly any training and experience of even the basic building blocks of music have been convinced that there is a place for their puerile stumblings and fumblings in the modern Catholic Church because real musicians are elitist and off-putting.
— James MacMillan (20 November 2013)

Nixon, Watergate, & Singing The Mass Propers
published 13 April 2015 by Jeff Ostrowski

935 John Ehrlichman H. R. Haldeman OR MOST OF MY LIFE, I had no interest in the Watergate scandal, because I thought it was simply about a burglary. Why should I care about a 1970s burglary? Several months ago, I started learning more, and I must confess: I’m hooked. The whole thing is absolutely riveting. However, I can’t go into detail, because the topic is incredibly complicated and involves many characters.

Strong parallels exist between Watergate and our current situation with the Mass propers.

For instance, one of the most fascinating things about Watergate has nothing to do with illegal activity: it’s the disgusting language Nixon uses during the 3,700 hours of secretly recorded conversations. With the Mass propers, it’s not just that we constantly replace the propers in violation of current Church law. The fact is, what we replace the propers with is often offensive (musically & theologically), as Fr. Scalia correctly said.

Watergate was a huge deal at the time; yet, soon afterwards, it became innocuous. With the exception of G. Gordon Liddy, I don’t believe anyone involved served more than 2 years in prison. Liddy had a very successful post-prison life, thanks to his Watergate fame. Ehrlichman, Haldeman, Dean, Nixon, and many others made tons of money writing and speaking about Watergate.

In a similar way, when people first started to violate the General Instruction of the Roman Missal (GIRM), it was a big deal, and required machinations & careful manipulation on the part of some Church officials, I’m sorry to say. Friends of mine who remember those years tried to draw attention to the same violations—so many decades ago!—but their protests fell on deaf ears. At this point, such violations have become innocuous:

So what if the GIRM says the assigned texts can only be replaced by music specifically approved by the local bishop? Who cares? Everybody’s doing it! Why rock the boat?

I doubt that 95% of priests today even realize these violations occur in each Mass.

A major concern during the Watergate years had to do with the notion of justice. The President is the Chief Executive, and it seemed wrong for him to “get away” with breaking the law, while others are obliged to follow it. (The same thing bears on Spiro Agnew’s plea bargain.) Similarly, I cannot understand how some are happy to speak endlessly about “being faithful” to the teachings of the Second Vatican Council yet disregard important sections of the GIRM. If we can disregard section 48 of the GIRM, why not section 49? Why not 50? Why not 51? And so forth.

Speaking of inconsistencies, just look at the current treatment of the Responsorial Psalm! According to current legislation, the Responsorial Psalm can be replaced at any time by any other psalm, so long as it’s from an “approved” collection. 1 Yet, 97% of churches choose the ASSIGNED Responsorial Psalm; they do not replace it. In fact, replacing it never occurs to them! Yet, when it comes to the ancient propers of the Mass—whose usage Vatican II wanted to encourage and make accessible—these are almost always replaced, and often in violation of Church law.

Events surrounding Watergate never cease to captivate me. I was shocked to learn that, in the immediate aftermath of the shooting of Governor George Wallace, Nixon discussed the possibility of planting George McGovern items in the shooter’s house so people would think Wallace’s shooter was a supporter of McGovern. 2 Similarly, I continue to be amazed by little tidbits I come across, showing how the Mass propers were undermined by various parties, especially the big publishing companies.

One more parallel, before I call it a day. A major concern in Watergate was how Nixon’s people were bribing people to commit perjury. President Clinton also committed perjury, admitting the truth only after incontrovertible physical evidence was produced. Although I didn’t follow the Clinton trial—I was a young boy at that time—I remember hearing over and over again, “Who cares if the Chief Executive branch committed perjury? Nobody got hurt.” Such sentiments ultimately carried the day. However, a new generation of political analysts is currently reëvaluating the “nobody got hurt” angle in light of filmed testimony by members of the Arkansas State Police, Jones, Broaddrick, Willey, and a whole host of others.

Similarly, a new generation of priests is starting to reëvaluate what the GIRM says about the Mass propers. They are starting to reëxamine what Vatican II was aiming at. They are becoming aware of monumental books of the propers in English such as what Fr. Samuel Weber has created. How long will we continue to violate the clear requirements of the GIRM?

By the way, I just realized that Watergate was happening around the same time the Novus Ordo Missal was being introduced!


1   Even metrical settings are allowed!

2   Needless to say, Nixon was not the only politician to ever do wrong! In fact, much of what Nixon did pales in comparison to what we’re beginning to learn about presidents like JFK and FDR.