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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“There are no hymns, in this sense, till the fourth century; they were not admitted to the Roman office till the twelfth. No Eastern rite to this day knows this kind of hymn. Indeed, in our Roman rite we still have the archaic offices of the last days of Holy Week and of the Easter octave, which—just because they are archaic—have no hymns.”
— Adrian Fortescue (25 March 1916)

Orient toward prayer. Orient toward gratitude.
published 11 December 2015 by Richard J. Clark

ROUBLE LIES in most attempts to change others’ minds and win them over to a specific point of view. Discussions on liturgy and sacred music are rife with such tension. Few convert from one paradigm to the other on the power of words alone.

Furthermore, there are even disagreements over minutia. As the saying goes, put three experts on Gregorian Chant in a room and you’ll have three different ways of singing Gregorian Chant. (But, I think this is a good thing.) The liturgy is so rich in history, tradition, and practice, much left wide open that human nature likes to pick apart as a matter of taste or opinion. This invites trouble.

Regardless of paradigm, personal philosophy and opinion that are more about us than about God require internal recalibration. To do so is both simple and abundantly necessary: Orient ourselves toward prayer.

For example, we may not convince anyone that Gregorian Chant, Renaissance Polyphony, or singing the Mass, etc. is an ideal more worthy than another. But we can all understand that music must orient itself towards reverence and prayer. Do so, and metanoia will take place.

Perhaps not all at once. And perhaps not to the extent that we all now share the same ideas, practices, and preferences. But calibrating our music towards prayerfulness is an essential start. Even then, there is a lot of work to do.

To ask if music is prayerful at Mass is in fact a very fair question. Regardless of the style, is the music being filtered through reverence? Does the music point toward God or toward the musicians? Is the Word at the center of the music? Or is it abundant with sentimentality and bereft of theology?

Does the choir lead the people by example in prayer? This is a more than fair question. It is an essential one. We can talk about the propers and Gregorian Chant later.

NOTHER ESSENTIAL RECALIBRATION is to orient oneself towards gratitude. It is easy to complain about liturgy and sacred music. It is the work of service and the work of a lifetime. Gratitude is an essential component.

With each passing year, I find more to be grateful for. At this point, it is a very long list, and perhaps I am blessed. But I am also grateful for the struggle and for suffering which perhaps has refined my outlook making me that much more grateful for wonderful people around me, for the sacraments, and for the ability to have these discussions in the first place.

I am grateful to be alive and to see God in so many people. There is unspeakable suffering in the world, close to home and far away. But through even small suffering, may we be more grateful. May we be more prayerful. May we gain a sense of awe and wonder—to grasp a sense of the ineffable beauty God works in our lives.

As a result we can only bow in reverence to our loving God.