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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“One would be straying from the straight path were he to wish the altar restored to its primitive table form; were he to want black excluded as a color for the liturgical vestments; were he to forbid the use of sacred images and statues in Churches; were he to order the crucifix so designed that the divine Redeemer's body shows no trace of His cruel sufferings; and lastly were he to disdain and reject polyphonic music or singing in parts, even where it conforms to regulations issued by the Holy See.”
— Ven. Pope Pius XII (20 November 1947)

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Broken Rosaries and a Triptych of Wisdom
published 30 August 2019 by Richard J. Clark

ROKEN ROSARY beads can be highly frustrating! It happens all too frequently. Such frustration certainly works against prayer and contemplation!

First grain of wisdom: simple words of consolation from a friend, now a priest said, “That means they’re being used.” Well, no kidding! That’s pretty obvious. And perhaps profound.

What has this to do with sacred music? Perhaps a good deal. Our tools for prayer and music are far too often fragile and broken. If we are to be honest with ourselves, perhaps so are we. This extends to the people with whom we make music (and pray) and to the very people we serve and pray for.

This includes music programs built with love, tenacity, and painstaking perseverance perhaps over a period of years or decades. They too are fragile and potentially subject to the whims of new personalities. They are also subject to our own limitations or imperfections, which we may strive for years to overcome or at least improve.

Church musicians, no matter how talented, are potentially vulnerable, but persist nonetheless in prayer and the need to make music for the glory of God. Despite brokenness, we persist in prayer and in music. Such perseverance will yield much fruit—some we may never witness personally. But know it is there.

SECOND GEM gem of wisdom I recently heard from a homily (paraphrased and summarized): My thoughts are never at rest, always worrying endlessly about an infinite number of things. But I am only at rest when I am proclaiming God’s great glory.

I am only at rest when praising God and giving him glory.

This sentiment resonated with me greatly. We have many worries about things real and perceived. (I certainly do!) Am I a good enough musician? Did I program the most stellar (and admired?) music? What do they think of me? Am I doing enough? Did I get everything done that I need to?

All ridiculous.

I am only at rest when praising God and giving him glory.

Only if I am honest with myself so these words ring true. Perhaps I should pay attention to this truth.

HIRD: Rev. James Keenan, S. J., whom I have heard preach regularly for more than a dozen years, speaks often of mercy. He defines mercy as: “the willingness to enter into the chaos of another.” This sounds entirely inadvisable at first, but is in perfect harmony when viewed through the prism of compassion and recognition of another’s dignity, beauty, and worth regardless of what incomprehensible disorder may be taking over their lives.

And what does this have to do with sacred music for Holy Mass?

Everything.

I never tire of repeating that we don’t know what burdens, grief, and pain people carry in their hearts when they enter the doors of our churches. Therefore, mercy is our starting point.

Keenan states: “I believe that mercy defines Catholicism.” Lex Vivendi: mercy informs us of how to live our lives and treat each other: (E.g., Matthew 25. e.g. John 13:14 Mandatum Novum e.g., Ubi Cariatas et amor Deus ibi est.)

If we are not praying (especially in our brokenness), if we are not resting in the Lord by praising Him, if we are not merciful to our neighbors (i.e., choir members and parishioners), then our music only serves ourselves.

But mercy does not mean we don’t strive for excellence in sacred music. Quite the opposite: excellence is a form of service. Excellence demands singing prayerfully, singing with praise and in mercy to those we serve.

FINAL WORD word on mercy and charity with regard to sacred music: I have no stomach for disparagement of each other, i.e., ad hominem attacks or disparagement of music we deem unworthy, distasteful, or simply not to our liking. This must stop. It is deleterious to the soul and counterproductive to the cause of catechesis.

We are united in the love of Christ—although perhaps not necessarily in other things. It is OK to disagree on certain topics. Disagreement is not mutually exclusive with unity. This second line of Ubi Caritas: Congregavit nos in unum Christi amor is a perfect reminder of our commitment to unity.

This does not mean we don’t observe the Three Judgments as outlined in 2007 US Bishop’s document Sing to the Lord: Music in Divine Worship, the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, or the General Instruction of the Roman Missal (GIRM).

I don’t apologize for my deep passion for traditional sacred music. (Some of you are well aware of my eclectic musical background and interests.) I will continue to shine the light on our living traditions because I believe our Catholic faith and treasury of sacred music is a jewel. I advocate for the Church’s treasury of sacred music—new and old—not merely because it is what the Church asks of us, but based upon its own merits which I believe to be salutary and transformative.

But all this means nothing without prayer, praise, and mercy. I pray I can live by my own words.