WAS SADDENED to hear of the death of Francis Cardinal George. I hope readers will permit me a few reflections about this great Church leader. Many will remember the courageous role he played in the creation of a more faithful translation of the Roman Missal. I enjoyed reading his comments—especially in the bishops’ meetings as recorded and printed by Helen Hull Hitchcock—which at times 1 could be rather pointed.
What I wish to relate, however, is my own memory of Francis Cardinal George, who offered Mass during a CMAA Colloquium in Chicago. Some of our readers know that not all CMAA liturgies attain the same level of perfection. This one happened early in the week. To be brutally honest, our singing was very poor. (If memory serves, it was a Wednesday Mass, which means the participants had only one day of training before this Mass.) Someone told me in advance that the cardinal was a trained musician; was he ever!
I’ll never forget when Cardinal George sang his parts. His singing was glorious! Only 2-3 other clerics I know could sing as nicely. Because our singing was so poor—for the reasons I’ve already explained—I felt like crawling underneath a rock!
By the way, this was quite a contrast to another high-ranking cleric, who shall remain nameless. His diocese paid me to present at a conference focusing on the music in MR3. During the Mass, it was obvious the bishop had done zero preparation, because he sang everything exactly as it was before MR3. Whereas Cardinal George had not missed a single note, this bishop sang not one note correctly. During the rest of the conference, we were forced to keep talking about “how amazing” and “how wonderful” the tones in MR3 sounded…and what an improvement they were! Perhaps if I had more integrity, I would have pointed out that the bishop sang everything incorrectly, but I made the decision to “go with the flow.” (I suppose that makes me a hypocrite.)
Francis Cardinal George had a deep love for music, and personally called into his office several friends of mine. He told them how important their work was. He told them they must continue to fight for QUALITY church music…instead of the “garbage” (his word) so often thrust upon the faithful.
Cardinal George, in some ways, was very serious; he didn’t have time for nonsense. I remember seeing him on Meet the Press, speaking to David Gregory (who was not Catholic). Gregory said something like, “So, now that Pope Francis has been elected, I hear everything in your Church is going to change. Tell us, Cardinal George, about some radical changes Pope Francis will soon make.” Cardinal George’s response was something to the effect of, “As far as I know, David, his job is no different than it always has been: preach the Gospel.”
I hope my reflections don’t come across as too random. We at CCW don’t prepare comments in advance of someone’s death. From what I understand, Cardinal George has skirted death many times in the past, so I’m sure news organizations have their articles “primed and ready.”
Francis Cardinal George had a good sense of humor and probably would have enjoyed this skit, poking fun at people who prepare obituaries in advance:
(Many people dislike Dana Carvey, but his Tom Brokaw is excellent.)
NOTES FROM THIS ARTICLE:
1 If my memory is correct, one of the bishops was insisting that MR3 continue to be delayed, and Cardinal George said something to the effect of, “Our people have already waited a decade; a decade is long enough to delay.” (Remember that the Latin edition of MR3 came out around 2001, yet the American bishops took almost 10 years to release its translation!)