OW MANY YOUNG MEN are taught about “custody of the eyes” in today’s Catholic institutions? My hope would be 100%. How many are reminded about their life’s primary cross? Again, my hope would be 100%—but I have no way of knowing the truth. In a nutshell, when it comes to young men (who aren’t yet married), each day’s “primary cross” is to forcefully reject any temptations against the Virtue of Holy Purity. Custody of the eyes (custodia oculorum) plays a role in this. When a Catholic observes something which may offend against the Holy Purity, he must avert his eyes. According to FATHER VALENTINE YOUNG, it’s not always possible to completely banish certain thoughts from one’s mind. Nevertheless, PADRE PIO reminds us that sin is in the will. God sees our will, our intentions, and our struggles.
Pornography Plague • Society formerly made it more difficult for men to commit sins of impurity. Evil magazines could be purchased through the USPS mail, but there was always a risk that others might see their actions. These days, however, any child with an iPhone can instantly access insane amounts of pornography with the click of a button. (For the record, growing up the 1990s I recall television commercials and billboards that were akin to “soft” porn.) In the same way that SAINT DAMIEN OF MOLOKAI created a special ministry for lepers, perhaps someone should start a ministry dedicated to fighting porn addiction, which has become an epidemic. It’s important that youngsters never feel too ashamed to bring sins of impurity to the confessional. No matter what the sin is, I’d bet money the priest behind the grate has heard sins a billion times worse!
Those Who Wear Red • In Dr. Tappan’s “Open Letter to Discouraged Musicians,” he reminded us that dwelling on church leaders’ scandalous statements is an improper use of time. Even if we were to spend five hours each day gossiping and complaining, it wouldn’t accomplish anything. In my own life, I’ve noticed I become depressed whenever I dwell on Vatican scandals. In particular, there’s a cardinal—currently the head of a Vatican dicastery—who uses tithes from the faithful to travel around demoralizing parishes, sowing division, attacking family life, making scandalous statements, and even uttering blasphemies in public. I can’t understand why he’s not been removed. Cardinals wear red because they’re supposed to be willing to lay down their lives for JESUS CHRIST—but this man is actively harming the Church! To keep my sanity (and I am dead serious when I say this) I have been treating Vatican scandals as if they were temptations against the Virtue of Holy Purity. Whenever I’m tempted to think about that particular cardinal, for example, I banish him from my mind—as if he were a filthy image in a Playboy magazine.
What Therefore Shall We Do? • Peter said to Jesus (Matthew 19:27): “Behold we have left all things, and have followed Thee: what therefore shall we have?” Modifying the words slightly, the reader might ask: “Behold, Jeff, we are resigned to the reality of scandals in the church: what therefore shall we do?” Should we twiddle our thumbs? Should we give up? What does God expect from us during our brief sojourn on this earth? One thing we’ve learned over the last sixty years is that many who hold authority in the Catholic Church possess zero interest in following the mandates of the Second Vatican Council. We can quote Vatican II until we’re blue in the face, yet—for reasons unknown—our leaders are fine with contradicting its explicit mandates. What therefore shall we do?
Seven (7) Suggestions:
(1) Learning From Dr. Marier • One model we can look to is DR. THEODORE MARIER, who lived during a very difficult period. For instance, in spite of everything Vatican II mandated, in 1977 Monsignor Francis P. Schmitt pointed out: “As late as the spring of 1976, a midwest archbishop told the public press that the pope had ordered Mass to be said in English, and that any Latin liturgy needed specific authorization from his chancery!” But in the midst of such craziness, Dr. Marier was able to build something beautiful, powerful, and life-giving. At the Sacred Music Symposium this summer, Richard J. Clark will give a presentation about the accomplishments of Dr. Marier.
(2) Jeff’s Tactic • Our Lord said (Matthew 10:16): “Be ye wise as serpents and simple as doves.” A conscientious choirmaster feels called by God to restore dignified music to the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. After all, if we truly believe what we say we believe about the SANCTISSIMUM, how can we allow goofy, off-Broadway, secular, casual music at Mass? Father Robert Skeris used to say: “If it sounds like a toothpaste commercial, it doesn’t belong at Mass.” How can we help more priests to understand this? How can we help priests to appreciate authentic sacred music? I would humbly suggest we make sure our musical offerings are a delight for the listener. In the past, I have emphasized how important it is to employ diverse music (because of today’s short attention span). For instance, last Sunday we sang a mediæval AGNUS DEI, and here’s a live recording:
(3) Clever Congregational Participation • Pope Pius XII made it clear that there’s more than one “correct” way to assist at Mass. He said the faithful will participate differently, depending upon a variety of factors. Pope Pius XII said that for some people, devotions focusing on the Lord’s Passion constitute appropriate participation, whereas others should strive to follow the prayers being said by the priest at the altar. This is common sense. After all, an illiterate person with very little education will not participate in the sacred rites the same way that Father Adrian Fortescue—who had three doctorates—would participate. Unfortunately, this wisdom is no longer in vogue. The reformers, believing themselves to be more enlightened than the saints of old, rigidly declared that all Catholics must participate in the liturgical rites in exactly same way. We may disagree with this state of affairs, but this is the situation we face. Therefore, if we expect to be successful in our vocation, we must devise ways to include (when possible) the congregation. The following demonstrates one possible method. The hymn tune “OLD HUNDREDTH” can first be sung the normal way. Then, however, the Tenor line can form the basis for polyphony:
(4) What My Brother Said • I have a brother who’s a priest. He’s also a fantastic musician. Many years ago, I showed him one of my compositions to get his feedback. He replied: “Jeff, this is in a minor key. Your composition will put everyone in a bad mood. Then it will put them to sleep. Don’t you have anything that sounds happy?” His words were actually quite wise. I personally love “melancholy” music—but not everyone does. My brother’s words made me realize how important it is to select some “happy” songs for each Mass. Below is a live recording of my volunteer choir singing a hymn during last Sunday’s Mass. Notice that it’s bright and happy:
(5) Don’t Fall Into A Rut! • Father Valentine Young said over and over: “Don’t rehearse music to death. Gregorian Chant sounds better when the singers are just a little bit unsure.” I think his point was that we must avoid letting our singers fall into a rut. Let me give you an example of what I’m talking about. Last Sunday, I approached a Cantor during the homily and said: “I want you to lead CREDO IV.” Years ago, we did CREDO IV all the time—but that was a long time ago. So, I accompanied CREDO IV on the organ, the Cantor lead each verse, and everyone else responded. I was quite pleased with how it came out (below). I think stuff like this can help make sure choirs don’t fall into a rut:
(6) Something I’ll Never Forget • For several years, I worked as an assistant in a cathedral church. [The same director had been serving there since before I was born.] This cathedral was considered to have excellent congregational participation—but I was puzzled. The Masses were broadcast each week, and I noticed three things: (1) The Sunday Mass had very low attendance, in spite of the massive choir; (2) The people in the pews were mainly elderly; (3) Virtually nobody in the congregation sang along with anything. Eventually, I realized something which I’ll never forget. When the choir was loud, the bishop (or rector) celebrating Mass erroneously believed the congregation was participating in the singing. Moreover, the Celebrant tended to confuse “congregational participation” with “familiar songs I recognize.” Therefore, choirmasters should realize priests like to hear songs they know. (Keeping your priest happy is part of keeping your job.) Contrariwise, many priests don’t like to hear a whole bunch of songs they don’t recognize. When that happens, they will often call you into the office and tell you: “The people aren’t participating because they don’t know the songs you choose.” That’s why I strongly recommend making sure you include familiar pieces in your repertoire choices. Below is a live recording of my volunteer choir from last Sunday. I think you’ll recognize the tune, which was written by César Franck’s teacher:
(7) Never Choose Junk! • Finally, even if you choose a song that’s very simple, never let it be junk. To illustrate what I’m talking about, consider the hymn below. It’s a wonderful translation of REGINA COELI JUBILA. The melody is straightforward, yet the language is quite elevated. For instance, the fifth verse says: “His eyes, once foully spit upon, the daystar’s glances render wan.” According to the footnote in the Brébeuf Catholic Hymnal, it’s a poetic translation for Turbata sputis lumina | Phoebea vincunt fulgura. That is to say: “The eyes of the risen Lord are so bright that in comparison the light of the sun (Daystar) seems weak and pale.”
Conclusion • My colleague, Corrinne May, said that I need to do a better job ending my articles; and she’s correct. Therefore, let me now summarize my article. In this article, I attempted to provide ideas about how a conscientious choirmaster can help those in authority come to a deeper appreciation of authentic sacred music. My intention was not to put forward ways to “trick” people. Rather, I am providing tools to help make sure we put our best foot forward. After all, if we get fired by our boss because he says “our” music is too esoteric, too complicated, and too abstruse, we won’t be able to do any good at all. I’m not saying we should compromise our artistic vision. I’m saying that we must be “wise as serpents” in today’s environment. We must never fail to assess how our music is received by the congregation (which doesn’t always match what we imagine inside our head). We must realize that—with a little thought—we can find ways to make authentic sacred music accessible, special, and moving for the people in the pews.
Why Jeff Writes • Our Blessed Lord said (John 16:12): “I have yet many things to say to you: but you cannot bear them now.” Whenever I write, my objective is to provide reflections that will help our readers. I try not to prattle on. On the other hand, there are many topics I would love to write about someday—but only if the Lord provides the opportunity. Thank you for your support. And thank you for reading what I have to say!