Author: Janco, Steven R
Date published: November 1, 2010
Journal code: PSMS
We gather in Detroit in uncertain times, in a region where the common good seems elusive for many, and as many of our own parishes, families, and colleagues struggle with unprecedented financial challenges. We gather as the ocean floor continues to bleed from a wound seemingly inflicted by an unquenchable thirst for energy. We gather in anticipation of a significant liturgical and musical transition, the details of which have yet to be finalized. And yet, in the midst of uncertainty, we gather: pastoral liturgists and musicians who are grounded in a common faith, united by a common conviction that liturgy remains the lifeblood of the Church and a source of hope and transformation for a world in need of God's reign. For the gifts of faith, conviction, and hope we must never cease to sing God's praise.
"Common Ground, Common Purpose, Common Good": At first glance it would seem that the title given this address by the NPM staff might suggest a talk in three sections, which would address the three "commons" in the order provided. Let's for a moment imagine what that might look like. I could start with common ground - or rather, with the common knowledge that in Catholic matters liturgical, common ground seems elusive. I could identify current polarities in the Church and name liturgical issues that have left some claiming to have the high ground, while from their high horses they look down and wag their fingers at those with differing views. I might attempt to clarify the various perspectives, point out the historical developments that gave rise to current disagreements, and attempt to buoy our spirits by suggesting that things aren't as bad as they seem.
I could then remind disagreeing parties that reconciliation is a good thing, perhaps toss out a couple of ideas for easing tensions and promoting conversation, and then end by waxing poetically about a day - someday - when mutual respect and understanding will put an end to liturgical strife, when those who are estranged by differing musical tastes will play and sing together in friendship, when people of strong opinions will seek the way of liturgical renewal together. On that day, having found their common ground, liturgists and musicians will be able to unite in a common purpose, harness for kingdom building the energy formerly wasted on hand slapping, and then, finally, work together for the common good.
I could give that talk. (In fact, I think I've already come up with a few good lines.) But I'd rather not go there. As I see it, that version of this address would hold the future hostage to present disagreements and controversies. We'd have to bust through long-standing biases before we could get over ourselves, get out of our internal ecclesiastical squabbles, and get cracking on the pursuit of the common good. Praise the Lord and pass the Prozac!
I'd like to take a different path. Rather than beginning with present disagreements, I'm going to begin with the future waiting to be born, God's vision for the world - the common good of humanity. With the vision of the common good before us, I'll then consider our common purpose as pastoral liturgists and musicians to promote liturgy that equips and inspires Christ's disciples to embrace and pursue that vision. Third, we will consider the intriguing possibility that common ground is not an elusive state waiting to be achieved, but a challenging and dynamic way of engaging as Church in the here-and-now and preparing for a lifetime of Christian discipleship. I'll then conclude with some reflections on the pastoral and practical implications of this begin-with-the-end approach.
So we start with the common good. Our conviction that the common good of humanity is God's plan for the world and a principal aim of the Church's mission has been well-developed over the years in the Church's tradition of papal social encyclicals, including Blessed John XXIII's Pacem in Terris in 1963, Pope Paul VI's Populorum Progressio in 1967, and most recently, on the fortieth anniversary of that 1967 document, Pope Benedict XVI's Caritas in Veritate. But what is the common good? For a concise definition, I turn to the most authoritative ecclesiastical document to address the subject, the Second Vatican Council's Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World Gaudium et Spes (GS). There, the common good is defined as "the sum of those conditions of social life which allow social groups and their individual members relatively thorough and ready access to their own fulfillment" (GS, 26).
Well that certainly clears things up, doesn't it! But Gaudium et Spes doesn't stop there. Lest the common good be perceived only as a theoretical concept, the document then indicates that certain human rights are foundational in the pursuit of the common good, including "the availability of everything necessary for leading a life truly human, such as food, clothing, and shelter; the right to choose a state of life freely and to found a family; the right to education, to employment, to a good reputation, to respect, to appropriate information, to activity in accord with the upright norm of one's conscience, to the protection of privacy and rightful freedom even in matters religious" (GS, 26).
That's a little clearer. But lest the pursuit of the common good come across as belonging only to the realm of governmental bodies and international agencies, the document issues a strong reminder that its pursuit belongs to all of us. "Everyone must consider every neighbor without exception as another self, taking into account first of all his or her life and the means necessary to living it with dignity - so as not to imitate the rich man who had no concern for the poor man Lazarus" (GS, 27).
Now it feels like we're getting somewhere, but Gaudium et Spes isn't finished yet. Lest we be tempted to think that "neighbor" means only those in our inner circles, the document gets even more specific, reminding us that we are to "make ourselves the neighbor of every person without exception" and actively help whoever comes across our path, whether "an old person abandoned by all, a foreign laborer unjustly looked down upon, a refugee, . . . or a hungry person who disturbs our conscience by recalling the voice of the Lord: 'As long as you did it for one of the least of my brethren, you did it for me.'" Serving our neighbor means extending "respect and love even to those who think or act differently than we do in social, political, and even religious matters." In fact, the document says, "the more deeply we come to understand their ways of thinking through such courtesy and love, the more easily will we be able to enter into dialogue with them" (GS, 29).
Enter into dialogue with those who are different? Really. Lest we think that the pursuit of the common good sounds too taxing and would best be left to someone else, Gaudium et Spes makes things quite plain: "No one, ignoring the trend of events or drugged by laziness, [can] content him- or herself with a merely individualistic morality. The obligations of justice and love are fulfilled only if each person, according to his or her own abilities and the needs of others, contributes to the common good" (GS, 30).
Pope Benedict nuances this message in Caritas in Veritate (CV) by suggesting that the common good is something we must pursue not just out of a sense of obligation, but out of love: "To love someone is to desire that person's good and to take effective steps to secure it. Besides the good of the individual, there is a good that is linked to living in society: the common good. It is the good of 'all of us.' The more we strive to secure a common good corresponding to the real needs of our neighbors, the more effectively we love them" (CV, 7).
Well, there we have it. The common good must be pursued at every level of society, every day. No one is off the hook. This isn't the mission of some vague, unknown other called "the Church." This is our mission. We are this Church. The challenge, isn't it, is not identifying what the common good is but finding the will to pour out our lives in service in order to help bring it about.
The will to serve can be fostered in many ways: through the unconditional love shared in families, in the preaching of bold and unrelenting prophets, by the witness of self-sacrificing activists, and through the example of mentors and teachers who inspire us to follow in their footsteps. But for Roman Catholics, full, conscious, and active participation in liturgical celebration and, in particular, in Sunday Eucharist is essential for deriving the Christian spirit of service to the common good. It follows, then, that our role as liturgists and musicians is to foster liturgical celebrations that inspire our assemblies to service. So I turn to the second point of this talk, our common purpose to promote not only good but also effective liturgy.
As not only the summit of our life as Church but also as the source of it, liturgy is never an end in itself. The goal of our ministry lies beyond the prayerful and inspiring celebrations of this Sunday, this season, this year. At the conclusion of every liturgy, we are sent beyond our church doors - back to our communities, back to our families, back to everyday life - to love and serve the Lord. Liturgy has consequences that impact, for better or worse, the Church's ability to live out its mission. Sing to the Lord: Music in Divine Worship (STL) suggests that "charity, justice, and evangelization are thus the normal consequences of liturgical celebration. Particularly inspired by sung participation, the body of the Word incarnate goes forth to spread the gospel with full force and compassion."1
Note that the document refers to "normal" consequences, presuming, I suppose, that liturgy may also yield abnormal consequences. One wonders if Sing fo the Lord might have been slightly more instructive - and colorful - if it included a paragraph that went something like this: "Selfishness, injustice, and apathy are the abnormal consequences of poor liturgical celebration. Particularly disheartened by lackluster or non-exisient sung participation, the body of the Word-desperately-trying-to-become-incarnate leaves nonchalantly to wallow in the status quo with faintness of heart and a bad attitude."
Liturgy has consequences. Sunday Eucharist is intimately connected to the church's mission. But how so? Pope John Paul II wrote in his 2004 apostolic letter for the Year of the Eucharist Mane Nobiscum Domine (MND):
The Eucharist is not merely an expression of communion in the Church's life; it is also a project of solidarity for all of humanity. . . . The Christian who takes part in the Eucharist learns to become a promoter of communion, peace, and solidarity in every situation. More than ever, our troubled world . . . demands that Christians learn to experience the Eucharist as a great school of peace, forming men and women who, at various levels of responsibility in social, cultural, and political life, can become promoters of dialogue and communion (MND, 27).
The Eucharist is "a project of solidarity for all of humanity" and "a great school of peace." Have you ever sung about that in a Communion song? But John Paul went even further. He wrote: "The Eucharist provides more than the interior strength needed for [the Church's] mission, but it is also - in some sense - its plan. For the Eucharist is a mode of being, which passes from Jesus into each Christian, through whose testimony it is meant to spread throughout society and culture (MND, 25).
Eucharist as school, as project, as plan. Offhand, I'd say we're not in liturgical Kansas anymore. Pope John Paul spoke of Eucharistic celebration as teaching, as creative, as building something. We're talking about presence-in-action that forms and transforms, that incites apostolic activity and ignites commitment to mission. By our participation in the Eucharistic liturgy, we learn how to practice the Christian life; and through our intimate union with Christ and one another in Eucharistic sharing, we are bound together and bound to live it.
My friend and colleague Richard McCarron suggests that liturgy shapes and instills in us a habitus of Christian living.2 While one might think of the English word "habit," habitus implies more than having good habits, though that's part of it. It suggests that the Christian way of living so thoroughly imbues us that it inhabits us - to the point that, in our attitudes, in our decisions, in our daily activity, it is no longer we who live; rather it is Christ living in and through us. It means living the life of discipleship so thoroughly, so conspicuously, that we become readily identifiable as Christ's followers. We, in fact, become identified with Christ.
School. Project. Plan. Liturgical celebration, while a foretaste of the world to come, prepares and compels us to accomplish the Church's mission in this messy, confusing world. Forming Christians for this important and practical work is a principal purpose of liturgical celebration. It is therefore our common purpose as pastoral liturgists and musicians.
Near the end of Mane Nobiscum Domine, Pope John Paul II reminded us just how high the stakes are: "We cannot delude ourselves: by our mutual love and, in particular, by our concern for those in need will we be recognized as true followers of Christ (cf. John 13:35; Matthew 25:31-46). This will be the criterion by which the authenticity of our Eucharistic celebrations will be judged" (MND, 28).
How can we foster Eucharistic celebrations that are authentic; that school us in a habitus of reconciliation, solidarity, and peace; that result in actions so practical and so profound that they bear Christ's presence to the world? I suggest we do so by claiming liturgy as common ground. For inspiration as we explore that possibility, I turn to one of my own heroes, one of the great Catholic leaders of our time. Cardinal Joseph Bernardin.
The desire for unity. The willingness to work for reconciliation. The commitment to pursue peace. If these are signs that the Eucharistic presence of Christ and the fruits of liturgical participation have penetrated the hearts and lives of believers, then I believe it was a habitus profoundly shaped by Eucharistic celebration that inspired Cardinal Bernardin, in the months before his untimely death, to inaugurate a project devoted to these very goals: The Catholic Common Ground Initiative. I believe Cardinal Bernardini vision for this initiative and his understanding of common ground have something to teach us about authentic liturgy.
When describing his reasons for inaugurating the Common Ground Initiative, Cardinal Bernardin cited circumstances that he felt were compromising the Church's ability to accomplish its mission. He noted "an increasing polarization within the Church and, at times, a mean-spiritedness that has hindered the kind of dialogue thathelpsus address our mission and concerns." Bernardin saw this polarization as threatening Church unity, potentially undermining the great gift of the Second Vatican Council, wearying faithful members of the Church, and compromising our witness to government, society, and culture.3
Working within the boundaries of authentic Church teaching, dialogue sponsored by the Common Ground Initiative would bring together Church leaders of varying perspectives "to address with fidelity and creativity the myriad challenges faced by the church."4 While receiving strong support from many, the Initiative and its founding document, Called to Be Catholic: The Church in a Time of Peril,5 were met with resistance and even ridicule by others, including a number of bishops, who saw the project as legitimizing dissent, attempting to water down the Truth, and undermining legitimate Church authority.
Responding to these critics in the weeks and months that followed. Cardinal Bernardin spelled out more dearly his intentions. "Common ground . . . is not a new set of conclusions," he said. "It is a common spirit and ethic of dialogue. It is a space of trust set within boundaries. It is a place of respect where we can explore our differences . . . ."6 The goal of the Initiative wouldn't necessarily be agreement; the goal of the Initiative would be the development of an ethic of dialogue itself, an exploration of differences done with respect and in a spirit of trust.
Bernardin harbored no illusion that this process would be easy or without friction. Called to Be Catholic notes: "Each of us will be tested by encounters with cultures and viewpoints not our own; all of us will be refined in the fires of genuine engagement; and the whole Church will be strengthened for its mission in the new millennium" (section IV).
If I may be so bold, I believe that if we embrace the mission of the Church articulated in Gaudium et Spes to work for the common good, to love the neighbor who crosses our path, to understand and respect those whose viewpoints are not our own; if we are convinced that Eucharist is a school of peace, a project of solidarity, and a plan of the Church's mission; and if charity, justice, and evangelization are to be the consequences of authentic liturgy; then we need tobe able to say about liturgical celebration what was said about the Common Ground Initiative: "Each of us will be tested by encounters with cultures and viewpoints not our own; all of us will be refined in the fires of genuine engagement; and the whole Church will be strengthened for ite mission in the new millennium."
It sounds rather like the vision of liturgy articulated by writer Annie Dillard, who famously suggested that Mass-goers should be issued crash helmets when they walk into church. Liturgy is a common ground that teste us, that teaches us how to engage with other cultures, that places differing viewpoints in respectful dialogue, that transforms and refines us. Common ground is not some far-off, hard-to-reach state of tranquility. It is a place for challenging, respectful engagement, a space for transformation and refinement, a school that teaches an ethic of dialogue, a project that assembles us to live purposefully as the Body of Christ every day.
Colleagues, I would like to suggest that the promotion of authentic liturgy in every Catholic community is our own Catholic Common Ground Initiative. No doubt this may sound threatening to those who envision liturgy as affirming our goodness, quelling our anxiety, and leaving us with a "high" for the week. It certainly is a challenge to what my good friend, theologian Robert Barron, has described as "beige Catholicism," a bland, non-threatening, ballad-singing, domesticated version of our colorful Catholic tradition.7 The word "liturgy" is sometimes defined as "the work of the people." This vision of liturgy as common ground is a potent reminder that liturgy is, indeed, work - God's work and ours - that is to bear fruit in the world God created.
While at first it may sound a little irreverent or even a little radical, such a vision of liturgy is, in fact, ancient. For liturgy has always served as a common ground - where the past and the future intersect; where earthly creatures dance with our Triune God; where young and old, rich and poor, healthy and sick, male and female, Anglo, Latino, African American, and Asian stand together. Liturgy is a common ground where Gospel enters into dialogue with culture; where the call to holiness confronte human apathy and sinfulness; where the pipe organ is to be held in high esteem, but other instruments may also be used; where choirs are to be promoted, but the people's singing is to be encouraged and fostered.8
As we know well, liturgy is a source of refinement and transformation. Common, earthly gifts are transformed into the very Body and Blood of Christ. By our intimate communion with Christ and our unity with one another as his disciples, we are transformed and refined, little by little, into the Body of Christ. Liturgy has always been a common ground with a dynamic of dialogue, with a purpose of transformation, with consequences for the mission of the Church.
Let me be quite plain: To say this is not to speak of liturgy in general or with some idealized celebration or congregation in mind. The liturgical rubber meets the road in particular communities, yours and mine, when flesh-and-blood people - saints and sinners - gather in a particular place to celebrate the mysteries of our faith. The prayers on the pages of the new Roman Missal will never deign to pray themselves. New and revised Gloria settings won't sing God's glory on their own - whether refrain-style or throughcomposed. Claiming the power of Sunday Eucharist to form Christians and to inspire the will to promote the common good is not someoneelse's responsibility. It belongs to all of us - and it must take root in the communities we serve. The effectiveness of the mission of the Church universal depends upon the effectiveness of liturgical celebration in the church local.
John Paul II, after suggesting that liturgy is, in some sense, the "plan" of the church's mission, noted: "For this to happen, each member of the faithful must assimilate, through personal and communal meditation, the values which the Eucharist expresses, the attitudes it inspires, the resolutions to which it gives rise" (MND, 25). Christ is always present in Eucharistic celebration, to be sure, but the work of assimilation is impacted by the quality of liturgical celebrations and the ability of our assemblies to engage. Sing to the Lord re-states, nearly word for word, one of the most quoted sections of Music in Catholic Worship: "Good celebrations can foster and nourish faith. Poor celebrations may weaken it" (STL, 5).
What does all this have to do with liturgical music? How can we, as pastoral musicians, more effectively celebrate liturgy as common ground, an encounter with different cultures and viewpoints, a means of respectful engagement, a space for refinement and transformation- a school, a project, and a plan for the mission of promoting the common good? I will use the remainder of this presentation to explore a few possibilities.
Long-Range Planning and Repertory Development
First, if liturgy forms us little by little, refining us and shaping us over time, and if music is necessary or integral to liturgical celebration, then our repertory choices cannot be made with attention only to short-term needs, local concerns, current trends, and this Sunday's Scriptures. The repertory we sing has a long-range goal: the promotion of the common good. In order to "sing a new church into being" effectively, we need to look to the common good, to the mission of the Church, as our starting point. Only with this end in mind can we deliberately shape a musical repertory that will, over time, instill little-by-little a well-rounded, authentic Christian habitus.
We've not necessarily been trained as pastoral musicians to value this kind of long-range planning. In fact, we've been taught that we're not to plan liturgy at all. It's already been planned! Our task is to prepare for particular celebrations. This notion has proved helpful in some ways. It has reminded us that the shape of the liturgical year, the architecture of the Lectionary for Mass, and elements of the Order of Mass are already in place. It is not our task to work around them or reinvent them. We've also gotten the message that the ministers of worship, including the assembly, need to be properly trained.
However, the notion that liturgy is prepared - not planned - has a major weakness when it comes to music. It inevitably promotes a short-range view in the assessment of musical needs. Even Sing to the Lord buys into this language and speaks of the task of music selection, for the most part, in terms of preparing for particular celebrations. We focus on this Gospel, this Sunday, this rite, this season. We're used to seeing our musical repertory up close, in pieces. Over the course of a three-year Lectionary cycle, choosing music because it "fits" a particular Gospel reading has the potential to create an unwieldy accumulation of music that gets sung infrequently - and therefore often half-heartedly. Full, conscious, and active participation in the ritual of liturgy is fostered by familiarity and repetition, hence our appropriate pastoral concerns as we approach the implementation of the new Roman Missal.
The liturgical year, the Lectionary far Mass, and the Order of Mass have been crafted and carefully put together as pieces of an integrated whole - as a liturgical life that unfolds deliberately and purposefully over time, revealing year after liturgical year the whole Christ and putting our lives in respectful dialogue with every aspect of the paschal mystery.
If music is integral to liturgy - not just to particular moments or liturgies but to the whole of the Church's liturgical life - then a musical repertory, too, needs a deliberate and purposeful shape. Its pieces must contribute to a balanced, engaging, familiar, and effective whole. Assembling and carefully diversifying a repertory that promotes respectful engagement and an ethic of dialogue requires more than attention to immediate needs. It requires a long view. It calls for attention to cumulative, long-term effects. It calls for careful and deliberate planning. It should come as no surprise that the notion that we do not need to plan liturgy did not come from pastoral musicians.
Having suggested that an effective parish repertory requires long-term planning, we need to address two additional issues: the make-up of the repertory we choose and how it is integrated into the liturgical life of our parishes.
In its section on music in Catholic schools, Sing to the Lord offers some direction on the make-up of an appropriate repertory that fosters respedful engagement and an ethic of dialogue. Catholic schools are called to
cultivate the repertoire of sacred music inherited from the past, to engage the creative efforts of contemporary composers and the diverse repertoires of various cultures. A variety of musical styles is recommended, while care should be taken to include selections from the repertoire typically sung by the wider Church at Sunday liturgies. In this way, students will be introduced to music they will sing throughout their life, and they will be better prepared for their eventual role as adult members of the worshiping assembly (STL, 55).
I've often told the story of a phone conversation Ihad with a musician friend a number of years ago. We were chatting by phone about an event happening in our deanery, but near the end of the conversation she said: "Hey, I'm planning our eighth grade graduation Mass. Got any brilliant ideas?" Always up for a challenge, I donned my liturgy professor cap and told her I'd call her back. Knowing that a graduation Mass brings together people of several generations, Catholics from other parishes, non-practicing Catholics, and family members and neighbors of different Christian traditions, I set my sights on finding an appropriate opening hymn or song to be sung after the opening procession of graduates. My goal was to identify a piece that would launch the liturgy well, that would sing a diverse group into a worshiping assembly, that would be welcoming to visitors, and that would allow several generations of Christians to celebrate their commonbonds in common song. Given that a procession of graduates usually is rather formal, and that "Pomp and Circumstance" is usually played in G Major, I came up with "Joyful, Joyful We Adore You" as a good choice to foster the participation of that particular assembly in that particular context. When I called my friend back to share my brilliant insights and my seemingly unassailable liturgical logic, she said, after a good five seconds of silence, "I don't think our kids know that one." We both learned something from that exchange.
In the quotation from Sing to the Lord mentioned earlier, the little-by-little, formative function of liturgical music comes through loud and clear. The unique contributions of different musical styles and ethnic communities are valued and engaged, and future and wider Church needs are taken into consideration.
Wider Church Needs and Local Decisions
I'd like to suggest that, in some sense, future and wider Church needs make a claim on the musical choices of local communities. If one approaches music planning as the meeting of immediate needs, then one might consider this an unreasonable top-down intrusion, a damper on creativity, and an unjust limiting of freedom of choice. But if one views local liturgy as intimately connected to the wider Church's mission and present celebrations as a common ground wherein respectful engagement forms worshipers to be committed disciples throughout their lives, then wider Church needs are no longer someone else's concern. They're our concern. Rather than the wider Church making a claim on our work, we claim liturgy's formative power and we claim as our responsibility the impact of local celebrations on the larger Church's mission.
Let me cite a couple of specific examples of this kind of mutual claiming. I'm aware of several dioceses in which every parish was asked to learn a particular Mass setting, which was then used for a period of years for every diocesan celebration. Made after consultation with a diocesan worship or music commission, such a cooperative venture would not only foster participation at diocesan liturgies but also make available to local parishes musical alternatives for funerals, weddings, deanery or vicariate gatherings, and other occasions when people of multiple parishes gather for worship. By acknowledging this claim of the diocesan church, the local parish exercises its responsibility to the wider community and claims the power of local celebrations to affect the good of the whole.
One finds a similar, though more global claim on local communities in the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, the Getterai Instruction of the Roman Missal, and most recently in Sing to the Lord. All three documents indica te that the faithful in every community should be able to chant some parts of the Order of Mass in Latin.9 While some have viewed this as a newly hatched plot of reform-the-reform reactionaries, this directive goes all the way back to 1963, to the very document that launched the liturgical renewal. It has been part of every edition of the Genera! Instruction of the Roman Missal issued since Vatican ?. It would be difficult to claim that this one directive is a bow to nostalgia or the beginnings of a conservative coup. Rather it is designed to school us in one particular aspect of our identity as Church. When we sing Gregorian chant, we embody and situate ourselves as members of the universal Church. We sing with our lips the same words and melodies that were on the lips of saints who have gone before us in faith. We ground ourselves in an enduring and living tradition. From a practical perspective, we rehearse a repertory that allows people of many nations to sing in one voice at international Church gatherings.
Sing to the Lord acknowledges up front that the reintroduction of chant would evoke mixed reactions in some communities. It therefore calls for attentiveness to liturgical and pastoral concerns and sensitivity when it comes to culture and local custom. It calls for "prudence, pastoral sensitivity, and reasonable time for progress" in implementation (STL, 74). It even suggests introducing the simplest chants first. This is not turning back the clock. This is a purposeful recommendation that promotes respectful engagement and seeks to place wider Church needs in dialogue with local concerns. Is this not the kind of encounter with different viewpoints and cultures that can foster an ethic of dialogue? As a small component of a broader repertory, the singing of chant serves as a reminder that Catholic identity is more than parish affiliation and that we are members of a Church that extends beyond anyone community, diocese, culture, or generation.
Sing to the Lord offers a handy example in its treatment of chant, but we could and should engage in a similar process of reflection about the incorporation of music of other cultures, contemporary repertoire, the music of Taizé, or even traditional strophic hymns. Cardinal Bernardin wrote:
As we know, differences have always existed in the Church . . . . Differences are the natural reflection of our diversity, a diversity that comes with catholicity. Differences are the natural consequence of our grappling with a divine mystery that always remains beyond our complete comprehension . . . .
In the Church's history, differences have often been the seedbeds of our most profound understanding of God and salvation. Differences and dissatisfaction have spurred extraordinary institutional creativity . . . .10
Sunday Mass and Musical Taste
I believe and teach that diversity in a liturgical repertory can foster an ethic of respectful dialogue, heighten our awareness of the diverse neighbors we are to serve, and equip us for mission in our multicultural, postmodern world. Many of us may be thinking: "Well, our parish already uses a great variety of music." Having spent some time musing about the make-up of a repertory, I'd like to offer for consideration one issue concerning how we integrate its components into parish life. In many larger communities, each Sunday Mass features music of one particular style - giving parishioners the option of choosing a particular Mass because they prefer a particular style of music. Many have identified certain benefits of this arrangement: It meets people where they are; it gets folks to church; it respects diversity; it provides options.
However I'm not sure we' ve adequately considered the negative consequences of this kind of musical self-selection. How do we form disciples to engage with people of different languages, cultures, and viewpoints every day, when on Sunday they can choose to avoid music they simply do not like? How is liturgy common ground when musicians seem to compete for parishioner turnout and when the level of attendance at particular Easter Triduum liturgies seems to depend on which musicians happen to be leading the music that year? How do we form disciples, and what do we say to the world, when our communities self-segregate into Mass camps, divided by - of all things - musical taste? While we don't have time to delve into this can of worms, a renewed focus on liturgy's long-term consequences suggests that this question merits some serious reflection.
A Significant Milestone
Before I conclude, I must acknowledge a significant milestone in the American Catholic liturgical music world. This year the Rensselaer Program of Church Music and Liturgy at Saint Joseph's College is celebrating its golden jubilee. Our founder. Father Lawrence Heiman, C.PP.S., earned his doctorate in Gregorian chant in Rome, but he chose to establish a liturgical music program in the United States amidst the cornfields of northwest Indiana. For the past fifty years, the Rensselaer Program has served as a common ground where music of varying styles and eras and people of differing regions, generations, cultures, and Christian traditions have engaged in challenging and respectful dialogue. How appropriate that Indiana is known as the "Crossroads of America."
Though one of the world's leading chant scholars, Father Heiman was also one of the founders of the National Association of Pastoral Musicians, known for its persistent pastoral focus. In fact. Saint Joseph's College was the site of the first NPM regional convention in 1980. Father Heiman's "both/and" philosophy continues to inspire our practical "where the rubber meets the road" program today. The Rensselaer Program began offering summer shady in church music and liturgy three years before the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy was promulgated as the first document of the Second Vatican Council - and six months before I was born. What our students, faculty, and alumni have experienced over the years as "the Rensselaer Spirit" is alive and well today, fifty years later - even in these uncertain times.
Well, here we are - back from the future. We began by reflecting on God's plan for the world and the Church's mission in promoting the common good. We've considered Eucharistic celebration as a school, a project, and a plan and claimed our common purpose in promoting effective liturgy that fosters a well-rounded Christian habitus. We've explored common ground not as a state to be achieved but as a space for respectful encounter, engagement, and transformation. And we've suggested that purposeful, long-range planning that begins with the end in view is necessary for the development of an engaging, challenging musical repertory that is integral not only to authentic liturgy but to the Church's mission.
I'd like to conclude with words spoken by Cardinal Bernardin to those to whom he entrusted the Catholic Common Ground Initiative just weeks before he died. I believe they are a fitting summons for all of us as well.
I hand on to you the gift that was given to me - a vision of the Church that trusts in the power of the Spirit so much that it can risk authentic dialogue. . . .
I ask you, without waiting and on your own, to strengthen the common ground, to examine our situation with fresh eyes, open minds, and changed hearts, and to confront our challenges with honesty and imagination.
Guided by the Holy Spirit, together, we can more effectively respond to the challenges of our times as we cany forward the mission that the Lord Jesus gave to us, his disciples."
In response to this challenging charge from a wise pastoral leader, and embracing our responsibility for the Church's mission, let the Church humbly but confidently say: "Amen!"
1. United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, Sing to the Lord: Music in Divine Worship (2007), 9.
2. See Richard McCarron, "Celebration: Fashioning a Liturgical Habitas" in Liturgical Ministry 11 (Summer 2002), 113-120.
3. Cardinal Joseph Bernardin, "Catholic Common Ground News Conference," in Selecled Works of Joseph Cardinal Bernardin, Volume Two, ed. Alphonse P. Spilly, C.PP.S. (Collegeville, Minnesota: The Liturgical Press, 2000), 311.
4. Bernardin, 312.
5. See www.catholiccommonground.org/res_called_to_be_catholic.php.
6. Cardinal Joseph Bernardin, "Faithful and Hopeful: The Catholic Common Ground Project," in Bernardin, 325.
7. Robert Barran, The Strangest Way: Walking the Christian Path Mary knoll. New York: Orbis Books, 2002), 9-12.
8. See the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy Sacrosanctum Concilium, Chapter VI.
9. See Sacrosanctum Concilium, 54; General Instruction of the Roman Missal, 41; Sing to the Lord: Music in Divine Worship, 61-62, 73-75.
10. Bernardin, "Faithful and Hopeful," 323.
11. Ibid., 331.
Dr. Steven R. Janco, a well-known composer of liturgical music, is an associate professor at Saint Joseph's College in Rensselaer, Indiana, and the director of the Rensselaer Program of Church Music and Liturgy. This article is an edited version of his plenum address at the 2010 NPM Annual Convention in Detroit (July 12-16). An audio recording of that presentation is available; see page eleven.