Tuesday, July 8, 2014


Every once in a blue moon, I may get a question, asking if I ever considered using certain titles, or why I don't use certain titles.  Although I have been an organist for the past 33 years, I have been getting that question for the past 26 years because that's about the time I stopped using those certain titles (on my own free will), at least at Sunday Mass.

In 1983, when I got my first actual music director's job in Woonsocket (where I would not only play the organ, but direct the choir and select music as well), I was brainwashed by the parish's powers that be that certain titles ("Be Not Afraid", "Here I Am, Lord", "Eagle's Wings", and other songs written in similar pop-ballad-like styles) were the cat's meow.  This was the "new thing" in liturgy, so I was told.  Oh, and there was this organization, the National Association of Pastoral Musicians (or "NPM", or as some musicians including myself dub, "NaPalM"), who printed articles in their magazines and held workshops in many parishes about how you can be "creative" with all this "liturgical music" and become a "liturgist".

Those people I encountered in 1983 were WRONG!  I learned that in 1988, upon the return of an old friend and mentor, Reuel Gifford, who was active in Catholic music until his retirement last year from St. William's in Warwick.  It was his music that inspired me to do the music that was best fit for the Church's central worship, the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.

Such titles and styles that I describe were written for "contemporary ensembles", you know, the "folk group".  Guitars, piano, and other instruments that associate well with rock bands, hootenanny jamborees, and even elevator music ("beautiful music", as described by such former radio stations as WHJY, before they turned to rock and roll in the summer of 1981, and WLKW, which turned to the oldies station B-101 later on).  They may also do well at "prayer meetings" and "tent revivals".  You may wish to pop a CD from the publishers of such music (GIA and OCP are the two largest publishers thereof).

Some people try to say that "this is what Vatican II called for", or "it's in the spirit of Vatican II".  Those people couldn't be more wrong.  In fact, the Constitution of the Sacred Liturgy, that is, Sacrosanctum Concilium, a binding document written by the Fathers of the Second Vatican Council noted that "In the Latin Church the pipe organ is to be held in high esteem, for it is the traditional musical instrument which adds a wonderful splendor to the Church's ceremonies and powerfully lifts up man's mind to God and to higher things," and "The Church acknowledges Gregorian chant as specially suited to the Roman Liturgy: therefore, other things being equal, it should be given pride of place in liturgical services. But other kinds of sacred music, especially polyphony, are by no means excluded from liturgical celebrations, so long as they accord with the spirit of the liturgical action".  Those songs and styles of songs that I mentioned above, I must add, do not, as the music these pieces are set to aren't even sacred; they are secular, or at least "worldly".

The words I quoted from Sacrosanctum Concilium have also been reiterated in the 1967 Musicam Sacram, as well as in writings by two Popes from this century, Pope Benedict XVI, and his predecessor, Pope St. John Paul II.

The working agreement we have here is that Father Bucci selects the hymns (the ones you see printed in the bulletin each week) and I select the sung parts of the Mass (ordinary and proper), unless something otherwise has been requested by Father Bucci.  The hymns Father picks go hand-in-hand with the Scripture readings of the day, as well as the homily that he preaches.  Together, we make an effort to satisfy the requirements set forth in the Constitution of the Sacred Liturgy (and I did say "requirements", not "suggestions" - this is a binding document, regardless of what the "mainstreamers" may think).

If we disallow certain pieces of music that other parishes allow, sure, one can safely say "because Father Bucci says so", but the reason "Father Bucci says so" is because the Church also says so.  Feel free to visit the Adoremus Society for a wealth of links, stories, and even official documents by Popes, the Vatican, U.S. Bishops, and more, on music and sacred liturgy.  The proof is in the pen.

Incidentally, regarding being a "liturgist"... the pastor is the liturgist, the way it should be, via the guidelines set forth by Holy Mother Church.