sacred music

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The GOP Answer to “War on Women”: Capitulation

A little while back in Crisis, I wrote about how supposedly pro-life Catholic candidate for a Virginia Senate seat, Ed Gillespie, when accused of wanting to overturn Roe v. Wade and enact a personhood amendment to the Constitution—as well as to "ban certain forms of contraception"—oddly replied that he actually wanted to make "contraceptives easier [...]

Obedience and the Christian Life

There is no way around it: the Christian's life is to be one of obedience. “Let him who has ears to hear, hear,” says Jesus. That does not mean that we are beholden only to God, under our own understanding of who God is and what He wants from us. God in His mercy does [...]

Love for Latin Liturgy More than a Fashion

As a lover of traditional liturgy, I was momentarily excited by a report last week that, for once in my life, I might actually be hip to the trends. It would be a nearly-unprecedented thing for me, and I’m still not sure how to feel about it. But according to a recent second-hand report, Pope [...]

Symbolism and the Language of the Liturgy

In his conversations with the journalist Bill Moyers, the mythologist Joseph Campbell commented on the power of lived symbolism in communal life. When the judge comes out in a black robe, sits behind a high desk and calls the court to order with a gavel he is no longer an ordinary man. He is the [...]

Palestrina: Master in Music’s Art

Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina was an Italian layman who was born around 1525 at or near Rome, into a world in which most the greatest musicians and composers of Europe were clerics, and disproportionately from Northern Europe.  By his death in 1594, two of the other three most important composers in Europe, the Lowlander Orlandus [...]

Pop Music as a Bridge to God?: Engaging Christopher West

 On the one hand, there is pop music … aimed at the phenomenon of the masses, is industrially produced, and ultimately has to be described as a cult of the banal. "Rock," on the other hand, is the expression of elemental passions, and at rock festivals it assumes a cultic character, a form of worship, [...]

Benedict XVI and the Way of Beauty

 Something unusual is revealed here as well: the house of God is the true house of humans.  It becomes the house of humans even more the less it tries to be this and the more it is simply put up for him.  — Pope Benedict XVI In modern memory, has there been a Pope who [...]

Jesus Christ Superstar Now

When I was a kid, the musical “Jesus Christ Superstar” was all the rage.  Both the local high school and my parents’ church (a large United Christ Methodist affair) each put on large, well-attended performances of the “rock opera” that included the entire teen choir.  The biggest questions were always: Whose booming bass voice would [...]

The Hero of the Mighty Musical Struggle

Several years ago, I received a note from an older man who had been battling much of his life for good Church music, particularly Gregorian chant. He did this in terrible times following the Second Vatican Council when the cultural ethos warred against any settled liturgical forms. He had plenty of scars to show for [...]

How John Paul II Restored Liturgical Sanity

We tend to think of the papacy of Benedict XVI as the papacy that put the Catholic liturgy back together again, turning the “hermeneutic of rupture” into the “hermeneutic of continuity.” Rarely receiving the credit for preparing the way is John Paul II, who labored mightily and brilliantly during his pontificate—in a long and consistent [...]

Five Ways to Ruin the Mass

We are getting ever closer to an improved liturgy in the English-speaking world. The new Missal gives us a more dignified language that more closely reflects the Latin standard. The hippy-dippy rupturism of the past is finally giving way to a more settled and solemn appreciation of the intrinsic majesty of the Roman rite. A [...]

Is Inculturation an Excuse for Pop Music at Mass?

What is the standard by which we should judge the music we hear or sing at liturgy? That’s a huge and controversial question, but a recent experience revealed to me something interesting. It suggest an answer that is completely different from what you hear from the defenders of pop music at Mass, especially when it [...]

Is Chant Like Folk Music?

Somehow we have this impression that Gregorian chant is part of a high Church ethos. It’s for conservatives and traditionalists who favor their liturgy buttoned up, obedient, and strict. On the other hand, this line of thinking goes, people who want authentic human expression of spontaneous religious experience should embrace popular music and a looser [...]

Pope Benedict XVI’s Musical Legacy

One of the many lasting legacies of the papacy of Benedict XVI concerns liturgical music. Enormous progress has been made in his papacy. Incredibly this progress has happened without new legislation, new restrictions, new mandates, or firm-handed attempts to impose discipline on musicians and artists. The change has happened through the means that Benedict XVI [...]

Why Do People Want to Learn Chant?

It was my great fortune to be asked recently to substitute teach a master class on Gregorian chant. The event was the Church Music Association of America’s Winter Chant Intensive. The original instructor for the men, David Hughes, became very ill—vale of tears!—and another great conductor, Richard Rice, was called upon to teach the men [...]

For God’s Sake, Make Music

Every Sunday in Christ the King Chapel at Christendom College in Front Royal, Virginia, the mass is celebrated with all the pomp and ceremony that the traditions of the Catholic Church and the humble means of that small college allow—glittering vestments, billowing incense, a liberal helping of Latin, and numerous grave-faced altar servers. And music. [...]

Sing we Noël!

Speaking of his medieval ancestors and ours, d’Alembert once said that “Poetry for them was reduced to a puerile mechanism.” James Madison, echoing him, judged the result of fifteen centuries of Christian civilization to be little more than “pride and indolence in the Clergy, ignorance and servility in the laity, in both, superstition, bigotry and [...]

A Music Set Apart

The offertory antiphon for the Sunday before the last Sunday of the liturgical year is the famous text “De profundis clamavi ad te, Domine; Domine, exaudi vocem meam.” From the depths, I have cried out to you, O Lord; Lord, hear my voice. It’s not a text heard in parish praxis much anymore. It doesn’t [...]

The Reinvention of Parish Music

The birthday notification popped up on my Skype window: Jeffrey Ostrowski just turned 31. I had to look again. Only 31 years old? This is a musician who has produced probably two dozen books of music for Catholic liturgy that have provided new options to tired songs given to us by the old establishment that [...]

The Jewish Precedent for Latin Chant

I’ve long written in favor of reestablishing Gregorian chant as the primary musical language of liturgy for Roman Rite Catholics around the world. We’ve taken great steps in this direction with the new Missal in English, which embeds the chant tradition in the heart of the book. And for the first time, we are seeing [...]

Musical Corruptions Continue Despite Recent Vatican Interventions

The Vatican has intervened in the guidelines on Catholic liturgical music in the U.S. It has sent a message to U.S. publishers that it objects to extending the official text of the Agnus Dei to add additional text. The practice is called “troping” but that’s using a rather high-minded and deeply historical term for what [...]

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