sacred music


US Civil Rights Commission Targets Religious Liberty

On September 7, 2016, the US Commission on Civil Rights issued a report entitled Peaceful Coexistence: Reconciling Nondiscrimination Principles with Civil Liberties. The report has not received the attention it deserves. Should the next president appoint and the Senate approve judges and justices that agree with its findings, the report will serve as a playbook [...]

The Sacred Music of Stravinsky

“Music praises God. Music is well or better able to praise him than the building of the church in all its decoration; it is the church's greatest ornament.”  ∼ Igor Stravinsky (1882-1971) Igor Stravinsky is everyone's idea of a “modern composer.” The riot that accompanied the premiere of his 1913 ballet The Rite of Spring has [...]

Beethoven and the Catholic Church

Ludwig van Beethoven, Johann Sebastian Bach, and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart form the great trinity of Western classical composers. Of the three, it is Beethoven whose religious beliefs have proven the most elusive. We know all about the devout Lutheranism of Bach, who wrote his music “for the glory of God and the refreshment of the [...]

When An Opera Is Like a Vatican II Liturgy

Years (and years) ago I went to an opera in Graz, Austria—I guess the American equivalent to this is going to see the Boston Red Sox play at Fenway Park (if you are a huge baseball fan) or Ricky Skaggs play the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville, if you are a big country-western aficionado. Anyway, [...]

No Pentecost Liturgy Should Exclude the Veni Sancte Spiritus

Something beautiful is supposed to happen on Pentecost, though you might miss it. The culmination of the Easter season offers us a gem of sacred art: Veni Sancte Spiritus, the Pentecost sequence, which has long been regarded as one of the most magnificent works of literature in the Church’s treasury. When set to appropriate music, [...]

Rescuing Hymnody from Stupidity

Hunkering down during the latest snowstorm, my family and I had to attend Mass via television. We saw a nationally broadcast Mass that wasn't heretical, but that was an emblem of just about everything that I have criticized in my last two articles, on vocations. In particular, the little girl (and one boy) choir sang [...]

A “Liturgy Snob” Answers Her Critics

Last week I wrote a piece here on Crisis about good liturgy and its effect on the minds of children. It provoked a number of strong reactions, with some positive and others very critical. This is unsurprising. All liturgy-lovers have heard these critiques before, because they arise as a matter of course whenever liturgical practice [...]

Liturgical Wisdom from the Mouths of Children

This past Yuletide, my husband and I decided to escape the Minnesota winter by taking our family to South Texas. We had a joyfully green Christmas, with our children running wild on the beach while the Gulf of Mexico lapped at our toes. We didn’t miss the snow. Of course, there are always drawbacks to [...]

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 [...]