Thursday, July 22, 2004

Oregon Catholic Press reviving Latin chant???

In an article entitled "A New Dawn for Latin Chant?" [PDF] in the July/August 2004 issue of
Crisis magazine, authors Arlene Ooster-Zinner and Jeffrey Tucker, respectively, president and director of the St. Cecilia Schola Cantorum in Auburn, Alabama, report that Oregon Catholic Press (OCP) is now suddenly promoting materials from the tradition of Latin chant. OCP, long notorious as purveyor of the trendy-folksy lowest-common-denominator, market-driven schlock that today passes in suburban American parishes for "liturgical music," has long terrorized Catholics of aesthetic sensibility. The dreadful amplified braying (one cannot call it hymnody) this has produced in most parishes, under the repressive aegis of aging music directors aiming to pull off a Whoopi Goldberg imitation in "Sister Act" or greying amateur Peter-Paul-and-Mary wannabes croon-
ing into their microphones, has garnered for Catholics in the English-speaking world the well deserved reputation enshrined in Thomas Day's memorable title, Why Catholics Can't Sing: The Culture of Catholicism and the Triumph of Bad Taste (1992). Illustrative is the horrifying bathos and banality of one of OCP's flagship publications, Glory and Praise, whose triteness is surpassed only by the theological flaccidity of its small-minded, appalling ditties. The effects have not only been aesthetically nefarious but spiritually iniquitous, not merely afflicting cultur-ed and theologically literate Catholics, but depriving the younger generation of their Catholic patrimony, and regularly offending the sensibilities of non-Catholic visitors to Catholic churches over the last several decades, who are regularly treated to happy-clappy hand-holding "liturgies" (I use the term lightly) more reminiscent of the Barney Show than of a real Catholic Mass. Frankly, the matter has been a colossal embarrassment.
Compared to what your average suburban Catholic parish dishes up these days, the traditions of hymnody found in Anglicanism, Lutheranism, other Protestant traditions are not only musically superior, but often -- horribile dictu -- theologically so. It is hard to imagine the management at OCP having turned over a new leaf and discovered a new appreciation for the glorious musical patrimony of Catholic tradition, although, given current trends, one is con-strained to say: "something's gotta give." In any case, OCP's startling and welcome new offerings from the Latin chant tradition include:
  • The Liber Cantualis, a core selection of the best-known chanted Mass parts and hymns
  • The Liber Hymnarius, 400 Latin hymns for the Liturgy of the Hours
  • The Gregorian Missal, Latin texts for the Mass for all Sundays and Solmenities
  • The Graduale Romanum, the Mass propers for the entire year, plus the entire Kyriale with all chants
  • The Graduale Triplex, the Graduale Romanum plus neumes from Laon and St. Gall family manuscripts to assist in interpretation
Might we have "turned the corner," as the Oost-Zinner and Tucker dare to suggest in their article? Or, as they more likely fear:
"Might chant be added to a Sunday mix of music that will include all styles, creating a kind of liturgical melange? Is chant in danger of becoming part of this year's Catholic Top 40 only to fall out of this list next year?"
So far have we strayed from the Gregorian traditions over the past 40 years, that most of those who cherish these traditions cannot help being skeptical. It will take more than new catalog offerings from OCP to restore Gregorian chant to its "pride of place" within the Roman rite, as mandated by Vatican II's Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy (Sacrosanctum Concilium) (article 166):
"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."
In the meantime, one would be well advised to cover his bases and petition for membership in the

Society for a Moratorium on the Music of Marty Haugen and David Haas



Rebecca S. said...

Bravo! I know this is an old post, but I found it today looking for something to prove how the Pope does not approve the use of Oregon Catholic Press music in North American churches. I read that somewhere...

Pertinacious Papist said...

Ha. Very good, Rebecca. Nothing like a kindred spirit to fan the dimming embers into a blazing fire! God bless!