Today's lead commentary deals with a sensitive political issue causing some concern in a number of places in the Catholic Church in Australia. It concerns the encouragement, or lack or encouragement, given to contemporary Christian music which has been widely used in parishes across this country since the Second Vatican Council. In some conservative quarters "contemporary music" is perceived as "the problem" that has caused Mass attendances to drop. We do not share that view here at Catholica. We believe this retreat back to the liturgical and musical styles of the 1950s is simply more of the same agenda that we have been fed for the last forty years since that Council that has been a major factor in causing nearly 90% of the adult baptized to cease listening or participating across the face of the Western world.
Who actually holds the keys of the kingdom?
The picture bored into our skulls for centuries is a picture of Jesus handing the keys to St Peter and he, in turn, has handed those keys on down through an unbroken line of popes, all of whom are to be revered as infallible (incapable of error), and the Holy Father at any particular time is the one who holds "the keys to the kingdom". The trouble with that picture is that it has been severely "cracking up" now for over a thousand years. Today Christianity is splintered into about 30,000 different sects, denominations and divisions and Rome continues to assert that it is the only one who holds the keys and exerts primacy. Fewer and fewer of even the Christians in the world seem to believe it any longer. And within the educated, affluent Western world close to 90% of even the baptized in the Roman Church itself have stopped listening and stopped participating. Worst still, the lower you go in the demographic age brackets of the baptized the greater the disenchantment and the apostacy.
Clearly it is not sufficient to merely assert that you have primacy — an institution that claims primacy has to demonstrate to the world, convince the world's people, by the quality of its leadership and the intelligence of its teaching and thinking that it has a legitimate claim to primacy. There is no evidence at the moment that Catholicism is reaching out to fulfil the instruction of Jesus Christ to bring "the Good News" to ALL nations — i.e. to all people. We even have a pope at the moment who projects a vision for the future of a "smaller, purer Church". And he seems to be going about precisely the right way to achieving it.
The immediate controversy sweeping around the English-speaking realms of the Church is over the introduction of a new translation of the Mass. It is widely acknowledged by thinking people that this new translation has been implemented without even adequate consultation with the world's English-speaking bishops let alone the wider body of the faithful. It has been an exercise basically organised by bureaucrats, initially not even English-speaking bureaucrats, and ecclesial "politicians" trying to advance their way up the hierarchical tree with almost total disregard to where the ordinary people are at in their spiritual needs. Liturgy is supposed to come from and speak to "the heart of the people" — and that does not mean "the heart of some minority", nor some "elite".
As I asked on the Catholica forum in the last few days, do any of these bishops, cardinals and popes who have been responsible for the massive shepherding of nearly 90% of the flock out of the gates of the Church pause for even ten milliseconds in their morning and night prayers and reflect on what assessment Almighty God might be making of their stewarship? Do they? Or do they not believe in that "Last Judgment" stuff anymore? It is a serious question. They've been "putting it on all of us" to "examine our consciences" for God knows how many centuries. Do they ever examine their own consciences and the quality of the leadership that has led to this massive splintering of the Christian Church which today seems to being following up with this massive effort to literally push the vast majority of the Catholic faithful out of the pews?
Who controls the agenda within Catholicism?
Back in May of 2010 we were first alerted to some stirrings in another area central to Catholic worship in Australia through two lengthy discussions on the blog of a recent convert to Catholicism and prolific blogger, David Schütz. The subject this time was Liturgical Music. His first foray into this realm was what amounted to an attack on not only the company that has probably done more to promote the development of contemporary Catholic music in this country in the last forty years, Willow Publishing, but effectively an attack on the person behind that company who has made an enormous personal sacrifice over the years to establish a company that gave an outlet to many contemporary music composers. These people are not "heretics" but, in the main, people who were inspired by all the things we were taught and encouraged to engage in at the time of the Second Vatican Council in opening the windows of the Church to the world and making our liturgies more reflective of what was in the hearts of the ordinary pew sitters. David Schütz even claimed in his blog that he was ignorant of all this history and of the contributions Willow Publishing had made to contemporary church music over decades [See the excerpt below the images of his blog below – or click on the images to access the full articles and comments on David's Sentire Cum Ecclesia blog]. Monica O'Brien is the founder of Willow Publishing. She started the company with the assistance of a few friends who have been involved in Youth Ministry when she was still in her twenties. Perhaps their biggest contribution to the life of Catholicism in this country was the publication of the "As One Voice" series of song books, music books, cds and other resources. A resource that was eventually taken up, purchased and used in 86% of the Catholic parishes and schools across this nation. It has become in recent decades one of the mainstay resources in many parishes to assist with music in worship. As Monica disclosed at the workshop on copyright last weekend, she and her husband mortgaged their home to produce the first edition of As One Voice it took them twelve and a half years to pay it off and make a financial return on the exercise. There was never any guarantee that the endeavour would be financially successful and by any person's calculation that was a massive financial risk and "commitment of faith" that that couple made.
Meanwhile, David Schütz, comes wandering into the Catholic Church decades later disenchanted with the Lutheran Church where he had been a pastor and he pontificates in these words all over the work of Monica O'Brien and the people she has supported, nurtured and represented in the contemporary Catholic music ministries for decades. He dubs them "this crowd"...
The song continues… The vision evolves…
Nine days later, David followed this up with his own essay outlining how he believed Catholic music ought be structured or restructured. To read that essay, titled "Liturgical Music in the Catholic Churches of Australia: Crisis and Response - Reflections and Suggestions", click the image on the right above or HERE.
In the first line of the quoted part of David's first foray into this area he mentions a body named "The National Liturgical Music Board". It will be evident from his posts and his comments over the years that David is a big fan and supporter of this body. A lot of ordinary pew-sitters have probably never heard of it, so an explanation is in order.
Who is the National Liturgical Music Board?
The National Liturgical Music Board (NLMB) is an advisory committee to the Australian Catholic Bishops Commission for Liturgy which, in turn, answers to the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference (ACBC). The Bishops Commission for Liturgy is chaired by Archbishop Mark Coleridge who is also leader of the Canberra-Goulburn Diocese centred on the nation's capital city and widely seen as one of the more intellectual and politically competent bishops in Australia and one who might one day take over from George Pell [Sydney] or Philip Wilson [presently President of the ACBC but about to retire from that post as his second term is about to expire] and be seen popularly as "the leader" of the Catholic Church in Australia. (In legal reality Australia does not have a "primate" or an overall "leader". Under Canon Law each Australian Bishop answers directly to Rome [and presumably to God] so all the bishops are equal leaders albeit that for things like making it easier to liaise with secular governments and undertake some tasks they share in common they delegate some of their responsibilities to the ACBC and its various commissions and advisory committees. In the popular imagination, and particularly with secular journalists who find it difficult to understand any of this George Pell is often spoken of as "the leader" of the Church in Australia or the President of the ACBC is accorded that honour. George Pell, as a cardinal is the most senior ranked cleric in Australia and as Archbishop of Sydney he also heads what is called "the mother diocese" — the original diocese in Australia from which all other dioceses were founded. Under strict Church Law though the Cardinal has no more control of the whole Australian Church than any other bishop who leads a diocese or archdiocese.)
The NLMB has its own web page on the ACBC website and there you can find out who the members of the Board are [LINK]. It is presently chaired by Fr Peter Williams, who like David Schütz, is another convert to Catholicism, this time from the Anglican Church, who was also recently appointed Vicar-General for the Diocese of Parramatta. Fr Williams has previously been mentioned on Catholica as he has been the one charged with promoting the new Mass translation around this country and has been heavily involved in workshops and conferences all around this country explaining the changes and encouraging their adoption. The secretary to the NLMB is Bernard Kirkpatrick who in his "day-job" holds the position of Director of Music at St Patrick's Cathedral in Parramatta. For reasons which are not entirely clear the membership of the NLMB seems heavily weighted to what are variously dubbed as "musical purists" or "cathedral musicians" — this may be because they are usually employed within the institutional structure and hence it is relatively easy for them to take "time out" when it is necessary to attend to NLMB matters, or it may simply be that as "music experts" at the higher end of the professional scale they naturally gravitate to a position of power and influence such as that exerted by a National Liturgical Music Board. There might even be some sort of "higher level" syncopation going on in that some of the recent output of this board would seem to exhibit a distinct preference for musical styles that might fit very nicely with the new Mass translation and the attempt to take the whole of Catholic worship and thinking back to the styles more familiar to those of us who were alive and active participants in the Church prior to the Second Vatican Council.
Before I inform you of their most recent initiative though let me disclose one other small piece of information that might be important in the whole mix of what is going on. And this is a piece of information I only picked up a couple of minutes ago perusing a newsletter put out by the National Liturgical Council (which also comes under the Bishops Commission for Liturgy but probably has a tad higher status than the NLMB). In the June 2010 issue of Ad Libitum, the newsletter of the NLC, I am informed that Mr Paul Taylor had been appointed to the NLC in February 2010. I was previously aware from other sources that Paul Taylor (now listed as Dr Taylor as a member of the NLMB on their webpage) works in the Archbishop of Melbourne's Office for Evangelization which would seem to be a close collaborator with the Ecumenical & Interfaith Commission of the Archdiocese of Melbourne and the Executive Officer of that Commission is our friend David Schütz [LINK to page where you can download Ad Libitum]. Both of these agencies are in fact located at 383 Albert Street, Melbourne. Perhaps the relationship between Paul and David might explain David's evident high enthusiasm for the work of the NLMB and his attempt to set up contemporary musicians, and Willow Publishing in particular, as somehow enemies or opponents of the NLMB and its work? Whatever is the explanation it cannot be argued that what David Schütz published on his blog was exactly conducive to cordial relations between contemporary musicians and composers and the NLMB and the Bishops whom they represent.
At this point it might be wise for me to disclose my own background associations in this entire matter. I have long had an interest in liturgy having served at parish level on various liturgy committees and for a period in the late 1990s and early this century was a member of the Archdiocesan Liturgy Committee in Perth. I can't sing if you paid me and in fact was paid two and sixpence to exit the Jesuit School choir when I was about twelve years of age and have been suffering ever since, LOL. While I have a deep love of all forms of music — and in fact even broader musical tastes than my professional musician wife — I can't actually perform any of it despite Sister Collette's attempts in primary school to drum a bit of rythmn into me. I did find a form of redemption five and half years ago by marrying Amanda McKenna who is a professional musician and a member of that now fairly large "choir" of composers that has been encouraged, published and promoted by Monica O'Brien. Amanda has long worked in Catholic schools as a writer and teacher of music. Many school anthems have been written by Amanda over the decades. She has also long been a highly respected leader of the music ministiry in what was one of the most vibrant parishes in the Diocese of Parramatta when it was under the leadership of Fr Paul Roberts (presently on study leave in Chicago). In the time we have been married Amanda was privileged to be employed as Liturgical Musical Consultant and Composer-in-Residence for the Catholic Education Office in the Diocese of Parramatta. That relationship sadly came to an end in March of this year when she was presented with an ultimatum to cease her involvement with me and Catholica, or she could resign. She chose to resign her position. The directive for this ultimately came from the new Bishop of Parramatta, Anthony Fisher. In other words as you are reading this understand clearly that I have a double axe to grind here although I am trying very hard to keep my personal feelings at arms length in what I believe is an important story in terms of the overall direction in which the Catholic Church is heading. While what I write in this commentary has a particular dimension to it in how various things are impacting on the career and professional life of my wife, what I will be drawing out is that contemporary musicians in general today have a deep sense that this ministry many of them have devoted decades to fostering and nurturing, is under threat by a small, seemingly self-selected group, many of whom have little or no experience or understanding of the needs in music ministry out in the broad swathe of Catholic parishes and schools across this continent.
The essential question we are placing on the agenda is one directed to the bishops of Australia collectively as to how much oversight is given to a matter of this importance in terms of the overall health of the liturgical and worship life of the Church across this continent? The sense I pick as an observer of what has been going on with close links through my wife to that community of composers and musicians who are more involved in music in the average parish is that they have no objection whatsoever to the fostering of a high-end, classical and "musical purist" repertoire being encouraged in our cathedrals. In fact the sense I pick up is that many strongly support that. The reality they face at the parish level is that often the musical tastes of the congregation are far different or simpler and often there is even a problem of recruiting a choir or musicians let alone embarking on a repertoire requiring great professional and craft skill.
The current developments...
To be frank I am not sure if the NLMB is a permanent committee that oversees the liturgical music agenda in Australia or if it is just convened from time to time when specific matters arise that need national attention. The National Liturgical Council is certainly a permanent committee and meets regularly each year often around the time the ACBC itself meets. What is fairly clear is that the National Liturgical Music Board has been very active in recent times. In May 2009 the NLMB discloses on its website the extensive work that has been undertaken in preparation of a "Recommended List of Liturgical Music Approved by the ACBC". Here is the opening few paragraphs from that webpage and the link:
At the May 2009 plenary meeting of the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference, the list produced by the National Liturgical Music Board, of Recommended Hymns and liturgical songs required by "Liturgiam Authenticam" was presented to the bishops, who endorsed and approved it, in order to seek the formal "recognitio" from the Congregation for Divine Worship.
Now to the very latest developments: a new worship book...
In more recent times we have heard rumours that the NLMB has also been engaged in the preparation of a new Catholic Worship Book — in other words a new hymnal that is to be the officially approved hymnal for use in parishes across Australia. Ironically I got to hear of this not through my wife nor Monica O'Brien nor through any executive members of the Australian Pastoral Musicians' Network but through a series of emails from ordinary members of the APMN who had received a copy of the list that has been prepared by the NLMB and circulated to the church musicians in this country through the APMN. Some of the emails I received were quite distressed by this list likening it to a reprint of the old Living Parish Hymnal of the 1970s and even more ancient hymnals that had been used in Australian parishes in the 1950s and 1960s because almost no weight is given to contemporary music and the repertoire is heavily weighted to classical or the cathedral music type repertoire. These people literally do see their entire life's work "on the line" and the decades of commitment they have made to the fostering of better standards in music at the ordinary parish level being absolutely trashed and thrown on the scrap heap.
What has made it more difficult in putting this story together is that there are not unnaturally divisions within the Australian Pastoral Musicians Network itself which is a relatively new body, that seems to have partly evolved both from a desire to foster higher standards across the grass roots of the church in this country and also from a sense that the livelihoods and life missions of some people have been feeling threatened for some time. The executive of the APMN has been trying to foster this new initiative and develop a good working relationship with the Australian Bishops and with bodies such as the NLMB and the NLC. Some of them have been not unnaturally very nervous at what might be written in this article and have a fear that some retaliation might be directed at them and their still embryonic initiative. Some members of the APMN in fact have positions on the national bodies and some are nervous as to which side to support in the difficult questions that are "on the line".
I should point out that a few contemporary musicians and composers get a small selection of their works listed but the endeavour seems to be token and "political" rather than out of some genuine desire to foster the broad traditions of music that have developed across this country since the Second Vatican Council. By way of contrast some of the contemporary musicians and composers that I know have helped me compile a list of contemporary composers whose names simply do not appear anywhere in this list. Here is that list:
This list has been compiled with a help of a number of musicians more expert than myself in this field. It might not be exhaustive. ...BMC
A comment from Archbishop Mark Coleridge in response to my request
In the course of compiling this story I though it might be useful to get the perspective of Archbishop Mark Coleridge who is the Australian bishop with most immediate responsibility for this endeavour. Unfortunately Archbishop Coleridge has been tied up this week in the Bishops' November Plenary meetings but, for the sake of full disclosure, I include here the full text of my correspondence with him via his secretary. In the final analysis I think he provides a very politically astute response that might go some way to allaying some of the fears that exist in the music ministry community:
Initial Request Tuesday 1:38 PM:
I trust I have been fair to all sides in this matter and that my own disclosures in the body of the article make plain for all to see any "agendas" I carry in this matter.
Brian Coyne, 25 November 2011
What are your thoughts on this commentary?