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Catholic Voice

 March 22, 2010   •   VOL. 48, NO. 6   •   Oakland, CA
Letters from Readers

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Music’s context in history

One of the wonderful breakthroughs at the Second Vatican Council was the acceptance of historical consciousness. This is liberating because without it we become mere prisoners of our personal experience. In his letter (Forum, March 8) against all instruments save the organ, Robert Lockwood does not understand the history of music in the liturgy.

In the very early period of the Church, the organ was not allowed for worship. In fact, the only instrument allowed was the human voice (which is still true in the churches of the Christian East and why chant still holds primacy of place in our tradition).

Why? Because musical instruments, including the water organ, were played in the Coliseum and other Roman arenas and temples. Like incense, it was associated with the pagan cult, therefore it was thought inappropriate.
As time passed, the Western Church began to permit musical instruments. By the time of the Baroque and classical periods, we have whole symphony orchestras and professional choirs performing Masses written by Mozart, Beethoven, and Verdi etc. And this certainly began to overshadow the full, active, and conscious participation of the assembly. The music often overshadowed the simplicity of liturgical and scriptural texts.

This is why the Second Vatican Council attempted to restore a “noble simplicity” to the liturgy. The Council also urged pastors to encourage the participation of the whole assembly in the responses of the liturgy—many of which are set to music.

Musicians since the Council, I believe, have favored the piano over organ because the piano is a percussive instrument. It is much easier for an untrained ear to hear the melody and rhythm on a piano rather than an organ. But whether it is organ or piano the main purpose for them to be there at all is to support the assembly in its work of singing thanks and praise to God. And sometimes that can be done best without any accompaniment.

More than the issues of piano versus organ, Mr. Lockwood’s letter belies the crisis of the “Reform the Reform” movement. These so-called reformers lack modern historical consciousness. They are like a circular firing squad that, after it shoots the Vatican II liturgy, will begin to shoot each other. For when they rid us of the Mass of Paul VI, they will fight over the details including to what century we are to return—Trent, Renaissance or perhaps the 9th or 10th century?

Or, more like shoppers in Costco, it will be a little bit of this and a little bit of that to satisfy their idiosyncratic tastes. It is very much a reflection not of past history but 21st century First World consumerism—purchasing the best nostalgia money can buy.

We live in difficult times in the Church and world. Nostalgia, no matter how warm and fuzzy it might make us feel, is not real. It is escapism. We can never go back in time. If we try, it is just dress up and make-believe. We can draw from history but not repeat it. We need to adopt the motto of Blessed Padre Junipero Serra, “Siempre adelante, nunca atrás,” “Always forward, never back.”

Father Ronald G. Schmit, Pastor
St. Anne Parish, Byron


Organ not developed for worship


Although Mr. Lockwood (Forum, March 8) has a right to indicate his preference for organ music rather than piano in his place of worship, he is wrong in stating the organ is an instrument of worship and the piano is an instrument for entertainment.

Fact checking shows clearly they both have secular origins and were inventions designed for the skill and preference of the musician and the listener’s pleasure. Neither was actually intended for worship.

Wikipedia notes that the “origins of the pipe organ can be traced back to the hydraulis in Ancient Greece in the third century BC, in which the wind supply was created with water pressure. Bellows were added by the sixth or seventh century AD.

“By the 17th century, most of the sounds available on the modern classical organ had been developed. Pipe organs are installed in churches, synagogues, concert halls, and other public buildings and are used for the performance of classical music, sacred music, and secular music.

“In the early 20th century, pipe organs were installed in theatres to accompany films during the silent movie era, in municipal auditoria, where orchestral transcriptions were popular, and in the homes of the wealthy, equipped with player mechanisms. The beginning of the 21st century has seen a resurgence in installations in concert halls.”

“ Widely used in classical music for solo performances, ensemble use, chamber music, and accompaniment, the piano is also very popular as an aid to composing and rehearsal. Although not portable and often expensive, the piano’s versatility and ubiquity have made it one of the world’s most familiar musical instruments.”

Playing and singing music in church is a wonderful communal form of prayer and praise and we should honor the wishes of the music director and church community regarding choices of instruments.

Carolyn Priest
Walnut Creek


Making a ‘joyful noise’


Regarding the assertion (Forum, March 8) that the piano does not belong in church, I invite Mr. Lockwood to join me in our Easter celebration at Christ the King Church in Pleasant Hill. Come feel the love in making a “joyful noise to the Lord,” even from the piano.

Florence Ball
Pleasant Hill


Importance of criticism


Regarding the letter “A hallmark of dissidence” (Forum, Feb. 22), so-called “dissidents” are vital to our Church and I applaud The Catholic Voice’s printing of their letters. Read Church history and you will find that the hierarchy has erred grievously in the past on many matters, for example: treatment of the Jews, torture under the Inquisition, Galileo, toleration of slavery, belief in the divine rights of kings to rule.

Why should we believe that now they are immune from making errors? It is difficult for the hierarchy to reform themselves because they are intolerant of dissent among those financially dependent on the Church, which includes most professional theologians.

On the other hand, most of us lay people are not so muzzled. If our conscience so dictates, we should criticize. One way is by writing letters to The Voice. Of course, they should be civil and eschew name-calling.

One area deserving heavy criticism is the Vatican’s refusal to deal with the shrinking size of the clergy. The solution is obvious — opening the priesthood to women and/or married clergy. Yet the Vatican’s objections to women priests are, frankly, silly and the objections to married priests not very persuasive. But any current clergy are absolutely forbidden to support the concept of women priests.

Robert Zanger
Concord


Vocation of laity


Regarding the articles on lay ecclesial ministers (Voice, Jan. 11), the Holy Father, visiting a Roman parish recently, cautioned against viewing the laity as mere collaborators of the clergy. The dignity of a lay person does not depend on his or her proximity to the ordained.

An undue emphasis on lay ecclesial ministry blurs the distinction between lay and ordained. Ecclesial ministers are by definition the ordained; their office is exercised within the Church, principally through the sacraments.

Certainly lay people can and should be involved in parish ministries, and in some cases it is appropriate for them to receive a stipend for doing so (1 Tim 5:18), but the lay office is primarily oriented outward. Most Catholics are called to witness to Christ in the world, not in the parish. Lay people have a reach far beyond that of the clergy. They are called to evangelize through their secular professions and associations and marriages, but we still tend to view the laity as less important if not involved in parish ministries.

Should bishops be committing their limited financial resources to the formation and hiring of Lay Ecclesial Ministers when the more urgent need is in areas such as marriage preparation and support, promoting priestly and religious vocations, and adult faith formation?

“Today,” writes author George Sim Johnston, “many Catholics (including some bishops) seem to think that Vatican II was about the role of the laity in the Church — Eucharistic ministers, lectors, and so forth. But it was really about the role of the laity in the world. The true Catholic life is one of personal conversion and evangelization; it does not involve hanging around the sacristy.”

I am a catechist and RCIA coordinator outside of my professional work; there is no need to call myself a lay ecclesial minister. If, God willing, I am saved, it will be principally through my vocation as a married man, not my service to the parish. We must be careful not to confuse personal vocations or ministerial roles with states of life.

John Knutsen
Berkeley


Value of boys’ singing


Thank you for your coverage of “Boys Can Sing” at All Saints Church in Hayward (Voice, March 8). This yearly event by Catholic schools and the Golden Gate Boys Choir is a treat to experience.

As a youth at Saint Joachim Church in Hayward, I began to appreciate the liturgy through the children’s choir and later as a lector and cantor. So began my vocation to become a diocesan priest.

Father Fernando J. Cortez
Parochial vicar
Saint Leander Parish
San Leandro


Letters to the editor provide a forum for readers to engage in an open exchange of opinions and concerns in a climate of respect and civil discourse. The opinions expressed are those of the writers, and not necessarily of the Catholic Voice or the Diocese of Oakland. While a full spectrum of opinions will sometimes include those which dissent from Church teaching or contradict the natural moral law, it is hoped that this forum will help our readers to understand better others’ thinking on critical issues facing the Church at this time.

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