Musical Disharmony over Pope's Visit

Newsflash: Not everything about planning a papal Mass is love and sunlight. Namely, debates about the music that will be sung there.

A small crowd of serious Catholic music traditionalists went on a tear in the last few days after a list of pieces was posted on the Web purporting to be the Mass musical line-up - but which was apparently incomplete. After the list went up last week, Catholics who believe church music has veered too far into entertainment (and away from tons of Gregorian chants) objected angrily on various blogs (here, and here) and reportedly sent a torrent of hateful emails to Thomas Stehle, director of the special papal choirs put together for the April 17 Mass.

The list didn't include any chants, which are "unmistakably sacred music," compared with the songs on the list, which are "basically theatrical - like Broadway," William Mahrt, president of the Church Music Association of America, told the Post. Mahrt, articulating the position of some church traditionalists, said this is part of "a longstanding battle" to return churches to Renaissance-era sacred music.

Some bloggers wrote that Catholics should be embarrassed and outraged that Benedict wouldn't be able to listen to chants and would instead be welcomed with "popular" music.

Then Stehle told the Post and the National Catholic Register that the list circulating isn't complete, and everyone should hold their horses until after Easter when he releases the final list.

Catholics "have to feel a sense of relief," Jeffrey Tucker, managing editor of the journal Sacred Music, told the Post.

Stay tuned for updates.

By Michelle Boorstein |  March 20, 2008; 8:45 PM ET
Previous: How Many Have Bailed Out of Catholicism? | Next: Face-to-Face with the Pontiff


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Michelle, I assume, because you reported on this subject, that you have read Sacrosanctum Concilium and Musica Sacram, which articulate the types of music proper to the Roman Mass. If so, the comment about "tons of Gregorian Chant" is a bit off. Sacrosanctum Concilium, the Vatican Council document governing the sacred liturgy, states that Gregorian Chant has "pride of place" and thus is the normative music for the Roman Mass. Moreover, this document requires the Catholic Faithful to learn to sing, in Latin, the chants of the Mass assigned to them. Unfortunately, for almost 40 years, this legislation was largely ignored, but due to the efforts of Pope Benedict and many faithful Catholics, Gregorian Chant is acquiring its rightful place in the Roman Mass as envisioned by the Council.

Posted by: Thomas McFadden | March 21, 2008 11:20 AM

Dear Ms. Boorstein,

It is unfortunate that many were less than charitable in their reactions to the published list. As in any movement, the loudest voices are usually the most strident and hence most interesting for journalists. I'm sure that Mr. Stehle received also many well reasoned and civilized emails as well. Most of the people I know in the movement that seeks to return truly sacred music to the Mass are of this type.

I might add that the list that found its way onto the Net was anything but incomplete. It may have been preliminary -- then why let anyone see it? -- but it was complete. I believe that is why so many of us were shocked to see that our nation's capital had planned to offer a musical setting of the Mass in which the pope himself has expressed concern. It would be, to say the least, an indication that Americans don't care what he thinks or want to send a combatitive message.

Posted by: Michael O'Connor | March 21, 2008 12:43 PM


Posted by: Less | April 14, 2008 12:22 AM

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