Jul 15, 2002

The "Usual Article" Revisited, and Revisited, and… Liturgical Conference Avoids New Guides for Renewal

Online Edition – Vol. VIII, No. 5: July-August 2002

The "Usual Article" Revisited, and Revisited, and… Liturgical Conference Avoids New Guides for Renewal 

by Susan Benofy 

G. K. Chesterton, after reading a piece in a newspaper that the editor had described as "an unusual article", expressed his exasperation in an essay he called "The Usual Article":

Needless to say, before I had read five lines of the unusual article I knew it was a satisfactory sample of the usual article…. I had read the article before, of course — thousands and thousands of times (as it seems to me) — and had always found it the same; but never before, somehow, had it seemed so exactly the same…. It is not only too usual; it has become intolerably, insupportably, unbearably usual…. And I beg to announce that, though I am of a heavy and placid habit, and have never been accused of any such feminine graces as hysteria, yet if I have to read this article three more times, I shall scream.

We know exactly how he felt. On almost any topic having to do with the Liturgy, the "usual articles" abound. The same prescriptions for "renewing" the Liturgy have been given over and over again, in thousands of articles appearing in the usual magazines, newsletters and bulletin inserts for almost forty years. Despite the unusual developments concerning the Liturgy recently, the usual authors of the usual articles travel the country giving the usual advice at the usual conferences and workshops, held in virtually every diocese.

For example, Varietates legitimae (Legitimate variations), on the inculturation of the Liturgy, was issued in 1994 by the Congregation for Divine Worship (CDW), the Fourth Instruction on the Right Application of the Constitution on the Liturgy of the Second Vatican Council.

In 1997, eight Vatican dicasteries (offices) jointly issued Ecclesiae de mysterio, Instruction on Certain Questions Regarding the Collaboration of the Non-ordained Faithful in the Sacred Ministry of the Priest (August 15, 1997).

In 2000 Pope John Paul II approved the third typical edition of the Roman Missal since the Council, with its revised rules for celebration of Mass, the Institutio Generalis Missalis Romani (known as GIRM, or General Instruction of the Roman Missal), although official publication was delayed until March 2002.

Last May, a document on liturgical translation of fundamental importance, Liturgiam authenticam (Authentic Liturgy), the Fifth Instruction for the Right Implementation of the Constitution on the Liturgy, was approved by the Pope and released by the CDW in May 2001.

Its introduction says: "This Instruction … envisions and seeks to prepare for a new era of liturgical renewal, which is consonant with the qualities and the traditions of the particular Churches, but which safeguards also the faith and the unity of the whole Church of God" (Introduction §7, emphasis added).

Implementation of these documents would bring significant changes in the Liturgy. Indeed, they herald a "new era" in liturgical renewal. Yet, the usual liturgists do not show their usual eagerness to implement these reforms. Instead, they complain that people misunderstand them. They warn against "premature" implementation and "confusion" about what the new rules mean. They complain of "Vatican interference" in the affairs of the American Church.

And they continue to produce the usual articles and address the usual conferences, as if they hope ignoring the changes will make them go away.

"Creative ideas for liturgical leadership"

One of these usual conferences held early this year advertised "creative ideas for liturgical leadership" and "techniques to dramatically change" your choir.

The Gateway Liturgical Conference is held annually in Saint Louis and sponsored by the Archdiocesan Office of Worship. This year it was co-sponsored by the local chapter of the National Association of Pastoral Musicians (NPM), the Center for Liturgy at Saint Louis University and the Archdiocesan Office of Continuing Formation of Priests.

Conference speakers included musicians, scholars and pastors from the area and across the country. The conference was attended by more than 400 people, who came from all four dioceses in Missouri and from two neighboring states.

Such a conference would have afforded a perfect opportunity to explain the latest liturgical documents to hundreds of priests and lay people active in liturgy.

The opportunity was missed, however. Instead the emphasis was on one of the usual documents.

The conference title, "Celebrations That Nourish and Deepen Faith", was taken from Music in Catholic Worship, a 1972 statement of the US Bishops’ Committee on the Liturgy (BCL). It was a revision of "The Place of Music in Eucharistic Celebrations" (PMEC), a 1967 statement of an advisory board with no bishop members.

The PMEC, as revised by the Federation of Diocesan Liturgical Commissions (FDLC), was adopted by the BCL in 1972, re-titled Music in Catholic Worship, and published with the approval of the Bishops’ Administrative Committee.

Music in Catholic Worship was never presented to the full conference for vote. Like a similar statement, Environment and Art in Catholic Worship, it has no official authority.

Despite the imminent publication of the third typical edition of the Roman Missal (and the IGMR), the Gateway Liturgical Conference ignored it. Instead the conference focused primarily on MCW’s outdated prescriptions for liturgical music — views dating from before the very first official books for the post-Conciliar Rite of Mass ever appeared.

No session at the 2002 Gateway Conference was devoted to any of the most recent important liturgical documents.

The Usual Keynote

Two full sessions of the Gateway Conference were devoted to Music in Catholic Worship (MCW). The primacy of the assembly and the "priesthood of all the baptized" was stressed in both sessions.

The keynote address considered the theology of celebration contained in MCW, and a "break-out" session dealt with MCW’s advice on planning liturgy. Both were presented by Father Paul Philibert, OP, Distinguished Visiting Professor of Church and Society at Aquinas Institute of Theology in Saint Louis.

Father Philibert began by calling musicians "architects of beauty in our parishes", who are "attentive that the entire assembly must try with all their might to try to make symbols of transcendence, symbols of the power of God’s presence". The assembly’s role in the Mass was so central, in the speaker’s view, that he believes that the biggest threat to good celebration of Mass is deficiency in the motives of the people who come.

Among the "deficient motives", according to Father Philibert, are fear of penalty, and coming to Mass only for one’s own fulfillment. In the "self-fulfillment" category he includes people who come to church seeking transcendence, which he believes demonstrates an unwholesome tendency toward "individualistic piety" –an idea commonly found in the usual article.

Father Philibert believes that there are two actions of the Holy Spirit at Mass. Twice we pray that the Holy Spirit will come: first, to make the bread and wine the Body and Blood of Christ; second, that we become "one body, one spirit in Christ".

The first action of the Spirit is for the sake of the second, according to Father Philibert. The transubstantiation of the elements into the Body of Christ, he maintains, is for the sake of the people who will be changed by eating them. Each is followed by an Amen. The first Amen is about gathering the Church; the second is about scattering. The most profound aspect of the Eucharist, he said, is missio, being sent. The focus is always on us, the assembly.

"The transubstantiation of the elements into the Body and Blood of Christ is for the sake of feeding a people who will be changed by eating them….. We invoke the Spirit: "Make of these gifts – our gifts, we brought them. We brought the bread; we brought the wine; we brought ourselves; we brought our gifts. We brought our lives; we brought our stories; we brought our hungers; we brought our hopes; we brought the entire context of our work, our family, our communities. We brought that. We gathered it. We pray: ‘Holy Spirit come upon it; make of all of this – bread, wine, lives, gifts, talents, hopes, dreams, promise – make of all of this the Body and Blood of Christ’. The first Amen.

"And the second Amen is about the scattering. May those now transformed by the eating of this Body and Blood, may those – as we heard last night from Saint Augustine in our celebration in the College Church – may those who understand that their mystery is in the bread, that their mystery is in the cup, that what has been offered to the Father is the head with all the members; that what has been offered to the Father is the Sacrifice of Christ on Calvary with all the sacrifices of this day, this life, these years, these works. May they be one body, one spirit in Christ now scattered in mission. Sending out into the world living members who live in the spirit of the risen Jesus as His Body in the world….We are becoming a sacrament of the Body of Christ".

It is true that we offer ourselves at Mass, and we are in some way transformed by the grace inherent in the Holy Eucharist. But our transformation is not to be confused with the transubstantiation of the elements of bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Christ. Yet the view that both the elements and the congregation are to be "transformed" equally, without distinction, is commonplace in the "usual article". The Liturgy must be planned so that these transformations can happen, of course.

Liturgy planning with the "usual documents"

Music in Catholic Worship along with a supplement to it, Liturgical Music Today (LMT), were the principal documents used in a session on general liturgical planning. Both were treated as if they were authoritative liturgical documents, which they are not.

According to Father Philibert, in these documents "planning" means choosing for beauty, clarity and excellence. His definition of excellence emphasizes the role of the people. He says that excellent liturgy enacts the mystery that is the people who worship. "Role differentiation" is an important principle. If someone does another’s office, for example, if the "presider" does all the readings, this principle is transgressed: "It is a wound in the celebration in that it destroys the symbolism of the people’s Eucharist".

MCW §34 stresses that music must be within the performance capability of the congregation. In Father Philibert’s opinion, the music must be matched to the congregation’s ability, understanding or culture. It is necessary to understand, he says, that "it is the voice of the assembly that is the dominant and theologically the most important voice that needs to be heard".

He told this audience, largely made up of choir directors, cantors and instrumentalists, that the higher the performance standard of the cantor and choir is, the lower the investment of the congregation becomes. This implies that musicians should avoid doing their best; that a mediocre performance by the choir and cantor will somehow elicit excellence in the congregation’s singing.

This paradox exemplifies one of the main problems caused by the "usual documents". MCW and similar statements are often deemed normative applications of authoritative liturgical documents to the particular situation of the US. Although the "usual article" generally presents these as independent works with no reference to the original documents they were supposed to implement, in fact, the provisions of MCW and LMT often contradict the originals.

For example, the principal post-Conciliar instruction devoted to music is Musicam Sacram (Sacred Music), issued by the Sacred Congregation of Rites in 1967. Musicum Sacram seldom appears in the usual article. It was never mentioned at the Gateway Liturgical Conference.

Official liturgical documents say that the purpose of sacred music is to give glory to God and to sanctify and edify the people. They encourage choirs and high standards of performance. All this is in keeping with a basic religious instinct that only the best should be offered to God. Musicam Sacram and other authoritative documents emphasize that Gregorian chant is the music proper to the Roman rite, and they stress that the music at the Liturgy must be truly sacred music. But the usual article treats these provisions as contradicting the Council’s call for "active participation" of the laity, which justifies ignoring them.

"Polly Parrot" Participation

This emphasis on the people’s participation in the singing involves another paradox: the view that participation is best accomplished by limiting the congregation’s part to mere repetition of a refrain, while the choir or cantor sings all the verses.

It is usually recommended, for example, that the Communion song have a "simple refrain" so that the people will not be "burdened with books" during the Communion procession. The responsorial Psalm relegates the role of the congregation to a simple response refrain, and many liturgists recommend the same arrangement for the Entrance hymn.

Some composers go so far as to impose this simple refrain style on the Gloria, as well, by inserting a refrain into the text, which is usually a paraphrase of the actual words of the Gloria. The Agnus Dei has suffered the same treatment, with assorted improvised lines (tropes) sung by the choir ("Prince of Peace", "Lord of Life", etc., replacing "Lamb of God"), to which the congregation is expected to respond, "Have mercy on us". (The usual article recommends extending this throughout the breaking of the bread.)

In his address, Father Philibert put such rigorous emphasis on the "simple refrains" that it provoked a protest from one participant.

"I am beginning to feel like a Polly Parrot", she said. "Sing this one little line and then shut up".

Father Philibert seemed to acknowledge that if the verses are always sung by a cantor it might prevent the congregation from "engaging the text"; nevertheless, he continued to defend the refrain method because of its "dialogic aspects".

Official documents from the Holy See (both before and after the Council) state that all Catholics should know how to sing the Ordinary of the Mass (Kyrie, Gloria, Credo, Sanctus and Agnus Dei as well as some short responses and the Lord’s Prayer) in a simple Gregorian chant setting. If this approach to music were followed, the people would almost certainly do more singing (and sing much better music) than the usual congregation that is confined to repeating the usual simple refrains.

The obsession with refrains extends even to the Eucharistic Prayer. Liturgists advocate inserting refrains into the text so that the people intermittently interrupt the Canon of the Mass. Father Philibert is among them. He noted that such refrains are permitted in a Eucharistic Prayer approved for use in Masses with children.

Although the rules restrict the use of this prayer for use only when children form a majority of the congregation, Father Philibert said it can be used whenever there are children present in the congregation – including what he termed "grown children".

The usual article routinely advocates the insertion of "acclamations" into the Eucharistic Prayer in adult Masses. The major Catholic music publishers offer a number of musical settings by popular composers that insert these acclamations into the principal Eucharistic Prayers. Many parishes are using these illicit settings.

This is hardly surprising. Parish musicians and liturgy planning teams are far better acquainted with the views repeated incessantly in the usual article than with the actual provisions of authoritative instructions on the Mass and liturgical music. Understandably, they assume such innovations are permitted — especially when so many lecturers, publications and conferences, often sponsored by dioceses, so vigorously promote them.

Musical Multi-culturalism

An oft-cited feature of Music in Catholic Worship is its "three-fold judgment" to be applied to the Liturgy: the musical, the pastoral and the liturgical.

According to Father Philibert, the "musical judgment" should reflect age groups and cultural groups. Sociologists, he says, have determined that many young adults reject a church if it does not have some leader (such as a reader or cantor) of their own age group. He speculates that the same is true of cultural groups. The "music of the group" should be used as a "powerful symbol" showing that the entire community "embraces" the special group, he says.

Father Philibert’s favorable disposition towards those who demand "my kind" of music or evidence of people "like me" in leadership roles contrasts sharply with his attitude toward worshippers who "seek transcendence". The community must adopt music and policies to "embrace" the former; but the latter are not to be accommodated because their "individualistic" piety is a "deficient motive" and a serious threat to "good" celebrations.

He pushes the "multi-cultural" idea further. A selection of music in diverse languages should be used even in a parish of a single ethnicity because, according to Father Philibert, the music should symbolize ecclesial universality. Every parish should use music showing they are part of a universal Church – one with the Body of Christ, he says.

Is it an accident that he overlooks the possibilities inherent in the universal language of the Catholic Church throughout the ages? Clearly he does not mean that every parish should have a minimum repertoire of Gregorian chant, as the Council envisioned.

Is the Universal Church just a collection of contemporary factions divided by age, ethnicity, etc.? He seems to believe that "universality" is best demonstrated not by a few simple chants in the ancient language of the Church, but by a kind of medley of assorted modern languages and current styles of music that would "embrace" all factions.

Although Father Philibert briefly mentioned chant, any specific chants he recommends are settings of new, English words to chant melodies, or examples from Taizé, an ecumenical monastic community in France.

Innovations for Children

Two other sessions at the Gateway Liturgical Conference focused on Masses for children and on youth ministry.

The session on children focused on another document from the early years of the reform: The Directory for Masses with Children. This document, issued by the CDW in 1973, is a supplement to the GIRM and appears in all altar Missals. It explains certain adaptations that may be made when children who have not yet reached pre-adolescence form a majority of the congregation, such as at a parochial elementary school. It also gives some suggestions for children in the ordinary parish situation, a congregation including both children and adults.

The presentation was given by Sister Cathy Doherty, SSND, chairman of the Commission for Sacred Liturgy for the Archdiocese of Saint Louis, and a parish "pastoral associate". Sister Cathy explored ways to approach the mystery of the Redemption with children, and throughout her presentation she stressed that the purpose of the adaptation of the Mass for children was to help them pray better. A laudable aim.

But some specific recommendations may advance that aim – and some suggestions seem to go beyond what is actually in the Directory. One of these ideas was that children might mime or act out a Scripture reading.

The Directory §47 suggests that different children may read different parts in certain scriptural texts – comparable to the reading of the Passion during Holy Week. That is, there might be several children involved, but they would read the Scripture, not perform a play.

A handout given to conference participants gave other suggestions. These include singing the acclamations provided in the special Eucharistic Prayer for Masses with Children, and, as usual, standing throughout the Eucharistic Prayer because we are "resurrectional people".

The justification for standing during the Eucharistic Prayer has nothing to do with the particular needs of children. They are not more "resurrectional" than adults. The practice, in fact, violates the particular norm for the United States, which is kneeling throughout the entire Eucharistic Prayer. What happened to the concern for unity?

Such ideas are hardly unusual, however. They have been advanced with tiresome regularity for years. But no one seems to ask if such devices work. Does acting out the readings and adding extra acclamations during the Eucharistic Prayer really help children to pray better? Does it confuse children when they are told to follow one set of rubrics in Masses in which the congregation is mostly children, and another set for regular celebrations?

Is it just a coincidence that innovations such as inserting acclamations into the Eucharistic Prayer and standing throughout the Eucharistic Prayer, justified by the supposed special needs of children, are practices that the usual liturgists wish to introduce into universal use?

As far as we know there are no formal surveys on the success of the Directory for Masses with Children, but, since the Directory is almost thirty years old, shouldn’t there be some evaluation of how successful it has been?

A key question: Do Catholics under thirty have a particularly strong understanding of the Mass or a particular love for it as a result of the special modifications in the Mass they experienced as children?

Apparently not. At least this seems to be the view of those concerned with youth ministry who say that there is a serious problem with adolescents and young adults not participating in their parishes.

Embracing Youth?

The topic of youth ministry was addressed at the Gateway Conference by David Haas, of the Emmaus Center for Music, Prayer and Ministry in Eagan, Minnesota, — "preeminent liturgical composer", according to the conference brochure.

Haas began his own career as a liturgical musician while still in his teens. He stressed some of the same points as Father Philibert – especially that the assembly is the primary minister of the Liturgy, and the idea that Liturgy is a "dismissal" for mission.

Haas lamented that Confirmation used to be a celebration of entrance into the Church, but now, with the lack of teen involvement, it seems to be a celebration of exit from the Church. Youth, says Haas, claim to be bored at Mass. Perhaps so, though wasn’t modifying the Mass for children supposed to avoid this?

Although many parishes have separate teen Masses (e.g. "LifeTeen"), Haas does not advocate these. Instead, he recommends that youth be included in the regular parish liturgies, and invited to "share their gifts". They should be "mentored", he said, to be active in various liturgical roles. Teenagers could serve quite well as members of the choir, as cantors or as readers. Moreover, Haas is most insistent that teens also be involved in liturgy planning. Liturgy planning presupposes a basic knowledge of the Liturgy, however. If, as seems likely, youth who are bored at Mass lack such basic knowledge, what would their contribution to planning Masses be likely to be?

Haas said he thinks it unfortunate that the tradition is not being passed on; that people go through their entire lives never hearing hymns such as the Pange Lingua. We agree; but such hymns were abandoned after the Council as a result of demands by liturgists.

The view that we must "embrace" youth (or other special groups) by using "their own" preferences in musical styles at Mass contributed enormously to the utter abandonment of the Catholic tradition of sacred music in the years following the Council.

The Pange Lingua in particular has few features to recommend it to one who plans liturgies according to the prescriptions of Music in Catholic Worship. It does not have a simple refrain. And since it has not been taught for forty years, it is no longer something that people know well. In addition, MCW §62 insists (erroneously) that songs that "emphasize adoration … are not suitable" as Communion songs.

Haas himself, in his book, Music and the Mass: A Practical Guide for Ministers of Music (Chicago: Liturgy Training Publications, 1998) rigorously stresses the communal nature of Holy Communion. He says "our communities have not been catechized well about the communal dimension of the real presence of Christ". Like MCW, he specifically objects to music "composed for adoration of the blessed sacrament" being used "during an action that is not adoration, but communal sharing" (p. 104). Suitable songs, says Haas, are those that "focus on themes of banquet, meal, sharing and the ‘goodness of the Lord’" (p. 105).

This "usual" advice is given in every popular guide to planning the Mass. Virtually all traditional Eucharistic hymns were thus treated as forbidden for use at Mass. Those whose liturgical ideas are formed by the usual guides would be given the impression that the Pange Lingua was a part of the tradition that had been abandoned by the liturgical reform and was not worth passing on. If a young person asked to learn it, would he be considered a seeker after transcendence and thus a danger to "good celebrations"?

Seeking the Sacred
There are, in fact, indications that more and more young people are, indeed, seeking transcendence in worship. A few years ago, a recording of Gregorian chant soared to "platinum" status on the Pop Charts, astonishing nearly everyone. It is also the case that parishes with more solemnly celebrated Masses are attracting not only "nostalgic" older Catholics, but young people who have no memory whatsoever of the time before the Council.

The latest documents on the Liturgy from the Holy See make it very clear that the reform of the Liturgy intended by the Second Vatican Council did not intend to remove the transcendent from the Liturgy. Far from it. "Active participation", a phrase first used by Pope Saint Pius X, actually meant that the people should be involved more deeply — more intensely and more personally — in the solemn action of the Mass.

The new Institutio Generalis of the Missal reiterates the preference for Gregorian Chant, stresses the need for sacred silence at times during the Mass (and even before), and specifies that all worshippers are to make a gesture of reverence before receiving Communion. The approved "American adaptations" include kneeling throughout the Eucharistic prayer.

Liturgiam authenticam‘s norms for translation emphasize the need for a more distinctively sacral language in liturgical and scriptural translations. It reminds us that the Liturgy is governed by the Holy See and the bishops, not by liturgical experts or parish planning committees.

Varietates legitimae explains which adaptations may be made to the Liturgy and the formal process by which such changes are to be approved by the Holy See.

In order to implement these provisions it will be necessary to reevaluate the usual assumptions of liturgical experts, and the effect of the various adaptations and innovations that they have succeeded in introducing into the Liturgy.

A New Approach for a New Era

Especially in light of the new documents and the need to implement them, the "usual article" on Liturgy has truly become "intolerably, insupportably, unbearably usual". A glimpse of a very different approach was revealed in a woman’s remark at the end of the Gateway Conference’s session on liturgical planning:

"I just wanted to make a comment, and I’m old enough that my liturgical education and formation happened before this Music in Catholic Worship. But I was extremely graced to grow up under one of the giants of the liturgical movement. And I lived in a very common, very ordinary parish — working class people, not something connected to a university. And it can be done. You can have a wonderfully worshipping community, but it takes passion on the part of your priest, I think, primarily, before anything else. And if the priest has that passion he can make it happen.

"I’ve since lived in various parishes. But nowhere have I lived that came anywhere close to the level of what I grew up with".

She did not name her pastor, but he was almost certainly Monsignor Martin Hellriegel, pastor of Holy Cross in Saint Louis — a "very ordinary parish" that became famous for its Liturgy before the Second Vatican Council and for a few years after it. There were no "children’s Masses". Adults and children together sang the Mass in Gregorian chant, and together celebrated the liturgical year. There were no teen Masses, but apparently "boredom" among young people was not a problem there. In fact, students from all over the area sought out the liturgies at Holy Cross. There was even an ecumenical dimension, as noted by Father Richard John Neuhaus, a former Lutheran pastor who is editor of First Things:

"In the latter part of the 1950s, we Lutherans from Concordia Seminary would hang out at Holy Cross, in the hope of catching a glimpse of what might be, of what should be, of what could be" [Antiphon 6:2 (2001)].

But Monsignor Hellriegel was "grievously disappointed toward the end of his life", Father Neuhaus writes.

"Surveying what had happened to the Liturgy in the years following the Second Vatican Council, he sadly shook his head, saying, ‘That is not what we meant. That is not what we meant at all’".

Now is the time, with new Roman Missal at hand, to evaluate honestly what has been done in the name of reform since the Council. It is past time to move beyond the "usual article" and the "usual expert". Serious study and resolve to implement the new documents could give us, at last, the renewed, invigorated, beautiful and powerful Liturgy that Monsignor Hellriegel — and the fathers of the Second Vatican Council — did mean.


Susan Benofy , who attended the Gateway Conference, has a doctorate in physics and a life-long interest in liturgical music. She is the research editor of the Adoremus Bulletin.

Helen Hull Hitchcock and Katie Garner contributed to this essay.



Susan Benofy

Susan Benofy received her doctorate in physics from Saint Louis University. She was formerly Research Editor of Adoremus Bulletin.