"The journey of liturgical renewal is only in its early phases" – Archbishop Coleridge

HT to Peterand to Athanasius for putting me onto this statement by Archbishop Coleridge (late of Melbourne) to his flock in Canberra-Goulburn, in which he also makes the point that

Bowing is the preferred gesture, but those who are accustomed to genuflect before receiving or to kneel to receive will be free to follow their custom.

I think that, in legal terms, there is a body of authoritative interpretation of the canon developing here upon which we can rely. Probably the freedom to chose the exact action (head bow, profound bow, genuflection or kneeling) is intended in the broad category of the word “bow”. I believe this method of interpretation has its authority from Monty Python’s “Life of Brian”, where it was stated that Jesus’ words “Blessed are the cheese-makers” was not to be interpreted narrowly, but applies equally to all manufacturers of dairy products…

More significant, however, is His Grace’s comments on the journey of liturgical renewal begun with Vatican II:

The new version of General Instruction is one of a number of indications that the Church is moving into a new phase of the ongoing journey of liturgical renewal, the roots of which reach back to the Second Vatican Council and beyond. In earlier times, it seemed that the process of liturgical renewal begun by the Council was complete. But that is not the case. The journey of liturgical renewal, we can now see, is only in its early phases, and the appearance of the General Instruction is one indication of this. Other still more important indications will be the appearance in the not too distant future of the new translation of the Roman Missal and the new translation of the Lectionary. Now is the time, the Spirit is saying to the Church, to take stock of the liturgical renewal of the last forty years, to discern as clearly as possible what has succeeded and what has failed, and to make adjustments in the light of that discernment.

It is certainly curious how some liturgical “experts” seem to have assumed that what was done in the 1970’s somehow or other was carved in stone, much like the traditionalist assumptions of the Tridentine rite whom they love to ridicule for making exactly the same assumptions!

His comments on language are also spot on (as one would expect from someone working directly on the new translations for the English missal):

When the Fathers of the Second Vatican Council approved the use of the vernacular languages in the liturgy, they had no idea of what was on the way. They imagined that some parts of the liturgy would move into English (in our case), but that Latin would remain in general the language of worship. …[I]t seemed that the Church went from Latin to English overnight. Some in the Church have continued to worship in Latin – as is their right – but most are happy to have moved into English. At the same time, it does not have to be a stark choice of one or the other. In the Cathedral [in Canberra] at least…the Kyrie is sung at times in Greek, and the Common of the Mass, the Gloria and the Creed are sung at times in Latin. Similarly some of the great hymns of the Gregorian repertoire – especially the Marian anthems – are sung at times. It would be a pity if such a heritage were wholly lost to us.

To be sure!

His comments on music are certainly noteworthy:

Some of the texts used are also decidedly feeble and even at times questionable theologically. [He can say that again!] Historically, the Roman Rite used only the Psalms in the Eucharistic liturgy: hence the Entrance and Communion Antiphons which were sung with the Psalms and accompanied the Entrance and Communion Processions. [And it is a great pity that we do not today have a way of singing these properly.] …I might add that the Holy See has asked Bishops’ Conferences around the world to draw up a list of music approved for use in worship. This is part of a pruning process of the repertoire that has built up over the last forty years, and it is already taking place in Australia.

Yes, I know that this process is continuing, in fact, I have often dropped in on the meetings of the Australian committee to whom this work has been charged. This little group of three meets here in the same building in which I work, and believe me, they have their work cut out for them. They are attempting to do two tasks: First, to draw up a draft list of song for the Bishops according to the Holy See’s request; and Second, to come up with a new hymnody resource for the Australian Churches. One of the members told me especially of the frustration of there being so few really decent hymns and songs for the Entrance and Communion. We will all experience this dearth in the next few weeks at the Feast of Corpus Christi (I am on music in that day in my parish, and believe me the choice is not good…)

But I do wonder about this comment from the good bishop:

It is worth recalling too that singing or music should not be prolonged unnecessarily. In the Roman Rite, singing or music tends to accompany action rather than stand in its own right. Therefore, the music or singing should stop once the action is complete.

Well, maybe. Depends on the hymn. Some hymns don’t make sense if you stop it after verse two, when all verses are integral to the sense of the whole. On the other hand, I did have this experience at mass yesterday when we were singing Farrell’s “Praise to you, O Christ our Saviour” for the Entrance–it did go on too long and could have been cut down.

I might pick up a couple of Archbishop Mark’s other points later in the day, but for the moment, here is a question Athanasius suggested I pose for you all. If you were making a list of hymns to be sent to the Holy See, which would you insist were put in and which would you insist were left off (ie. FORBIDDEN!). That’s a big question, so limit yourselves a bit, eh?

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9 Responses to "The journey of liturgical renewal is only in its early phases" – Archbishop Coleridge

  1. Victoria says:

    It would seem that each bishop is deciding for his flock how to interpret the instruction. My own archbishop wants us to give a bow of the head; sort of a ‘g’day Jesus’.

  2. Peregrinus says:

    Not going to mention specific hymns, but I do have a couple of thoughts to offer.

    First, a big driver in the heated debates that take place on this question seems to be to be individual aesthetic preferences. My aesthetic preferences are as strong as the next man’s – I’d rather drive knitting-needles into my eyeballs than attend a folk mass – but I don’t assume they are shared by God, and I certainly don’t feel entitled to impose them on the church at large. And yet, I get the impression, it is difficult having this discussion and not having it dominated by the subjective preferences of the participants.

    Secondly, could I be really heretical and suggest that this exercise might be misconceived? A big driver of whether a particular song is suitable for congregational singing should surely be whether the congregation will happily sing it. If they won’t, I don’t care how impeccably orthodox and theologically fitting the lyrics are; the song is not suitable. The congregation’s attitude, in turn, is driven by a variety of factors, including how technically demanding the song is, aesthetic/style considerations (yes, I know, they’re subjective, but we are talking about the community rather than individuals), and how much the like the lyrics.

    Famously, there is no explicit mention of God in the Song of Songs, though it is pretty explicit about certain other matters. Why do we regard it as scriptural? Well, because the Jews did. And why did they? I have read a theory – I have no idea how well-evidenced this is – that it was a bottom-up development. The work was popular with congregations, and much in use, especially at weddings. Therefore, it came to be read in the synagogues. Therefore, it was scriptural.

    I’m not suggesting that some graphic rap number should be included in the hymnals simply because it is popular, but the bottom line is that if the people of God find a particular song fitting for singing liturgically, and like to sing it, perhaps that should be our first and greatest criterion of suitability.

  3. Schütz says:

    As I have said before, Perry, “In necessariis unitas, in dubiis libertas, in omnibus caritas”. We need to remember that while Esther and Song of Songs do not mention God, they both came close to being excluded because they did not.

    Sometime the merit that a particular song has in one aspect may outweigh what it lacks in another aspect. That’s fair enough, and was certainly the case with these two canonical books.

    But in matters of “necessity” we do need to draw the line somewhere, and I think we could draw the line at those songs which contain dubious or outright false doctrines.

  4. Peregrinus says:

    Fair enough. I think, though, we need to make some allowance for the poetic use of language, and of course the constraints imposed by the requirements of rhyme and metre. The fact that a particular lyric could be interpreted in a heterodox fashion, or as a misrepresentation or distortion of some truth of the faith, need not be decisive.

    ‘Course, maybe I just haven’t been exposed to the kind of hymns that are bothering you!

  5. Athanasius says:

    Regarding hymns, these are my personal and aesthetic preferences.

    One I’d get rid of is “Gather Us In”. I’ve never been able to figure out what it has to do with God.

    One I’d like to hear more of is “Firmly I believe and Truly”, an old Newman composition. It brings back some really good memories of primary school.

    And of course, I’d have to have “We Stand for God and for His Glory”. It’s easy to sing and sounds great. It’s also an excellent drinking song that we’d do well to introduce to a new generation of uni students.

  6. Christine says:

    “Gather Us In”, arrrrghhh! That one should most definitely be consigned to the discard heap along with “Sing a New Church” and other such triteness.

    Three that simply MUST be on the “keep” list are “Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence,” “At the Lamb’s High Feast We Sing” and “All Glory, Laud and Honor.” Fortunately we still sing them at my parish. At Easter we also sing “This Is the Feast” from the Lutheran hymnals. I still love it and would like to see it retained.

  7. Joshua says:

    A good measure, as Perry says, is what is actually popular – but I apply this to some of the few hymns that actually do awake the congregation from its slumber: these include Christmas carols, and such old favourites as “Hail Queen of Heaven”, etc.

    At the Pro., we’ve successfully introduced “Crown Him with many crowns”, which has a great message and good tune.

    Most Wesley hymns would also pass the singability test.

    As any musician worth his salt (or hers) will tell you, most modern worship songs are in fact worse musically even than they are theologically.

    If the sound of the congregation singing is thin and disinterested, best retire that ‘song’.

    It seems to me that it would be better to sing only a small repertoire, yet sing out with gusto, than sing many items many of which just don’t captivate.

    That said, nothing is sadder than what you find in some parishes, a small collection of the most dated ’70’s generic hymns and songs sung year round with hardly a difference between the liturgical seasons.

    But just to show I am not completely stuffy: I actually like some of the St Louis Jesuit stuff, like “Eagle’s wings”! (Don’t tell the Traddies, they’ll expell me from their fellowship.) That’s not to say I’d sing it at Mass, but it is quite singable and scriptural, being based on the magnificent Psalm 90(91).

  8. Schütz says:

    Eagle’s Wings is okay once you straighten out the metre–but the way it is written is actually unsingable. Thankfully, most parishioners can’t read music and naturally make the corrections that the composer should have made.

  9. Schütz says:

    My other beef with Eagles Wings is it is another of those “Us prentending to be God singing to Us” songs so common in modern Catholic song (but non-existent in Wesley and Luther and Ambrose and Aquinas etc.).

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