Thursday, March 3, 2011

A short history of the Hootenanny Mass & other absurdities... part 16

Letter to Harold “Hoot” and Annie Gibson cont. part 17


We are in the home stretch. Now we begin the rapid descent into liturgical silliness. The Benedictine abbey of Solesmes was destroyed during the French Revolution, only to be re-founded in 1832. There began a movement to restore classical Catholic practices, and to return to the style of worship common the Middle Ages.

Pope Leo XIII specifically asked the Benedictine Order of monks to lead the restoration of the Roman liturgy to its classic form. And why did the liturgy need reform? It had been overwhelmed by pop music. Granted, that pop music was written by the likes of Mozart, Haydn, Beethoven and that crowd, but it was still pop music and had little to do with the music that had come to us from the temple in Jerusalem and the early Church.

The Masses of the classical and romantic eras became great performance pieces that just happened to be hung on the skimpy skeleton of the Roman Catholic Mass. The Mass itself can take as little as a half hour. The music for Beethoven’s Missa Solemnis takes about 80 minutes. I remember the Masses of my youth when father and the congregation would have to sit as the choir sang an interminable Gloria or Credo. It was great music, very entertaining and inspiring but it had little to do with Calvary. Such grand spectacles still pass for traditionalism.

I remember a Mass a few years back that had Mozart’s Requiem as its musical accompaniment, one of the most beautiful and moving pieces of music ever written. I was a bit shocked when a lot of people got up and left the church during the Sanctus. Apparently Mozart died before finishing the whole Mass and others composed the rest using bits and pieces, some written by Mozart, some not. The real Mozart aficionados weren’t going to stay for the lesser parts of the Mass, like the Agnus Dei and all that stuff the priest was doing up at the altar, like making the Creator of the universe present in the form of bread and wine. The purpose of the Liturgical Movement of the 19th century was to return the Mass to its simplicity and timeless beauty after a couple centuries of such pious entertainments.

Remember all that American exceptionalism that I have spent the last three months explaining? Now I’d like to talk about a couple of exceptional Americans and their international post-war influence.

Monsignor Frederick Richard McManus was exactly the kind of person who embodied the American Church at its zenith. He was Massachusetts born and bread and attended the Second Vatican Council as an expert (peritus) on the liturgy and member of the council's Liturgy Commission. He wrote large hunks of the Vatican Council document “Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy” (Sacrosanctum Concilium). He was president of the Liturgical Conference from 1959–62 and again in 1964-65. He was key in establishing the Federation of Diocesan Commissions in 1968. He was a member of the International Commission on English in the Liturgy (ICEL) for most of its early history. He was brilliant and very influential in steering the Church in the direction he thought it should go. Among his many accomplishments, one affects us today more than any other. He presided at the first large public celebration of Eucharist facing the assembly, not including those said at papal Masses and some smaller experimental Masses. As far as I can tell, this was the first of its kind. It happened at the opening Mass of the 1962 Liturgical Week in Seattle where people had a “...quite unique opportunity to experience aggiornamento (an Italian word meaning “modernization”) It was the year of the Worlds Fair, Century 21, and the ubiquitous images of the Space Needle were a constant reminder of the future and what it might hold. The local Church joined wholeheartedly in the events of the exposition... And in August, at the Worlds Fair Arena, the Archdiocese of Seattle hosted a kind of liturgical Century 21: the 23rd annual North American Liturgical Week, a major instrument of liturgical renewal in the United States.”

There you have it all: modernity, the space needle, America, the worlds Fair and a non-papal Mass facing the people for the first time in a large, public, official Catholic event, and Boston’s own Father McManus doing the honors. The whole thing was seen as a kind of warm up for the Vatican council. “The theme for the week was ‘Thy Kingdom Come: Christian Hope in the Modern World’, and the link to the Council was not lost on the Holy Father, who sent his apostolic blessing to all the participants in the Liturgical Week... During the Liturgical Week, the people of Seattle had an opportunity to experience what the liturgy could be like... as a huge assembly gathered on three sides of the temporary altar in the Arena. A lay commentator stood at a lectern in the sanctuary, offering succinct explanations — in English! — of the various parts of the Mass. The choir was placed close to the altar, not in a far off gallery; and the people joined in the spoken and sung responses and in the singing of hymns. It was a little taste of the future.” (refer to “Liturgy Notes”, newsletter of the Seattle Cathedral Liturgy Office, article by Corinna Laughlin, Director of Liturgy.) So there you have it. Father, later Monsignor, McManus and his associates had decided that the early Church must have faced the congregation. They were experts, after all.

Rembert Weakland is our next exceptional American. He entered the Benedictines in 1945 and was solemnly professed at Solesmes Abbey in France, where the Liturgical Movement had begun around 1832. He studied music in Europe, Columbia University and the Juilliard School and went on to teach music. In 1964, Pope Paul VI appointed him consultor to the Commission for Implementing the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy. He became abbot primate of the Benedictine order in 1967 and later archbishop of Milwaukee whence he ended his remarkable and distinguished career beginning his retirement in 2002. There is a particular part of his distinguished career that should interest us in our search for the origins of the hootenanny Mass...

Weakland served as President of the Church Music Association of America, and as chairman of its Music Advisory Board, a committee formed in 1965 to assist the Bishops’ Committee on the Liturgy. At its February 1966 meeting, the Music Advisory Board was presented with a proposal for the use of guitars and folk music in the liturgy. I quote a disenchanted former member of the board, Msgr. Richard Schuler, author of the enlightening essay “a Chronicle of the Reform.” “It was clear at the meeting that Archabbot Weakland was most anxious to obtain the board's approval.... Vigorous debate considerably altered the original proposal, and a much modified statement about music for special groups was finally approved by a majority of one, late in the day when many members had already left. This statement on “Music for Special Groups” observed that “different groupings of the faithful respond to different styles of music,” and said that in services specifically for high school or college age young people “the choice of music which is meaningful to persons of this age level should be considered valid and purposeful.” It specified that such music should not be used at ordinary parish Masses.- "...incongruous melodies and texts, adapted from popular ballads, should be avoided.”

Still, that is not quite where the hootenanny Mass got its start. As early as 1964, the National Catholic Reporter ran a story about Sacred Heart, the "hootenanny parish" in Warrensburg, Mo. To paraphrase a Bob Dylan song, “the times, they were peculiar.” Things were already getting strange by 1958. In the October, 1958 edition of the Catholic magazine “Jubilee”, there appeared an article on John Redmond’s recording “The Ten Commandments/the Seven Sacraments” including such inspiring songs as “The Ten Commandments Song”, “Extreme Unction” and the ever popular, “Why Do We Tip Our Hats to a Priest?” The article mentions that:
“The Redmond tunes are swingy, simple and syncopated. Musically they parallel current popular idiom, such as catchy love ballads and novelty numbers. On this record Redmond has employed chimes, gurgles and other effects of the wholesome Guy Lombardo/Lawrence Welk school of music, thereby underscoring the baptism of current American swing. An Arthur Godfrey arranger scored the tunes for the recording and Dolly Houston, a vocalist with the late Tommy Dorsey has done a remarkable job of imitating a boy soprano. She is accompanied by girl trio plus a male quartet and an orchestra... a bishop even cried with emotion when he heard the record and ordered song sheets for the children in his schools... originally intended for catechetical use, (the songs) are now spreading into church and are being sung at sacramental services... The diocese of Portland, Maine uses “I’m a Soldier in Christ’s Army”, a rollicking march that on record appears to begin in samba tempo, as a recessional at Confirmation, and it has been reported that a few churches are singing some of the numbers at Mass.”

Guitars or folk music are not mentioned, but the previously quoted “Statement for Special Groups”, but with Weakland’s help and that of a few others, the statement was taken for official approval of the "hootenanny Mass" later called folk or guitar Masses. And so it was that the hootenanny Mass became the gold standard for all that was modern. Weakland was critical of the decisions of the Vatican Council when he said that “...false liturgical orientation gave birth to what we call the treasury of sacred music and false judgments perpetuated it.” His was the proper liturgical orientation and one of his orientations was the guitar Mass. He dismissed the organic tradition of the liturgy and used his considerable influence to make the Catholic Mass unrecognizable, all in the Spirit of Vatican II.

There remains an unanswered question: How is it that in 2011, such Masses are everywhere in the world that there are Catholics? Remember all that interminable discussion of American exceptionalism? You have no idea how popular it was to be American in the 50's, 60's and even the early 70's. I remember being asked by cousins in Germany, “und Richard, gibt es viel Kountry Vestern Musik in Amerika?" (Is there a lot of Country Western Music in America? Even in 1973, when I stayed in a flea-bitten hotel just inside the Jaffa Gate in Jerusalem, I was greeted fondly in a questionable restaurant adjoining the run down hotel. I was invited to join a small circle of hookah smoking locals, and in a short while I was in fear for my life. My host began to ask if I thought he could get a visa to the USA. He shouted the he loved the USA and would kill any man who told him that he could not go to the USA, which he loved. I assured him that I thought he could go to the USA. After an hour of assuring him that he was just the kind of person that we were looking for back in the States, I extricated myself, went upstairs, locked my door and itched myself to sleep. But, things American were sure popular for a while.

The American Protestant belief that Mass was not a sacrifice, but an instruction, and the Enlightenment idea that Mass is not a mystery, but a musical, combined with Bugnini’s experiments and voila: a sort of Mass that was as modern as modern could be, masquerading as the Mass of the early Church and the Mass of Vatican II. It was peppy, it was entertaining and it was superficial. If Mass must be an entertainment, I suppose I prefer Mozart to Lawrence Welk.


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