Music, Mood and Midwifery:An Account of a Diocesan Music Conference

Author: Susan Benofy

Music, Mood and Midwifery

An Account of a Diocesan Music Conference

by Susan Benofy

OF THE MANY LITURGICAL CHANGES which have occurred since the Second Vatican Council, the transformation in the style of music used has been among the most controversial. That this change is not simply a matter of taste, but has theological significance was recognized by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger in 1985. At that time he saw the beginning of a "second wave" of liturgical reform, questioning the anthropological and theological foundations of worship, and giving the group precedence over the Church. In such a view liturgy is considered to arise from the creativity of the assembled group, and the primary role of music is as a vehicle to enable the congregation to sing its identity. Cardinal Ratzinger believed: "The dispute about church music is symptomatic of a more profound question: what is worship?"

In this 1985 paper and elsewhere Cardinal Ratzinger strongly defends a traditional view of the role of sacred music in the liturgy. Unfortunately, the liturgical establishment seems more inclined to promote the views of the "new wave." On the parish and diocesan level the necessity of "creativity" and self-expression of the assembly is often presented as the actual teaching of Vatican II.

A recent music and liturgy conference sponsored by the St. Louis Archdiocesan Office of Music Ministry and the Archdiocesan Music Commission is an example of this "new wave" approach offered to ordinary parish musicians as training in liturgical music.

The featured speaker was Father John Foley, SJ, the liturgical composer associated with the "St. Louis Jesuits" and now Director of the Center for Liturgy at St. Louis University. At this conference Foley gave a popular exposition of a theory of liturgy treated in a more academic way in his 1994 book, Creativity and the Roots of Liturgy. From the title one assumes it is a work propounding a theory similar to that which Cardinal Ratzinger criticized in 1985; the approach taken at the conference shows this assumption is warranted. [The publisher of Foley's book, Pastoral Press, is the publishing arm of the National Association of Pastoral Musicians, a quasi-official Catholic liturgical music organization.]

Liturgical "Analogues of Being"

Father Foley believes that there are analogies between the individual and the assembly, so to understand the liturgy, we must first understand the human person. His approach is based on an analysis of three levels of the person: 1) External, the level of appearance and impersonal conversation; 2) the second, deeper level which is partly inarticulate but on which there is some expression of the self; 3)The deepest level (which he says may also be called "soul"). At this level there are no words. He then asserts that God calls out to the deep center of ourselves, and this "precious center" must work its way to the surface and be "externalized." This externalization is done by means of symbols: we externalize ourselves, behold the symbol, then reinternalize it. We thus get to be more ourselves; we claim ourselves by externalizing.

This same pattern, he believes, can be applied to the liturgical assembly. The call of Vatican II for full, conscious and active participation he equates with the assembly's need to externalize, to project symbols of their Christian life, and go away more fully who they are. If Christianity did not have liturgies, he says, it would not know itself.

Father Foley believes that when we say we are temples of the Holy Spirit we mean that the Holy Spirit comes into each of us, becomes one with the center of who we are. Since this presence of the Holy Spirit is at the deepest level, it is inarticulate and needs to be externalized for us to know it. The inner self filled with the Holy Spirit has to be symbolized, and then we can see the symbol and take it back within ourselves.

The same thing is true of the assembly: the Holy Spirit dwells at the center of the assembly and must be externalized in ritual. For a Christian assembly, symbols are expressed in terms of the life of Christ.

Communion is treated as one of these symbols. It is said to originate in the Christian community, becomes externalized, then is received (internalized) again. The Gospel is considered part of the externalization of Jesus, and because we have the Holy Spirit in us we "recognize the intimacy of events" in the Gospels.

Liturgical Mood Music

From this point of view, the role of liturgical music is to help the assembly express itself. Musicians must listen to what is most important in the deepest self of the assembly and help them to externalize it. Thus, planning based on consideration of the liturgical season or feast is considered inadequate. Foley believes choosing a "theme" based on the readings overemphasizes the external level.

Music appeals on a deeper level, to the soul, so the "mood" of a liturgy must be considered. Similarly, he believes prayer has more to do with affect than with the mind, so in order to make liturgies more prayerful the musician must consider what mood the readings will produce to determine what sort of hymns to choose. The difficulty lies in predicting the mood of the congregation.

Foley believes a planning meeting at which the musician, choir members, readers and celebrant are assembled can determine the "mood" by following this procedure: 1. Read the readings slowly, one phrase at a time. Go around the room; have each person give one or two "mood words" that the readings call forth for him. 2. Go around again. Ask for any phrases that stand out. The reactions of the group, he believes, give an accurate prediction of what will touch the hearts of the congregation on Sunday. The musician should then select hymns based on the mood indicated by these reactions. Liturgists, Foley says, need to know the art of liturgy, and he seems to equate this with knowing the mood of the people. (It was stressed that the musician must consider himself part of a very specific assembly, such as the regular 10 AM Sunday Mass congregation at a given parish.)

Liturgists Midwifing the Assembly

Foley then elaborated on his theory of liturgy as art which is based on the strong analogy he sees between artistic creativity and birth . He gave an elaborate treatment of the production of an artistic work involving such stages as conception, gestation, labor, etc. and applied this to liturgy, considering the assembly as the artist. Artistic inspiration is a conception (like conceiving a child) and is not done alone; artistry has to be a coming together of the artist and the world around him. Any relationship that reaches to the depth of us makes us "with child" in some sense. Applied to liturgy this is said to mean that the assembly receives the Holy Spirit in a special way and is "made pregnant."

Mass planning he sees as part of the "gestation period. " The planner takes the assembly's conception and brings it to birth. We commune with Christ present in the liturgy and Christian life is born from that. We engender the liturgy and then learn from it. Full, conscious and active participation means to him that "liturgy belongs to us." Thus he believes there is something wrong with the question: "How do we get them to sing?" (which was asked in various forms by the participants throughout the conference.) He believes it is not the musician's job to "make them sing" but to help them be who they are. He must awaken the congregation to the fact that the Spirit of Christ resides in them. If congregations understand this, Foley believes, it won't be possible to keep them from singing. Continuing the analogy with birth, he views liturgy planners as "midwives" of the liturgy. They are not to force people to sing, but he adds that midwives do a lot of things that "look like forcing."

Will musicians who go forth to "midwife" the assembly's "externalization" of itself contribute to an authentic renewal of the liturgy as set out in the documents of Vatican II? If we consider what is required by the most relevant document, it seems unlikely. The Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, , nowhere concerns itself with the "mood" of the participants. It says that the purpose of sacred music is "the glory of God and the sanctification of the faithful." (#112). The Constitution does stress the importance of symbols in liturgy, but they are not simply concerned with expressing what is within us. "In the liturgy the sanctification of man is signified by signs perceptible to the senses, and is effected in a way which corresponds with each of these signs ..."(#7). Certainly SC envisions active participation of the congregation, but it does not interpret this to mean that "the liturgy belongs to us." On the contrary it says: "Regulation of the sacred liturgy depends solely on the authority of the church, that is, on the Apostolic See..."(#22). It gives no indication that the liturgy is merely the personal expression of a particular assembly at a particular time and place. "Rightly, then, the liturgy is considered as an exercise of the priestly office of Jesus Christ.... in the liturgy the whole public worship is performed by the mystical body of Jesus Christ, that is by the head and his members" (#7). "In the earthly liturgy we take part in a foretaste of that heavenly liturgy ... towards which we journey as pilgrims ...we sing a hymn to the Lord's glory with all the warriors of the heavenly army; venerating the memory of the saints, we hope for some part and fellowship with them ..."(#8). These points have been reiterated in the Catechism of the Catholic Church. See, for example, Paragraphs 1136-1139 and 1145-1148.

Hindu Theology in Catholic Liturgy

If the ideas expressed in this workshop on liturgy do not come from the documents of the Second Vatican Council, what is their source? Since no explicit citations were given, it is hard to know. Clues to possible sources were offered indirectly, however.

At several points the lecture was punctuated by the singing of musical compositions (by John Foley) which served to illustrate points under discussion. Most of these were intended to be sung at Mass. The piece sung at the end of the conference, however, was said to be intended for a prayer service, though there was nothing explicitly Christian in the text. At the end of the performance, Fr. Foley said that this was a setting he had done of a poem by Rabindranath Tagore. (This name had come up on once or twice before at the conference, and is also mentioned in Fr. Foley's book.)

Tagore was a Hindu poet, dramatist and essayist who wrote earlier this century. The text for this composition was taken from a collection of poems called "Gitanjali" which is sometimes translated as "Offering Songs." ["Anjali" are offerings at a Hindu ritual.] A collection of his essays on Hindu philosophy, (, 1922), contains passages strikingly similar to Foley's treatment of the need for "externalization" in the liturgy. In an essay called (pp. 3-26) Tagore says:

Through creation man expresses his truth; through that expression he gains back his truth in its fullness. (p. 22) But the poet in man knows that reality is a creation, and human reality has to be called forth from its obscure depth by man's faith which is creative. (p. 25) The great world ... has its call for us. The call has ever roused the creator in man, and urged him to reveal the truth, to reveal the Infinite in himself. (p 26)

Certainly the approach to liturgy presented at the conference seems to owe more to this poet's religion than to the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy.

It may be that Foley believes that Hindu philosophy has insights that would contribute to an authentic renewal of the liturgy. If so, he should make an argument for his position in some appropriate forum. Even if such interpretation is legitimate, however, it does not seem prudent to present such reflections to a group of ordinary parish musicians as if these novel theories were simply applications of the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy. This is especially troublesome when a conference is sponsored by a diocese.

The Poet's Religion-An "Endless Creation"

It seems doubtful whether this "poet's religion" is even compatible with the Catholic Faith. Consider Tagore's own description in the same essay: "In the poet's religion we find no doctrine or injunction, but rather the attitude of our entire being towards a truth which is ever to be revealed in its own endless creation.... It never undertakes to lead anybody anywhere to any solid conclusion ..." (pp. 15-16)

The liturgy of the Roman rite, on the other hand, wants to lead us somewhere very definite.

Thus from celebration to celebration, as they proclaim the Paschal mystery of Jesus "until he comes," the pilgrim People of God advances, "following the narrow way of the cross," toward the heavenly banquet, when all the elect will be seated at the table of the kingdom ( #1344)

As Cardinal Ratzinger recognized over a decade ago: "The dispute about church music is symptomatic of a more profound question: what is worship?"

This article appeared in the June 1996 issue of VOICES, published by Women for Faith & Family, P.O. Box 8326, St. Louis, MO 63132, 314-863-8385.