Organs just don’t hit like they used to.
When criticizing an institution, especially one of great respect, it is imperative that the motivation of the criticism be well documented and clear, lest the critic risk pridefully extending his opinions beyond his reach. Let it be known then that I wish only to confer upon God’s holy bride — the Church — the praise and exaltation it is due. Furthermore, it is only out of love for my fellow man and the same great Church that I bring the following grievance to light — in the hopes that those wiser and holier than I might look on them with interest and take them gracefully into consideration. I dedicate the following words to the Almighty and Ever-living God, without whom, we are all lost. The core grievance in question is directed toward the music at the 8pm Mass, which ought to be amended. It is filled with instruments unsuited for worship, and it detracts from the holiness of the miracles at work during the Mass.
In arriving at Fordham University, my heart was filled with gratitude for the chance to worship safely in the University Church. Understanding that many Catholics more faithful than I are not granted that same opportunity, I made my way to the 8 PM service, and was delighted to see the hard-working staff and students of the Gloria Dei Choir. Their faith was clear through their dedication to the liturgy. Unfortunately, their work was limited by their instruments. Fordham has an organ, which according to Musicam Sacram, a document of the Second Vatican Council, “is to be held in high esteem in the Latin Church, since it is its traditional instrument, the sound of which can add a wonderful splendor to the Church’s ceremonies and powerfully lift up men’s minds to God and higher things” (Musicam Sacram 1967). Despite this, the Gloria Dei Choir is encouraged to use other instruments like the flute and piano. The brochure for music ministry encourages instrumentalists of “any kind” to attend their rehearsals. The use of many different kinds of instruments is not explicitly discouraged by the Church, but the use of the voice in song as the primary instrument with an organ accompaniment is encouraged. The use of Latin and Gregorian chants to preserve a sense of Catholic identity is also encouraged in Musicam Sacram — “Gregorian chant, as proper to the Roman liturgy, should be given pride of place, other things being equal. Its melodies, contained in the “typical” editions, should be used, to the extent that this is possible… Other musical settings, written for one or more voices, be they taken from the traditional heritage or from new works, should be held in honor, encouraged and used as the occasion demands.” (Musicam Sacram 1967).
Of course, the songs and music played by the choir at the 8 PM Mass were beautiful, but it was disputably Catholic — integrating common instruments in an uncommon setting, which brings me to the real issue with this sort of music at Mass. The issue with the music is not its quality, in fact, the quality of music is beyond expectation. It is that this sort of music can be found at virtually any mainstream American Protestant Church. The music I heard at the 8 PM Mass was like my grandfather’s Methodist choir attempting to sing during a Catholic Mass, a ceremony they don’t really understand. Contemporary instruments can be utilized at Mass, but they in truth shouldn’t. The miracle of Transubstantiation is something that occurs uniquely at Mass. God comes to meet us in the form of bread and wine only during this most sacred time. Everything we do during this holy hour should reflect the irregularity of the sacrifice we witness. If our theology separates us from the rest of the denominations of Christianity, then our practices should as well. We believe according to how we pray, and we pray according to how we practice. Should we lose touch with the sacred practices of the church like Gregorian chants, the organ, and Latin in our hymns, we begin to pray as we practice. When we practice Catholicism like Protestants, we pray like Protestants, and subsequently believe like Protestants. If this is how every American Catholic Church sings at Mass, it is no wonder that we are losing touch with our core beliefs. Is it such a surprise that if we raise our voices to meet God like those who profess disbelief in His divine presence in the Eucharist, that this February the Pew Research Center found only one-third of American Catholics believe that the Eucharist is the Body and Blood of Christ?
In conclusion, our goal in all things should be to glorify God with our hearts and actions. The scriptures say to “Sing to the Lord, all the Earth! Tell of His salvation from day to day” (1 Chronicles 16:23). It is apparent that the dedicated choir members and staff at University Church do this, but not to the extent that they have the potential to. My only hope is that this article could be of use to those it mentions.