This initially appeared in St. Anthony of Padua Roman Catholic Church’s January 9, 2022 Bulletin
On the morning of Friday, July 16, 2021, I woke up thinking about the coming day. My wife and I had our firstborn staying at the St. Rose NICU after she arrived three months early. Later that morning, I was to direct the twenty-five voice choir and chamber orchestra for the Episcopal Ordination of now-Bishop Gregory W. Gordon, our first Auxiliary Bishop. This was set to be the first-ever Episcopal Ordination in Nevada. The Papal Nuncio was to be in attendance as well as over thirty-five other Bishops, Archbishops, and Cardinals from around the nation. Oh, and it would be broadcast internationally on EWTN. No pressure, right?
As is the case for many, reading headlines is part of my morning routine. Morning headlines out of the Vatican, especially those pertaining to liturgy always catch my eye. There was a major headline out of Rome that morning. As I received texts of encouragement and congratulations from colleagues, I also received texts regarding Pope Francis’ motu proprio entitled Traditionis custodes, or, “Guardians of Tradition,” which was released earlier that morning by His Holiness in Vatican City and was hitting American media.
While some viewed Traditionis custodes as a proverbial victory and the Pope’s ringing endorsement of praise and worship liturgy akin to the big-box non-denominational churches, others viewed this as an attack by the Vatican on traditional Catholic worship and values. Being the father of a newborn in the NICU where the “glass-half-full” approach is encouraged, and with a very important morning ahead of me, I decided to wait until later to read, pray, and form opinions.
One thing that eventually became abundantly clear to me was something that I already knew all too well. Especially as a high school educator. Reading comprehension skills for many need work and we all jump to the conclusion that we want way too early. To think that Pope Francis was stamping out tradition was absurd. Just translating the title of his letter told you that. While the letter is mostly filled with Vatican legalese, His Holiness concluded his letter with something very profound, yet simply and sternly put (in a fatherly way), and missed by many:
At the same time, I ask you to be vigilant in ensuring that every liturgy be celebrated with decorum and fidelity to the liturgical books promulgated after Vatican Council II, without the eccentricities that can easily degenerate into abuses. Seminarians and new priests should be formed in the faithful observance of the prescriptions of the Missal and liturgical books, in which is reflected the liturgical reform willed by Vatican Council II.
Out of curiosity, after such a seemingly tumultuous year in Church music, this past week I went back and watched Pope Francis Midnight Mass on YouTube. Just this past Christmas, Pope Francis celebrated Midnight Mass at St. Peter’s Basilica using the Novus Ordo Mass in Latin. The Novus Ordo is the “new Mass” that we celebrate every day of the week here at St. Anthony of Padua. Unlike the Extraordinary Form of the Mass, which was the only way Mass was celebrated prior to Vatican II, the Novus Ordo allows Mass to be celebrated in Latin or the local vernacular. In the case of our diocese, the vernacular includes English, Spanish, Tagalog, Polish, Vietnamese, Korean, and even French. The Papal Midnight Mass consisted of chanted antiphons and some of the same familiar carols that we sang at our own parish Masses. The sung Mass parts came directly from the Roman Missal, and are the same ones that we use at daily Mass and our 4 PM Sunday liturgy.
How could this be? Are Fr. Bob, Bill, and the music staff telepathic, and able to read minds? No. Are we as cutting edge as the Vatican? Not really. The answer lies in something deeper.
The word catholic comes from the Greek word katholikos, which combines two Greek words that mean “universal.” Pope Francis motu proprio reminded me, and serves to remind us all, that our individual opinions and preferences for liturgy are moot. We are all part of the much larger living and breathing Roman Catholic Church. His Holiness has, on numerous occasions, referred to the Catholic Church as a field hospital for wounded souls. The universal nature of the Church and the Mass is a critical component to Pope Francis’ vision of the field hospital Church. Walk into any Catholic Church anywhere in the world, even if you do not know the language, and you can fully partake in the Sacrament. This realization is only possible if we all play by the same proverbial rules. Acknowledging this is difficult for many – both liberal and conservative – the guidelines are put into place not to elicit a robotic application, but rather active and vibrant participation for all by their universality in a uniform way around the world.
Over the next few weeks, look here as we explore in a series these liturgical books promulgated after Vatican Council II. Here I will relate how we as a parish are following the “prescriptions of the Missal and liturgical books,” just as Pope Francis asked this past July. Additionally, I will be starting music classes this coming Wednesday, January 12. These classes primarily will focus on non-sectarian musical topics such as how to read music, how to sing, and how to count music; however, since we are a Catholic parish, we will explore musical topics as they relate specifically to our faith in action at the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. The Catholic Church spearheaded the use of music as a pedagogical tool in its catechesis, which is now a commonly accepted practice in non-sectarian settings ranging from the ABC Song with young children to Potsie’s Parts of the Heart Song from the classic sitcom Happy Days.
Acknowledging our faith’s role in this technique, next week we will explore how the lyrics in what we sing are so critical.