Though they lack the rich greenery of European and North American trees, the ever present gumtrees of Australia have a certain quiet dignity about them and at times they soar to absolutely majestic heights and are without doubt beautiful.Yet, even in their great dignity, they are very frequently infested by a plant which I believe is called mistletoe
(obviously not the Christmas wreath variety). The infestation is not so obvious at a distance, since the mistletoe itself looks like a part of the gum leaves. But the closer one gets, the more the alien nature of the beard-like and gumtree like, infestation becomes .
Over the last 40 years or so, the music of the Catholic Church's worship has been similarly afflicted by a mutiplicity of infestations.
Prior to that time, the Church had a strong and coherent body of Music for use in Liturgy.At its core lay Gregorian Chant and in the next rank Polyphony and in the third rank a strong body of universally known popular hymnody. Gregorian Chant and Polyphony both set to music the prayers of the Sacred Liturgy and Sacred Scripture and were thus beyond reproach as far as content was concerned. The popular hymns were truly universally known and regularly sung. They were reverent, and encouraged devotion, whilst frequently teaching in the best Catholic tradition. They were without exception orthodox in content, strictly religious and never a cause of scandal.
And then..... Along came the false "spirit of the Council".It was the 1960's : Guitars were everywhere in Pop Music which was largely Rock and Roll, Rhythm and Blues and a strong body of Folk Music.
Of course the "spirit of the Council" required that "worship music" be brought up to date - after all we had to "engage with the culture" and "appeal to the young people". It was not uncommon to see a Priest with a Guitar over his Chasuble! Suddenly an industry sprung up - " Worship Music" and of course it began tumbling out of the United States in a torrent. It was a "natural" for American culture : entertainment and reality(even sacred reality) blurred, many Religious pondering leaving their Orders developed new " worship music" careers in churning out this material before leaving Religious Life. And leave they did in several popular cases, in the company of their boyfriends and even girlfriends.
It was a sorry spectacle, but sorrier still was the material they left behind them. Some of the operators of that period seem still to be around. And we even have some home grown Australian cobblers of the same rubbish. They have found particularly lucrative connections in many of the Nation's " Catholic" Education Offices . And their whining, syrupy,politically correct but theologically illiterate songs are force fed into little children at the dreaded " childrens' liturgies" around the country. Equally sad is the number of Parishes still held in thrall by the 1960s flotsam, the tide has receded but the vile residue litters the ecclesial shore.
We really need an environmental campaign to ensure "sustainable Catholicism". Among the first steps required would be the eradication of this alien infestation of the Church's music.
Here we encounter two significant problems. Charity and arrogant incumbency. In most Parishes and Schools we find a Music "Elite" - self-selected and carefully and relentlessly self-entrenched for decades. You know the type of Parish - it is like entering a 1960's time warp These are serious cases of " Arrested Development". Once the ever self-satisfied incumbent has found a position of influence she ( very regularly the case) or he ( in the occasional variation on the theme) surrounds herself/himself with subservient followers ( however they might grumble) . Frequently the Clergy are either reluctant to intervene lest they provoke a walkout and are left with nothing, or they fear causing an uncharitable ruckuss .
MICHAEL MANGAN AND SOME VICTIMS OF CATHOLIC EDUCATION'S MUSIC PROBLEMS
What is the background problem here?
For thirty five years or so since the post- Conciliar "Churchquake" there has been no effective and systematic teaching from the Pulpit about ANYTHING in most parishes. Homilies have been dumbed down to inoffensive " warm and fuzzies" . Little wonder no one has a clue about the real purpose of Music in the Sacred Liturgy or what might be wrong theologically about a song that is entitled " Come as you are" for example, or any concept of the Sense of the Sacred.
It is going to be a long hard battle to restore proper Catholic Music to its rightful place in many Parishes. And it is a battle that will never be totally won - as in military defence where it is said eternal vigilance is the price of freedom - it will be always necessary for Bishops firstly and then Clergy to ensure that proper resources are made available and used , in the first instance.
Some years ago the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference began work on a new Hymnal for the Australian Church since it was widely recognised that the horrible " Gather Australia" mess , which had been produced by the Archdiocese of Melbourne of all places - given its honoured history in Australian Catholic Church music - needed replacing at the first opportunity. The Hymnal has yet to appear after some ten years.
But at just that point Bishops could begin to have a positive influence. Then again they could also concern themselves to examine just what is being done in their own Catholic Education Office structures and other Pastoral bureaucracies with regard to Music and intervene where necessary with firmness to ensure the flotsam is cleaned out and authentic Catholic Music restored.
Then the same Bishops should require their Parishes to implement a re-education process for Parish Music operatives with mandatory minimum outcomes.The approach should be both idealistic and pragmatic - aiming high with the minimum outcomes and forbidding certain low levels of performance.
It is way past time for the "acceptance of Form and ignoring of Substance"to continue in our expectations of Parish standards. Whilst it is true that much of Australia's Government Administration and Government compelled Industry have settled for such farces as " Quality Control" - for which read form over substance - we cannot afford such shams where the transmission of the Faith and the Salvation of souls are concerned.