But That is No Excuse
letter about the appalling state of Catholic church music in England has brought me some startling but not
unexpected replies, such as that about the Catholic parish church at one of our wealthiest resorts, where the once fine organ has been allowed to fall into disrepair, and where "a youth" who "plays by ear" has been appointed as organist.
Of course Miss Verne is right.
No lasting reform will ever comc about unless it is initiated, blessed, and encouraged by the clergy, from the Bishops (even with their multitudinous duties) to the youngest curate. It does not make sense to say that " we have no money to spare for music."
Here in the diocese of South
wark, out of some 235 churches. 160 have a Mass attendance of over 500; 100 have over 1.000: and 14 have over 2.000 phenomenal figures by Protestant standards while at my own amazing church of St. Mary. Clapham, it avenues a clear 4,000. which may be a record for the entire country, excluding Central London.
Now 500 pence per week is over
1:100 per annum, so the question of " not having any to spare for music " simply does not arise. schools or no schools. What is lacking is the will.
There are many small remote
parishes where lonely priests arc struggling against heavy odds, but these heroic men are outside this discussion!
Sir, 1 repeat that I know that the
Mass alone is essential, and that music is not. Neither were the great mediaeval cathedrals essential, nor the miraculous windows of Chartres, nor the Michaelangelo " Pieta," nor St. Peter's itself, nor the Masses of Palestrina, nor the organ that Cesar Franck played at Ste. Clothilde, nor the wonderful outpouring of European organ music. directly inspired by the Catholic Liturgy, nor, for that matter, George Malcolm's new Mass, sung recently (but not, of course, essentially!) at Westminster.
Yet to live by essentials alone
is the mark of the primitive, and these " unessentials " I have mentioned are the clearest foretaste of the splendours and glory of Heaven.
I was going to suggest the setting up by the clergy of a similar organisation to the Royal School of Church Music, which has in 30 years done so much to educate the Anglican clergy and laity in the production of music worthy for the worship of God, and now Lord Ventry brings forth the idea of joining the Church Music Association. If this is similar to the R.S.C.M.. then let us hear more about it, and let the clergy. as a national body, actively sponsor it.
Many good potential converts are lost to the Faith on account of what assails their ears in too many of our churches, but what is worse is that, if such conditions prevail where they need not, it is an insult flung, through ignorance. or apathy, or both, in the face of Almighty God.
Eric A. Choat, Organist and Director of Music. St. Mary's, Clapham, London, S.W.4.
SIR' -In answer to • Margaret Verne's letter on church music, there are just two points I would like to make:
1. Not all priests can afford a paid organist.
2. Not all the good ladies who are " roped in." rather than " oblige," are incompetent. I have a degree in music.
SIR' How often are hopes expressed in your columns such as those of your correspondent Miss Margaret Verne: " Ecclesiastical encouragement of the use of plainsong, " Ecclesiastical authority to restore Vespers and Compline."
Such phrases point the finger silently at the failure in great measure of both clergy and laity during 54 years to observe the instructions of Pope St. Pius X in his Motu Proprio of 1993, which covered clearly and simply the whole field of church music.
Significantly the saintly Pope made the Motu Proprio the first act of his Pontificate, and required its provisions carried out without opposition or delay.
Consider these words in the introduction. " We desire . . . that it have the force of law as a canonical Lode concerning sacred music, and we impose upon all by our own signature the duty of the most exact obedience to it."
Again, within a fortnight, the Pope wrote on the subject to Cardinal Respighi: "So easy is it for passion or at any rate for shameful and inexcusable ignorance to elude the will of the Church and to continue year after year in the same regrettable manner . . . Since the thing has to be done. let it be done at once and firmly."
The instructions in the Motu PrOprio, reiterated by each succeeding Pope, included the restoration of the following:
(a) Gregorian chant. especially to the use of the people; (h) Classical polyphony, where performance is feasible; (c) Choir schools. even in small parishes.
After the lapse of over half-acentury, how few parishes in the country can boast observance of these fundamental points and how many, to their shame, observe none.
Let each one of us discard apathy and determine to play an active part, perhaps by joining the Church Music Association, so as to hasten the day when the many will be united with the few in their zeal to sing the music of the Church in the spirit of the Church.
Jack Robbins Chalfont St. Peter, Bucks.