Wednesday, 29 June 2011

A Call for a Toronto Liturgical Movement!

In an Archdiocese where the late Monsignor John Edward Ronan founded the world famous St. Michael's Choir School, how did the Catholic liturgy in general and church music in particular in Toronto fall so far from the ideal? How did his vision of a school to provide music for the Cathedral and Archdiocese become such a failure?

Lest I provoke anger amongst the alumni or current students or professional staff let me state quite clearly, I love and support St. Michael's Choir School. While not an alumnus, I was invited to attend in 1963 but due to family issues I could not attend. Through the grace of God, music and liturgy have been part of my life since the age of 32, late perhaps, but better late than never. I also came to know many through three seasons singing with The Victoria Scholars a decade ago.

It has been a failure, not because of the Monsignor, the boys, the teachers then or now, it is a failure because somebody in almost each and every parish is preventing it from being anything else but. (As an aside, that is not the case at the Toronto parish where we had the Missa Solemnis last week; that Pastor employs organists and cantors from the School...thank you Father K!).

Where is the model that it should be for the rest of the Archdiocese? Why have we ignored this treasure. We have done so to our loss and the loss of our faith.

Parish priests, bishops, liturgists, amateur choir leaders, you have failed Msgr. Ronan, Msgr. Armstrong, Miss Mann, and their vision. You have failed the boys then and those now. You fail all the teachers and conductors there today. How is it possible that this school can be so present with its high standard of music and repertoire and yet most of what we have in our parishes is no better than anywhere else?

Why are choir school alumni singing as Cantors in Synagogues?

Why are they singing in Protestant worship communities?

Why are you Father, not insisting that you have an organist or cantor educated and trained at St. Michael's Choir School so that they don't have to sing in Jewish or Anglican congregations to use their artistic gifts. Don't tell me that they should sing in a Catholic Church, regardless. Why? To sing On Eagle's Wings, or worse? That is not what they trained for.

Why are you not paying your Cantor or Organist?

Why do you allow a gaggle of pretenders to take take such control of liturgy when you have this resource?

What affect has this had on liturgy and church music?

What are we all going to do about it?

This Archdiocese must have an Office of Sacred Liturgy and Divine Worship with the mandate to advise and teach and train on liturgical matters; I don't believe at all that one should say you must sing "this setting" but I do agree that a bishop can say you "cannot" sing that "setting" but only when his order is in harmony with true church music and what the Church desires.

How often do we write over and over again from St. Pius X and Tra le sollecitudini to Blessed John Paul II Chirograph on Sacred Music we keep ignoring them at our peril. Is anyone listening?

We owe Msgr. Ronan, Msgr. Armstrong and Miss Mann an apology.

Toronto needs a new liturgical movement and it needs it now.


JP said...

Vox, it's not just Toronto, although that would be a nice start. After all you folks are the centre of the known universe! ;-)

I am originally from the Archdiocese of Vancouver. I cut my teeth, so to speak, on "Glory and Praise" and was told using Latin was forbidden (this was the 80s). It didn't take me too long to realize that this was not 'real' Church music.

I've been doing my level best to encourage more traditional music, in an environment where the CBW is considered antiquarian.

But hey, no point being a "Taliban" Catholic, right? (insert sarcasm here).

I see a glimmer of hope in that our Bishops are finally starting to support, or at least pay lip-service to the Church's teaching on chastity and gay "marriage". Perhaps Hell is starting to cool. Perhaps we will one day have worthy liturgy.

I suspect I won't see it on this side of the veil.

Janet Berkman said...

Would like to report happily that over at Blessed Sacrament (Yonge and Lawrence), we have enjoyed the services of a number of Choir School cantors for years and we have a (I believe) full-time paid (and superb) organist, Paul Jenkins. Our pastor is extremely supportive of the 11:30 choir's efforts, and pays our cantors (and instrumentalists as necessary to support the liturgy.)

We know that some parishioners come to Blessed Sacrament because of the music, particularly at the 11:30 mass.

Oh, and one of our former ex-choir school cantors got an organ gig at an Anglican church, but is now "back in the fold" at St. Basil's.

Now, if they'd just move the tabernacle back where it belongs, I'd be REALLY happy!

Sed Contra said...

The Toronto Archdiocese is blessed to have such a rich musical patrimony both in the form of tradition and an abundance of trained musicians.

Moreover, our episcopacy is evidently committed to promoting the dignity and beauty of the liturgy. Witness His Excellency Boissonneau’s direction -- -- that all parishes use the ICEL Chants as one of its two mass settings for the next year. And witness the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops’ posting of Dr. Clare Johnson’s article, Is it time for a parish liturgical audit? -- --, which has many thoughtful observations and suggestions.

What is needed now is a concrete plan of action that builds on these documents and implements the Holy Father’s desire for a “reform of the reform in continuity”.

Perhaps this blog will be the place that discussion begins. Because “ecce nunc tempus acceptabile, ecce nunc dies salutis”.

Vox Cantoris said...

Dear Janet,

That is wonderful and I worked with Paul Jenkins about a decade or more ago on a fledgling Early Music group that was being formed by a mutual professional friend (it never really got off the ground).

He is very fine musician!

After many years wandering in the desert in my youth, it was the windows and choir at the Cathedral that the Holy Spirit used to bring me back. Beauty if from God. Give them beauty and let God do the rest!

Ah, the Tabernacle. It should be at the apex where He belongs.

Let your Pastor know this...if he asks, permission will be given.

I know of five parishes in the last year where Our LORD has been put back in the centre. I would hope it would be ordered from the top but if permission is granted after a request that is a start!

Sed Contra,

Let the discussion begin.

I applaud Bishop Boissonneau and I will not disobey him or the Pastor (though I can clearly be disappointed in the lack of choice).

In this regard, the ball has been dropped by the CCCB which is so far behind the Brits and Americans it is not funny.

Brick by Brick as our friend would say...

How about starting on the Propers?

Anonymous said...

If you notice on the Archdiocese of Toronto website, in the Roman Missal section, they've posted organ accompaniments for the ICEL chant settings. It actually has the Gloria XV based setting, not the "Celebrate in Song" version. I wonder if that means we can use the Gloria XV setting?

Vox Cantoris said...


Wow, thanks for that information, I did not see that link:

I guess that means yes; truly, they can't say that you can't sing that which is in the actual Roman Missal.

Anonymous said...

I agree, it's not just Toronto. Out here in Vancouver, I've been to a number of parishes and all we seem to sing are Protestant songs!

What is that about? No wonder we don't have a Catholic culture and identity anymore!

Bring back Catholic hymns and Gregorian chant!

Lindsey said...

In a Mississauga parish the organist's and cantor's routine is to leave as soon as the Gospel Acclamation is sung and to re-enter the church when Offertory starts. I was told that the parish staff thought it was ok since those musicians, who are alumni of the Toronto Cathedral Choir School, are professionals (read 'paid') and are not really part of the worshiping community.

Elitist musicians! Apart and aloof! No place for them in church. And they are not even that good musically.

So what's all the raving about the choir school?!

Vox Cantoris said...

Dear Lindsey,

What you describe happening in your Mississauga parish is about the most unprofessional thing that I've heard by any organist or cantor in 25 years of church music.

They have no business "leaving" because aside from singing, they are at "Holy Mass!"

Don't blame the choir school, something has infected them, pride and arrogance being two I can quickly think of.

If you are going to sing, even it is a second or third Mass and you are tired you do it as the first anything less is unacceptable and unprofessional. I've done three on some Sunday mornings at a parish I was at last year subsituting on some summer Sundays; that third one was hard, very hard but you deal with it.

Of course the other thing is that they have little or no faith or they would not act this way at Church. They certainly could not do this at the Cathedral.

Take my comment to your Pastor and tell him that Vox Cantoris said to sit them down and explain to them that they are first there to worship God and second to provide music for the liturgy and that means they change their ways; if not; send them packing.