The "Gathering of Witnesses"
A remarkable gathering assembled in the Sheraton Gateway Suites hotel today for the consultation session. Presided over by Bishop Edward Grosz of Buffalo, NY, and organized by Msgr James Moroney of the BCL staff, those present numbered the other five non-episcopal members of the BCL Subcommittee on Liturgy and Music and 43 others, drawn from a complete cross-section of liturgical music opinion in the US ranging from Adoremus, Cantica Nova publications, the Church Music Association of America, Ave Maria University (Florida) and the Latin Liturgy Association to representatives of all the major US Catholic liturgy and lliturgical music publishers, with a fair sprinkling of diocesan offices for worship, the National Association of Pastoral Musicians, the Conference of Roman Catholic Cathedral Musicians, the Institute for Liturgical Ministry, We Believe, the St Louis Composers Forum, and others. A number of those present were wearing several different hats.
After opening prayer and remarks, the participants were invited to give two-minute presentations on what they would like to see in a revised version of the USCCB document Music in Catholic Worship. 39 presentations followed, ranging from pleas to restore Gregorian chant and polyphony as the only music permitted in Catholic liturgy, via commendations of the highly influential "three judgements" of MCW, to observations on a multi-ethnic Church where flexibility in music for worship is almost a sine qua non.
The Subcommittee members digested what they had heard over lunch, and the afternoon session consisted of three-minute responses from the floor to three questions distilled from the morning session:
1. What makes music and liturgy sacred? (12 responses)
2. How should we approach the question of heritage? (15 responses)
3. To what extent should American cultures and musical styles have an effect on Music in the liturgy? (12 responses)
What was remarkable was the restraint and respect shown by participants who had undoubtedly never been, and in some cases had never wished to be, in the same room together. There was no ranting, and a large amount of wisdom and reasoned discussion. One could almost have had the impression that a few at the more conservative end of the spectrum were bending a little, though other statements from that quarter were notable for their rigidity. Those at the progressive end were unfailingly polite in the face of some stark condemnations of their position and work, both implicit and explicit.
A further seven general interventions were made before Bishop Grosz's concluding remarks and closing prayer.
This was an extraordinary "gathering of witnesses" and some great photo opportunities presented themselves: Helen Hull Hitchcock of Adoremus deep in conversation with Fr John Foley of the St Louis Jesuits was not a sight that anyone had ever thought they would see, and other unlikely pairings occurred during the breaks. On the whole, however, the natural groupings asserted themselves most of the time.
The timetable for the revision of the document is a pressing one - Bishops Trautman and Grosz want to get the work completed before their term of office on the BCL ends - and we can expect to see further developments in the near future....
There weren't the fireworks that some had expected in view of the large proportion of ultra-traditionalists present - 13 out of the 43 "others" would come into that category - and in fact the entire occasion was an excellent example of how the first stirrings of dialog can and should be managed between folk in opposing camps.