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Saturday, October 13, 2007

A Dialogue on Church Music

When Sister Consolata told her that she had been drafted to take over the children's choir she had promised to go to Father Cooney and lay down the law about what kind of hymns would be sung.

"But you can't just tell the pastor, can you?" Sister Consolata had asked.

"Yes. Doesn't the Pope want the right kind of music? And isn't the Bishop doing his best to get it?" Sister Gervaise replied.

"Yes, but ..."

"If a higher superior commands something it is the duty of the inferior to enforce it. That's right in the Rule."

Armed with the Holy Rule she went forth to do battle with Father Cooney in the cause of Sister Consolata and the motu proprio. The only difficulty was that the pastor had anticipated her and bore down on her, his usual smile of greeting at half mast.

"I understand that you have asked Sister Consolata to take over the choir. She will if she can have the proper hymns."

The pastor interrupted her, "What kind of way is that to stack chairs?" he called.

"What way?" How did she know how they were stacked? She hadn't turned the lights up again in the auditorium. She could trust Mrs. Doyle.

"Right plank up against the stage. How do you expect us to get the head table there for the CYO supper?"

It was incredible that ... If you wanted something done right you had to ... What could she say?

Father Cooney sighed and shook his head. His chin settled into the fold of his neck. "If you want something done right you have to do it yourself," he said. "Now I've got to get those blackguards of boys to take all those chairs out of there. We never had this trouble when we ran the parish shows. The men always did up the chairs after, and we had a nice dance for ourselves, too."

"I know. Mr MacGill told me."

"He was right. Well - wasn't he?"

"Yes. I ... I think he was."

"So now I'm telling you - I'm not asking you, mind you - you'll have a dance after the St. Patrick's show, and I'll see to the way the chairs are stacked myself."

Who said there was going to be a St. Patrick's show?

"Look, Father," she said, "if there's going to be a St. Patrick's night, then the young people can do it themselves. They won't need me. They can put on any old thing they want."

"Oh, they can, can they? Not while I'm around here, they can't. There'll be supervision of things in this parish while the Bishop keeps me here. And that's what you're supposed to be doing."

"I'm [only] supposed to put on the high-school plays."

"... and you with a vow of obedience, I hear."

"All right, Father," she replied, "I'm sure it'll all be very well nice, and I am very sorry about the chairs, but as far as obedience goes, that's just what I cam to talk to you about."

"You did, did you?"

"I did, Father. It's about this church music. I told Sister Consolata I would speak to you. You see, if she has the children's choir, they've got to sing the right things."

"Of course they do. Don't they?"

"Well, they don't now. That's sure."

"They sing better than the big choir. At least the kids don't stop me when I'm getting to the Consecration. Now you take that Gregorian. You have her teach that."

"Why, I didn't know ..."

"There's a lot of things you don't know about me. Tell her to teach them a Gregorian Mass - that Mass of the Angels, for instance. That's a nice short one. But no Credo."

"You like Gregorian because it's short?"

"There's worse reasons. If you've got to get the people in and out of church, there's things you have to think about if the next crowd's going to come in. That young fellow there of mine - he preaches too long."

He did. But at least Father Rolfe was interesting and he had a nice voice. This was getting nowhere. "I'll tell Sister Consolata you said to go ahead, then."

"You'll tell her no such thing. Just what I said. She can have them learn that Mass, but we're not going to throw out all the good hymns that kids get a lot of devotion out of. No, sir! Only tell her to pep them up a little bit. They sing'em too slow."

"Indeed they do. And if you pep them up, they'll all sound like what they are - fox trots."

"Fox trots, is it?" he laughed "Well, that's better than bo-peep or whatever it is the kids do nowadays, anyway."

From The Lively Arts of Sister Gervaise by Fr. John Bonn SJ (New York: Echo Books, 1966)

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