Sing to the Lord: Music in Divine Worship (STL) includes a welcomed
dialogue among Roman Catholic liturgy, music, and culture.
STL builds on the U.S. Bishops' previous documents on
liturgical music while calling for a deepening appreciation of the
cultural heritages within the U.S. Catholic Church. That STL
devotes a section to liturgical music within multicultural contexts
is a testament to this.
Numerous pastoral implications emerge from this statement
regarding liturgical music making and culture. I am narrowing
these implications to three: a deepening cultural diversity
(multicultural) awareness; respecting and fostering the variety
of musical and cultural styles; and intercultural relationships in
liturgical pastoral settings. I will address these areas in light
of STL's cultural, multicultural, and intercultural approaches
to liturgical music. (It should be noted that in this article my
use of the terms "culture" or "cultural groups" specifically refers
to "ethnic cultural groups" unless otherwise noted. STL also
refers to and utilizes the notion of "culture" in a "cultural sociological
sense," e.g., "counter-cultural." However, it is clear that
STL's approach to culture leans heavily toward the notion of culture
as bounded collective groups, an approach that stems more
from the field of cultural anthropology and that marks most
Roman Catholic official liturgical documents since the Second
Vatican Council. For a breakdown of STL and its approaches to
three notions of culture, see my "Sing to the Lord: Cultural
Perspectives" in Perspectives on Sing to the Lord: Essays in
Honor of Robert W. Hovda, Series V (Silver Spring, MD: NPM
Publications, 2009), 39–54.
Since 1983, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops has
published a series of statements addressing the growing cultural
diversity in the United States. Collectively, these statements
divided ethnic cultural groups into four distinct race/ethnicity
subgroups (African American/Black, Asian and Pacific, Hispanic,
and Native American). Statements, such as "Welcoming the
Stranger Among Us" (2000), considered the pastoral care of
ethnic cultural groups from a transnational perspective (e.g.,
migrants, immigrants, and refugees groups), with African-
American Catholics receiving particular attention to their liturgical
and musical heritage. Official statements on Hispanic/
Latino Catholics have included liturgical and devotional practices,
but these inclusions were part of larger pastoral concerns. Finally,
"A Time for Remembering, Reconciling, and Recommitting
Ourselves as a People" (1992), the USCCB Statement on Native
Americans, and "Asian and Pacific Presence: Harmony in Faith"
(2001), the USCCB statement on Asian Pacific Catholics, minimally
addressed the liturgical and devotional practices that stem
from these communities.
STL may be viewed as a coalescence between past liturgical
music statements and the reality that the U.S. Catholic Church is
culturally diverse. This is represented in STL's reference to
"Welcoming the Stranger" and the insistence that attention be
paid to both the liturgical and musical needs of immigrants.
With today's migratory lifestyles, local worshipping communities
are continually evolving. Thus, to understand how to celebrate
liturgies in culturally diverse contexts, local communities
must first see themselves as culturally diverse.
What are the ethnic and cultural groups that comprise your
worshipping community? Many communities remain unaware
of the specific breakdown of cultural groups within their communities.
We all remain aware of how migratory lifestyles are
occurring at local, national, and international levels. Are new
members within your assemblies? Are members leaving, moving
in, or undergoing other forms of transition? Furthermore, while
STL focuses on ethnic-racial cultural groups, how do we include
other socio-cultural identity markers such as class (economic),
generation (age), gender, able/disable, etc.? All worshipping communities,
in the end, are culturally diverse.
Connected to this first concern is the need to be aware of
the leaders and representatives who speak on behalf of each cultural
group. Many non-Euro-American ethnic cultural groups
tend to have "collectivist worldviews," that is, the actions or decisions
of the members are often dependent upon group consensus.
In collectivist cultures, members focus on larger group goals
rather than individual goals and achievements. Furthermore,
often a handful of leaders have been given permission to speak
on the group's behalf. In my experience of Filipino culture, for
example, the women tend to be significant prayer leaders.
Within this circle I often discover one or two who particularly
stick out as "cultural bridge-builders," those who not only speak
on behalf of the others but who remain instrumental in the
implementation of pastoral plans and strategies. (I borrow the
term "[cultural] bridge-builders" from Rufino Zaragoza, OFM.
See his "Multicultural Ministry in Your Parish: Become a Border-Crosser and a Bridge-Builder" in Today's Parish Minister (April/
May 2009), 14–15.)
How might one apply this to music ministry? A good illustration
could be found in the way music/liturgy directors recruit
new choir members. The most common experience is "an
announcement at the pulpit" at the end of Mass in some form of
an invitation, plea, or persuasion. While the intention behind
this strategy is good, this form of recruitment effort presumes a
"Euro-American mindset": the one doing the announcement
presumes that the individual is capable of coming up with a
decision, regardless of how such a decision may affect any level
of accountability toward the other members of their ethnic
group. Of course, music directors have a variety of recruitment
strategies at their disposal that move beyond pulpit announcements.
My point is to suggest that music directors engage in one-on-one conversations with the leaders of collectivist cultural
groups and invite these groups through designated leaders to
send musical representatives to the larger liturgical music projects
of a parish.
The awareness of the cultural groups existing in our worshipping
communities today ought to lead to a respect and a fostering
of the various cultural expressions and traditions within a
worshipping community. As The Constitution on the Sacred
Liturgy, #37 (Sacrosanctum Concilium, SC), states:
||Even in the liturgy, the Church has no wish to impose a
rigid uniformity in matters which do not implicate the faith
or the good of the whole community; rather does she
respect and foster the genius and talents of the various
races and peoples.
STL continues this theme in its opening section by placing cultural
considerations within its understanding of "the treasury of
||The choir may draw on the treasury of sacred music, singing
compositions by composers of various periods and in various
musical styles, as well as music that expresses the faith
of the various cultures that enrich the Church (30).
Here, "the treasury of sacred music" is neither confined to compositions
from specific historic periods nor to a single musical
style, but includes compositions from a seemingly endless variety
of cultural groups. Thus, the "treasury of sacred music" is not
confined to the classical tradition of European music, but may
include gospel spirituals that stem from the African American
tradition, the banda and conjunto musical styles that one might
hear from a Mariachi ensemble during the feast of La Virgen de
Guadalupe, the incorporation of dance and drums during
Native American Catholic rituals of smudging (blessing and
purifying with cedar, sage, sweetgrass, and tobacco) and fourdirectional
prayers, the eucharistic prayers chanted a cappella by
Vietnamese priests-presiders, or the festive folk songs that many
Filipino communities sing during their Advent novena celebration,
Simbang Gabi ("Night Mass").
STL acknowledges different kinds of music, as the third
section of STL demonstrates in its consideration of the holiness
found in "sacred music." Borrowing from SC, STL, 67, states:
||"Sacred music is to be considered the more holy the more
closely connected it is with the liturgical action, whether
making prayer more pleasing, promoting unity of minds, or
conferring greater solemnity upon the sacred rites (SC #112)."
This holiness involves ritual and spiritual dimensions, both
of which must be considered within cultural context.
STL, 70, continues by describing the cultural context:
||The cultural context refers to the setting in which the ritual
and spiritual dimensions come into play. Factors such as
the age, spiritual heritage, and cultural and ethnic background
of a given liturgical assembly must be considered.
The choice of individual compositions for congregational
participation will often depend on those ways in which a
particular group finds it best to join their hearts and minds
to the liturgical action.
The inclusion and respect of all cultural heritages does not
dismiss the place of Gregorian chant in our repertoire. Quoting
SC, 116, STL, 72, notes the pride of place given to Gregorian chant:
"The Church recognizes Gregorian chant as being specially
suited to the Roman Liturgy. Therefore, other things being equal,
it should be given pride of place in liturgical services." STL continues
by stating that "Gregorian chant is uniquely the Church's
own music" and that it may serve as "a bond of unity across cultures,
a means for diverse communities to participate together in
song, and a summons to contemplative participation in the
Liturgy." Thus STL, 73, weighs the use of Gregorian chant within
the cultural and spiritual milieu of worshipping communities:
||In considering the use of the treasures of chant, pastors and
liturgical musicians should take care that the congregation
is able to participate in the Liturgy with song. They should
be sensitive to the cultural and spiritual milieu of their communities,
in order to build up the Church in unity and peace.
While Gregorian chant may serve as a unifying agent (especially
since it is "uniquely the Church's own music"), other cultural
and musical styles and languages may also serve as such agents.
For example, in the United States, the English language continues
to be the most common unifying language, and in some
local regions in the United States, Spanish is the common unifying
language. Thus, "other things being equal," while Gregorian
chant has been given a pride of place, "[t]hese 'other things' are
the important liturgical and pastoral concerns facing every
bishop, pastor, and liturgical musician" (STL #73).
In short, the treasuring of sacred music involves a dialogue
between the musical expressions and the liturgical action while
considering the ritual and spiritual components within a specific
cultural context. One musical style ought not be considered
"culturally superior" than another. Instead, the treasures of each
cultural group ought to be promoted and fostered to the extent
that these sacred songs express the worshipping experience and
theology of the assembly.
Recently, I became co-director of the Cultural Orientation
Program for International Ministers (COPIM) program for the
dioceses of northern California. My fellow co-director and I
convene with a group of international priests and ministers nine
times a year. Our goal is to not only morally and spiritually support
these priests and ministers, but to introduce them to U.S.
cultural values and teach pastoral skills. During our times
together, I am always humbled by their enthusiasm to learn so
much about our cultural values, social practices, and worldviews.
Since they have agreed to move away from the security of their
countries, their families, and their cultural values, they have
essentially become cross-cultural disciples in a foreign land.
Given the culturally diverse context in the United States,
perhaps we are all called to be cross-cultural disciples, asked to
explore the richness of other cultural expressions. For pastoral
musicians trained in the European tradition of classical music
(as I have been), the call to be cross-cultural disciples would be a
call to explore the musical paradigms that shape the cultural
identities of the members of our worshipping communities. A
starting point is to acknowledge the musical assumptions we
may have about other musical traditions.
In her 2005 plenum address at the National Association of
Pastoral Musicians convention, Mary E. McGann, RCSJ, said:
||The European classical musical paradigm, in which most of us
have been trained, makes different musical assumptions than
those of many other cultural traditions. These assumptions
have shaped our musical imaginations and our aesthetic preferences.
They have become internalized "right ways" of making
music, but they may prejudice us to the musical practices
and choices of other traditions. (Mary E. McGann, "Embrace
the Diversity in the Church," Pastoral Music 30:1, 40)
In one of her examples, McGann drew on the European classical
paradigm about the written musical score. The assumption is
that the score "contains the composer's intent and must be held
to. In many other traditions, however, improvisation, embellishment,
and other forms of "composing in performance are the
norm, keeping the music fresh and vital." She also provided the
example of the European classical assumption that "vocal timbre
should be pure and choral sound well-blended. Whereas in
many traditions, raspy, guttural, nasal, or piercing vocal sound
is cultivated, at times for its emotional power or simply because
it is considered beautiful."
Each cultural musical tradition has a set of values that
should be respected. At the same time, each cultural musical tradition
is dynamic and evolving into new paradigms that meet the
needs at a particular time in history. In this respect, all crosscultural
disciples of music are called to continue to discover the
richness and deepen their understanding of their cultural tradition.
For those who may have been formed within the European
classical tradition of liturgical music, this includes the rediscovery
of the place of Gregorian chant within the community's
repertoire, as well as the "sacred treasuries" that have emerge
since the Second Vatican Council, including the more contemporary
repertoire of liturgical songs.
STL, 59–60, breaks new ground in its consideration of intercultural
relationships that exist within worship settings and other
pastoral contexts. This is the first time that the term "intercultural"
appears in an official Roman Catholic liturgical document.
Its usage in this statement is linked to the term
"multicultural," in order to move beyond the numerical designation
of the presence of many cultures and highlight the more
dynamic interactions that exists between and among cultural
groups and relationships before, during, and after worship
events. As STL, 59, states:
||When prepared with an attitude of mutual reciprocity, local
communities might eventually expand from those celebrations
that merely highlight their multicultural differences to
celebrations that better reflect the intercultural relationships
of the assembly and the unity that is shared in Christ.
The cultural context in most dioceses, parishes, and neighborhoods
is an intercultural context. Our worshipping communities
involve a multitude of cultural identity negotiations. At
times, there may be the need to hear and sing liturgical songs in
one's own language and musical tradition. At other times, there
may be the need for liturgical songs to reflect the tradition of the
Church and the history of the local community, while remaining
open to new compositions that address the needs of our Church
today. These negotiations lie somewhere between the intercultural
dynamics that exist among the various cultural groups of
the community and the desire to celebrate the unity in Christ
that we proclaim.
With the introduction of the term "intercultural" in this statement,
it may profit us to make some distinctions among "three
cultural lenses" in pastoral ministry: the monocultural lens, the
multicultural lens, and the intercultural lens. (The idea of "three
cultural lenses" is borrowed from my conversations with Brett
Hoover, CSP, and Tito Cruz, sm. Hoover and I together presented
the joint paper "In Search of Culture After Geertz: Content and
Practice of Teaching Culture and Theology" at the 2007 Western
regional meeting of the American Association of Religion in
Berkeley. The notion of three cultural lenses emerged from this
paper. In this article, I borrow from Hoover's starting point and
apply this to pastoral music ministry.)
A monocultural lens is a perception in which a cultural
group is seen as superior to other cultural groups. As a result,
the encounter with other cultural practices may be perceived as
strange or even inferior. Often this way of perceiving the world
ignores any sense of cultural relativism. The multicultural lens
views cultural groups as separate realities with a general acceptance
of cultural relativism. More recently, I have called this
dynamic a "fortifying of cultural boundaries" in which certain
cultural groups, for various reasons, express their needs to pass
down their tradition(s), sometimes accompanied with a cautious
and suspicious disposition toward perceived power agendas.
Finally, the intercultural lens promotes cultural relativism by
acknowledging the dynamic interactions that occur between
and among cultural groups and how these interactions, in turn,
affect all those involved. This particular lens views cultural
groups as continually changing in order to address and meet the
needs of the present pastoral context.
I would suggest that all three cultural lenses are present in
any liturgical ministry context. For example, there are times
when I become aware of my biases of what constitutes "good liturgies"
as distinct from "poorly celebrated liturgies." During
these moments my "monocultural-liturgical lens" becomes
informed by my history of embodied ritual experiences, based
on personal preferences and my interpretation of Catholic liturgical
tradition. Other times, my "multicultural-liturgical lens"
emerges when a particular cultural identity inherent within me
(e.g., my Filipino-American ethnicity or my North American
upbringing) desires to sing a liturgical song that celebrates and
respects that cultural identity. Finally, when I realize that I am
not "the only person" involved during liturgical celebrations,
I soon become aware of the interactions among other cultural
groups and identities and come to negotiate my cultural sensibilities
with the other members of the body of Christ. Different
lenses may be used at different times, sometimes overlapping
and/or interchanging, depending on the situation. Pastoral
musicians (and, in fact, all pastoral ministers) may desire to
acknowledge which lens is being used at any given time.
The cultural context of worshipping communities is always
changing. This dynamic nature represents the greatest challenge
that lies before us: not only are pastoral ministers called to be
attentive and sensitive to the cultural expressions and needs that
arise within their communities but are called to do so in the
midst of constant change. Hopefully, USCCB statements such as
STL will continue to acknowledge and address the cultural context,
so that new pastoral responses may emerge. Perhaps this is
one of the cornerstones of Roman Catholic worship: in the midst
of cultural plurality, we are able to maintain some expression of
unity in Christ, while utilizing and distributing an institutional
network of cultural gifts, traditions, and resources. Music is one
such gift. So long as we maintain the dialogue between liturgy
and culture, while ever being dependent upon the grace of God,
may we continue to sing to the Lord from age to age.