Canticle of Joy

The choir at my parish contributes twice a year to enrich the devotional life of our church by producing choral pieces for the seasons of Lent and Advent. During Lent, we perform “Song of the Shadows,” a “tenebrae” style service, and for Advent we perform “Canticle of Joy”, a Christmas piece. They are both lovely selections and I really do hope we can do them justice. But I have some criticism of “Canticle of Joy” and I’d like to hear other opinions on it.

Our Director of Religious Education was heard to complain that the pieces are too “Protestant.” While it seems that they arose from a Protestant tradition, I have observed nothing in the pieces that contradicts Catholic teaching. There is no reason to throw out perfectly good music, just because a Protestant wrote it. If someone honestly knows of a wrong teaching in the music then I would be interested to hear it.

My personal criticism of “Canticle of Joy” is with the timing of the performance. We will be performing this piece on Tuesday, December 14th. While “Song of the Shadows” is specifically a tenebrae service, and therefore well-suited to Lent and Holy Week, “Canticle of Joy” encompasses the entirety of the Christmas season, from Isaiah’s “prepare ye the way of the Lord” right up to “Gloria in Excelsis Deo” and even a generous helping of “Alleluias!” Now this is a great piece to use while the Christmas season is in full swing. But for Catholics, Christmas begins at Midnight Mass on the 24th and no sooner! (It also continues well past the New Year, when the protestants have tossed their trees into the mulch pit.) The season of Advent has a sacred anticipatory nature, one that should not, IMHO, be spoiled by a celebration of joy when we are still clinging to the edge of our seats, longing for Our Lord to come among us. Sing to the Lord says: "At other times, the liturgical season calls for a certain musical restraint. In Advent, for example, musical instruments should be used with moderation and should not anticipate the full joy of the Nativity of the Lord."

I have brought up the subject, albeit timidly, with our director, but I’m afraid that the performance date for this year is a fait accompli, and the best I can hope for is to implant a seed of doubt in his mind that will effect some change next year, and place this performance sometime AFTER December 25th, when we can freely celebrate the Birth of Our Lord in the true liturgical Christmas season. The pastor likes me, and I have once had to go over my director’s head in order to make a point about the music selection. But I’m not sure that this is a big enough deal to spend my “political capital” on. So what do you think? Would you attend such a performance in Advent, especially with your family, or would you boycott it, to be liturgically correct?

This is a concert, right? I mean, you aren’t choosing music for the Mass here.

Your bolded quote is about music in the liturgy, not about non-liturgical musical performances. You can have a brass band concert, chant Veni Sancte Spiritus, and hold a ska festival during Advent if you’d like, not to worry – just not at Mass. (Besides, from your link it looks like Canticle of Joy is just unaccompanied SATB, isn’t it?) The same applies to “anticipating the joy” of Christmas. The Church does not govern what music you can and can’t sing or listen to on your off hours.

Would you attend such a performance in Advent, especially with your family, or would you boycott it, to be liturgically correct?

There can be nothing “liturgically correct” or incorrect about a concert. It isn’t liturgy.

I think you’re fighting a losing battle on this front.

Each year our local Ministerial Association organizes a Christmas concert at one of the churches on the second Tuesday of December. Each parish’s choir performs a couple of carols and the Gospel of Luke is read.

One year, the Brother who was in our parish questioned the timing of this concert and suggested that we should either sing Advent hymns/songs or schedule the concert for the week between Christmas and New Years. Everyone thought he was nuts. “But we’ve always had it at this time! Everyone is so busy in the week between Christmas New Years.” Sadly, Advent seems to exist only in the Mass and nowhere in society or even in our parishes’ activities.

Yes, it is a concert, but it is at the same time a public devotion, a para-liturgical service with narration and candles that’s being held in a church’s sacred space, in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament. And you should know, Mark, that the liturgical calendar governs our lives more extensively than just the Mass. By praying the Mass daily, and to a larger extent, when praying the Liturgy of the Hours, we participate in the life of the Church as she progresses through the seasons of the year.

Since the Christian world shares the civilian calendar with the liturgical calendar, the liturgy guides our yearly planning in clear ways. We consult the calendar to know when to exchange chocolates and flowers on Valentine’s Day, when to eat corned beef and cabbage on St. Patrick’s Day, and when to take the kids trick-or-treating on All Hallow’s Eve.

But no religious festival has been adopted and embraced more by secular culture than Christmas. In fact it’s been downright hijacked. In order to make sure consumers spend as much as possible on the all-important gift-giving, the celebration of “Christmas” extends right from the end of Thanksgiving until midnight on the 25th when it’s abruptly cut off and discarded as easily as unplugging a string of lights. But that’s not what the Church has given us. Just as Lent is a season of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving in which we anticipate the gift of the Risen Lord, Advent is a penitential season full of waiting and longing to see the Incarnation of Christ Jesus. Do we experience these feelings only during the Mass? No, it permeates our life; some devout families display Advent calendars, where each day a new reflection on the upcoming event is shared. The restraint we practice during Advent contrasts and intensifies the joy we feel in the Christmas season, which is more than just a single day on the calendar, it’s a true liturgical season that extends until the Sunday after Epiphany.

To me it just seems disgraceful that a parish church that should be setting an example about what’s truly important to the season would buy into secular culture to this degree and pull the trigger on Christmas before our season of anticipation is finished.

Considering that this concert takes place only two days after Gaudete Sunday, which is a day of liturgical rejoicing, I don’t see anything wrong with it. The readings for Guadete Sunday are full of rejoicing and anticipation for the coming of the Lord instead of the somber readings of the other days of Advent.

To me it just seems disgraceful that a parish church that should be setting an example about what’s truly important to the season would buy into secular culture to this degree and pull the trigger on Christmas before our season of anticipation is finished.

I really don’t see how scheduling a concert called Canticle of Joy right after the day of rejoicing that the Church has given us is buying into secular culture or pulling the trigger on Christmas. Rather, IMHO, your parish is trying to live the seasons of the Church and its’ liturgical seasons.

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