Tuesday, March 6, 2012
Ken Canedo, Keep the Fire Burning: The Folk Mass Revolution
(Portland, OR: Pastoral Press, 2009).
In his book Keep the First Burning: The Folk Mass Revolution author and musician Ken Canedo sets out to explain the development and eventual explosion of folk music in the liturgical life of the Catholic Church shortly after the end of the Second Vatican Council. His book is well-written for a non-historian and presents a view of the folk Mass “revolution” that is conscious of various social and political developments happening in the United States during the 1960s and 1970s. Though this book is historically well-written, it lacks the fundamental theological understanding of Catholic liturgy and the musical treasure house of the Catholic Church. For a relatively short book, Canedo succeeds in communicating the social atmosphere of the United States and how these influences affected the Catholic Church in the 1960s and 1970s.
The book is divided into thirteen chapters, ranging from the origins of folk music in Catholic liturgy, to the encouragement of popular figures of the Liturgical Movement who supported this enterprise, and personal reflections of those who were and are still involved in promoting this style of music in the Mass. One of Canedo’s strong points in his book is his meticulous study of primary sources, like the liturgical studies journal Orate Fratres, letters from United States President John F. Kennedy to Pope John XXIII, the pope who summoned the Second Vatican Council, and a plethora of newspaper articles from the 1960s and 1970s. In addition to printed resources, Canedo went the extra step and conducted interviews with those involved in the folk Mass movement, like Ray Repp, Dennis Fitzpatrick, and Father Clarence Rivers. Though these names may seem foreign to most readers, these people were some of the most influential in bringing the folk Mass into the mainstream of Catholic worship.
Canedo begins his study by tracing the roots of the folk Mass movement in the liturgical awareness of Dennis Fitzpatrick, a liturgical musician. Fitzpatrick, a graduate of DePaul University in Chicago, was working at the time for Monsignor Reynold Hillenbrand at Sacred Heart Church in modern-day Waukegan, Illinois. Hillenbrand is best known for his work in the Liturgical Movement, not only as a liturgical pioneer, but also as one who promoted social justice. Hillenbrand allowed Fitzpatrick and Fitzpatrick’s business partner Roger Nachtwey to translate Latin Mass propers and hymns into English for the children in the parish. This venture eventually turned into Fitzpatrick and Nachtwey recording the Demonstration English Mass that would be influential in bringing the vernacular to the Mass (15-16).
Canedo then focuses on Ray Repp, who was a seminarian at Kenrick-Glennon Seminary in Saint Louis, Missouri in the 1960s. Repp was a volunteer for the Catholic Extension Society when he asked a priest in Chicago if he could play guitar and use music that he wrote for a Mass. This Mass, which was part of the training program for the volunteers of the Extension Society, was filled with young people singing “at the top of their lungs” (42). At the end of the training program for the volunteers in Chicago, many of the young people asked Repp for a compilation of his songs so they could remember their time in training in Chicago. Because of this compilation of songs, they spread throughout the country and eventually caught the attention of Fitzpatrick and Nachtwey who wanted Repp to do a record for them (47).
After Fitzpatrick and Nachtwey recorded Repp and his folk music, Fitzpatrick and Nachtwey put together a hymnal of English Mass propers, though Repp’s music did not make an appearance in the hymnal. Fitzpatrick and Nachtwey’s hymnal, English Liturgy Hymnal, was selling poorly against the World Library of Sacred Music’s People’s Mass Book because of its preference for hymn substitution (49). Once Fitzpatrick and Nachtwey heard Repp’s music, they decided to publish it. Though Fitzpatrick admitted that he really did not have a particular interest in folk music in the Mass, he felt it was the right move seeing how that tide in music in Catholic worship was moving (51). Though this decision was born of an act of rebellion.
Canedo sets this personal story of triumph in the broader context of what was happening in the Catholic Church in the 1960s and 1970s. Many Catholic dioceses throughout the United States banned the use of folk music in the liturgy, though not all of them did. One diocese that flatly banned the use of folk Music was the Archdiocese of San Francisco, where some dioceses like the Archdiocese of Detroit allowed folk music, though in a limited capacity so long as the music was biblical and not based on secular music, as was the custom with folk music. Fitzpatrick reflects on this time in the Church. “And then I heard that young people who wanted to worship with that kind of material were being forbidden to do it. When I heard that I really got annoyed. . . . But what really did it for me was when I heard these kids had their music taken away and told that they couldn’t worship this way. That, on top of the Church trying to control me, and my ongoing irritation with the hierarchy for five years by that time – that was enough. To hell with the imprimatur” (51). This is what Canedo calls a revolutionary act.
Revolutionary denotes a sudden turning away from an established norm. In this case, the folk Mass “revolution” was not so much about the Church not allowing the use of this genre of music in the liturgy, but the “grassroots” movement that brought this type of music into the mainstream. It was essentially born of an act of rebellion on the part of younger people and those who supported them. Canedo, in many respects, rewards this type of behavior as a small segment of the Church who overcame a powerful foe, the Church hierarchy. This is the fundamental problem with Canedo’s book; it is a story of defiance in the face of the Church. This book is a story of the men and women who, influenced by their cultural surroundings, would not take “no” for an answer. Though the book is relatively excellent in the areas of history and sociology, Canedo lacks the understanding of what the Church is and what the liturgy is. This is seen clearly when he says “Meanwhile, half a world away, a dedicated group of lay people was conspiring to influence the direction of the Council’s discussion on the liturgy” (27, emphasis added).
Canedo says that the purpose of the Church’s liturgy in the glorification of God and the sanctification of man. This is certainly true, however, Canedo fails to realize that the Church and her liturgy are handed down from Jesus Christ to the Apostles and then given to the Church. Liturgy is given to the Church to be safeguarded, not manipulated on a whim. This is certainly true of what Vatican II wished to do. The fathers of the Second Vatican Council wished to renew the liturgical life of the Church in the modern day by looking through the Church’s tradition to see what was essential and what were needless accretions throughout her history. Canedo fails to understand this point and assumes that Vatican II wanted to revolutionize the liturgy and make it more people-centric, more in line with Protestant theology. Canedo assumes that the Church wanted to make herself more perceptible to people in the modern age. While this is true in a sense, he underestimates the laity and their capacity to learn the Church’s will after Vatican II.
This is seen in some of Canedo’s writing. For example, he says that “The legacy of Vatican II is found in the Council’s documents, remarkable gems unfortunately written in a technical jargon understood only by professional ecclesiastics” (24). Yes, some of the council’s documents do make use of “technical jargon,” but the Church felt that by bringing herself into the modern world the laity would be better able to understand certain teachings, like the liturgy as a foretaste of the heavenly Jerusalem. Though this would have taken some work on the part of pastors and catechists, the whole message of Vatican II was misinterpreted by those who claimed they were working for the advancement of the principles of the Second Vatican Council.
Another example of Canedo not giving the laity their due is when he says “In preparing for the documents on the liturgy, the theologians drew on the efforts of liturgical reform and experimentation that, although unknown to most Catholics, had begun decades before the Council’s opening session” (25, emphasis added). While the Liturgical Movement was not a world-wide movement that was popular everywhere, the Movement was widespread enough through the efforts of people like Virgil Michel and Reynold Hillenbrand that the laity knew the changes that had happened. Another misinterpretation made by Canedo is a minor thing, but one that has detrimental implications. He regularly uses the term “American Catholic Church” or “American Catholics.” On the surface, this may not seen like a major problem, but the term implicitly cuts the Catholic Church in America off from the rest of the Church, assuming that Catholicism in America is its own entity. This he repeats when he says, “That faraway Council in Rome was now coming home to the people in the pews” (35).
The biggest problem with Canedo’s book, though, is his lack of understanding of what sacred music is. This is a direct correlation with his misunderstanding of what liturgy is, as has already been mentioned. Something sacred is something that is placed aside for a special use. Sacred music, in this case, is something that is placed aside for a very special purpose; this purpose is the worship of almighty God. Canedo has a problem setting aside certain types of music that are in essence different from what one might hear on the radio on the way to Mass on Sunday. Although he himself admits that he was greatly influenced to become a pastoral musician because of the folk Mass “revolution,” he presents a biased study on the nature of music in the liturgical life of the Catholic Church.
Canedo, as do many of the people he chronicles, do not look to the Church’s treasure-trove of sacred music to reinvigorate the Church in the modern age. He makes use of the word made popular by Pope John XXIII, aggiornamento, Italian for “bringing up to date” (23). Although some would consider Vatican II bringing the liturgy and music “up to date” with the times, this was not the intention of the Council Fathers. This aggiornamento was supposed to be a renewal within tradition. This is certainly the case with the Church’s musical traditions. The Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy (Sacrosanctum Concilium) and the Instruction on Music in the Liturgy (Musicam Sacram) make it clear that Gregorian chant holds pride of place in the Church’s musical heritage, all other forms of music being equal (SC 114, 116; MS 50). Though Sacrosanctum Concilium and Musicam Sacram do not forbid the use of modern forms of music in the renewed liturgy, these modern forms of music must be influenced by the Church’s musical heritage.
Canedo does not take this point into consideration when he extols the virtues of the folk music in the Mass. He regularly speaks of the music of the Kingston Trio, Pete Seeger, and Elvis Presley influencing the musical climate of the United States in the 1960s and 1970s and how their influence came into the Catholic Church. This folk music, though, had a political agenda behind it. Canedo says that folk music had a way to influence people and unite themselves in the causes which they worked tirelessly for, and that it is a great way for people to participate and entertain themselves (17). While more people were coming to Mass in this decade, claims Canedo, because of the folk Mass, the underlying reason was the sense of rebellion. As Canedo says, “In the 1960s, did anybody really care about disobedience?” (66).
This disobedience, though, goes against the Church because Canedo, who fully advocates folk music in the Mass, disregards the essential elements of the quality of music in Catholic worship. Some of these qualities are being able to manifest the hierarchical and communal nature of the Church (Musicam Sacram, 5, 13, 14), using any kind of music so long as the spirit of the liturgy is kept intact (Ibid., 9), and some sense of “professional” singers. Folk music is an art that requires little to no training on the part of the choir, musically or theologically. The folk Mass does not fulfill these qualities in the fullest sense because folk music is the music of community, not hierarchy, and it is used for political motivations, and betrays the essential headship of Christ that the priest symbolizes in the Mass. Canedo makes it quite clear as well that everyone could sing folk music. Even though it is a beautiful idea for the whole congregation to sing together, even the least-trained of musicians can just pick up a guitar and start playing. In paragraph 21 of Musicam Sacram, the Church indicates that when possible, professional singers are preferred when a choir cannot be set up. These folk choirs also tend not to be trained sufficiently in the theology of the liturgy because folk music in essence betrays the hierarchical nature of the liturgy by being an instrument for political motivations. The liturgy is not the forum for political advancement.
Overall, Canedo does a fine job of explaining the folk Mass “revolution” from historical, sociological, and cultural perspectives. I recommend this book with two cautions, though. First, Canedo, as he himself admits, grew up with folk music in the Mass and that inspired him to become a pastoral musician. It is good on his part that he admits this bias, but he seems to have written a hagiography of people like Roger Nachtwey, Dennis Fitzpatrick, and Ray Repp, not an objective, scholarly book. This “hagiographizing” of the movers and shakers in the folk Mass “revolution” canonizes descent in the Church among the people, as Fitzpatrick admitted, “To hell with the imprimatur!” Second, Canedo does not fully understand the essential qualities of music and the nature of the liturgy. For him, liturgy is something done by the people for the people, not something done by the people, with God acting through them, for the glory of almighty God. It is true that the liturgy is for the glorification of God and the sanctification of man, but Canedo admits that folk music in the Mass had an entertainment quality for the people (17). With these two cautions in mind, this book should be on the shelf of any musician, liturgist, or cultural historian.