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One Bishop’s Bold Move to Restore the Sacred


The ongoing effort to reform the sacred liturgy within the Ordinary Form of the Roman Rite often begins with the reintroduction of several traditional practices. A greater use of Latin, the return of communion rails, and even (on occasion) the offering of the Holy Sacrifice ad orientem. One area that has been much slower to see reform, however, is in the selection of music used at Mass.

On more than one occasion I have had a pastor express the great difficulty faced when looking to address this single aspect of our worship. It would seem that many of the faithful have grown quite possessive of their favorite OCP hymns over the years. After all, what is Mass without those sweet sounds of the seventies and eighties courtesy of Marty Haugen and David Haas? What would Mass be without the modern, first person, “We as Jesus” hymns like , “I Am the Bread of Life” being sung during Holy Communion?

Of course, I am only kidding.

However, the reality that many others have actually grown attached to these songs over the decades, requires charity when introducing change, and can make musical reform very difficult at times. Just ask any pastor who has taken on the challenge.

This brings us to the Diocese of Marquette and a pastoral directive issued by Bishop John F. Doerfler earlier this year. The topic: an instruction on what music will be permitted for use at diocesan Masses.

Make no mistake about it; this is a bold move.

What is even more impressive is that Bishop Doerfler is simply building upon the foundation laid by his immediate predecessor, Bishop Alexander Sample (now the Archbishop of Portland, OR). Imagine this revolutionary concept: liturgical continuity from one bishop to the next!

In his 2013 pastoral letter to the people of the Diocese of Marquette, Bishop Sample noted that music “proper” to the Sacred Liturgy possesses three qualities:

and Universality

He further explained that these qualities are not “arbitrary or subjective”, but instead “objectively flow from the essential nature and purpose of sacred music itself.” Bishop Sample went on to say that sacred music transcends cultures and that not “every form or style of music is capable of being rendered suitable for the Mass.” 

Ultimately, the purpose of sacred music within the Mass is to glorify God and sanctify the faithful, not to generate an emotion or provide a form of religious entertainment.

With his INSTRUCTION ON SACRED MUSIC IN DIVINE WORSHIP, Bishop Doerfler has gone from a theoretical discussion of promoting Sacred Music in his diocese, to actually implementing the necessary steps to make it a reality. He has mandated that the following directives are to be implemented by ALL parishes and Catholic schools in the diocese by December 31, 2020. More importantly, however, he has provided the green light (and frankly, the cover) for those pastors who wish to begin these integral reforms sooner than later.

The directives set forth by Bishop Doerfler are as follows:

1. All parishes and schools will learn to chant the Ordinary parts of the Mass in English that are found in the Roman Missal, and they will be sung by the congregation some of the time throughout the year. 

2. All parishes and schools will learn to chant the KYRIE, SANCTUS and AGNUS DEI from the Missa lubilate Deo, and they will be sung by the congregation some of the time throughout the year. 

3. All parishes and schools will learn to chant the Communion Antiphon in English to a very simple tone that everyone can sing, and the Communion Antiphon will be sung at every Sunday Mass. A hymn may be sung after the Communion Antiphon while the congregation is receiving the Blessed Sacrament. 

4. A Diocesan Hymnal will be used to ensure the musical quality and doctrinal integrity of the Sacred Music. The hymnal will include a broad repertoire of hymns from classical to contemporary. 

5. The Diocesan Director of Sacred Music will provide annual, regional workshops for parish musicians to assist them in the implementation of these directives. He will also assist music teachers in Catholic schools to implement Sacred Music in the school curriculum and at school Masses. Finally, he stands at the service of parishes upon request to help implement Sacred Music in other ways. 

Let us dare to hope that in the coming years we see more bishops take such bold and decisive steps as Bishop Doerfler has done to restore sacred music to the Holy Mass.

Photo Credit:  Diocese of Marquette

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