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Why Charlotte Church knows more about liturgy than Rupert Murdoch

His attitude to sacred music is symptomatic of the modern age’s attitude to religious art

By on Friday, 2 December 2011

Charlotte Church

Charlotte Church

The Leveson inquiry into press standards has ground on all week, but it has thrown up this gem, as reported by the Daily Telegraph, but missed by some other papers. Charlotte Church was asked to sing at Rupert Murdoch’s wedding to his present wife, Wendi Deng, back in 1999, when she was thirteen years old. She told the enquiry:

”I had been told by my management that he had specifically asked for me to sing Pie Jesu.”

She said she had raised the issue that it was a requiem – a funeral song – but was told Mr Murdoch specifically wanted it performed.
”He said he didn’t care whether it was a funeral song and he liked that song and he wanted me to sing it, which I did.”

It is heartening to see that at the age of thirteen Miss Church had a keen sense of what was and what was not liturgically appropriate at a wedding. Pie Jesu is part of the Requiem Mass, specifically part of Thomas of Celano’s mighty poem the Dies Irae, which describes in graphic terms the Last Judgement, and the terrible day of God’s anger, hardly suitable for a wedding, even a civil one on a yacht in new York Harbour. The section of the poem usually called the Pie Jesu is in fact a gentle coda to the whole thing, but even here the words are hardly what you want to hear when you are about to tie the knot with your lovely new wife. “Sweet Jesus, give them rest, give them eternal rest. Amen.” It is indeed a funeral song.

People should not be surprised that the young Miss Church knew more about the Church’s liturgy than the powerful and mature Mr Murdoch. Charlotte Church is of course a native of Cardiff, and her family used to (indeed, for all I know, they may still) go to St Mary’s in Canton, which is a parish with a strong liturgical tradition, once staffed by Benedictines from Ampleforth. It was no doubt in this community that Miss Church learned the difference between a wedding and a funeral, and that one should, unlike Mr Murdoch, care about the difference.

Mr Murdoch’s attitude to sacred music (which is what Pie Jesu is, though we are not told who the composer is in this instance) strikes me as symptomatic of the modern age’s attitude to religious art in general. People like pretty things, and want to enjoy them, but they do not care about the context in which such beautiful things emerged. But context matters: out of context, Pie Jesu is just another nice song, shorn of most of its meaning. Moreover, it is an abuse of a work of art to transplant it from its rightful context, as the thirteen year old Charlotte Church instinctively knew. Singing Pie Jesu at a wedding makes no sense; it annihilates meaning. People may say that this is what they like and so what? But if personal liking is to be the only criterion of choice, then everything can mean exactly what I choose it to mean, which would result in a world without common culture and shared meaning.

Charlotte Church is firmly rooted in her Welsh culture, which is why she knows that you cannot make things mean what you want them to mean, even if you are Rupert Murdoch. And that too, I suspect, might have been a lesson she learned at St Mary’s in Canton.

  • Bob Hayes

    A thoughtful piece Fr Alexander – and a reminder of the dangers of self-centredness and relativism. 

  • Alexander Lucie-Smith

    Thanks for your kind comment.

  • Confusedof Chi

    “Sweet Jesus, give them rest, give them eternal rest. Amen.” Maybe after the  Leveson inquiry has finished they may have the hymn sung again,,,,, as their mood might have changed…..

  • Annie

    At one wedding I attended recently, we were gobsmacked when the bride and groom trotted out of church to ‘Don’t Stop Me Now’ by Queen. How’s that for tasteless?

  • Alexander Lucie-Smith

    Taste is a funny thing. But if the liturgy had ended, and it was a sort of post-wedding piece of music, it is liturgically OK. I mean there is nothing liturgical about Widor’s toccata, is there? What I am trying to highlight here is the way meaning is destroyed by using something that means one thing to mean another -and in the process reducing everything to the status of gibberish. Murdoch claerly has no idea of objective truth…. that we discover meaning, rather than create it. Owning all those papers seems to have had an effect on him, and not in a good way.

  • Annie

    The Queen song kind of summed up the entire service.
    Yes, I agree, it seems to be acceptable to filter out from whatever source whatever bits you like, and mash them together, however inappropriate.

  • Annie

    Continued: But that’s a newspaper’s (newspaper owner’s) MO, isn’t it. So much of the media pushes the ‘what I like/when I like/so what if I like’ buttons.

    (And oh for an edit button)

  • Nate Whilk

    And yet, 7 years later, she supposedly had no idea a sketch about a substance-abusing nun would be offensive. I guess the lessons at St Mary’s didn’t cover that.

    As for choice of music at a wedding, I’ve heard that occasionally a bride requests “I don’t know how to love him” from “Jesus Christ Superstar”. As you probably know, it contains the line “I’ve had so many men before”.

  • EditorCT

    What is  “liturgically OK” might not be appropriate in a Church. Why are modern priests so afraid to say “no” to these clowns who haven’t a clue about what the Mass actually is and Who is in the Tabernacle. I’ve been absolutely amazed at the stuff that’s been allowed at weddings and funerals.  I really don’t know who is worse, the idiotic lay people for asking for this rubbish or the weak-kneed priests who permit it.

  • Tiddles The Cat

    I’ve heard some shockers from the DVD player at my former church (one of the reasons I moved to the church a mile or so away). From ‘The Fields of Athenry’ to something from Black Eyed Peas! 

    As for Charlotte Church, I’ve no time for her and neither do I have time for Rupert Murdoch – what a thicko for choosing Pie Jesu!

  • Christopher Wrinn

    A friend of a friend of mine played an organ rendition they ad libbed of a medley of Michael Jackson songs, not even for a wedding, AT MASS, during Communion. I was livid when I learned of this. “It was in honor of his passing” is a pitiful excuse to blaspheme.

  • Ncc73205

    Maybe it is actually a requiem for Mr Murdoch!

  • Guy Picarde

    What piffle!! Considering that church weddings and church funerals are rapidly in the decline, what does it matter who sings what. It was Charlotte Church’s musical director who questioned Mr Murdoch’s choice of music. It was for that reason (of being challenged) that the offer of “Murdoch Press” publicity was proffered instead of a fee, and her manager fell for it, and she got nothing, and she deserved nothing. It is typical of Catholics like Alexander Lucie-Smith to make sanctimonious trite and pointless comments such as the assertion that Charlotte Church knew more about theology that Rupert Murdoch. I go to a Jazz club where they play “Tantum Ergo” to a swing beat, and people dance to it.

  • Alexander Lucie-Smith

    Thanks for your kind comment, too.

  • Theresa mccormack

    MrMurdoch’s previous wife was a Catholic Scot.
     I wander if he heard it at a Requiem Mass ?

  • M Banks-wilkinson

    It would have been the Andrew Lloyd Webber setting that Charlotte was famous for singing when she was discovered. That was first done by Sara Brightman and a boy treble and I think became a chart hit in 1985/6 or thereabouts it includes the Agnus dei and the whole Requiem was composed in memorium of his father.

  • Diddleymaz

    The Lloydd Webber version of Pie Jesu including the Agnus Dei, was a bit of a signature piece for the young Charlotte Church ,she was “discovered” when she sang it on TV.
    The original recording with Sarah Brightman and a lovely boy treble was a chart hit in the mid eighties.The whole requiem was composed by Lord Lloyd Webber in memory of his father.
    Mr Murdoch is I’m afraid a man who has amassed too much power and as such obviously didn’t care what anyone else thought about anything.Is a Catholic allowed to mention hubris?
    One thinks after seeing his rather pathetic showing in the parliamentary committee ,how are the mighty fallen, or Citizen Kane anybody?

  • Mar Michael

    Just like many here in the USA, they want a “Christian Wedding” without being Christian.

  • Anonymous

    The obvious solution is to forbid Church weddings to people – especially V.I.P.s – who use religion in that way. Christian weddings are for one group of people only: Christians. When is the hierarchy going to stand up to slebs and other such people ? It needs to stop prostituting the Sacraments and pandering to the strong.  Murdoch should be excommunicated, simples.

  • Alexander Lucie-Smith

    I think this was a civil wedding, actually, Parasum, though the report deos not make that clear. The lack of clarity is in itself worrying.

  • David Corrigan

    It was a civil wedding and Wendi Deng just liked the tune “Pie Jesu”. The matter was so insignificant (if it ever happened) that there was no need for a big deal about it. This idiotic talk by Parasum of excommunication of someone who is not an active part of the community does not help the reputation or integrity of the Catholic Church because it denotes intolerable doctrinal and canon law misunderstand. Sadly, so many of The Catholic Herald bloggers demonstrate their inability to think and reason because their mind is clouded by petty zealous bigotry and empty headed piety and they display great intolerance and blind.ignorance. piety and they display great intolerance and blind.ignorance.

  • John485

    seeing as we are talking weddings and funerals – I went to one funeral where the mourners had to troop out to the song ‘There may be trouble ahead……’

  • Peter

    Father, is there anywhere on the excellent Catholic Herald website where members of the faithful can ask questions about the liturgy in general and the way it is applied in the UK?

    I am sure that many readers at one time or another will have been confused, frustrated or simply perplexed by the different applications of the Sacred Liturgy during Mass, and yet have no platform to express their concerns in this regard.

    For example, I am puzzled as to why a parish priest has to have the extraordinary ministers remove the unpurified vessels from the sanctuary altogether just after Communion and place them in the sacristy, instead of simple leaving them on the side credence table for purification after Mass.

    A forum in the Catholic Herald would be extremenly valuable in resolving this and many other liturgical issues which may be of concern to the faithful.

  • Dissenter

    I cannot believe that with the continuing exodus of Catholics from the Church, all we can talk about is what music someone wanted at their wedding! We should be asking why so many are leaving, how we can stop this outflow, how we can bring the lapsed back and thereafter convert the rest. I would expect this kind of story in the tabloids, not a Catholic paper’s blog!

  • Tiddles the Cat

    So, where does that leave Mendelssohn’s Wedding March, which has been played at millions of weddings down the years? Is it ‘Liturgically sound’?

    I’m not having THAT played at my wedding, that’s for sure…

    … though, when I depart this mortal coil …

    If I should end up at the crematorium (AFTER Requiem Mass with tasteful Church music wafting into the air with the incense), I’ll have the choice of :

    Josef Locke’s Blaze Away, Fire by the Crazy World of Arthur Brown, Something’s Cookin’ In The Kitchen by Dana, We’ll Sweep Out The Ashes In The Morn by Big Tom and the Mainliners, Ring of Fire by Johnny Cash, Smoke Gets In Your Eyes by The Platters, Hot Stuff by Donna Summerr, We Didn’t Start The Fire by Billy Joel…

    Or, if I get buried…

    Going Underground by The Jam, Way Down by Elvis Presley, Tar and Cement by Joe Dolan, The Green Green Grass of Home by Tom Jones, Don’t Forget Your Shovel by Christy Moore.

    ‘Nuff Said!

  • Tiddles the Cat

    Good job it wasn’t ‘Crazy Little Thing Called Love’ …

  • Tiddles the Cat

    Oh, boy! What next? A medley of Westlife’s greatest hits when they go their separate ways?

    This has got to stop!

  • Dr PJ McFall

    LOSS OF SOLEMNITY AND HOLINESSWhat you have written is so apt because many of the topics discussed in the Catholic Herald are so banal such as Charlotte Church and whether women should trousers serve no good purpose. The editorial is like a Catholic Tabloid, At The Leveson Inquiry, Alistair Campbell referred to the tabloids as ‘putrid’. Perhaps as you suggest we should be concentrating on what will attract people back to the church.  One reason I left the Catholic Church was because of the loss of solemnity (holiness) where the priest dressed like a song and dance man. The other was the ‘sign of peace’ which I found to be intrusive because ‘yucky’ friendliness was being imposed upon me by people I did not know, and I felt intimidated. My purpose of going to Mass was to gain union with God and enhance my peace of mind; not to engage with trite and pointless conviviality. I attended SSPX but I had conflict because although they were(and still are) very solemn, they wanted to continue living in the middle ages and keep people subdued and oppressed. I now attend the High Anglican service in St Patrick’s Cathedral Dublin, because it is the nearest I can find to real Catholicism.