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Liturgists tried to block my Mass setting for the Pope, says MacMillan

By on Wednesday, 27 October 2010

James MacMillan's new Mass setting was controversial among some Church officials (Photo: PA)

James MacMillan's new Mass setting was controversial among some Church officials (Photo: PA)

Scottish composer James MacMillan has claimed that Church liturgists tried to stop his Mass setting from being performed for the Pope last month.

He said an “almighty row erupted behind the scenes” after he submitted the setting earlier this year and it was passed on to Church officials who disliked it.

According to Mr MacMillan, they complained that the setting was “un-singable”, “not fit for purpose”, and “not pastoral enough”. They were unhappy that it required a competent organist.

But they were overruled after Mr MacMillan contacted Scotland’s bishops, who had commissioned the setting, and all but one of them gave him their support.

He wrote on his Telegraph blog: “The bishops didn’t know anything about [the row] – until we raised it with them. Obviously, not having heard the music, they were in a quandary. What if the ‘liturgists’ were right? What if the new music couldn’t be sung by ordinary people?

“But they had put their faith in me, knowing what I had done for the Church so far… I was contacted, separately, by four members of the Scottish hierarchy, directly or indirectly. The one who phoned me allayed my fears and confirmed their full support.”

He added: “Only one of them seemed to have fallen to the subterfuge of the ideologues, and he sent me an upsetting letter.”

Mr MacMillan said that he and his publishers were “astonished” by the row. He said: “In all their years of facilitating the commission of new music, Boosey and Hawkes had never dealt with such rudeness and shoddy behaviour.

“They were deeply shocked; and I was embarrassed because of how my Church was being seen by my professional representatives and colleagues,” Mr MacMillan said.

The new setting was performed at Bellahouston Park, Glasgow, and Cofton Park, Birmingham, and followed the new translation of the Mass.

It was sung by choirs of 800 and 1,200 and accompanied by timpani and brass. Any parish can perform the setting as long as it has an organ.

  • MJCarroll

    I happened to come across some more information on these liturgists. Apparently their agenda is to pursue the 1970s Americanised solution to the post-Conciliar vernacular liturgy, to the exclusion of more “traditional” possibilities. I am pleased they lost their battle as I was at Crofton and as far as I was concerned James MacMillan did a brilliant job.

    These liturgists and other liberals need to get used to losing battles over the next 50 years with the ever increasing prominence of the traditionalists. I'm not saying I want Latin at ever mass but, it is now time the balance was redressed from this 'wishy washy' liberal nonsense.

  • PhilipH

    I do personally find James McMillan's music rather old-fashioned, but I'm surprised at the row – after all, it sounded OK at the papal Mass, just a bit bland in my opinion.

    It is true that some parishes do not have a competent organist – they're getting increasingly hard to come by. My own parish makes do with an improvised church band of whatever instruments we can get.

  • Tjextejt

    How can one obtain copies of this music in the States?

  • Chrisb

    I'm not a fan of James MacMillan's works normally, but I am quite enthusiastic about his setting of the Mass and feel it is far more singable by congregations than the Coventry Mass. I hope MacMillan is not going to get the awful treatment Elgar was once subjected to by the Catholic Church in this country.

  • Ratbag

    I found MacMillan's Papal Mass settings totally refreshing. It actually respected the gravity of the unique occasion of the Holy Father's UK Visit – and I am of the post-Vatican II generation! It is a world away from the hymns/songs that sounds as dated as Smashie and Nicey plus the icky feel of a pair of Crimplene pants.

    Traditional hymns have crept back into our Masses like the head of the house knocking on the door of the tradesman's entrance. Bring them on! More! They are timeless masterpieces! They make the most of melody, vocal range and you actually feel you are lifting our mind and heart to Almighty God whilst singing them.

    I'll never forget the pleasant surprise of finding the RTE Album of traditional hymns 'Faith of Our Fathers' zooming to the higher reaches of the Irish album charts. It was so successful, they made follow up. Young people like Liam McNally and Isabel Suckling (The Choirgirl) are singing Panis Angelicus and all the traditional sacred music. The Priests, Gregorian Chant, Susan Boyle, Karl Jenkins… the charts still don't know what's hit it!

    Liturgists take note: Well written, thoughtful, respectful, stately music please and lots of it. We don't want so called 'trendy'.

    Trendy Masses have had their day. Time to honour Almighty God and not make Him or His congregation cringe.

  • Tiggy

    I did nt know we had “liturgists” in Scotland. Not something the Church up here is famous for….decent liturgy.

    The “Sanctus” of the MacMillan setting was particularly good. We regularly get “Shine, Jesus shine” and “Kumbaya”. Thats about the level of music in a typical Scottish Parish, oh and perhaps with added overheads!

  • M Bankswilkinson

    I was at Birmingham Mass, and I have been singing litergy and Hymns for 40+ years and Im afraid it wasnt very easy to sing , too atonal and modernistic. Sorry Mr MacMillan I didnt like it at all.

  • http://fortysomething-diddleymaz.blogspot.com/ M Banks-wilkinson

    i dont like bland 70's pap either but I do want a good tune and this just didnt have one!

  • GFFM

    I am sure the leftist liturgists are bad in Britain; however, I just don't think they can top the great majority of liturgists in this country who continue to play lousy acoustic guitar to accompany horrific 1960s and 1970s pop hymns. We are also treated to bongos, barrel house piano players, and lounge lizard like cantors. Most liturgists are graduates of pastoral and music ministry programs which view the Mass as a performance and the priest as a mere presider. They have worked hard to desacralize and demystify the Mass with terrible feel good songs like “Gather us In.” What is truly difficult to take is that such music like “Peace is Flowing Like a River” (look it up it's horrible) have inured the general Mass goer's ear to really bad music and inappropriate music. Most of this stuff is hard to sing and is sentimental slish. In my own parish, the pianist who comes several times a month for Sunday Mass plays the last part of Eric Clapton's Layla–I kid you not. Sad to say he has ruined Layla for me. What hope the new translation will help to restore the dignity of the Mass, so the dignity of musical accompaniment will be somewhat restored as well. Given the reaction of the “liturgist” class to the new translations in the American Church, this may be possible. We can only hope.

  • EditorCT

    This is a very bitter taste of what is to come when the “liturgists” have to face the wholesale return of the Traditional Latin Mass, as will happen, all in due course. Now, we can say “Mr McMillan, you ain't see nuthin yet…”

    But then it'll be a case of “Mr McMillan, eat your heart out!”

  • Padro4668

    I remember being somewhat surprised that the new music at the Scottish Masss of the Pope sounded religious to my American ears; This was in stark contrast to the cacaphonous and dramatically interrupted ANTI-PRAYERFUL interruptions of the organ and music, especially AFTER the Gospel in the Westminister Catholic Cathedral. Forget about was it singable; It was a radical CONTRADICTION TO THE VERY HINT OF PRAYER. Who ever wrote that NOISE AT HIGH VOLLUME,IS THOROUGHLY UNSUITED TO COMPOSE MUSIC FOR THE CATHOLIC LITURGY. Everything that's WRONG with the post Vat II Liturgy of Pope Paul (which is NOT the Liturgy of Vat II), which that Pope later rued with the observation that an “anti-Catholic spirit” had entered Catholic worship, but apparently did not see HIMSELF as the naif that let it all in, was manifested in that 180 degree contrast to the Gregorian Chant so rarely heard of the Mass of the Precious Blood Proper. Those prayerful Eastern and Oriental Orthodox must have noticed the REAL spirit of the Catholic Liturgy in the chant and the ENEMY'S INVASION OF THE NOISE OF HELL IN THE SANCTUARY. The Scottish music was simple and not GREAT but it was certainly compatible with prayer.

  • W Oddie

    It was deeply traditional, not modernistic at all, and if you think it was “atonal” I suggest you find out what the word means

  • W Oddie

    On the contrary, it was full of good tunes. Are you tone deaf, or what?

  • W Oddie

    Not if we fight back, NOW

  • EditorCT

    I agree – but it won't be easy with the clergy and religious so hostile to the TLM. I've had two conversations this week, one with a (typical smiling modernist) priest and one with a (typical smiling modernist nun) and both were as hostile to the TLM as any Protestant might be.

    Father said he'd not had one single request for the TLM in his parish since Summorum Pontificum. When I asked if he had announced the arrival of SP and invited parishioners to ask for a TLM he said: “no, I haven't and I never will…” Smile intact.

    Sister said: “how many people participate in a TLM? They don't say the responses out loud.” When I asked if that meant the saints and martyrs down the centuries, not to mention the millions of lay faithful, hadn't been participating in the Mass, she just…well… smiled.

    So, tell me, W.Oddie – how do we fight back?

    ps. I'm not into “smiling”…

  • Libera Nos

    They all say they have not had a single request for the TLM. Its seems to be the standard line. Our Bishop said this to a friend of mine, even though I had written to him a year or so earlier. Some clergy, and Bishops seem to have very bad memories.

  • EditorCT

    Well said,Tiggy. Very bad memories or very dishonest. You pays your money and you takes your pick…

  • Rich

    Modernist – I can't bring myself to go to a sung mass any more – too painful!!