A noteworthy (but little noted) revolution at World Youth Day 2016

I’ve never been to a World Youth Day event, but have followed the last few as closely as possible via news accounts, blogs, and conversations with friends who have attended. This August 7th blog post by Fr. David Friel, a young priest (ordained in 20110 from Philadelphia), highlights something I’d not seen in other coverage of the recent events in Kraków (granted, I read only a slim portion of the countless articles and posts out there):

There was one truly remarkable part of the WYD celebrations that did not receive as much attention as these other details, yet it was revolutionary. I am speaking about the music used at the major English-speaking catechesis sessions.

This year, the main English-speaking catechesis was held at Tauron Arena, renamed “Mercy Centre” for the week. Each day, roughly 15,000 pilgrims packed the arena to hear keynote talks by Cardinal Seán O’Malley, Cardinal Tagle, and Cardinal Dolan. At the conclusion of the morning session, Mass was celebrated in the arena.

Nothing is new about the general structure of the catechesis I have just described. The revolutionary part was the music used at the Masses in Tauron Arena. Typically, these Masses feature pop concert-style praise & worship led by an on-stage band. This year, however, the preparations for these large-scale liturgies were entrusted to the Dominican Liturgical Centre in Kraków. Fr. Lukasz Misko, OP was invited to serve as Director of Music for the English-language liturgies, and he, in turn, invited fellow-blogger Christopher Mueller to serve as conductor for all of these liturgies (as he announced here). The result was an experience very different from the norm.

Notably, not a single hymn was sung during Mass. Praise & worship songs were used throughout the day at the arena, before and after Mass, but no garden variety metrical hymns or songs were sung during Mass, from the Sign of the Cross to the Final Blessing. This, in itself, is revolutionary.

Fr. Friel provides some details about the music and then notes: “This sea change is not insignificant. It means that the project of advocating truly sacred music within the present liturgical movement is bearing practical fruit. Even three years ago, at WYD 2013 in Rio de Janeiro, no one would have expected what transpired at the Mercy Centre in Kraków.” He also provides the text of a letter that was included in the program for music, written by Fr. Lukasz Misko, OP, who was Director of Music for English-language liturgies, WYD 2016. Fr. Misko states, in part:

These English-language liturgies are the fruit of a long and ongoing collaboration between Dominican Friars in Poland and their Dominican brethren in the United States. And one of the first impressions you may have is, a lot of this music is unfamiliar. What we hope you’ll take away from these Masses, though—alongside the presence of Christ in the Eucharist and the camaraderie of thousands of new Catholic friends from around the globe—is a sense of how beautiful the music of the Mass can be.

Dominicans especially cherish Gregorian chant, and yet they believe that the beauty of sacred music does not belong to one particular genre. It flows from a basic requirement found in different musical styles, which might be summed up as, “it’s all about God, and He’s a Mystery.” Inexpressible and ineffable, the Mystery of God is always ahead of us, approached but never comprehended, and therefore our liturgical music—filled with awe and love for Him—should reflect that fundamental humility. This week we are drawing from a wide variety of the Church’s music, including Gregorian chant, sacred polyphony, traditional hymnody, and contemporary praise and worship. …

And it’s all about God, and He’s a Mystery. The unfamiliarity of this beautiful choral music gives us a chance to experience God anew at each liturgy. We can’t apply our usual “traditional music = conservative” or “contemporary music = liberal” thinking. We must become open to the vastness of God, and beauty offers us a powerful means of doing that; true beauty calls us out of ourselves, orients us to something greater, and stirs up a longing for the transcendent. Sacred music, the expression of the deepest human yearning for the most profound Mystery of Love, creates in us a special dimension whereby we can be permeated and transformed by the Eternal beauty of God, Himself.

Do read Fr. Friel’s entire post

UPDATE: Fr. Misko has kindly informed me that some of the music mentioned here is available on iTunes, as “Jesus, I Trust In You”

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About Carl E. Olson 1227 Articles
Carl E. Olson is editor of Catholic World Report and Ignatius Insight. He is the author of Did Jesus Really Rise from the Dead?, Will Catholics Be "Left Behind"?, co-editor/contributor to Called To Be the Children of God, co-author of The Da Vinci Hoax (Ignatius), and author of the "Catholicism" and "Priest Prophet King" Study Guides for Bishop Robert Barron/Word on Fire. His recent books on Lent and Advent—Praying the Our Father in Lent (2021) and Prepare the Way of the Lord (2021)—are published by Catholic Truth Society. He is also a contributor to "Our Sunday Visitor" newspaper, "The Catholic Answer" magazine, "The Imaginative Conservative", "The Catholic Herald", "National Catholic Register", "Chronicles", and other publications. Follow him on Twitter @carleolson.