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Yesterday, Bishop Jan Liesen, holding the liturgy portfolio in the Dutch bishops’ conference, wrote a letter about the confusion surrounding popular Christmas songs in the liturgy. In the piece, which was published in Katholiek Nieuwsblad and on the conference’s website rkkerk.nl, the bishop confirms what many had already suspected: Publisher of Mass booklets, Berne Heeswijk, and especially director Fr. Joost Jansen, spoke nonsense when they said that the bishops had forbidden the use of such songs as ‘Silent Night’ in the liturgy of Christmas.
Bishop Liesen writes:
“This statement is not true and has caused much unrest. [...] The Christmas song question is not new. In 2001 the Roman Congregation for Divine Worship decided that liturgical songs in the vernacular need the approval of both the bishops’ conference and the Holy See. To properly introduce this measure a list of songs for the liturgy was created and at the same a period of transition was sought. On the request of and in consultation with publisher Berne the Dutch bishops received such a transition period: for two years a number of songs could be used in the liturgy, even if they were not (yet) included in the list. It was agreed with Berne that the publisher would abide by the approved songs. This agreement was signed, among others, by Fr. Jansen. To be clear: the list of approved songs is still in development and is continuously expanded with new songs; both theologians and musicians are working on this. Traditional Christmas songs are also suggested.”
He adds in a subsequent paragraph that all people involved in the publication of Mass booklets – among them Fr. Jansen (pictured below) - were informed in June of this year that the so-called ‘Christmas traditionals’ may now be printed in the back of these booklets.
All this puts the publisher’s earlier statements – that the bishops had forbidden the use of such songs, and that they had petitioned Rome to issue this ban – in a new light. Simply put: he was talking nonsense. There never has been a ban, and certainly not one planned by the bishops, and the traditional popular Christmas songs may still be used – in their proper place – on Christmas Eve.
Sadly, no correction is yet to be found on the publisher’s website… which makes me wonder: was this an honest mistake or a wilful misrepresentation of facts. For one in the business of publishing, such a misunderstanding of agreements made and signed is a very serious one…
Bishop Liesen concludes his letter as follows:
“Part of that treasure of songs, to which many faithful are justifiably attached, are many Christmas songs. The bishops, too, enjoy singing them and informed Berne on 21 June that these songs are very much suited to be published in the back of the Mass booklets, so that they may be sung at Christmas.”
Photo credit:  Jeroen Appels/Van Assendelft
Sigh… sometimes you have to wonder what people are thinking, not least people who provide a professional service to the Church and the faithful. One such case erupted this afternoon, and was smothered within hours, but not before the damage was done. And the guilty party? Not just the media who should do a lot more fact checking when writing about the Church, but also the publishers of Mass booklets in the Netherlands, the Norbertine abbey of Berne.
We’re no longer allowed to sing Silent Night at Christmas Mass this year, they panicked. When making the Mass booklets they felt so bad about all the songs the bishops wouldn’t allow them to print anymore: the aforementioned Christmas staple, but also the songs by Huub Oosterhuis (a good thing if those were banned). And although the order came from Rome, they said, they Vatican wasn’t to blame, because the ‘fluffiest Pope evur’ surely wouldn’t allow such a nasty thing. No, the Dutch bishops had told Rome to ban the songs. Bad bishops.
Well, reality is a bit different, as Father Cor Mennen (pictured), advisor to the Nationale Raad voor Liturgie (National Liturgy Council), explains. The Mass booklets are printed according to a list of approved songs. As Bishop Jan Liesen, who holds the liturgy portfolio in the Bishops’ Conference, confirms, Silent Night and others songs may be added to the list in the future, but at this time they have not which is why they are not included in the booklets. This is a new process, as in the past every song would have to be individually approved. As Fr. Mennen says:
“With this approach we want to avoid having to discuss every individual song. Silent Night isn’t on the list yet, but the approval is, as far as I know, only a matter of time. The song is uncontroversial. Parishes arent doing anything wrong if they sing it.”
Now why on earth didn’t the publishers know this? Or rather, why did they choose such a panicky reaction, which was eagerly lapped up by the media? They really should have known better. The only thing this achieves is a bad image in the papers. Oh, look at that silly Church and those power-hungry bishops banning everything the people like… And I wouldn’t want to feed the people who now think those songs really are banned.
Pretty irresponsible behaviour, I would say.
Just because I can, a news roundup from the Dutch dioceses. Let’s take a look at what’s been going on in the various corners of the Church province.
Led by Cardinal Eijk, some 100 faithful from the Archdiocese of Utrecht have been on pilgrimage to Rome this week. They visited various churches (Cardinal Eijk’s title church San Callisto, Saint Peter’s, the Church of the Frisians, Saint Mary Major (pictured) and Saint John Lateran), celebrated Mass at the tomb of Saint Peter, saw the sights and capped the trip off with today’s general audience with Pope Francis. Cardinal Eijk offered Mass every day in concelebration with the accompanying and some local priests.
In the Diocese of Breda, the Franciscan sisters in Bergen op Zoom celebrated the 175th anniversary of their diocesan congregation’s existence. They did so in the presence of Bishop Jan Liesen and other guests, and also used the day to reopen their chapel after a year of restoration work. As the congregation also has a thriving sister house in Indonesia, Bishop Michael Angkur of the Diocese of Bogor was also present. With his entourage, he visited other congregations (and some local sights) in the diocese as well.
Also in Breda, the pilgrims to the World Youth Day in Rio had their first reunion (pictured). They did so at Bovendonk seminary. The pilgrims looked back on the weeks in Suriname and in Rio de Janeiro, sharing their experiences with each other and with those who stayed at home to take part in WYD@Home.
The Diocese of Haarlem-Amsterdam bade farewell to its vicar general, Msgr. Martin de Groot (pictured at left with Bishop Jan Hendriks), after 50 years of service in the diocese. The farewell took place with a choral evensong in Amsterdam’s Basilica of St. Nicholas followed by a reception. In addition to the diocese’s Bishops Punt, Hendriks and Van Burgsteden, Rotterdam’s Bishop van den Hende and Utrecht’s auxiliary Bishop Hoogenboom were present, reflecting the wide-ranging duties that Msgr. de Groot performed in and beyond his diocese.
Also in Haarlem-Amsterdam, a unique appointment: the first female Magister Cantus (or, in this case, Magistra Cantus) of the Netherlands. On Sunday Ms. Sanne Nieuwenhuijsen will be installed as such by Bishop Punt. She will have responsibility for the music in the cathedral basilica of St. Bavo, the musical institute connected to it and the choirs. She has been conducting the cathedral choir since 2010.
Photo credit:  aartsbisdom.nl,  bisdombreda.nl,  Isabel Nabuurs
Happy birthday to Bishop Johannes Wilhelmus Maria Liesen, who today marks his 53rd birthday.
Bishop Liesen was born in Oosterhout, Diocese of Breda and became a priest of the Diocese of Roermond and later Auxiliary Bishop of ‘s Hertogenbosch and is now the Bishop of Breda.
“Christ is everything for me, the centre of my life, from Baptism to death. He is the personification of God, showing s how to live in intimate union with God, how to literally embody that great and incomprehensible God. Or, as the Gospel of John tells us, “Anyone who has seen Me, has seen the Father”. When you become the Body of Christ together, you experience in a fundamental way that you belong together and support one another.”
With this quote from Bishop Muskens himself, Bishop Jan Liesen marked the beginning of the farewell ceremony of the ninth bishop of Breda. Lying in state in the Cathedral of St. Anthony, the church that he himself had elevated to cathedral in 2001, Bishop Tiny Muskens was hailed by faithful and clergy alike. His funeral Mass took place this morning in the cathedral, and was followed by a private funeral in the town of Lieshout, where the late bishop was born in 1935.
Among the faithful bidding him their last farewell was a group of sisters from Indonesia, where Bishop Muskens worked for eight years for the local bishops’ conference.
The funeral Mass was offered by Bishop Liesen in concelebration with Cardinal Wim Eijk, Bishop Hans van den Hende of Rotterdam (Bishop Muskens coadjutor and successor) and Archbishop André Dupuy, the Apostolic Nuncio, as well as several dozen priests of the Diocese of Breda. The other Dutch bishops attended as well.
Completely in the style of the ‘Red Bishop’, there was a collection for the local food bank in Breda, which distributes food and other necessities to the poor, after the Mass.
Photo credit: Ramon Mangold
These days this blog certainly gives the impression of being preoccupied with death. But, then again, death is part of life, and when it encroaches we can benefit by acknowledging it. So, with that, in mind, onwards to another post about a death in the local Catholic family.
Last night a life ended that was greatly animated by concern for others, both abroad and at home. Also a life that was not without its critics, who accused it of being perhaps too generally spiritual as opposed to Catholic, and on some topics far too liberal. But that criticism did not leave its mark. Silence, care and simply doing what needed doing did.
Bishop Martinus Petrus Maria Muskens passed away last night at the age of 77. The final years of his life were marked by ever decreasing health and mobility, although he was able to attend several major celebrations within the Diocese of Breda, including the 50th anniversary of his own ordination to the priesthood. Bishop Muskens is survived by his own predecessor, Bishop Huub Ernst, and two of his predecessors, Bishop Hans van den Hende and Jan Liesen, as bishops of Breda.
Bishop Muskens, whose first name was usually shortened to ‘Tiny’, started his life in the Church as a priest of the Diocese of ‘s Hertogenbosch in 1962. His study of missiology at Nijmegen led him to Indonesia, where he worked for eight years as director of the Indonesian Bishops’ Conference’s documentation centre. In 1978, Father Muskens went to Rome, to become rector of the Dutch College and teach Church history at two international colleges. One of his most noted efforts there was the restoration of the Church of Saints Michael and Magnus, better known as the Church of the Frisians. Today this church is the home base for Dutch pilgrims and officials in Rome. In 1994, Pope John Paul II appointed him as the ninth bishop of Breda. Bishop Muskens was consecrated by his predecessor, Bishop Huub Ernst, which marked his first permanent return to the Netherlands since he left for Indonesia. Marking his international and interfaith outlook that would come to the fore in later years, Bishop Muskens chose the simple word “Shalom”, Peace, as his motto.
Following two minor strokes in 2001, Bishop Muskens decided to request a coadjutor and an early retirement. These were both granted in 2006, in the form of Bishop Hans van den Hende, and in 2007, when Bishop Muskens joined the Benedictine community in Teteringen, where he was simply known as “Brother Martinus”. Shortly afterwards, a chance collision with a cyclist led to him breaking his hip. He never walked again without the aid of a cane, and at major celebrations he was usually present in choir or in a pew at the front of the church.
In his years as bishop of Breda, Msgr. Muskens was perhaps the most visible bishop in the media. Several of his statements and convictions caused ripples in society and also within the Church. He was, for example, in favour of abolishing mandatory celibacy for priests, and suggested the use of condoms as a lesser evil. He was also in favour of female deacons. On the other hand, other acts and statements made him quite popular in society. He said that a homeless person should be allowed to steal a bread if that meant survival, and at another occasion he slept in a doorway to underline the plight of homeless people. This social engagement gave him the nickname I used in this blog post’s title: the Red Bishop.
His experience in dealing with Islam was also visible in his work as bishop. He suggested that the Dutch national holiday of the second day of Pentecost be traded for a holiday to mark the Muslim holiday of Eid, since the former lacks any theological basis. He also suggested we address God also with the name Allah. On the other hand, he was also critical of Islam. The dialogue between Christians and Muslims has no future, he said in 2007, as long as countries in the Middle East continue to forbid the construction of churches.
Like him or not, there is no denying that Bishop Tiny Muskens was a character, and he knew it. He knew the importance of sometimes shaking up set morals and convictions. As such, he leaves some big shoes to fill, but I’ll go as far as to say that we could use someone to fill them.
Journalist Arjan Broers, who wrote three books with and about the bishop, characterises Bishop Muskens in the epilogue to one of those books:
“In this book, you won’t read how all sorts of people feel at ease with Muskens, because they don t need to pretend with him. You will neither read how people often felt visibly uncomfortable with him. Not out of awe for His Excellency, but because he is so hard to fathom.
You will not read how Muskens can pester people [...]. You won’t read how he can act like a tank, by walking into a Church institution in Rome, bishop’s cross on his chest like an imposing identification, and keep on walking and asking until he gets what he wants. And you’ll neither read how, at other times, he accepts how things are without a fight.”
A tank, a man with a mission he simply had to see through, Bishop Muskens got away with it and did what he understood as the right thing. And he simply did it, without much words, as he was perfectly at ease with silence. Silence just because it’s silent.
The Requiem Mass and funeral will take place on 23 April in the Cathedral of St. Anthony in Breda. Bishop Muskens will be laid to rest in the family grave in his native Elshout.
Photo credit: R. Mangold