Banned or not? A clarification from the censor

I had decided to not spend a lot of time on the work of the two censors who are working to investigate the songs used in the liturgy, but I think that it always helps to give some clarity on an issue which at least keeps certain Dutch Catholics occupied.

It’s always nice to see one’s own opinions confirmed by people in the know. Following Bishop Hurkmans of ‘s Hertogenbosch, Auxiliary Bishop Herman Woorts wrote a letter to the parish councils and emeritus priests in the Archdiocese of Utrecht to clarify the work of the censors of liturgical music. And since a bishop’s words rightly carry more weight than those of a random blogger, here is Bishop Woorts’ letter.

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Brothers and sisters in Christ,

As Church we are a celebrating community. When we celebrate the liturgy there is frequent singing, both by choirs and the entire gathered assembly. A lot of time, care and attention is devoted to the music and songs in our churches, because we worship God with them, it feeds our faith and binds us together as a faith community. We are blessed with a wealth of songs, old and new, in Latin, Dutch or another language.

In service to the celebrations in our parishes and in other places where the faithful meet for the liturgy, publishers Gooi en Sticht and Berne Heeswijk publish booklets. It is the duty of the bishops in whose dioceses these publishers are located to make sure that the contents are in agreement with our Catholic faith and the liturgy of the Church. If the content is approved, they give their ‘imprimatur’ so that the booklets can be printed and distributed.

In order to be able to give their imprimatur, the bishops of Utrecht and ‘s Hertogenbosch (the dioceses in which the aforementioned publishers are located) have both appointed a ‘censor’. For the archdiocese I have been appointed as censor for the booklets from Gooi en Sticht. A censor must examine if the texts come from the altar missal, if the readings from Holy Scripture are printed in the prescribed translation and if songs and texts on the back are in concord with faith and morals.

The content of the songs is considered: are they theologically sound, in agreement with our Catholic faith? The suitability for the liturgy is considered (both in general and specifically for the Sunday in question). And the text os considered to see whether it clearly expresses what we confess and celebrate in our faith, and if it doesn’t cause confusion. All this will lead to the finding that a song is or is not suited for inclusion in aforementioned liturgy booklets. The finding that a song is or not suite for the liturgy is not dictated by personal preferences. The identity of the author also does not play a part.

Sadly, several media have reported that certain songs – from a specific author or not – have been declared forbidden or placed on an index. This is not the case. The censor is not appointed or able to do that. The suitability for the publications is per song the basis for the advice to the bishop to give his imprimatur. Some newspapers list specific songs which are said to have been rejected. These lists also included songs which have been approved for the liturgy or which have been included although they are not preferred. These media also named songs which were not forbidden, but which do await further scrutiny, since they require discussion before a verdict can be done about their suitability.

These media reports cause responses from people who are disappointed because something they hold dear is now said to be forbidden, but also from people who welcome a thorough consideration of the contents of the songs, because certainly not all songs are considered suitable by all.

We know there is or can be disagreement on the choice of what can and can not be included in the liturgy booklets. Convictions, visions, experience and emotions all play their part in that. I hope that this letter will give you some insight in the censor’s tasks and his methods. For every song the question is whether or not it is suitable for the Sundays for which the booklets are considered.

Regards,

+H.W. Woorts

Diocesan vicar for the liturgy and censor for the Archdiocese

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It’s not a letter that says much, really, but considering that it was written to comfort people and explain what is actually happening, it does its job. Unlike Father Cor Mennen, the other censor, and somewhat like Bishop Hurkmans, Bishop Woorts simply wants to explain and focusses on the importance of discussion. Of course, if you’re going to change things it is good to have the people who are going to be affected by that change on your side. But I hope that, if the difficult decisions need to be made – if, for example, some popular songs from Huub Oosterhuis are no longer allowed – , the bishops are able and willing to take these decisions. It will cause protests, yes, many people will be unhappy, but more important is the liturgy. It is an organic whole and can’t contain elements that deny part or all of the liturgy or the faith. Also important to realise in that respect is that the liturgy is educational: it teaches us about our faith, especially when our active (and receptive, as Father Z emphasises in his analysis of Bishop Marc Aillet’s talk) participation opens our heart and brings us into the mystery of God. Just as the liturgy is focussed on and about Him, so should the music contained in the liturgy be. Not that a song can’t have texts about the community off faithful or shared celebration, but if, as Father Mennen said, the songs could be just as easily an introduction to a birthday party, it has lost its liturgical focus.

Who decides on the music?

In a radio interview, Father Leo van Ulden OFM, vicar general of the Diocese of Groningen-Leeuwarden, spoke about the censorship of certain songs used in the liturgy. Father Cor Mennen of the Diocese of ‘s Hertogenbosch and Msgr. Herman Woorts, auxiliary bishop of the Archdiocese of Utrecht have recommended that at least 29 songs be no longer used in the liturgy. Father van Ulden says that the assumption of the Liturgy Workgroup Heeswijk, who publishes the liturgy sheets for many parishes in the Netherlands, that the censorship is a decision, is incorrect. It is premature to says so, he claims. The final decision on what can and cannot be sung in the liturgy rests with the bishops’ conference, and Father van Ulden says that, were he the publisher of the songs, he would inform the bishops: “we await your judgement and keep on singing.”

I’ve seen Father van Ulden’s comments presented as an attack against the censorship and a sign of disagreement among the bishops, but I don’t think that’s true. Rather, he points out the difference between advice and decision. When it comes to hymn books which are used throughout the Church province, it would be logical that any decision about this is made on a provincial level. On that level, it is the bishops’ conference who have that power.

Of course, in their own dioceses, bishops can take a lot of decisions. Bishop Frans Wiertz of Roermond, for example, has long since decided to use a different hymn book than the one used in the rest of the country. He doesn’t ask the publisher to change their hymn book, but simply chooses to use something else.

The Liturgy Workgroup Heeswijk and publisher Gooi en Sticht are based in the diocese of ‘s Hertogenbosch and the Archdiocese of Utrecht respectively. Upon the request of the bishop’s conference, the bishops of the dioceses where workgroup and publisher reside have appointed censors: Father Mennen and Bishop Woorts. Since the request stems from the conference, it is they, and not the censors, who will make a decision.

Father van Ulden’s words are not strange or out of line. They are a clarification, or even simply an affirmation, of the process. The media coverage is a bit clumsy, though.

Review of music in the liturgy

'Gezangen voor Liturgie' is generally used in Catholic churches in the Netherlands

A review of hymns and songs to be used in the liturgy of the Mass has lead, in the Diocese of ‘s Hertogenbosch, to the removal of 17 songs from the roster. Father Cor Mennen is the censor in charge of the review in cooperation with the National Liturgy Council. The 17 songs come from a total of 150. Reasons for the removal are, according to Fr. Mennen, theological errors, the songs being unbecoming of the nature of the liturgy, no mention of God, or sheer banality.      

The review follows the guidelines of the Church, which indicate that liturgical songs must be texts from the Bible or based thereon, they must be theologically sound, clear and liturgically useful. “They can certainly be poetical, preferably even,” Fr. Mennen says. But he adds that the poetry must be understandable to the faithful.       

Going over the list of songs, I am happy to see that none of them have appeared in the Masses in my parish, with one exception: The Gospel acclamation U komt de lof toe. The problem with that acclamation is that it is no translation of the Deo gratias from the Missal of Paul VI.       

Huub Oosterhuis, ex-priest, heretic and sometime-decent poet

The list, which can be found in the link below, includes a number of songs by former priest Huub Oosterhuis, a man whose poetry and public statements has been point of discussion. He denies the transubstantiation, for example, and consistently attacks the Church and her teachings. For Bishop Frans Wiertz of Roermond that has been reason to ban Oosterhuis’ songs altogether. Another reason for that, in my opinion, may be the low quality of the texts. It really isn’t very good poetry: it generally paints a picture of Christ as a very nice hippie, or they focus on how nice it is to be together. It’s all a bit too nice and soft and sweet, even when they don’t denounce Catholic teaching. 

About the selection of some Oosterhuis songs, Fr. Mennen says: “There are plenty of songs by Oosterhuis which are approved. It is noticeable that his later texts are generally vaguer, more simplistic. That leads us – just concerning the contents – to disagree with that. But there are very good texts from his early years. We did not [remove some of his songs] because they’re Oosterhuis, as some people say. That could have been a reason, but not one we use.”       

Anyway, it’s a good development. After all, music is one of the means we use to communicate with God, learn about Him and come closer to His mystery, and this is especially true in that high point of the Church’s life: the celebration of the Eucharist. And if the songs we sing actively ignore or deny that mystery, it is time to change things.       

One song I’m not sad to bid farewell: the chemical song, so called because of its first line. Just for fun, a rough translation:       

From fire and iron, acid and salt,
as wide as the light, centuries old,
from everything a man is made
and always born again.
To be iron in fire,
to be salt and sweet and acid,
to be man for a man,
all are born.
       

To be water for the sea,
to be a word to others,
for no one knows how great and small
sought, known, lost.
for evening- and morningland,
to be here and other side,
to be hand in another hand,
to not to be lost.
       

To be old and wide as the light,
to be lips, water, thirst,
to be all and to be nothing,
someone goes to another.
To distance that no one knows,
through fire that welds people together,
to live in love and pain,
people go to each other.
       

It’s all very sweet and nice, but it’s not really about anything, is it?       

Source.

Further developments around Reusel

The case in Reusel of the local priest denying communion to the openly homosexual carnival prince of the village continues to stir up the blogosphere. In Dutch, both Frank Meijneke and Father Cor Mennen comment on it. The original news item was even picked up internationally by LifeSiteNews and commented upon by the iPadre, Father Jay Finelli. In local news media, sadly, various dissident Catholics, such as former abbot Ton Baeten, criticise Father Buyens for his actions. But that was not unexpected. In orthodox circles, developments are sometimes reconsidered good because these people are against them.

The announced protests by homosexual organisations at the church in Reusel on Sunday did not fully materialise, luckily. Some people did show up, and others attended the Mass in protest. They handed out pink triangles to parishioners. Some politely returned them, others enthusiastically accepted.

Fearing a demonstrative refusal of the communion by people who attended Mass in protest (something for which the Body of Christ may never be used), Father Buyens decided to not distribute Communion at all. A sad but necessary decision to protect the Blessed Sacrament against possible profanation.

Translating from Frank Meijneke’s article linked to above:

“Receiving Holy Communion is seen as a right, which has led to the humble realisation of the gift of grace falling out of sight. […] [H]e who consciously denies God’s approach in an act of ‘protest’ does not deny the priest and not even the Church, but God Himself. With such an attitude it is of course not proper to receive the Body of the Lord as long as the relationship with God has not been repaired.”

And Father Mennen:

“It is disgusting to have to read in the newspaper how people speak about communion as “giving a host”, as if it is a piece of candy that everyone in the building has a right to receive.”

The latest news is now that the protesters, or possible a handful of instigators, plans to go to the cathedral of St. John the Baptist in ‘s-Hertogenbosch next Sunday. Why there? Because the next televised Mass will be broadcast from there…