Mistake or misrepresentation? Bishop Liesen on the Christmas song confusion

Mgr. Jan LiesenYesterday, 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.

joost jansenAll 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: [2] Jeroen Appels/Van Assendelft

Panic takes over… and all responsibility flies out the window

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.

silent_nightWe’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.

frmennenWell, 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.