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A composer retires from the liturgy wars

In Standpoint magazine, the composer James MacMillan recalled that liturgical disputes had afflicted the planning for the papal visit. “There were countless battles behind the scenes,” MacMillan wrote, about the public liturgies.

“For example, the bishops asked me to write a new congregational Mass for the open-air liturgies, and a powerful faction fought very hard for this not to happen. It was said that a classical ‘art’ composer could not have the grass-roots parish experience and ‘pastoral insight’ necessary for – etc, etc.”

By that “etc” MacMillan was referring to certain trends in Church music: “those aisle-dancing and numbskull jogging for Jesus choruses, maudlin sentimental dirges, faux American folk music and cod-Celticness. The American musicologist Thomas Day described this kind of liturgy as ‘a diet of romantic marshmallows indigestibly combined with stuff that grabs you by the scruff of the neck and shakes you into submission with its social message’.”

Nowadays, MacMillan said, he doesn’t get involved in “the liturgy wars”. While still writing for choirs, he tends to “just sit in the pews, suffering with the rest of the Catholic faithful”.

A safe pair of hands for the future?

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