It strikes me as unfortunate that many of your correspondents on the issue of Westminster Cathedral Choir seem to have their own axes to grind, and Miss Joan Morris's feminist. axe (January 17), seems particularly irrelevant.
My own opinion, which I am sure would be shared by all your readers, is that the Mass itself is what matters. The form in which it is celebrated, the music which is used, are intended as aids to worship.
Not everyone will agree on what is the most useful aid to worship, and the Mass is so important to us that feelings are bound to run high.
At the same time many of us can as happily take part in a classroom Mass with guitars as in the High Mass in Westminster Cathedral, Those who find a particular form of the Mass less "attractive" do no service to the Church or themselves when they attack that form in the press — unless they can point to some definite abuse.
What abuses are there at the Cathedral? There is only an effort to maintain the highest standards of liturgy and music in the traditional manner of the Universal Church.
The standard of excellence which is necessary for the singing of this traditional music cannot be found with amateur singers in parish churches.
Equally, parish churches have their own appropriate forms of the Mass — whether Latin, English, folk or mixed — which would not be suitable in England's principal church with its ever-changing congregation.
As to English music, I have seen nothing composed for the new liturgy which will stand comparison with the compositions of Victoria or Byrd, and our English tradition of Anglican music is competently sung by our Anglican choirs.
The Westminsier choir seerrsi, to be one of very few in the, world that regularly sing. ths finest of our Church music in its proper liturgical setting. And what a pity it would be if that music were banished for ever to Radio 3!
In any case, if the choir goes it will be because of a lack of money rather than the criticisms you have published. It is to be hoped that the money will be found to enable it to continue. Then perhaps those with constructive suggestions could write, in a charitable frame of mind, to Mr Mawby. .Michael Landers Director, Newport Catholic Boy's Choir, 7 Keats Close, Newport.
Those regarding my letter of
January 17 as a personal attack on Westminster Cathedral's Master of Music cannot have read fully the Liturgy Constitution, Instruction on Sacred Music, and the new Mass rubrics, which emphasise the active singing role of congregations. I merely pointed out that the Church's laws should be obeyed in letter and spirit. Plainchant is beautiful, but since most of it was never intended for congregations it is seldom helpful today.
Much of what passes for "the great tradition of Church Music" (Fr Sewell) and "traditional norms" (Mr, Richens) is not history but mythology. A truthful history of Catholic church music reveals much that was liturgically undesirable.
From numerous examples I quote a few; (i) Between 1400 and 1600 in Europe, and continuing in France till 1790, the practice of omitting sections of the ordinary chants and replacing them with organ pieces. (ii) Polyhonic English Masses
c.1430-1530 omitted the section of the Credo beginning Et in Spiritum in order to elaborate the Amen.
(iii) Shortening Creed and Gloria by singing different portions of text simultaneously, practised in 15th century England and 18th century Austria.
(iv) The castration of boys
aged six to eight to preserve their voices, which began in Italy c.1550. Pope Sixtus V ordered castratos for St Peter's in a Bull of 1589 while Palestrina was choirmaster; two eunuch priests (in -defiance of Canon Law) joined the Sistine Choir in 1601. Their example was quickly followed all over Italy, encouraged by Popes, bishops and clergy. Only one Pope, Benedict XIV, cricised the practice but did nothing to stop it. Castratos sang in the Sistine till 1898.
The uncritical exaltations of musical beauty in worship has undeniably caused great harm in the past: Let us hope that it may not do so today. . Anthony Milner Principal Lecturer in Music University of' London, Goldsmiths' College, New Cross, London SEI4.