Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Lucien Deiss

Does anyone know if this guy is still alive?

I am thumbing through his “Spirit and Song of the New Liturgy”, published 1970. Pretty revealing stuff. Excerpts:

“...it would seem out of place for the Entrance Song to be sung solely by the choir or a soloist” and, a little later, discussing options for the form of the entrance song: “Gregorian Chant, traditional form: Communities who like this form and this tradition could always use it for their own edification and consolation.”

“Consolation”??? Maybe something is lost in the translation here, but that sure does sound like a goofy description of a musical formula that served the Church for most of her history.

Deiss takes an approach to the existing music of the Church that strikes me as crass; very rarely does he concede that *maybe* there is a good reason why something is the way it is even if he doesn’t understand it.

He pans, for example, the Pentecost introit, translated in the book thus: “The spirit of the Lord fills the world and knows man’s utterance.” Deiss takes issue with the “knows man’s utterance” part. What is interesting is that the Latin, “Spiritus Domini replevit orbem terrarum, .. et hoc quod continet omnia, scientiam habet vocis...”, does not say this; a more accurate translation (taking my imperfect mastery of the Latin language into account) would seem “The spirit of the Lord fills the earthly sphere, and that which contains all things, has knowledge of the voice.” Pretty revealing: “has knowledge of the voice”, as in, knows how to speak?

He next takes aim at the psalm with that introit, from Ps. 68: “God arises, and his enemies are scattered”.....and Deiss leaves out the second part: “and they flee, those who hate him, before his face.” He says it “rather weakly denotes the mystery of God’s love diffused in our hearts by the Spirit.”

My own reading is that the Introit and psalm together call to mind the mystery of the Church: to go forth into the world and proclaim the Gospel. Were this just “John Q. Guy”, commenting on the liturgy, I would conclude that the author doesn’t understand what’s going on. It seems a bit presumptuous to say that about such a widely recognized and respected figure as Fr. Deiss, but man, this commentary on the Pentecost introit sure seems to miss the point. He’s right, there is little emphasis on the love of God, but there is profound emphasis on the Spirit and the Church’s mission.



Earlier on, he tackles the question of the location of the choir. He dismisses choir lofts as not a good liturgical placement of the choir, but gives no argument for this. Similarly, he states that the choir director should be visible to the congregation.....and gives no justification. The tradition of centuries (that had nurtured plenty of congregational singing in his neighboring Germany) is discarded like yesterday’s newspaper.



If shoddy work like this is the foundation on which so many liturgies have been designed, no wonder there is a reform of the reform in motion.


UPDATE: While I maintain Deiss’s translation per se is sketchy, the Latin does read more akin to Deiss’s translation in context. Mea culpa. Before I eat my hat entirely, though, my point still stands that the introit, even when interpreted as “knows man’s utterance”, makes sense; it just doesn’t say what Deiss thinks it should say.

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