Tuesday, May 8, 2007

Reforms to Come: Part III - Benedict's Vision for Sacred Music

In the last two postings here, I have tried to briefly outline the two reforms that are simultaneously taking place regarding liturgical music- The proposed “Directory for Music in the Liturgy” and the revision of the 1972 Bishop’s Committee document “Music in Catholic Worship”. Although it might seem at first that these are two unrelated undertakings, one being a mandate derived from Liturgiam Authenticam in 2001, the other a relatively recent project undertaken by the Music Sub-Committee of the USCCB, they might actually be two distinct parts of one larger vision. Let me explain….

A cursory reading of Pope Benedict’s writings, both as Cardinal Prefect for the Congregation for Divine Worship and as Pope, will clearly reveal an understanding of the importance of music in Catholic liturgy, as well as a stated preference for the Church’s historic and traditional musical heritage of Gregorian Chant and classical polyphony. The connection between music and worship is clearly expressed by Benedict in “In The Presence of the Angels I Will Sing: The Regensburg Tradition and Reform of the Liturgy” (1995):

"By itself, the question of the liturgy's essence and the standards of the reform has brought us back to the question of music and its position in the liturgy. And as a matter of fact one cannot speak about worship at all without also speaking of the music of worship. Where the liturgy deteriorates, musica sacra degenerates, too. And where worship is correctly understood and lived out in practice, there too will good church music grow and thrive."

And Benedict has made no secret of the fact that he believes that both the music and the worship have deteriorated! Clearly, given the insight present in his voluminous essays and writings on the subject of Sacred Music, we can assume that Benedict understands on a deep level the relationship between worship and music, and we can continue on to a more recent document for the eventual distillation of these views. In Sacramentum Caritatis (2007) he states clearly:

"Consequently everything -- texts, music, execution -- ought to correspond to the meaning of the mystery being celebrated, the structure of the rite and the liturgical seasons." (SC)

The implications of this passage can be easily glossed over, but a careful look demonstrates a very clear vision of the three structural elements of music in the liturgy – text, music, execution. It is also quite specific in noting that these three distinct elements – the text, the musical style and the actual “sound” (execution) ought to “correspond”, or be related to, the meaning of the mystery being celebrated, the structure of the rite and the specific liturgical season. This would seem to demand a defined “canon” of texts for the sung parts of the liturgy, as well as specific texts for the various seasons of the liturgical year. While no such “canon” of texts is in use at this time, it is exactly that which is mandated by Liturgiam Authenticam:

"Sung texts and liturgical hymns have a particular importance and efficacy. Especially on Sunday, the "Day of the Lord", the singing of the faithful gathered for the celebration of Holy Mass, no less than the prayers, the readings and the homily, express in an authentic way the message of the Liturgy while fostering a sense of common faith and communion in charity.7
If they are used widely by the faithful, they should remain relatively fixed so that confusion among the people may be avoided. Within five years from the publication of this Instruction, the Conferences of Bishops, necessarily in collaboration with the national and diocesan Commissions and with other experts, shall provide for the publication of a directory or repertory of texts intended for liturgical singing. This document shall be transmitted for the necessary recognitio to the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments
." (LA)

Apparently, the Bishops meeting in Baltimore in November of 2006 did not make the connection between the concept of specified texts and liturgical tradition, and so did not submit a list of specified texts, but rather a set of guidelines to be used by Bishops in whose Diocese music is published to evaluate the suitability of songs written and published for use in the Mass. This was clearly not the intention of Liturgiam Authenticam, and is most likely the reason that the “Directory for Music in the Liturgy” will not receive approval from the Holy See. (see my previous posting “Part I”).

And so, there is a definite movement to address the question of texts to be sung. It may take some time to define what texts will be “in” and which will be “out”, but if the Holy See insists on a strict following of Liturgiam Authenticam (and Cardinal Arinze’s letter to ICEL seems to indicate that it does – see my previous posting Part I) then either: a)the Bishops will have to specify which texts will be “in”, or b) the Holy See will do it for them, in which case they could likely be the liturgical texts already indicated in the missal, as well as those in the Liber Usualis and Jubilate Deo, the book of chants published by the Vatican in 1976 for parish use.

Having addressed the issue of the texts to be used, the question of the musical style to be used comes to the forefront. Here there is historic precedent in force. The primary criticism of much “contemporary liturgical music” in use today is it’s reliance on stylisms and idiomatic conventions of popular, theatrical and Broadway music. This is not a stone being thrown by those who dislike this music… the composers themselves cite these types of music as their models and inspiration. While this music may be attractive to some, and certainly provides a simple “template” for songwriters in the church music market, it is not capable of creating the connection between text, music and action required as a part of the liturgy. Thus, the incursion of such theatrical stylings into the music of the liturgy has brought about a disconnect between the music and the rest of the liturgy, effectively destroying the organic structure of the liturgy itself, and relegating music to its current exterior role in worship.

The question of musical style and liturgical music was addresses in the motu proprio of Pius X “Tra le Solicitudini” of 1904. Sacred music was facing very much the same challenges at that time with the increasing appearance of theatrical and operatic styles in “sacred” music. Pius X addressed this problem by re-affirming the primacy of Gregorian Chant and classical polyphony in the liturgy, and by holding them up as the ideal model for all future liturgical music. Pope Benedict XVI has spoken often and admiringly of this document, particularly in relation to the Regensburg Tradition and the revival of traditional sacred music in Germany, and it is within this context that Benedict states in Sacramentum Caritatis:

"Finally, while respecting various styles and different and highly praiseworthy traditions, I desire, in accordance with the request advanced by the Synod Fathers, that Gregorian chant be suitably esteemed and employed as the chant proper to the Roman liturgy." (SC)

Not simply given “pride of place” or “esteemed” but rather “esteemed and employed”… meaning it is to be actually used at liturgy instead of the music from other “various styles and different and highly praiseworthy traditions.” Here, Benedict affirms the position that has been upheld for nearly 1600 years, that Gregorian Chant, as well as the closely related polyphonic styles are the authentic music of Catholic liturgy, woven into it and inseparable from it. Benedict’s vision for the future of liturgical music is certainly to move forward, create new music and add to this “treasure of inestimable value”… he has often given his support to the creation of new music, but within the idomatic and stylistic parameters established by the historical tradition of Catholic Sacred Music. This is why he has taken the approach of considering text and musical style as two different issues, to re-establish the traditional practice of creating new liturgical music with texts from an established liturgical patrimony rather than having the purpose of new liturgical music be the introduction of new liturgical texts.

It seems far-fetched to us at this point to envision a future, perhaps only a few years away, without the semi-annual packets of music from OCP and GIA boldly stamped “New Liturgical Music for Your Approval” coming in the mail, where the hymnal in the pews stays the same year after year without the annual introduction of the newest and latest trendy liturgical songs, and where musical settings can be memorized by the faithful after years of use and repetition in the liturgy. But perhaps the greatest benefit to be gained from the realization of Benedict’s vision for Sacred Music is that we will no longer have to discern whether we are singing Marty Haugen’s theology or actual Catholic teachings.


Dad29 said...

Good stuff.

There is a certain 'dreaminess' about the post, unfortunately, insofar as you imply that all the reforms may actually occur...

Chironomo said...

I hope I'm not alone with such wishes! However, I'm not so much asserting that these rforms will occur quickly, or maybe even at all. I do believe, given his past writings and often expressed views and opinions, that Benedict envisions liturgiucal music in much this way, and I find it at least an interesting pursuit to look at the current round of reformative actions in this light. I'm speaking particularly of the coming Motu Proprio (if it exists!) Sacramentum Caritatis, The Revision of MCW, the Directory for Music in the Liturgy and the revision of the Missal.