"A good question to ask of all music heard at liturgy is this: does it work toward the sacramental end of liturgy to reach outside the bounds of time and strive to enter into eternity? While that might appear an unfair burden to place on any art form, consider the astonishing reality and mystery of what takes place on the Altar. The very sacrifice of Christ on the cross is renewed and made present by virtue of words spoken by the celebrant in liturgy. To accomplish such an act in time requires that the bounds of time and space are transcended, a claim that is itself singularly radical in an age of rampant skepticism.
Considering this, it is not much to ask that music at liturgy not overtly draw from external forms that have nothing whatever to do with such transcendent concerns. The chant and the sacred-music tradition, in contrast, grew up around a profoundly secure faith, a faith that in our age is believed to be impossible. To employ this music at Mass, then, expresses a confidence in these timeless claims, and illustrates them in ways that work through the senses to provide evidence of things unseen. There is something inexpressibly calming about the sole employment of the human voice, the absence of meter and sharp edges, that comes with the use of chant; it causes time and space to recede and contemplation of transcendence to displace earthly concerns. Through liturgical music, we hear the sacred so that we can more fully believe in the reality of sacred things."
Arlene Oost-Zinner & Jeffrey Tucker“Why Sacred Music Matters”Sacred Music, Fall 2004 pp.3-18
[If you haven’t before read this excellent article from Sacred Music, I would urge you to take the time to do so. There is also an excellent guide to introducing authentic Sacred Music into your parish on the Saint Cecilia’s website as well.] – Chironomo
I would like to continue here with a theme that I have taken up several times already, particularly in light of the “will there be reform or not?” discussions going on as a result of the inevitable clash between the Church’s institutional slow pace and our cultural impatience. I began here with an excerpt from an excellent article by Jeffrey Tucker and Arlene Oost-Zinner because of it’s core statement: “Considering this, it is not much to ask that music at liturgy not overtly draw from external forms that have nothing whatever to do with such transcendent concerns”. This observation has more to do with why reform will eventually happen than all of the arguments about continuation of tradition or relevance of music to modern culture.
The fact is that most of what passes as liturgical music today simply doesn’t work as liturgical music, and reform will eventually have to happen. To begin, let me say again that I believe firmly that there will be reform (I’m speaking here about reform of Sacred Music specifically, and reform of liturgical practices in general), and that it will be more than a simple statement like “more Gregorian Chant and Latin should be used at Mass” in a document that most everyone would ignore anyway.
Such statement already exist in documents from a) Pope John XXIII b.) Pope Paul VI c.) Pope John Paul II d.) Pope Benedict XVI. Pope John Paul I didn’t get a chance to issue any documents on the subject, but if given the chance, history demonstrates that he probably would have affirmed this as well. And if every Pope from the last 50 years, three of them being first-hand observers of the decline of Sacred Music in the Church, have expressed a consistent vision of what constitutes Sacred Music or music at least appropriate for the Liturgy, and this vision is in conflict with styles, trends, habits or whatever you want to call them that are current in the Church, for whatever reason, history bears out that eventually the Church’s liturgical tradition will re-assert itself and the encroaching style will join the dozens of other examples from music history. And the history is quite persuasive on this issue.
It’s actually something of an advantage that the adherents of Contemporary Liturgical Music (or CCM or Folk-Pop or Life-Teen …) are often blissfully unaware of the numerous attempts throughout history to bring the “music of the people” into the Church.Perhaps the first such examples were the seemingly innocuous types of improvistation on the various chants of the Mass:
“Consistently with St. Gregory's idea of dwelling longer on the invocation, the Kyrie was sung (is still sung) with long neums on most of its syllables. In the Middle Ages they seem to have found these neums wearisome. So they inserted clauses to fit the notes; one neum became a series of single notes with a text. There was a huge variety of these farced Kyries everywhere.”(Fortescue, pp. 234, 236, 238-9)
It seems that even in the Middle Ages, the Priests couldn’t just follow what’s in the book, could they? And so they continued to write their own texts and slip them into the liturgy, usually under the cover of music:
"The first sequences are attributed to Notker Balbulus of St. Gallen (d. 912). There was at his time no clear manner of writing musical notes, the neums (without lines) were only suggestions for people who already knew the melody by heart. It was then difficult to remember them, especially the long neums of the iubilus, which accompanied no words. A monk from Jumieges came to St. Gallen; Notker saw that in his books words were fitted to the notes of neums, apparently only as a help to memory. Notker then, following his example, adapted texts to the iubilus for all feasts in the year. His adaptations were so attractive that they were no longer used merely as a kind of memoria technica, but were actually sung in churches. These texts were Sequentiae...or Prosae...." (Fortescue, pp. 272-3)
And it seems that the madness continued for quite a while….
"After Notker, Adam of St. Victor (d. 1192), Ekkehart of St. Gallen (d. 973), Gottschalk of Limburg (d. 1098), Thomas of Celano (d. ca. 1250) are the most famous writers of sequences...There were then curious developments in sequences, such as one would expect in popular compositions...There were so-called sequences about wine and beer; one John Nass wrote one about Martin Luther: 'Invicti Martini laudes intonent Christiani.' It was time the development of Notker's idea should stop. In nothing does the prudence of the Tridentine reformers so shine as in their treatment of the question of sequences. At that time there was a perfect plethora of these compositions. The great number had little or no value either as poetry or devotional works; the whole idea of the sequence was merely a late farcing. All these additional texts were abolished by the reform of Pius V."" (Fortescue, p. 274-5)
But eventually, albeit 600 years or so later, Pius V put an end to the works of the “St. Loius Jesuits of the Middle Ages” and said enough is enough. And so how many of us are familiar today with the works of Notker Balbulus of St. Gallen? We can hope for a similar historical fate for Joncas, Schutte et al…
And then there were those “Parody Masses”….
“The parody mass is a musical setting of the mass, typically from the 16th century, that uses multiple voices of another pre-existing piece of music, such as a fragment of a motet or a secular chanson, as part of its melodic material. "Parody" often has nothing to do with humor, as in the modern sense of the word; while in some cases bawdy secular songs were indeed used in composition of Masses, equally often non-liturgical sacred music such as motets formed the basis for parody masses. The parody mass was a very popular model during the Renaissance. The Council of Trent, in a document dated September 10, 1562, banned the use of secular material, "...let nothing profane be intermingled ... banish from church all music which contains, whether in the singing or the organ playing, things that are lascivious or impure."(Wikipedia –“Parody Mass”)
Ok, they only made it for about 60 years or so. It just seems that every time those“bawdy, profane secular tunes” make their way into the Mass, the Church turns around and makes it known that they, and those who promote them, are no longer welcomed. A little further down the road, somebody had the great idea that the same music that was being acclaimed in the concert halls would make excellent music for worship…
“Beginning in the 18th century and continuing through the 19th, many composers wrote what are effectively concert Masses, which by virtue of employing forces too large, or lasting such a considerable duration, prevent them being readily used in Worship. The Requiem Masses of Gossec, Berlioz, Verdi, and Dvořák are essentially dramatic concert oratorios. A counter-reaction to this tendency came from the Cecilian movement, which recommended restrained accompaniment for liturgical music, and frowned upon the use of operatic vocal soloists.” (Wikipedia; Concert Masses)
But the “too large a size” and “considerable duration” of these works didn’t stop the operatic soloists who also sang in Church from singing excerpts from these concert works at Mass. And they figured if they could sing opera-like religious music at Mass, it must be OK to sing actual operatic arias too. Sound familiar? And of course we know what happened to the operatic vocal soloists and singing of operatic arias and concert works in Church at the end of the 19th Century… can you say “Tra Le Solicitudini”? Yet another Pope Pius, this time Pius X, came down hard on this particular incursion of the popular music genre into the liturgy, making what was supposed to be the final and definitive proclamation on Sacred Music, both present and future. At least we thought so…
But leave it to yet another generation about 100 years later to come up with the startlingly original idea of using popular music in Church. And this most recent incursion has only been going on for some 40 years, compared to periods of 600 years for tropes and sequences, 60 or so years for Parody Masses and about 150 years or so with concert music. Still, it seems about the right time, historically speaking, for the Church to once again turn its attention to the most recent corruption of its music liturgy and, once again, make a forceful proclamation restoring the authentic liturgical tradition of the Church. It seems to just be the way it goes in the Catholic Church. Maybe we can look forward to an entry in Wikipedia in about 2050 that goes something like this;
Liturgical Folk-Pop (li-tur-ji-kǔl fōk-pop) n.
Contemporary Catholic Liturgical Folk-Pop music developed following the Vatican II reforms, which allowed for the usage of vernacular language in the Roman Catholic Mass, although this music was by no means intended by these reforms, and in fact the actual reforms called for a continuation of the Church’s traditional music, primarily Gregorian Chant and Sacred Polyphony. Further reforms to the General Instruction to the Roman Missal allowed for new settings of chants from the Novus Ordo and new songs to be used in addition to the traditional psalms of the Graduale, which was interpreted by amateur musicians to mean that any music was suitable to use at Church now.
The reforms sparked a wide movement in the Roman Catholic church of the U.S.A. wherein an entire body of older protestant hymnody and newly composed Contemporary Catholic Liturgical Music was hurriedly introduced to the people through new hymnals such as People's Mass Book and We Celebrate and three volumes of Glory and Praise. At this same time, many of the Church’s experienced musicians left in disgust and were replaced by amateur musicians whose generally played guitar rather than organ, and whose repertoire was largely anti-war folk songs and folk- rock songs by Peter, Paul and Mary and Bob Dylan.
The newly composed Contemporary Liturgical Music of the 70s was modeled on these earlier popular songs and included new hits by songwriters such as Ray Repp and Joe Wise and later members of groups such as the St. Louis Jesuits, and the Dameans. The music became commercially lucrative for both publishers and composers and so was heavily promoted despite nagging concerns about its content, both musical and theological.
By the 1990's, and into the early 21st century, the spread of this music had been substantial. In many areas of the United States, and regions throughout the English-speaking world, most or all of the music played during Sunday Mass was taken from this body of work. As a result, more traditional forms of Catholic music (such as Gregorian chant) had been completely abandoned in most parishes. By the early 21st century Catholic Songbooks included mostly Contemporary Catholic Liturgical Music, some hymnody, and a very small collection of Chant to make it appear that these “worship aids” were actually in conformity with church guidelines.
By the late 1990’s, this style of music had long since become anachronistic, and absent its long-forgotten association with the peace – and – love culture of the 1960’s , now had no meaning at all. Growing concerns over the texts, which were often in conflict with Catholic Theology, and the musical forms, which were now indistinguishable from Broadway Show ballads, brought the entire subject of Sacred Music to the foreground in the growing reform movement begun by Pope John Paul II and continued by Pope Benedict XVI. This form of music was entirely banned from worship with the “Restoration Proclamation of 2008” of Benedict XVI, which mandated only sacred texts be used at Mass and restored Gregorian Chant and polyphony as the predominate music for the Catholic Mass.
Oh, wouldn’t that be nice….