Saturday, June 21, 2008

The Threefold Judgment Revisited

During a discussion this past week on the merits and shortcomings of the new music document, Sing To The Lord: Music In Divine Worship, the issue of the retained “Three-Fold Judgment” of music for use in the liturgy came up. It is generally considered to be a problematic, if not actually destructive element of the new document. This facet of STTL was held over from Music in Catholic Worship, where it had the effect within the document of permitting virtually ANY style of music which was, at a minimum, at least music. As such, it’s inclusion in STTL might seem to be a sort of “deal breaker” for those who were hoping for a set of guidelines with some direction to them. However, in light of the context in which this document exists, it does not have to be seen in this way, but can instead be seen as an argument in favor of the Church’s traditional music.

The problem with the Three-Fold Judgment as was outlined in MCW was the criteria to be used. In the context of MCW, where active participation was the criteria for all liturgical judgments, one was left evaluating music based on its suitability for group singing, with all other considerations being secondary. This had the effect, maybe unintended, maybe not, of effectively eliminating that very music that was proclaimed as a “great treasure” of the Church, Gregorian Chant. In its place, more simplistic songs modeled on popular songs were judged more suitable because of their supposed suitability for being sung by the assembly. Of course, the reality was that much of this music was more difficult than most of the Gregorian music intended to be sung by the assembly, with the result being that Gregorian Chant was replaced by music that was less suitable liturgically and musically.

Sing To The Lord: Music In Divine Worship maintains the Three-Fold Judgment, but within a new context. In the new document there are significant differences in the criteria laid out for evaluating both the textual content and the musical aspects of liturgical music. At the outset of SttL, the concept of active participation is discussed at length, with greater importance being given to “interior participation” and only secondary consideration given to participation through singing. This is no small difference. The emphasis on interior participation, drawing people into prayer, would tend to favor music of greater depth, and would mitigate against the kind of simplicity and banality too often found in music modeled on popular song models. The “lowest denominator” criteria that was proposed in MCW has been replaced by a description of active participation more in line with that written about in Benedict XVI’s writings, and more in line with that described in Sacrosanctum Concilium and Musicam Sacram. Although the “Three-Fold Judgment” remains, the criteria for judging has changed.

Of course, this assumes a very thorough reading of SttL, as well as some familiarity with Sacrosanctum Concilium, Musicam Sacram and the relevant writings of Pope Benedict XVI. It also assumes a willingness on the part of Pastors and musicians to begin looking at liturgy with a “hermeneutic of continuity” as has been said so often in the writings of Benedict XVI. Happily however, there is a renewed energy towards reform, perhaps enough to encourage and support some serious thought about sacred music.

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