Friday, January 30, 2009

Virgil Funk's "Commentary" on Sing To The Lord - Part III

In case you are just joining in on reading this series, I'm commenting on the review of the USCCB Document Sing To The Lord: Music in Divine Worship by former NPM President Fr. Virgil Funk that appears in OCP's Today's Liturgy, the Lent/ Triduum/ Easter 2009 edition. You can find the firt two parts of my comments HERE (Part I) and HERE (Part II).

Before I get too far in, I will interject my own opinion here as it will undoubtedly shape the following review. I believe strongly that to refer to Pastoral Musicians, Church Musicians, Liturgical Musicans as "Ministers" offers the possibility of confusing their role with the role of the ordained. As I have pointed out before HERE, the liturgical musician serves the liturgy, not the "Gathered Assembly" or any other group present at the liturgy. This understanding is crucial if we are to get away from the popular-music model for liturgical music.

Fr. Funk continues on with a review of Paragraphs 28-47, dealing with the various Ministers of Liturgical Music.

The choir is discussed in paragraphs 28-33 and is affirmed as it always has been in the official documents, but Sing to the Lord places special emphasis on the choir by having it first in order of discussion. The document identifies the proper role of the choir in relation to assembly participation when it says, "The choir must not minimize the participation of the faithful" since assembly participation is primary.

Concerning how the choir has been affirmed in other documents, it would be a bit deceptive to say that Sing To The Lord affirms in quite the same way. The following are some sections of relevant documents that affirm the role of the choir:

Among the faithful, the schola cantorum or choir exercises its own liturgical function, ensuring that the parts proper to it, in keeping with the different types of chants, are properly carried out and fostering the active participation of the faithful through the singing.87 What is said about the choir also applies, in accordance with the relevant norms, to other musicians, especially the organist.

19. Because of the liturgical ministry it performs, the choir -- or the Capella musica, or schola cantorum -- deserves particular mention. Its role has become something of yet greater importance and weight by reason of the norms of the Council concerning the liturgical renewal. Its duty is, in effect, to ensure the proper performance of the parts which belong to it, according to the different kinds of music sung, and to encourage the active participation of the faithful in the singing. Therefore:

(a) There should be choirs, or Capellae, or scholae cantorum, especially in cathedrals and other major churches, in seminaries and religious houses of studies, and they should be carefully encouraged.

(b) It would also be desirable for similar choirs to be set up in smaller churches.

20. Large choirs (Capellae musicae) existing in basilicas, cathedrals, monasteries and other major churches, which have in the course of centuries earned for themselves high renown by preserving and developing a musical heritage of inestimable value, should be retained for sacred celebrations of a more elaborate kind, according to their own traditional norms, recognized and approved by the Ordinary.

However, the directors of these choirs and the rectors of the churches should take care that the people always associate themselves with the singing by performing at least the easier sections of those parts which belong to them.

22. The choir can consist, according to the customs of each country and other circumstances, of either men and boys, or men and boys only, or men and women, or even, where there is a genuine case for it, of women only.

The treasure of sacred music is to be preserved and fostered with great care. Choirs must be diligently promoted, especially in cathedral churches; but bishops and other pastors of souls must be at pains to ensure that, whenever the sacred action is to be celebrated with song, the whole body of the faithful may be able to contribute that active participation which is rightly theirs, as laid down in Art. 28 and 30.

These three documents comprise the triad of officilial documents that address music, and each of them, by virtue of it's status carries more weight, both juridicially and practically, than the USCCB document does. Choirs are indeed affirmed in all three documents, however, their primary role is to preserve the treasury of Sacred Music (Chant/ Polyphony), to "ensure the proper performance of those parts which belong to it", and lastly, to encourage the active participation of the faithful in singing as laid down in Art. 28 and 30, which reads:

28. In liturgical celebrations each person, minister or layman, who has an office to perform, should do all of, but only, those parts which pertain to his office by the nature of the rite and the principles of liturgy.

30. To promote active participation, the people should be encouraged to take part by means of acclamations, responses, psalmody, antiphons, and songs, as well as by actions, gestures, and bodily attitudes. And at the proper times all should observe a reverent silence.

Nothing new here, at least for those familiar with these documents, but it is a bit of a stretch to say, as Fr. Funk then concludes, that "assembly participation is primary". To say that the passage from Sing To The Lord which states "The choir must not minimize the musical participation of the faithful" somehow definitively defines the relationship between the choir and assembly, and that relationship is one in which the assembly's participation is primary and the choirs role is secondary is wrong. The Church's official documents, cited above, make it clear that in terms of the liturgical music, the choir is the primary body which then encourages and supports the (secondary) role of the assembly.

Fr. Funk then concludes this paragraph with a rather shocking statement:

Choir members are to be drawn from the assembly as opposed to being paid musicians from outside the parish; they should attend rehearsals and possess requisite musical skills.

In the context that it appears in this article, it seems to the reader that Sing To The Lord actually says this! So what does SttL say?

Choirs and ensembles, on the other hand, comprise persons drawn from the community who possess the requisite musical skills and a commitment to the established schedule of rehearsals and Liturgies. Thus, they are able to enrich the celebration by adding musical elements beyond the capabilities of the congregation alone.

Choir members, like all liturgical ministers, should exercise their ministry with evident faith and should participate in the entire liturgical celebration, recognizing that they are servants of the Liturgy and members of the gathered assembly.

Perhaps it's me and my peculiar fascination with legislative documents and texts, but even I can tell the difference between a descriptive text and a proscriptive text. This passage is simply describing that since, in most instances, choirs are comprised of persons drawn from the assembly with specific skills, they are thus able to carry out a role that exceeds the abilities of the congregation alone. It then concludes by saying that choir members are "servants of the liturgy and members of the gathered assembly", emphasizing their dual role, not a mandated prerequisite!

To conclude that this passage somehow prohibits the use of paid musicians for choirs is absolute nonsense! By the same logic, the Director of Music would also have to be a volunteer from the assembly. This is clearly a statement of Fr. Funk's opinion and feelings that choirs should be volunteer subgroups of the "Gathered Assembly" rather than groups whose first priority is the service of the liturgy and the preservation of the treasury of Sacred Music. What he seems to be describing is less of a Schola Cantorum as in Musicam Sacram, and more of a "Folk Group" as was common in the 1970's and 80's (and in some places, even today!)

More To Come....

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