Thursday, January 7, 2010

Sacred or Liturgical Music: from Msgr. Marini's address to Priests

On January 6th, 2010 at the International Clergy Conference in Rome, the Pontifical Master of Liturgical Ceremonies, Msgr. Guido Marini, gave an extensive address to Priests…not just those in attendance at the conference, but to Priests throughout the world. The topic was the Liturgy, specifically an understanding of the foundations of liturgy from a perspective, a hermeneutic, of continuity with the Church’s liturgical tradition. This perspective has developed rapidly since 2003 when Pope Benedict first introduced the term hermeneutic of continuity to the Catholic world. Since the promulgation of Summorum Pontificum (2007) it has become clear that any future development in the liturgy must occur within tradition, not outside of it.

In his address to Priests, Msgr. Marini discusses 5 distinct topics of current importance:

The Sacred Liturgy, God’s great gift to the Church

The orientation of liturgical prayer

Adoration and union with God

Active Participation

Sacred or liturgical music

It is significant that these very topics are also the same as those addressed in Pope Benedict’s Apostolic Exhortation Sacramentum Caritatis, a document referred to by Msgr. Marini’s a number of times.

This address will, no doubt, be examined and studied over the next several weeks…it is a significant text coming as it does from the primary liturgist for the Catholic Church (I apologize if that term if it implies any offense!). Of particular interest to me is the section on Sacred Music…the last topic he examines.

(My emphasis and comments)

Sacred or Liturgical Music. (From Introduction to the Spirit of the Liturgy)
Msgr. Guido Marini – Pontifical Master of Liturgical Ceremonies

There is no doubt that a discussion, in order to introduce itself authentically into the spirit of the liturgy, cannot pass over sacred or liturgical music and silence. (Pope Benedict has expressed similar sentiments in his essay Liturgy and Church Music – that Sacred Music, Gregorian Chant and Polyphony, are an integral part of the Roman Liturgy and therefore inseperable from it)

I will limit myself to a brief reflection in way of orienting the discussion.(This is a big topic…better to just give the main points and begin a meaningful discussion of this going forward!) One might wonder why the Church by means of its documents, more or less recent, insists in indicating a certain type of music and singing (Gregorian Chant/ Polyphony) as particularly consonant with the liturgical celebration. (The liturgical documents at times say “eminently suited”, at other times “integral”) Already at the time of the Council of Trent the Church intervened in the cultural conflict developing at that time, reestablishing the norm whereby music conforming to the sacred text was of primary importance, limiting the use of instruments and pointing to a clear distinction between profane and sacred music.(This was the not the first reaction to secular music in the liturgy, but was the most notable up to that time…the focus was vernacular hymnody and instrumental music) Sacred music, moreover, must never be understood as a purely subjective expression. It is anchored to the biblical or traditional texts which are to be sung during the course of the celebration. (Liturgical music is not about what WE want to say…it is about proclaiming sacred texts as part of the liturgical ritual. This is why the issue of the Propers has come to the forefront in these past few years) More recently, Pope Saint Pius X intervened in an analogous way (analogous to what was done at Trent, and more importantly, analogous to the situation today), seeking to remove operatic singing from the liturgy and selecting Gregorian chant and polyphony from the time of the Catholic reformation as the standard for liturgical music, to be distinguished from religious music in general. (This is an important distinction. There is a place for religious music in the life of the church…but that place is not at Mass) The Second Vatican Council did naught but reaffirm the same standard, so too the more recent magisterial documents. (A reality check: the documents of Vatican II re-affirm, rather strongly, that Chant and Sacred Polyphony have been and still are the primary music of the liturgy, and every document since has only further emphasized its importance…shamefully, most parishes are in conflict with this.)

Why does the Church insist on proposing certain forms as characteristic of sacred and liturgical music which make them distinct from all other forms of music? Why, also, do Gregorian chant and the classical sacred polyphony turn out to be the forms to be imitated, in light of which liturgical and even popular music should continue to be produced today? (The liturgical documents of Vatican II emphasize the development of contemporary liturgical music…and proscribe that it be modeled after Gregorian chant and Sacred Polyphony. There are excellent contemporary composers that do this very thing, and there are other not-so-excellent composers that have rejected this proscription and turn instead to popular and theater music for their models)

The answer to these questions lies precisely in what we have sought to assert with regard to the spirit of the liturgy. It is properly those forms of music, in their holiness, their goodness, and their universality, which translate in notes, melodies and singing the authentic liturgical spirit (As was said above – this music, Gregorian chant, expresses to us the very spirit of the liturgy by means of its integral form and interior holiness, as opposed to music in which we express to others our feelings or sentiments by means of exterior secular forms that have more to do with us than with the liturgy. This is the fundamental flaw of most contemporary religious music as used in the liturgy): by leading to adoration of the mystery celebrated, by favouring an authentic and integral participation (people will sing chant), by helping the listener to capture the sacred and thereby the essential primacy of God acting in Christ, and finally by permitting a musical development that is anchored in the life of the Church and the contemplation of its mystery. (Given the importance of this issue to liturgical development, I don’t think that it is out of the question that there will eventually be something like a second Tra le sollecitudini coming our way. Msgr. Marini’s foreshadow of Pius X making an “analogous” reform for the very same reasons as are needed today should cause one to think seriously about this possibility).

Allow me to quote the then Cardinal Ratzinger one last time: “Gandhi highlights three vital spaces in the cosmos, and demonstrates how each one of them communicates even its own mode of being. Fish live in the sea and are silent. Terrestrial animals cry out, but the birds, whose vital space is the heavens, sing. Silence is proper to the sea, crying out to the earth, and singing to the heavens. Man, however, participates in all three: he bares within him the depth of the sea, the weight of the earth, and the height of the heavens; this is why all three modes of being belong to him: silence, crying out, and song. Today...we see that, devoid of transcendence, all that is left to man is to cry out, because he wishes to be only earth and seeks to turn into earth even the heavens and the depth of the sea. The true liturgy, the liturgy of the communion of saints, restores to him the fullness of his being. It teaches him anew how to be silent and how to sing, opening to him the profundity of the sea and teaching him how to fly, the nature of an angel; elevating his heart, it makes that song resonate in him once again which had in a way fallen asleep. In fact, we can even say that the true liturgy is recognizable especially when it frees us from the common way of living, and restores to us depth and height, silence and song. The true liturgy is recognizable by the fact that it is cosmic, not custom made for a group. It sings with the angels. It remains silent with the profound depth of the universe in waiting. And in this way it redeems the world.” (This final quote recaps three of Pope Benedict's points about liturgy and reform: True liturgy is divinely formed, not manufactured for our purposes. We have now a liturgy which is more manufactured for our purposes. Only true liturgy can redeem the world. And so we can conclude what…?)

What strikes me the most about this address (this is only one of 5 sections....and the shortest section at that!) is the narrowness of the scope (liturgical practice at Mass) and the very specific issues presented. These are the cornerstone issues of liturgical reform...the main points at which the actual texts of the liturgical documents of Vatican II and liturgical practice since Vatican II have differed most notably. In other words, these are the most prominent aspects of the liturgy where we are not following the liturgical documents: Sacredness and Solemnity in the liturgy - Liturgical Orientation (ad orientem) - Active Participation - Sacred Music. These issues are now being presented to priests as "front-burner" issues. They are also those same issues as were addressed by Pope Benedict in Sacramentum Caritatis.
But far from being philosophical reflection on theological points, this address is more of an exposition of a policy position. It outlines the actual policies (Vatican II documents), their justifications (tradition/ magisterium/ continuity) and even some specific suggestions for action. My strong feeling is that this is both a re-emphasizing of Sacramentum Caritatis, and perhaps a preparation for some kind of document yet to come.

I can't help but recall the "rumor" last Summer that Pope Benedict had been presented with a document outlining the main points of the "reform of the reform". Perhaps we are seeing them now....


Dad29 said...

The ball starts to roll!!

Chironomo said...

It's about time...