Friday, December 22, 2006

Music for Catholic Mass

Some excerpts from Wm. Mahrt's intervention at the Bishops' committee meeting re: music for Catholic Mass in the USA. His remarks specifically refer to Music in Catholic Worship, written by the Bishops' Committee on the Liturgy, at the time chaired by none other than Rembert Weakland, OSB.

The purposes of music should be stated clearly; I would say that there are two overriding purposes: to make the liturgy more beautiful and to emphasize its sacred character. ...Only music that is truly beautiful should have a place in the liturgy.

Music can establish unambiguously the sacred character of the action. Here the statements about style need a radical revision. All styles are not equal. The tradition of Roman documents establishes a clear hierarchy. Gregorian chant has pride of place; classical polyphony has a privileged role. It is because styles carry with them associations and even evoke a place—the style of a Broadway show tune evokes the theater; the style of cocktail music evokes the cocktail bar, yet we hear these styles in church. The priority of sacred styles needs re-emphasis.

[Thank you, thank you, thank you!!! The "all styles are equal" promulgated by 'Bugsy' Bugnini and his coterie of termites has been "factoid without foundation" for far too long...]

The analysis of the purposes of the parts of the Mass needs reformulation. The distinction between proper and ordinary is a very useful one—propers accompany other actions, ordinary are the liturgical actions themselves.

The theology of music in the document is only anthropocentric; but it should also be theocentric. The document speaks only of the action of the congregation; but this has no meaning unless it is in the service of the action of Christ in the Mass. To say that music has the purpose of the glorification of God (theocentric) does not contradict that it cultivates the faith of the people (anthropocentric); these two purposes reinforce each other.

[This anthropocentrism is perfectly consistent with the versus populum theologoumenon, another extraordinarily poor symbol promulgated by the Usual Suspects--at great spiritual and financial cost, we should add...]

...Music does not have connotations, rather its meanings accrue by association. Take two examples: We have had classes in the dancing of Baroque dances, for example, the minuet, which gets its name from the tiny steps used in dancing it: one dances in a small pattern and does not get anywhere. We had a classical guitarist engaged to play during one of the Masses, and at the communion time, he played a Bach minuet. I thought to myself, how am I ever going to get to communion with these tiny steps? I once heard a Beethoven piano sonata played during Mass. I was astonished to realize just how vividly it recalled a place, and the place was the home. The music is domestic—house music. I would not have anticipated how incongruous it seemed to hear it in church.

Others of the meanings of music derive from intrinsic qualities of the music. Cocktail music has a quality of relaxed familiarity that reinforces the inhibition-releasing qualities of the cocktail itself and encourages social interaction. This is probably not very suitable for a sacred action. In fact, the very notion of “sacred,” being set apart for special usage, suggests that music that is free from such associations is better suited to sacred purposes. The inherent qualities of Gregorian chant are particularly in its rhythm. The more strongly metric music is, the more closely it is tied to the passage of time. The non-metric qualities of Gregorian chant leave it free from being tied down to the temporal and allow it to evoke the eternal. This evocation of the eternal accounts for the fact that Gregorian chant is rarely used for anything else; it is not even very successfully employed in concerts, despite its high artistic status. Rather, whenever it is heard, its character is unmistakable—it is sacred music, set aside for a most high purpose.

[But some 'character' is also associated with metrical music--e.g., the strong 1 & 3 of the 4-beat march is unmistakable, as is the 'lullaby' quality of 6-beat, or waltz of 3-beat/4-measures...]

I propose several areas where clear statements could improve Music in Catholic Worship (MCW).

1. Reconciliation with Vatican documents. Perhaps the most important issue is the relation of MCW to Sacrosanctum concilium (SSC) and the Second Instruction for its implementation, Musicam Sacram (MS). These documents reflect the fact that in general the regulation of the liturgy belongs to the Apostolic See.

2. The place of Gregorian chant, polyphony, and the organ. I take Bob Hurd’s point that there is a place for diversity, and that polarization should be avoided; still, I would suggest a third way of viewing the choices he proposes: within a rather wide range of traditions, styles, and instruments, the document should present some priorities. Gregorian chant should have “pride of place,” and classical polyphony should receive special cultivation; this does not rule out the use of chorale melodies or popular religious songs, but it does present a priority.

3. The theology of music. The description of the purposes of music in MCW focuses almost entirely upon the subjective aspect of the congregation and not at all on the intrinsic significance of the rites or their overall meaning theologically, particularly the action of Christ in the liturgy. These are not mutually contradictory: the traditional purposes—the glory of God and the sanctification of the faithful— are not in conflict with the expression of faith on the part of the congregation

4. The sacredness of music. There is a further qualification about diversity. “Not all forms of music can be considered suitable for liturgical celebrations” (Pope John Paul II, Chirograph for the Centenary of the Motu Proprio, 2003, Par. 4). Within the diversity of available musical styles, judgments should be made about which styles are suitable for incorporation into the sacred liturgy. In order for them to be truly sacred, there must be something which distinguishes them from the merely secular

5. The beauty and sacredness of the liturgy. Over and above the aforementioned purposes of music, I think that there are even more general purposes, and if they were taken seriously, they could transform the music of our liturgies. They are obvious to some, but somehow forgotten by others: music should make the liturgy more beautiful, and music should emphasize the sacredness of the liturgy. If music were really selected to fulfill these purposes, our liturgies would amply fulfill all the other purposes mentioned above

6. The quality of the music. The statement about making the aesthetic judgment in MCW is crucial. Its priority should not be compromised in the revision. In fact, it should be emphasized: too much music published today is simply mediocre...The criterion should be whether the music is truly beautiful, nothing less.

[I am always taken aback by those who say that 'the parishioners don't "get" beauty.' Yes they do--perhaps they can't articulate it in the terms of musicology, or perhaps they don't think they should tell the musician--but they "get" it very well.]

7. The ordinary and the proper. MCW seems to downplay the distinction between ordinary and proper and to deemphasize the ordinary, often dismissing it as “secondary.” But there are important distinctions between the ordinary and the proper. The proper parts of the Mass accompany other actions, mainly processions; even in the case of the gradual and alleluia, their function is to complement and respond to the lessons. On the other hand, the ordinary parts are in and of themselves liturgical actions; this is the ground for attributing them normally to the singing of the whole congregation.

"Proper" was simply tossed into a memory hole. There is no other explanation. One of the best church musicians in our Archdiocese doesn't even acknowledge the existence of the Proper of the Mass. It's not because he's a rebel--it's because he has been educated by rebels and iconoclasts, since 1970.

8. The ordering of the sung parts. MCW denies the significance of the distinction between sung and recited Masses, asserting that “almost unlimited combinations of sung and recited parts may be chosen.” (Par. 51) This is in direct contradiction with MS, which retains the distinction between the low and the high Mass, and yet proposes various degrees of incorporation of singing into the Mass

Another of the Americanist Abominations. The idea was (of course) to 'democratize' the Mass, as though "democracy" is some sort of objective good in worship. Think that's a bit over the edge? Then why are the perpetrators of this "democratization" ALSO proponents of Wimmin's Ordination?

9. The singing of the celebrant. A key feature of the scheme of incorporation of singing in MS is the priority of the singing of the celebrant. The revision of MCW should exhort, as strongly as possible, celebrants to learn to sing their parts in the Mass; seminaries should instruct their students in the singing of the priest’s parts. The reason is that when the celebrant sings his part, the rite itself is clearly sung, and this unifies it; the other musical parts then play a natural role in the scheme of music.

It may cause a bit of consternation, but it's doable--and Mahrt's rationale is absolutely correct.

The balance of Mahrt's intervention/essay are available at the link above. Let us pray, fervently, that Cdl. George & Co. pay close attention to his recommendations over against those from music publishers.


Neo-Con Tastic said...

That's all fine and dandy but I'm curious to know if any restrictions are actually made, much less enforced.

Dad29 said...

I suspect that Cdl. George's commission will do a reasonable job of repair. It won't be perfect, but it will be far better than the present situation.

Enforcement? Not in Milwaukee...

Anonymous said...

Your passion for sacred music denies any place for spiritual music. What "moved" people in the 40's & 50's does not necessarily have the same effect today. The dirge music that you are so enamored with leaves many people with a depressed feeling leaving Mass. That is not the way that I want to feel after Mass. I would rather be uplifted.

Dad29 said...

Anony, you create an interesting dichotomy, separating 'spiritual' from 'sacred.'

Are you sure that's what you want to do?

As to "dirges:" I've sung well over 100 Mass Ordinaries (not counting Chant ones) and several hundred motets composed before, say, 1970. None of them are "dirges," but I will allow for incompetent boob choir-directors who may have given you that idea.

Finally, WHICH '40's? The 340's? 840's? 1240's? 1640's? 1840's?

Methinks you're under-educated in the historical art, Anony.

Anonymous said...

Your response illuminates the point. Your mindset appears that no contemporary music can be acceptable but only music from the past and the deep past. Current (since the 1960's) spirit and praise music is anathema to your narrow view of proper Catholic mass music. Why should Catholic worship and the church be so restricted? Why is there not allowed, in your view, any growth or change in musical direction?

Dad29 said...

1) The instructions from all Popes who have written on the matter are clear: musica sacra is better the more it is based on Gregorian Chant. This has nothing to do with "MY" rules and everything to do with the thoughts of the Popes.

You don't have to accept Papal authority on the question. Just don't attempt to make your diss of the Popes appear to be some intellectual triumph, or some sort of "emancipation." It isn't--any more than violating the 6th Commandment is "emancipation."

2) There is room for "praise music" (as you call it)--at liturgical services which are NOT the Mass. So go to it, with the blessing of the Popes!!

But not at the Mass. That's where "sacred music" is used, contra the sloppy wording of the BCL's old (un-authoritative) document and Bugger Bugnini's vapidity.

I'm certain that you've read all the documentation on the matter, beginning with the Lit Constitution, the various Roman documents issued thereafter, and the BCL's stuff, too, right? Not to mention all Ratzinger's comments (since about 1980), right?

Anonymous said...

The Bible contains its own hymnal: “the Psalter, born from the practice of singing and playing musical instruments during worship.” Sing Artistically for God: Biblical Directives for Church Music, pg. 97. Not a lot of musical instruments used in Gregorian Chants so how does that square with only an organ with a chant? Not all the Popes are in lock step as you infer.

It is not emancipation as you charge but rather an effort to fulfill the ever-recurring imperative, “Sing to the Lord a new song” contrasting to your drive to only approve singing of old songs and older songs. When a new song or new interpretation is done for edification it is in conformance with 1 Cor. 14:26. Even Cardinal Ratzinger did not excoriate all folk or modern music in liturgy but rather recommended “treading carefully” in the area. I have not seen a change in his perspective since his elevation. Where have the Popes or the Catechism excluded the potential or possibility of new musical forms [after Gregorian Chants of course] as a basic tenet of our Catholic faith?

As I recalled, Cardinal Ratzinger commended the cathedral choirmaster (his brother) for striving to manage continuity in the unity of the whole Church without taking on a museum-like character. I take “unity of the whole Church” to allow for new songs and new styles that are not ready for the museum yet.

Dad29 said...

1) Maybe you didn't notice it, but the Roman Catholic church is the fruit of the NEW Covenant, not the Old one. That all happened at the moment of Christ's death on Calvary, when worship became cosmic, not Temple-based.

2) The Psalms were sung without AND with instrutmentation.

3) The Church, since 1955, has allowed orchestral instrumentation and has always encouraged the use of the pipe organ.

Get some halfway decent historical perspective (you know, stuff that happened before your birthdate...) before you attempt to justify your somewhat ill-informed charges and statements.

Dad29 said...

Finally, Anonymous, I have NEVER said that new/newer music is verboten.

What I HAVE said is exactly what the Church has taught for hundreds of years: 'the closer the music is to CHANT, the better.'

We DO distinguish between 'sacred music' and 'hymnody' here, by the way.

Anonymous said...

My, my. Don't you have some anger issues. Your tolerance level for different views is not something to be proud of. I'll leave you to stew in your bile.

Dad29 said...

Awwwww....Widdle Anony runs away to cry.