Thursday, September 06, 2007

The Requirement of Beauty for Church Music

...music for the Mass, that is. Much as I love my Prot friends and readers, we'll go to the Catholic stuff here.

From Bob Grant, a Left Coast guy:

Q: Isn’t this really just a matter of taste?

A: Nothing prevents us from preferring one form of music to another. What’s more, nothing prevents us from preferring one form of popular religious song to another. But music that is suitable for sacred liturgy must be of a special sort. No longer can personal preference be the sole criterion. “Not all musical forms can be considered suitable for liturgical celebration” (Pope John Paul II, sacred music Chirograph, 2003). He quotes Pope Paul VI: “If music--instrumental and vocal--does not posses at the same time the sense of prayer, dignity, and beauty, entry into the sphere of the sacred and the religious is [thereby] precluded.”Pope John Paul called on musicians to “make an examination of conscience so that the beauty of music and hymnody will return once again to the liturgy. It is necessary to purify worship of ugliness of style, careless forms of expression, ill-prepared music and texts, which are not worthy of the great act that is being celebrated.”

So, yes, it IS a matter of taste. Educated taste. Critical and discerning taste.

In another essay, Grant tells us:

Too often, proponents of the liturgical music we have received since the Council have reduced sacred music simply to a matter of taste and spirit of the time and have thereby trivialized the matter as well as the tradition. This reflects a broader cultural blind spot that fails to recognize in the arts the power to form an individual for good or for ill...

That 'trivialization' is closely related to GKChesterton's honoring of Tradition as "the democracy of the dead." Many have (in fact) 'trivialized' the dead...

The question then, whether one particular form of liturgical music is better than another, is not necessarily a simple question of likes. Rather it is recognition of the formative power of painting, music, and literature. Tastes and preferences do exist, but these are not absolutes. Like moral conscience, our taste must be formed in accordance with the Good, the True, and the Beautiful.

Benedict XVI, just a couple of days ago, alluded to that 'formative power:'

The Pontiff said that music "has the power to lead us back ... to the Creator of all harmony, creating a resonance within us which is like being in tune with the beauty and truth of God, with the reality which no human knowledge or philosophy can ever express."

(Echoing Plato's 'music moves the soul, we know not how....' but adding the explicit theological formulation.)

Here's the tie-in:

...Gregorian chant [e.g.] might be cast aside as no longer relevant to the modern person. But beauty, truly understood, is not as fragile as this, because it is something rooted in the eternal and transcendent: God.

Precisely. We look at "dated" fashion, "dated" buildings, and notice that they are "dated." But what is really beautiful is NOT. There's an office building in Madison which was designed and built in the mid-1950's, but is absolutely beautiful. It is not "dated," but it does not look like a '30's building, nor a 19th-century building. It IS a '50's building, but its beauty is timeless.

6 comments:

Anonymous said...

When I was an alter boy in Milwaukee, I really enjoyed the music. Now, the music almost always stink. It's really frustrating listening to music now days. That and the really boring sermons many priests give.

Dan said...

How would you like to be a priest in Vegas? The Catholic Church is terrible here. There are more churches and Catholic Schools in Wood County than in Las Vegas. I've been to several churches and it hasn't been a pleasant experience. The priest's sermon are intellectual rather than real world, the music is boring and the parshioners are stuck up. The priests do have problems because the climate of Vegas- greed.

RAG said...

Who is to say whether "On Eagles Wings" does not posses at the same time a sense of prayer, dignity, and beauty?

Dad29 said...

I am to say that, RAG, and I have the background to render a judgment.

It may be the case that I disagree with lawyers over legal issues--but (sometimes grudgingly) I will accept their opinion--which is based on their study in the field.

That's how it works.

RAG said...

Beauty, the premise of the original post, is in the eye of the beholder.

I agree there's a lot of bland liturgical music out there regardless of genre.

Dad29 said...

Sorry, RAG, that's pure crap.

If you believe the line that 'beauty is in the eye...' then you believe that some of the shit produced by Picasso is beautiful.

Actually, just like the law, art has RULES. And those rules must be followed to produce "beauty."

The Rules apply to plastic, literary, graphic, and musical arts.

"Ars pro gratia artis" is also wholesale crap, while we're on the topic.

What's germane to the church-music discussion, however, has to do more with the "glorification of God and sanctification/edification of the people" stuff--which are The Rules governing music for worship.

SOrry I didn't make that more clear.