Thursday, May 31, 2007

On Beauty from a Legitimate Liturgist

A nice take on the (Aristotelian-derived) component of Beauty in the Liturgy from a legitimate practitioner of the liturgical arts who comments on Sacramentum Caritatis, B-16's encyclical:

We are reminded of much by the words of the Holy Father, that the beauty of the liturgy has nothing to do with us personally, for indeed the liturgy is not at all about us personally, but rather about Christ and his sacrifice for us.

Beauty in the liturgy has been misunderstood by many who seek an encounter with Jesus on their own terms in order to fulfill some pre-supposed need or desire, [which is] an approach that seeks to fabricate beauty much like selecting paint and drapes for a bedroom.

Beauty is not accidental, but essential to the liturgy, for Beauty is an attribute of Christ himself. Contrary to the cliché, Beauty is not in the eye of the beholder. It is not relative, but absolute. So often we [mistakenly] approach Holy Mass as we might a group therapy session-- to be caressed and affirmed by music, or kind, encouraging words “shared” in a homily. When our expectations are not met, we claim the Mass “had nothing for us”.

The truth of the matter, however, was that our own expectations blurred our ability to encounter and be encountered.

...Pope Benedict’s comments make plain that the liturgy is nothing of our own making. It is through the activity of God himself whereby we encounter the living Christ, the very foundation of our worship.

To be a Christian, and especially a Catholic Christian, means oftentimes to be counter-cultural. That is, the Church and her worship do not conform to popular culture -- the liturgy, the Pope observes, can not be held hostage by the latest trends. Thus, Roman Catholic worship, the Mass in the Roman Rite, does not reflect “current fashion”, neither in language nor music. It does not arise from the norms of popular culture nor should it be manipulated to reflect them.

The term "cosmic worship" is applicable to the Mass, and nothing less should be accepted.

Recently, a parish was asked to mimic the Elmbrook Church's "worship style" (at least in terms of adding 'greeters' and instituting "praise groups" of singers, etc.)

Nothing could display a greater ignorance of the Church and its liturgical theology and practice (except, perhaps, granting the wishes expressed in the letter.)

Referring to Para 42 of the Pope's letter:

Pope Benedict makes three main points: the importance of the heritage of Roman Catholic sacred music, the importance of careful selection of sacred music to accompany the celebration of the sacred mysteries, and the pre-eminence of Gregorian chant in the sacred music repertoire.

Roman Catholic sacred music arises not only from Holy Scripture, but is linked by tradition to the ancient music of the early church, finding its basis in the music of Hebrew temple worship. Catholic sacred music did not appear from a vacuum. Its origins are clearly traceable from the ancient Israelites to chant forms, to polyphonic music of two and more voices, unison and multi-part hymns and canticles arising from Scriptural models, to contemporary motets and choral works building upon and developing from the tradition of Renaissance polyphonic masters.

It is important to note that what is referred to here is not the development of secular song forms, but specifically sacred music forms. In the progression of music history, secular forms develop alongside sacred forms, sometimes, as today, intertwining.

The Holy Father does not skirt the issue as many have by claiming music is merely a matter of taste. Certainly, he instructs, we can not say that one song is as good as another. “Praise choruses” and much of what we blithely term “contemporary Christian” music has arisen outside living liturgical tradition of Roman Catholicism, and as such, does not comprehend the liturgical seasons and less so the concept of religious mystery. Finding its origins in non-Catholic, non-liturgical surroundings, devoid of mystery, stripped of tradition, often lacking any distinct creed or body of doctrine, the “contemporary Christian” genre is hardly a perfect match for the celebration of the Mass in the Roman Rite

...Instead of deepening true devotion and expounding upon sacred mystery, it detracts from the celebration, making itself the focus as a means whereby the faithful are caused to succumb to a primitive emotional response. Sacred music within the Roman Catholic context must enhance worship, enabling a deeper participation in the transcending sacrifice of Calvary made real and present to us in the Holy Mass. Music of the Praise and Worship genre by its very nature is designed as a “stand-alone” worship experience within a context of an assembly of non-Catholics who have no Mass, who have no Eucharist,...

This goes to the meaning of Pius X's phrase: "...raising the mind AND the heart to God"; the conjunction is extremely important. Sacred music must (repeat, MUST) raise the mind as well as the heart, and raise them to God--or it is not sacred music. It may be nice--but it's not what's required.

Plenty more at the link.

HT: ChristusVincit


Chironomo said...

This is some excellent commentary... thank you for bringing this to my attention! It is the seriousness with which this subject is considered by Pope Benedict that makes it difficult for me to belive that there is not a great deal of reform in this area yet to come. I believe it will begin to become clear later this year, perhaps in October or November when the "Directory for Music" submitted by the USCCB will be responded to, and the revision of MCW will become an issue once again...

Bernard Brandt said...

Thank you for bringing my attention to this entry.