Thursday, February 28, 2008

Serious Discussion of "Sing to the Lord"

When the Bishops released their newest proclamation about music in worship, it was evident that "two hands" wrote the thing--with one being that of 'Americus', the other of 'Universalis.'

William Mahrt, President of the Church Music Ass'n of America, essays upon this half-way document in the current issue of Sacred Music. Some excerpts:

[Sing to the Lord] ...was approved by the bishops’ conference at their meeting last November. It had been the subject of consultation in October 2006,[2] and had been redrafted extensively. At the actual meeting, according to a report of Helen Hitchcock in Adoremus Bulletin,[3] the bishops reviewed over four hundred amendments, but they voted on the document without seeing the amended text. Originally it was proposed as binding liturgical law for the United States, which would have required Vatican confirmation, but it was decided not to present it as binding law but only as recommendation, thus avoiding the necessity of submitting it to the Vatican.

As you will see below, there's good reason for 'not submitting it to the Vatican.' By the way, keep "not submitting" in mind...

There are distinct improvements over the previous document, most notably, that it takes seriously the existing liturgical legislation. There are copious citations from major sources of liturgical law.[4] Yet these citations often seem to be imposed upon a document already written without them, and some authoritative statements, after being cited, are ignored in subsequent discussion...

Therein is Mahrt's genteel reference to the "alia.....alia" nature of the document.

One of the most positive and fundamental statements in the document is that the priest celebrant[5] should sing the most important parts that pertain to him. “The importance of the priest’s participation in the liturgy, especially by singing, cannot be overemphasized” In my opinion, this is the lynchpin of a successful sung liturgy. When the priest sings his parts, the parts of congregation and choir fall naturally into place as integral parts of an organic whole. When the priest speaks these parts, the parts the congregation and choir sing seem to be less integral to the liturgy. That the parts are all sung gives them a continuity that binds them together into a coherent liturgy

Following this is a discussion of 'three degrees' of congregational singing at Mass and its successor (licit or not) the concept of "progressive solemnity." What makes this interesting is Mahrt's insistence that a strictly-spoken Mass is totally undesirable--an echo of the norms for the Extraordinary Rite, which was honored mostly in the breach in the US and Western Europe.

As a practical matter, progressive solemnity may be useful; the gradual introduction of sung parts is a much more realistic strategy than the sudden imposition of a completely sung service upon an unsuspecting congregation. Yet, there is good reason to be consistent about which pieces are sung from day to day, and the differentiation of the solemnity of days should be achieved principally through the kind of music employed, rather than how much. As a matter of principle, I would suggest that “progressive solemnity” does not properly serve the sung liturgy, since it omits the singing of certain parts of the Mass which should and could be sung and thus gives up on the achievement of a completely sung service. The result is what I have called the “middle Mass,” neither high nor low, in which the beautiful and purposeful differences between the musical parts of the Mass are overshadowed by the more obvious differences between the spoken and sung parts

Another positive statement and a distinct improvement in the present document is the acknowledgement of the role of Gregorian chant, quoting the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, which gives chant “pride of place in liturgical services,” (SttL ¶72)[7] and citing the council’s mandate that the faithful be able to sing the Ordinary of the Mass together in Latin

Here's the "on the other hand" offset:

The normative status of chant is, however, qualified by citing the council’s “other things being equal.”

...This is, of course, a problem that is wider than the present document. Ever since Musicam Sacram (1967), the admission of alius cantus aptus, “the anthrax in the envelope” according to Lazlo Dobszay, any other suitable song in place of the proper chants, has meant in practice the virtual abandonment of the Gregorian propers

I posted the above for the outstanding simile therein.

On the other hand, the following shows one of the faults of ICEL: its incredible hubris.

A particular case in point has to do with the texts of introits and communions. The texts in the Graduale Romanum are not the same as those of the Missale Romanum, and it is those of the missal which are printed in the disposable missals used in the parishes. I have often been asked, “Where can I find the Gregorian chants for the introits and communions in the missal?” The answer is, you cannot find them, because they were provided for use in spoken Masses only.

What that means in practice is that if your choir director wants to sing the Gregorian Chant texts for a given Sunday Mass, those texts will NOT match the texts found in your basic missalette. ICEL simply decided that they didn't like those texts, I guess...

The bishops were to have voted upon a proposal to amend the American text of the GIRM to prescribe the texts of the Graduale Romanum for all sung settings, but for some reason, this proposal was withdrawn.

Regarding the above, the injunction to "follow the money" applies in spades. ICEL holds copyrights to the Missale text translations, not to Graduale translations. Publishers have a large investment in Missale text, not Graduale text. Duhhh.

One is grateful that the place of the organ is asserted: among instruments, it is accorded “pride of place” (¶87). It is praised for its role in accompanying congregational singing, improvisation to accompany the completion of a liturgical action, and playing the great repertory of organ literature, whether for the liturgy or for sacred concerts. The recommendation of other instruments, however, raises a few questions....

...The wider issue that this raises is the suitability of other instruments. The document does not state the principle reason for the priority of the organ: it is primarily a sacred instrument. Other instruments do not share that distinction. A citation of Old Testament usage of “cymbals, harps, lyres, and trumpets” (¶89) begs the question of their associations in the present culture. The document proceeds to allow “wind, stringed, or percussion instruments . . . according to longstanding local usage, provided they are truly apt for sacred use or can be rendered apt” (¶90).[12] This avoids the vexed issue of whether instruments with strong associations with popular music, such as those of a rock band, but even the piano, are really apt for sacred use.

The Bishops simply will not specifically exclude banjos, tambourines, and guitars. This is a failure of nerve, if not of intellectual analysis.

There are, alas, some more negative aspects to the document, most of which are survivals from Music in Catholic Worship. Perhaps the most pervasive of these is the anthropocentric focus upon the action of the congregation and its external participation, rather than being in balance with a theocentric focus upon giving glory to God.

Not too surprising. The LiturgyWonkEstablishment is highly invested in 'horizontalism'--man as the measure--and many of our Bishops, frankly, don't know any better.

I would have said that music has three functions in the liturgy, to give glory to God, to enhance the beauty and sacredness of the liturgy, and to assist in the aedifcation of the faithful. But a quotation of the purpose of music from the council is even more succinct: “the glory of God and the sanctification of the faithful.”[15] Both of these things are theocentric, the first focusing upon the object of what we do, the second focusing upon what God does for us. Neither focuses only upon what we do.

Did I say 'man as the measure'?

And for egregious errors, nothing beats what Mahrt finds here:

The discussion of the musical judgment is concluded by a serious misquotation of the Second Vatican Council. “The church has not adopted any particular style of art as her own” (SC ¶123), concluding that the church freely welcomes various styles of music to the liturgy. There are two things wrong with this statement: it comes from the chapter on sacred art and was said about art and architecture. The church has not adopted Romanesque or Gothic or any other style as canonical, but when it comes to music, the church has acknowledged the priority of Gregorian chant and to a lesser degree polyphony. These are styles and they do have priority.

Well, perhaps in another 20 years, we'll have a statement which Rome actually will approve. You should live that long--it will be worth the wait.


Anonymous said...

What does it matter anyway???All the documents in the world can be put out, and the bishops won't follow, or allow certain parishes to do what they will.
I'm done defending church teaching.

Joe of St. Thérèse said...

The USCCB needs to be abolished (for that matter ALL bishops' conferences)