There are dozens of Church documents which mention music in the liturgy. Almost all of them give a nod--or more--to Gregorian Chant as the 'preferred,' 'first,' or 'primary' music of the Roman liturgy. And that preference is, to one degree or the other, ignored. Oh, yes, there is a movement afoot to restore (instaurare) Chant to its place as the principal song of the Church. And yes, EF communities utilize Chant quite a bit.
We all know that Chant is sung, of course. And we all know that Chant really should be un-accompanied. And most of us know that Chant comes in two varieties: the relatively simple, easy-to-sing, 'congregational' Chant of the Ordinary of the Mass, and the more elaborate, sometimes quite challenging, Proper chants.
But this is not really about Chant is. It is what Chant is NOT that is important here.
Chant is not accompanied. Chant is not continuous--that is, each Chant has its place and has no more than just that place. It is not entertainment; it is not bombast, it is not 'filler.' Most important, it is not imposed upon the Mass--rather, it is PART of the Mass.
What can we learn from this list of 'nots'? We can learn that the music most strongly recommended for use at Mass is part of the Mass itself. Negatively, then, we learn that that's all the music that the Mass really 'needs.'
Uh-huh. So what?
There is a tendency among church musicians to 'fill every hole with music.' That's not surprising, I suppose. It's probably related to the old saying about problems: if you have a hammer, every problem is a nail. And if you're a musician, music is the solution to every need, whether that need is real or merely perceived.
Therein lies the rub. Chant teaches us simplicity, and about the value of silence. It teaches us that the priest, congregation, and schola (or choir) have their own roles. It teaches us where music MUST be, and where it does not HAVE to be, and it teaches us that music for the Mass is really quite subtle.
Little of that is understood in our time, where continuous music has been imposed on us by the psycho-motivators of Muzak, the commercialism of Itunes (and the multitude of competitors), and our own inability to exist comfortably with ..............silence. It is somewhat ironic that "The Sounds of Silence" was not silent at all, and was played all. the. time. on commercial radio, no?
Were it only church musicians who have the music problem, it might be simple to resolve. It is not restricted to them. There are these priests!!
Locally, a misguided parish priest ordered his music-critter to "play something" for 10 full minutes before the beginning of each Mass. That order was given in order to get deh pipples to shut up when they entered the church. It was the right reason, but the wrong solution, for the music-critter's repertoire is largely drawn from hotel-lobby/bar entertainment stuff--French impressionist--and it cannot possibly convey the sense of "church." Worse, it feeds the fire of Muzak-psych. This is compounded when the music-critter stuffs the communion "space" with keyboard riffs on hymns, then with the official 'communion hymn,' and sometimes an additional choral or congregational piece.
(The priest himself should have told deh pipples to shut up, of
course--but he has an overpowering need to be adored and liked, so he
chose the wrong solution.)
In the EF (Old Rite), the music-critter will impose music even more freely because in that Rite, the priest does not 'speak' the Canon. Since silence is The Vacuum Which Must Be Filled, organ music will be heard, and the Vacuum At Communion will ALSO be filled, often right to the brim, with mo' music. There is an Order of priests, based in France, which teaches that organ music should be imposed on nearly the entire Mass, save during the parts where the priest is speaking (!) and where the choir or schola is singing. This may result from confusion on their part: perhaps they think that the church is really a funeral home, where dirges sound at all times. No matter their excuse, or their peculiar tradition, it is counter to both common sense and good taste. But that's the French.
Please! Shut Up!! Take the unstated but obvious advice of Chant!
Less is more, folks. Silence is golden. God's voice is still and small. Maybe HE should be heard, eh? Even in preference to the priests!
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