Thursday, December 07, 2017

Modernity and Lousy Church Music

Cadged this from a Fr. Schall essay over at Crisis (you should support them!!)  Fr. Schall's essay has to do with the current crisis in the Church--and current politics.  But the genius of Schall is such that the essay applies to church music, too.

...Eric Voegelin once remarked, in his 1968 book, Science, Politics, and Gnosticism, that modernity was largely the result of Christian men losing their faith in the transcendent order. They shifted their allegiance almost exclusively to the enterprises of this world. The separation of faith and works left works with an autonomy of their own, instead of, as in the Catholic tradition, seeing the transcendent end directing the things of this world to their own natural order....

We (properly) understand that the transcendent order includes beauty, goodness, and truth.  The further from any of these qualities, the less the transcendence.  That sentence should remind you of Pius X's statement on the ideal sacred music being Chant and polyphony modeled on Chant; that the further music strayed from the model, the less 'sacred' it will be.

Why "less sacred"?  And what's this "Chant model"?

...The crux of the matter is the real presence and how it is maintained. The Mass presupposed the same Sacrifice that Christ endured. There is only one Mass in the history of the world. It is conceived on an altar. It requires priests authorized to make the Sacrifice present to the congregation. All, priests and people, face the same direction historically. The heart of the Church’s presence in the world is the Eucharist and the other sacraments.

If Christ is not really present in the Eucharist, the Mass soon becomes a meal, not a sacrifice. The altar is changed into a table. The priest is not an alter Christus but a leader of the congregation. The bread and wine are memorials that remind us of the Last Supper. The leader is gradually not a bishop or a priest...

The Real Presence, of course, remains a mystery, as does (e.g.) transubstantiation.  Chant is mysterious, too; it does not "resolve" neatly with chords, nor does the music have a nice, neat, meter; instead, the music depends entirely on the Word--the text which IS the Word (cf. Ratzinger's lecture to church musicians, Vienna, 1985).

I have taught Chant to beginners.  They do NOT understand this "Word/text" thing--and I've encountered active resistance to the concept from "church musicians."  The beginners will grasp it much more quickly than 'the musicians,' because the beginners have no worldly-formed pre-existing (and deficient) concept of "Sacred" music.  In fact, non-musicians--usually pastors--do not "get" the concept that music moves the soul.  They just let "the musician" do whatever.  Ugh. 

The essay itself is about the self-destructive nature of the Protestant revolt, by the way.  Worth reading! 

No comments: