Catholic Liturgical Music
Posted by james0235 on February 23, 2008
Last Saturday evening I attended Mass at a parish that I do not typically go to. In fact I think that I had only been there once before for a Holy Day of Obligation. My experience on both occasions was nearly identical – an ugly Church, no obvious Liturgical abuses, a pretty good homily given by the pastor, and bad music performed badly.
The “Gathering Together Song” last weekend (as opposed to the “Sending Forth Song”) was Be Not Afraid. It has been my experience that most people do not like this song – or folk music in general during Mass. The few people who like Folk Music are the same people who liked it in the 90s and the 80s and the 70s.
This got me thinking about what the Church has said about Catholic Liturgical Music during and since the 2nd Vatican Council. I remember reading a lot of quotes in a lot of places. Tonight I decided to begin compiling them. This is by no means an exhaustive collection of quotes. And, it is not too difficult to find quotes supporting other styles of music. But, at the very least I think this shows that the all too typical situation of a parish never using Gregorian Chant or Sacred Polyphony in the Mass is very much contrary to the wishes of the Fathers of the 2nd Vatican Council and our current Pope.
The Church acknowledges Gregorian chant as specially suited to the Roman liturgy: therefore, other things being equal, it should be given pride of place in liturgical services.
But other kinds of sacred music, especially polyphony, are by no means excluded from liturgical celebrations, so long as they accord with the spirit of the liturgical action
All other things being equal, Gregorian chant holds pride of place because it is proper to the Roman Liturgy. Other types of sacred music, in particular polyphony, are in no way excluded, provided that they correspond to the spirit of the liturgical action and that they foster the participation of all the faithful.
Since faithful from different countries come together ever more frequently, it is fitting that they know how to sing together at least some parts of the Ordinary of the Mass in Latin, especially the Creed and the Lord’s Prayer, set to the simpler melodies.
On the one hand, there is pop music, which is certainly no longer supported by the people in the ancient sense (populus). It is aimed at the phenomenon of the masses, is industrially produced, and ultimately has to be described as a cult of the banal. “Rock”, on the other hand, is the expression of elemental passions, and at rock festivals it assumes a cultic character, a form of worship, in fact, in opposition to Christian worship. People are, so to speak, released from themselves by the experience of being part of a crowd and by the emotional shock of rhythm, noise, and special lighting effects. However, in the ecstasy of having all their defenses torn down, the participants sink, as it were, beneath the elemental force of the universe. The music of the Holy Spirit’s sober inebriation seems to have little chance when self has become a prison, the mind is a shackle, and breaking out from both appears as a true promise of redemption that can be tasted at least for a few moments.
(Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, The Spirit of the Liturgy, p. 148 )
Similarly, the better-known prayers of the Church’s tradition should be recited in Latin and, if possible, selections of Gregorian chant should be sung. Speaking more generally, I ask that future priests, from their time in the seminary, receive the preparation needed to understand and to celebrate Mass in Latin, and also to use Latin texts and execute Gregorian chant; nor should we forget that the faithful can be taught to recite the more common prayers in Latin, and also to sing parts of the liturgy to Gregorian chant.
(Pope Benedict XVI, Saramentum Caritatis 62)
“The Church recognizes Gregorian chant as being specially suited to the Roman Liturgy. Therefore, other things being equal, it should be given pride of place in liturgical services.” Gregorian chant is uniquely the Church’s own music. Chant is a living connection with our forebears in the faith, the traditional music of the Roman rite, a sign of communion with the universal Church, a bond of unity across cultures, a means for diverse communities to participate together in song, and a summons to contemplative participation in the Liturgy.
The Second Vatican Council directed that the faithful be able to sing parts of the Ordinary of the Mass together in Latin. In many worshiping communities in the United States, fulfilling this directive will mean introducing Latin chant to worshipers who perhaps have not sung it before. While prudence, pastoral sensitivity, and reasonable time for progress are encouraged to achieve this end, every effort in this regard is laudable and highly encouraged.
Each worshiping community in the United States, including all age groups and all ethnic groups, should, at a minimum, learn Kyrie XVI, Sanctus XVIII, and Agnus Dei XVIII, all of which are typically included in congregational worship aids. More difficult chants, such as Gloria VIII and settings of the Credo and Pater Noster, might be learned after the easier chants have been mastered.
Some articles on Liturgical Music: