29 June 2003

Gosh, I really hope my comments thingie will be back soon...
Today is the feast of Sts. Peter and Paul, Apostles. C'mon, you don't need a link for them, do you? Open your Bible!

The Letter, Part II:

Another of the famous attributes of Catholic worship is our long and wonderful history of sacred music. Unfortunately, most of the music which has been the joy and the distinction of the Church for 2000 years is nowhere to be seen at St. --. The music we sing is almost exclusively the product of the last 35 years, even though the Church encourages us to keep our traditions alive. This is an issue which is not difficult to rectify. Music is readily available, and music which is sufficiently ancient not to have copyrights may be obtained on the internet for free. Using some of the simpler Gregorian chants and traditional four-square hymnody would also rectify the problem of the difficulty of the music which is currently in use. I have spoken to some other people in the parish who have complaints about the music too. The main complaint offered is that they are unable to sing along. This music is intended to foster participation, but the syncopated rhythms and rock and gospel-influenced melodies are too difficult for most non-musicians to follow. As J.A. Tucker, a Catholic journalist, points out, “The music arrangements are often muddled and busy, making it all but impossible for regular parishioners to sing.” Frankly, even a college-level music student like myself finds much of it difficult, and I think it is obvious that our choir is really struggling with some of the songs chosen. I hear them complaining, and I know it is not because they are lazy and do not want to put in the effort. It is because the music is very hard to sing. I believe that we should be guided by the wisdom of the Church in this issue. When preparing the documents of Vatican II and considering the issue of sacred music, the Church made it clear that she believes chant and traditional hymnody foster participation by the congregation, and that these, along with sacred polyphony, are the music best suited to the Roman Rite.
Perhaps you will say that I have narrow taste in music in comparison to most of the people of this parish. I will let you in on a little secret. I like jazz, I like some rock, and I like gospel. When I’m listening to something for fun, I want something with a beat that I can tap my foot to. But Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, the Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, says, “Rock stands in opposition to Christian worship.” The music a stranger hears upon entering a church should be immediately recognizable as sacred music. The association of rock with secular culture is so strong that anything falling within that genre could never be called sacred music. When I am at Mass, I am not singing or listening to the music for fun. I am singing and listening to the music at Mass with the purpose of giving glory to God. I cannot be focused on God when I am paying all of my attention to the melody and beat. I am thinking about the beat and how great and fun it is, but not about how great God is and how beautiful the text taken from Scripture or from devotional texts of the Church. There is a place for contemporary Christian praise music, but for me, that place is not in the Mass. It does not lend itself to an atmosphere of prayer and contemplation.
Modern musical settings of the Ordinary are often a problem. For example, the Gloria setting which has been used here this Eastertide uses a heavily corrupted version of the text. “The Gloria is a very ancient and venerable hymn in which the Church, gathered together in the Holy Spirit, glorifies and entreats God the Father and the Lamb. The text of this hymn may not be replaced by any other text.” (General Instruction on the Roman Missal, pp 53) It could be contended that the text of the Manibusan Gloria is so unlike the approved translation as to warrant being called another text.
Lest you think that I am an extreme traditionalist, I feel I must assure you that I am not advocating a total abandonment of contemporary music. Excellent and beautiful sacred music is certainly being composed as I write; my experience at college with the composers there has taught me that. It is merely my hope that some effort may be made to be more cautious in the selection of music, to ensure that it is reverent and artistic, and that it truly lends itself to the expression of both the joy and the solemnity of the Eucharist.

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