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Friday, February 25, 2011

The Possible Shape of Things to Come

If only this beautiful picture of Sacred Music could be an audible experience that any parish could experience on a regular basis.  However, the reality is, for the most part, the four-hymn sandwich.

One curious side-effect of the coming corrected (as Fr. Z calls it) English translation of the Roman Missal is that some of the music publishes are, in turn, revising their own musical offerings.  GIA, known as the Gregorian Institute of America, is currently preparing the fourth installment of its Worship hymnal.

Here is a PDF of what could be things to come:

At first glance, things seem to look well.  GIA certainly gets high marks for giving pre-eminence to the ICEL chant settings (which will appear in the coming Roman Missal).  The ICEL settings appear front and center.   The Mass settings by the late Richard Proulx also show up, although the Mass of the City seems to be missing (he may nor may not have revised the original prior to his death). 

However, when one comes to the actual song list, there are some glaring pieces whose inclusion seems to boggle the mind.   Before delving into some of the questionable pieces, I direct your attention to Sacramentum Caritatis No. 42:

Liturgical song
42. In the ars celebrandi, liturgical song has a pre-eminent place. (126) Saint Augustine rightly says in a famous sermon that "the new man sings a new song. Singing is an expression of joy and, if we consider the matter, an expression of love" (127). The People of God assembled for the liturgy sings the praises of God. In the course of her two-thousand-year history, the Church has created, and still creates, music and songs which represent a rich patrimony of faith and love. This heritage must not be lost. Certainly as far as the liturgy is concerned, we cannot say that one song is as good as another. Generic improvisation or the introduction of musical genres which fail to respect the meaning of the liturgy should be avoided. As an element of the liturgy, song should be well integrated into the overall celebration (128). Consequently everything -- texts, music, execution -- ought to correspond to the meaning of the mystery being celebrated, the structure of the rite and the liturgical seasons (129). Finally, while respecting various styles and different and highly praiseworthy traditions, I desire, in accordance with the request advanced by the Synod Fathers, that Gregorian chant be suitably esteemed and employed (130) as the chant proper to the Roman liturgy (131).

In my opinion, there are some selections that, unfortunately, would fall under the category of "generic improvisation".  In addition, these questionable pieces involve the "introduction of musical genres which fail to respect the meaning of the liturgy".  In the words of Pope Benedict XVI, these "should be avoided".

These are the songs that I believe do not meet the test presented in SC No. 42:

Amazing Grace (questionable theology more than anything, as it promotes a Calvinistic view of grace)
Gather Us In
Glory and Praise to Our God
Here I Am, Lord
I Danced in the Morning (singificantly waters down the sacred Paschal Mystery and is somewhat heretical)
One Bread, One Body
Pan de Vida
Pescador de Hombres
We are Many Parts
We Remember

Three of these come from Marty Haugen, one of GIA's composers   Gather Us In.  We are Many Parts and We Remember not only  have a musical genre that does not quite respect the meaning of the liturgy, they also water down significantly the sacred mysteries that unfold before us at every Mass.  In We Remember, Haugen refers to the litrgy as a simple meal, when it is more than that, it is both the Holy Sacrifice and the Sacred Banquet.  Gather Us In  is more a celebration of the community than a hymn of praise.  It is as though the community is doing everything, especially in the second verse of the song.  We are Many Parts also places undue emphasis on the role of the faithful and makes them the principle actor, when the focus and the orientation should be on Christ.  While Pescador de Hombres also places undue emphasis on the individual, it is also, sadly, misused as a Communion song when the piece has nothing to do with the Holy Eucharist.

Amazing Grace is based on a false Calvinist theology concerning salvation.  It is not consistent with Catholic theology.  Just because other Catholic publishers include this song in their collections, that does not necessarily justify its use for the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.  The songs to be included for the Mass need to accurately reflect Catholic teaching as well as the Church's sacramental and liturgical theology.

Alabare has musicality that is not consistent with the sacred nature of the Mass.  The same holds true for most of the selections.  Sadly, they sound more along the lines of pop songs that were in vogue at the time that these pieces were written.  Here I Am, Lord has a tune that sounds, oddly enough, as though it could be merged with the theme from a 1970s situation comedy.  One Bread, One Body also sounds like pop music that was popular in the 1970s. 

 I Danced in the Morning  has serious theological issues that border on heresy.  It makes light of the Passion, Death and Resurrection of the Lord.  It is something that, in my opinion, has no real place in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.  Musically, this piece might be better suited for the actual "Lord of the Dance" productions than for the liturgy.

Perhaps GIA should use some of the writings of the Supreme Pontiffs as benchmarks by which to measure the music that is presented for publication.  The Venerable Pope John Paul II certainly makes some very concrete observations.  Please note what he writes in his Chirograph on Sacred Music:

4. In continuity with the teachings of St Pius X and the Second Vatican Council, it is necessary first of all to emphasize that music destined for sacred rites must have holiness as its reference point:  indeed, "sacred music increases in holiness to the degree that it is intimately linked with liturgical action"[11]. For this very reason, "not all without distinction that is outside the temple (profanum) is fit to cross its threshold", my venerable Predecessor Paul VI wisely said, commenting on a Decree of the Council of Trent[12]. And he explained that "if music - instrumental and vocal - does not possess at the same time the sense of prayer, dignity and beauty, it precludes the entry into the sphere of the sacred and the religious"[13]. Today, moreover, the meaning of the category "sacred music" has been broadened to include repertoires that cannot be part of the celebration without violating the spirit and norms of the Liturgy itself.

St Pius X's reform aimed specifically at purifying Church music from the contamination of profane theatrical music that in many countries had polluted the repertoire and musical praxis of the Liturgy. In our day too, careful thought, as I emphasized in the Encyclical Ecclesia de Eucharistia, should be given to the fact that not all the expressions of figurative art or of music are able "to express adequately the mystery grasped in the fullness of the Church's faith"[14]. Consequently, not all forms of music can be considered suitable for liturgical celebrations.

5. Another principle, affirmed by St Pius X in the Motu Proprio Tra le Sollecitudini and which is closely connected with the previous one, is that of sound form. There can be no music composed for the celebration of sacred rites which is not first of all "true art" or which does not have that efficacy "which the Church aims at obtaining in admitting into her Liturgy the art of musical sounds"[15].
Even as the former Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, Pope Benedict XVI made a very strong case for care in choosing particular styles of music for use in the Mass.  In his book, The Spirit of the Liturgy, he writes that:

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 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.

One could argue that these are his opinions.  However, these are not ordinary opinions.  These are the thoughts of the prefect who became Pope Benedict XVI.  In fact, it is not too much of a stretch to find similarities between what he wrote in The Spirit of the Liturgy and what he wrote in Sacramentum Caritatis, specifically No. 42.

The settings for the Mass are also cause for concern.   While I applaud GIA's inclusion of the ICEL settings, I question the reasoning behind repeated insistence on the use of a responsorial Gloria.  The Gloria was never meant to be sung in a responsorial manner. Furthermore, the excessive musical introductions to some of the Mass settings make me wonder if GIA's composers are putting the liturgy at the service of the music when it should be the other way around.  I would suggest that perhaps GIA might look into using the setting that McMillan composed for use during the Holy Father's visit to the UK in September 2010.  The setting is called "Mass for Blessed John Henry Newman".  It is excellent music and certainly befitting of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.

Even though, perhaps, one could make the case that we have Sing to the Lord as a guide, the entire document is only binding when it cites what the Holy See has promulgated, since "SttL" does not have the recognitio of the Holy See.

GIA, in my opinion, has always been superior to OCP in many respects.  However, when GIA starts including some of the OCP songs into their books, it does, in my opinion, lessen the quality of the music the company is offering to parishes.  Even within GIA's own composers, I do find some instances where perhaps a study of Sacramentum Caritatis No. 42 would also be in order. 

I care deeply about the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass and the form of music that is used for it.  The law of prayer is the law of belief.  The music used for the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass should reflect this essential truth.  

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