Those of you who are frequent readers are, perhaps, familiar with my periodic rants concerning the music used for the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. In fact, a couple of the readers have privately chided me for this; however, this is a very important subject, as music plays an important role in the liturgy.
In his online magazine, Chiesa, Sandro Magister writes a scathing article concerning what he considers the one aspect of Pope Benedict's pontificate that he believes the Holy Father has not quite addressed: sacred music.
Glorious Music. But the choir is tone deaf.
Magister makes some good points about the importance of having proper music in the Mass. He even uses the Holy Father's own words (pre-papal and papal) to make his case. However, he is concerned that of all of the reforms that the Holy Father has tried to implement, nothing seems to be done about addressing the matter of liturgical music.
He compares the situation that Pope Benedict faces to the one that confroted Pope St. Pius X at the beginning of his reign. Bad music was just as much a problem then as it is now. However, Magister says that Pope St. Pius X took three months to tackle the situation, while in Magister's eyes, Pope Benedict does not seem to have done much. Maybe Magister should re-examine Sacramentum Caritatis, especially, no. 42:
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).
While his predecessor, Blessed Pope John Paul II wrote his Chirograph on Sacred Music to commemorate the Motu Propio of Pope St. Pius X, Benedict's words in SC are more direct because he answers a major concern listed by the Fathers of the 2005 Synod on the Eucharist, namely the problems of music used in the Mass, specifically those celebrated for the youth.
I, for one, wish that this problem could have been addressed yesterday, as this is a serious situation affecting our liturgies today. However, unlike the world of 1903, we live in a totally different era. With technology, bad "liturgical" music travels fast. Down here in the South Texas hinterland, we have a saying: "Sound travels faster than light." That is certainly true insofar as music in the Mass is concerned. One can download a PDF or an MP3 of a questionable song, learn it and then use it for Mass. The problem of bad music took over 40 years to develop and fester. It takes time for the Holy Father to undo the damage that has been caused.
Magester's critical essay also fails to note that late last year, the CDWDS announced that it would be establishing a division of sacred music and art within its Congregation. This is certainly welcome news. While I wish that things were more instantaneous, this development is a start. Perhaps we could help things along by sending the CDWDS questionable material that tries to pass off as "liturgical music". If enough of the faithful start writing and submitting the bad music for the Holy See to review, maybe something can happen. Navel-gazing lyrics, sappy, jazzy and bluesy melodies and questionable theology need to be addressed; however, how can Rome know that a problem exists if no one informs her?
Although I can empathize and sympathize with Sandro Magister, I must remember an old proverb that a prelate friend of mine once told me: the wheels of Rome grind slowly, but, they grind finely.