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Sunday, August 10, 2014

Disarming the Liturgical Winchester


A few years ago, I took ill with a bad case of the flu.  It necessitated my having to stay home for a couple of days.  During my convalescence I stumbled upon a marathon of an old Western TV show called "The Rifleman".  To say that Lucas McCain (portrayed by the late Chuck Conners) was sharp with that repeating Winchester was an understatement.  That rifle went off more times per episode than I could count.

From what I gathered, repeating rifles pretty much won the West and were quite useful for hunting and protection.  The rapid-fire repeats were a life-saving necessity...

...but, not when it comes to the sacred liturgy.

In his great opus Tra Le Sollecitundini, Pope St. Pius X warned against the dangers of mishandling liturgical texts when setting them to music.  He strongly exhorted that 
The liturgical text must be sung as it is in the books, without alteration or inversion of the words, without undue repetition, without breaking syllables, and always in a manner intelligible to the faithful who listen. 
In other words, the musical compositions need to respect the integrity of the liturgical texts and maintain the status quo.

Furthermore, the venerable Pontiff observed that:
It is not lawful to keep the priest at the altar waiting on account of the chant or the music for a length of time not allowed by the liturgy. According to the ecclesiastical prescriptions the Sanctus of the Mass should be over before the elevation, and therefore the priest must here have regard for the singers. The Gloria and the Credo ought, according to the Gregorian tradition, to be relatively short.
These wise words, written 110 years ago, remain the standard used to govern our liturgical music and should be followed.  Yet, there is a phenomena that crept into the Church with a vengeance over the course of the last 40 years, something that seems to be diametrically opposed to the instructions set forth by Pius X:  the Responsorial Gloria.

Both OCP and GIA have assaulted parishes with various lackluster compositions that employ the "repeating Gloria."  Marty Haugen, David Haas, Dan Schutte, Bob Hurd and several other composers have made use of this format of the Gloria with poor results.  Schutte's "Mass of Christ the Savior" version of the Gloria sounds like the theme from "My Little Pony".  Spanish versions of the "Responsorial Gloria" are equally horrid and the bilingual versions, which really are discouraged for use in liturgy, are cause for disdain, with one of the worst being "Missa Santa Cecilia" from OCP, which reduces the Gloria to a sound that can only be described as akin to "Latin Night" on Dancing with the Stars.

The Gloria is a text that is meant to be prayed straight-through, either recited or chanted.  Inserting a response to the Gloria breaks up the natural flow of the prayer.  Just as it would sound strange to insert a refrain to the Gloria when it is recited, it is equally jarring to do the same thing when the prayer is set to music.

Furthermore, when the Congregation for Divine Worship released the revised translation of the Ordinary of the Mass, then-prefect Francis Cardinal Arinze warned national episcopal conferences that the Mass settings needed to be faithful to the text.  He cited Liturgiam Authenticam No. 60, which notes that:
60. A great part of the liturgical texts are composed with the intention of their being sung by the priest celebrant, the deacon, the cantor, the people, or the choir. For this reason, the texts should be translated in a manner that is suitable for being set to music. Still, in preparing the musical accompaniment, full account must be taken of the authority of the text itself. Whether it be a question of the texts of Sacred Scripture or of those taken from the Liturgy and already duly confirmed, paraphrases are not to be substituted with the intention of making them more easily set to music, nor may hymns considered generically equivalent be employed in their place.39
If we look at footnote 39, it references the General Instruction of the Roman Missal (GIRM), which specifically states that:
53. The Gloria in excelsis (Glory to God in the highest) is a most ancient and venerable hymn by which the Church, gathered 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. It is intoned by the Priest or, if appropriate, by a cantor or by the choir; but it is sung either by everyone together, or by the people alternately with the choir, or by the choir alone. If not sung, it is to be recited either by everybody together or by two choirs responding one to the other.
Now, there will be some who will say, "But the documents don't prohibit a 'Responsorial Gloria'.  Even the GIRM allows it!"  Hold on partners, not so fast.  "By the people alternately with the choir" does not necessarily mean that the people sing a refrain during the Gloria.  If one has ever participated in the Liturgy of the Hours, one will note that praying "alternately" means that one side prays one part of the Psalm while the other side takes up the next part.  In the case of the Gloria, this citation from the GIRM simply means that the choir can sing one portion of it and the faithful can join in with the other (but, not repeating the same thing). 

In addition, the next statement reminds composers of the importance of setting the Ordinary to fitting music because: 
61. Texts that are intended to be sung are particularly important because they convey to the faithful a sense of the solemnity of the celebration, and manifest unity in faith and charity by means of a union of voices.40
These words are noble prayers and should be treated with the solemnity and dignity they convey.  Using a setting that sounds like something from a Disney cartoon or a pop song does the liturgy a terrible disservice.

Now, insofar as bilingual Mass settings are concerned, these are not necessarily a good idea, especially when a "Responsorial Gloria" is employed.  Pope Benedict addressed this issue in 2007 when he issued his Apostolic Exhortation, Sacramentum Caritatis. He noted that:
62. None of the above observations should cast doubt upon the importance of such large-scale liturgies. I am thinking here particularly of celebrations at international gatherings, which nowadays are held with greater frequency. The most should be made of these occasions. In order to express more clearly the unity and universality of the Church, I wish to endorse the proposal made by the Synod of Bishops, in harmony with the directives of the Second Vatican Council, (182) that, with the exception of the readings, the homily and the prayer of the faithful, it is fitting that such liturgies be celebrated in Latin. Similarly, the better-known prayers (183) of the Church's tradition should be recited in Latin and, if possible, selections of Gregorian chant should be sung. 
Latin is the unifier because it is the language of the Church.  When we split up the Gloria into a mishmash of English and Spanish or whatever combination of language is chosen, we run the risk of breaking up the important significance of the prayer and running the flow.  It also runs the risk of unduly prolonging the prayer because, more often than not, this will include a "Responsorial Gloria", as evidenced in the dreaded "Missa Santa Cecilia". 

Repetition may work for rifles and learning, but, when it comes to the sacred liturgy, it is time that we fully disarm the Liturgical Winchester known as the "Responsorial Gloria."

Sunday, August 3, 2014

The Lowest Common Denominator

H/T to Cartman who manages to capture the accuracy of a situation.

In November 22, 1903, Pope St. Pius X issued his famous Motu Proprio on music in the sacred liturgy, Tra Le Sollecitudini.   The Motu Proprio addressed the major problem of secular influences creeping into the sacred liturgy.  At the time of the venerable Supreme Pontiff, opera started infiltrating the music used at the Mass.

Pope St. Pius X wrote that:
Sacred music, being a complementary part of the solemn liturgy, participates in the general scope of the liturgy, which is the glory of God and the sanctification and edification of the faithful. It contributes to the decorum and the splendor of the ecclesiastical ceremonies, and since its principal office is to clothe with suitable melody the liturgical text proposed for the understanding of the faithful, its proper aim is to add greater efficacy to the text, in order that through it the faithful may be the more easily moved to devotion and better disposed for the reception of the fruits of grace belonging to the celebration of the most holy mysteries. 
The liturgical texts use beautiful, elevated language as a means of worshipping the Lord.  Thus, the musical settings for these sacred texts should certainly provide fitting "clothing" for these words.  While opera certainly has its elements of beauty, its profane nature does not lend itself to the solemn majesty and dignity that the liturgical rites require.
Now we hit the fast-forward button to the 21st century.  Lamentably, the same issues that Pope St. Pius X sought to correct persist 110 years later, only now, the secular pop musical genre has replaced opera as the chief culprit.  Rather than clothe the sacred liturgical texts with fitting music, this particular genre, especially the Praise and Worship style, tends to cheapen the solemn majesty of the liturgy with a casual tone that is more suitable for the Sirius XM pop stations than for the Mass.

In 2003, another canonized Pontiff, Pope St. John Paul II, revisited this issue when he wrote his Chirograph on Sacred Music.  The venerable Pope wrote that
3. On various occasions I too have recalled the precious role and great importance of music and song for a more active and intense participation in liturgical celebrations[9]. I have also stressed the need to "purify worship from ugliness of style, from distasteful forms of expression, from uninspired musical texts which are not worthy of the great act that is being celebrated"[10], to guarantee dignity and excellence to liturgical compositions.  
In this perspective, in the light of the Magisterium of St Pius X and my other Predecessors and taking into account in particular the pronouncements of the Second Vatican Council, I would like to re-propose several fundamental principles for this important sector of the life of the Church, with the intention of ensuring that liturgical music corresponds ever more closely to its specific function.  
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.
St. John Paul II stressed the importance of maintaining continuity with St. Pius X meaning that the essence of the 1903 Motu Proprio's teaching has not changed.  What was problematic then remains problematic now.  For whatever reasons, banal music crept into the Mass immediately after the Second Vatican Council with such insipid and uninspired compositions as "You are Near", "Glory and Praise" and "Sing to the Mountains".  Recently, compositions such as "Rain Down", "Table of Plenty", "Bread of Life", and other stuff from OCP's "Spirit and Song" collections have also seeped into the Mass, especially within those liturgies "targeted" towards youth.

Oddly enough, the Fathers of the 2005 Synod on the Eucharist echoed the similar observation that both Sts. Pius X and John Paul II made when they issued their Instrumentum Laboris:
In other responses some lamented the poor quality of translations of liturgical texts and many musical texts in current languages, maintaining that they lacked beauty and were sometimes theologically unclear, thereby contributing to a weakening of Church teaching and to a misunderstanding of prayer. A few responses made particular mention of music and singing at Youth Masses. In this regard, it is important to avoid musical forms which, because of their profane use, are not conducive to prayer. Some responses note a certain eagerness in composing new songs, to the point of almost yielding to a consumer mentality, showing little concern for the quality of the music and text, and easily overlooking the artistic patrimony which has been theologically and musically effective in the Church’s liturgy.
Incidentally, while the Fathers specifically mentioned the problem with "Youth Masses", their observation is not merely limited to this particular matter.  At least in the United States, the music used in Spanish-language liturgies is just as problematic, if not worse.  Sadly, OCP is also the chief culprit.  In most cases, the genre of music used ranges anywhere from Mariachi to Caribbean to Ranchero and everything in between.  Even the texts tend to be problematic, as some of the compositions, such as "Pueblos Nuevos" seem to be inflicted with tinges of Liberation Theology.  This certainly contributes to a "weakening of Church teaching and to a misunderstanding of prayer" that the Synod Fathers warned against.

In 2007, Pope Benedict XVI, in his Apostolic Exhortation, Sacramentum Caritatis, maintained this hermeneutic of continuity with the teachings on sacred music held by his predecessors when he wrote that:
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). 
Unfortunately, this particularly important teaching has been lost on composers and publishing houses and those at both the diocesan and parochial level who oversee liturgical music.  It is as though all four groups, with some rare exceptions, tend to resort to the lowest common denominator when it comes to selecting music for the Mass.  Sadly, a lot of what these folks promote and use winds up sounding like Faith +1, the pseudo Praise and Worship band featuring South Park character Cartman and his animated cohorts.  The baselines, drums and keyboards may sound great on the radio, but, it is hardly a joyfully sacred noise.

According to Pope St. Pius X (and repeatedly affirmed by his successors, most notably, Venerable Pope Pius XII, St. John Paul II and Benedict XVI):
Sacred music should consequently possess, in the highest degree, the qualities proper to the liturgy, and in particular sanctity and goodness of form, which will spontaneously produce the final quality of universality.  
It must be holy, and must, therefore, exclude all profanity not only in itself, but in the manner in which it is presented by those who execute it.  
It must be true art, for otherwise it will be impossible for it to exercise on the minds of those who listen to it that efficacy which the Church aims at obtaining in admitting into her liturgy the art of musical sounds.

The aforementioned "Rain Down" sounds more like a piece that one would hear at a jazz bar than within the context of the sacred liturgy. "Alabare" sounds more like a Ranchera-type piece that one could listen to at a fiesta, but, not at Mass.

St. John Paul II echoed his venerable predecessor's words when he noted that:
12. With regard to compositions of liturgical music, I make my own the "general rule" that St Pius X formulated in these words:  "The more closely a composition for church approaches in its movement, inspiration and savour the Gregorian melodic form, the more sacred and liturgical it becomes; and the more out of harmony it is with that supreme model, the less worthy it is of the temple"[33]. It is not, of course, a question of imitating Gregorian chant but rather of ensuring that new compositions are imbued with the same spirit that inspired and little by little came to shape it. Only an artist who is profoundly steeped in the sensus Ecclesiae can attempt to perceive and express in melody the truth of the Mystery that is celebrated in the Liturgy[34]. In this perspective, in my Letter to Artists I wrote: "How many sacred works have been composed through the centuries by people deeply imbued with the sense of mystery! The faith of countless believers has been nourished by melodies flowing from the hearts of other believers, either introduced into the Liturgy or used as an aid to dignified worship. In song, faith is experienced as vibrant joy, love and confident expectation of the saving intervention of God"[35]. 
Thus, for St. John Paul II, the issue of sacred music for the Mass was not an "anything goes" style; rather, it needs to be "worthy...of the temple."  It needs to "perceive and express in melody the truth of the Mystery that is celebrated in the Liturgy."

We cannot and should not settle for the lowest common denominator when it comes to the Mass.  When we use substandard music, pieces that fail to respect the dignity of the Mass, we contribute to the erosion of the solemnity of the Sacred Liturgy.

Authentic sacred music, such as Chant (Propers come to mind), enhances the beauty of the liturgy and allows our minds and hearts to be elevated to the sublime Mysteries that unfold before us.  It brings us in tune with the heavenly realities that unfold before us.  It is too precious to be relegated to the lowest common denominator.