Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Bishop Olmsted on Sacred Music, Part II

Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted of the Diocese of Phoenix continues his series of articles on sacred music in the Catholic Sun, with this piece on the history of liturgical music.

This is a bishop who understands the importance of “singing the Mass”!

Here are a few excerpts; read the rest here.

Singing the Mass

Part Two: A short history of liturgical music

In the first part of this series on sacred music, I described the meaning of sacred music, the music of the Church's sacred liturgy, as distinct from "religious music." In this second installment, I shall explore, from a historical perspective, the Church's role in guiding and promoting authentic sacred music for more fruitful participation in the Sacred Mysteries by the clergy and lay faithful alike.
The Second Vatican Council proclaimed that "the musical tradition of the universal Church is a treasure of inestimable value, greater even than that of any other art" (Sacrosanctum Concilium, 112). This led the Council fathers to decree that "the treasure of sacred music is to be preserved and fostered with great care" (ibid, 114).

Sacred music in Judaism before Christ

… The Church inherited the Psalms of the Old Testament as her basic prayer and hymn book for worship. With these sacred texts she also adopted the mode of singing that had been established during the development of the psalms: a way of articulated singing with a strong reference to a text, with or without instrumental accompaniment, which German historian Martin Hengel has called "sprechgesang," "sung-speech."

… Sung with respect to and during sacrifice in the Temple in Jerusalem, the early Jewish Christians assumed this tradition into the sacrifice of the eucharistic liturgy.

Sacred music in the early Church

After Pentecost, …[a] dramatic struggle ensued between, on one hand, openness to new cultural forms and, on the other, what was irrevocably part of Christian faith.
For the first time, the Church had to preserve her sacred music, and then foster it. Although early Greek-style songs quickly became part of the Church's life (e.g., the prologue of John and the Philippians hymn, 2:5-11), this new music was so tightly linked to dangerous gnostic beliefs that the Church decided to prohibit its use. This temporary pruning of the Church's sacred music to the traditional form of the Psalms led to previously unimaginable creativity: Gregorian chant — for the first millennium — and then, gradually, polyphony and hymns arose...

Preserving, fostering through the centuries

...St. Gregory the Great (the saint from whom "Gregorian chant" takes its name) collected and systematized the Church's chant tradition in the 6th century and it spread and developed in the West throughout the first millennium. Gregorian chant was sometimes enhanced by the organ in the eighth or ninth centuries and with a single or with multiple vocal harmonies (e.g. polyphony) beginning in the 10th century. The development of polyphony carried on throughout the beginning of the second millennium, producing music of a highly sophisticated and ornate style…

The task for today

On June 24, 2006, Pope Benedict XVI attended a concert of sacred music, after which he said: "An authentic renewal of sacred music can only happen in the wake of the great tradition of the past, of Gregorian chant and sacred polyphony. For this reason, in the field of music as well as in the areas of other art forms, the Ecclesial Community has always encouraged and supported people in search of new forms of expression without denying the past, the history of the human spirit which is also a history of its dialogue with God."
The authentic renewal of sacred music is not a question of merely copying the past, but even less is it one of ignoring it. Rather, it is one of preserving the past and fostering new forms grown organically from it. This is a truly great and essential task, entrusted in a particular way to pastors and sacred artists…

Read the rest here.

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