Friday, February 3, 2012

Music Documents Are Sometimes Ignored!

As you’re reading through some of the documents on sacred music suggested by Wendi, it’s important to keep in mind that there has been flagrant disregard for some of the key tenets of the reform of liturgical music for practically as long as the Church has mandated certain standards.

As an example of this disregard for the authority of Rome, consider the Instruction Music in the Liturgy (Musicam Sacram), issued in 1967. This document clearly delineates which parts of the Novus Ordo Mass are to be sung, and assigns a value of importance to them by use of the term “degree”. The parts of the first degree – the most important to be sung – include the greeting of the priest to the people in the entrance rite, and their response to him; the acclamations at the Gospel; the offertory; the preface of the liturgy of the Eucharist; the Sanctus; the Lord’s prayer; and several others. All other parts are second and third degree, and should not be sung unless the first degree parts are also sung.

The US bishops disagreed with this hierarchy in their 1972 document, Music in Catholic Worship (apparently no longer available online):

The parts preceding the liturgy of the word, namely, the entrance, greeting, penitential rite, Kyrie, Gloria, and opening prayer or collect, have the character of introduction and preparation. The purpose of these rites is to help the assembled people become a worshiping community and to prepare them for listening to God's Word and celebrating the Eucharist. Of these parts the entrance song and the opening prayer are primary. All else is secondary. (§44; emphasis added)

It is impossible to reconcile this statement with the Instruction Musicam Sacram. And even though Music in Catholic Worship was never voted on by the bishops’ conference (it was a publication of the Committee on the Liturgy), it was a major force in shaping the selection of liturgical music in the United States for decades. In 2007, Jeffrey Tucker wrote on the NLM blog (my emphasis):

It's been 35 years since the USCCB unleashed Music in Catholic Worship on the country. This is the document that said "the musical settings of the past are usually not helpful models for composing truly liturgical pieces today" – so much for the inestimable value of chant – and further said that the distinction between propers and ordinary "is no longer retained."

The newer USCCB document, Sing to the Lord, is a big improvement over its predecessor.

Of course, in general, in all of the official Church documents, Gregorian chant, Latin, and sacred polyphony are given “pride of place” according to Sacrosanctum Concilium and Musicam Sacram, but you’d never know it in the parishes of my acquaintance. In fact, you’d think such things had been outlawed – especially Latin – even though Canon Law (Canon 249) stipulates that seminarians (yes, even those in the United States!) should be “well-versed” in Latin, the official language of the Church. Wouldn’t it seem that bishops should ensure that the stipulations of Canon Law are followed in our seminaries?! Well, perhaps things are changing…

At any rate, while it is good to be aware of the history of legislation on sacred music, it is also good to understand that your studies may not be well-regarded by those who have been shaped by previous Church documents. The new translation of the GIRM more faithfully respects the more traditional ordering of music, but you’ll have decades of habit to overcome.

Still, Wendi’s suggestions for easing a parish toward truly sacred music have great promise. Patience, as she has mentioned, will be needed!

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