Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Strategy in the reform of the reform

[Apologia: This is not a formal essay, but rather an open musing that I am writing as I go here -- and with time constraints -- so do not consider this a fully developed thought on my part. SRT]

I've been thinking much lately about the reform of the reform and the pastoral considerations that go along with any question of liturgical reform, renewal and restoration.

Clearly we've discussed on here certain principles, such as the common direction in liturgical prayer. While not all agree, many believe this is a fundamental aspect to be rediscovered in the Latin West. Some would hold the liturgy ought to be entirely this way, while others propose a mixture of versus populum and ad orientem. Whatever the case, we know the general direction of this is with regards our renewed emphasis on the liturgy as worship of the Holy Trinity.

Clearly there are deeper matters in the whole question of the reform of the reform that require much more than the will of the parish priest or his congregation. Namely, the revisions which the 1970 Missal might go under to bring it textually more back into line with what the Council desired. Certaily we can contribute to the discussion, but ultimately these decisions will be taken by the Church.

I've been thinking lately of what a parish priest, motivated by earnest desire to see the reform of the reform move forward, might do in his parish. Certainly it is arguable that ad orientem requires no approval, but let's face it, unless the congregation is willing and the bishop is at least neutral, this is not likely to get anywhere fast just on the movement of a parish priest alone. Likewise a parish priest may not licitly change the texts of the Roman Missal, even if he is changing them to be a more faithful translation to the Latin typical edition.

Sometimes parish priests effect changes like moving the tabernacle back into the centre of the sanctuary. They may also ensure that the sacred vessels, vestments and sanctuary design are in accord with the dignity that they are to be accorded. All important things. But is it the most important?

I've been thinking lately that while these things are good and necessary, that probably the single most important means and way to begin to bring one's parish into the spirit of the reform of the reform in a substantial way is by way of the sacred music used in the liturgy -- and perhaps this is one of the areas that seems least attempted in most parishes. All the other things are important, but if the music that is used in our liturgy is mediocre at best, and descacralized at worst, no matter how beautiful the priests vestments, or the sanctuary, the liturgy will still be found severely lacking.

Music seems to be one of those things which most profoundly effect the overall character of the liturgy and by consequence the attitude of priest and people. If we are having a fine dinner, we make sure to set the mood accordingly with good dinner music and ambiance. While liturgical music is not so limited as to merely be "mood music" it nonetheless sets a tone. For the Catholic in the pew, as well as the priest in the sanctuary, it can remind us that we are first and foremost approaching God in worship and adoration in the liturgy. This can effect things such as our interior prayer and our exterior reverence. The character and tone of our liturgical music is indeed to be imbued with such a tone -- sung prayer. That of course it the other improtant aspect of liturgical music, a sound theology.

It's at this point I want to mention the Adoremus Hymnal. It seems to me that Adoremus had it right in putting great effort into producing a parish hymnal that is a mixture of Latin Gregorian classics and vernacular pieces built organically upon that same tradition. In so doing, priests who wish to manifest the reform of the reform have an up-to-date option that is ready for their parish pews and designed with the reform of the reform and Second Vatican Council in mind.

Again, I am not suggesting that the other moves not be pursued. Far from it. However, in thinking strategically about implementing the reform of the reform in the here and now with the 1970 missal as it currently stands, and in considering what change might most effect a positive change both in the liturgy and in the congregation, liturgical music may be "where it's at."

To that end, I'd recommend that parish priests and parish musicians do what they can to bring this hymnal into their churches and begin to slowly adapt the congregation

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