Tuesday, September 19, 2006

What approach is right and best to furthering reform?

This sincere post at Cantate Deo makes the excellent point that it does no good for the advocates of chant and the treasury of sacred music to ridicule and denounce the contemporary music crowd and their tastes. Our best approach is to let the music speak for itself and win hearts and minds that way. The blogger is surely right, from the point of view of etiquete, decorum, and even strategy: "the absolute worst way to try to change the liturgical music scene in America is to try to shame people who find [NPM-style] music prayerful and liturgically acceptable."

Granting that point in every way, I do wonder whether such a rule would have prevented very important milestones in the history of music commentary from being written or printed. I'm thinking of Thomas Day's Why Catholics Can't Sing, which was a wakeup call for a whole generation of Catholics. It put the issue on the map and caused many people to rethink their uncritical attitudes toward postconciliar musical trends. Professor Day made many enemies with his commentary but his book was also very courageous. He spoke truth to power.

Perhaps, then, we need the tolerance run the other way too. For decades people who love the faith and find sacro-pop offensive have been forced to sit by and listen to music and styles that are that antithetical to the history of liturgy be imposed upon them by committees that can themselves be unyielding and intolerant toward any differing perspective. Those who complain have been dismissed and called every name from reactionary to "ultra-conservative" (to use a word deployed in a recent apologia I read, meant to describe opponents of rock music and dance in liturgy). Actually, it's not hard to find these sorts of dismissals: just about every other issue of Liturgy Today contains an article that pokes a sharp stick in the eye of anyone who dares question the turn liturgy took in the 1970s. You can only read so much of this before the blood-pressure begins to rise.

Further, those who brought about the revolution in the mid-1960s didn't exactly play nice. A generation of Catholic musicians, made up of people who had been working for good music and liturgy for many decades, was cut down and toppled from its position of influence in schools, parishes, universities, and seminaries. Directors were fired. Choirs were disbanded. Great scholars were hooted down and jeered. Publishers were forced out of business. Parish after parish was taken over, while those who questioned the new order things were told update themselves or leave.

This revolutionary style was on display as early as 1966 when America magazine published a series of incredible smears against Paul VI's Consociatio Internationalis Musicae Sacrae. Even at the Greg in Rome, the entire collection of sheet music was shoveled out of the files and put into the dumpsters. Even today, we receive emails regularly from directors of scholae who have been treated horribly by new parish administrators who know nothing of what the Church is asking of us.

When sacred music returns to its rightful place, may its advocates never employ similar tactics against the other side!

I could go on but there is no sense in rehearsing this awful and painful history. I would only ask that when you encounter anger from the advocates of sacred music, we need to remember that this history is a reality, and we need to remember that people are suffering in their parishes every week, right now. I too long for peace, and we should be charitable in every way, never letting the end justify the means.

One final point to add: it helps people who favor the restoration of the sacred to remember that the main problem with their opponents at the parish level is that they do not know better, have not heard better, and desperately need teaching and education. In this sense, one well-run workshop can accomplish more than a thousand angry blogposts.

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