Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Mahrt Speaks

Here is an inspiring note from CMAA President Professor William Mahrt about the prospects for sacred music in our time. It does make you wonder who could possibly be happy about a future in which Marian antiphons are never sung, Introits like "Ad te levavi" and "Gaudete in domino" are never heard, and we are forever subject to the whims of the commercial publishing industry for what music we associate with the faith.

We would never put up with this in other aspects of our lives. If we go to see "My Fair Lady" on Broadway, we would be taken aback if the musical score where replaced with the theme from Dragnet or with children's playground songs. If we turned on our DVD of Star Wars and the music were Rolling Stones songs from the 1970s, we would consider it a ripoff.

It is even more true for ceremonies. Birthdays and civic patriotic events have music that is built into the structure of the event. And what of the little ceremonies in life, such as when we put a baby down to sleep? Lullabies. It must be. What if one day we awoke to find all of this mixed up or completely gone? "Stars and Stripes Forever" is sung at bedtime, and "Rock-a-bye Baby" played over the loud speakers at Baseball games, or, for inexplicable reasons, the people in charge of what music we hear rule out nothing except what is traditional. We would think that the world had gone mad!

How much more true when it comes to liturgy, our public worship? Do we wonder what happened to the "soundtrack" to the liturgical year? Who can possibly celebrate a future in which the music that grew up with the Roman Rite--which also happens to be the purest, holiest, and most beautiful of all music--were never heard again, were never again to be part of our liturgical consciousness? This makes no sense at all, and surely anyone who wishes for the best in the public worship of the Catholic Church can understand this point.

After decades of confusion about these matters, there is a growing sense that another restoration is desperately needed. What matters here are not big initiatives by international commissions or ominous rulings from the Vatican. Musical understanding takes place nowhere but in the individual heart. That means that our efforts need to need to be directed toward making sacred music a living presence in liturgy, one Mass at a time, one parish at a time.

It sounds like a daunting task, and it is. On the other hand, Christianity is a daunting task. Imagine what the first generation of Christians thought about this idea of spreading the faith to the whole world. They couldn't even so much as breath a world about their own loyalties without risk cruel torture and death. Surely they wondered just who is responsible for this far-flung idea of evangelizing the whole world.

Well, it happened because people had faith. They took risks. They believed and they acted. They followed the model of Jesus and made sacrifices. No one set out to build civilization. They set out to save their own souls and lead others to truth. And what happened? A new form of civilization came about--one heart and one soul at a time.

The prospects for sacred music may seem not good to us today but consider how much less we have to overcome than the first generation of believers after Christ. It all starts with one hymn in one Mass in one parish. That's where and how the rebuilding will take place.

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