Saturday, February 10, 2007

What is our musical tradition, contribution, practice?

I rather enjoy reading this type of journalistic account of the current state of Catholic music (this one in Sioux City Journal, by John Quinlan). Here we see the familiar themes repeated.

Here we get the mistaken claim that Vatican 2 threw out chant - though the claim reflects a certain empirical reality. Readers gather that today few people are happy with the music in Catholic Churches. Music directors do their best. Everyone knows that the folk stuff is out. They try chant here and there (Hymns and maybe the simplest Sanctus and Agnus) but people don't know them and they don't seem very fulfilling. They try a blend but that makes no one happy. One thing and one thing only works week to week: old-time English hymns that people have been singing for years and predate the Council.

What's striking about these pieces is the underlying absence of any sense of what constitutes the ideal, the goal, the mission. Most American parishes have no one on staff, and this is true of priests and national pastoral leadership as well, who is aware that the Catholic Mass has music that is integral to its prayers. Chant isn't just a method of singing hymns. It is the means of singing the prayers of the Mass. It is this music that gave rise to all Western music. It built our musical civilization. It is Catholic, obviously. And what would shock these people to know is that it is still the normative ideal, retained in the Graduale, endorsed by the Council, emphasized in the General Instruction.

The loss of this knowledge was catastrophic for Catholic liturgy. Its rediscovery is the key to the future.

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