Wednesday, November 07, 2007

The Threefold Judgement

Word on the street is that the new document on music from the USCCB retains the threefold judgment on music in liturgy: liturgical, musical, and pastoral. This is unfortunate because this test confuses more than clarifies. The major problem is how to weight these concerns.

Lots of music is good music but not good liturgical music, but there is no music that is appropriate for liturgy that is also not, by definition, good music (note that one of the marks of sacred music is that it is true art.)

Hence, to say that a piece passes the liturgical test is necessary and sufficient for it to pass the musical test. For the same reason, it would be silly to have a test of trout that says it must: 1) be a fish, and 2) live in water. The former presumes the latter. So it makes no sense for these to be treated as wholly distinct categories.

What about the pastoral test? Here is the real problem. Pastoral, in the popular usage, means that it is good for reaching hearts and minds, that it appeals to people's sense of what it means to be cared for, which is why the term pastoral is often coupled with the term "sensitivity."

Actually, of course, the way the term is often used is in contradistinction to doctrinally sound or morally tough. So we might say that it is true that the unrepentant murderer goes to Hell but it might not be pastorally sensitive to point this out to the mother of a murderer who faces capital punishment (which we can grant).

In this way, a "pastorally" musician might be more inclined to include pop music because it makes the faith more palatable than chant does. The pastoral approach then might choose Eagles Wings over Dies Irae.

I'm not saying that this is the right approach. I'm just observing that this is the way the term is typically used.

Back to the threefold judgment. How is the pastoral test used? Mostly to exclude truly liturgical music. We might say, yes, the communion chant is liturgically correct, and musically excellent, but it is not pastorally sensitive because of the usual reasons. Two out of three doesn't cut it.

In contrast (one might say), One Bread, One Body is liturgically suitable (in a legal or technical sense). It might not be great music but it is fine enough (according to this point of view). Above all else, it is pastoral music because folks like it (some do, in any case). Thus does it pass all three tests more or less, this argument goes, whereas chant supposedly fails at least one test.

Do you see the problem? The threefold test can be used to exclude liturgical music and favor pop music. It is subtly biased for that reason.

If we want a threefold test, I might suggest PX's as endorsed by JP2: music for liturgy must be holy, beautiful, and universal.

What is wrong with this test? Nothing, so far as I can tell, except that it would probably exclude most of what passes for liturgical music today.

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