Monday, December 03, 2007

The Liturgical Banjo and Other Blasts from the Past

The National Association of Pastoral Musicians has put up its entire archive of past issues of its periodical Pastoral Music, which had a huge influence on Catholic music from 1976 until the recent past.

Musicians, historians, and sociologists of the American Catholic Church should be extremely grateful for this act of generosity, for having these available will prove to provide great understanding of this peculiar period in Church history.

I've only browsed a few issues but they provides what we might expect: a near absence of consciousness that anything came before, that the liturgy provides its own intrinsic musical form, that liturgical music must be of a certain type, as well as the presence of an "Age of Aquarius" mentality that we have nothing to learn from the past and that this generation's inventions can and will surpass anything that came before. And how? By drawing on trends in contemporary popular culture and bringing them into the holy space so that it can be more people friendly and speak to us all in ways that accessible and "relevant" to modern problems.

The results are obvious to anyone walking into a random parish in a random town most anywhere in this country. What we observe are the fossilized remains of this movement and its grave confusions about what liturgy is attempting and what the Roman Rite is really all about. There is great tragedy here, and most everyone understands this now.

I'm grateful for these archives because a thorough understanding of what went wrong is an important component to having a clear view of the future. I also think there is much to be learn from the voice in which this publication spoke: directly to regular Church musicians and about the problems that persist in every parish. We need writers and thinkers and musicians who will grapple with this same problems in these new times but with richer understanding that this generation had.

What this publication assisted in was a wholesale overthrowing of a paradigm and its replacement with a new one. Our times call for a similar exercise in vision.

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