Thursday, June 09, 2011

Fr. Christopher Smith on Praise and Worship Music Within the Sacred Liturgy

I was rather interested to read Fr. Christopher Smith's critical analysis of "Praise and Worship" music within the context of the sacred liturgy over at The Chant Café -- I make specific note of this context because at the end of his article. Fr. Smith does propose that this form of music can have a place outside of the liturgical context.

Here is an excerpt from his article:

5. P&W music self-consciously divides the Church into age and taste groups

P&W music is principally designed based on an abstract idea of what young people like. It often reflects more the trends of the past that were germane to P&W participants’ adolescence than it does the actual relevant trends of current adolescents.

It also tends to disparage the Church’s musical tradition by claiming that it is too difficult, elegant, or irrelevant to teens. For them, P&W is a grassroots, democratic, egalitarian, music relevant to youth. In contrast, the Church’s musical tradition is often painted as theatrical, aristocratic music for old people in concert halls.

By selectively choosing the abstract notion of youth and what is relevant to it as a criterion for liturgical music, P&W effectively divides the Church according to what is arbitrarily considered to be youthful and not youthful. It also argues that different “styles” are fine for the liturgy. This introduces into the liturgy the ambiguous notion of style and taste as a principle by which the liturgy and its music should be conducted.

6. P&W music subverts Biblical and liturgical texts during the Mass

The Roman Missal contains antiphons for the Entrance and Communion which are normally biblical texts. The Roman Gradual, which is still the Church’s only official source of music for Mass, contains antiphons for the Offertory as well as for the Interlectionary Chants. These together are known as the Proper of the Mass. The Missal and Gradual also contain official texts for the Ordinary of the Mass, for the Kyrie, Gloria, Creed, Sanctus and Agnus Dei.

P&W bypasses the first and preferred option that the Church’s liturgical law mandates for music at Mass, namely the Proper and Ordinary of the Mass as contained in the Church’s liturgical and musical books. It substitutes hymns, which have never been part of the Roman Mass, or paraphrases or re-workings of the Ordinary. If a biblical text is used, it often has little or nothing to do with the texts appointed by the Church in the Missal or Gradual.

In doing so, P&W sets up a situation in which people do not sing the Mass (i.e., the texts contained in the Missal and Gradual), but they sing at Mass songs chosen by the impoverished criterion that those songs “kind of go along with the readings or the theme of the day.” P&W divorces the music of the Mass from the Mass and substitutes in its place texts that are not or only barely Biblical or liturgical.

7. P&W music assumes that there can be a core of orthodox Catholic teaching independent of the Church’s liturgical law and tradition

Many P&W proponents assume that, as long as they continue to believe in what the Church teaches in the Catechism about faith and morals, that the liturgy can be adapted to how they think such a teaching should be incarnate in song. There are some who would never think of denying an article of the Creed or promoting immoral actions condemned by the Magisterium. But the same proponents see the liturgy as another sphere. Any appeal to liturgical law or tradition is rejected according to the principles of relevance and active participation of youth.

Orthodoxy is then separated from Orthopraxis, right belief is separated from right worship. The Church’s power to speak on faith and morals is upheld even as the Church’s power to safeguard the liturgy through rubrics, laws and traditions is dismissed as man-made legalism. In doing so, P&W promotes an attitude of passive, or even sometimes active, resistance to the hierarchy’s duty to safeguard the sacral character of the rites of the Church. The impression is created that there is such a thing as right belief, but that the idea of right worship is contrary to the Spirit of the Gospel.

This creates problems of communion between priests and their people when a priest attempts to reform the liturgy in any given place to bring it into line with the Church’s liturgical law and tradition.

8. P&W music consciously manipulates the emotions so as to produce a catharsis seen as necessary for spiritual conversion

Conversion is seen principally as a dramatic emotional event accompanied by strong feelings. Recognizing that music can stimulate feelings, P&W seeks to produce liturgical events which will bring out the feelings that could in turn bring about the emotional catharsis seen as necessary to conversion. The way the liturgy is planned and the music developed is done so with an eye to aiding this conversion process.

Yet, this is not what conversion really is. Conversion is the formation of the conscience under the grace of the Holy Spirit to inform the intellect and strengthen the will to live the supernatural life of the virtues in union with Christ. Although emotions are involved in the life-long pilgrimage of conversion, their deliberate manipulation, even for an ostensible good end, is abusive. It sees the human subject not as ready for the response to a divine call, but as something to be primed for an experience. In reality, the life of grace brought about by conversion is not an experience at the level of the emotions, but a movement of the soul over and above those emotions.

Read the entire article here: Why Praise and Worship Music is Praise, But Not Worship

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