Monday, September 24, 2012

Two Pieces on Sacred Music

I wanted to share the following two important pieces on sacred music with you this morning.

The first is an article which appeared in the Catholic News Agency last week, the first of two parts, Rebuilding Catholic Culture: Church Music and the Fad of ‘Folk’ Style written by Sister Joan L. Roccasalvo, C.S.J.

Here is an excerpt:

The Fathers of the Church agree with the Ancients. Sacred music proposes to lift up the the whole person to Christ likeness. Throughout the centuries, men and women have become converts through the beauty of liturgical music.

The Decline of Quality

Common sense dictates that not all music qualifies as suitable for divine worship, for the chosen music sets the atmosphere for the liturgy. The music expresses, reflects, and mediates the saving mysteries of Jesus in symbolic ways. It is the locus where the human and sensory realities meet the divine and spiritual. According to Sing to the Lord, the musical judgment of sacred music requires musical competence, (and) only artistically sound music will be effective and endure over time. To admit to the Liturgy the cheap, trite, or the musical cliché often found in secular popular songs is to cheapen the Liturgy, to expose it to ridicule, and to invite failure (USCCB, Sing to the Lord, #135).

The deciding factor about sacred music is its quality. Quality has two meanings: (1) Quality as the essential and objective character of something, and quality in man-made things, the condition for excellence; we value quality of life, quality time with family and friends, and quality of character; (2) Quality in man-made things, the condition for excellence; we choose quality in food and in clothing. In a long but important comment by Barbara Tuchman,
Quality is the investment of the best skill and effort to produce the finest and most admirable result possible. Its presence of absence in some degree characterizes every man-made object, service, skilled or unskilled–laying bricks, painting a picture, ironing shirts, practicing medicine, shoe making, scholarship, writing a book. You do it well or you do it half-well. Materials are sound and durable or they are sleazy. The presence or absence of quality characterizes every man-made object and service, skilled or unskilled. Quality is achieving or reaching for the highest standard as against the sloppy or fraudulent. It is honesty of purpose as against catering to cheap or sentiment. It does not allow compromise with the second-rate but reaches for the highest standards. Quality can be attained without genius (Barbara Tuchman, “The Decline of Quality,” New York Times Magazine (November 2, 1980, 38-39).

Benedict XVI and the Decline of Quality

Of all the prominent church figures to comment on the state of today’s church music, Benedict XVI stands out as the most articulate. Describing a philistine mentality toward sacred music, he writes: “It is strange that the postconciliar pluralism has created uniformity in one respect at least: it will not tolerate a high standard of expression” (Benedict XVI, A New Song for the Lord, 123).

Read the rest over at CNA.

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The second article I wished to share with our readers today is actually an address give this past Saturday, Sept. 22nd to the Blessed John Henry Institute of Liturgical Music by Msgr. Andrew Wadsworth, the Executive Director of ICEL, Towards a New Culture in Liturgical Music.

Here again is a brief excerpt:

The primary and exclusive aim of the liturgy is not the expression of the individual's reverence and worship for God. It is not even concerned with the awakening, formation, and sanctification of the individual soul as such. Nor does the onus of liturgical action and prayer rest with the individual. It does not even rest with the collective groups, composed of numerous individuals, who periodically achieve a limited and intermittent unity in their capacity as the congregation of a church. The liturgical entity consists rather of the united body of the faithful as such - the Church - a body which infinitely outnumbers the mere congregation.

In starting considering the possibilities for a new culture of liturgical music, I feel we must begin by acknowledging that what Guardini stated that the liturgy is not, has in fact been precisely the experience of the vast number of Catholics worshipping in our parishes since Vatican II. A highly anthropocentric liturgy which seems more concerned with the assembly than anything else has become the norm in many if not most places. The notion that the liturgy is something we receive as a gift from God , through the Church, rather than something which we make for ourselves, has become seriously eclipsed in the minds of most Catholics. If we are to identify pointers towards a new culture of liturgical music, we must begin, like Guardini, by stating precisely what we understand the liturgy to be.

Read the rest over at Chant Cafe.

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