Wednesday, April 06, 2016

Two-part Essay on Sacred Music vs. Praise & Worship

NLM readers may wish to have a look at my two articles published recently at OnePeterFive, contrasting the characteristics of “Praise & Worship” music with the characteristics of authentic Catholic sacred music as developed in the Church's tradition and defined in her magisterium (see here for Part 1, and here for Part 2).

Some excerpts:
Whenever the popes speak about sacred (i.e., liturgical) music, the very first quality they put forward is holiness or sanctity, which they describe as a certain worthiness of or suitability for the celebration of the sacred mysteries of Christ, and freedom from worldliness or even that which is suggestive of the secular domain.[1] This is why it is especially important that liturgical music both be and seem to be exclusively connected with and consecrated to the liturgy of the Church. If the musical style is borrowed from the outside world and brought into the temple, it profanes the liturgy and harms the spiritual progress of the people.
        This also explains why Gregorian chant is held up as the supreme model and the normative music for the Roman Rite: it is a type of music that grew up together with the liturgy and exclusively in service to it, having no other realm or purpose.[2] When we hear chant, there is no ambiguity or ambivalence about what it is or what it is for; it breathes the spirit of the liturgy and cannot be mistaken for secular music in any way. Something quite similar is true about the pipe organ, which, after 1,000 years of nearly exclusive use in churches, is so completely bound up with the ecclesiastical sphere that its sound practically equates with “churchliness” in the ears of most people. For the popes, these strong and deep associations are good and important. It follows that music with a “double identity,” music that involves teleological and tropological ambiguity, is problematic.
A test for whether a style of music proposed for church is truly universal is to ask whether imposing it on a foreign country or people would be a kind of imperialism. With Gregorian chant, the answer is obviously no, because, like Latin, chant belongs to no single nation, people, period, or movement: it developed slowly from ancient times to more recent centuries, across the entire map where Christianity was planted; its composers are predominantly anonymous; it was taken up by the Latin-rite Church as the definitive musical clothing of her liturgy (which cannot be said even of polyphony, as praiseworthy as it is). In short, wherever the Latin liturgy traveled throughout the world, there too the Gregorian chant traveled, and it has never been perceived as anything other than “the voice of the Church at prayer.”
        In contrast, the style of Praise & Worship songs is obviously contemporary, American, and secular. If missionaries were to impose these songs on some indigenous tribe elsewhere in the world, it would be comparable to asking them to dress, eat, and talk like Americans. It is, in that sense, comparable to jeans, Coca-Cola, and iPhones.
A culture predisposed to think everyone should be “on a high” via athletics, drugs, sex, or rock concerts will likewise incline people (whether openly or implicitly) to think that prayer and worship should be the same way. One should feel “on a high”! Sacred music has never aimed at such an emotional high. In fact, it has conscientiously avoided it, to guard against the danger of fallen man becoming submerged in (and limited by) his feelings.

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