Tuesday, February 18, 2020

Archbishop Sample's Pastoral Letter on Sacred Music Revised and Re-Issued

Two weeks ago, I featured the Liturgical Handbook issued by the Archdiocese of Portland. I was made aware of this during a recent visit to Portland, and at the same time noticed that Archbishop Sample had updated and re-issued his well known Pastoral Letter on Sacred Music in Divine Worship. Many New Liturgical Movement readers will remember, I am sure, the original was written when he was bishop of the Diocese of Marquette in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.

“Shortly before I was appointed to the Archdiocese of Portland, I issued a pastoral letter in my previous Diocese of Marquette concerning sacred music. The letter contained certain considerations that I believe can be beneficial to the Archdiocese of Portland since it highlighted some of the perennial truths regarding the Church’s teaching on sacred music. After recently reflecting on the principles and concepts it contained, I decided that a similar letter to the clergy and faithful of the Archdiocese of Portland would be opportune. I make no apology for largely basing this letter on my previous one since the values and ideas it promoted are both universal and enduring and are as valid today as they were then. While the Archdiocesan Liturgical Handbook contains much of this information in a summary form, I thought it would be useful to write this pastoral letter to give our pastors and musicians a more detailed reference text for formation purposes and as a complement to the Archdiocesan Liturgical Handbook.”

It can be downloaded for free from the Portland Archdiocese webpage here.

Two little examples from this letter, from pages 10 and 13 respectively that are close to my heart are below.

I have a personal story to tell here, by the way. Thirty-five years ago, I began a Master’s degree in metallurgical engineering at Michigan Technological University, which is about 100 miles west of Marquette. The research group that I joined was headed by an Englishman, a professor who had previously been at the university I had gone to in England. The person who was clearing his desk for me was a student who had just graduated with his MS, and decided that rather than go on to do a Ph.D., he would become a priest. This was “Sandy” Sample. I don’t think I spoke to him directly even once during the few days that we overlapped, but I had always remembered him. He was well-liked and respected, and often spoken about after he. The other remaining students and our advisor, Professor Hellawell, all said that he could have had a dazzling career as an engineer, and expressed either admiration or exasperation at the idea that he should abandon his studies to serve the Church.

I was a strongly anti-Christian atheist at the time, but I remember being struck by the fact that someone who was clearly an intelligent man and a very good student should give up everything, as I saw it, in exchange for nothing. I always thought he had gone to become a Lutheran minister until out of the blue about seven years ago I received a Michigan Tech alumni newsletter (I don’t know how it ended up in my mail - I didn’t subscribe and I have never received any other editions of it). The headline was Michigan Tech Alumnus Made Catholic Archbishop! Three weeks later I saw him speak in Rome at the Sacra Liturgia conference. This story illustrates how personal example can touch people in ways that we don’t know. His becoming a priest was not the most important reason for my later conversion, but it did contribute to it. Over the years I had remembered him from time to time, especially before my conversion, because I wondered how could someone who was clearly well balanced and intelligent, and who stood to gain so much, could abandon it for a collection of false abstractions.

Here is a radio interview with the Archbishop for those who wish to hear him talk about this and the Archdiocesan Liturgical Handbook.

More recent articles:

For more articles, see the NLM archives: