27 February 2013

Vatican II: Sacrosanctum Concilium IV

It's high time I finished up with Sacrosanctum Concilium so I can move on to another one of the apostolic constitutions from Vatican II.  Sacrosanctum Concilium has a lot more to say about the rites of the other sacraments, the Divine Office, etc. -- I wish I could devote posts to all of these issues, but like I said, I need to move on.  So, this will be my last post on Sacrosanctum Concilium, and it will focus on the issue nearest and dearest to my heart: sacred music.

Before I dive into that, though, a brief word on the Church calendar (another issue of great interest and concern for me).  Chapter V of Sacrosanctum Concilium sets forth the Council Fathers' thoughts on revision of the calendar.  Much of what they say is uncontroversial (priority of Sundays over the feasts of saints, renewed focus in Lent on penitential practices and baptismal features, etc.).  Only Paragraph 107 deals primarily with revision of the calendar.  It reads, in relevant part:
The liturgical year is to be revised so that the traditional customs and discipline of the sacred seasons shall be preserved or restored to suit the conditions of modern times; their specific character is to be retained, so that they duly nourish the piety of the faithful who celebrate the mysteries of Christian redemption, and above all the paschal mystery.
All that talk of preservation and retention sounds great.  I don't see anything in here about wholesale changes to saints' feast days or the elimination of the pre-Lent season of Septuagesimatide, the Octave of Pentecost, or Ember Days.  Yet another example of the liturgical "experts" running amok after the Council.

My sacred music post is getting shorter and shorter as the time gets later and later.  Nothing the Council Fathers state in the chapter on sacred music is particularly jarring or a break with the past -- sacred music should foster unity and solemnity during the liturgy (par. 112) and should be preserved and fostered with choirs and other schools (par. 114 and 115).

Then come the most ignored words in the entire document: "The Church acknowledges Gregorian chant as specially suited to the Roman liturgy: therefore, other things being equal, it should be given pride of place in liturgical services."  I really would like to get posters made of this sentence and mail them out to every music director at every Catholic church.  I would venture that upwards of ninety percent of parishes in this country hear chant maybe once a year (if you count O Come, O Come Emmanuel as chant).  A much higher percentage does not even know that there are other things out there than the "four-hymn sandwich" (consisting of entrance, offertory, communion, and dismissal).  Why have we completely eschewed the Propers of the Mass, which, being Scripture, are vastly better suited to the Holy Mass than even the best hymns?  Why do most parishes ignore the vast treasury of music from the 2,000 year history of the Church (the past 700-800 years of which yielded a great number of works that still survive)?

Additionally, the tripe peddled by David Haas, Marty Haugen, Michael Joncas, etc. is emphatically not what is supposed to be used during Holy Mass.  Sure, some of the songs may be catchy, but that is not the standard by which liturgical music is to be judged.  Sacred music is to edify the mind and heart and add solemnity and reverence, not banality, to the sacred rites.  I don't deny that some of these songs are uplifting and prayerful (once upon a time, I even enjoyed one or two of them), but listen to them during your own prayer time if this is the case.

Sacrosanctum Concilium also states that the pipe organ is "to be held in high esteem," while making provision for the use of other instruments.  These other instruments are permissible "only on condition that the instruments are suitable, or can be made suitable, for sacred use, accord with the dignity of the temple, and truly contribute to the edification of the faithful."  Guitar?  Negative.  Percussion?  Negative.  Piano?  Negative.  None of these instruments are dignified or suitable for sacred use, though they are all capable of producing beautiful music.

Fortunately, as the Church and her members become more authentically Catholic, I think that the state of sacred music in this country is on the road to recovery, thanks in large part to great groups like the Church Music Association of America and many fine bishops and priests.

As a postscript to this set of posts, I discovered that the Council Fathers took up the question of whether it would be acceptable to fix the date of Easter on a certain Sunday of the year, thereby making the Sunday cycle unchanging from year to year.  Their final opinion was that they "would not object" to making such a change.  I am relatively indifferent on this topic, but in the end, I am glad that this did not come to fruition -- I believe it is more meaningful to have the date of Easter calculated the same way that it has been for almost 1,700 years.

I will start on either Lumen Gentium or Gaudium et Spes next.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Andrew (Jamie Dahman here), in 2008 before I left Chicago, and again in 2011 when I moved back with my family, I sang in the choir of Church of the Ascension. There are many Anglican/Episcopal Churches in the U.S. that style themselves "Anglo-Catholic", but Ascension certainly fit the bill. Not to be simplistic, but "smells, bells, and yells" were the order of the (Sun)day. The men of the choir chanted the Propers - in Latin - every Sunday. We sang a complete setting of the mass, usually in Latin, every Sunday. If it was an English translation, you can bet your right eye there was a strong musical case to be made for it. Late Renaissance polyphany was a staple of the choral offering, as well.

I grew up attending Baptist churches and then churches of Christ, both which are traditions that eschew the liturgy. When I moved to Evanston/Chicago, I got my first taste of any kind of liturgical form at Kenilworth Union Church. Even there, it was a minor form of it. I then sang at the Church of the Holy Comforter, right across the street. Naturally, there was more of an emphasis on liturgy there, but it was what some call "broad church." Certain parts of the mass were performed each Sunday, mainly the Sanctus and the Agnus Dei. Other parts were spoken with the entire congregation (Credo) or read by the rector (Gloria). At Ascension, this was where I'd learned that, at some level, I'd been saying the Mass for most of my life, without even realizing it. And it was ALL chanted or sung. It was there where I realized and experienced the deep connection, across centuries, with Christians from the past who would have sung/chanted the same texts. It was really like the liturgy was doing its work in me, through me, just by repetition of the forms. And now, when I attend Orthodox Mass with my wife, it feels somewhat completed.

I share your frustrations with the state of church music now, even though we come from different backgrounds, and you make your point well.