Friday, September 15, 2017


Henry writes a comment for another post of mine:

All the posts here about musical preferences--whether thought to be objective or subjective--and about what music is good or bad, all such discussions are irrelevant to true liturgy.

The music proper to the Mass--chant, from plainsong to polyphony, which developed over the centuries under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, should NOT be replaced by any other music whatsoever, whether good, bad, or indifferent. Thus it's irrelevant whether Beethoven or Beyonce is better music; neither is appropriate at Mass.

The distinction between classical and popular music is similarly irrelevant. Indeed, today's classical music likely was yesterday's pop music.

A case in point is last night's Solemn Pontifical Mass broadcast by EWTN from Philadelphia's Cathedral Basilica of Saints Peter & Paul. It was filled with wonderful music by Mozart. Which only left one thinking how much better an Ordinary in Gregorian chant or sacred polyphony would have fitted the majestic solemn liturgy, and regretting that we were "subjected" instead to an admittedly exquisite orchestral Ordinary.

Henry's last paragraph that I highlight in blue is the problem that the liturgical movement of the last century leading up to Vatican II tried to address and often in vain in some parts of the world but not in other parts. 

Mozart Masses are fine as concert Masses (when no actual Mass is being celebrated) so that it can be appreciated as any secular person would enjoy music of his choice.

Even Pope Benedict, though, and His Holiness certainly knew better, appreciated these kinds of concert Masses actually used in the Holy Sacrifice and I think this was the case with a Mass at the great Cathedral in Vienna that Pope Benedict celebrated in the Ordinary Form. 

But Henry's critique as it concerns the back and forth about what is good music (and relying on the secular point of view about it) is worthy.

I would hope that the new post-Vatican II liturgical movement would lead us to chant in English or Latin in plainsong or polyphony the music proper to the Mass itself.

But herein lies the rub, anthems are allowed in both the EF and OF Masses--a processional prior to the Introit, an additional Anthem after the official Offertory Antiphon and  anthems at Communion time. There are lovely ones that have been sung over the years in Latin, such as Ave Verum Corpus and Panis Angelicus and a variety of other traditional ones and there are new ones of good and others of questionable quality. 

And who is to say that modern idioms could not be chosen for a recessional?


rcg said...

I will don the target for this post and ask John Nolan to critique this statement: given that various classical, folk, and popular tunes are inappropriate for Mass proper, can they be used appropriately for processions especially those outside of Mass e.g. Corpus Christi?

I will not flinch while you strike. ;-)

John Nolan said...

31 May 2009 was the 200th anniversary of the death of Franz Joseph Haydn, one of the greatest composers who ever lived. It was also Pentecost Sunday. Pope Benedict XVI used his last and greatest Mass setting (the Harmoniemesse) in St Peter's, with soloists, chorus and orchestra.

It is quite likely that this Mass would have not been used in the context of a High Mass when it was written, most probably a Low Mass. But it was not a 'concert Mass' since it was forbidden to perform Mass settings in the concert hall.

Back in 1973, when I had given up on what passed for liturgy in the Catholic Church, despite the fact that I had read myself back into the Church at University, I happened to come across the London Oratory. Sung Latin. Deacon and subdeacon. Ad apsidem. Gregorian chant. And Haydn's 'Nelson' Mass where in the Kyrie the soprano soloist soars into the stratosphere.

Yet there are idiots on this blog who assume that I object to women singing!

I sing chant. I have worked on it for over ten years. I leave polyphony to those who are better at it than I. I love it, of course. But a Mass sung entirely in chant is natural and acceptable; a Mass sung entirely in polyphony, including the Propers (even Byrd's) is, I'm afraid, wearisome.

A lot of popular hymns (especially Marian ones) exhibit a Victorian sentimentality which is somewhat dated (although less dated and more poetic than Marty Haugen and his ilk). Just keep them out of Mass.

George said...

Any music and words designated for liturgical use should be those creative works which are appropriate to what we are engaged in, which is the worship and adoration of the Almighty God. It is to our benefit and the honor we owe to God that we employ compositions dedicated to such use and purpose, and which aid us in entering into that which transcends the mundane, which is our praise for, and communion with, the Divine Creator. There are well crafted words and music of various types that should never be brought anywhere near a Mass Liturgy and would not be appropriate if they were so employed. The liturgical music genre is different. When the created result of the genre is constructed and performed well, then it is effective without being over-powering, sublime without being banal, conformable without being pedestrian or understated.

No music should be such that it overpowers the rest of the liturgy because then you would have a Mass where many would come more for the entertainment and aural excitement and the music would lose the liturgical purpose with which it written and composed for. There is music which plays on the emotions and there are those who attend modern protestant worship services which feature uptempo pop-type arrangements whose effect brings about the phenomena of those who confuse the "excitations" engendered by the music to a movement of the Holy Spirit. I know that there are small parishes that have to make do with limited musical resources but even so,one should make the best effort to work from the best and most fitting repertoire one can.

John Nolan said...

Henry is being too puritanical. Yes, Gregorian Chant is proper to the Roman liturgy, and is rightly given 'first place'. If we give 'sacred polyphony' second place, how do we define it? Which composers do we include, and which reject? The elaborate polyphony of the early 16th century is undoubtedly beautiful but obscured the text in a way that was unacceptable to the Council of Trent, so later composers such as Palestrina and Victoria wrote in a plainer style. In their Mass settings the words are clearly audible and easy to follow.

Yet the triumph of polyphony saw the neglect and debasement of chant, which was not revived until the 19th century.

The Church has never maintained that liturgical music should conform to a particular musical style, or that there is a cut-off point around AD 1600. If the resources are available and the occasion warrants it, there is no reason to exclude music from the classical era. Haydn's late Masses are a case in point. They were written expressly for liturgical use, and contain some of the greatest music ever written. They are devotional and uplifting, and relegating them to the concert hall would be to impoverish the public worship of the Latin Church.

I think that George's criteria regarding sacred music are broadly correct.