Saturday, March 11, 2017

FROM: A VIEW FROM THE CHOIR LOFT. MY QUESTION: WHO DETERMINES TODAY WHAT IS USING cheap, the 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.


The American bishops wrote this many years ago: To admit the cheap, the 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. My question is why these sorts of reminders seems not to impact musicians and parishes especially as it regards so-called youth Masses or Lifeteen Masses! Do the bishops even know what they are issuing??????

 And again, we pastors like me, who say that certain music used at Mass sounds like what one would hear at a piano bar, a broadway play or a punk or rock concert, who are we to make such decisions and judgements, especially if the cheap, the trite or the musical cliche found in secular popular songs is performed well by the musicians and singers?????????

Pope Francis, Sacred Music, and the Biggest Stage
published 10 March 2017 by Richard J. Clark 
HENEVER POPE Francis speaks, he often raises eyebrows, much due to the force of his blunt speech and popular appeal. However, a good deal of it is nothing new, especially his recent remarks on sacred music to the Pontifical Council for Culture’s Conference on Music which marked the fiftieth anniversary of Musicam sacram (March 5, 1967).

Compared to remarks from Francis’ recent predecessors, what sets Francis apart is his tone and heightened visibility. Recent comments are still reverberating and need time to digest, especially the following: Sometimes a certain mediocrity, superficiality and banality have prevailed, to the detriment of the beauty and intensity of liturgical celebrations.”

You can read a translation of Pope Francis’ full address here.
But a call for reform in sacred music is hardly new, and most notably dates in more modern times to Pope St. Pius X’s 1903 Motu Proprio, Tra le Sollecitudini (“Instruction on Sacred Music”). Few realize, this document was a catalyst for sacred music reform in Vatican II. Such was Pius X’s influence on Vatican II that the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy makes direct reference to him by name: e.g., “in recent times, led by St. Pius X, have explained more precisely the ministerial function supplied by sacred music in the service of the Lord. (SC §112)

Consider remarks from recent predecessors, in particular, Pope Saint John Paul II. In 2003, in his Chirograph for the Centenary of Tra le sollecitudini of Pope Saint Pius X, he states:
3. “…I have also stressed the need to ‘purify worship from ugliness of style, from distasteful forms of expression, from uninspired musical texts which are not worthy of the great act that is being celebrated, to guarantee dignity and excellence to liturgical compositions.” (emphasis added)
Pope Francis clearly echoes this, but in less poetic terms. In fact his remarks share a more common tone with the 2007 US Bishops’ document Sing to the Lord: Music in Divine Worship (SttL)
To admit the cheap, the 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. (SttL §135)
These harsh words date back to the US Bishops’ previous document Music in Catholic Worship. But the warning has gone unheeded. Similarly, Pope Saint John Paul’s remarks in 2003 went largely unnoticed.

Pope Benedict XVI is the greatest champion of the inseparability of liturgy and sacred music, since Pope St. Pius X. But even Benedict softened his tone with regard to implementation, urging that reform cannot come about by fiat or decree, but through example. And many have heeded this call, teaching through example as their life’s work. But Benedict’s exhaustive writings on the liturgy are sometime sadly dismissed. Few avail themselves of his writing that happens to be far more accessible (and even pastoral) in tone than perhaps Pope St. John Paul’s.

BUT POPE FRANCIS’ PLAIN WORDS do not go unnoticed. He commands the largest stage of any pope, which is saying a great deal. In part it is due to the age of twenty-four hour coverage and social media, but this is not a new dynamic in our world. His light is not hidden under a bushel, but shines high on a hill. As such, it garners more attention, and at times more scrutiny.

Such musical exhortations are not new, but the tone and visibility are. Although it is unlikely they will have much immediate effect, Francis’ words get noticed. They are spoken from the biggest stage.
Let us pray unceasingly for Pope Francis.
Soli Deo gloria


Victor said...

Some may be surprised to know that Francis likes the sacred music of JS Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, and, oddly, sometimes even listens to Richard Wagner. In other words, those who dismiss his statements as a mere diplomatic speech ignore his fondness for art-music.

TJM said...

His appeal? Maybe to the faithless, but surely not the faithful

Anonymous said...

The composers' faith inspires the music. The liturgists' faith inspires the selection of music at Mass. And since the NO is not an organic development of the Mass of the Ages it is not surprising that we have what we have: a liturgy that has more in common with Luther/Calvin's reformation and the current secular cultural norms. Why else would you sing protestant hymns and banal knock-offs of rock music creation (“Gather Us In” reminds some of us of a much better secular song, “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald,” by Gordon Lightfoot)?


John Nolan said...

In Noel Coward's 'Private Lives' (1930) Amanda remarks 'Extraordinary how potent cheap music is.' Trite little tunes do tend to linger irritatingly in the memory, resisting conscious attempts to banish them. The Istitutio Generalis of the 2002 Missale Romanum, repeating almost verbatim what was written in Sacrosanctum Concilium (1963) and Musicam Sacram (1967), has the following passage.

41. Principem locum obtineat, ceteris paribus, cantus Gregorianus, utpote liturgiae Romanae proprius. Alia genera musicae sacrae, praesertim vero polyphonia, minime excluduntur dummodo spiritui actionis respondeant et participationem omnium fidelium foveant.

Gregorian chant should have first place since it is 'proprius' to the Roman liturgy. 'Proprius' does not merely mean 'particularly suited to'; it implies ownership, a unique and indissoluble bond. The insertion of ceteris paribus (a phrase not usually translated) strengthens the connection. It does not, as the USCCB seems to think, modify or weaken it. It certainly does not mean 'you are free to disregard this for pastoral reasons.'

The second sentence states that other types of sacred music are in no way excluded provided that they 'correspond to the spirit of the liturgical action' (a rather vague provision) and 'foster the participation of all the faithful'. This is usually taken to mean that the congregation have to participate by actually singing.

However, this does not fit with the rest of the text. Apart from the fact that all the faithful cannot join in the Proper chants (although most of them could manage the simpler chants of the Ordinary) it singles out sacred polyphony for special mention, and this by its very nature precludes the congregation from joining in.

So either the text contradicts itself in consecutive sentences (unlikely) or we need a less one-dimensional understanding of what participation entails. Evelyn Waugh once remarked that only the Germans associate participation with 'making a row'.

The passage is also about sacred music, not sacred (or otherwise) texts. The fact that a sacred text is set to music does not in itself make the music sacred. What constitutes sacred music was probably too obvious to the Council fathers to require detailed explanation.

Charles G said...

He likes classical music? Big whoop. And yet the man is rude enough to stand up a whole orchestra putting on a scheduled concert for his benefit, leaving an empty seat and thus effectively spitting on Western cultural and artistic traditions. Still miffed at the disrespect shown to those poor musicians.

Rood Screen said...


These are sad times and confusing times, all self-inflicted.

TJM said...

Pope Francis has totally misdirected his efforts from the start of his pontificate. If I were Pope I would be very concerned that a large number of Catholics no longer believe in the Real Presence (including a "priest" who posts here) and rejects Church teaching on abortion and gay marriage. Given the limited time a pope typically has in office, he should have focused on these 3 matters and left less consequential matters for another papacy.