Monday, September 24, 2012

Musical Iconoclasts

I am told that "reform of the reform" is not an issue in Rome. In the Pope's own diocese liturgy is ghastly, there are a few oasis but only a few. Like most parishes throughout the world liturgical music is about what we sing or play, rather than what we should sing or play. Too many diocesan musical directors have a financial link to liturgical music publishers and are therefore interested in promoting something new (and expensive) rather than  the Church's rich heritage (which is more or less free). Many of course started off in a time of destruction and iconoclasm and have continued over the years in the same vain. It has served them well to continue as they started.

As church architects ripped out altars and altar rails, moved or removed tabernacles, in acts of gross vandalism so liturgical musicians ripped the guts out of our liturgical music. Often we have ended up with a parody of Sacrosanctum Concillium, where we sing at Mass, rather than sing the Mass. Where the words of scripture in the Propers of the Mass are replaced by hymns, or feel good songs celebrating "us" rather "Him".
The increased use of strident instruments like the piano or the strummed guitar, like the microphoned voice often overwhelm, dominate or at least compete with the text and the human action of prayer which is what liturgical music; chant and polyphony, are supposed to be. Machines: mics, pianos, even organs don't pray, people do.

The traditional use of music in the west has been to open up the meaning of a particular text, the text not the music is important, the use of a limited musical range, the use of modes emphasise this. The rise and fall of chant is a constant reminder of the basic meaning of Catholic worship: that God became Man so that Man might share in His divinity, that God raised fallen Man to worship him amongst the Seraphim. The chant of the Good Friday Liturgy, for example, is not sentimental, it is restrained, it is not a cry of pain but full of hope, so too the chants of the Requiem Mass.

Though traditional Church music is not itself catechetical, it is worship but it does teach us to worship in the heart of the Church, with the Church.

As destructive as iconoclastic architects were in re-orientating Catholic worship, often literally by smashing the High Altar and replacing it with a Communion Table, and as the Pope has said, altering the dynamics of our worship from looking towards the place of Christ's coming again, the heavenly Jerusalem to turning our worship into "a closed circle", so the musical iconoclasts have created a distaste for the Latin language, often banning it or pushing it to the margins. This has meant at the very least a pretty seismic hermeneutic of rupture, which has all kinds of implications for reading our past, and of the correct reading of Vatican II. It is sad that so many of our full-time diocesan musicians are foremost members of the theological school that delights in proclaiming theological rupture. 

Today there is certainly an important place for the vernacular but Catholic Church music is Latin, we need to accept it, some need to get over it, we all need to delight in it and seek to understand it, fortunately now we are beginning to restore that which had almost been destroyed.


Anonymous said...

Permit me to plug for Musica Sacra. Go here: and see the piles of free materials. The Church is sitting on a gold mine that is left untapped by most American parishes in favor of the banal pablum of secular therapeutic culture.

Anita Moore said...

These reflections are particularly timely for me as I found myself at Mass yesterday with "music" led by the "contemporary choir." Besides using dreadful music dreadfully performed, this group insists on being down front where they are highly visible, despite the fact that we have a perfectly good choir loft -- another widespread and destructive development in church music.

I never cease to be amazed at the visceral hatred of and prejudice against sacred chant -- all of a piece with the irrational hatred of the Extraordinary Form Mass, often on the part of people who have never attended one. I guess the problem with chant is (a) it takes effort, talent and discipline to master; (b) it suffers no mediocrity; (c) one cannot imprint one's own stamp of individuality on it. But the reality is that there is true freedom in chant. Once I have mastered a piece of chant, singing it makes me feel as though I am soaring. Not being metrical, it is free of time, which is a prison; it is thus, in its own way, a little taste of eternity, which is beyond time.

Which, maybe, is part of the problem with chant: (d) it embodies too much freedom: the unbearable lightness of being. It puts the lie to the idea that chant and other aspects of traditional worship represent repression and hide-bound uptightness. Freedom is dangerous and frightening in our increasingly regimented, collectivist, atheistic age. Those who seek to run our lives, whether in the sphere of religion or of politics, live in dread lest we develop a taste for freedom, which we might pick up from consistent exposure to chant.

Anonymous said...

Father, I grew up in England in the 40's and 50's. I would like to point out one or two things I learnt as I child. I got besides from the penny catechism a great deal of dogma from the hymns I was taught. God of Mercy and compassion, taught me of sin, what it did and what repentance was. The Immaculate Conception was comprehensible for ma and still is from Mary Immaculate Star of teh Morning, The suffering and Martyrdom of the Catholic Church in the UK from Faith of our Fathers;the value of the papal office from Full in the Panting Heat of Rome.
The supersized Bishop who said at Vatican @, "We must be rid of these silly sentimental love songs and replace them with Psalms did no favours for catholic children.
What have we got in the place of the hymns Crown Him with many crowns, Bread of Heaven beneath this veil. Gold was replaced with dross. I ask did the God of Love want love replaced? Were these old hymns not revelations by which we understood more?
Look at the hymn books in North America today. Words by brilliant Catholics have words changed and sung to very inferior music. Why was this done not to facilitate the psalms but to prevent copyrights from being paid. They have in Canada given us hymns diametrically and diabolically opposite to Catholic Teachings. We sing or others do the anglican song, "see us Lord about your alter" look at the third or fourth verse, "the bread and wine id but a sign" How droll for some dissenting spirit? look at the new words and music for Mary Immaculate sang by immigrants from the far east. The whole meaning of revelations 16, I believe is dismissed and hidden .
By the way Father the english idiom is vein not vain. I like your blog on Church music it is more of what priests should be writing. try for own interest Father Know it All he is good too.

Fr Ray Blake said...

Mike, I sympatise but I would not sacrifice one word of scripture for volumes of hymns.
That being said there other times for such things in para-liturgies devotions etc, even introducing new Sequences.

Fr Ray Blake said...

ps thanks for pointing out vein and vain, dare I mention it is altar not alter...
but we are all Guardian raiders herr

Anita Moore said...

Mike, the emphasis on hymns at Mass is misplaced. The use of the four-hymn sandwich most of us get at Mass, instead of the propers, should not be happening, even if they're good hymns. We should be using the propers.

Highland Cathedral said...

Jeffrey Tucker has some interesting things to say about music in the liturgy:

Josemaria Paulo Jeromino Martin Carvalho-Von Verster said...

Nothing but a BIG A-M-E-N!!!

IanW said...

It's not just the "diocesan music directors" who "have a liturgical link to liturgical music publishers", Fr. I'm afraid the official circles are even more rotten to the core. I think of an English diocese whose lay director of liturgy has run his own music publishing business from his diocesan office; of the Bishops' Conference's process for authorisation of new mass settings, which gives a good impression of corruption in its secrecy and blatant failure to adhere to its own rules; and of the national society for liturgy & music, which allows a well known liturgist to publish comments that would give him professional problems were it not to so zealously maintain the fiction of his anonymity.

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