I am beginning to read through the new USCCB document on sacred music. While I am still framing my impressions, I was struck by the following. This seems to be a very new approach to music from the pens of the bishops:
My emphases and comments.
11. Within the gathered assembly, the role of the congregation is especially important. “The full and active participation by all the people is the aim to be considered before all else, for it is the primary and indispensable source from which the faithful are to derive the true Christian spirit.”
12. Participation in the Sacred Liturgy must be “internal, in the sense that by it the faithful join their mind to what they pronounce or hear, and cooperate with heavenly grace.” [Exactly. Internal first and foremost. That is the starting point. In fact, the baptismal character is the starting point!]
Even when listening to the various prayers and readings of the Liturgy or to the singing of the choir, the assembly continues to participate actively [Note this: the document says that people participate "actively" by "listening". They are getting away from the out of date cliche that listening is "passive".] as they “unite themselves interiorly to what the ministers or choir sing, so that by listening to them they may raise their minds to God.” “In a culture which neither favors nor fosters meditative quiet, the art of interior listening is learned only with difficulty. [It is hard to listen with true attention!] Here we see how the liturgy, though it must always be properly inculturated, must also be counter-cultural.”
13. Participation must also be external, so that internal participation can be expressed and reinforced by actions, gestures, and bodily attitudes, and by the acclamations, responses, and singing. The quality of our participation in such sung praise comes less from our vocal ability [Except in the case of some music, which requires by its very nature a certain expertise or at least proficiency.] than from the desire of our hearts to sing together of our love for God. Participation in the Sacred Liturgy both expresses and strengthens the faith that is in us.
14. Our participation in the Liturgy is challenging. Sometimes, our voices do not correspond to the convictions of our hearts. At other times, we are distracted or preoccupied by the cares of the world. [Right. It is possible to sing and sing but have your mind a thousand miles away.] But Christ always invites us to enter into song, to rise above our own preoccupations, and to give our entire selves to the hymn of his Paschal Sacrifice for the honor and glory of the Most Blessed Trinity. [That is what active receptivity produces.]
I will remind you that I was very skeptical about this document when it was presented at that last plenary of the USCCB. I wrote that on this blog. During the meeting itself, on a phone call with someone on the inside there, I was assured that I would find it pretty good. I continued to wonder with a measure of anxiety.
However, here is a little homework project for you.
Compare the excerpt above with a sermon I gave in Camden, NJ a year or so ago. You can listen to the sermon here.
In the USCCB doc, in par., they cite the same quote I used, from St. Augustine, cantare amantis est.
Do you hear the same themes? Never did I think to read these ideas in a USCCB document, frankly. I am encouraged.
The key in the excerpt above is the emphasis on interior active participation. Interior active is placed first and foremost, which comes to externalized activity. This is an important building block in the document, because then ever after there is a constant repetition of the phrase "full, conscious and active", almost to the point where it is weakened through exaggeration.
However, there is a problem. I think there are some problems with the section on choirs. Here is an excerpt:
28. The Second Vatican Council stated emphatically that choirs must be diligently promoted while ensuring that “the whole body of the faithful may be able to contribute that active participation which is rightly theirs. . . .” The choir must not minimize the musical participation of the faithful. The congregation commonly sings unison melodies, which are more suitable for generally unrehearsed community singing. [Right. This brings that sort of music essentially to the lowest common denominator. That doesn’t mean it has to be banal or tasteless. It just has to be easy enough for pretty much every one to sing. That can cetainly be said of the responses such as "Et cum spiritu tuo", for example.] This is the primary song of the Liturgy. [I am not sure I like that distinction.] Choirs and ensembles, on the other hand, comprise persons drawn from the community who possess the requisite musical skills and a commitment to the established schedule of rehearsals and Liturgies. Thus, they are able to enrich the celebration by adding musical elements beyond the capabilities of the congregation alone. [It could be that this needs deeper thinking. Sacred music, especially that which is truly art, is pars integrans in the liturgy, an "integral or integrating part" of the liturgy. It isn’t mere ornament, on a secondary level to the simple things the whole congregation can attain.]
29. Choirs (and ensembles—another form of choir that commonly includes a combination of singers and instrumentalists) exercise their ministry in various ways. An important ministerial role of the choir or ensemble is to sing various parts of the Mass in dialogue or alternation with the congregation. [I wonder if this doesn’t treat a choir rather like, say, a pipe organ, that sustains congregational singing. Perhaps not… I don’t know. I just wonder how this will come to be read in parishes.] Some parts of the Mass that have the character of a litany, such as the Kyrie and the Agnus Dei, are clearly intended to be sung in this manner. [Fine. But what about settings intended for a true choir? Does this eliminate the possibility of using the whole of a Palestrina Mass?] Other Mass parts may also be sung in dialogue or alternation, especially the Gloria, the Creed, and the three processional songs: the Entrance, the Preparation of the Gifts, and Communion. [What implications does this have for a schola cantorum using the Graduale Romanum? An chorus and orchestra singing a Schubert Mass?] This approach often takes the form of a congregational refrain with verses sung by the choir. Choirs may also enrich congregational singing by adding harmonies and descants. [Choir as add on to the congregation, which by its nature sings the most simple of melodies.]
30. At times, the choir performs its ministry by singing alone. The choir may draw on the treasury of sacred music, singing compositions by composers of various periods and in various musical styles, as well as music that expresses the faith of the various cultures that enrich [I will soon hate that word.] the Church. [WATCH CAREFULLY: This is where a serious stumble occurs.] Appropriate times where the choir might commonly sing alone include a prelude before Mass, [before] the Entrance chant, [That would be the Introit.] the Preparation of the Gifts, [That would be the Antiphona ad Offertorium, which doesn’t exist in the Novus Ordo?] during the Communion procession [Would this be the Communion Antiphon?] or after the reception of Communion, [filler?] and the recessional [after]. Other appropriate examples are given in the section of this document entitled “Music and the Structure of the Mass” (nos. 137-199). The music of the choir must always be appropriate to the Liturgy, either by being a proper liturgical text [Which is always attained by using the Graduale Romanum.] or by expressing themes appropriate to the Liturgy.
The problem with this is that, while on the one hand there is reference to the Church’s treasury of sacred music, by the model of alternative singing of choir and congregation, much of that music is excluded. Example, if you are going to sing a Mass using a Mass by Palestrina or with and orchestra and Mozart’s Coronation Mass, you might have to chop the music up and sing only parts of the Mass, inserting other pieces in a completely different style for the sake of congregational singing.
The solution could be in this: Having one Mass on a Sunday where people participate listening to the Ordinary of a great choral work, by no means violates the principle that the congregation has its own role. First, they sing those parts pertaining to them, such as responses, acclamations, etc. However, there are all sorts of other Masses when they can sing more alternatively with the choir. The point is that having some Haydn Mass or Mass by Josquin doesn’t mean that the principle is being violated because people participate by listening.
There are some other fairly good points, for what they are worth. For example, cantors should pretty much be heard and not seen if people know the tunes and mikes should be turned down if people are singing well. (I would just as soon have he cantors seen and not heard most of the time.) The organ is given high relief and nary a mention is given to the ghastly use of the piano or guitar. Professionals should be well-formed and paid decent wages.
The section on music in schools falls down rather badly, I’m afraid. This was a chance to assert the need for formation in what the Council asked for: Latin and Gregorian Chant. In this document zero.
But there is a section on Latin. Let’s take a look:
61. The use of the vernacular is the norm […] in most liturgical celebrations in the dioceses of the United States [Nooo… the use of Latin is the norm for dioceses everywhere. The vernacular is the exception which is permitted in the Latin Church. That said…] “for the sake of a better comprehension of the mystery being celebrated.” However, care should be taken to foster the role of Latin in the Liturgy, particularly in liturgical song. [Okay.] Pastors should ensure “that the faithful may also be able to say or to sing together in Latin those parts of the Ordinary of the Mass which pertain to them.” [That’s Sacrosanctum Concilium.] They should be able to sing these parts of the Mass proper to them, at least according to the simpler melodies. [More honored in the violation than the observance.]
62. At international and multicultural gatherings of different language groups, [UGH. Not another word about parish life? Schools?] it is most appropriate to celebrate the Liturgy in Latin, “with the exception of the readings, [On the other hand, yesterday I had a most interesting conversation with Archbp. Ranjith who argued that even readings could be in Latin. I agree. But I’ll get to that in another entry. ENOUGH of the blind dogmatism of vernacular readings!] the homily and the prayer of the faithful.” In addition, “selections [Just selections? Teach people chant and EVERYONE could sing the whole Ordinary! I’ve seen it done in a superbly multicultural parish as a matter of course because for years the pastor, who didn’t consider people to stupid to learn it, did what the Council asked.] of Gregorian chant should be sung” at such gatherings, whenever possible. [It’s always possible, Your Excellencies.]
That was rather thin soup, even though they properly mentioned the requirement of the Council Fathers that pastors of souls need to teach their flocks to sing and speak those parts of Mass that pertain to them in Latin and also the vernacular.
Let’s go on:
63. To facilitate the singing of texts in Latin, the singers should be trained in its correct pronunciation and understand its meaning. To the greatest extent possible and applicable, singers and choir directors are encouraged to deepen their familiarity with the Latin language. [Fine. Perhaps the bishops who wrote this could step up to the plate and have Latin Liturgy in their cathedrals?]
64. Whenever the Latin language poses an obstacle to singers, even after sufficient training has been provided—for example, in pronunciation, understanding of the text, or confident rendition of a piece—it would be more prudent to employ a vernacular language in the Liturgy. [Do you remember what I said above about not thinking people are too stupid to learn? People can do this if they are a) given the chance and b) someone leads them.]
65. Seminarians should ["must" according to the Code of Canon Law.] “receive the preparation needed to understand and to celebrate Mass in Latin, and also to use Latin texts and execute Gregorian chant.” [When will that be starting? Perhaps also in response to their desire to make use of the provisions of Summorum Pontificum? That is the 500,000 lb gorilla in the background, isn’t it.]
66. In promoting the use of Latin in the Liturgy, pastors should always “employ that form of participation which best matches the capabilities of each congregation.” [And let’s not underestimate them.]
"But Father! But Father!", you may be about to type. "Isn’t there anything decent about Gregorian Chant?" Here we go:
72. “The Church recognizes Gregorian chant as being specially suited to the Roman Liturgy. Therefore, other things being equal, it should be given pride of place in liturgical services.” Gregorian chant is uniquely the Church’s own music. Chant is a living connection with our forebears in the faith, the traditional music of the Roman rite, a sign of communion with
the universal Church, a bond of unity across cultures, a means for diverse communities to
participate together in song, and a summons to contemplative participation in the Liturgy. NB: "Contemplative" here must not be reduced to "silent". Congregations also can sing simple chants. Nor is listening "passive".]
73. The “pride of place” given to Gregorian chant by the Second Vatican Council is modified [Here we go!] by the important phrase “other things being equal.” These “other things” are the important liturgical and pastoral concerns facing every bishop, pastor, and liturgical musician. In
considering the use of the treasures of chant, pastors and liturgical musicians should take care
that the congregation is able to participate in the Liturgy with song. They should be sensitive to the cultural and spiritual milieu of their communities, in order to build up the Church in unity
and peace. [Isn’t it nice that Gregorian chant transcends those differences? But that seems not in fact to be what this paragraph is trying to say. It sounds like they are trying to say: "If people don’t know chant, use what they know instead." Or am I wrong?]
74. The Second Vatican Council directed that the faithful be able to sing parts of the
Ordinary of the Mass together in Latin. In many worshiping communities in the United States,
fulfilling this directive will mean introducing Latin chant to worshipers who perhaps have not
sung it before. While prudence, pastoral sensitivity, and reasonable time for progress are
encouraged to achieve this end, every effort in this regard is laudable and highly encouraged. [How about: "DO IT NOW!"]
75. Each worshiping community in the United States, including all age groups and all
ethnic groups, should, at a minimum, learn Kyrie XVI, Sanctus XVIII, and Agnus Dei XVIII, all of
which are typically included in congregational worship aids. More difficult chants, such as
Gloria VIII and settings of the Credo and Pater Noster, might be learned after the easier chants
have been mastered. [This is all doable.]
76. “The assembly of the faithful should participate in singing the Proper of the Mass as
much as possible, especially through simple responses and other suitable settings.” [OOPSS! Not so great. Remember that a Schola cantorum has its place!] When the congregation does not sing an antiphon or hymn, proper chants from the Graduale Romanum
might [must] be sung by a choir that is able to render these challenging pieces well. [People… this is chant… not quantum mechanics.] As an easier alternative, chants of the Graduale Simplex are recommended. [UGH!! NOOOO! THEY’RE NOT! AWFUL IDEA! BLECH!] Whenever a choir sings in Latin, it is helpful to provide the congregation with a vernacular translation so that they are able to “unite themselves interiorly” to what the choir sings. [Yes.]
77. The Entrance and Communion antiphons are found in their proper place in the Roman Missal. Composers seeking to create vernacular translations of the appointed antiphons and psalms may also draw from the Graduale Romanum, either in their entirety or in shortened refrains for the congregation or choir. [Just don’t force English translations into Gregorian chant melodies. YUK.]
78. Gregorian chant draws its life from the sacred text it expresses, and recent official chant editions employ revised notation suggesting natural speech rhythm rather than independent
melodic principles. Singers are encouraged to adopt a manner of singing sensitive to the Latin
text. [Translation: "Sing it right."]
79. Missals in various languages provide vernacular chants inspired by Latin chant, or other melodies, for sung responses between ministers and people. For the sake of unity across the Church, musicians should not take it upon themselves to adjust or alter these melodies locally. [If it isn’t in Latin, it ain’t Gregorian chant, folks. Just leave the Latin alone and sing it.]
80. Whenever strophic chant hymns are published with Latin or vernacular texts, their
melodies should be drawn from the Liber Hymnarius.
Okay…. I’m tired of this. I can do more another time.
Suffice to say that I am fairly pleased, though not entirely. I think there was an attempt on the part of some of the writers to do the right thing. I am imagining the pressure to attenuate many of the good points here. Still, the message is pretty good.
I am only concerned that there is also communicate a bit of an attitude that people aren’t really capable of much and that Latin is so very very hard that it must be treated with greeeaaaat caaauuuution. By also means use it, but be caaaarrrreeeefullllll.
Latin and chant are like the nuclear energy of the liturgy.
Still… I am pretty positive about this. The task is now for pastoral musicians to get hold of this and start pushing the good points before the bad spin can start.