I received a note from a reader:
What does Sacrosanctum Concilium 116 really say?
Ecclesia cantum gregorianum agnoscit ut liturgiae romanae proprium: qui ideo in actionibus liturgicis, ceteris paribus, principem locum obtineat.
The sentence isn’t all that difficult, though you wouldn’t know that judging from the last few decades of liturgical music degradation. But there are some words we must drill into.
Let’s drill at some vocabulary.
The diamond hard lexical drill bit the L&S reminds us that ut doesn’t merely introduce purpose clauses. It also means "as". Another word we must pay attention to is proprium.
Proprius, a, um is an adjective meaning, "not common with others, one’s own, special, particular, proper". It is the opposite of communis and alienus. It is "one’s own, peculiar, special, characteristic, personal". It picks up the meaning of "lasting, constant, permanent, perpetual", probably logically because it refers to a characteristic property or possession of something: "specially, peculiarly, properly, strictly for one’s self". In English we have the word "proper", meaning not "correct", or "fitting" but in sense of "belonging or pertaining exclusively or distinctly to a person, thing, or group". This is why in liturgy we talk about the prayers that pertain to a specific day as being the properium or the "proper". This adjective is applied to cantus. It is the cantus which is gregorianus cantus that is the cantus which is proprius.
Next we need to consider princeps, principis (from primus – capio). It is an adjective here. Princeps is "first in time or order" and "the first, chief, the most eminent, distinguished, or noble". When the princeps is a substantive, or it is applied as an adjective to a person, that person is then the chief or director in a military or political sense, one who defines the orders and the direction. This is where we get the English word "prince".
The verb agnosco means, "as if to know a person or thing well, as having known it before, to recognize: agnoscere always denotes a subjective knowledge or recognition". By logical extension it means "as a result of this knowledge or recognition, to declare, announce, allow, or admit a thing to be one’s own, to acknowledge, own". So, "recognize" has a very "complete" meaning. It goes beyond mere recognition, in the sense of "oh yah, I’ve seen that before", and then moving on.
Finally, cantus is more than merely "chant", which is usually considered just something sung by a person. Remember that on a bagpipe there is a "chanter". Latin cantus is "the production of melodious sound, a musical utterance or expression, either with voice or instrument; hence, song, singing, playing, music". Therefore, when it is applied to the human voice, it means "a singing, song" and when applied to instruments, "a playing, music".
Obtineo is "to take hold of, hold". This seems to be an enduring concept, for logically obtineo is also, "to hold, have, occupy, possess; to preserve, keep, maintain, etc." There is a sense of enduring in that "obtaining", a stability.
Then take note of that qui… obtineat construction. Here it looks like that qui doesn’t simply introduce any old relative clause. So, it is probably ut is, and it is therefore quî. After all, we already had a different ut and the fellows who wrote this knew more than Latin baby-talk.
The Church recognizes, as her own, Gregorian chant as the music proper the Roman liturgy: that therefore, other things being equal, it must preserve the chief place in liturgical actions.
Notice that I render the first cantus as chant and the second as music. When cantus is defined by gregorianus it means chant, obviously. When it is left by itself it is probably best to leave it as music.
What is going on here. There is an antecedent and a consequence. Gregorian chant is the music which is proper for liturgy… therefore… it is the guiding reference point and chief choice among all types of music. The ceteris paribus usually comes into play when there is an connection like this, or antecedent and consequent. In other words, given the powerful connection between the two ends of the statement, there is a desire to rule out other factors. Ceteris paribus actually strengthens connection, rather than weakens it. It would take a truly weighty factor to override this consequence.
The Church declares as her own, because she formally recognizes it, Gregorian chant as belonging to her as her distinctive music in order that, other factors taken into consideration in such a way they they don’t rule this out, it preserve the governing eminent place in liturgical actions.
I want to maintain "liturgical actions" rather than say simply "liturgy" or "liturgies". "Liturgy" is abstract". "Action" is something done by an "agent". Both actio and agens are from ago. The true actor in any liturgical actio is Christ acting thorugh His Body, the Church. His voice is speaking and singing. His are the gestures and motions. Actor and actio are also juridical terms.
This paragraph of SC which is a juridical document, an Apostolic Constitution, is packed with juridical vocabulary. Bear with me and let’s think like Romans for a few moments.
In ancient Roman law, men would have to formally recognize children as their own before they were considered to be their legal children, with rights to inherit, enjoy the family name, with all the gravitas and gloria that went with it, to have the association with the ancestors and the deeds they fulfilled for the Roman people, etc. Otherwise, in disputed cases inheritance could be established by agnitio (agnoscere) by a solemn hearing. An agnitio bonorum possessionis was a request made to a praetor to be granted possession of an inheritance as a successor. A father would place his hand on a child or a man he was about to adopt and recognize him as his own and call him by name (nuncupare from nomen – capio).
What SC 116 sounds like to me, what it really is, is nuncupatio, wherein Holy Church as the rightful holder of hereditary treasures, gloria, etc., places its parental hand on the genre of music, among many possible types of music, and says, "This one is mine. This is my distinctive music, which bears my name ‘Roman Catholic’. I give my name to it."
Here I want to backtrack to ceteris paribus.
This phrase indicates the powerful bond between the first part and the second part: Gregorian chant is the music, above all kinds of music to be chosen in liturgical actions because the Church solemnly declares that this music, and not another, is her own characteristic music which she intimately identifies as her own.
Some will argue that that ceteris paribus indicates that when the circumstances of cultural conditioning, of tastes and times, change, then Gregorian chant is no longer the cantus proprius and that it no longer must be given the same consideration as in the past.
In other words, if you say that, before or during or since the Council which wrote SC 116 there has been a rupture in the way the Church sings and hears herself singing, then we can choose our own guiding paradigm of liturgical music, which may or may not include Gregorian chant, depending on the place, tastes, culture, etc.
Pope Benedict XVI has spoken eloquently and clearly about this "hermeneutic of rupture and continuity" used by those who have distorted the meaning of the texts and the event of the Second Vatican Council.
His Holiness has proposed an interpretive principle that preserves continuity between past and present. Summorum Pontificum, for example, indicates that there is continuity in the Roman Rite.
Furthermore, since the Council ended, Popes have on various occasions referred to Gregoran chant as having the primus locus.
So, the rupture approach rooted in a particular interpretation of the cetera no longer being "on an equal footing", seems not to be legitimate. Nothing has happened in the Church since the Council that can legitimately "break" the bond between the Church’s claim in the first part of SC 116 and its consequent.
I want to work on this a bit more, but this is how I read SC 116… using a heavy drill.