QUAERITUR: WDSC116RS?

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.

LITERAL VERSION:
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. 

SPUN-OUT VERSION:
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.

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About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
This entry was posted in ASK FATHER Question Box, SESSIUNCULA, SUMMORUM PONTIFICUM, WDTPRS. Bookmark the permalink.

23 Responses to QUAERITUR: WDSC116RS?

  1. Tom in NY says:

    Eruditio tua de nuncupatione argumentum auget et meam sapientiam adjuvavit. Gratias ago.

  2. Geoffrey says:

    What is the best English translation of the documents of Vatican II? Are those on the Vatican’s website okay?

  3. This is insightful, Father. Thank you.

    There has been a great deal of dialogue over the blogosphere in recent days regarding the use of the chant in sacred liturgy. I think it is clear that this is where our energy needs to be with regard to liturgical music. The reform of the liturgy will not be successful if we just concentrate on Latin vestments and more candles – the fundamentals must support the aesthetic.

    I’m linking to this post from our blog.

  4. Mitchell says:

    Thank you for the clarity that is obvious when reading this and when not trying to split hairs. I do not think that the Council (IMHO of course) put forth such documents with the intention of having a hidden message, buried deep within the context for the world to figure out to mean the opposite of what it actually says. Almost everyone seems to agree the sky is blue, even though there are clouds and other things floating around in it. Anyone who takes the position the Chant was not the intention of the Council better state that the sky is white. Perhaps when they read between the lines they will start to see Gregorian Chant square notes instead of excuses not to sing it.

  5. Malta says:

    since the Latin in SC is so poorly written, how are we supposed to derive at what the authors intended? As in Constitutional interpretation, do we “strictly interpret,” or, generally presume what the authors intended? If the latter, are we awash in the fever of the “spirt of Vatican II,” or, do we presume to know the minds of those who wrote the documents? If the former, well, you know….
    [You know? Well.. I do. Did you actually read this entry?]

  6. Marcus says:

    There is no doubt that the Church suffers from not having Gregorian chant accompany its liturgy more frequently that is currently the norm. I started singing with the Traditional Latin Mass choir a few years ago, and I firmly attest a completely unique spirituality to the exercise. I truly feel like time has stopped and I am singing immediately in the presence of God.

    At the NO Mass in my parish, I am often embarrassed at the childishness of the music I have to sing. Most of the “contemporary” stuff sounds really dated now 20 or 30 years later, and I can’t imagine that younger folks like it (because I are one). Unfortunately, instead of turning to what is properly Catholic, many are introducing the latest Protestant praise music and Christian rock.

    However, what is true, good, and beautiful cannot be denied. I was singing the Alleluia for an upcoming Mass before the Tabernacle one afternoon in an otherwise empty Church, and a lady who is decidedly pro-contemporary/anti-Latin came in to pray and I concluded as quickly as I could and we prayed in silence. Later, at a parish meeting, she came over and said that the chant was beautiful and she wished I hadn’t stopped. Not that I sing that well, but that is simply the power of sacred music.

  7. Willebrord says:

    So….. when you mentioned, Father, that you thought the blog should move on in a new direction this is what you were thinking of?

    WDSC11RS?

    Although a blog examining Vatican documents in a way similar to WDTPRS would be interesting…

    WDTVDRS? (What Does The Vatican Document Really Say?).

  8. Joel L says:

    Thats a serious drill!
    [Thanks. I think it might be.]

  9. Antiquarian says:

    “since the Latin in SC is so poorly written, how are we supposed to derive (sic) at what the authors intended?”

    Poorly written, or just not to your liking? The fact that it doesn’t say what you want it to doesn’t support this conclusion.

  10. Chironomo says:

    As I mentioned in a posting on another blog only a few days ago… the “official line” on this passage from NPM’s chant representative, Fr. Anthony Ruff, has a very different interpretation of the phrase “ceteris paribus”. Translated as “other things being equal”, he goes on to say that those “other things” include cultural considerations, pastoral sensitivity, the spiritual level of the assembly, etc… and further seems to imply that those considerations can mitigate against the use of chant when it is not deemed “appropriate” (I am paraphrasing here). This would seem to conflict sharply with the interpretation you have given, which claims that these other things be “taken into consideration in such a way they they don’t rule this out”. I am sensing an escape-clause agenda in the NPM reading…
    [I think I addressed that position.]

  11. David Kastel says:

    Does the “hermeneutic of continuity” theory apply to what the Council said or to what has actually happened in the Church since the Council?

    The Council says that Gregorian Chant is proper to the Catholic liturgy, but it is not found in the Mass today (in the large, large majority of the time) The Council said that “the Latin language is to be preserved in the Latin rite”, yet it is also absent from the large majority of masses said today.

    The Council may have called for continuity, but there clearly has been a rupture. Gregorian Chant has been replaced by cheesy, hippy, folk rock from the 1960’s. (And of course the doctrine of the Mass as a sacrifice has been replaced by the doctrine of the Mass as a meal.) There has been a rupture with the past. There is no doubt about it.

  12. Mike says:

    I’ve often wondered why “other things being equal” was used in the case of Gregorian chant but nowhere else in SC. What was the intention of applying this condition to chant and nothing else?

  13. Philip of Sparta says:

    “But other kinds of sacred music, especially polyphony, are by no means excluded from liturgical celebrations, so long as they accord with the spirit of the liturgical action, as laid down in Art. 30.

    117. The typical edition of the books of Gregorian chant is to be completed; and a more critical edition is to be prepared of those books already published since the restoration by St. Pius X.” (SC 116-117, from the vatican website)

    ceteris paribus- as self-defined within the Constitution Sacrosanctum Concilium and in reference to St Pius X’s Motu proprio ‘Tra le Sollecitudini” can only refer to Sacred Motet a form of polyphonic sacred music which is largely based off of polyphonic setting of earlier plain chants. The masters thereof being Palestrina, Vittoria and also Durufle or Josquin. After all Durufle’s “Requiem” is solely the Missa pro Defunctis simple chant set to polyphony same with his “Quattor Motets”. They are polyphonic settings of plain chant. To interpret ceteris paribus as anything other than Sacred Motet would be gravely mistaken. Now, being that certain “hymns” (hymnody)which had already been a part of the Roman Liturgy (e.g. the Breviarium Romanum) were now finding a new adaptation, such as “Holy God We Praise Thy Name” which is written in a more Anglo-Catholic style of hymnody commonly stylized by Vaughn Williams, Britten, or Holst it is conceivable that this style of hymnody which is clearly different from a plain chanted hymn or Sacred Motet may also have been a part of the mentality of the Vatican Fathers. Yet, there is no mention of the rupture or discontinuity as others have interpreted.
    In conclusion, ceteris paribus does not grant equal standing to hippy “sacred” music but indeed only adopts, again, Sacred Motet and hymns largely based off of Sacred Chant tones and melodies as a part of its sacred Deposit of Music.

  14. Philip of Sparta says:

    “But other kinds of sacred music, especially polyphony, are by no means excluded from liturgical celebrations, so long as they accord with the spirit of the liturgical action, as laid down in Art. 30.

    117. The typical edition of the books of Gregorian chant is to be completed; and a more critical edition is to be prepared of those books already published since the restoration by St. Pius X.” (SC 116-117, from the vatican website)

    ceteris paribus- as self-defined within the Constitution Sacrosanctum Concilium and in reference to St Pius X’s restoration of Sacred Music in the following paragraph, a clear reference to his Motu proprio “Tra le Sollecitudini,” can only refer to Sacred Motet a form of polyphonic sacred music which is largely based off of polyphonic settings of earlier plain chants. The masters thereof being Palestrina, Vittoria and also Durufle or Josquin. After all Durufle’s “Requiem” is solely the Missa pro Defunctis simple chant set to polyphony same with his “Quatre Motets”. They are polyphonic settings of plain chant. To interpret ceteris paribus as anything other than Sacred Motet would be gravely mistaken. Now, being that certain “hymns” (hymnody)which had already been a part of the Roman Liturgy (e.g. the Breviarium Romanum) were now finding a new adaptation, different from their more militant battle hymn style adapted by the Lutherans, hymns such as “Holy God We Praise Thy Name” were written in a more Anglo-Catholic style of hymnody commonly stylized by Vaughn Williams, Britten, or Holst. It is conceivable that this style of hymnody which is clearly different from a plain chanted hymn or Sacred Motet may also have been a part of the mentality of the Vatican Fathers. Yet, there is no mention of the rupture or discontinuity as others have interpreted.
    In conclusion, ceteris paribus does not grant equal standing to hippy guitar centered “sacred” music but indeed only adopts, again, Sacred Motet and hymns largely based off of Sacred Chant tones and melodies as a part of its sacred Deposit of Music.

  15. TJB says:

    Father, you may just be the next Fr. Reggie! You are certainly the “magnus” of the blogosphere

  16. mpm says:

    “The Council may have called for continuity, but there clearly has been a
    rupture.
    Comment by David Kastel — 24 August 2008 @ 7:33 am”

    Abusus non tollit usum
    “Abuse of something does not invalidate its rightful use.”

    The Council is defining “rightful use” here, exactly as Fr. Z has explained.

    And, Fr. Z, I thought that analogy with nuncupatio was perfect! You see this
    in “Ben Hur” where the admiral adopts Ben Hur as his son/heir.

  17. Chironomo says:

    Fr. Z;

    Referring to my previous posting… Yes, i know you addressed this point! I was merely noting that this seems to be the “official” position of NPM regarding this passage, as they clearly have Fr. Ruff’s statement posted on their website.

    A question about this: Why is there no effort from the CDW or whoever has authority over such things to reply to such mis-statements by supposedly “Catholic” organizations? This was an issue last week as well with the NCR article. Do they just not care? I don’t mean an effort to silence such statements, but rather a request to publish a “correction” concerning the actual meaning of such statements? Seems that would go a LONG way to stop such outlets from making up their own interpretations.

  18. Derik Castillo says:

    I take my hat off before the mighty Fr. Z. C| :-)

    Now if something similar were to appear as the preface
    in every hymnal in every parish…

  19. Ioannes Andreades says:

    Fr. Z,

    Terrific translation! I’ve always thought that “chief” is the best translation for princeps. My trusty Bradley’s Arnold Latin Prose Comp translates obtinere as “to hold fast.” It is often used when someone or something is trying to take the thing away to which one holds fast. Am not sure that was relevant at the time, but it is now.

    Am interested in how you would translate the litotes in the following sentece on polyphony: minime excluduntur. According to Roman usage (as opposed to Anglo), I think it should be translated as “exceedingly encouraged” or something similar. In English, the phrase “not infrequent” would normally be understood as “not exactly frequent, either,” whereas in Latin, it would mean, “very frequent, indeed.” It’s another place where the standard translation of Latin texts don’t really convey the meaning adequately.

  20. Ioannes Andreades says:

    P.S. Is it mt imagination, or does the jussive “obtineat” contribute to the juridical tone?

  21. Nathan says:

    Father, would you consider WDSC22-23RS?

    22. § 1. Sacrae Liturgiae moderatio ab Ecclesiae auctoritate unice pendet: quae quidem est apud Apostolicam Sedem et, ad normam iuris, apud Episcopum.

    § 2. Ex potestate a iure concessa, rei liturgicae moderatio inter limites statutos pertinet quoque ad competentes varii generis territoriales Episcoporum coetus legitime constitutos.

    § 3. Quapropter nemo omnino alius, etiamsi sit sacerdos, quidquam proprio marte in Liturgia addat, demat, aut mutet.

    23. Ut sana traditio retineatur et tamen via legitimae progressioni aperiatur, de singulis Liturgiae partibus recognoscendis accurata investigatio theologica, historica, pastoralis semper praecedat. Insuper considerentur cum leges generales structurae et mentis Liturgiae, tum experientia ex recentiore instauratione liturgica et ex indultis passim concessis promanans. Innovationes, demum, ne fiant nisi vera et certa utilitas Ecclesiae id exigat, et adhibita cautela ut novae formae ex formis iam exstantibus organice quodammodo crescant.

    Caveatur etiam, in quantum fieri potest, ne notabiles differentiae rituum inter finitimas regiones habeantur.

    In Christ,

  22. Rose in NE says:

    Father, do you mean to say that the priest shouldn’t sing “If you’re happy and you know it, clap your hands” during the liturgy?? My teen-aged daughter attended a NO mass yesterday and the priest sang it as the closing “hymn”. (This was not a teen mass, just a regular Sunday liturgy.) Now, my daughter knew this was inappropriate, but she asked me why the priest didn’t know it. What am I supposed to tell her? I try hard not to bad-mouth priests or the NO, but really, this is ridiculous. We’re doing our best to keep our kids Catholic, but incidents like this really don’t help. Ugh, sorry for the rant!

    Thank you, Fr. Z. for caring about sacred music, and thank you for the hard work you do in promoting what the prayers–and the documents–really say. Your blog should be required reading for all priests.

  23. eft says:

    Fr Z: How about a generic category WDTLRS
    for this instead of QUAERITUR ?

    The L (for Latin) subjected to your careful drilling
    could be from various sources (a V2 document is just one).