I was at a conference on sacred music in Rome some years back where something occurred that was both irritating and amusing.
A liberal leaning choir director was going on and on about the sort of music we need for liturgy. He was dead wrong about everything, of course. He was, as you might suppose, a bit of a composer himself and he was exalting the rubbish he wrote. By contrast many of the people at the conference were interested in Gregorian chant and real sacred music. When it was observed that Gregorian chant had been shoved into the dustbin since the Council, the liberal self-promoter objected that Gregorian wasn’t dead, that it was indeed used – he himself rewrote melodies for his own compositions for responsorial psalms, that we have all these new books of chant from Solesmes! The crushing response came from Msgr. Miserachs of the PIMS: In that view, Gregorian chant must be seen and not heard.
It is more and more apparent that the setting for our sacred music is not merely a desktop, or in a concert hall, but in church during our liturgical worship.
There is a vast treasury of worthy sacred music. The doors to that treasury were slammed shut in the name of a false understanding of active participation. Generations are being denied their patrimony and the opportunity to worship God in continuity with their forebears.
Now shifting to a slightly different gear….
At Sandro Magister‘s site there is a very good article about the famous painting by Raphael of the Transfiguration of the Lord. You will want to read it.
During your reading you will come to these paragraphs, which I want to highlight with my emphases.
Monsignor Marco Agostini, an official in the second section of the secretariat of state, master of pontifical ceremonies, and a scholar of liturgy and sacred art, has rightly complained in "L’Osservatore Romano" that this improper placement deprives the painting of "three fourths of its capacity to speak."
Above the altar and during the Mass, in fact, the "Transfiguration" helped the priest and the faithful to "see" the mystery that was being celebrated, to identify in the consecrated white host the glorious Christ. This was why Raphael had conceived and painted it. While in a museum, this expressive power and liturgical function disappear.
I often visit museums when I travel. I always have twinges of regret when I look at altarpieces. Even as I admire their beauty, I wish that they could still be altar pieces. The same thing applies during a concert of sacred music.
Our church should be filled with the very best that we can offer. The building itself, all that ornaments it, and everything that fills its space through gesture, word and song must be sacred and must be art.
I say: if a building was built in a certain style and it a good example of that style, leave it be. I’ll grant that some buildings and their accoutrement are not particularly worthy. Fine. But generally, if you want something new, then don’t destroy the existing work by bastardizing it. Go build something new. But leave things alone. Leave them whole.