The penny dropped for another musician.
At increasingly useful Crisis today I read a piece by a musician about the state of church music today. His summary: disaster resulted from the degradation of sacred worship in Latin. Of course it did. In the Latin Church the loss of Latin is going to have a profoundly negative impact.
Let’s see some of what he has to say. My emphases and comments:
Abandoning Latin Changed Liturgical Music … for the Worse
DEACON JIM RUSSELL
After 35 years as a liturgical musician, it’s amazing how little I really know about the liturgical music of the Roman Rite.
Then again, what should I expect when my earliest memories of music at Mass tend to involve now-forgotten attempts to make Ray Repp tunes, guitar-group versions of Beatles songs, social-justice-pop-folk songs, and patently juvenile compositions like “Sons of God” and “Here We Are” seem at home in the most august Holy Sacrifice of the Mass? [A good question. Part of the problem stems from the loss of understanding of the function of music in liturgical worship. For example, music in these USA was effectively hijacked into the disaster lane after the Council when an advisory board of the liturgy committee of the US bishops conference issued (without authority) a statement that included the catastrophic and false notion that the purpose of liturgical music was to create a truly human experience. From that point on, with the cover this provided, music swirled ever faster down the pipe.]
When it comes to the “hermeneutic of discontinuity,” I lived the experience. Yet, despite the poverty of my personal liturgical roots, I’m convinced that things aren’t really as bad as some people today might think, in terms of the pre-Vatican II vs. post-Vatican II liturgical-music landscapes.
No. They’re actually worse. [Bingo!]
Why? Because the narrative is not really as simple as saying “we really had our liturgical-music act together before the Council, and after the Council everything collapsed.”
Rather, the more historically accurate narrative sounds like: “we really had only taken the first few baby-steps toward getting our liturgical-music act together in the decades before the Council, and then after the Council everything collapsed.”
It might be fairer to say that after the Council everything certainly changed, if not collapsed. [He’s trying to hedge here. I’ll stick with “collapsed”.] Or at least that one specific change caused one particular collapse. I’m referring to the seismic shift in liturgical music that arose from the largely unrestrained embrace of the “vernacular” in the liturgy.
[… skipping way down…]
“Attention, All Personnel….!!”
Thus, the Church in the US was treated to the musical “M*A*S*H” unit that was first to arrive on the scene, offering not “meatball surgery” but offering “meatball liturgy.” And it wasn’t very life-saving—at all. As the Mass hemorrhaged its Latin, the wound, scarcely cleaned, received the Bandaid of the banal texts and melodies that at least initially came largely from the pop-folk era previously inaugurated by the 1957-1958 Kingston Trio smash hit “Tom Dooley.” [hence the rise of the sol-called “hootenanny Mass”] By the mid-1960s, the exuberant and carefree folk revival had given way to protest music and politics, and that volatile mix of elements gave us that visceral novelty of “now” liturgical music (so called) in the vernacular—guitars and even banjos mercilessly subjecting the faithful to everything from “Sounds of Silence” to “Let It Be” to Catholic “youth” music like “Wake Up, My People,” “Till All My People Are One,” “Allelu,” “To Be Alive,” and “Joy Is Like the Rain.” [When Latin was abandoned the door slammed shut on the treasury of the Church’s sacred music. There was no vernacular music! So, there was a scramble for something, anything. That and the fundamental misunderstanding of the role of music in worship resulted in reduction of music to the lowest common denominator (= devastation).]
Now, fifty years later, the discontinuity does indeed seem staggering. It leaves liturgical music in a sort of limbo. The legitimacy of the pre-conciliar effort to restore chant must be reconnected with the legitimacy of the post-conciliar openness to organically growing new liturgical music from that root. [This is what my mentor the late Msgr. Richard Schuler was all about at St. Agnes in St. Paul.]
How much different would things have been if there had been real continuity? Well, I’m pretty sure a young believer like me, destined to be a liturgical musician for more than 30 years, would have benefitted greatly from hearing way more Latin, more chant, more Latin polyphony—anything that would have made it clear to me that these are truly the hallmarks of our Roman-Rite tradition. In my view, it’s not merely a missed opportunity for the Mass itself, but it’s a missed opportunity for me as a Catholic. [At my aforementioned home parish, on Saturday mornings there was a sung Mass in Gregorian chant, and the entire congregation sang the Ordinary. There were baskets with the Kyriale at the doors. After some years, people didn’t need then anymore. Before Mass, the cantor would say, “Today we are singing Mass IV” (for the feast of an Apostle), and everyone would sing Mass IV. Easy.]
Mass is not supposed to make me musically comfortable—it’s supposed to make me more holy. [Right.]
Some may say that whatever doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, but I’m here to tell you: singing “If I Had a Hammer,” “Get Together,” and “Day by Day” at Mass never, not once, made me feel stronger—or holier. Let’s reclaim our rightful patrimony and try to rediscover—yet again—the liturgical music roots of the Roman Rite.
He did have a hammer and he hit the nail directly on its head.
This is a must-read for those who are involved in Church music (we all are) and for those who are interested in Church music (we all must be). NB: The typos are probably a result of the scanning of the text – they aren’t in the originals.
Also, friends, remember these principles:
- we are our rites
- change the way we pray and you change what we believe
- liturgical music is not an add on
- true active participation must be actual participation rooted in active receptivity
- liturgical music is an “integrating” element in worship
- liturgical music must be sacred and artistic
All of this is grounds for thanksgiving for the great gift Benedict XVI gave to the whole Church: Summorum Pontificum.
One of you wrote to me via email:
I appreciated your latest posting, “The penny dropped on another musician.” It mirrors my own experience and ongoing education regarding the liturgy. Unfortunately, we have the women religious to thank for the acceleration of the degradation of our liturgy as well. I ran across a recording of this “Mass,” the installation of the “Leadership Team” of the western province of the Sisters of Charity of Nazareth, Kentucky, an order that taught me in grade school. While I should not be surprised, I was still nonetheless shocked by how far these sisters gone in their attempts to dismantle the Roman Rite as prescribed by the Church.
From the very beginning, it’s just plain dreadful, but dreadful picks up speed at 03:45. From 20:15 onward the estrogen-bedraggled priest lets sister read the Gospel. Guess who preaches. More weirdness begins at 34:00 when three sisters do their “installation” thing with stoles and hugs all around.
Check out 1:07:00 for the final “blessing” and… what follows, whatever the hell that is.
Well… it looks as if the Sisters deleted or “privatized” that video.