USCCB MEETING: document on liturgical music – UPDATED ENTRY

The bishops had before them a document on sacred music proposed by the USCCB’s liturgy committee, headed by the outgoing Erie Bishop, His Excellency Most Reverend Donald W. Trautman.

The document was originally intended to establish particular law.  As such it would have required a 2/3 majority vote and then the recognitio of the Holy See.

However, at the suggestion of several bishops, Bp. Trautman’s committee is proposes this document as an official statement of guidelines of the USCCB.  This is similar to what the conference did with Built of Living Stones, which replaced the earlier dreadful Environment and Art in Catholic Worship.  Thus, the new document Sing to the Lord: Music in Divine Worship is designed to replace Music in Catholic Worship

Since the proposed document will be merely guidelines, a simple majority of bishops could passed it and it would not require the recognitio of the Holy See.

I was a little anxious about what the USCCB (BTW… every go review Apostolos suos) might do with something as important as sacred music.  If there is anything that needs good guidelines, it is sacred music.  I am sure most of the readers of this blog will agree.  Nevertheless, I shudder with the horrors my imagination conjured.  So, the fact that this document is not going to establish particular law is a good thing.

However, consider that the document, if it is eventually passed in the form of Guidelines, would not need the approval of the Holy See.  

We all know that in the past even guidelines were taken as if they had the force of law.  Think of the disasters that resulted from the NCCB’s ghastly Environment and Art in Catholic Worship and various other now obsolete unofficial documents.  And Built of Living Stones contains a deadly error in its notes in translating the Latin of GIRM 299 which concerns the position of the altar.  Even though the Holy See issued a clarification about what GIRM 299 means, and even explained the Latin grammar, Built of Living Stones makes GIRM 299 sound as if it requires that Mass be celebrated versus populum.  GIRM 299 doesn’t and the CDWDS clarified that.  But there it is in the conference’s document.

Thus, I wonder what interesting little things will be in this new document on music.

Had the document on sacred music remained proposal for particular law of the conference, Rome could have gotten involved with the content.

Now that it is proposed as guidelines, the bishops will not have to send it to Rome fopr approval.

Food for thought.

I also want to know if any consideration was given to the fact that the Roman Rite is now considered, at least juridically, to have two forms, an extraordinary use and an ordinary.  Does the document deal with this important new dimension of the Church’s liturgical life?

Does it consider Summorum Pontificum and the 1962 Missale Romanum at all?

I don’t know, but I suspect it doesn’t.

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  1. David says:

    We are one body, one body in Christ and we do not stand alone….

    …and he tells us “I am the Way the Truth the Light I am the final sacrifice he who believes in me will have eternal liiiiiifffffeeee…


    sorry all…

  2. For Tradition says:

    In a perfect world, we would all be singing the beautiful, sacred music from the vast Catholic treasury. Unfortunately, yesterday at my parish, our Communion hymn was “Let’s Gather at the River”.

  3. MM from Brooklyn says:

    Given the identity of the bishop – be afraid, be very afraid…

  4. Anne says:

    What a vast opportunity – to make a difference in the liturgical music we hear and sing! But we can’t expect miracles, can we? On another site we were listing most disliked “songs”. How about “Gather Us In”?

  5. Jean-Luc DeLacroix says:

    What other site? I’ll be happy to enter the entire OCP catalogue :P


  6. Matt Q says:

    This so aggregious. I can’t believe the falsehoods and errors rampant in the Church, yet it seems–not seems, it’s true–no one will stop it. The Pope himself is powerless to do anything about it. Just as Father pointed out the error with GIRM 299. Once it has been corrected, enforce it. This is absolutely beyond reason why not.

    What is so hard about the Holy Father saying, “I’m the Pope, you’re not. OBEY!” Rome is so emasculated today. It’s true, so I don’t want to hear. Great men such as Archbishop Ranjith, CDWDS, is few and far between.

    We never had this before the Council. Think about it. The Church today is more like Canterbury than Rome. These bishops do as they darn well please and no one stops them. They move around child-molesting priests but no penalty whatsoever befalls these bishops, even after an almost 1-billion-dollar settlement as is the case here in Los Angeles. Nothing, not a word of reprimand from Rome, or from a prosecutor. People have the nerve to complain about SSPX, yet the very actions of these people and their phoney GIRM, is evil and destructive, but not one word of vocal criticism about them. Rest assured, this one Catholic who will not be silent about these things. Being silent about false worship and false theology is the same as silence about child molestation. The SIN perpetuates!

  7. TNCath says:

    Semper idem. More of the same. I have the sneaking suspicion that the Extraordinary Form will not even be mentioned in the course of the bishops’ meeting. But, of course, the Extraordinary Form needs no additional “guidelines” about music. The instructions are already extremely clear! As for the Novus Ordo, well, I’m afraid the Trautman mentality is still alive and well. Unfortunately, I fear that these new “guidelines” will only make matters worse simply because the bishops don’t have to seek a recognitio from the Holy See. Hence Marty Haugen’s “All Are Welcome in This Place” will survive as an appropriate part of Catholic hymnody. Ever wonder where in the world lyricists got that term “this place”? It seems to be a requirement for every song written in the last ten years. I hate to be so pessimistic, but every time we get our hopes up that things are finally changing for the better, we have a bishops’ meeting to remind us that Their Excellencies are still the Spin Doctors. Perhaps the visit of the Holy Father in April will help. Prayers, prayers…

  8. My impression of all this–and this is more than a guess, to say the least–is that the idea to table this document came from more conservative quarters. So I’m not feeling too worried at this time.

  9. Fr Arsenius says:

    This newly proposed USCCB document – whether as particular law or as guidelines – was not drafted on the bishops’ initiative: it was mandated by Rome.

    Liturgiam authenticam is specific:

    “Particularly important, because of their impact on the person and on the memory, are hymns and chants. There is to be a general review of vernacular material in this field and Bishops’ Conferences are to regulate the question with the assent of the Congregation within five years.”

    That deadline (2006) has already come and gone: the bishops’ conference of the United States seems to be a little tardy in completing their work. But in any case, the assent of the Holy See is still required regardless of the format.

  10. Mary Ann says:

    I scrutinized this document and can say that, with a few hat tips to tradition, it obscures consistent teaching on sacred music and elevates total opinion-based suggestions to proposed particular law. Absurd.

    It was particularly fluffy and wrong-headed about active/actual participation, inculturation, the place of chant, and the suitability of other types of music. At one point, I remember the author of a particular section couldn’t distinguish between period and style, making the case that all styles are worthy because the Church has admitted music from every period into the liturgy. Yikes.

    What is the need for this type of document, anyway? I’m not trying to be cynical, but it seems to me that it only serves to eclipse authentic teaching.

    Suggestions should be clearly presented as such in a separate statement. For everything else, a bibliography of Roman documents would do!!!

    I hope and pray that Rome comes out with something definitive before this document is revised (again). But I am glad to see it withdrawn for now.

  11. Federico says:

    Matt Q: We never had this before the Council.

    I am struck by this comment, and by others I see from time to time. Please, don’t lose historical perspective.

    The Church has been in much worse shape at various times. The Gregorian reforms did not happen in a vacuum. Pseudo-Isidorian texts were “invented” to fill a very real need. Tenth century clerical sexual misconduct would make many of today’s scandals seem mild. I won’t even mention the Avignonese captivity or the Western schisms.

    I am reminded of one of the earlier tales in the Decameron, in which a Christian converts a Jewish merchant to Christianity. The latter is finally convinced to convert when he observes the corruption, sexual misconduct, and general bad behaviour of Church officials in Rome: “if this Church can survive in spite of this behaviour,” he argues, “surely it can only be because She is truly guided by the Holy Spirit” he concludes.

    Throughout history, the Church has gone through phases of house cleaning and restoration. Ecclesia semper reformanda est. She is not immune today, nor has She ever been, from the effects of original sin. Do not get discouraged — in spite of the problems She faces, we know these are not historically unique and that She will continue to be a font of salvation through the end of time. Just continue to play an obedient and constructive role to restore Her.

    Matt Q: “People have the nerve to complain about SSPX”

    I think nobody complains about the SSPX’s arguments or concerns. I think people complain about the SSPX’s disobedience (episcopal ordination being the coup de grâce). Remember: the end does not justify the means. St. Catherine of Siena argued most assiduously for the return of the papacy to Rome, but she always remained obedient and respectful.

  12. Legisperitus says:

    Federico: Remember also, however, that with obedience (a moral virtue) it is possible to sin by excess as well as by deficiency. Specifically, one can sin by obeying a command that is known to be contrary to faith, hope, or charity.

    I do not claim to know that Abp. Lefebvre’s actions fell into this category. Just wanted to mention that obedience in itself is not an absolute good.

  13. Father Anonymous says:

    I shudder when the bishops meet every year. I can’t change the channel fast enough if I see that their meetings are on EWTN and I prefer to just read about the event when everything is over rather than get sick to my stomach watching (mostly) out of touch politicians vote on worthless documents that nobody reads or bothers with. My favorite exercise in futility is when they issue grandiose statements about how the bishops are ‘against global warming’ or comment on issues and topics that are light years out of their sphere of influence. In fact, even the liturgical matters, to a large degree, are out of their sphere of influence because most priests do whatever they want and few bishops actually enforce any church laws (unless their is a money or sex scandal involved.) I’d better stop here otherwise my comment will go over the top, I will sin against charity, and Fr. Z will hit the delete button!

  14. Geri says:

    O, Father Anonymous, I am saying a prayer for you right now.
    I am not disagreeing with you, but I don’t want you to lose heart (easy to do.)

    Save the Liturgy, Save the World!

  15. danphunter1 says:

    Matt Q. is correct. Sad to say but we are living through the worst epoch in the Church’s history.
    This emasculated mindset has permeated so far up into the Church’s hierarchy, that only intense prayer and mortification will, through the Grace of the Almighty, bring about any salutary change to our dear besieged Mother.
    I encourage all to pray, at least Prime, Sext, and Compline, of the Divine Office every day to help bring about this change.
    I realize priests already do this and more, but I suggest that all laymen pray the Office for the salvation of souls and the liberty and exaltation of Holy Mother Church.
    God bless our bishops and God bless the Mystical Body of Christ.

  16. Elizabeth V says:


    Excellent idea! I will pray for him, too.

    (My anti-spam word to post this was:”Pray for our priests”. Hmmmm)

  17. EDG says:

    Federico and MattQ:

    I think you’re both right. The Church has been in truly hideous shape at various times in the past. However, the novelty of Vatican II was that it introduced, at least tacitly, a different understanding of the heirarchy that has significantly weakened the ability of the official structure to respond to abuses.

    The national bishops’conferences are not canonical structures, to my knowledge. However, they tend to think of themselves as little Romes in their own countries, and in fact in the opinion of the individual modernist bishops in general, each one is his own little Pope.

    Consequently, correction has got to come from below rather than above. I think one of the things the MP did was genuinely empower priests and also, to some extent, laity to correct abuses that the bishops are either ignoring or for which they are directly responsible. Giving priests freedom to celebrate the old Mass and laity the freedom to request it was a profoundly important gesture, because it essentially represents an end-run around the “authority” of the many self-appointed little Romes, such as the USCCB.

    Some of the bishops dimly sense this, and that is why they are so opposed to implementing the MP. We – laity and priests – realize that restoring right worship will also restore the right order of things within the Church. And I think the Pope has essentially given us his permission and even placed on us the responsibility of doing this.

  18. chironomo says:


    I agree with you totally that we are probably not seeing this whole scenario for what it really is. There are strong statements lately from Rome in regards to Sacred Music. A contradictory document from a Bishops conference would have the effect of making them look either rebellious or foolish. Many of the more conservative Bishops would probably rather delay this document, giving it over to a new committee with Bp. Seratelli at the helm so that the eventual document will be what was called for in Liturgiam Authenticam, and can be approved by the CDW and the Holy See. These so-called “committee documents” and “advisory documents” of the USCCB committees have become a kind of secondary magisterium in terms of the liturgy, replacing actual law with personal preference and agenda-driven reforms, all without the approval of Rome. Enough is enough….

  19. Sam Schmitt says:

    Does Matt Q really think the pope just has to say \”OBEY!!\” (or else) and things would improve? Really?

    Doesn\’t work with my own junior high school students . . . and it\’s going to work with bishops?

    Just curious.

  20. danphunter1 says:

    There is precedence for the Supreme Pontiff laying down the law and the clergy obeying.
    Look at the case of the apostate Teilhard de Chardin. He was censured by the Holy Office and was forced to resign his teaching position and set up shop outside the periphery of the Church..
    Also,when Pope Paul VI ordered all bishops to promulgate the Nervous Ordo Mass almost every single bishop obeyed His Holiness.
    The former example deals with the severe discipline of an dissenter, the latter with a highly questionable pastoral move.
    God bless Our Holy Father.

  21. MattQ:

    Without disputing we’ve got trouble, I demur from the idea conveyed by your statement, “we didn’t have this before the Council.”

    Just in the area of liturgy and music, there was clearly a need for redress; the “four hymn sandwich” that is so drearily familiar in our parishes today is very much a hold-over of what had been customary for centuries before the Council! So much had Gregorian chant fallen by the wayside that long before the Council, Pope Pius X issued his document calling for its restoration. And right up to the Council, and since, the effort continues. This is the context of what the Council said about Gregorian chant, as well as restoring the proper chants at the entrance, offertory and communion.

    There was a rationalistic minimalism that sometimes showed up in celebrating the liturgy and the sacraments, then as now, that the Council tried to move away from. Many faithful Catholics still think in these terms, so that as a pastor, there will be folks — not “liberals” — who will chafe at doing more than “the minimum,” and some will cite “the old days” when Father could get the Mass done in 20 minutes.

    I would also point out that when the Council came, and priests and religious and laity, at that time, when all wobbly and goofy, they were, manifestly, a product of the Church prior to the Council. You can hardly say that they were all sound folks, who somehow were “seduced” by the Council itself.

    Dan says something like, this is the worst epoch, “without doubt.” I tend to disbelieve that, but he may prove to be right. One reason I don’t try to argue the point is I believe I lack enough perspective to make such a judgment. Time will tell.

  22. Saints Matthew and Paul says:

    Remember: the end does not justify the means.
    “St. Catherine of Siena argued most assiduously for the return of
    the papacy to Rome, but she always remained obedient and respectful”.

    Sometimes though it does….a host of Canonized Saints supported one of the
    antipopes during the Great Western Schism.

    Pope Martin V, was himself was a “schismatic” Cardinal who
    became the first Pope of the reunited Church.
    (He’d voted for not one but 2 antipopes himself in conclave! and never had
    to “repent” for these many actions).

    Saint Vincent Ferrer counselled the Spanish to withdraw support for the
    (in hindsight) legitimate Pope at the time and force him to attend
    the Council of Constance, which basically forced a relucant Pope’s hand.
    (Basically the premise of the entire council was quite truly illegal,
    but the ends justified the means as the Church was in a complete and
    utter mess). Ferrer is still a Saint
    or perhaps a Saint for having done this.

    Sorry folks, I don’t but into late 20th-Century papiolatry.

    The best thing a Bishop could have said in 1970, was “NO” to Paul VI and the
    New Order Mass.

    Vatican II, just like the selling of indulgences, capital punishment for
    heretics, the Fourth Crusade, and the Avignon Papacy
    were all nice pastoral ideas which went horribly wrong for the
    Church, because they were all depatures from Apostolic Tradition.

    The Church reformed by changing its policy. So too it must now,
    down, down with Aggiornamento!

  23. Jeff Pinyan says:

    For Tradition: you mean the Baptist hymn by Robert Lowry (I think)? My parish used that for the recessional hymn. Ugh.

  24. Athanasius says:

    I’m always surprised when people act as if musical abuses are a new thing since 1965. The fact is musical abuses were present very early in the Church.
    The first general battles were with heretics. The heretics Arius, Pelagius and Nestorius were all great hymn writers, and the power of their heresies was spread by hymns set to popular tunes which expressed their heretical opinions. This worked well because the average people could not read treatises in Latin or Greek, so a hymn made it easier to understand. As a result all instruments were banned in the liturgy, and this remains true in the Eastern Churches today. In the west the Pipe Organ was allowed because it works in the same manner as the human voice, wind pushed through a pipe.

    The Age of Faith brought a variety of music, some great and some not so great. There was then, as now, a tension between secular music and religious worship. Even at the time of the council of Trent this was true. There were thousands of sequences which were used in Mass compared to 5 in the Traditional Mass as of 1962. In the 14th century there was a style known to history as the ars nova which was confusing, lacked sacred timing and the beauty of gregorian chant, but it was popular with the choirs and priests of the time. Eventually it and many other forms of music got canned by the Council of Trent, so that only the polyphony exemplified by Palestrina was permitted. In practice it was the same polyphony that had been in the Papal court for centuries.
    The Baroque period was also bound up with classical music, some that was sacred, and some which belonged properly to the theatre, but they mixed. When Pope St. Pius X wrote his motu proprio on sacred music, he was challenging the prevalent musical styles of the Church in Paris, Milan and Vienna. Gregorian chant was not known to the vast majority of choirs, and had not since the 13th century. In fact, Gregorian chant was basically dead until its revival at Solesmes in France. So, if you are going to say it is worse than it has been since the Council, please make that since the Council of Trent. Although I’m sure that the musical abuses of the middle ages could actually be called music, unlike the abuses of today, they were abuses nonetheless.

  25. Mike says:

    Fr Anonymous,

    Yes, but remember you have the advantage of actually getting coverage of the bishops’ conferences. I don’t think anyone here in Australia has the foggiest clue what goes on in our own bishops’ conferences, and there’s no decent media to cover it.

  26. Matt Q says:

    Sam Schmidt wrote,

    “Does Matt Q really think the pope just has to say “OBEY!!” (or else) and things would improve? Really?

    Doesn’t work with my own junior high school students… and it’s going to work with bishops?

    Just curious.”

    Well, Sam. As sure as sh-t stinks, it works in my and any other business. We’ll see how long you last when you defy the president/CEO of your company. You won’t last long in mine.

    Yes, the Pope can very easily tell a bishop he’ll knock that mytre off his fat head if he doesn’t fall in line. No Pope is obligated to keep any bishop. Sadly, your way of thinking perpetuates the problem. Mines solves it.

    I am not sure what sort of Pious Paul tap-dancing you people partake of, but there are souls at stake with all of this nonsense. The longer it continues, the more souls are lost. Reality check!!

  27. Matt Q says:

    As a furtherance of my position, I believe the Popes of today are actually afraid to act decisively. If anyone thinks the palace intrigue of ages past is no longer part of the Vatican in 2007, he is sadly ignorant. The sudden end of Pope John Paul I is still the subject of much conjecture even today, and nothing can be proven one way or the other. It would seem thus that the temerity of the Popes to act to settle an issue is in part based on this conjecture.

    Yup, even with the greatness of Benedict XVI, the Church is headed for a few hurts down the way. The Church’s inability–yes, the Church is unable–to correct the grave issues before us is only setting up Herself for greater problems in the future. Inevitable. Sadly.

  28. Matt Q says:

    Since this liturgical music bit as been reduced to “guidelines,” then it means the rest of us can toss it into the trash and be done with it. If Rome doesn’t need to approve it, we don’t need to obey it. How parishes does one think will follow that anyway?

    Bongo drums at Mass… You should see some of the freak shows they put on on Sundays and think they are “worshiping.”

  29. Paulus Alter says:

    >”I think nobody complains about the SSPX’s arguments or concerns.”

    Many of their concerns are good and understandable; many of their arguments are bogus and show a lack of understanding of liturgical history and the development of doctrine.

    >”Sorry folks, I don’t but into late 20th-Century papiolatry.
    The best thing a Bishop could have said in 1970, was “NO” to Paul VI and the
    New Order Mass.

    Vatican II, just like the selling of indulgences, capital punishment for
    heretics, the Fourth Crusade, and the Avignon Papacy
    were all nice pastoral ideas which went horribly wrong for the
    Church, because they were all depatures from Apostolic Tradition.”

    Be very careful here, I urge you. The pope has plenitude of power even in juridical and liturgical matters. Although he cannot create a new rite in the sense of decree a new tradition of worship all the sudden (that would be contradiction in terms, since traditions by definition are handed down generations), he does have the right to change liturgical books as he sees fit. Whether it was prudent to do so as much as Paul VI did is another matter, of course, but what he did he did. It requires another pope to correct any mistakes he made.

    The disagreement between saints at the time of the Great Schism is not relevant; there is no *serious* dispute about who is pope at any time during or since VC II.

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