Pope Benedict, speaking on liturgical music and the new evangelization, emphasizes Gregorian chant, polyphony, listening

Pope Benedict received in audience the “Saint Cecilia Association”, on the occasion of a congress of liturgical choirs taking place in Rome.

The reports on the Holy Father’s address were rather thin and I haven’t seen anything about this in English.  However, in the Italian original I noticed some thoughts of the Holy Father that confirm and strengthen positions I have been trying to emphasize for many years.

Here is the last part of the Pope Benedict’s address in my fast translation:

The second aspect that I propose for your reflection is the relationship between sacred song and the new evangelization. The Conciliar Constitution on the liturgy calls to mind the importance of sacred music in the mission ad gentes and urges an appreciation of the musical traditions of peoples (cf 119). But also in countries of ancient evangelization, as is Italy, sacred music can have, and in fact does have, a relevant task, to foster the rediscovery of God, a renewed approach to the Christian message and to the mysteries of the Faith. Let us think about the famous experience of Paul Claudel, who converted while listening to the singing of the Magnificat during Vespers of Christmas in the Cathedral of Notre Dame in Paris: “In that moment”, he wrote, “an event happened that dominates my whole life. In an instant my heart was touched and I believed. I believed with a force of adhesion so great, with such a lifting of all my being, with a conviction so powerful, in a certainty that would not leave room for any kind of doubt that, from that point onward, no reasoning, no circumstance of my agitated life could either shake my faith or touch it.” But, without bothering with illustrious people, let’s think about how many people have been touched in the depth of their soul listening to sacred music; and even more how many felt themselves attracted anew towards God by the beauty of liturgical music as was Claudel. [NB] And here, dear friends, you have an important role: commit yourselves to improve the quality of liturgical singing, without fearing to recover and to make use of the great musical tradition of the Church, which in Gregorian (chant) and in polyphony have two of the highest expressions, as the same Vatican II affirms (cf Sacrosanctum Concilium 116). And I would like to underscore that active participation of the whole People of God in the liturgy does not consist only in speaking, but also in listening, in receiving the Word with the senses and with the spirit, and this goes also for liturgical music. [This is my constant point of “active receptivity”.] You, who have the gift of singing, can make the hearts of so many people sing in liturgical celebrations.

Note that the Holy Father isn’t just talking about Holy Mass.  He is talking about liturgical celebrations.  He uses the example of Vespers.  Vespers is a liturgical celebration.  Vatican II mandated that vespers be fostered in churches.

But be sure not to miss that point about participation by listening.  Listening is not passive when the mind and heart are engaged by the will.  Close listening is active reception.

Moreover, the Holy Father spoke of the sort of music that we are to use in liturgical services: sacred music.  The texts and the musical idiom must be sacred.

Also, the Holy Father urged them not to be afraid of the treasury of the Church’s sacred music, especially Gregorian chant and polyphonic music.  We must reopen the treasury and make use of our patrimony.  It will take courage to open the treasury, but also courage to use what is inside.  Some people of a certain age have a visceral reaction to the use of anything “old”, as if by using it, even thinking that it is good, is an attack on their persons.  The sight of a traditional vestment or the sound of Latin or chant provokes many of them to a blind suspicion that their lives are being questioned, so bound up is their identity with the iconoclastic upheaval of the halcyon 60’s and 70’s.

Let this Year of Faith see a revival of sacred music.



About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. benedetta says:

    Thank you for this translation, Fr. Z. I have discovered a renewed appreciation for the Mass and the prayers of the whole Church through participating in a schola this past year. And, the new levels of appreciation include not just the ancient rite but the NO Mass as well, celebrated properly and beautifully.

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  3. aragonjohn7 says:

    Beautiful and sacred music is awesome in church.

  4. JohnE says:

    ‘ visceral reaction to the use of anything “old” ‘

    So that explains why we sing “Sing a new song unto the Lord” every other week. I’ve seriously been tempted to make tally marks in the song books. I think our parish could save money and trees by printing for ourselves the dozen or so songs we sing.

  5. frjim4321 says:

    It is a matter of what people like. It’s all a matter of taste.

  6. chantgirl says:

    I believe Dr. Peter Kreeft listed Palestrina as one of the reasons he is Catholic. The Catholic faith has inspired the most beautiful music, sculpture, paintings, and architecture (excluding the last 50 years or so). Even many who are not Catholic or even theists enjoy Gregorian chant and Catholic polyphony. There are several members of my choir who are not Catholic but sing with us because the music is so beautiful and there are few opportunities to sing Byrd, Victoria, Tallis, Lassus, Palestrina etc. outside of a college setting, and most colleges don’t get chant right. I have a sibling who has left the faith and is now an agnostic, but loves to go sit and listen to vespers at the nearby church. Good music can sometimes draw people who would otherwise never go to church. Before every Mass, I beg the aid of the saints and angels for the choir, that we might give fitting worship to God and through the Holy Spirit reach the hearts of those who have come to pray, lifting their hearts and minds and souls to the contemplation of truth, beauty, and goodness Himself. To sing well is to evangelize!

  7. Cathy says:

    Please, and soon! I would rather worship at mass with crying babies and beautiful, sacred music than a mass with music and lyrics that make me want to go to the cry room!

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  9. asperges says:

    “What people like” is how we got into this mess. It is a cop out.

    Holy Mother Church is not there to entertain but to inspire. It often fails to do so. Last night I had to go (exceptionally) to the local parish church. A four hymn sandwich of ghastly modern doctrine-less hymns, a total disregard for the rubrics, the celebrant not properly vested (no chasuble) and prayers for “sustainability.” That is not what the Church mandates.

    People don’t like many aspects of Christ’s teaching, let alone music. Inspire them: don’t pander to them. If Church is not inspiring: Word, Liturgy, Music, Beauty, they will lapse. You don’t have to be an aesthete to need these things. It is our heritage.

    The Pope is quite right.

  10. Margaret says:

    Question: is “sacred polyphony” restricted to a certain period in history? Does Mozart’s Ave Verum Corpus presumably qualify? Are there any 20th century composers of sacred polyphony? I’m not really clear on the distinction between polyphony & other types of classical choral music.

  11. catholicmidwest says:

    You make it sound like picking out a brand of deodorant or something. Doesn’t music actually have a purpose or is it really just more junk we pick out and assimilate?

  12. AnAmericanMother says:

    That relativism is dangerous – it spreads to infect everything. And its companion, indifferentism, follows right behind.
    But another danger is that in the absence of any objective standard of holiness, propriety, and beauty, “what the people like” becomes “what I like”.
    And that’s “imposing our views on others” . . . . and we’d never want to do that, would we?

  13. AnAmericanMother says:

    “Sacred polyphony” as a shorthand means the 16th century Renaissance composers like Palestrina and Victoria.
    The strict definition of “polyphony” is multiple voices, with multiple melodies interwoven together. That’s different from both “monody” – a single voice – and “homophony” which is multiple voices but only one melody (think chords or accompaniment).
    But there wasn’t a “clean break” between polyphony and homophony, you just saw the latter gradually coming to predominate in the Baroque. So you have Tallis (who is very much Renaissance) and Bach (considered Baroque) combining the two. I would think Mozart would fall on the homophonic side. There’s really only one melody going on in the “Ave Verum” and the other parts support it.
    As an amateur musician, I stand ready for correction from the better educated :-)

  14. StWinefride says:

    chantgirl, what you write reminds me of how the English Indult (1971) authorising the EF Mass came about (although referring to the Latin Mass it includes of course Gregorian chant etc):

    “In 1971, on the initiative of the Latin Mass Society, over 50 of the most distinguished scholars, writers, historians and musicians resident in Britain, directed a collective appeal to the Vatican to prevent the extinction of the classical Latin liturgy which had inspired some of the world’s finest artistic achievements. The majority of the signatories were, like Yehudi Menuhin, not Catholics, but they felt compelled to remind the Holy See of the “appalling responsibility” it would incur in the history of the human spirit if it were to deprive the world of the Church’s ancient heritage which they regarded as the most sublime product of Western Civilisation…” (from A guide to the Latin Mass Society – its purpose and functions – Carol Byrne MA PhD).

  15. AnAmericanMother says:

    And in answer to your last question, there is still some polyphonic music around. James MacMillan, Gerald Near, John Tavener, plenty of others as well.
    But the problem is that polyphony requires 1. a solid musical education, esp. in counterpoint, and 2. very hard work putting it all together.
    The medieval and Renaissance composers were strictly educated in very detailed forms and rules, and (more importantly) they loved to work within them. Very few music schools teach the details of compositional technique any more. I can’t imagine somebody today sitting down like Ockeghem to write a Mass consisting entirely of mensuration canons, just to show he could do it (it also happens to sound gorgeous, which is the real accomplishment. Check out “Missa Prolationem” on YouTube).
    So you wind up with “music” that on the one hand consists either of outré nonsense (yes John Cage I am looking at you) or banal pop melodies with minimal chordal accompaniment (suitable for guitarists who only know three). And composers of modern church music don’t care about technique at all. It’s pretty well known that some actual trained musicians offered to give FREE composition lessons to the “stable” of a certain well known Catholic music publisher and were turned down flat.
    It’s the same “be free to express yourself” nonsense that has infected so many aspects of life today.

  16. Gail F says:

    Where, in the documents of Vatican II, does it say that Vespers should be fostered? I have not seen that, or else I missed it — I have read most of hte documents at one time or another. I am constantly amazed at how special liturgies in our area of Southern Ohio (school graduations, etc.) are almost invariably just like Mass but without Communion, when we have other liturgies. It mystifies me why we do not use them. The bishop of Covington, KY (just over the river) has Vespers frequently for special liturgies, I thought that was just his preference.

  17. Gail F says:

    frjim1234: But it’s not all a matter of taste because a lot of people DON’T like it. I really cannot stand most of the music we sing at Mass, not because I am a snob but because it is really awful music. No one polls the parish, no one asks what we like or do not like — the music director picks what he likes and the choir wants to sing. That is hardly the same thing as accommodation. If it were a matter of taste you would find parishes with all different types of music — the chant parish, the Palestrina parish, the Gospel parish, the Marty Haugen parish. But you don’t. There really are some parishes with either strong musical preferences or ethnic music traditions, but they are the exceptions that prove the rule: Most parishes just use fad music from the hymnals, and it doesn’t matter what people want to sing or don’t want to sing. I would have a lot less problem with music if it really did reflect the preferences of parishes, because that is at least a defensible reason for singing rotten music. But as it is, there is no defensible reason.

  18. benedetta says:

    Vatican II says: use chant.

    And, regarding frjim4321, people, don’t feed the troll!

  19. StWinefride says:

    Gail F – it’s in the Catechism of the Catholic Church:

    1175 The Liturgy of the Hours is intended to become the prayer of the whole People of God. In it Christ himself “continues his priestly work through his Church.” His members participate according to their own place in the Church and the circumstances of their lives: priests devoted to the pastoral ministry, because they are called to remain diligent in prayer and the service of the word; religious, by the charism of their consecrated lives; all the faithful as much as possible: “Pastors of souls should see to it that the principal hours, especially Vespers, are celebrated in common in church on Sundays and on the more solemn feasts. The laity, too, are encouraged to recite the divine office, either with the priests, or among themselves, or even individually.”

  20. Sid Cundiff in NC says:

    V2 did indeed call for Sunday Vespers. And it ought to be done. The Liturgy of the Hours s is a stepchild; it needs to be recognized as a full part of liturgy. As for Sunday Vespers, while I prefer the LOTHs OF (esp. nicely done in the Mundelein Psalter), I think the EF Sunday Vespers is beautiful as well.

    If you’re in Venice, I can testify that the Sunday Vespers at San Marco has particularly beautiful music, ending with the sung Litany of Loreto using a sublime melody, done in a procession to the altar of the city’s Palladium in the north transept.

    I’m told that in Rome the Sunday Vespers at St. Mary Major is well done. I know from experience that the Sunday Vespers at St. Peters has guest choirs.

  21. Manhattan Trid says:

    Sacrosanctum Concilium (1963) First of the Vatican II documents
    99. Since the divine office is the voice of the Church, that is of the whole mystical body publicly praising God, those clerics who are not obliged to office in choir, especially priests who live together or who assemble for any purpose, are urged to pray at least some part of the divine office in common. All who pray the divine office, whether in choir or in common, should fulfill the task entrusted to them as perfectly as possible: this refers not only to the internal devotion of their minds but also to their external manner of celebration. It is, moreover, fitting that the office, both in choir and in common, be sung when possible.
    100. Pastors of souls should see to it that the chief hours, especially Vespers, are celebrated in common in church on Sundays and the more solemn feasts. And the laity, too, are encouraged to recite the divine office, either with the priests, or among themselves, or even individually.

  22. acardnal says:

    Gail F said, “Where, in the documents of Vatican II, does it say that Vespers should be fostered? I have not seen that, or else I missed it —”

    Sacrosanctum Concilium, para #100, a document of Vatican II states, “Pastors of souls should see to it that the chief hours, especially Vespers, are celebrated in common in church on Sundays and the more solemn feast days. And the laity, too, are encouraged to recite the divine office, either with the priests, or among themselves, or even individually.”

    And its in the CCC as noted above by StWinefride.

  23. acardnal says:

    Pardon me Manhattan Trid, I overlooked that you has posted the same as I.

  24. robtbrown says:

    frjim4321 says:
    It is a matter of what people like. It’s all a matter of taste.

    You’ve put your finger on the problem. Different people have different tastes, which also are more of less sophisticated.

    Some people might want Palesztrina at mass, others Marty Hauken, still others the St Louis Jesuits. What is the obvious solution? Latin and Gregorian Chant.

    I am a lover of classical music (despite which, last evening I saw the Marshall Tucker Band). Even though I have Palestrina on my IPOD (as well as Allegri’s ethereal Miserere), I’m not particularly interested in hearing either at mass.

  25. robtbrown says:

    Sid Cundiff in NC says:

    V2 did indeed call for Sunday Vespers. And it ought to be done. The Liturgy of the Hours s is a stepchild; it needs to be recognized as a full part of liturgy. As for Sunday Vespers, while I prefer the LOTHs OF (esp. nicely done in the Mundelein Psalter), I think the EF Sunday Vespers is beautiful as well.

    If you’re in Venice, I can testify that the Sunday Vespers at San Marco has particularly beautiful music, ending with the sung Litany of Loreto using a sublime melody, done in a procession to the altar of the city’s Palladium in the north transept.

    I’m told that in Rome the Sunday Vespers at St. Mary Major is well done. I know from experience that the Sunday Vespers at St. Peters has guest choirs.

    Europe has a tradition of cathedral canons (also to be found in Basilicas like St Peter’s or St Mary Major) who sing Vespers every evening. There might be guest choirs at St Peters, but they are an exception. The canons sing Vespers.

    For various reasons there is no tradition of canons in the US, so those who want to attend Vespers (even Sunday Vespers) are out of luck unless they live near a monastery or large parish staffed by, say, Dominicans.

    At one time, however, some US parishes had Benediction on Sunday evening–but not Vespers.

  26. wmeyer says:

    It is a matter of what people like. It’s all a matter of taste.

    Clearly not! When we are presented with Protestant hymns with lyrics contrary to Church teaching, that is most certainly an error. And frankly, one of the greatest failings in many parishes today is the loss of reverence in worship. It verges on the loss of worship, altogether. Modern “hymns” with sing-song lyrics, banal and devoid of essential content, contribute to this very sad state of affairs.

  27. wmeyer says:

    It has been my experience that many, perhaps most, of the people fond of citing V-II as justification for their positions or actions have read little or none of what the Council promulgated. Usually, what they should be saying, in honesty, is that it is what they believe was called for by the Spirit of Vatican II. However, the “spirit” claims are almost universally opposite to what was written in the documents.

    SC calls for Latin in the liturgy, chant as the preferred form of music, and participation actuoso, not activitas. This last means, as I understand it, that we are called to interior participation–prayer–not the aping of the gestures of the celebrant.

    The use of the term “presider” for the celebrant is also, in my view, an insidious and intentional down-playing of the essential difference between priest and layman. The implication is that anyone could preside, which of course, is nonsense. No priest, no Eucharist.

  28. “It is a matter of what people like. It’s all a matter of taste.”

    Presumably, this was intended as an explanation of why so much church music nowadays is so banal and mediocre.

    But I’m reminded of a parish bulletin note from a former pastor who is now a bishop, entitled “Latin and Lima Beans”. Explaining why some Latin was being introduced in the parish Sunday Masses, he said “Latin is like lima beans: You may not like it, but it’s good for you.”

    And perhaps proper liturgy (including sacred music) is not about what we like, but about what is good for us.

  29. wmeyer says:

    It is a matter of what people like. It’s all a matter of taste.

    As a response to this particular post, this seems also to be dismissive of the teaching offered by our Holy Father.

  30. HighMass says:

    So when do we begin using Gregorian Chant Again??? Oh wait, the Clergy that do not like it will wait until we have a different Pope….or another Bugnini….Yes the liberals lets reinvent, forget what has been or had been the Church Music for Centuries, and lets “Sing a new song unto the Lord”…

    JOHN E. we have it in our parishes also and now we have the piano in place of the Organ…..
    If only we had a parish Run by the FSSP….

  31. chantgirl says:

    Ok, I have to throw out Kevin Allen’s name here. He writes beautiful sacred music which at times sounds more like polyphony, and at times more like homophony, but it is all beautiful, and he has many pieces that an average choir could pull off (not as many voices as some of Palestrina’s stuff).


  32. chantgirl says:

    If people want to start chant in their parish, a good way is to get a group together that will pay for a chant workshop for the parish. Jeff Ostrowski, Jeffrey Tucker, Aristotle Esguerra, Fr. Samuel Weber, and Arlene Oost-Zinner are some of the good teachers that come to mind at the moment.

    Check out http://www.chantcafe.com/ or http://musicasacra.com/colloquium/ for people who can assist choirs and parishes gear up to do chant or sacred music. If you go to your pastor with funding lined up, he might be better disposed to accomodate your request. Also, these resources are not just for EF parishes; Jeff Ostrowski’s site has a beautiful VII hymnal with all of the propers in English. http://www.ccwatershed.org/vatican/

  33. Athelstan says:

    Helli Frjim4321,

    “It is a matter of what people like. It’s all a matter of taste.”

    I can’t even satirize that.

  34. Suburbanbanshee says:

    I’m a very, very amateur songwriter (albeit a few of my songs have been professionally recorded, so I guess technically I’m a pro), but I can tell what is admirable songwriting that works on a didactic or devotional level, what is truly sacred song, and what is not either. It doesn’t matter about what my taste is personally; I recognize good things when they are shoved in my face, whether or not somebody’s doing them my way. Similarly, I’m enough of an amateur singer and musician to tell when somebody’s trying their best, and when they’re just schlocking around.

    I’m here to tell you that most American Catholic music today objectively stinks. To high heaven. Often, the lyrics are like a first draft of something that the songwriters should have totally rewritten. The best you can hope for is that a hymn will be harmlessly meaningless, as opposed to theologically insulting to God.

    Meanwhile, there’s plenty of decent new sacred music out there, and there’s tonloads of incredibly beautiful music from the past. Good sacred music really adds a lot to the beauty of the Mass environment; it teaches you both intellectually and through the heart; and it serves God fittingly.

    There’s no reason to keep all these stinky fish hymns around, when you can have something fresh and nutritious instead.

  35. Very nice to see Pope Benedict promoting proper music, but I’m betting this message will be ignored by the very people who need to implement this discipline.

    Never in any parish choir of this diocese, in over 30 years, have I ever heard of the bishop inviting choir directors, singers or musicians, or even pastors to any kind of education on the *real* teachings of the Church on proper musical practices. Sadly, plenty in the laity know more than our hierarchy in this regard, but as we all know, without help from authority, be it a supportive pastor or an involved bishop, lay efforts can get pretty lame.

    Many conscientious musicians are bullied or utterly misunderstood when trying to create better music in a parish, when there isn’t solid support from an educated pastor.

    All any bishop needs to do is invite the CMAA for a workshop or ask for their help. The CMAA was formed in 1964 as the Second Vatican Council drew to a close, as the coming together of the American Society of St. Cecilia (founded 1874) and the St. Gregory Society (founded 1913). http://musicasacra.com/

  36. AnAmericanMother says:

    I would agree with you, but . . .
    We are told that this person is actually a priest. He therefore has souls in his care.
    If he and his ‘pastoral musician’ are inflicting rotten music on his unfortunate flock, we have a duty for their sake at least to try to make him rethink his position.
    There is objectively good and objectively bad music. Much of what passes for Catholic music is, purely and simply, BAD. It can be analyzed and subjected to a reasonable standard and found wanting (and is, by and large). It therefore does not assist in the Mass and in many cases is damaging.
    “What people like” may be about the worst excuse a priest can put forward. “What people like” is in many cases (because they have never been challenged): to be affirmed in their lazy habits, do as little as possible to get whatever they want, and not be disturbed in their complacency. And “taste”, like “conscience,” may be well-formed, or . . . not.
    It is NOT a priest’s job to cater to “what people like”. I suppose it’s easier and gains a sort of popularity with the people in question. But I appreciate my priest when he swats me with a two-by-four from time to time over MY complacency and laziness. It’s in his job description, and that’s why we continue to increase our pledge yearly. That’s OUR job.

  37. wmeyer says:

    AAM, very well said, indeed.

  38. Sissy says:

    ““It is a matter of what people like. It’s all a matter of taste.”

    Yes, to be sure. That’s why I always allowed my children to eat only candy and dessert. It’s what they liked.

  39. wmeyer says:

    Yes, to be sure. That’s why I always allowed my children to eat only candy and dessert. It’s what they liked.

    Sure. The most important aspect of caring for those you love is to be liked. Teaching them right and wrong only annoys them, much like giving them brussels sprouts.

  40. Cathy says:

    Lately we’ve been given a chopped up version of the “Gloria” to sing with parts sung by men, parts by women and parts for all. Am I a rebel for singing the whole praise?

  41. AnAmericanMother says:

    Wow, Sissy & wmeyer. So true. It IS like parenting, isn’t it?
    (I still hate brussels sprouts, but I will say for my parents that they tried. And I ate them.)

  42. wmeyer says:

    Cathy, we are routinely given the opening lines of the Gloria as a refrain, as though that prayer were no more than a song. And don’t even get me started on the revisions made to the psalms….

  43. AnAmericanMother says:

    Certainly there is a polychoral tradition from Venice and from the French vocal works . . . .
    . . . . but somehow I suspect that this is not what you’re getting.

  44. wmeyer says:

    AAM, sorry, but I like brussels sprouts, and I love broccoli. I was a weird kid. ;)

    Yes, it should be like parenting. Priests are here to lead us in faith, not to rubber stamp our bad choices.

  45. AnAmericanMother says:

    Oh, I simply adore broccoli. I blanch it and cook it with herbs and parmesan cheese, or I pop it into a casserole with cauliflower and onions and more cheese, or just eat it raw in a salad or dip it in hummus.
    I figure there’s room for maneuver amongst the ‘strong’ green vegetables. I always gave my kids a choice, they usually opted for the salad with “things” in it (when my daughter did a summer study in Spain, she lived with a family on the coast that tended to make paella with all sorts of peculiar vegetables and seafood-items-not-normally-found-at-the-American-grocery in it. She referred to it as “arroz con cosas” much to their amusement.)

  46. wmeyer says:

    In the small town where I was raised, we had a small green-grocery owned by a nice old European man who knew everyone. He called me the broccoli kid, because he always had it, and I always begged my mother to buy it.

    I have to avoid lactose now, but I still love broccoli, raw in salad, or blanched and served with slivers of red pepper and some sesame oil. Or almost any other way, so long as it is still crunchy.

  47. tripudians says:

    Please, don’t we have enough teaching, enough magisterial documents on sacred music which are already being ignored? What its needed is some solid legislation. As many people have been saying for years, nothing will change until the option of replacing propers with a random hymns won’t be abrogated.

  48. benedictgal says:

    The problem does not necessarily lie with the Holy See; it lies with the Archdioceses of Chicago and Portland (GIA and OCP). It’s as though they have not read Sacramentum Caritatis No. 42.

    Not a few of us have been suffering through the drek known as Spirit and Song. It is about as far removed from what Sacrosanctum Concilium calls for in the Mass. When I called this to the attention of my parish’s new music director, she did not seem receptive. The parish follows the OCP music guide, “Today’s Liturgy”, as though it were a Magisterial document. Neither she nor the choir have any proper liturgical formation, only what OCP provides. When I posted an observation on Facebook, I got attacked by a couple of my friends (who are fellow parishioners).

    At some point, the faithful need to speak up. The Holy Father cannot do this by himself. If the USCCB is not going to do something, maybe it’s time the sheep start raising the cry. I am working on an open letter to the USCCB to address the issue of the liturgy.

  49. benedictgal says:

    Here is my letter. I am posting it on my blog:

    Your Eminences and Dear Bishops:
    Grace and peace in the name of Our Lord Jesus Christ.

    These initial weeks of the Year of Faith leave much for the Church in the United States to pray about and ponder. The results of last week’s Presidential election may lead many of us to assess the strength of our Catholic identity. It is interesting that while many of our Catholic faithful may know the platforms of a particular political parties, not a few are probably unfamiliar with the basic tenants of our Faith.

    This should certainly be a cause for genuine concern, not only for you, as our archbishops and bishops, but, for us, as lay Catholic faithful, as well. The question at hand is an urgent one: What do we do to restore our Catholic identity?

    The answer that I propose is two-fold: re-infusing the sacred back into the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass and strengthening our Catechesis. These two go hand in hand.

    Sacrosanctum Concilium reminds us that the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass is the “source and summit” of the life of the Church. I humbly submit that the Mass is the most important, most sacred act that the Church engages in because it is her greatest treasure. Yet, as Blessed John Paul II pointed out in Ecclesia de Eucharistia, the Holy Sacrifice, sadly, is not without its shadows. In 2004, Redemptionis Sacramentum sought to correct these shadows; however, some of them persist.

    Perhaps, the USCCB could, I humbly suggest, conduct a survey to gauge the progress our liturgies have made since the promulgation of Redemptionis Sacramentum. If problems persist, maybe the Congregation for Divine Worship could send officials to assist dioceses and parishes that need support. This may take additional resources, but, it is an investment that is well worth it because it involves no less than Christ, Himself.

    Along the lines of strengthening our worship, the issue of the music used for the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass needs serious and dire consideration. In 2007, Pope Benedict XVI, noted with concern in his Apostolic Exhortation, Sacramentum Caritatis, that

    “Certainly as far as the liturgy is concerned, we cannot say that one song is as good as another. Generic improvisation or the introduction of musical genres which fail to respect the meaning of the liturgy should be avoided. As an element of the liturgy, song should be well integrated into the overall celebration (128). Consequently everything – texts, music, execution – ought to correspond to the meaning of the mystery being celebrated, the structure of the rite and the liturgical seasons (129).”

    Although the USCCB made a statement on music through the document, Sing to the Lord, problems with the music used in our sacred liturgies persist. Not a few compositions in English and, in many cases, in Spanish, do feature the particular musical genre that the Holy Father warned against. When the new Roman Missal was promulgated last year, there was hope that the music would be elevated to fit the sacred texts of the prayers, but, as I have experienced it, this has not been the case. There is a strong disconnect, in many cases, with the nobility of the prayers and the musical settings that are used. We are also not using the Propers of the Mass; instead, we are making the fourth option, hymns, the default setting instead. The Church gives us magnificent texts to use, but, in many cases, we are not using them. While independent composers and organizations have taken it upon themselves to set the Propers to chant, it seems to me that the mainstream publishing houses have not seen fit to give these pieces the place they deserve.

    The lyrics of many of the songs used at Mass are also problematic in that they emphasize more the horizontal aspect (i.e. social justice) than the vertical (God). Prior to releasing Sing to the Lord, the USCCB had made a Power Point presentation calling attention to this particular problem; however, a review of the music published by the two main publishing companies indicates, at least to me, that the problem persists. Some of the lyrics feature watered-down theology that does not accurately reflect our Faith.

    If we hold to the axiom, “Lex Orandi, Lex Credendi”, then how and what we pray at the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass should reflect our belief, our Faith. This is where Catechesis enters into the discussion. I live in an area in South Texas that identifies itself as Catholic; however, much remains in evangelizing our faithful. Protestant sects, the Jehova Witnesses and the Mormons have, sadly, made inroads. Catholics who are, perhaps, not properly catechized, have strayed into these particular denominations. In many cases, catechesis ends after the Sacrament of Confirmation has been imparted. Along the same lines, my area of South Texas is also heavily Democratic. However, when I have engaged some of my fellow Catholics and Democrats, I have found that, while they know what the party stands for, they are not well-versed in the Faith. They are not aware of the five non-negotiable principles. I believe that catechesis is a life-long process. We can never learn enough about our Faith.

    Your Eminence and Excellencies, I am not a degreed theologian; I am just one of the faithful in the pews. I spent much time in prayer and reflection before I put my fingers to the computer keyboard because these are issues that are paramount to our rediscovering our Catholic identity. Too much time has been devoted to social justice matters and other concerns and not enough has been given to the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass and Catechesis. While it is certainly important to have an authentic Catholic voice in the Public Square, we must also give greater importance to the basics of our Faith, the Holy Eucharist and the Church’s Teachings. The Holy Father cannot do this alone. All of us need to collaborate with him, to be co-workers in the Truth.

    In your filial service, I remain,
    Michelle Marie Romani

  50. Our Holy Father may not have appreciated the little ditty (performed) for the offeratory today at our parish.
    Composed especially for (lay preaching) Stewardship of Treasure Sunday:
    The first fruits
    The best fruits
    Before all the best fruits

  51. AnAmericanMother says:

    Excellent letter. You ought to send a “snail mail” copy to your bishop. Then at least you know you have done your duty. I don’t know if it’s worthwhile trying to engage your pastor, or not.
    May I make one small suggestion? It’s “tenets” not “tenants” – a common substitution. The words come from the same Latin root, but “tenant” went through the meat-grinder of Norman “legal French” on the way.
    It’s pretty funny to hear a Southern lawyer mangle legal French.

  52. Please may all the churches follow our Holy Father’s direction. I am so sick of perky, banal music!

  53. benedictgal says:

    I made the corrections and posted it on my blog. While I do not know what will become of the open letter, I practically leapt for joy when I read that the CDW’s division on liturgical music and architecture is now a reality.

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