Tuesday, July 13, 2010

A Plea to the Fathers of Vatican II, Fall 1963

I just stumbled upon this remarkable document from the Autumn 1963 issue of Caecilia, the predecessor journal to Sacred Music.

What follows is an official petition concerning music in the liturgy. It urges greater focus on the issues at hand, with special concern shown for the propers of the Mass, the training of choirs and priests, the furtherance of the Gregorian ordinary, the discouragement of the then-growing practice of vernacular hymnody at Mass, and limiting (at the start) the extent of vernacular to parish Vespers.

On every point, this document is correct and history bears this out. These were great experts on music here. They knew that vagueness and slogans were not enough to do what needed to be done. Moreover, they were not reactionaries but rather true advocates of the Liturgical Movement: see the plea for the congregation to be encouraged to share in the singing at Mass, but not at the expense of the structure of the service. This is not a call to preserve the status quo (see even the criticism of the 1958 decree on music) but rather a plea for a more solid framework for progress in the future.

I'm particularly struck by #4 and the suggestion that a sung Mass be made possible within the Low Mass, to be handled by a Cantor alone. This of course is the most common Mass structure we see today but it also most commonly lacks propers of the Mass. It's as if the worst of the old (four vernacular hymns) ended up by default combining with the worst of new to create this modern hybrid we know so well.

One senses a profound worry at the heart of this document that if the Council was not specific enough, disaster could befall the music of the Mass. Would that the Caecilian's plea been heeded!

The Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, passed later this very year, did not necessarily contradict anything in this petition, and it even gave a ringing endorsement of Gregorian chant, but it lacked the specificity and failed to correct for the abuses which the Caecilians anticipated.

Note finally that two years later, Pope Paul VI called for the successor organization to the Society to be given a leadership role in guided the development of music following the Council. (It goes without saying that this wish was not fulfilled.)

Everyone who sniffs at the stuffiness of the old Society of St. Caecilia ought to consider the foresight revealed in this petition. It is time that history acknowledge who was right.

The American Society of St. Caecilia respectfully submits to the consideration of their Eminences and their Excellencies, the Most Reverend Fathers of the Second Vatican Council, the following petitions.

1. Regarding the place of music in the liturgy:

In view of the fact that the church has always regarded the function of the cantor and the trained choir, as well as that of the singing congregation, as an integral and necessary element of public worship, this Society is sincerely hopeful that the Fathers of the Council, before making any changes which might affect the structure of the services, will give earnest consideration to the importance of these traditional elements. While this tradition is not founded upon recent documents, we should desire the retention of the principles so clearly outlined in Pope St. Pius X's Motu Proprio and in the Musicae Sacrae Disciplina of Pope Pius XII.

2. Regarding the Propers of the Sung Mass:

If any changes are to be made in the structure of the Proper of the Mass, this Society respectfully urges that the Fathers of the Council give careful thought to the fundamental structure of the service, and therefore to the meaning and value of each part, clearly preserving the roles of the cantor and trained choir. This Society also begs that art and beauty, which are inherent and not foreign to the casting of the Proper parts, not be sacrificed to the single issue of simplicity and brevity.

3. Regarding the Ordinary of the Sung Mass:

Since the necessity of a clearer insight into what worship really is presses for a greater sharing by the people in the song of the Church, this Society earnestly recommends that the congregation be encouraged to share in the singing at Mass, not necessarily according to the medieval and mistaken norm of the Ordinary as a unit, but with due regard for the place the various chants have in the fundamental structure of the service. It therefore also pleads that the great treasures of medieval chant and classical polyphony, as well as the riches of modern and contemporary music, not be discarded on the untraditional plea that there is no place for participation by listening.

4. Regarding the music at Low Mass:

This Society respectfully urges that consideration be given to maintaining the sung mass as the norm for congregational service, and where necessity demands, that provision be made for a simplified form of sung Mass that requires only the service of a trained cantor to supplement the singing of the congregation. The singing of hymns at low Mass, a solution suggested by the 1958 decree, is not completely satisfactory, because it remains extraneous to the action at the altar.

5. Regarding the use of the vernacular in the sung liturgy:

The Society of St. Caecilia recognizes that the vernacular problem is a pastoral problem, but even more basically a problem involving the proper attitude toward worship. Because music is an integral part of worship, the problem is necessarily also a musical one. This Society therefore urges care and caution, since the musical problems involved are certainly very great, whether in creating a new music for a vernacular text or in adapting a vernacular text to the rich store of chant and polyphony and other music from the past. The Society especially suggests vernacular adaptations to the offices of the church which have fallen into disuse, notably parish Vespers.

6. Regarding the practical realization of a sung liturgy:

The Society of St. Caecilia urges the Fathers of the Council to implement the repeated wishes of the Holy. See by encouraging the musical training of both clergy and laity, and especially of choirmasters and organists, according to the norms laid down in the decree of the Sacred Congregation of Rites of September 3, 1958, so that the ideals of a reverential and artistic musical worship may be realized.

The above articles have been approved by the Most Reverend Gerald T. Bergan, Archbishop of Omaha, the. Liturgy and Music Commissions of the Archdiocese of Omaha, and by the Boys Town Liturgical Music Institute's eleventh national session.

For the Society of St. Caecilia:
September 12, 1963
Msgr. Francis P. Schmitt, President
Rev. Francis A. Brunner, C.Ss.R., Secretary
James P. Keenan, Treasurer

Epilogue: After the Constitution was passed, with its strong endorsement of chant, the same writers were actually rather calm. Wrote Fr. Schmitt: "I have every confidence that the post-conciliar Commission on the Sacred Liturgy will keep things, officially at least, within the guidelines of the Constitution."

It was not to be. Their worst fears were realized in time.