Authentic Liturgy and Chant: Some Considerations

The noted liturgical and musical commentator Paul Ford has written a thought-provoking article for the GIA Quarterly that you can find here. Professor Ford is an admirable interlocutor in the current debates about liturgy and music, and, as such, he has much that we can admire in this article. Because he makes reference to “the thoughtful proposals” by members of the Church Music Association of America on the concept of mutual enrichment between the Ordinary and Extraordinary Forms of the Roman Rite, I would like to engage some of what he has written in his article, to keep this fruitful dialogue going. I am very grateful to Professor Ford for having taken note of these proposals, as well as for his accurate re-presentation of them in his article.

At the outset of his article, Ford writes, “Nothing in the Holy Father’s official teaching ought to be construed as anything other than (1) affirmations of the essential truth and goodness of the postconciliar liturgical reforms and (2) reminders about some dimensions of this reform that need more attention (particularly, sacrality and beauty).” In the accompanying footnote, he refers to three examples of this teaching: the encyclical Deus Caritas est, the apostolic exhortation Sacramentum caritatis and the motu proprio Summorum pontificum. He then goes on to describe, via commentary on a quote of Fr Anthony Ruff, the intention of Pope Benedict XVI for the Ordinary and Extraordinary Forms of the Roman Rite to be mutually enriching. He then states that the Ordinary Missal of the Roman Rite is the Missal of Paul VI.

Yet he then goes on to say, “The personal preferences of the Holy Father are just that: personal preferences.” Are we to conclude that, because Pope Benedict XVI chose to propose two forms of the same Roman Rite and encourage their mutual enrichment by way of a motu proprio, that this is merely the Pope’s personal preference? Also, if the document is evidenced as not construable as anything other than “(1) affirmations of the essential truth and goodness of the postconciliar liturgical reforms and (2) reminders about some dimensions of this reform that need more attention (particularly, sacrality and beauty)”, why is that in the realm of both official papal teaching and personal preference at one and the same time? Need the two contradict one another?

No one would suggest that all forms of paper that come out of the Vatican are worthy of the same assent. But is a motu proprio issued by the Pope’s personal initiative by that very fact only an indication of a personal preference, and on that basis can be ignored or minimized? The fact that the Missal of Paul VI is the ordinary Missal of the Roman Rite, a fact that Summorum underlines, does not detract from the fact that the Pope as Supreme Legislator of the Church has made a decision that the Roman Rite has two forms, and both are to be respected. It is hard to see how that is a personal preference.

Dr Ford does notice, however, that “revisiting the wide options” in the General Instruction for music would allow for the use “of the traditional music of the Roman Rite.” He also notes that “[m]any of us are still singing only modifications of the four-hymn sandwich of the late 1950s, singing at Mass rather than singing the Mass.” Here, in fact, is a powerful indication of continuity: the music of the Extraordinary Form can easily be used in the Ordinary Form, an indication of mutual enrichment. And may Dr Ford preach that truth from the rooftops! Sing the Mass, don’t sing at Mass!

But it seems that, for Dr Ford, mutual enrichment from the EF to the OF ends there. In fact, as he insists that the ordinary form of the Roman Rite is the Missal of Paul VI, he seems to take for granted that the point of departure for any discussion on liturgy and music must be the Missal of Paul VI because it is the Ordinary Form. His later observations on how certain aspects of the EF are incompatible with the OF are drawn from that fundamental premise.

But Pope Benedict XVI has introduced two notions into the liturgical discussion which make me think that the Ordinary Form of the Mass is not actually the point of departure for these discussions at all. The concept of the hermeneutic of continuity, which has been a theme of this pontificate, stresses the fundamental unity across both rites. Also the concept of liturgical pluralism and the equality of rites, introduced in SP, also stresses their fundamental unity. Therefore, any discussion about the liturgy and music of the Roman Rite must have as its point of departure the Roman Rite as a whole, Ordinary and Extraordinary, seen in a continnum insofar as possible. Even more than that, the point of departure is not the General Instruction of the Roman Missal of Paul VI, but the answers to the more basic questions about liturgy, music and the life of the Church, as well as the shared and sharable patrimony of the Roman Rite.

For Dr Ford, the evaluation of the EF’s place in the Church has to be seen against the backdrop of “the common spiritual good of the People of God.” For him this notion has come to us in part because of what he identifies as three “seismic shifts in sacramental theology that began in 1903.” He names them as “the active participation of the all the priestly people of God, the primacy of the word of God, and liturgy as the work of the Holy Spirit.” For devotes the next part of his article to an analysis of how the EF shores up against those three themes.

First of all, I would like to point out that, theologically at least, those three themes so dear to the classical liturgical movement (and the new) have their remoter origins in German Romanticism long before 1903. The sacramental understanding of the Church that Scheeben would popularize in the nineteenth century would take root in theology and become very fruitful around the time of Vatican II in Magisterial documents. I am not sure why Ford insists in 1903 (St Pius X’s motu proprio on sacred music, perhaps?) as a watershed date. I would like to read more about what Dr Ford thinks about this connection, because it does seem like the first time such a theology erupts into the Magisterium, unless I am mistaken.

For Ford, the fact that the EF uses terms “assembly/congregation/faithful people” only 30 times and the OF over 500 demonstrates that the EF cannot be a vehicle of the active participation of the priestly people of God. For him, the EF seems to represent an impoverished ecclesiology. But were the divines of the classical Liturgical Movement and many theologians before Vatican II not also convinced of this ecclesiological truth and ready to make it practical in the lives of the faithful, far earlier than the 1969 GIRM? If the active participation of the priestly people of God is a theological truth, then is it not true no matter what rubrics accompany the text of the Mass? Does the proliferation of certain words necessarily indicate more clearly this truth? How then can one explain those who do not actively participate in the OF and are not aware of the dignity of their baptismal priesthood? Also, has Ford analyzed the use of those terms in the Eastern Rites? Does their presence, frequence or absence somehow indicate a false or impoverished ecclesiology?

Dr Ford also faults the EF, whose last legal incarnation was 1962, for not including paragraphs 3 and 4 from the 1981 Lectionary for Mass: Introduction. Yet, why are these paragraphs, which speak eloquently of the foundation of liturgical celebration on the Word of God, not applicable to the EF? Is the Word of God, which is “a living and effective word through the power of the Holy Spirit” somehow blocked in the EF? Can the Holy Spirit not work through the readings at an EF Mass?

It must be noted that here we seem to reduce the Word of God to the Holy Scriptures. But, as Dei Verbum 10 reminds us, “Sacred tradition and Sacred Scripture form one sacred deposit of the word of God, committed to the Church.” The Word cannot be reduced merely to the readings at Mass. The primacy of the Word refers, not only to the liturgical proclamation of the readings of Scripture, but to the Church’s reception as Ecclesia discens of Revelation through Scripture and Tradition. Why does a rich theological conception of the Word of God illuminate the EF as deficient?

Ford gives us a clue why he thinks so. After he opines that the introits of the Graduale Romanum might be kept in the OF because they do not violate his conception of the Word in worship, and that the occasional Kyrie and Agnus Dei could also be sung in their original languages, he proposes that we “consider surrendering all the graduals, alleluias, tracts, offertories . . . and the communions of Ordinary Time that evidence no connection to . . . any of the readings proclaimed.”

It must be noted that the music of the OF as expressed in the Graduale Romanum forms a unity with the old Roman lectionary cycle, as well as the proper orations of the Masses. The recent editions of the Graduale try to keep as much of this system intact as possible, but in such a form as to be coherent with the OF liturgical year. Many of those antiphons indeed seem to have little to do with the readings of the OF. In fact, at first glance, some may seem to have little to do with the Readings of the EF as well. Since Ford takes the OF as his point of departure, this discrepancy leads him to conclude that the entire Graduale must be overhauled to be more consistent with the OF.

There are several observations to be made. First, the current editors of the Graduale have taken the EF as their point of departure, and not the OF. Second, the option to do either the continuous readings or the sanctoral cycle of readings in the OF also leads to some interesting juxtapositions of antiphons, readings and proper orations, so such discrepancy is not alien to the OF. Third, how can the reduction of the entire Graduale into a book of Introits fulfill the express wish of Vatican II for the preservation of Latin and Gregorian chant? Fourth, now that Pope Benedict XVI has introduced a notion by which the Roman Rite considered in its fundamental unity must be the departure point for discussion on liturgy and music, should that, and not the EF or OF, be the standard by which future editions of the Graduale be revised?

Ford argues that the Creed “must be in the vernacular”, but why? Surely, if the Creed is a statement of the unity of our faith, why is it so inconceivable that the Roman Rite in both forms uses it in Latin? Would that not better underscore the unity of the faith, and would it not allow people from various languages to all participate in a powerful moment of unity in the Mass when repeating the words of the belief which unites them beyond words? He furthermore argues that the addition of three acclamations after the Institution Narrative means that the Sanctus, as another acclamation, ought to be sung in the vernacular. First of all, liturgical historians are not at all unified as to whether the Sanctus was always envisioned as an acclamation in the same way the acclamations inside of the Eucharistic Prayers of the OF are now considered. This is another instance of using the OF as a point of departure and not the substantial unity of the Roman Rite. Second, if we jettison the greater part of the Latin Ordinary and almost the whole of the Graduale, as Ford suggests, how can we then fulfill the desire of the binding legislation of the Roman Rite on music, Musicam Sacram 47, “Pastors of souls should take care that besides the vernacular “the faithful also know how to say or sing, in Latin also, those parts of the Ordinary of the Mass which pertain to them.”

For Ford, the reason is very clear: it’s not in the vernacular: “The very meaning of the Incarnation is the vernacular.” Does this mean that the Incarnation is deprived of meaning for people if they actively participate in the Mass by singing in Latin in communion with the Church that is the extension of the Incarnate Word in the world? For Ford, “since today’s lectionary is a vernacular lectionary, today’s music between the readings must be almost always in the vernacular.” Yet, the Missal and the Lectionary are, in their typical editions, in Latin. The vernacular is a permission granted for the good of the faithful by Sacrosanctum concilium, not the absolute form of the liturgy. Ford’s point of departure is not even from the text of the GIRM of the OF, but from the actual practice in many places, without verifying if that practice is in accord with the Church’s Magisterial teaching or law. Yet he still envisions that some of that music may not be in the vernacular, without specifying where or how, but most importantly, why.

Ford also re-produces the well-known statistics about the relative amounts of the Scripture contained in the OF and the EF. Several comments can be made. First, the lectionary of the EF developed historically as it did for all sorts of reasons, and was neither accidental nor invented in a liturgical laboratory by experts. The cycle of Mass readings must be seen in unity with the Divine Office and other liturgical rites as well. The Roman lectionary developed in tandem with the Office at a time when the Office was part of the normative experience of the Christian more than it is today. The riches of the EF lectionary consist, not in quantity, but in the way they, along with the other Scriptures contained in other liturgical rites, developed along with the history of the Roman Church. Salvaging that precious treasure and offering to the faithful as part of the patrimony of every Catholic is one of the most beautiful consequences of SP, and one not appreciated nearly enough. Second, the mere exposure to larger amounts of Scripture, like the mere exposure to larger amounts of prayer, does not necessarily translate into comprehension. Has it been verified that Catholics are really more conversant with Scripture than they were 40 years ago? In what does that biblical literacy consist and how can we evaluate it? The expansion of biblical literacy in the Church is a noble mission, part of her essence to evangelize. But is it the burden of the Mass alone to carry that? Or are there other factors, notably catechesis and preaching? Is it really true that exposure to the full riches of the EF, Mass and Office, is still an obstacle to the Word of God taking root in individuals and the Church? Are there also no pedagogical merits at all to a lectionary cycle which breaks down and digests frequently repeated passages of Scripture? Also, are these statistical totals taken merely from the Epistle and Gospel readings, or from the totality of Scripture which surrounds the Mass and Office?

The EF Mass is also deficient in pneumatology, compared to the OF, Ford claims. Eastern Orthodox controversialists have condemned both the EF and the OF as being insufficient in pneumatological content compared with Eastern liturgies. And many notable theologians, such as Yves Congar, have opined on the historical reasons and practical consequences of the relative lack of engagement of the Holy Spirit by the Church in ther life and prayer. Yet no one has asked, Why has the Roman Rite developed this way? Many contemporary commentators are content to assume that, because the West has historically been so pneumatologically discreet, the Western liturgy is deficient. But is the action of the Spirit limited to epicletical formulae in the Mass? Can the Holy Spirit not act independently of the absence, inference or dispersion of epicletical formulae just as the consecration of the Eucharistic elements is held to be obtained in the consecratory formula of the Prayer of Addai and Mari, where the consecratory formula could be considered absent, inferred or dispersed?

Dr Ford seems to indicate that for Professor Mahrt, Dr Schaefer and I in our various articles on mutual enrichment of the two forms of the Roman Rite, it “is almost all one way.” I cannot answer for Mahrt or Schaefer. As for me, I contend that, in reality, mutual enrichment cannot be from point A to point B, whether it be from EF to OF or OF to EF, although in my article to which Ford refers, I delineate practical ways in which the liturgy could go from point A to B. I argue that mutual enrichment should not take as its point of departure A or B, the EF or the OF.

Viewing the two forms of the Roman Rite under the principle of the hermeneutic of continuity, the point of departure for discussions about mutual enrichment must go back to a basic: How is what the Church does in her public prayer incarnate in the rites and music as developed through time in the Roman Rite? The answer to that question does not begin by looking at the relative riches or poverty of one rite or another, at how one historical incarnation of the rite is like or unlike a subsequent or previous theological development, or even the utility of the faithful’s comprehension of the rites themselves.

Ford is right to maintain, “The pastoral effectiveness of a celebration will be greatly increased if the texts . . . corresponds as closely as possible to the needs, spiritual preparation, and culture of those taking part.” When considering how the two forms may enrich each other, it is insufficient to say that they can’t, and that the hope that they can is just a personal preference of the Holy Father. We can say, however, that the Holy Father has seen that the Church must find a way for the liturgy to be able once again to meet the basic needs of her people. The task of pastors, liturgists and musicians is to elevate the culture of the Church’s children by a spiritual preparation which can allow them to encounter the Mystery which is encountered in any form of liturgical rite. We need not change the liturgy as the Church hands its various forms down to us, but open the riches of all liturgical forms to that priestly people who hunger and thirst after Truth.