Liturgy and Sacred Music: Metanoia and Christian Viability

This is not likely the optimal time to review the effect of all our efforts to navigate, invigorate and evaluate the evangelical validity and success of our Paschal Time efforts as regards liturgy and its servant, sacred music. Having felt, heard and cogitated over four decades of Palm to Easter Sunday celebrations, it’s obvious that this effect manifests itself on at least three levels: the obligatory, perfunctorial level (not unlike attending someone’s birthday or anniversary to whom your affection is rarely demonstrated); the emotional, temporarily enthusiastic reaction to the ritual and artistic performance; and (perhaps less likely) transcendent, life altering metanoia-realization that will forever define and shape one’s remaining existence in this life.
In the clever colloquialism of the great band, REM, I’ve not lost my religion as regards CMAA, the RotR, Summorum Pontificum, or the simple recovery of a sensibility of both reverence and solemnity that the Roman Catholic Church traditions have cultivated over millenia. However, in what twilight years await many of us and myself, I am compelled to call the question (invented by my sister G), picked up by Fr. Z and associated with Pope B, 16: can “Save the Liturgy, Save the World” actually have any meaning, much less effectiveness among a disparate sect of believers in Christ Jesus, Son of God and Savior of all worlds, in an era when the obvious and ultimate salvivic power of the His redemptive sacrifice and resurrection is mitigated by factionalism, fundamentalism, strictural rigorism and internecine intolerance? The Gospel clarion to mercy, reconciliation, unity, personal salvation and the establishment of the Kingdom here waxes and wanes under the distractions of relenting tolerance, unrelenting intolerance, doctrinal uncertainty, indecision and ambiguity and other modern maladies. 
A few years ago I caused a volatile imbroglio with my friend Jeffrey Tucker’s Café article extoling of the apparently seductive chants of the muezzins from minarets while on a conference in Turkey. I rather unflinchingly could not divorce my sentiments regarding the tenets of Q’uranic Islam from the exotic beauty that Jeffrey was describing and emulating were we Roman Catholics enabled to have our call to worship in such a coherent and unified manner as practiced by Muslims.
But hence have come the scimitars and scythes, crucifixions and immolations that,  though medieval throwbacks,  still nonetheless lead to genocide and likely a shoah for all humanity in addition to Middle Eastern and  Indo/Asian Christianity should nuclear options become prevalent in the region.
So, how much do our ordos of ritual music actually affect and transform Holy Mother Church into a veritable, vital and truly valued force for all the nominally Christian/Catholic souls to behave and actualize the Church Militant? A recent news segment had a respected hymnologist declaring what most of us would call a Praise and Worship song, “In Christ Alone,” as the most important and potentially long-lived Christian hymn composed thus far in the 21st century. But often I am compelled to wonder to what end does our incessant arguing over the merits and cultural beauty and credence of our sacred treasury and our identified congenital musical forms actually have towards any Christian’s soul’s, be s/he a daily communicant or a C&E congregant, change in metanoia and missio to discipleship, commission and agape-based love so that each believer’s baptismal promises have substance as well as meaning?
In looking over all of the Paschal-tide Ordosposted at MSF and elsewhere, one has to consider whether Solomon’s resignation about vanity holds some sway over our deliberations. And I am looking in the mirror figuratively while asking about that. “Sometimes it causes me to tremble…” Yes, we are all in need of the existential purity of praying/chanting the “Dies irae” for all souls, particularly those of not only martyred, but each and every Christian of this and all ages. But if we are more concerned about the propriety and insistence upon that over someone exercising a fourth option like OEW or somesuch, we may be guilty of a myopia and judgmental posture that puts our own souls at peril. I am well aware that is a harsh position to defend. However, we cannot afford to miss the forest for the trees.

3 Replies to “Liturgy and Sacred Music: Metanoia and Christian Viability”

  1. Pressing towards mutual enrichment between the two forms of the Roman rite is the only solution to the current situation, I believe. What lessons have we learned from a generation's experience with the OF? What are the positive elements? What are the negative? What lessons do we learn from a millenium and a half of the EF? What are the positive elements? What are the negative? Where do we go from here? Do we maintain the present uneasy status quo or do we strive for closer contact?

    If I were in charge of a liturgy conference, that would be my central topic, and each of the liturgies themselves would be examples of the mutual enrichment Pope Benedict called for: an OF Sung Mass enriched with the EF, and an EF Missa Cantata, enriched with the OF. How would that be done? Very simple. In each form, follow the essential criteria of Sacrosanctum Concilium.

  2. The question, C, is whether one's allegiance to a worship community noted for its love of traditional forms of liturgy, traditional styles of music, or a more subtle traditional spiritual ethos — whether such allegiance constitutes, per se, factionalism, fundamentalism, etc. Surely, the history of liturgical practice in the past 50 years can and has been told as one of overt hostility toward any and all traditionalist tendencies, whether they be aesthetic and (apparently) superficial, or doctrinal and (overtly) fundamental to the faith. In fact, faith does not demand chant. But equally in fact, chant ultimately demands faith. I happen to be one of those rare souls led to holy Mother Church through those apparent superficialities, starting with a reading of Piux X, and nourished on a journey through the sacred treasure: a journey, I might add, requiring a fairly defiant stance toward churchly realities, and the consolations of an, at times, seemingly unsupportable idealism.

    I am lucky, damned-passing lucky!, to live in the post-motu proprio ('84 and '07) Church, in which my "rightful aspirations" have some modest scope for realization within the walls of official churchdom. This is something I, and others, celebrate. It is something I, and others, feel compelled to evangelize upon. Of course, I have the luxury not to minister in the land of the "average parish", to the hyper-eclectic tune of "let's please everybody". I admire and sympathize with those who do, who have to build their own bridges between the Church's rich patrimony and a fourth option (which is, more often than not, a de rigueur "no option at all"). I can see how, from the perspective of that land, my enthusiasm for the sacred treasure could appear myopic or judgmental, or even spiritually dangerous.

    But I am far from compelling a congregation steeped in the fourth option from abandoning its entrenched ethos. I would merely encourage them, from time to time, to examine their own myopia and judgments, and consider a broader, richer world, steeped in a history that extends significantly back beyond these 50 years. I will continue to preach the glory of that history, and the post-motu proprio liturgical possibilities that make that history living, active, and spiritually exciting — an evangelization which compels, not so much in itself, but in the voice of the Spirit it can engender in the ears of one hardened sinner, at least.

  3. A tremendous rejoinder, my friend, and quite well taken to heart. Distinctions among each of our circumstances must be taken into account. The decisions you, Ed Schaefer, Fr. Kocik and so many others also in this window of time have made are laudable. There is no appearance of myopia or judgment stemming from that, it is a genuine conviction. I just wonder if the rest of us, as you've acknowledged, sometimes fall prey to a sort of aesthetic envy that to some degree overwhelms our sense of what and why we're choosing this Ordinary over that, this proper setting over the other and so forth.
    I'm sure that any envy is also countered by the surety that whatever music we choose meets that sort of "Mahrt-like" criteria that what we're now hearing could only be heard at worship in a liturgical church.
    For myself, having spent my entire career in eclectic circumstances, the opportunity to tweak, maneuver and cajole our congregations have largely been well received. But sometimes there seems a sort of insistent compulsion to instantly reverse the eclecticism that has and remains the norm in now very large constituencies in our mega-parishes. "Dial a Mass" may be around for many decades to come. And that's a sort of demeaning notion, in that the sort of metanoia you've experienced I may not be afforded to help our congregants discover. In the end, who knows?
    I'm likely not articulating myself very well (I can hear some mutual friends gnashing their teeth over my angst.) But I do thank God every day for your efforts to ennoble our worship culture towards rectitude and worthiness.

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