From Abp. Sample’s pastoral letter on sacred music (5)

The Fathers of the Second Vatican Council [wrote]:

The Church acknowledges Gregorian chant as specially suited to the Roman liturgy. Therefore, other things being equal, it should be given pride of place in liturgical services.

The General Instruction of the Roman Missal, in setting out the norms for the celebration of Holy Mass reiterates this last point of the Council:

The main place should be given, all things being equal, to Gregorian chant, as being proper to the Roman liturgy.

One of the great Popes of our time, St. John Paul II, made the teaching of Pope St. Pius X his own:

With regard to compositions of liturgical music, I make my own the “general rule” that St Pius X formulated in these words: ‘The more closely a composition for the Church approaches in its movement, inspiration and savor the Gregorian melodic form, the more sacred and liturgical it becomes; and the more out of harmony it is with that supreme model, the less worthy it is of the temple.’ It is not, of course, a question of imitating Gregorian chant but rather of ensuring that new compositions are imbued with the same spirit that inspired and little by little came to shape it.

[…] The U.S. Bishops’ document on sacred music, Sing to the Lord, also reminded the Church in the United States of the importance and pride of place enjoyed by Gregorian chant. Some practical suggestions are given in that document for the implementation of this principle.

Given all of this strong teaching from the Popes, the Second Vatican Council, and the U.S. Bishops, how is it that this ideal concerning Gregorian chant has not been realized in the Church? Far from enjoying a pride of place in the Church’s Sacred Liturgy, one rarely if ever hears Gregorian chant.

This is a situation which must be rectified. It will require great effort and serious catechesis for the clergy and faithful, but Gregorian chant must be introduced more widely as a normal part of the Mass.

From Abp. Sample’s pastoral letter on sacred music (4)

Since everything associated with the Mass must be beautiful, reflecting the infinite beauty and goodness of the God we worship, this applies in a special way to the music which forms an essential and integral part of our divine worship. In the words of Pope Francis:

Liturgical and sacred music can be a powerful instrument of evangelization, because it gives people a glimpse of the beauty of heaven.

Pope Benedict XVI states:

Certainly, the beauty of our celebrations can never be sufficiently cultivated, fostered and refined, for nothing can be too beautiful for God, Who is Himself infinite Beauty. Yet our earthly liturgies will never be more than a pale reflection of the liturgy celebrated in the Jerusalem on high, the goal of our pilgrimage on earth. May our own celebrations nonetheless resemble that liturgy as closely as possible and grant us a
foretaste of it!

Pope St. Pius X spoke of the artistic value of sacred music, another way of considering its intrinsic beauty:

[Sacred music] must be true art, for otherwise it will be impossible for it to exercise on the minds of those who listen to it that efficacy which the Church aims at obtaining in admitting into her liturgy the art of musical sounds.

(From “Sing to the Lord a New Song” by Abp. Alexander Sample, 2019; emphasis added)

From Abp. Sample’s pastoral letter on sacred music (3)

With this understanding of the essential nature of sacred music, what might be said of its purpose? Sacred music, being a complementary part of the solemn liturgy, participates in the general scope of the liturgy, which is the glory of God and the sanctification and edification of the faithful.

The following statement from the Second Vatican Council in 1963 is drawn from the motu proprio Tra Le Sollecitudini of Pope St. Pius X of 1903 […]:

Accordingly, the Sacred Council, keeping to the norms and precepts of ecclesiastical tradition and discipline, and having regard to the purpose of sacred music, which is the glory of God and the sanctification of the faithful, decrees as follows…

The Church solemnly teaches us, then, that the very purpose of sacred music is twofold: the glory of God and the sanctification of the faithful. This understanding of the essential nature and purpose of sacred music must direct and inform everything else that is said about it. […]

With a proper understanding of the nature and purpose of sacred music and its relationship to the Holy Mass, it is necessary to next discuss the essential qualities of sacred music. These qualities are not arbitrary or subjective. Rather they objectively flow from the essential nature and purpose of sacred music itself.

Church teaching emphasizes that the music proper to the Sacred Liturgy possesses three qualities: sanctity, beauty and universality. Only music which possesses all three of these qualities is worthy of Holy Mass.

From Abp. Sample’s pastoral letter on sacred music (2)

At around the time of the Edict of Milan (313 a.d.) and the legalization of Christianity, the question of the inclusion of music in sacred worship was raised and much debated. Did it have a place at all […]? Since the psalms, part of Sacred Scripture, were meant to be sung, […] music was seen as necessarily worthy of being preserved and fostered in the public worship of the Church.

[…] This means that the music proper to the Mass is not merely an addendum to worship, i.e. something external added on to the form and structure of the Mass. Rather, sacred music is an essential element of worship itself. It is an art form which takes its life and purpose from the Sacred Liturgy and is part of its very structure.

The musical tradition of the universal Church is a treasure of inestimable value, greater even than that of any other art. The main reason for this pre-eminence is that, as sacred song united to the words, it forms a necessary or integral part of the solemn liturgy. (Second Vatican Council, Constitution Sacrosanctum Concilium, 112)

This understanding would preclude the common notion that we take the Mass and simply “tack on” four songs (the opening hymn, offertory hymn,  communion hymn and recessional hymn), along with the sung ordinary of the Mass (Gloria, Sanctus, etc.) We must come to see that, since sacred music is integral to the Mass, the role of sacred music is to help us sing and pray the texts of the Mass itself, not just ornament it.

(From “Sing to the Lord a New Song” by Abp. Alexander Sample, 2019)

From Abp. Sample’s pastoral letter on sacred music (1)

Pope Benedict XVI reminds us that: “The People of God assembled for the liturgy sing the praises of God. In the course of her two-thousand-year history, the Church has created, and still creates, music and songs which represent a rich patrimony of faith and love. This heritage must not be lost.”

The  beauty, dignity and prayerfulness of the Mass depend to a large extent on the music that accompanies the liturgical action. The Holy Mass must be truly beautiful, the very best we can offer to God, reflecting his own perfect beauty and goodness.

(From “Sing to the Lord a New Song” by Abp. Alexander Sample, 2019)

Heyr himna smiður

This 13th-century devotional poem from Iceland is also the country’s favorite choral work, thanks to music added to it in a more recent century.

Hear, smith of heavens.
The poet seeketh.
In thy still small voice
Mayest thou show grace.
As I call on thee,
Thou my creator.
I am thy servant,
Thou art my true Lord.

God, I call on thee;
For thee to heal me.
Bid me, prince of peace,
Thou my supreme need.
Ever I need thee,
Generous and great,
O’er all human woe,
City of thy heart.

Guard me, my savior.
Ever I need thee,
Through ev’ry moment
In this world so wide.
Virgin–born, send me
Noble motives now.
Aid cometh from thee,
To my deepest heart.

Its text and a translation and the colorful story of its writing are on-line. Not many hymn-writers wage war on their bishops and die from a rock-blow to the head.

Writing about music, but not about music

I saw a little news item today about how the Pope has paid homage to the important Jesuit baroque composer Domenico Zipoli by writing an introduction to a recent book about him. And a little quote appeared in the Osservatore Romano yesterday (my translation):

“With joy I accept the invitation to write a foreword to the latest publication of maestro Sergio Militello, for some years organist at Santa Marta and currently docent at the Pontifical Gregorian University”, writes Pope Francis in the foreword to the book Domenico Zipoli (1688-1726). The musical dream of a ‘Paradise on Earth’ (Vatican City: LEV, 2018, 250 pp.) “He was,” the Pope continues, “a young missionary who, through the gift of music cultivated with passion and enthusiasm, completed a marvelous work of evangelization still remembered today. The composer Domenico Zipoli lived in the last years of his brief existence as a novice of the Society of Jesus in the city of Córdoba, a place to which I am connected, having been a spiritual director and confessor for some years of my ministry.”

Alongside that somewhat self-referential (!) quotation appears an essay by Maestro Militello, but not about Zipoli, about whom I’d really be interested in reading.  Rather, it’s about themes he considers neglected in Christmas music. He cites the predominance of certain stylistic elements in the received tradition: in some pieces triumphal motifs, in some the tone of lullaby or of the pastorale, as in “Tu scendi dalle stelle”.  But here is what is missing, according to the writer:

[…] in the musical literature it is difficult to find compositions that set the real “drama” of the event of the holy night fully in the foreground: the negative reply to a request for lodging, and taking refuge in a cave for shepherds, with no help…

But the human drama of the holy family of Nazareth is still present […] in so many refugee couples [….] For them also there seems to be no sonic commentary about shared hard-working solidarity, about effective intervention to alleviate the weight of life that often – from its beginning – finds incomprehension, indifference, and atrocious silence.

Whatever else there is to say about such a commentary, it’s not a manifestation of the maestro’s artistic expertise or of any scholarly discovery on his part.  It seems to be just a facile echoing of some of Pope Francis’ themes.  To see this sort of space-wasting in the culture section of the Osservatore Romano, in an edition that only has eight pages for the whole paper, is disappointing.

I’m not even sure the book is worth recommending, for those who can read the Italian.  It has a total of one reader review so far on Amazon, and it’s not favorable:

[…] we’re happy for the Holy Father’s attention to a musician close to our heart…. But did anyone point out that the great scholar Luis Szaran treated the subject with documentary completeness in his splendid essay “Domenico Zipoli. Una vita, un enigma” (2000)? Or perhaps that … Alessio Cervelli already published his essay “Domenico Zipoli: amo dunque suono. La scelta radicale di una vita […]”  (2016)? All this new amazement shown by Militello, when he talks about examining the Spanish sources […] as though it were something unheard-of and startling: we would like to hope that it’s simply ignorance and a lack of investigation about recent publications (something that would be rigorously necessary for any scholar evaluating the status quaestionis on the object of his study), and […]  not rather an insipid act of “courtly obsequiousness” toward an Argentine and Jesuit pontiff.

(UPDATE: I edited the piece after posting to improve a point of the translation. –RC)

Lost and found: the English choral tradition

In a new book review, Michael White outlines a history of how the English choral tradition was disrupted by the English Reformation and reconstructed in the 1900s, partly through Catholic influence:

On Christmas Eve, the famous Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols will be broadcast from King’s College Chapel, Cambridge, and listeners throughout the world will think how wonderful it is that, in these crazy times […] the great English choral tradition carries on: soothing, consoling, with the same exquisite beauty that it’s cultivated since the Middle Ages.

The idea is an attractive one, but not quite true. And this book tells you in no uncertain terms how far from the truth it is.

The review is on-line at the Catholic Herald.

Newly published: Graduale Parvum: Introits

A new book of Mass propers in English and Latin has appeared from our friends in England: Fr. Guy Nicholls of the Birmingham Oratory has published Graduale Parvum: Introits.

The book contains entrance chants on simple melodies, much in the style of the Graduale Simplex and ICEL’s Roman Missal ordinary chants. Here’s an example:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The book has some attractive advantages. The melodies are freely adapted from the authentic Gregorian chants in the Graduale Romanum and often preserve their melodic outline, so they’re a step up for choirs that have used more formulaic English adaptations. In addition, the English texts are all from standard, well-known sources approved for liturgical use by the Holy See: the ICEL Roman Missal and the Revised Grail Psalter. They’re fully notated, including the psalm verses, in attractive, readable chant notation.

American readers can get the book from the CMAA Shop web site, a little easier and slightly cheaper than ordering it from the UK.

Incidentally, in 2002, Fr. Nicholls spoke at the CMAA Sacred Music Colloquium  about the propers and the task of promoting them; the talk has an introduction by Jeffrey Tucker, and included some examples from the book’s draft at the time, which the gathered participants sang.