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)

Oh Wally, Wally! – How to Define Profanation?

Wally (right) and Beaver, no so vexed!

Over at CCW’s blogsite
our CMAA Indy colleague Andrew Motyka (busy guy!) has the third installment of different folks’ take upon (Portland) Archbishop Sample’s now well-known “Letter on Sacred Music.” Some of the archbishop’s concerns not only focus upon the music in and of itself, but upon the “performance practice” of that same music. Is a bell-tree acceptable when singing a Ricky Manalo song, but a drum kit an absolute travesty? If we have to sing Scholte’s “They’ll know we are Christians…” must we use the infamous “strum diddy strum strum” pick pattern on a thousand guitars, or could we lipstick the pig by using a reggae back-beat which the folks will grin ear to ear over? Well, that’s not where I’m going to go in this response.

The concern about profanation of musical aspects within the Mass (and presumably all ritualized worship such as the LoH) has vexed the Church likely before the recognition of the parody Mass (L’Homme arme comes to mind.) I have to wonder what set of circumstances is in play when the fulcrum point of profanation is finally overwhelmed by secular association to certain musical motifs, that it should be obvious to all present “hearing” Mass in any particular moment? Familiarity with secular musical motifs is subjective, not easily quantifiable, and more often than not culturally based.

For example, I have never programmed Jaime Cortez’s immensely popular “Somos el cuerpo de Cristo” for decades as off the page, not to mention the recording, I couldn’t disassociate its refrain from the Beatle’s “Oob la di, oob la da….” (I won’t finish the line out of respect for the subject matter.) Sometimes the instance verges on near-plagarism as in the case of one song in OCP’s library by a very popular “Spirit and Song” composers that interval by interval almost quotes George Harrison’s “Here comes the sun.” Other lit-wags have excoriated songs such as “Here I am, Lord” (Schutte) repeatedly for its resemblance to the theme music for the “old” TV comedy “Gilligan’s Island.” Let’s move onto more serious considerations. Would we sing “What Child is This” during Christmastide had not RVW written his famed “Fantasy on Greensleeves?” For that matter, if we knew the exact source of the amalgam hymntune KINGSFOLD, would that make us less inclined to use the nobler hymn version we generally associate with “I heard the voice of Jesus?” We know of patriotic and worship tunes whose genesis is “Bar the door, Katy!) certifiably within the confines of public houses all over Europe. I have a student volume of folk songs from the British Isles compiled by Stanford that is rife with tunes, some well known, others obscure, that are now found in popular hymnals. Do we thank St. Thomas More’s Chris Walker alone for that reality. Not really. But let’s confine the rest of discussion to the factors concern profanation to “isle tunes” for brevity’s sake.

The likely candidate for most prominent secular tune that’s successfully crossed over many times is O WALY WALY. If one thinks of just the music, it’s an oddity. It demands sheer lung power for each phrase, it has a tessitura demand beyond many other songs, and despite other concerns, it is constantly set and reset to new texts and sung well. Now, the test of profanation has to include the text wedding of the original tune. Like many of those Stanford-collected songs, the original text likely remains a lost love lament common to popular song since Morley madrigals. I’m sure text and tune crossed the pond in the 17th century quite in tact, so it became cross-cultural as well in the colonial south. At this point I want to ask then, why haven’t I encountered a hymntext set to BARBARA ALLEN or SHE WALKED THROUGH THE FAIRE? (Maybe Dr. Ballou has, as a harpist and musicologist, had that fortune, I haven’t personally.) Let’s face it, would anyone be singing Bell’s “The Summons” if there was a pervasive knowledge and association with the original lyrics of KELVINGROVE? Who’s to say? But where does one draw a line between appropriating SUO GAN or ASHGROVE (from Wales) for famed texts, and Walker deciding “SKYE BOAT SONG” (Scotland) would make a nifty vehicle?

On this side of the pond, has anyone ever encountered a hymntext set to “The streets of Laredo?” On the other hand, though I’ve never found one, it wouldn’t surprise me if there is a hymn set to “Shenandoah” somewhere out there. Here’s the deal, unlike the Beatles or Gilligan associations proximity to recent cultural memory, no such association exists for these seminal, beautiful ballads I’ve mentioned. Is it only time passage that mitigates a profanation association? One can parrot “O say can you see” having its origins as a flagon-hoisting huzzah song in old Brittania pubs, but when played or sung with reverence and dignity at any ballgame or historic gathering, its integrity (sorry, couldn’t resist using that word) holds strong by the strands of tears on peoples’ faces. Well, I think that’s enough grist for the mill of discussion as regards how we discern and discriminate such issues. Were it just as easy as we old hippies used to think it was when someone drags up that somebody somewhere (not me) used “My Sweet Lord (doo lay doo lay doo lay)” or “Jesus is just alright with me” back in the day in the crypt church!

It does, however, lend a lot of weight to the PiusX/Marht/Kwasniewski paradigm arguments of sticking pretty darn close to the musical patrimony, no?

Bishop Sample’s Pastoral Letter on Sacred Music

This morning, Most Reverened Alexander Sample (Bishop of Marquette, MI and Archbishop-Elect of Portland, OR) released a Pastoral Letter on Sacred Music in Divine Worship entitled Rejoice in the Lord Always.

In this letter Bishop Sample outlines the Church’s mind on the sacred music of the liturgy as it is represented in current documentation and legislation, and in the Church’s perennial understanding of sacred music. It is written to the Priests, Deacons, Religious, Musicians and Faithful of the Diocese of Marquette, but should have something to say to all Catholics in the United States, especially considering Archbishop-Elect Sample’s recent appointment to the metropolitan see of Portland, Oregon.

Here is the introduction:

In any discussion of the ars celebrandi (the “art of celebrating”) as it relates to the Holy Mass, perhaps nothing is more important or has a greater impact than the place of sacred music. 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. 

Because the place of sacred music is so important, I am issuing this pastoral letter on the nature, purpose and quality of sacred music. This is an important discussion to have, since so often the music selected for Mass is reduced to a matter of subjective “taste,” i.e. what style of music appeals to this or that person or group, as if there were no objective principles to be followed. There are indeed objective principles worthy of study and proper implementation, as will be shown. 

At the outset, it must be acknowledged that Church musicians have labored long and hard in the wake of the Second Vatican Council to help accomplish the Council’s goals as it concerns the renewal of the Sacred Liturgy, especially the Mass. Indeed, many have made it their life’s work to provide music for the Sacred Liturgy. The Church, including both clergy and laity, is grateful beyond words for their dedication and service. It must also be said that the principles and practical applications which follow will come as a real change in focus and direction for many of these same dedicated musicians. What is attempted here is a faithful presentation of what the Church has taught as it regards sacred music from the time before the Council, at the Council itself, and in the implementation of the Council’s thought in subsequent years. Although much of what follows may contravene the formation that many have experienced over recent years, this is in no way to be interpreted as a criticism of those dedicated Church musicians who have offered their service with a generous heart and with good will. 

Change can be difficult, but this can also be an exciting time of rediscovering the spirit of the Liturgy and exploring new horizons of sacred music. Through education and formation, the Diocese will attempt to provide all the support, encouragement and assistance it can to musicians in implementing the Church’s vision and norms for sacred music.

The rest of the letter can be found here.

We’ve noted that Rejoice in the Lord Always refers to an appendix that lists resources for the singing of the Proper of the Mass, but this appendix does not seem to appear in the document that has been released online. Hopefully this will be added soon!