Pope Francis on Liturgical Music in Recent Decades:Sometimes a certain mediocrity, superficiality and banality have prevailed

…if we can call things of the past fifty years recent, which, on the scale of the Church’s existence, they are.

A conference,  entitled “Music and the Church: cult and culture fifty years after Musicam sacram” was
organized by the Congregation for Catholic Education and the Pontifical Council for Culture.

“The encounter with modernity and the introduction of [vernacular] tongues into the Liturgy stirred up many problems: of musical languages, forms and genres….We need to promote proper musical education, especially for those who are preparing to become priests – in dialogue with the musical trends of our time, with the demands of the different cultural areas, and with an ecumenical attitude.”

(From his mouth to God’s ear, and the ears of bishops and rectors of seminaries.) 

A common topic of discussion in the most progressive* liturgical music circles is how greater emphasis on an “ecumenical” use of hymnody could have spared, at least those of us in the English-speaking world, from much ugliness and banality inflicted in the name of “getting the people to sing,” no?

(Side note: this is the first time I’ve ever read the phrase “liturgical animators” except as a quotation from older, past-their-sell-by-date sources.)

* I mean, of course, the authentically progressive.

4 Replies to “Pope Francis on Liturgical Music in Recent Decades:Sometimes a certain mediocrity, superficiality and banality have prevailed”

  1. I could not agree more that "an 'ecumenical' use of hymnody could have spared, at least those of us in the English-speaking world, from much ugliness and banality inflicted in the name of "getting the people to sing,"

    Yet the same hymnody has its own problems. Musically, the tradition of Protestant hymnody has some masterpieces, especially in those of the Lutheran Reformation and of nineteenth- and twentieth-century England, and the beauty of these works cannot simply be replaced by new compositions of questionable quality. Still, this hymnody does not fit well in the Mass of the Roman rite. it does not set the liturgically-prescribed texts of the Psalms as do the proper chants. Hymns as a genre in the Roman liturgy belong to the Divine Office, where they are sung for their own sake, without accompanying anything else, and where they are always sung completely. This qulaity is still quite true of vernacular hymns. The Protestant tradition is that they are always to be sung completely, yet as we use the hymn at the introit, we usually sing a couple of verses, since the complete hymn lasts quite a bit longer than the procession, even if the altar is incensed. This is not so much a problem at the offertory and communion, where the time is more ample, although the offertory usually does not last as long as the hymn. At communion time, he effort to get the people to sing during the procession has not been very successful in my observation. People appropriately. want to prepare for reception of the Lord in approaching the sacrament, and to make a personal thanksgiving afterward. At communion time, then, the better time for a hymn would be after the procession is completed. As a recessional, however, hymns are a problem similar to that of the introit: the procession departs immediately, leaving the congregation singing without any clergy present. Usually just a couple of verses are sung, but even then, the clergy having departed, the people begin to do so as well during the recessional hymn. In my opinion, an organ recessional is more appropriate. I contend that the liturgical function of introit, offertory, and communion processional are better served by the choir singing the proper Gregorian chants. This need not be an absolute substitution: A Gregorian communion could be sung during the procession, and then a motet or hymn could serve as a meditation while the vessels are purified. A Gregorian introit could be sung, while a hymn could be sung at the offertory, for example. Many are gradually reintroducing proper texts: for instance, at the introit, the proper texts are sung to a psalm tone, then some verses of a hymn are sung. This is not ideal, but makes familiar to the congregation the proper texts, without depriving them of their expected participation in the hymn. If, however, the Ordinary of the Mass is sung confidently and well by the congregation, this is the more appropriate participation, and eventually the introit could replace the hymn. Such "gradualism" is probably the best solution in most places.

  2. ""with an ecumenical attitude.”


    Why should a Jew to sing like Catholic; and a Catholic to sing like a Muslim.
    All religions have their own liturgical needs and tradition; and this is fine.

    A very different thing is looking for ways to increase creativity -in this case to compose and to sing-; but this is a medium to an end.

    Arts in a liturgical setting are instruments to favored or increase the liturgical service (piety, solemnity, recollection, participation of the faithful…). In this sense, Arts are not Art in themselves (-in our modern meaning: creativiy, that is, something that nobody did before; nor a instrument with which to amaze snobs), but instruments like a pan is to fry an egg; or a cup is used to drink coffee.

    Still, instruments that for their mission -worship to God- traditionally are made with the most care, skill, study, best materials than most other human products.

    I am afraid this is the nowaday trend -like most of the innovations of Vatican II- that is killing Christian communities because is breaking the sociological and psychological rules that keep societies together.

    I am sorry to say this, but a religion that has no confidence in itself to be the only one, is not a religion, except those linked to an etnia (eg. Jews) or a place (Athens in classical times). When people do not get this assurance, they quit (one of the reasons of empty pews -and empty seminarians and convents-)

  3. "Ecumenical" only refers to relations with other Christians, not to other religions. The word for relations with the communities of non-Christian religions is "interfaith".

    A good ecumenical perspective can be beneficial to Catholic music, because in some cases, non-Catholic communities have good music on the same texts we use in our liturgy.

Comments are closed.