The following article appeared on October 7th in a number of Catholic publications. I find it interesting that there have been quite a few lectures, speeches and articles making this same point recently, all by prominent individuals. What exactly might be the reason for wanting to make the point that Chant is the ideal of Catholic liturgical music and should serve as the model in any renewal of Sacred music?
Chant Will Renew Sacred Music, Says Vatican Aide
-Notes Its Link to Liturgical Texts
ROME, OCT. 7, 2010 (Zenit.org).- Sacred music cannot be limited to Gregorian chant, but it is chant that contains the key to renew liturgical song, according to a consultor for the Office of Liturgical Celebrations of the Supreme Pontiff.
Father Uwe Michael Lang, also an official of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Sacraments, made this observation Wednesday at a lecture at l'Accademia Urbana delle Arti in Rome.
Father Lang pointed to the 1749 encyclical "Annus Qui" by Pope Benedict XIV as the "most important papal pronouncement on sacred music" prior to Pope St. Pius X's "Tra Le Sollecitudini."
The 18th century encyclical "proposes the important criteria of sacred music that are valid beyond the limits of their historical context and resound also in our time," the priest said.
Father Lang explained that the encyclical presents plainsong as normative for the Roman liturgy "while it approves unaccompanied polyphony and also permits orchestral music, though with certain conditions, in divine worship."
He said this position of the Church is reflected in the constitution of sacred liturgy from the Second Vatican Council, which "exalts Gregorian chant as the 'proper' music of the Roman liturgy."
"The pre-eminence of chant," Father Lang further recalled, "was confirmed by Benedict XVI in his 2007 post-synodal apostolic exhortation 'Sacramentum Caritatis.'"
Father Lang proposed that the value of Gregorian chant is "its profound relationship with the liturgical text, to which it gives musical form."
"'Annus Qui' requests explicitly the integrity and intelligibility of the texts that are sung in the Mass and in the Divine Office," the priest affirmed. "This concern was already debated in Trent, but not included in the council's official documents."
He added that though "sacred music cannot be limited exclusively to Gregorian chant, it has in itself, however, the keys for a true renewal of sacred music."
And so, as is pointed out by Fr. Lang, Gregorian chant has always been the ideal form of Catholic liturgical music, and that position was strongly reinforced by the Second Vatican Council and has been re-iterated by all Popes since that time and there has been no document or proclamation to the contrary. But we all know what the status quo is, so why come out and say this again at this time? And why go as far back as “Annus Qui”… a prominent document from a previous Pope Benedict?
And why make the point that Annus Qui proposes the important criteria of sacred music that are valid beyond the limits of their historical context and resound also in our time. Note that he doesn’t say that “Annus Qui” proposed these criteria… he says that the document proposes these criteria. This may be nitpicking to an extent, but I think there is a difference in point of view when one speaks about documents of the Church. When one generally sees older documents as outdated and irrelevant, those documents claimed… or stated… or proposed specific ideas that are no longer relevant. They are past tense… no longer valid. But when one accepts the validity of a past document as relevant in our own day, that documents claims… or states… or proposes its ideas to us still, and they are as relevant now as in the past.
This isn’t to say that there aren’t documents and teachings of the church that are no longer valid, but when that is the case, those documents or teachings are abrogated, such as Ecclesia Dei Afflicta was abrogated by Summorum Pontificum. That abrogation is noted in the new document and it is specifically spelled out that the provisions of the former document are no longer in force. But in the case of Annus Qui, it’s provisions have been re-iterated and strengthened, first by Pope Pius X in Tra le sollecitudini, and then again more comprehensively and forcefully through the documents of the Second Vatican Council, again in 2000 by Pope John Paul in his Chirograph on Sacred Music, and most recently by Pope Benedict in Sacramentum Caritatis. Rather than being abrogated, it is clear that the criteria and concerns so eloquently and clearly laid out in Annus Qui have been re-iterated and reinforced from the 18th century up to the present day without exception.
And what are those criteria and concerns laid out in Annus Qui? What were the reasons given for the reform of Sacred Music by Pope Benedict XIV?
•Sacred Music must be distinct from popular (theatrical or profane) music.
•Instrumental music poses the danger of profanation by association with popular or theatrical music. Recent practice and some local customs which encourage the use of popular instruments and singing styles within the Church are to be eliminated.
•When instruments oppress and bury the voices of the choir, and obscure the meaning of words, then the use of the instruments does not achieve the desired purpose, they becomes useless and indeed remain forbidden and prohibited.
•Sacred Music is first and foremost a proclamation of text, and all musical settings must derive from the text and not vice-versa as is the case in popular or theatre music.
•The liturgy must be primarily sung… particularly the words of the prophets, the apostles, or Epistle, of the Creed, the Preface or action of thanksgiving and prayer of the Lord. Practices or teachings that seek to reduce the singing of these parts of the Mass are to be eliminated.
•The distinction between the musical forms of the Office and the musical forms of the Mass are to be observed in recognition of the distinction between the prayer of the office and the Sacrifice of the Mass. To one belongs hymnody and strophic singing, to the other belongs the riches of the chant and polyphony. In both, the texts must be clearly proclaimed and not obscured by the musical forms or instruments.
•The incorporation of popular singing styles and theatrical forms excites the listener and distracts from the sacredness of the Mass, leading the minds of the listener away from the mystery to a place where it remains in the common world.
Other than the occasional references to “bawdy” music and a strong underlying assumption in this document that the reader is familiar with liturgical practices from the time of Charlemagne onwards, this could have been written this year by Benedict XVI rather than in 1749 by Benedict XIV! The concerns are very much the same.
And so I ask again… Why the sudden outpouring of references to these former documents and their relevance today by prominent figures from the Church’s hierarchy? I mean… it’s not like we have the same problems...uhhmmm...OK...Maybe we should think about this a bit.