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Thursday, April 27, 2006

Sacrocanctum Concilium - Music

Welcome to Part 2 of my limited knowledge of the most abused of all Vatican II documents. This is a popular topic and so I look forward to many informative, and most importantly, opinionated comments.

I still have to refer you to my disclaimer posted at the top of the original post on this topic. I'm no expert and I am presenting very limited information on this topic. Again, I refer all readers to the document and to actually READ it before trying to interpret it. That's what got the American Church to where she resides now. Ignorance. Let's not be ignorant buffoons, like the "Liturgical Directors" of lore, but rather, let us be informed Catholics. Personally, I like that idea.

Music. What a great topic. It affects our worship. At Daily Mass, sometimes we sing and in the simplicity of the chapel the a capella notes of traditional songs bring a harmony and beauty to the most simplified Holy Mass. The echoing notes in a stone cathedral echo against the harmonies created by a well-tune choir, raising their voices to God and calling us all to a greater worship. Good music speaks not to our intellect alone, but to our very souls, and believe you me, the soul recognizes good music. I've often heard people refer to music with "soul", usually in reference to Jazz, or the Blues, and while I agree, I think that the ultimate is the ancient music of the Church, sometimes referred to as "the breath of God".

Maybe my pontifications on this deserve a place in another post and maybe I'll go there, but perhaps it's best to discuss what the Council actually said about music, and what has actually happened. Oy Vey! Uff Da! ?Que paso'? Quo Vadis?


The musical tradition of the universal Church is a treasure of inestimable value, greater even than that of any othe rart. 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.

Therefore sacred music is to be considered the more holy in proportion as it is more closely connected with the liturgical action...

This part discusses the importance of music in connection with the Sacred Liturgy. It does allow for contemporary music, but does require the "needed qualities."

Discussion topic: what are the "needed qualities" based upon the above?

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..

What do people NOT understand about the above sentence?

I have a CD called "Sublime Chant", which covers Gregorian Chant, Ambrosian Chant, and other chants. Maybe this is a good time to quote that work of art which is my namesake:

Adoro te devote, latens Deitas,
Quae sub his figuris vere latitas
Tibi se cor meum totum subjicit,
Quia te contemplans totum deficit

Godhead here in hiding, whom I do adore
Masked by these bare shadows, shape and nothing more.
See, Lord at that service, low lies here a heart
Lost, all lost in wonder at the God thou art.

(I've read a few translations, but this is the one that got my attention).

Moving on...

In the Latin Church the pipe organ is to be held in high esteem for it is the traditional musical instrument which adds a wonderful splendor to the Church's ceremonies and powerfully lifts up man's mind to God and to higher things.

This section does allow for other instrumentation, with approval, and as long as it is suitable for sacred use "in accord with the dignity of the temple, and truly contribute tot he edification of the faithful."

Personally, I don't think drums, electric guitars, and synthesizers fit the above definition. Now, there is a song called, "First Song of Isaiah" that our choir "performed" when I was in high school, and I was so happy to do this song, loved the kettle drums, loved the music and the uplifting feeling. But I have to admit that when we "performed" this song, while it was done at Mass, it was still a "performance" and I'm not sure that it was done so much for the edificatino of the faithful as it was for the edification of the fabulous choir.

I still love the song...but I'm not sure I would like to see it at Mass anymore. I no longer have the music so I'm not sure where it belongs in any of the categories below:

Father discussed three types of illicit liturgical songs, and this is a great topic for discussion:

1. Good melody, bad words. There are some melodies which are harmonious, which are easily sung by the majority, and which by their presentation are beautiful. The words, however, sometimes make no sense whatsoever. I believe he used "Here I am, Lord, " as an example.

Some would argue that the words are taken from scripture, and indeed they are. However, the literary perspective changes;

I the Lord of sea and sky, I have heard my people cry; I have wept for love of them.....

If we sing this song, we are singing as God speaking to his prophet. Maybe if this remained consistent throughout, it would make sense and reiterate one of the readings. But it changes;

Here I am, Lord, it is I, Lord, I have heard you calling in the night....

How did we go from the perspective of God to the person of the prophet? How did that happen, and how did the song become all about social justice? If you look through it, it leaves scripture behind and embraces the "feel good" non-theology which is so common today.

There are many songs which fit this general provision of good melody/ bad words although the particular details of this example may not match. Some may put this song into the last category. However, first we must discuss;

2. Bad melody; Good words.

I can't remember the example used by Father as I was paging through the hymnal he provided so didn't write it down. If you think you have a song in mind, please let me know. I have the following hymnals handy: Glory and Praise and "Breaking Bread 1993". If you know a title, comment and I'll see if it's in either book.

In our parish, on Thanksgiving the choir performed a very painful song which had notes flying all over the place with no discernable melody. I think it fell into the "Haugen Haas" category, but I'm not sure. It was so unsingable that even those who usually sang just gaped in silence and tried to hit a note here or there. It was horrid. I don't remember that the words were so bad but the music! I'm still retching at the thought. The good news was that it was so bad and so tuneless that it didn't leave a worm in my ear so I was able to eat dinner with my family in peace.

Now, on to the third category:

3. Bad melody; bad words. I hate to say it but in contemporary hymnals, there are numerous examples of this. I think Father used "Gather Us In" as an example of this category. Again; discuss.

Some of the songs he named I have to admit with much guilt that I have liked those songs, but I still had to agree with his assessment upon an actual examination of the music and the words. Personally, I love "Here I am, Lord", and this is why: When I was in my rebeiion against the faith, every time I did go to Mass, there were two variables which seemed never changed: Always, I happened to be there when they read the story of the Prodigal Son (Prodigal Daughter), and secondly, one of the hymns was ALWAYS "Here I am, Lord" and this is a song which had always spoke to me. Maybe I understood the song on a spiritual level; I realized it was a conversation between God and the prophet, and I realized that God was calling me to come home and that I was in rebellion. All He wanted me to say was, "Ok, here I am, Lord, I want to come home, please forgive me." At the time I wanted to be a missionary and I looked into many programs especially in Mexico, Central and South America, and this song also hit me there.

I think it just goes to show that God can work even through bad contemporary music.


Let's discuss. I hope those who stumble across this post do join in the discussion that I dearly hope happens in the comment section. Consider this a personal invitation into my "livingroom" to talk about the music of Holy Mother Church.


Rick Lugari said...

Good post.

Liturgical music is not really my forte, but I know what I like and what I don't. I like chant, but don't know much about it - it's more like more like beautiful ambiance to me.

As far as hymns that we would sing in English at the NO Mass, I only get into the Marian hymns, and despise the folk crap. In fact, I would hold any popular hymns written in the last 40 years as suspect.

One pet peeve of mine is Amazing Grace. There's an example of good melody, bad words. How that ever come to be accepted in Catholic parishes, I don't know, but it has no business being sung there.

In case you are unaware of this, the Bishop Polit Bureau...I mean the USCCB has actually set up a committee (big surprise) to evaluate liturgical music and determine which hymns are appropriate and which aren't. Great idea and I hope they do a good job...but I'm not holding my breath.

Kathleen Pluth said...

The committee is a good group. I was really happy to see who they'd brought together.

Bad melody; Good words: The first verse of Hail Mary/ Gentle Woman. It's almost unbelievable that this timeless prayer, with its deep scriptural basis, could be made into such a silly song?

Anonymous said...

Ok, here's my pet peeve song: "Lord of the Dance" words by Sydney Carter (hey, not Marty Haugen or Dave Haas for a change!). The melody is the Shaker hymn "Simple Gifts". I have visions of Michael Flatley jumping around whenever I hear it. Frequently, "Lord of the Dance" is used with liturgical dancing which is another thing I dislike.
Bad associations for me all around.

Unknown said...

Being tone deaf, I can't speak much to music and lyrics, but I do have a suggestion that I pass on from time to time in different places (and nobody has taken me up on it yet).

A lot of people don't know how to read music and a lot of people really can't sing much besides "Happy Birthday" and "Jingle Bells."

I would think that there would be merit in offering a bit of instruction in both for parishioners.

I was taught a bit about how to read music in grade school and still can figure out which notes I should "hold" and which go by fast, and whether I should try to go up, or down in pitch. [The way I worded that I'm sure informs you of my musical illiteracy].

That latter part, "going up" is tough for guys like me. But I understand that there are simple breathing techniques and vocal exercises that could be taught that would assist your average pew-sitter who would like to be able to sing better. Maybe even attempt to sing "Silent Night" above the 60 decibel level.

Music directors spend way too much time with people who already know how to sing.

Cathy said...

How true! Excellent comment.

Did you know that you can sing 'The Brady Bunch' to the tune of 'Here I Am, Lord'? ;)

I've never had the displeasure of hearing "Lord of the Dance", but from what people say, that's a good thing.
Yuk. Just the title is disgusting.

That's the main article in this month's Adoremus Bulletin, which, if you don't subscribe, is a fantastic
paper that everyone should read. It keeps me up-to-date on liturgical happenings, and makes me feel so blessed
when I read the Letters, which contain shameful examples of liturgical nonsense.

I am so glad that this matter is being re-evaluated and (hopefully) cleaned up by the Church.
People have suffered too long with this 'music'.
The crazy thing is, at these types of parishes, they'll announce "The Gathering Song is 'Lord, Save Me From This Ditty', #143."
and, in my experience, no one sings because no one knows the song.
But you can hear the rafters ringing with 'Immaculate Mary'.
As far as Gregorian Chant, whose grand idea was it to subvert this easy-to-sing, theologically correct,
beautiful-in-its-simplicity, invented by a Doctor of the Church brilliance?
Let us find them, and all their ilk, and wage war!
To arms!

Our Word said...


This brings me back to a point I made in Adoro's previous V2 post - the fact that there are several Latin Gregorian chant settings for the Mass that were written at Paul VI's instruction specifically for congregational use. You're absolutely right that with a little instruction these can be mastered by the ordinary parishioner. Tune in the daily Mass on EWTN and you can quite often hear these settings.

Adoro said...

Last winter, our parish held a couple evenings for people to come in and learn some of the new music.

5 people showed up...I learned this from one of our parish priests.

While the suggestion is a good one, most people won't bother and so this opportunity is not likely to happen again.

Cathy said...

Do you think perhaps if the pastor said, "Oh, well. You five are responsible for
learning and passing on the Gregorian chant beauty to the rest of the congregation.
More will surely follow." that that would work?
If I'm the pastor, I don't care if it's two people who are doing the chant, or learning the
Latin hymns. If that's what we're doing, that's what we're doing.
Haugen's crap was despised initially (and indeed is despised today) but it became so
big because parishes kept doing it.
I think the reverse might work, too.
That would be awesome.

Cathy said...

I found this info while looking for something else. It's got some very good information about how to define a hymn vs. a carol, etc. I didn't know much of this but it makes sense to me.
Check it out:

Our Word said...

Ma Beck,
You make a very good point about Haugen/Haas/Joncas continuing only because parishes keep doing it. In our travels we've encountered many architecturally beautiful churches with totally orthodox Masses, where so much of the effect is lessened by playing that music.

On occasion you'll find a congregation that can actually sing along with some of their stuff, and you think to yourself that these people could handle something a little more traditional - they're willing to sing, just give it to them. And you wonder why they keep playing Haugen/Haas instead.

And I think Adoro makes a very important point, the idea of sacred instruments. I was recently listening to one where the choir was singing a (folksy) hymm to piano accompanyment, and I couldn't help thinking, "The Lord deserves better than this." The Church has always taught that sacred music and sacred instruments go hand-in-hand.

The Adoremus Hymnal is out there (and I've been in two parishes that have it but rarely use it - but that's a separate comment) - you want to shake them and say, "People, this isn't rocket science!"

Cathy said...

True, true.
I know some folks like a piano, and so do I, at bars and stuff.
But when I hear a piano, I think, "Let's party!"
Too many Western movies with brothel scenes kinda killed the whole piano/Church thing for me.
And guitars? I love Cat Stevens and the Grateful Dead (I mean the true folk music of the GD - not 'Truckin') as much as the next person, but I don't want to hear 'em at Mass.
It's so sad that people think "Lord of the Dance" or "Gather Us In" is Catholic music.

Adoro said...

How weird...a couple of your comments didn't post to my e-mail. Sorry for the delay in responding!

Ma Beck-

Would that it were Gregorian Chant being taught to those who attended..but, woe is me, that was not the fact. There was more Latin being sung under the regime of Fr. Kennedy, who is now doing the "Sacrament of Reconciliation" in Communal services (as opposed to private) at Pax Christi one Thursday per month. Although our priests are now far more orthodox, they apparently are terrified of rocking the cafeteria boat and so during lent, the "Agnus Dei" was not even in Latin, although the tune was traditional.

How's that for a run-on sentence? I'm cringing right along with ever English teacher or prof I've ever had.

Anyway, the stuff our music director was teaching is just more tuneless contemporary crap.

He's got great credentials...he studied in Rome, for goodness sake! What is this guy's problem with introducing the traditions of the Church to those who dont' know any better but ironically would be more likely to sing????

Incidentally, this morning at the 8:45 am Mass, which is the one I usually attend, he took some time to "teach" a new song, which has been done before an is a simple tune.

He'd do better to teach simple Latin tunes, starting, perhaps, with Tantum Ergo Sacramentuum...

I'm so disappointed in the music director at our parish. He's far from the worst, but quite honestly...he could do better.

During our discussion on music, Father asked us if any of us had been to the Triduum Masses at our parish. I attended the Good Friday and Easter Sunday Masses, went to Holy Cross to experience Holy Thursday in Polish and was awesome!

Anyway, we finally go around to what Father was really getting at...the atrocity of the music.

I was a little afraid to speak out...our priests are in such a culture that they are looking for true opinions but in a "political" way...I'm sure that drives them crazy. Anyway, I finally mentioned that the Gloria and Sanctus were HORRENDOUS and Father said, "Thank You!"

It was truely awful...unsingable, no discernable tune...and it was clear even the cantor hated the music and was singing it only under obedience.

I commented that since it was Easter, that we could have done better. As usual, my mouth got the better of me and I commented that throughout the Mass, which should have been joyful, the music was so somber and unsingable it was even greater penance than all of Lent.

Father told me in his political way to "shut up", and so I did, but I'm needed to be said.

We could have done so much better, even for 7:15 AM.

I'm going to be quiet now...


Cathy said...

I am so sorry that you have to put up with such awful music.
I really wish there was an easy fix to this enormous problem.
I'm glad that at least the blogging community seems interested in repairing the disaster that is
liturgical music of the last 40 years.
Even though it may not have seemed like your pastor was receptive to what you said,
you at least gave him something to think about.
And you were right.
And this? This is hilarious.
I commented that throughout the Mass, which should have been joyful, the music was so somber and unsingable it was even greater penance than all of Lent.
Stay the course! Vanquish the Haugen/Haas foes!

Adoro said...


I apologize...I was not clear.

The priest in question is on OUR side...he was ordained only a year ago, comes from St. Agnes, AND Holy Family which is often referred to as "St. Agnes West", and was trying to garner our opinions through hints as opposed to blunt questions and opinions, to which I am more receptive and to which I am more prone.

He agreed that the music was awful.

Also consider that the priest in this case is not our Pastor...I attend a very large parish, and we have 4 or 5 priests...if you count the local hospital chaplain. Our Pastor was himself ordained 2 years ago, and the other priest along with him. You should hear the banter between them all! It's hilarious!

Anyway, our Pastor recently showed his backbone by doing away with the footwashing during the Holy Thursday Mass...he had recieved so many complaints from both sides prior to it even happening that he took the position that since it was not required and was so divisive, that it would not happen at all. I admire that decision...he took a truly fatherly perspective and said NO MORE! (I was not at that Mass)

Totally off topic but I had to describe our priests..I do love them all. :-)

Cathy said...

Maybe I should read more slowly and carefully. Sorry!
Yes, if he came from St. Agnes, he's on the ball, I'll bet.
Your pastor was ordained two years ago?!! Talk about climbing the ladder - holy cow!
Your pastor showed remarkable judgement and clarity of thinking with regards
to the footwashing - we need more like him.

Christine the Soccer Mom said...

I am at a parish that uses folksy stuff almost exclusively, and nearly every time we sing traditional hymns, they are neutered. My old parish used a mix of the two, and even at the Life Teen Mass, we had some Latin during Advent and Lent. Our old parish had some MONEY, and we had a beautiful pipe organ. Our new parish is struggling to pay the electric bills monthly, and we have a grand piano (donated) as well as guitars and bongo drums and the occasional flute. The old consecration bells (four little bells together) are used during the Gloria (Haas) as an emphasis the third and fourth times we sing the refrain ("Glory to God in the highest, Sing! Glory to God!" etc.).

I do have to say that one of my favorite Alleluia refrains was written in 1985 (O'Carroll & Walker): the Celtic Alleluia.

How about this, though, for Mass last weekend?

"He is Exalted" (Twila Paris) (pre-Mass)

"Out of Darkness" (Walker)

"Gloria" (Haas)

Psalms 4, arranged by Michael Guimont

Celtic Alleluia

"Sing Hallelujah to the Lord" (Linda Stassen)

Holy (Sanctus), Memorial Acclamation ("When we eat this bread..."), and Great Amen all by Haas

Lamb of God (I think also by Haas, no credit in the song sheet we had)

"Taste and See" (J.E. Moore)

"Crown Him with Many Crowns" (which I think remained unchanged)

I'd love to see ANY kind of hymnal or missalette in our parish. We have neither, though our family has several St. Joseph's Missals that we use. Each Sunday, we get a song sheet that has the words to the songs (or at least our parts). Ah, well. Who knows what will happen when our pastor goes on sabatical?

Our Word said...

You have my deepest sympathies. Surely, if we are to offer our best to God, we can do better than that!