This is probably the hardest post to write; perhaps because it is the most honest. Let me start by saying what I believe:
- I believe that the Catholic church is the only church that has its foundation in Jesus Christ. I believe Matthew 16:18 is literal, which means that I believe that Christ founded the church upon Peter and that the gates of hell will not prevail against it.
- I believe that Christ fulfilled his teaching in John 6:55 during the last supper when he said take and eat this is my body and take and drink this is my blood. Thus I believe that the bread during the last supper was transformed into Jesus’ body and the wine was transformed into his blood. The apostles were instructed by Jesus to continue this miracle in remembrance. The priest at Mass are fulfilling this duty during the consecration, by becoming Christ in persona and thus the bread becomes Christ’s body as an unbloody sacrifice for us and represents Christ’s Sacrifice on the cross.
- I believe that Jesus gave the church the ability to bind and loose and thus when it comes to faith and morals the church is infallible.
- I believe that the liturgy developed as public service of the church to serve the faithful in partaking in the Eucharistic mystery.
Having gotten that out of the way, I will admit that I do have a hard time accepting liturgical traditions.
Here is what I know regarding the liturgy:
- In the 1st and 2nd centuries there was a uniform nucleus that formed around the eucharistic meal
- there also were two additional elements not present in modern liturgy
- love feast
- spiritual exercises
- there also were two additional elements not present in modern liturgy
- In the 4th century, the liturgy began to be more formalized
- there were four parent rites that began to develop along cultural lines
- The Gallican rite would disappear during the 7th and 8th centuries
- there were four parent rites that began to develop along cultural lines
- From these four parent rites, the modern liturgy was born.
This very brief history lesson shows that 1. the liturgy will having a biblical basis, is not a biblical norm, but was derived to facilitate the Eucharistic celebration; 2. the liturgy celebrated by the early church is not the same one we have now, and 3. cultural norms influenced the liturgical rites. Hence we can conclude that the liturgy should facilitate the celebration of Eucharistic meal.
Because the liturgy serves to facilitate the eucharist meal, the church has enacted guidelines for how the Roman rite is to be celebrated. My dilemma has to do with how these guidelines are to be interpreted especially when it comes to sacred music.
Let’s begin with a brief history of what the church has stated about sacred music. I will start with Tra le Sollecitudini, which is a Motu Proprio issued by Pope Pius X in 1903. I’m going to focus on what he says about music especially instruments:
General principles and different types of sacred music
Sacred music should consequently possess, in the highest degree, the qualities proper to the liturgy, and in particular sanctity and goodness of form, which will spontaneously produce the final quality of universality.
These qualities are to be found, in the highest degree, in Gregorian Chant, which is, consequently the Chant proper to the Roman Church, the only chant she has inherited from the ancient fathers, which she has jealously guarded for centuries in her liturgical codices, which she directly proposes to the faithful as her own, which she prescribes exclusively for some parts of the liturgy, and which the most recent studies have so happily restored to their integrity and purity.
4. The above-mentioned qualities are also possessed in an excellent degree by Classic Polyphony, especially of the Roman School, which reached its greatest perfection in the sixteenth century, owing to the works of Pierluigi da Palestrina, and continued subsequently to produce compositions of excellent quality from a liturgical and musical standpoint. Classic Polyphony agrees admirably with Gregorian Chant, the supreme model of all sacred music, and hence it has been found worthy of a place side by side with Gregorian Chant, in the more solemn functions of the Church, such as those of the Pontifical Chapel. This, too, must therefore be restored largely in ecclesiastical functions, especially in the more important basilicas, in cathedrals, and in the churches and chapels of seminaries and other ecclesiastical institutions in which the necessary means are usually not lacking.
Organ and instruments
15. Although the music proper to the Church is purely vocal music, music with the accompaniment of the organ is also permitted. In some special cases, within due limits and with proper safeguards, other instruments may be allowed, but never without the special permission of the Ordinary, according to prescriptions of the Caeremoniale Episcoporum.
19. The employment of the piano is forbidden in church, as is also that of noisy or frivolous instruments such as drums, cymbals, bells and the like.
20. It is strictly forbidden to have bands play in church, and only in special cases with the consent of the Ordinary will it be permissible to admit wind instruments, limited in number, judiciously used, and proportioned to the size of the placeprovided the composition and accompaniment be written in grave and suitable style, and conform in all respects to that proper to the organ.
21. In processions outside the church the Ordinary may give permission for a band, provided no profane pieces be executed. It would be desirable in such cases that the band confine itself to accompanying some spiritual canticle sung in Latin or in the vernacular by the singers and the pious associations which take part in the procession.
For those who don’t know, Motu Proprio documents have the status of law and govern the whole church. So unless a case can be made that this ban on piano, drums, cymbals and drums has be lifted, the ban is still in effect and the only permissible instrument is the organ.
I know when I read this, I was shocked. I can’t think of a single parish in my area that utilizes just the organ with the exception of the extraordinary form mass. Hence my crisis began. You see I love the music at my parish, but it definitely does not fit with in the guidelines. The question I began to ask myself is, would I still want to be Catholic if these guidelines were enforced? I understand from an intellectual standpoint that the Mass is not for my enjoyment; however, I consider music to be a big part of my spirituality. I want to enjoy participating in Mass and not just endure it for the stake of receiving Christ. I read an argument that a person can learn to love sacred music and maybe that is true, more on that later, but it would be an uphill battle and my heart would definitely feel a sense of loss.
I thought that I would explore whether a case can be made that SACROSANCT CONCILIUM, the document issued by second Vatican council, allows for piano and other style of music. Sadly the answer largely depends on how one interprets the document.
The role of active participation
14. Mother Church earnestly desires that all the faithful should be led to that fully conscious, and active participation in liturgical celebrations which is demanded by the very nature of the liturgy. Such participation by the Christian people as “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a redeemed people (1 Pet. 2:9; cf. 2:4-5), is their right and duty by reason of their baptism.
In the restoration and promotion of the sacred liturgy, this full and active participation by all the people is the aim to be considered before all else; for it is the primary and indispensable source from which the faithful are to derive the true Christian spirit; and therefore pastors of souls must zealously strive to achieve it, by means of the necessary instruction, in all their pastoral work.
118. Religious singing by the people is to be intelligently fostered so that in devotions and sacred exercises, as also during liturgical services, the voices of the faithful may ring out according to the norms and requirements of the rubrics.
So one change made by Vatican II is that the laity are to have a more active role. The whole congregation is required to sing when appropriate. Sadly active participation remains largely open to interpretation. For example, can listening to a song that nobody knows constitute active participation? If not, does that mean that all songs need to be in the vernacular to foster singing? Can the choir sing some parts by themselves? If certain Gregorian chants are too difficult to be sung, should they be no longer used?
112 Therefore sacred music is to be considered the more holy in proportion as it is more closely connected with the liturgical action, whether it adds delight to prayer, fosters unity of minds, or confers greater solemnity upon the sacred rites. But the Church approves of all forms of true art having the needed qualities, and admits them into divine worship.
116. 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.
But other kinds of sacred music, especially polyphony, are by no means excluded from liturgical celebrations, so long as they accord with the spirit of the liturgical action,
119. In certain parts of the world, especially mission lands, there are peoples who have their own musical traditions, and these play a great part in their religious and social life. For this reason due importance is to be attached to their music, and a suitable place is to be given to it, not only in forming their attitude toward religion, but also in adapting worship to their native genius, as indicated in Art. 39 and 40.
Here Gregorian chant is still held in high regard and is recommend for the Church. It is very unclear what is meant by “all things being equal.” Does that mean that all church must foster Gregorian chant if they have the resources to do so? It does seem at first glance that there may be some wiggle room. This document appears to allow other forms of music. The key to understanding what is allowed and not allowed depends on how you interpret the spirit of liturgical action. This is partially defined for us in line 112. Music, other than gregorian chant, must add delights to prayer, foster unity, or confer greater solemnity. The key is whether modern worship music can achieve these goals? I don’t know the answer to that question. Furthermore, I believe that an argument can be made that even if modern worship music fails to confer greater solemnity (again this is debatable), it may foster unity, or add to prayer and still be allowed.
My heart wants to say that modern worship music has the ability to foster unity, add to prayer, and at times can be quite solemn. However, intellectually, I know that there is a wide gap between modern praise and worship, and gregorian chant. Nobody would deny that gregorian chant is more solemn and reverent sounding.
Lastly we have the controversial line 119. Again this can be interpreted in two ways. The first way is that the church is widening the treasury of sacred music to include not just European influences but other culture’s music. Thus in the United States, this may include protestant hymns from the past and present. This is the viewpoint expressed by Anthony Ruff on page 356 of his book, Sacred Music and Liturgical Reform: Treasures and Transformations. He says,
The term treasury of Sacred music cannot simple be equated with the existing genres such as Gregorian chant, Roman-school polyphony, or Viennese classical Masses…. The admission of vernacular languages into worship coupled with the permission to replace propers by other freely chosen songs, suggests that the treasury available for use in Roman Catholic Worship includes choral and congregational repertoire from Western Protestant tradition.
The second way of interpreting line 119 is to say that this exception only applies to mission lands and does not include countries with a European cultural background such as the United States.
120 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.
But other instruments also may be admitted for use in divine worship, with the knowledge and consent of the competent territorial authority, as laid down in Art. 22, 52, 37, and 40. This may be done, however, only on condition that the instruments are suitable, or can be made suitable, for sacred use, accord with the dignity of the temple, and truly contribute to the edification of the faithful.
Once again the Vatican II document echoes the sentiment of Tra le Sollecitudini in that it expresses the pipe organ has the most suitable instrument for the liturgy. However, this document softens the ban on other instruments by allowing them to be used if 1. permission by the bishop is given and 2. it can be made suitable for sacred use. I am imagining that suitable for sacred use would entail that the instrument being able to add delight to prayer, foster unity, and confers greater solemnity. In my opinion a piano is able to meet these requirements; however, others would disagree. A greater problem is that most churches have not been granted permission by the bishop to use other instruments and instead have allowed implicit permission by a non-objecting bishop to determine the use of other instruments.
So what’s the point? Well, having read very persuasive arguments that the organ is the only appropriate instrument at Mass; I began to question my commitment to Catholic culture. My heart’s reaction was something along the lines of, well if being Catholic means that the only authentic worship is listening to organ music and gregorian chant; I’m not sure I want to be Catholic. Yet my mind was like, Sarah, that is silly. How dare you assume you know more than the church Jesus founded? You will learn to accept it just like everything else in this crazy journey. However, my heart once again said, “but music is important and I’m not sure I can learn to love traditional music.” It got so bad that I went to confession and said that I was having doubts about being Catholic. The priest, a very wise man, said, “Sarah, I remember my very first folk mass; I thought it was horrible since I was used to the traditions of the church, but as I watched, I could tell that the music meant something special to the people. Focus on Jesus.”
Mathew Kelly in his book, the Four Signs of a Dynamic Catholic, states that the Catholic Church is failing because we are failing to meet people where they are and speaking to where they are and speaking to the real issues of their lives. He goes on to say that the best way to engage people is by having inspiring music and an inspiring homily. He than asks a thought provoking question, “is our priority to preserve the institution or to serve the people the institution exists to serve?” “Is God more concerned with his people or with the institution the church?”
While I do believe it is important to foster an appreciation for the rich treasury of music that the church has; I think it is much more important to have music that inspires people to be disciples. The style of music will largely depend then on the nature of your congregation. The best thing we can do as Catholics is learn to be open to all sorts of music/worship styles; from the very Chrismatic praise and worship style to the traditional gregorian chant as both are legitimate in the Catholic church and both can be inspiring.
I hope over the years that I can grow in my appreciation of all things Catholic.
Make me strong, O Spirit of God, even when this means that I must admit that I am weak.