Words to remember

"Never doubt in the darkness what you believed in the light."

Thursday, December 6, 2007

USCCB document on Sacred Music

Fr. Z. posted a few sections of the USCCB's latest document on sacred music in the liturgy, with his usual keen analysis and insight. The full version of the statement is here

It is certainly encouraging to read many of the things in the document; the piece, however, is slightly schizophrenic. It makes fine statements about the pride of place given to chant, and how its use should be expanded, and how it should be learned, etc.- but then frequently backpedals. For those who long for a return to an extensive use of plainchant, it's a bit of a roller coaster ride (naturally, I imagine, the feeling is much the same for those who demonstrate a near allergic reaction to chant in the Mass)

One of the interesting phenomena here, though, is the reaction of those opposed to chant. Though a relative newcomer to traditional, orthodox Catholicism, I've seen several examples of the general philosophy these people put forward: they are innovators, who want to shake things up, who want to make changes, who want to seek out and implement alternative points of view, who want to incorporate a wider ranger of cultural elements into the Mass, and who want everyone to feel welcome and participate in the sacrifice of the Mass. Lovely. Here's the odd part, though:

-As for being innovators, shaking things up, etc., that time has long passed for the nouveaux liturgistes. Most of their innovations and reforms already have inch-thick dust about them. And a good number of them seem to young people to be simply mawkish affectation. For my generation, the post-conciliar American silliness which has given us guitar Masses and liturgical dance is old and incomparably out-of-date. We are in perhaps the enviable position of discovering the ancient as the refreshingly novel.

-As for seeking out other viewpoints and incorporating elements of other cultures into the Mass, and wanting everyone to feel welcome, well fine- but could we start seeing a little consistency about this, please? There are too many times to count in which a person complains "Oh, dear, this archaic and antiquated practice is stifling. It practically brings back images of the Middle Ages. I feel my participation in Mass suffers from being subjected to it. O merciful liturgical coordinator, couldn't you do something to make the Church relevant to people today?" And said merciful liturgical coordinator is only to happy to comply, now being able to claim with a face at least half-straight that their "innovations" enjoy "popular support". But when a request comes in for a return to more traditional practices, lo! The shaft! Now this is really so incredible that it deserves an explanation- why, given all these promises of inclusiveness and no Catholic left outside, are the wishes of the traditionally-minded not weighed along with those of the more innovatory? Suddenly that well of sympathy and tolerance for other liturgical practices has gone dry.

It isn't difficult to diagnose the inconsistency. This isn't primarily an issue about any of those fair-seeming principles I mentioned above. Chiefly it is a matter of preference- that is to say, the preference of the liturgist. The question about whether or not the faithful would like a return to some more traditional practices in some areas is rarely asked, and the answer is most frequently stonewall. We do not get so clear a picture of what the people want as what the liturgist wants, insofar as the liturgist serves (manifestly) as the vox populi.

It has been my experience, however limited, that people are generally substantially more receptive to older practices than the liturgist might care to admit. I can remember Midnight Mass last year, when our choir used the settings from Mass VIII "De Angelis" (wrong setting for a feast of the first class, I know, but it's one of the easiest ones for the faithful to pick up on, and it sounds lovely), and our pastor, God bless the good and noble Monsignor, chanted the "Dominus vobiscum" and several other parts of the Mass, much to our very pleased surprise. And the congregation's too, to hear many of them talk about it afterwards.

What I would like to know is, why aren't things like that given a fair shake, too? I don't think I'll get a straight answer for a looong time.

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