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Liturgical music, what’s in, what’s out – my views

On my recent post regarding liturgical music, commenter Orvis asked some very good questions.  I’d like to lay out a brief response here as I now realize I was far too brief in that last post to be intelligible.

Am I saying “yes” or “no” to pop music as a part of the Mass?  That depends largely on your definition of “pop” music, since as a rule the definition of the term morphs with each day.  In a nutshell, if it is proper liturgical music I have no problem with it at all; if it is, in the words of both Pope St. Pius X and Pope Benedict XVI, “profane” then it is both explicitly and implicitly not appropriate for Mass.  In Tra le sollectudini Pius X stated:

Still, since modern music has risen mainly to serve profane uses, greater care must be taken with regard to it, in order that the musical compositions of modern style which are admitted in the Church may contain nothing profane, be free from reminiscences of motifs adopted in the theaters, and be not fashioned even in their external forms after the manner of profane pieces.

Now, some will object to bringing Tra le sollectudini into the discussion as it’s over 100 years old and refers to issues no longer facing liturgical music (i.e. the Pope’s concern regarding overly operatic performances, thus his reference to “the theaters”).  Yet, does his point not continue to hold given how far modern music performances deviate from what could and should be expected at Mass?  Even standard Praise and Worship performances usually lack the sobriety befitting the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.  Do I deny their usefulness as Christian music?  Not at all.  Do I deny they belong in the Mass?  Unless properly formed to the Mass, indeed I do.  There is a place, as Pope Pius XII wrote in Musicae Sacrae, for this type of music:

We must also hold in honor that music which is not primarily a part of the sacred liturgy, but which by its power and purpose greatly aids religion.  This music is therefore rightly called religious music.  The Church has possessed such music from the beginning and it has developed happily under the Church’s auspices.  As experience shows, it can exercise great and salutary force and power on the souls of the faithful, both when it is used in churches during non-liturgical services and ceremonies, or when it is used outside churches at various solemnities and celebrations.

So do I think the Church should support such work, encourage and even host it?  Absolutely.  Do I think it belongs in the Mass?  Absolutely not unless it is properly conformed to the requirements of the liturgy.  The Church has a great need in this day for ways to involve people in their Catholic faith outside of Sunday Mass.  Periodic concerts of this type would both encourage that active participation of the faithful and provide opportunities to reward the work of the artists, writers and composers involved.  An old pastor routinely did this as part of his Life Teen work and had great success, and neither the Mass nor the music had to suffer for it.

As to whether I believe the Farther Along Octet (the actual name of the group from Goshen College) serves to prove anything as regards the status of “pop” music, no I don’t.  I bring them up precisely as an illustration of youth who have sufficient respect and appreciation for chant and polyphony to not only listen to it but learn to perform it as well.  Do I think their performance of other music forms has any bearing on the appropriateness of those forms in the Mass?  No, I do not.  Even their performances of sacred music were non-liturgical and do not address the question of appropriateness.  What they all do, however, is address the question of whether you can attract youth of their age with anything other than pop music in general and with sacred music in specific.  So yes, use all the forms of music that attract people to the Church, but be selective in when and where each form is used that they may each be used only where appropriate and where they will have the greatest effect.

I’m quite certain I have gone on far too long already, but please do let me know what you all think.  I could write far more but I’d prefer to move in small paces unless absolutely necessary.

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