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Father Gabriel Lalemant won the crown the martyrdom on 17 March 1649. The smallest and most delicate in health among all the Jesuit missionaries, he had in six months won, by his iron will and unwavering determination, a martyr's end, in companionship with the spiritual and physical giant of the missions, Jean de Brébeuf.
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“In all this mediaeval religious poetry there is much that we could not use now. Many of the hymns are quite bad, many are frigid compositions containing futile tricks, puns, misinterpreted quotations of Scripture, twisted concepts, whose only point is there twist. But there is an amazing amount of beautiful poetry that we could still use.”
— Rev. Adrian Fortescue (d. 1923)
A Homliy About The Vatican II Hymnal
published 7 November 2011 by Corpus Christi Watershed

We were forwarded this homily and wanted to share it. A Homily on Sacred music and the Vatican II Hymnal!

Homily — November 13, 2011 – 33rd Sunday: Peter’s Song


This will be the last in a series as I address the changes in the Holy Mass. Today I want to address music and explain the reasons for the change to our new hymnal. Let me first set the table.

I was flipping through the TV channels the other night and came across one of those infomercials trying to sell CD’s. It was music from the 60’s and 70’s; the music I grew-up with. They would play clips, interject to sell their product, then play clips of songs again, and so forth. I left it on as background noise while I was working on a project. Again and again, a song would come on, my mind was flooded with memories and I was immediately taken back to a place in time.

Music is powerful. As God so designs, music can touch the very core of our being. Think about it: Music has the power to bring people, places, and events instantaneously present to our minds. We can hear a song and be brought to a happy memory, a sad memory, or simply a memorable time in our lives.

Music is powerful and mysterious. Like many things in life, music can be used for the good or for evil. Music can bring a wonderful and beautiful experience. Music can bring dark and fearful experience. I think one of reasons for this is its nature. It seems, on many levels, music can by-pass our intellect and speak directly to our memory and emotions.

The point is this: there is good music. There is bad music. And then, there is sacred music. Sacred music can be identified and delineated. In the Catholic tradition, sacred music is identified and delineated through the Magisterium, the teaching authority given by Christ to His Church. A bit of history is helpful.

At the dawn of Christianity there exists a city named Laodicea. It was first evangelized by the parishioners from the church St. Paul founded at Colossus. St. Paul mentions it in his letter. It is also one of the seven churches Jesus addresses in the Book of Revelation. It was inhabited by Hellenized Syrians, the Romans, and was an important Jewish colony. I mention this cultural milieu because as Christianity became legal, spread, and developed there came with it new and ever increasing creations of music. By the fourth century, there were so many new chants, hymns, and songs that with it came many pagan influences and abuses in the Church’s liturgy. So the Magisterium, at the Council of Laodicea, forbade the singing of any text not taken from Holy Scripture. Why? Because there is good music. There is bad music. And then, there is sacred music. In the 16th century, some of the music became irreverent at Mass and so the Council of Trent forbade it. At the end of the 19th century, when Italian Opera was all the rage it made its way into the Holy Mass and Pope Pius X forbade it, in essence saying that music in the Mass is not for entertainment purposes. Today, there is some very good religious music being sung in many churches. But that does not make it automatically suitable for Catholic liturgy. From beginning to the present, the Church is careful to make sure that the music used in Holy Mass is sacred, that is, meant to reflect the mysteries being celebrated.

In the mid-20th century, the Vatican II document Sancrosanctum Concilium, was very specific in what constitutes proper music and instruments for the Holy Mass. Unfortunately, many people – including priests and bishops – did not follow the reforms this document laid out. What resulted in many quarters was a discontinuity, a breaking off from the ancient and sacred music of the past that the Church has consistently approved. It is, after all, her liturgy. Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict XVI writes, “In the place of liturgy as the fruit of development came fabricated liturgy. We abandoned the organic, living process of growth and development over centuries, and replaced it – as in a manufacturing process – with a fabrication, a banal on-the-spot product.” As Pope, he built upon Blessed Pope John Paul II, and set to implement authentic liturgical renewal as Vatican II intended. Arguments have been made that the weakened liturgy over the past 41 years coincides with the drop of regular Mass attendance, radical decline in vocations to the priesthood and religious life, closing of Catholic schools, and so forth. Pope Benedict says, “I am convinced that the crisis in the Church that we are experiencing today is, to a large extent, due to the disintegration of the liturgy.” Now, in terms of music, no one is arguing a quid pro qou. I am simply recognizing the power of music, how sacred music is constitutive of the Holy Mass, and what the Pope thinks about current events in these regards. He rightly views the Holy Mass as the heart and source of our faith. If the way we worship God is deformed or weakened, then there will be unwelcomed and unforeseen consequences. I think this argument is irrefutable as it comes from sacred Scripture, a three thousand year Judeo-Christian history of the worship of the true God, and the highest teaching authority on earth in these regards – the Popes.

The Vatican II Hymnal we now employ is aptly named, as it embodies exactly what the Pope’s envision in accord with the Council of Vatican II — and all that came before it. I looked at four different hymnal options: the St. Michael Hymnal, the Vatican II Hymnal, Worship IV from GIA publishers, and the Breaking Bread from OCP that we had been using here at Holy Rosary. I chose the Vatican II Hymnal for the following reasons:

1. It was faithful to all the Church teaching and documents on sacred music, most especially, the lyrics of the songs are in keeping with the ancient principle “lex orandi, lex credendi” that I previously explained.
2. It was faithful to Pope Benedict XVI call for the “the hermeneutic of continuity” which basically means that it contains the past tradition handed down to us over millennia in the official Roman Rite in both forms.
3. As I mentioned in a previous bulletin, the Vatican II Hymnal is a “one stop shop” containing not only over 350 songs, but as well containing the Propers for the Mass, suggestions for songs that fit the readings for each Mass, 12 different Mass settings, and the lectionary for all the Mass readings of the three year cycle.
4. It will save our Parish $15,000 over a ten year period.

To one degree or another, the other hymnals failed to meet the above criteria. Now, I am well aware that there are people who like the songs in the old hymnal. That is totally understandable. Again, music is powerful and we can easily become attached – especially to the songs we sing over and over again. There were some songs I personally liked in the old hymnal. We sang them at my mother, my father, and my nephew’s funeral that I presided over. So I have an emotional attachment to them. There are other songs I did not like in the old hymnal, especially the one’s ancient and new, whose publishers change the lyrics out of the politically correct agenda producing an “on the spot product.” My personal preferences and emotional attachments, however, are not at issue. We are placing ourselves in service to something much bigger than us, something greater than the 70 or 80 years we may walk on earth. We are at the service of God and His Church. And, as I mentioned in this week’s bulletin, in the public worship of the Church we are called to worship God as He wants, not necessarily as we want – and this is precisely what brings God glory and honor. The Vatican II Hymnal serves this purpose and we can know this with certitude from the teachings of Popes. We should accept it therefore, with humility, docility, ever increasing understanding and consequently increasing faith. And we should be unashamedly proud to live in a Parish who thinks and worships God in full accord with the heart and mind of His Church. This is our core identity. This is who we are. “We are Peter.”