About this blogger:
A theorist, organist, and conductor, Jeff Ostrowski holds his B.M. in Music Theory from the University of Kansas (2004), and did graduate work in Musicology. He serves as choirmaster for the new FSSP parish in Los Angeles, where he resides with his wife and children.
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“One must pray to God not only with theologically precise formulas, but also in a beautiful and dignified way. The Christian community must make an examination of conscience so that the beauty of music and song will return increasingly to the liturgy.”
— Pope Saint John Paul II (26 February 2003)

When Rome Gets It Wrong
published 11 November 2013 by Jeff Ostrowski

199 Marini AISING A CHILD in the olden days must have been unimaginably difficult. Think of the days before penicillin, running water, and electricity. We ought to get down on our knees each day and thank Almighty God for the gift of modern medicine.

We can look back on those terrible times and be glad they’re finished, done, over with. Similarly, from a liturgical perspective, we can look back upon the dark days of the 1980s and be glad they’re gone. For example, on 5 November 1987, the Congregation for Divine Worship published a document containing several misguided statements. One of the most famous is:

“Musical compositions which date from a period when the active participation of the faithful was not emphasized as the source of the authentic Christian spirit are no longer to be considered suitable for inclusion within liturgical celebrations.”

By way of justification, the Congregation cites — ready for this? — a statement by Pope St. Pius X in a 1903 letter. There’s no need for me to explain why the CDW assertion is bogus; others have already done so. I would simply add that invoking Pius X against Gregorian chant and Renaissance polyphony makes about as much sense as invoking Dr. Martin Luther King in favor of school segregation. Furthermore, the official books issued by the Church even to this day contradict the 1987 statement.

An exceedingly strained exegesis, I suppose, could make that CDW sentence “work.” Perhaps it could refer to excessively long music of the past, but even so, it still amounts to “rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic,” considering liturgical life in the 1980s. Moreover, by a quick Google search, anyone can see that the CDW statement is flagrantly opposed to the clear teachings of the Second Vatican Council (e.g. cf. Sacrosanctum Concilium, §112, §114, and §116).

BUT HOW COULD A ROMAN CONGREGATION be wrong? After all, we’re Catholics … isn’t Rome always right? Well, it’s true that when Peter’s Successor speaks infallibly — that is, when certain conditions are met — regarding faith and morals, we must believe such statements. At the same time, as Fulton Sheen pointed out, “Many a pope has gone through his entire pontificate without ever issuing an infallible statement.” As I mentioned in my series “No Salvation From Decrees,” church officials sometimes make errors of judgement. A famous case was an erroneous ruling by a Roman commission on certain theories of Galileo (although this example is not nearly as damaging to the Church as certain ignorant people think). The Church has also made errors in official documents regarding editions of Gregorian chant. (From what I understand, when a later correction is made, the previous error is “stricken from the record,” similar to how the Egyptians only recorded their victories, not their defeats.) A well-known case dealt with the Editio Medicaea; another condemned the Solesmes rhythmic editions while a certain Cardinal was on vacation (it was reversed when he returned!).

It’s probably fair to say that we Catholics need to stop being so stupid, when our Lord told us we must be “wise as serpents” (Mt 10:16). For example, one of the leading liturgical reformers after the Council was Fr. Godfrey Diekmann, a supporter of women’s ordination, proponent of “hootenanny” Masses, and member of a monastery notorious for sexual abuse of minors. Lex orandi, lex credendi. “We believe as we pray.” Should we be surprised at the results of reforms by “experts” like Diekmann?

DOES IT UPSET ME THAT A ROMAN COMMISSION published an erroneous sentence in the 1980s? Do I lose sleep over the fact that Rome was wrong about the Editio Medicaea in the 19th century? As a matter of fact, I don’t get angry, and let me tell you why.

Every night I read to my daughter before she falls asleep. One book is about sharks; did you know there are more than 400 shark species? My precious little two-year-old has all the sharks memorized — Lemon Shark, Hammerhead, Goblin Shark, etc. — and she points out each one as we read. It’s marvelous, glorious, fantastic, amazing. This is my focus: not some 1980s error by a Roman committee.

Let us calmly follow the example of Msgr. Guido Marini (see above photo). With great peace of soul, he’s preparing the altar girls for a Papal Mass in San Giovanni della Croce (7 March 2010). It’s true that allowing girls to serve at the Altar was a “reform” which might not have been prudent (see here and here), but at this point, what can we do? In truth, very little.

We have much work to do. We have prayers to say and sacrifices to offer up. Abbot Pothier quietly worked within the confines of (flawed) Ecclesiastical law, and ended up causing the most influential musical reform in Church history. He was a saintly, obedient man who shunned any type of scandal or controversy (extant letters to his brother are fascinating). Pay no heed to the piccoluomini, who will answer before Almighty God for what they’ve done. Let us continue doing our work joyfully, with confidence in the Lord and gratitude for all He has given us.