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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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“When we force a boy to be a mediocrity in a dozen subjects we destroy his standards, perhaps for life.”
— C. S. Lewis

Top Ten "Oops" Quotes On Sacred Music
published 13 January 2014 by Jeff Ostrowski

872 Pater Noster Chant VERYBODY LOVES a good “top ten” list. Recently, someone forwarded me an email titled True Things Celebrities Said. Brooke Shields, a fashion model, said: “Smoking kills. If you’re killed, you’ve lost a very important part of your life.”

I thought it might be interesting to compile the top ten “Oops” quotes about Sacred music. Before we begin, let’s recall that church laws on Sacred music are disciplinary (not infallible) and from time to time, even the best authorities goof.   [Go here for more on this topic.]

Number 1: The chant attained new beauty in almost all parts of Christian Europe after the 8th or 9th century because of its accompaniment by a new musical instrument called the “organ.”   (Musicæ Sacræ Disciplina, 25 December 1955)

Oops! Pope Pius XII never made such an absurd statement! This “official” translation still hasn’t been corrected sixty years later. The correct translation is: “Gregorian chant was not the only means in the eighth and ninth centuries by which new splendor was being added to worship, inasmuch as the use in churches of the musical instrument called the organ had already begun.”

Number 2: The function of proclaiming the readings is by tradition not presidential but ministerial. Therefore the readings are to be read by a reader.   (2011 GIRM §59)

Oops! The readings were traditionally proclaimed by an ordained (male) cleric, although in the earliest centuries of the Church, it’s possible that laymen read as well. It is incorrect to say “by tradition” when one is ignoring traditions extending well beyond a millennium.

Number 3: Choir and ensemble members may dress in albs or choir robes. Cassock and surplice, being clerical attire, are not recommended as choir vesture.  (USCCB Sing to the Lord §33)

Oops! Traditionally, albs were a priestly vestment—although this changed in some places during the late 1960s—whereas cassock and surplice have been worn by the Schola Cantorum for hundreds of years. Perhaps the document writers meant to say “Roman collar” instead of “cassock and surplice” … that would make more sense. By the way, I was always taught that surplices are not to be worn by women.

Number 4: In the dioceses of the United States of America, there are four options for the Entrance Chant: (1) the antiphon from the Roman Missal or the psalm from the Roman Gradual …   (USCCB Translation of the 2002 GIRM)

Oops! As Christoph Tietze has pointed out, this statement doesn’t make any sense but went to print anyway. The odd thing is, just three years earlier, the (rejected) 1998 Sacramentary translation of the GIRM had gotten it right. Christoph Tietze didn’t give up, and—because of his persistence—the translation was corrected in 2011.

Number 5: The restored Missal does not supplement the old one but has replaced it. (Congregation for Divine Worship, Notitæ 14, 1978)

Oops! The Second Vatican Council wanted the Missal to be reformed, not thrown away. This answer was given to Catholics asking if striking one’s breast thrice at the Confiteor is still allowed, although the Novus Ordo rubrics don’t specify. Their answer manifests a lack of understanding of liturgical history. For the record, Fr. Deryck Hanshell says thrice is correct.

Number 6: If possible, Latin will reflourish in splendor.   (Pope Paul VI, 26 November 1969)

Oops! A whole bunch of stuff Pope Paul VI predicts in this fascinating audience never came to pass. The entire thing is “required reading,” and the astute reader will notice many contradictions and statements difficult to explain. Perhaps this is why some have spoken of “schizophrenic” tendencies in Pope Paul VI.

Number 7: A moment’s thought will convince us that there can have been no place in the primitive Church for music as such, by which I mean “art music.”   (Dom Gregory Murray)

Oops! This quote is from an entire chapter where Dom Gregory tries to prove that no Christians before 600AD sang music at Mass because they were afraid the Romans, hearing singing, would come arrest them. We are in the process of transcribing the entire set of articles, and will be posting them online soon. Dom Gregory was a wonderful composer, but his ideas about the history of Church music are often absurd.

Number 8: We cannot ask the people to learn a set of songs which, no matter how short and simple, is completely new each Sunday and feast day.   (Annibale Bugnini, on behalf of the Consilium, 1966)

Oops! Bugnini directed this statement against the ancient Mass Propers, but it ought to have been considered before creating the Responsorial Psalm, which has no textual or musical precedent in 2,000 years of Church history.

Number 9: The hootenanny Mass can give explicit eucharistic and christological specification to youth’s intense involvement in the movements for racial justice, for control of nuclear weapons, for the recognition of personal dignity.   (Fr. Patrick Regan, O.S.B., formerly of San Anselmo Pontifical Liturgical Institute, January 1966)

Oops! I think this quote speaks for itself … but I would add that Abbot Regan recently published a book about liturgy in which he repeatedly says the Ordinary Form is “superior” to the Extraordinary Form because it has “more” — more Prefaces, more Scripture readings, etc. — and “more” de facto makes something better. Oh, if only matters were that simple!

Number 10: The reformed rites should be within the people’s powers of comprehension, and normally should not require much explanation.   (Sacrosanctum Concilium §34)

Oops! I discuss Number 10 in my concluding comments (see below).

WHY IS A SENTENCE FROM THE COUNCIL listed as Number 10 in this list? My intent was not to scandalize anyone, but the fact remains that Vatican II was primarily a pastoral Council. If you don’t believe me, read what Cardinal Ratzinger said on 13 July 1988 in Santiago, Chile. Or, read what Pope Paul VI said on 12 January 1966 in a General Audience. I used to be uncomfortable with this notion, but a friend of mine who personally worked with several popes assures me that thoughtful criticisms of certain Council statements are not forbidden.

Regarding Number 10 (above), let us consider what Msgr. Francis P. Schmitt wrote in 1963 (around the time Sacrosanctum Concilium was being promulgated):

O ONE CAN BE EXPECTED to understand every word of the liturgy, regardless of the language, unless we wish to recruit candidates for the lunatic asylums. Following the catechetical argument to its logical conclusion, we would arrive at a point where we would be faced with the necessity of providing different sets of missals for different strata of intelligence. Nor will audibility guarantee understanding. Nor must the mysterium element of public worship be sacrificed.