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Ordained in 2011, Father Friel served for five years as Parochial Vicar at St. Anselm Parish in Northeast Philly. He is currently studying toward an STL in sacred liturgy at The Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C.
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"The local church should be conscious that church worship is not really the same as what we sing in a bar, or what we sing in a convention for youth."
— Francis Cardinal Arinze (2005)

Archbishop Sample’s Letter On Sacred Music (7 of 8)
published 22 June 2014 by Fr. David Friel

T WAS A PLEASURE to sit in a pew towards the back of the Cathedral of the Madeleine last summer and listen to Archbishop Sample’s lecture given to the CMAA Colloquium. Reading his 2013 Pastoral Letter, Rejoice in the Lord Always, is almost equally delightful, since it presents so many ideas worthy of reflection. I am choosing here to reflect briefly on only five of the passages that leapt out at me.

NE — Twice in his letter, the Archbishop quotes the same line from Pope Benedict XVI: Why is this significant? Shouldn’t I be focusing on the original material the Archbishop wrote in his letter? Perhaps I should, but the fact that this quote is the only quote duplicated within the body of this letter is significant:

Nothing can be too beautiful for God.

This statement of the Holy Father Emeritus tells me something about Archbishop Sample’s approach to the liturgy, and it teaches me to approach the liturgy similarly. In the face of minimalists and reductionists, we should take heart; nothing at all could ever be accused of being too beautiful for the Lord.

WO — In the section devoted to “Specific Musical Standards for Parish Masses,” one finds a clear directive that every parish should have a “principal Mass” in which extra special care is devoted to sacred music. One also finds this welcome observation:

Sung Mass sets the pattern and the model for sacred music in the parish.

There is, in fact, a hierarchy of goods! The Mass is intended to be sung, and therefore the celebration of Mass is more fitting when it is sung than when it is not. Just as the cathedral and seminary are to be exemplars for the whole diocese, so the “principal Mass” of a parish should be an exemplar to which any other parish Masses strive to compare.

HREE — But what about poor parishes? What about parishes without trained musicians? What about areas with few of the necessary liturgical resources?

It must also be recognized that some parishes and missions simply do not have the same pool of trained and qualified musicians as others. This does not mean that they should not also benefit from a prayerful and sung celebration of the Mass. It might mean that simpler forms of sacred music such as simple sacred plainchant and hymnody would best fit the occasion and the local situation. In small churches and congregations, more instruments and cantors singing into a microphone and amplified throughout the church is not the solution. . . . It is worth repeating that a Sung Mass need not be elaborate and the principle of noble simplicity should guide it. In this way, the higher standards of sacred music called for in this pastoral letter need not mean that getting through Mass will be more difficult for the smaller parishes and missions of the Diocese.

This passage ingeniously preempts some of the almost requisite complaining response that the earlier directives will elicit. Not having many resources, we are given to understand, is not an excuse to do nothing. Nowadays, the preponderance of resources available has removed many of the old excuses. In truth, the best music most suited to the sacred liturgy is not only widely available, but also . . . free.

OUR — The Archbishop points to a common tendency among those involved in the liturgy to use “these or similar words” when referring to the structure of the rite. When liturgists and others develop non-liturgical terminology to parallel the official vocabulary, the result is an unofficial jargon that can become divisive.

Respect for the texts includes respect for the liturgical terminology of the Missal. “Gathering Rite,” for example, is not a liturgical term; Mass begins with the Introductory Rites.

Sometimes improper phrases creep into our vocabulary subconsciously. When we notice them, we should correct ourselves with humility and resolve. Incidentally, the same principle applies in other facets of church life, too. When training altar servers, for example, there is no reason not to call sanctuary items by their proper names. “The book” can just as easily be called the “missal,” and we can easily speak of chalices & patens instead of cups & dishes. Altar servers may be young, but young does not mean stupid.

IVE — One of the most pointed directives in this letter comes nearly at the end. Upon reading it for the first time, I was startled by its directness and brevity:

Music under copyright is not to be photocopied or otherwise reproduced without license or explicit permission of the copyright owner. Any copies of music on the parish premises which violate copyright law must be destroyed.

If this mandate were carried out in every diocese (as it should be), how many dumpsters would be necessary? Or would it be easier to count by landfills? Here the Archbishop reminds us that obeying legitimate authority (copyright law) is a matter of morality from which those who labor in the Church are not exempt.

AM SUPER GRATEFUL for the clarity, frankness, and humility of this pastoral letter. While it was composed for the Diocese of Marquette, it has bearing on every local Church. May the Archbishop’s reflections & exhortations bear fruit in practical renewal!

This is part of an 8-part series on Archbishop Sample’s historic letter:




FOURTH REFLECTION • Peter Kwasniewski


SIXTH REFLECTION • Veronica Brandt