HOSE WHO DISAGREE with the Church’s traditional embrace of Gregorian chant often make the following claim:
“Vatican II never said Gregorian chant should have pride of place in the liturgy. This only applies to Masses celebrated in Latin.”
As my friend Andrew recently noted, this wrongheaded interpretation is beginning to gain traction. For instance, a 2007 USCCB Committee came out with a document providing “guidelines” (their word) for preparing liturgies in the United States. It is called Sing To The Lord, and §72 acknowledges that Gregorian chant should have “pride of place in liturgical services” under normal circumstances, but provides a footnote:
Musicam Sacram, no. 50a, further specifies that chant has pride of place “in sung liturgical services celebrated in Latin.”
The implication is clear . . . but is that the whole story?
NO, IT IS NOT the whole story. The Second Vatican Council ordered (Sacrosanctum Concilium, §116) that Gregorian chant be given “first place” in liturgical services under normal circumstances because it is “specially suited to the Roman liturgy.” However, a document issued by the Sacred Congregation of Rites four years later (Musicam Sacram) contains an entire section on the use of Latin, which repeats §36 of Sacrosanctum Concilium (“the use of the Latin language is to be preserved in the Latin rites”).
* * Please take note of the following underlined words.
Toward the middle of that section on Latin, three (3) statements are made:
50. In sung liturgical services celebrated in Latin:
(a) Gregorian chant, as proper to the Roman liturgy, should be given pride of place, other things being equal. Its melodies, contained in the “typical” editions, should be used, to the extent that this is possible.
(b) “It is also desirable that an edition be prepared containing simpler melodies, for use in smaller churches.”
(c) Other musical settings, written for one or more voices, be they taken from the traditional heritage or from new works, should be held in honor, encouraged and used as the occasion demands.
In other words, taken in context, absolutely nothing in Musicam Sacram modifies or amends §116 of Sacrosanctum Concilium. In the section dealing with the use of Latin in the liturgy, this later document merely reminds us that Gregorian chant retains pride of place in these ceremonies (which is no surprise). As a matter of fact, 50a has a “deeper meaning” regarding 50b, but I can’t go into any of that right now — Susan Benofy get into some of it here.
Billy claims all Americans can swim. Joseph is an American. Billy says Joseph can swim.
So … where’s the news? I never thought I’d say this, but: NO. BIG. DEAL.
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