R. WILLIAM MAHRT REMINDS US that the Second Vatican Council “gave music, of all the arts, the most central position in the liturgical action.” (The Musical Shape of the Liturgy. Pg. 61) In other words, Vatican II reaffirmed the unique function of music within the sacred liturgy:
“Therefore sacred music is to be considered the more holy in proportion as it is more closely connected with the liturgical action…” (Sacrosanctum Concillium § 112)
While liturgical action is the guiding dynamic of sacred music’s implementation, the Word shapes the creation of this music. These are wholly countercultural realities: the Word and the liturgical action as the driving forces of music. As such, truly sacred liturgical music possesses a function—a responsibility—that is quite different from music of secular society and also of some religious denominations. Sadly, it also differs substantially from common liturgical practice in the Roman Catholic Church today. This is worth examining in light of music’s role in evangelization.
We are all familiar with the secularization of sacred music, not simply in style, but most importantly in its primary function and purpose: to make us feel good, to infuse energy or emotion, to express ourselves and our own feelings. These are not bad things in and of themselves. In fact, they are quite good and may even inspire deep devotion and inspiration. However, there must be an understanding of time (or timelessness) and place. The liturgical purpose of true sacred music is what sets it apart from the rest of the world, and hence, why divine worship is wholly transformative when music is wedded both to the Word and to the liturgical action. This is what makes music sacred—set apart from the world and “set aside” for the liturgy.
The musical tradition of the universal Church is a treasure of inestimable value, greater even than that of any other art. The main reason for this pre-eminence is that, as sacred song united to the words, it forms a necessary or integral part of the solemn liturgy. (Ibid)
F THE CURCH WERE TO RECLAIM the proper role and function of its very own music, it would go a long to way to repossessing the deeply influential significance of the liturgy in our everyday lives. In turn, this would most compellingly and powerfully foster evangelization. Acquiescence to secular culture or even to American religious culture in order to fill the pews is shortsighted. For those of us lost and craving a true presence of God in our lives, the mass, our greatest prayer, is the rock and foundation. It is the way to evangelization.
The New Evangelization describes the work of the Church as “…to bring all people into relationship with God, and also to transform and sanctify the society in which we live.” (U.S. Catholic bishops, Disciples Called to Witness: The New Evangelization).
HE MASS IS WHERE WE FOSTER OUR RELATIONSHIP WITH GOD and as a result, with each other. As such, it is not overstated in the least that the mass is the most important work of the Church. It strengthens us to go out into the world to do the work of the Gospel. Therefore, it is no trivial matter to love the liturgy, to love the Word and to love the music to which it is wedded. If our work in sacred music is for the Glory of God alone, we are called to not only “preserve and foster sacred music with great care” as urged by Vatican II, but we are also called to evangelize through sacred music. Why? Because music, in no small, part nurtures our prayer and therefore our relationship with God and with each other.
THE WORD, MUSIC, AND HOW WE LIVE OUT OUR LIVES are all connected. For those of us charged with shaping lives through music, let us not forget this responsibility. Furthermore, let us also pray for our pastors—the shepherds of the faithful who support musicians of sacred music. Their jobs are not easy, as they are responsible for more than most any person would dare to take on. Pray that they have the wisdom, courage, and foresight to support true scared music—music that is wedded to the Word, wedded to the liturgical action, and therefore wedded to our prayer.
We pray for all of this so that we may go forth and evangelize.
John 15: 16: “It was not you who chose me, but I who chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit that will remain.”