“The liturgy must keep a dignified and sacred character.” — Vatican Instruction issued 11/5/1970
OTHING MAKES a Church musician tremble like a parishioner saying: “Why don’t you do more music that people enjoy?” After all, in the year 2014 our decisions are increasingly governed by polls, and we’ve become accustomed to them. Speaking of the infamous Alius Cantus Aptus, László Dobszay said:
No song can be rejected because it is unworthy of the liturgy, for the counter-argument * is always at hand: “Our people like it”; “This congregation favors it”; “The song is fitting for this age group,” and so on.
We become distraught reading the latest poll numbers about how many Catholics think such-and-such or believe in such-and-such. We could learn a thing or two from Gary Larson’s comic strip The Far Side. In one scene, a team of surgeons surrounds an operating table and one doctor says, “OK, let’s put it to a vote: how many here say the heart has four chambers?” The lesson is clear: when it comes to really important things, surveys are often irrelevant. (For the record, the way in which surveys are conducted frequently affects their results.)
Even Rome has occasionally fallen under the influence of polls. Msgr. Schuler describes a 1981 survey which basically determined that “nobody wants Latin at Church and nobody is using it” (I’m paraphrasing). According to Schuler, the progressive liturgists were elated, and he explains how troubling such “glee” is:
Only a fool would give his students a “survey” to determine what he should teach them. Only a quack would give his patients a “poll” to determine what treatment he should prescribe for them. Tastes often change with time. Furthermore, the tastes of Person A, Person B, and Person C often conflict. When it comes to the sacred liturgy, polls and surveys are ultimately irrelevant, in spite of the fact that admitting this can make a person sound arrogant and dismissive. In fact, the Catholic Faith has never been a numbers game (cf. Jn 6:67), and there will be no polls taken when each of us appears before God to be judged.
AS MONSIGNOR SCHULER EXPLAINED in that article, the “progressive” liturgists won and the pronouncements of Vatican II lost … at least with regard to the Roman Liturgy. The heart-rending situation with regard to Sunday Mass attendance, belief in the Real Presence, vocations to the Priesthood, and so forth is not in dispute. Furthermore, the vast majority of Churches replace the Propers with banal music written in a secular style, and we’ve actually reached a point where many faithful Catholics believe songs like Be Not Afraid represent the “good old traditional Catholic hymns.”
And yet … some still aren’t content. The NLM recently reviewed a book attacking Benedict XVI’s decision to allow the Extraordinary Form as an option for those who want it. (Incidentally, this book was practically indistinguishable from hundreds of others commissioned by the same publisher.) It’s almost as if certain parties cannot bear the thought of even 1% of parishes having a reverent liturgy, Gregorian chant, sung Propers, polyphony & organ music, or (horror of horrors!) the Extraordinary Form. All of a sudden, the principle of “what the people want” doesn’t apply.
FOR YEARS, I WONDERED WHY this situation persisted. I’ve come to believe the answer is analogous to the worm that dieth not. “The worm that dieth not” denotes the pain of regret in hell: knowing for all eternity how easy it would have been to obey God’s Law.
The reality is, serious Catholics know where to locate information about correct liturgical practices. Those who wish to “do it right” know which publishers are loyal to the Holy Father and which music professors take Vatican II seriously. Ask yourself this question: when was the last time you saw the music of today’s popular Catholic composers treated in a serious way? When did you hear such music afforded respect by professional musicians? When did you read an analysis of such music in a scholarly journal? The closest thing I can recall was a DMA thesis paper attempting to present Marty Haugen’s Mass of Creation as a masterpiece “because the melody draws substantially from the chromatic scale.” Gregorian chant is often very simple and singable by everyone — yet it remains highly regarded by serious people because it was composed with great skill.
Those who hate the traditions mandated by Sacrosanctum Concilium know deep down that such things are great, beautiful, holy, good, and serious. And this is what drives them crazy.
IN LATE 2013, MAESTRO JAMES MACMILLAN said decades of “mind-numbingly depressing banality” had followed the Second Vatican Council. His words annoyed a “progressive” Church composer named Bernadette Farrell, who published a reply. Her argument was basically that Church musicians ought to stop being selfish by programming music we like (i.e. Gregorian chant). Instead, Farrell continued, we should have the courage to play music according to others’ tastes. Here’s an excerpt from her article:
A conversion that removes my own needs and desires from the centre of my life and replaces it with others’.
Farrell is completely wrong here. In fact, nothing is easier than giving people what they want. What is truly difficult is ignoring the polls and following the Will of God as revealed to each of us through daily prayer, contemplation, and study of the Church documents.
NOTES FROM THIS ARTICLE:
* Dom Gregory Murray wrote the following in 1977:
Those who like Palestrina will have little use for folk Masses. Everything depends on people’s background and what they are accustomed to. It would manifestly be as absurd to expect the monks of Solesmes to sing a folk Mass as to compel a group of pop-loving teenagers to limit their repertoire to a Mocquereau rendering of the chant.
However, Dom Gregory doesn’t indicate what should be done when a Solesmes monk attends Mass with a “pop-loving teenager.” Or is he saying only those who possess similar musical tastes should be allowed to attend Mass together?