N the first section, I mentioned what I consider to be an important and positive fruit of the postconciliar reforms. Today, I’ll speak of another positive development, but this one’s a bit tricky, because it’s in potentia. 1 In other words, Vatican II called for it, but it hasn’t yet been fully implemented.
Sacrosanctum Concilium, the very first document issued by Vatican II, made a declaration which corresponds to the desire of many 20th-century popes (especially Pius X and Pius XII):
“In the restoration and promotion of the sacred liturgy, this full and active participation by all the people is the aim to be considered before all else…” —Sacrosanctum Concilium, §14b
You’ve doubtless encountered some who wrongly interpret this sentence to mean we should remove Latin, sacred polyphony, choirs, Gregorian chant, and so on. But their statements are false … because the same document specifically mandates such things!
In my view, that sentence means liturgical music should be:
(1) consistent (so people know what to expect every Sunday)
(2) varied (so people don’t get bored and “zone out”)
(3) respectful of the space & congregation (to the extent possible)
(4) not excessively demanding (see below)
With regard to number 4, each party should do its part and nothing more. In other words, the congregation, priest, deacon, cantor, and choir all have different roles to play. It is horrible when the congregation is expected to sing everything, whereas AT MOST they should sing a few hymns, a few acclamations, a few alternatim Mass parts, and the dialogues. 2 On the other hand, I’m normally against “concert Masses” where the choir sings the entire Mass. I know that people will attack me for saying this, but I’m being honest, and I think the above quote from Sacrosanctum Concilium backs me up.
Regarding number 2, please go here and scroll down to the chart called “PDF Mass Outline”:
* * A Simple Plan To Improve Music At Mass
There’s no need to repeat everything I’ve said in that link. I would simply stress that the VARIETY—which includes choir-only pieces—keeps people’s attention and therefore helps them participate at Mass. If musicians took seriously the little chart I provided, they would find that congregations are moved more deeply by the choir-only selections … which is a good thing!
IN CONCLUSION, I WOULD LIKE to mention again the “insurmountable problem” we’ve so often alluded to in the past: no liturgy can perfectly fit each person in the congregation. Each of us is on a UNIQUE MUSICAL JOURNEY. For example, I’ve studied music since the age of six, and at a young age began listening to several hours of music each day: Bach, Chopin, Grieg, Liszt, Schubert, Mozart, Palestrina, Victoria, Lassus, Brahms, Ravel, and so forth. As a young teenager, I traded cassette tapes all over the world to obtain special recordings not available in the United States (especially “live” recordings which have never been released).
I mention all this because my UNIQUE MUSICAL JOURNEY will differ from other people’s. I remember being obsessed with numerous pieces which no longer really interest me. An example would be Chopin’s Andante Spianato & Grand Polonaise, which I memorized and played before audiences. On the other hand, certain masterpieces—such as Bach’s Art of the Fugue or his Goldberg Variations—stay with me year after year, decade after decade.
That’s why we must always choose music of quality (“depth”) for Mass, so that no matter where the congregation is on their UNIQUE MUSICAL JOURNEY, the liturgical music will be a source of delight for them. Music of quality need not be complex, by the way. In fact, it can be quite simple.
NOTES FROM THIS ARTICLE:
1 This phrase—“in potentia“—is used by St. Thomas Aquinas and other philosophers. This concept helps us remember that unborn children & the mentally handicapped (for example) are every bit as human as anyone else, because of the powers they possess in potentia.
2 Please use a brisk tempo: don’t drag! So many congregations make the dialogue responses into a funeral dirge, which is unbearable.