HE SACRED CONGREGATION of Rites and the Consilium issued a joint statement on 29 December 1966 prohibiting profane music in church. The Consilium spokesman, asked during a press conference to clarify PROFANE music, said it meant things like “jazz Masses” and secular instruments like the guitar. The spokesman’s name? Annibale Bugnini.
Cardinal Lercaro, President of the Consilium, expressed similar sentiments in this fascinating letter (25 January 1966) which you’ll notice he wanted to remain secret, except to the bishops.
Since the Vatican has unequivocally banned “music of an altogether profane and worldy character” as being “unworthy of a sacred service”—and Bugnini clarified that as guitar music—why was the following song 1 used as the Responsorial Psalm at a Catholic Church in Texas yesterday?
You’ll notice its heavy dependence on rhythm 2—which ought to leave you tapping your foot—and its quite predictable melody.
Things have been bad for a long time. I remember tons of songs from my youth that were wrongly inserted into the Mass. For example, during Lent they often sang a piece called Remember, Remember Your Mercy Lord. Just like the song above, it placed heavy emphasis on rhythm and had predictable melodic structures. It went something like this:
(Pardon my horrible singing: I’m just demonstrating how they sang it when I was a kid.)
The composer of that piece would probably say, “I had to use predictable melodies and heavy rhythm so the congregation could join in the singing.” But why not use simple melodies composed in a sacred style? After all, making our people feel silly will not encourage them to sing. 3 Here’s a melody I just composed—literally it took me less than 3 seconds:
I’m not saying it’s perfect; I’m simply suggesting that dignified settings are not beyond the capabilities of the congregation.
THERE IS CERTAINLY ROOM for liturgical improvement on the “traditionalist” side, as well. One of the most prominent enemies of the postconciliar reforms is Bishop Richard Williamson. I recently stumbled upon a liturgy he presided over in June of 2014, and I was appalled:
Williamson’s approach illustrates why people wanted to “fix” the liturgy. Did you notice his congregation has no clue what’s going on? Did you observe the complete lack of preparation before the liturgy began? Did you see how he was pointing to different people, telling them what to do, sending them away to fetch missing books, and even ordering around the camera person at one point? Williamson here makes a farce of liturgy, which is deplorable for a person who has spent so much time being critical of others’ sloppiness in the liturgy.
When I see the excesses in that video, I think of what Pope Paul VI said on 27 March 1966:
Be, then, fervent at the Sunday Mass. […] Say to your priests: make us understand; open the book to us. And learn to sing. A Mass celebrated with the song of the people makes for the full raising up of the spirit.
When I experience the excesses described earlier, I think of what the Consilium President declared in 1966:
It is necessary moreover that the principles of sacredness and dignity which distinguish church music—for both its singing and its instruments—should remain intact. All that which is merely secular should be proscribed from the house of God. Jazz, for example, cannot today be part of a musical repertoire designed for worship.
NOTES FROM THIS ARTICLE:
1 Yesterday afternoon, I researched that song. It turns out the text doesn’t even match the assigned Responsorial Psalm. Moreover, it was composed by a non-Catholic.
2 This is not to say that rhythm is always a bad thing. If you want to hear some really amazing rhythm, pick up a piece by Victoria, Morales, Marenzio, or Palestrina. Their use of rhythm is unsurpassed and sophisticated.
3 The Church I attended yesterday had more than 1,000 people, yet probably less than 2% joined in any of the singing.