Earlier today, I sat down and sight-read a beautiful arrangement of a Christmas song:
My performance leaves much to be desired, but you get the idea. It’s quite a nice piece, isn’t it? My mother gave me a whole pile of these pieces when I left Kansas in 2005; there are literally hundreds more like it, and they’re all fantastic. The music is not difficult. 1
I find this music quite BEAUTIFUL—but is it sacred?
CONSIDER THE FOLLOWING photograph by Fr. Lawrence Lew:
This, too, is beautiful—but there’s something more. It possesses a certain dignity: grandeur yet austerity, splendor yet simplicity, majesty yet gravity. It has a holiness, a power. This type of dignity can also be felt when listening to sacred polyphony. The same dignity is shown by a priest wearing sacred vestments.
I agree with Pope Saint John Paul II, who said in June of 1980:
“To the extent that the new sacred music is to serve the liturgical celebrations of the various churches, it can and must draw from earlier forms—especially from Gregorian chant—a higher inspiration, a uniquely sacred quality, a genuine sense of what is religious.”
This notion flies in the face of certain theories made popular in the 1960s. “God made everything,” some say, “so everything is sacred.” One of the drafters of SING TO THE LORD even presented a paper asserting that liturgical music need not sound “Catholic.” People like that will never forbid any styles at Mass; and by eliminating nothing, they allow any style—even rap music! (They will do anything to avoid admitting that!) But look again at that beautiful cathedral and listen to the beautiful carol. See whether you agree that “beautiful” does not necessarily equal “sacred.”
NOTES FROM THIS ARTICLE:
1 If I can sight-read something, that proves it’s not very difficult!