ONE BUT A FOOL thinks he understands the passage of time. Saint Augustine of Hippo said: “What is time? If no one asks, I know. But when I try to explain, I do not know.” God is outside of time, and the Traditional Mass reflects this by “dramatic misplacements” (according to Fortescue). However, there’s another way the EF reminds us God is outside of time: many actions & prayers occur simultaneously with musical prayers.
Whether it’s Guerrero, Palestrina, or Victoria, all of them agree. In particular, when they compose the BENEDICTUS, they attempt to put the listener into a type of “trance”—repeating the words over and over, weaving them together—which enables contemplation. We released the first part (SANCTUS) last month, and here’s the second part:
Sing Alto 1 with the rehearsal video. Do you agree Palestrina tries to convey eternity?
WHEN I WAS IN HIGH SCHOOL, I asked our priest (whose OFM seminary professor had a doctorate in Gregorian chant) for an example of “secular” music introduced after the Council. He immediately cited a piece published by Omer Westendorf. He said, “The KYRIE was based on the Dragnet theme.” Then he sang it for me.
Over the years, I wondered whether Father had been exaggerating—until I found the exact Mass. Dragnet was very popular in those days, especially with the “law and order” movement Richard Nixon adopted.
The YouTube video has places marked SECTION ONE COUNTERSUBJECT, where Palestrina uses the Dragnet theme. 1 But note the difference in treatment. Palestrina “hides and elevates” the dragnet tune. Indeed, when Renaissance composers borrow secular tunes, they usually hide and elevate. That’s why citing Renaissance composers can never justify Missa My Little Pony. 2
One of my students attended the 2016 Liturgy Gathering at the University of Notre Dame. She was troubled when she heard a statement by one of the speakers, Fr. Anthony Ruff:
“I would hope there is a place for the avant-garde in the same way I think there has to be a place—and we have to be careful with this—a place for Jazz and place for Evangelical and all of that. […] On theological grounds, I do think we need interaction with the culture at the level of high art or at the level of more commercial pop culture.”
Somebody should have asked: “Why stop at Jazz? Why not heavy metal? Why not rap? Why not Grunge?” I do love playing Jazz—but not in church. The Catholic Church is pretty horrible at keeping up with cultural fads, and that’s one reason so many are reëvaluating certain liturgical changes from the 1960s.
If that speaker were more in touch with today’s culture, he’d realize Americans get too much “commercial pop culture.” What they almost never hear is music of depth—something formerly called “sophisticated” before that became a dirty word. Indeed, the liturgists who brag about being inclusive are often quite rigid in their exclusivity. They ban 100% of music composed before 1965.
NOTES FROM THIS ARTICLE:
1 As we have discussed, the entire Mass is based upon a hymn tune, but this is a countersubject which does not come from the hymn.
2 For the record, after the Council of Trent, many composers stopped using secular tunes.