WEEKS AGO, David Clayton wrote a piece at The New Liturgical Movement about the push in church music over the last 5 decades to “connect with people by giving them music that is derived from already popular forms.” As he correctly notes, “The problem with this approach is that it can only connect to those people who actually listen for enjoyment to that style of music out of church.”
I often observe this phenomenon at work in parishes and in dioceses—the desire to reach various groups with tailored liturgies and music to boot, whether it be the wee tots in parochial school Masses singing “This Little Light of Mine,” pimply faced youngster at Sunday evening Teen Masses strumming on guitars and shouting “Yes Lord, Yes Lord, Yes, Yes Lord,” or any number of graying adults singing at either the contemporary or “traditional” service on Sunday mornings. Gone are the days of the Sunday High Mass that brought together the entire parish family, young and old alike. Clayton also rightly noted that both Ordinary and Extraordinary Form communities fall prey to the trap of “old music” vs. “new music” within Mass—which begs the question, where do we go from here? Where indeed!
To begin with, this is not a problem that begins and ends with church music. It is very difficult to implement a program of truly sacred music, focused on the Lord, when so many of our Masses and other services are celebrated as if God were a side note, a somewhat supreme being who is content to stay in the background and ensure that we go no further than feeling good about ourselves and supporting each other in whatever lifestyle we might choose.
Still, there must be a way to claw ourselves out of such a mess. I would suggest that we need to once again discover what the Sacred Liturgy is. If we really believe that God has called us first (and not the other way around), then we have to realize that the work of the Sacred Liturgy is His first. Not to say that He doesn’t allow men to shape the way the it is celebrated in different places and times (we see this in the differences between the various Rites of the Catholic Church). Nevertheless, we must find out His plan. We need to become familiar with the Liturgy in the Ancient Temple of the Israelites as well as the Holy Mass as celebrated in the New Testament. We need to become familiar with the Book of Revelation and the Eternal Liturgy of Heaven. We also need to read Ratzinger’s The Spirit of the Liturgy, for there is no better source for discovering God’s plan for the Sacred Liturgy. Only then will we be able to approach the question of what music is appropriate for the Mass and Divine Office. Only then will we see in Gregorian chant the archetypal music of the Roman Rite and only then will we be able to compose truly modern music (as opposed to recycled pop music with quasi Christian lyrics). We have a lot of work ahead of us.