UNDAY marked the fiftieth anniversary of Musicam sacram (MS), the 1967 instruction on sacred music crafted by the Consilium for the implementation of Sacrosanctum Concilium. To prepare for this occasion, I reread the document (available here) and wrote an article that has been featured as the lead story in the latest edition of Altare Dei. Available here, Altare Dei is a new magazine devoted to liturgy and sacred music.
My article is entitled “Revisiting Musicam Sacram: The Second Vatican Council’s Vision for Sacred Music,” and it has four main sections. First, it addresses the question of whether or not MS is still in force. Secondly, it assesses some of the strengths of the instruction. Thirdly, it reflects upon a few of its weaknesses. Finally, it explores the meaning of “progressive solemnity,” a term which first appears in MS 38.
Following are two excerpts from my article. The first concerns some of the strengths I observe in MS:
There are many very fine aspects of this document. Some of its best elements, though, even fifty years later, still have not been wholeheartedly received or implemented. Greater attention to the encouragements and prescriptions set forth herein would almost certainly advance the state of sacred music. Included in this Instruction, for example, is a directive that pastors should cultivate among the faithful the ability to sing the ordinary of the Mass in Latin (MS 47). Although this noble mandate echoes the desires of SC 54 and IO 59, it has nonetheless often been overlooked. Preserving the use of Latin in the Divine Office, particularly among clerics, is also encouraged (MS 41), although this guidance is widely disregarded.
The second excerpt concerns what I perceive to be a weakness of MS:
[One] critique concerns a presumption that is made about the participation of the faithful. The text seems to suggest that a greater variety in the format of liturgical celebrations from day to day will engender more active participation among the people: “In order that the faithful may actively participate more willingly and with greater benefit, it is fitting that the format of the celebration and the degree of participation in it should be varied as much as possible” (MS 10). The presumption undergirding this encouragement, though, is suspect. What evidence is there that constantly changing liturgical structures helps people to “participate” or “engage” more deeply? It could easily be argued that the opposite is actually truer, namely, that constancy in liturgical structures permits people the freedom to participate deeply.
In order to read the full article, click here to download the third issue of Altare Dei. For only €6, you will receive a 10-page musical insert and a wealth of excellent articles by such scholars as David Fagerberg, Peter Kwasniewski, and Joseph Shaw. The musical insert includes an SATB setting of Adoro Te Devote (Mauro Visconti), a unison setting of Ave Maria with organ accompaniment (Aurelio Porfiri), and an expressive SATB version of Laus tibi Domine (Colin Mawby).
You can also find out more on the Altare Dei website about the recently published Declaration on Sacred Music, Cantate Domino Canticum Novum. The text is available for download in eight languages, and the complete list of signatories is given.