IRST, I WILL GIVE six reasons why it seems authentic sacred music does not stand a chance. Then, similar to what St. Thomas Aquinas does in his SUMMA THEOLOGICA, I will explain why authentic church music cannot be killed.
It would seem authentic sacred music has no chance of survival because:
1. Sacred Music Is Difficult. Proficiency on an instrument requires years of constant (and expensive) study. Even pulling off a simple SATB hymn in a satisfactory way is not easy.
2. Musicians Fight. For reasons I don’t fully understand, musicians often disagree passionately over insignificant matters. Moreover, we tend to be prone to depression. We do not accept critical comments well—even when the comments come from people who know nothing about music and couldn’t locate Middle C if their lives depended on it.
3. Progressive Liturgists Are Relentless. Fifty years after Vatican II, I’m sorry to report that there are still plenty of “progressive” liturgists running amok, insisting that we ignore the documents of Vatican II. A good percentage are relentless in their pursuit of “singing a new church into being.” If I told you what I know (based on firsthand information) regarding collusion and injustice at the highest levels of the church in America—especially regarding publishing companies—it would turn your stomach. I choose not to dwell on such things, because I don’t believe God wants me to. But never doubt this constitutes a serious obstacle.
4. Church Revolution. We are experiencing a crisis of faith, and scandalous statements have been emanating from certain church leaders—even cardinals! Sadly, this “mass apostasy” has had an impact on some church musicians. The most outrageous statements are made in public, yet nothing happens. Not long ago, a seminary professor called Gregorian chant a “weapon,” in spite of the fact that Vatican II said it should be given pride of place in liturgical worship. Afterwards, this same professor (who self-identifies as a plainsong expert) publicly advocated for a greater use of jazz and “commercial pop” at Mass.
5. Brazen Disobedience. The General Instruction of the Roman Missal (GIRM) stipulates that anyone replacing the official texts of the Mass must first obtain approval by the bishop of the diocese. For fifty years, however, this law has been completely ignored. When asked why the explicit requirement of the GIRM can be ignored, the USCCB declared that substitute texts—even those composed by non-Catholics—are automatically approved by each bishop, regardless of whether the bishop knows they exist. Because these substitutions are done in 99% of Catholic Churches 95% of the time, we’ve reached a point where the average Catholic has no familiarity with many official texts (such as the Offertory antiphons). Such a situation is the exact opposite of what Vatican II called for.
Such freedom gives the music director a most terrifying responsibility. All of a sudden, the liturgy is not something passed down to him. No, the choirmaster must now choose not only all the melodies, but the texts as well—oh, terrible freedom! Texts can come from any source, and he must (somehow) become a theologian to choose them, because the official text is deemed unacceptable…without even being tired.
6. Vatican II Treasury Inaccessible? Vatican II talked about a “treasure of inestimable value”—but 95% of that treasury is in Latin, and (therefore) progressive liturgists argue that the explicit Vatican II mandates can safely be ignored.
On the contrary…
Here are some reasons why—in my view—authentic sacred music can’t be killed:
1. Unspeakable Power. No matter how much certain progressive liturgists badmouth the “treasure of inestimable value,” they can never control the secular universities, who teach the great composers: Victoria, Lassus, Marenzio, Palestrina, and so forth. Young people go to college and fall in love with this music, whose contrapuntal mixture of the Gregorian melodies has an unspeakable power. The power and purity of this music—which is beyond description—will continue to be discovered by serious musicians.
2. Girly Music Is Not Cool. Much “contemporary” church music is sappy, girly, and unbefitting of the public worship of Almighty God. Even as a child, when they forced us to sing “hymns” by Carey Landry (e.g. Peace Is Flowing Like a River and If I Were A Butterfly), I could sense something was seriously wrong. In GIA’s WORSHIP IV we find such lyrics such as “Who is this who eats with sinners, calling luckless losers winners?” Serious people will not tolerate such things for much longer. They will go to the internet and discover the treasury Vatican II talked about.
3. Uninspired Melodies Are Not Cool. What do I mean by uninspired? It’s pretty simple, really. If a melody or harmony is so elementary and predictable that I could compose something better in 13 seconds, it’s uninspired. By the way, the mere fact that something is simple doesn’t make it uninspired. Most great hymn tunes are simple, but eminently inspired.
4. We Are Roman Catholic. Serious Catholics love their heritage; they don’t denigrate it or feel ashamed of it. Our Catholic musical heritage is uniquely appropriate for the Holy Mass. Sentient beings realize that different styles of music are appropriate for different occasions. Military music is made for marching. Upbeat music is fantastic for wedding receptions. Easy listening music is wonderful for restaurant dinners. Unfortunately, much “contemporary” church music sounds like a toothpaste commercial—and it doesn’t require graduate studies in musicology to make this determination.
5. Young Priests Hate Silly Nonsense. Many of the priests being ordained these days are fantastic. They have no tolerance for silliness at Mass. They seek authentic Catholic music, and we don’t have to spend time convincing them. The progressive liturgists, on the other hand, always seem bitter and resentful; never filled with joy about their positions.
6. Worm That Dieth Not. I have never encountered a journal article attempting to promote or justify in a clear and detailed way the value of 1980s sacro-pop—which sadly continues today. There is simply no comparison between, for example, Missa Beata Mater (by Guerrero) and Missa My Little Pony (by Dan Schutte). Some will accuse me of being mean-spirited for saying this. Others will call me a bad person. But I’m speaking as someone with a degree in music theory from a major conservatory—and there is no comparison from a musical standpoint. Progressive liturgists deep down realize this: hence, their “worm that dieth not.” (I realize some will insist that no music is better or worse—that we cannot speak objectively about music or counterpoint or harmony as a craft; but I could not disagree more.)
There are many other reasons why the treasury will never be eradicated. For example, watch the interviews with the young people on this video. Notice the authenticity in their eyes and the joy in their voices!