RCHBISHOP ALEXANDER K. SAMPLE has just released a new pastoral letter on sacred music for Portland, Oregon. His Excellency freely admits that much of it was based on his previous letter released while bishop of Marquette, Michigan “since the values and ideas it promoted are both universal and enduring and are as valid today as they were then.”
Notably he states:
“This is an important discussion to have, since so often the music selected for Mass is reduced to a matter of subjective “taste,” i.e. what style of music appeals to this or that person or group, as if there were no objective principles to be followed. There are indeed objective principles worthy of study and proper implementation…”
And he acknowledges the great effort of pastoral musicians and the challenge of change:
“…it must be acknowledged that pastoral musicians have labored long and hard in the wake of the Second Vatican Council to help accomplish the Council’s goals as it concerns the renewal of the Sacred Liturgy, especially the Mass. Indeed, many have made it their lives’ work to provide music for the Sacred Liturgy. The Church, including both clergy and laity, is grateful beyond words for their dedication and service…Although much of what follows may contravene the formation that many have experienced over recent years, this is in no way to be interpreted as a criticism of those dedicated church musicians who have offered their service with a generous heart and with good will.”
ESPITE ITS TITLE, notable is that Archbishop Sample states little of anything that is new. That is precisely his intention. His aim is catechesis for the sake of renewal. He bluntly states:
“Every pastor and music director has a serious responsibility to read and become familiar with the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy of the Second Vatican Council and the Church’s teaching documents on the liturgy and sacred music.”
Furthermore, one need go no further than 2007 US Bishops’ document Sing to the Lord: Music in Divine Worship (STTL) to find parallels in Sample’s letter.
At times he evokes Pius X’s 1903 Motu Proprio on sacred music, Tra le Sollecitudini. (Pius X is not to be dismissed as a Pre-Vatican II relic; few are aware that he was was the catalyst for Vatican II reforms in music. He is even specifically named in Section VI on Sacred Music in the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy. (see §112) To understand Vatican II reforms on sacred music — and hence this letter — is to understand Pius X.)
Archbishop Sample also reminds us of Pius X’s outline of three qualities necessary for Sacred Music: sanctity, beauty, and universality. John Paul II reaffirmed this a century later.
ON GREGORIAN CHANT SAMPLE STATES:
“Given all of this strong teaching from the Popes, the Second Vatican Council, and the U.S. Bishops, how is it that this ideal concerning Gregorian chant has not been realized in the Church? Far from enjoying a pride of place in the Church’s Sacred Liturgy, one rarely if ever hears Gregorian chant. This is a situation which must be rectified. It will require great effort and serious catechesis for the clergy and faithful, but Gregorian chant must be introduced more widely as a normal part of the Mass. Some practical steps toward this are outlined in the Guidelines section of this pastoral letter.”
Furthermore, he notes the subtle but important distinction of “preparing the liturgy”, not “planning” it. He highlights the practice of singing the Mass, something not new here, but quite familiar from Sing to the Lord: Music in Divine Worship (SttL). Also echoing SttL and the GIRM, Sample outlines the priorities of what to sing at Mass, i.e., Dialogues and acclamations, the propers, psalms, and hymn/songs. These priorities come as quite a surprise to many.
INTRIGUING IS A vocalized concern for proper pay, i.e. “economic justice,” for musicians:
”Pastors should see that musicians and those who direct them have opportunities for continuing education and authentic liturgical formation through agencies and events approved by the Archbishop. In accord with the Church’s teaching on economic justice, pastors are to ensure that those who direct sacred music in the parish receive just compensation for their time and skills, commensurate with their experience and level of training.”
F THERE IS LITTLE NEW here, why bother? The wisdom that brought us Vatican II is worthy of a new look. While universal wisdom does not change, we do. That is what Archbishop Sample is banking on.