F WE READ the 2013 Pastoral Letter on sacred music by Archbishop Alexander K. Sample to his past diocese of Marquette, I think we need to notice three instances of good news, but one of bad news.
* * Pastoral Letter by Archbishop Sample
Let us begin with the good news.
The first instance of good news is the Archbishop’s framework when dealing with sacred (or liturgical music). He is presenting to his diocese the exigency of continuity, the hermeneutic of continuity (Benedict XVI) that will be the happy key to solve many of the problems raised by the wild interpretation of Sacrosanctum Concilium.
The second instance of good news is that the Archbishop does not defend the tradition against Vatican II, but with Vatican II. Church teachings are not like going to the supermarket deciding what we like and what not. Of course as sinners we made many times wrong choices, but we should always know where the line is. I am always surprised by the many interpretations of Vatican II that say we really shouldn’t pay too much attention to this Council. It is a Council of the Church, in continuity with all the other Councils before. Probably not everything in the Vatican II documents was clear, and some formulations were plainly the outcome of painful negotiations. So, where there are doubts, the tradition should supply the answer.
The third instance of good news is that a Catholic Archbishop nowadays understands the importance of music in the liturgy. After reading the opening lines, you should already be aware of where he stands:
In any discussion of the ars celebrandi (the “art of celebrating”) as it relates to the Holy Mass, probably nothing is more important or has a greater impact than the place of sacred music. The beauty, dignity and prayerfulness of the Mass depend to a large extent on the music that accompanies the liturgical action. The Holy Mass must be truly beautiful, the very best we can offer to God, reflecting his own perfect beauty and goodness.
I may disagree on the use of some terminology, like “sacred music”, not because it’s wrong, but because I think the debate around correct nomenclature for liturgical music (ritual music, church music, etc.) should always be considered carefully. But out of that, the words of the Archbishop are really agreed upon by everyone. I’ve just mentioned three instances of good news, but I could mention more.
BUT NOW I MUST CONSIDER THE BAD NEWS. The bad news is that the letter looks weird. Let me explain.
This is an Archbishop who presents the correct interpretation of the documents on the music for the liturgy — without being an opponent of Vatican II — and promotes the Council according its own true spirit. And all of this sounds so strange in the current landscape when most of the Bishops think that it’s not useful to talk of sacred music or we risk losing our beloved “contemporary liturgical music groups.” 1
Most of the Bishops will talk about everything from global warming to the latest cure for cholesterol, but they leave the issue of liturgical music to some priests who think that saving people means dying with them; drinking the same poison that corrupts us in the deepest part of our soul.
Please Archbishop Sample, no more letters on sacred music (treating this issue with such seriousness and boldness): nowadays it sounds too strange. In case you don’t change your mind, even after my advice, may God give you the strength, the courage, and the passion to remain standing in the boat adrift.
This is part of an 8-part series on Archbishop Sample’s historic letter:
FIRST REFLECTION • Jeff Ostrowski
SECOND REFLECTION • Aurelio Porfiri
THIRD REFLECTION • Andrew Motyka
FOURTH REFLECTION • Peter Kwasniewski
FIFTH REFLECTION • Richard Clark
SIXTH REFLECTION • Veronica Brandt
SEVENTH REFLECTION • Fr. David Friel
NOTES FROM THIS ARTICLE:
1 Contemporary? Really? But most of that music reflects pop music of the 60s …