Tuesday, March 5, 2019


Praying Nuns Singing-  (c.1400
Because our prayer in the monastery is centered on the Gregorian Chant, we are especially sensitive to the cacophony which is often common in parishes today.  Personally I would rather have a choir which does all the music than the free for all which occurs.    Pope Francis has lamented “a certain mediocrity, superficiality and banality” in liturgical celebrations that acts to the detriment of their “beauty and intensity.”  And I would add to the detriment of one’s prayer.  It is hard to lift ones’ eyes to the Lord, when the person next to you or behind you is singing full throttle, missing every note in the book!

In January Archbishop Alexander Sample of Portland, Oregon issued a pastoral letter, “Sing to the Lord a New Song”, which proclaimed that sacred music has a special role in the Catholic liturgy.  There are “serious challenges in our own day” for efforts to seek to renew the liturgy “in a way that respects, fosters and promotes the true nature of the Mass itself.”

“We should always aim high to offer God the best and the most beautiful music of which we are capable,” Archbishop Sample said. Mass requires an “art of celebrating” in which perhaps nothing is more important than the place of sacred music.

Gregorian chant should enjoy a “pride of place” in the Roman liturgy, according to the Second Vatican Council, and the faithful should be led to sing in Gregorian chant as far as is proper as a way to participate in the liturgy.

Alleluia- Thomas Cooper Gotches (England d.  1931)

The Archbishop acknowledged that Gregorian chant does not presently enjoy pride of place; it is rarely if ever heard. He said this situation must be addressed with “great effort and serious catechesis” to help it more widely become a normal part of the Mass.

Sacred music has a twofold purpose: “the glory of God and the sanctification of the faithful.”  Because sacred music is so essential, Catholics must reject the common idea that four songs can be chosen and “tacked on.” Sacred music’s role is “to help us sing and pray the texts of the Mass itself, not just ornament it.”

St. Cecilia (Little Wymondley, England
The Archbishop’s pastoral letter traces teachings about sacred music from various popes and councils of the Church.  Citing a sermon of St. Augustine, he said, “the new man sings a new song. Singing is an expression of joy and, if we consider the matter, an expression of love.” Pope Benedict XVI said that the Church has created, and still creates “music and songs which represent a rich patrimony of faith and love.” This heritage “must not be lost.”

 The Archbishop explained that universality in music means “any composition of sacred music, even one which reflects the unique culture of a particular region, would still be easily recognized as having a sacred character.” Holiness is “a universal principle that transcends culture.”

There is a lack of understanding and confusion about what music is proper to Mass, the archbishop said, adding, “not every form or style of music is capable of being rendered suitable.” A Gloria set in a polka beat or in a rock music style is not sacred music, because these styles, however delightful in a dance hall or concert setting, do not have the qualities of sanctity, beauty and universality proper to sacred music.

Archbishop Sample entrusted the effort to improve sacred music to St. Cecilia, the patroness of church musicians, and the Blessed Virgin Mary, Immaculately Conceived.

“May the renewal and reform of sacred music in the Archdiocese of Portland lead us together to a beautiful and worthy celebration of the sacred mysteries of the Holy Mass, for the glory of God and the sanctification of all the faithful.”

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