Traditional Mass

Wednesday, June 25, 2008


Nothing cheap, trite, or cliché

Book version of U.S. bishops’ statement promoting Gregorian chant soon to be available

A statement of the United States bishops encouraging “the cultivation and use of Gregorian chant” will soon be available in book form. The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops approved the statement, Sing to the Lord: Music in Divine Worship, in November 2007. It is currently available on the USCCB web site.

Sing to the Lord “covers several issues integral to Catholic worship,” said a June 20 USCCB news release announcing the book version of the statement. “Musicians will find criteria for selecting a performance repertoire for various occasions. The statement also explains how participants are to engage music in liturgical celebrations according to the norms established by the Second Vatican Council’s Constitution on the Liturgy.”

The statement addresses the place of Latin in the liturgy. Though it calls the vernacular “the norm in most liturgical celebrations” in U.S. dioceses, Sing to the Lord says “care should be taken to foster the role of Latin in the Liturgy, particularly in liturgical song.” Quoting Vatican II, the statement says that “pastors should ensure ‘that the faithful may also be able to say or to sing together in Latin those parts of the Ordinary of the Mass which pertain to them.’” Seminarians, too, should be trained to understand and say Mass in Latin and to use Gregorian chant.

But if singers cannot execute the Latin texts properly, “even after sufficient training has been provided,” says the instruction, “it would be more prudent to employ a vernacular language in the Liturgy.”

Still, “every effort” in promoting the use of Gregorian chant in the liturgy “is laudable and highly encouraged,” says the statement. It refers to a simple Kyrie, Sanctus, and Agnus Dei that “each worshiping community in the United States, including all age groups and all ethnic groups, should, at a minimum, learn.” The statement allows a choir to draw from the Graduale Romanum or the Graduale Simplex for proper chants (for instance, presumably, the “gradual” in place of the responsorial psalm or the introit in place of the opening hymn) “when the congregation does not sing an antiphon or hymn.”

Regarding vernacular music in the liturgy, Sing to the Lord praises the “rich diversity of musical styles” and says, “the Church seeks to employ only that which, in a given style, meets the ritual-spiritual demands of the Liturgy.” To discern “the sacred quality of liturgical music, liturgical musicians will find guidance in music from the Church’s treasury of sacred music … which past generations have found suitable for worship. They also should strive to promote a fruitful dialogue between the Church and the modern world,” says the statement.

Sing to the Lord warns against admitting “to the Liturgy the cheap, the trite, or the musical cliché often found in secular popular songs,” because it “cheapen[s] the Liturgy,” “expose[s] it to ridicule,” and “invite[s] failure.”

Still, Sing to the Lord does not categorically reject popular-style music in the liturgy. “Sufficiency of artistic expression … is not the same as musical style, for ‘the Church has not adopted any particular style of art as her own. She has admitted styles from every period, in keeping with the natural characteristics and conditions of peoples and the needs of the various rites,’” says the statement, quoting Vatican II. “Thus, in recent times, the Church has consistently recognized and freely welcomed the use of various styles of music as an aid to liturgical worship,” says Sing to the Lord.