Week 14: Sacred Music Continued

       Having previously established that there are musical forms proper to the Roman Rite, we will now identify these forms, characterize how they serve to measure the appropriateness of new forms and consider what this means in practice. 

       Gregorian chant and organ are the two musical sources that are proper to the Roman Rite.  Their long history with the Roman Rite provides for a wealth of sacred music.  Here is what the documents say on the matter.

Regarding chant:
The main place should be given, all things being equal, to Gregorian chant, as being proper to the Roman Liturgy. Other kinds of sacred music, in particular polyphony, are in no way excluded, provided that they correspond to the spirit of the liturgical action and that they foster the participation of all the faithful.  (General Instruction of the Roman Missal, 41)

Regarding the organ:
The pipe organ is to be held in high esteem in the Latin Church, since it is its traditional instrument, the sound of which can add a wonderful splendor to the Church's ceremonies and powerfully lift up men's minds to God and higher things.  (Constitution on the Liturgy, Art. 120)

           What about new forms of sacred music?  How do they become incorporated into the tradition of sacred music?  The two musical forms proper to the rite, Gregorian chant and organ, aid in determining their appropriateness of new forms.  In addition, sacred music experts also serve as guideposts under the supervision of the pastors of the Church.  It is expected that new forms are to grow organically from the existing proper forms.  In other words, they are not to be all together different or alien.  Rather they are to share a tone and dignity akin to Gregorian chant.  What might this look like?  The Roman Missal provides an example when it refers to polyphony.  “Other kinds of sacred music, in particular polyphony, are in no way excluded, provided that they correspond to the spirit of the liturgical action and they foster the participation of all the faithful.”  From an analytical point of view, we now have three data points: Gregorian chant, sacred organ and sacred polyphony.  All other new forms must both flow from these points of reference and organically correlate with them.  To this end the post conciliar document on sacred music, Musicam Sacram, states:

59. Musicians will enter on this new work with the desire to continue that tradition which has furnished the Church, in her divine worship, with a truly abundant heritage. Let them examine the works of the past, their types and characteristics, but let them also pay careful attention to the new laws and requirements of the liturgy, so that "new forms may in some way grow organically from forms that already exist,"[41] and the new work will form a new part in the musical heritage of the Church, not unworthy of its past.

60. The new melodies for the vernacular texts certainly need to undergo a period of experimentation in order that they may attain a sufficient maturity and perfection. However, anything done in churches, even if only for experimental purposes, which is unbecoming to the holiness of the place, the dignity of the liturgy and the devotion of the faithful, must be avoided.

61. Adapting sacred music for those regions which possess a musical tradition of their own, especially mission areas,[42] will require a very specialized preparation by the experts. It will be a question in fact of how to harmonize the sense of the sacred with the spirit, traditions and characteristic expressions proper to each of these peoples. Those who work in this field should have a sufficient knowledge both of the liturgy and musical tradition of the Church, and of the language, popular songs and other characteristic expressions of the people for whose benefit they are working.

           What does this look like in practice?  It means that if a parishioner of a Roman Rite Catholic Church is asked, “what type of music do you have at church?”  From experience alone she/he should respond, “Organ, Gregorian chant and other related forms of sacred music.”  If one’s experience at Mass produces a substantially different response, then the celebration of the rite in her/his parish is not in harmony with liturgical norms. 

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