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Musical Musings: Liturgy

Summorum pontificum Notes:

A music professor's perspective

an interview with Dr. Susan Treacy by Philip Candido

This article, which appeared in the blog Athanasius contra mundum on 10 September 2007, is reprinted with the kind permission of the poster, Philip Candido.

Dr. Susan Treacy is a professor of Music and the chair of Music at Ave Maria University in Naples, Florida. She has a long background teaching music and Sacred Music. In the name of full disclosure, I am a former student of Dr. Treacy's. My questions are numbered and in italics.

1) How did you come to the appreciation of true sacred music, as understood by Saint Pius X's Motu proprio?

I guess you could say that I have always appreciated true sacred music, even before I knew about Saint Pius X's Motu proprio. I am a convert to the Catholic Faith (since 1990) from the Episcopal Church and am a classically-trained musician. I grew up singing in our church choir, where we sang good music regularly, and I fell in love with liturgy from an early age. I was a kid when the Vatican Council II was in session and I remember thinking, "Why did the Catholic Church drop the Latin Mass, with all its beautiful Gregorian chant and sacred choral music?" There was a period in my life where I was away from God, but thanks to His mercy I had a conversion to Christ.

After my conversion to Christ there was a time right before I became Catholic when I tolerated, out of obedience and without total enthusiam, the pop-style music that has dominated the post-Vatican II Church. However, since I was not yet Catholic, I never actually had to endure it in church. Actually, one reason I postponed entering the Church was because of my ambivalence towards the music and liturgy found in typical Catholic parishes. I actually did not know what the true teachings of the Church on sacred music were, according to the documents of Vatican II, until 1991. Also, I did not know that there were any Catholic parishes where good music was still done. All that changed when I read the documents, and when in 1991 I started attending the Sacred Music Colloquium, held by the Church Music Association of America (CMAA).

2) In your professional opinion, has the Church in terms of practical effect essentially spurned sacred music in the last 42 years?

Theoretically the Church has never spurned sacred music, but in terms of practical effect it would seem that this has happened. I am sometimes frustrated when statements are issued by the post-Vatican II popes that, rightly, promote Gregorian chant and sacred polyphony, but do not "name names." In other words, they do not name specific types of music or specific types of musical instruments that are unacceptable for liturgical use. That said, I do believe that Pope Benedict XVI has something up his sleeve for sacred music. With what I know about his love for music and about his way of teaching and reforming, for example, with the Motu proprio: Summorum pontificum, I believe that he will fuel the sacred music revival that is already going on.

3) Do you believe that the Motu proprio of Pope Benedict will help restore Gregorian Chant and Sacred Polyphony to the Liturgy, or has the talent and ability been lost through neglect?

To continue my thoughts from Number 2, I would say that, yes, I believe that the Holy Father will do this. Simply by issuing the Motu proprio: Summorum pontificum, he has assured that Gregorian chant and sacred polyphony will have a home because of its inextricable link to the Traditional Latin Mass and the Divine Office. Certainly, Gregorian chant is not as widely taught and practiced as it was before the Council, but there is an exciting revival going on, thanks to CMAA and many others. You can find out more about it at the CMAA website or at the New Liturgical Movement blog

4) How hard is it for either the priest or a nascent choir to learn sufficient Gregorian Chant in order to sing a Missa Cantata or a Solemn Mass?

Musical talent is helpful, of course, but desire is also extremely important. The CMAA is sponsoring a workshop for priests in October at Saint John Cantius Church, in Chicago. The priest's parts are very simple, encompassing a range of four notes, at most. A good temporary solution for a choir just starting out to chant the Proper chants at Mass is to sing the psalm-tone Propers arranged years ago by the Reverend Carlo Rossini and recently republished by The Neumann Press. After the choir becomes accustomed to chanting these, they can proceed to the true Gregorian Propers, as found in the Liber usualis or the Graduale Romanum. The Communio is a good place to start because it is the easiest of the Proper chants. After that, try the Introit and then the Offertory. The most challenging Proper chants are the Gradual and the Alleluia.

5) You previously taught at Franciscan University of Steubenville, which has a reputation for "orthodoxy" in all things Catholic. How would you describe the liturgical music there, and do you perceive that there was/is a positive reaction on campus either among students or faculty and staff to Summorum pontificum?

"Praise and worship music" is the most prevalent type of music at liturgies in Christ the King Chapel at Franciscan University. When I taught there the Schola Cantorum Franciscana was gradually able to make some inroads with Gregorian chant and sacred polyphony. My admirable successor, Paul Weber, is carrying on that tradition. As for the reaction at FUS to Summorum pontificum, I can't really answer, as I have not recently been in touch with anyone there. I do know, however, that there are a number of faculty who would be happy about the Motu proprio. Also, there has always been a contingent of tradition-minded students at FUS.

6) In your experience and in your professional opinion, is charismatic music and the instruments it makes use of suited to a truly Catholic liturgy?

No. They are eminently suitable for personal use, or for a prayer meeting or a festival of praise, but they have no place in Catholic liturgy, which is solemn and sacred. If one truly understands the Faith and the liturgy through the Church's eyes, he will see this. As Catholics we believe that the Holy Spirit speaks through the Church, therefore we should be yearning to do what our Mother asks and to love what She loves.

7) Are there any documents that support the use of piano, guitar or bongos at modern celebrations of liturgy?

Not that I know of. The documents, from Vatican II to the GIRM 2002, do not recommend these instruments, but the documents are somewhat ambiguously worded, so that proponents of these instruments could rationalize their use. Again, it's a question of "naming names."

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Part 2: More of the interview

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