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Musical Musings: Miscellaneous

New Years Resolution:


by Gary D. Penkala

Since the mid-1960s, liturgy (and music in particular) has been a fierce battleground in the United States. Extreme factions have advocated their own agendas, touting emotion-based, secular-style ballads exclusively or Gregorian chant exclusively. A rational reading of Sacrosanctum concilium (Vatican Council II, 1963) and subsequent Vatican documents on liturgy and music reveals neither extreme to be accurate. The documents uphold without question the primacy of Gregorian chant in the Roman Rite, as well as sacred polyphony. At the same time, other music, including legitimate music composed today, is allowed and even encouraged.

The difficulty, even in a "post-Motu proprio" liturgical world, seems to be the two factions that still cling to these emotion-laden and illogical positions mentioned above. Detrimental polarization of the music world was the unfortunate result. Many publishing companies, eager to fill the need (or supposed need) for "new" music, profited from the progressive demand and the lucrative market in "folksy" music. To a greater or lesser degree, these famous companies purported to be "well-balanced" in their musical offerings — a mere glance through their late 20th century catalogs reveals that a traditional, conservative musician might find little of value between the covers. While even today, these companies are hardly balanced, they have responded to changing consumer demands: for chant and more traditional music.

Yet the extremists, clinging to their well-meaning but counter-productive ideologies, are still fighting — for what? — victory? supremacy? righteousness? Ultra-traditionalists denounce everything new, from modern music to the Mass of Paul VI itself (even celebrated in Latin). Ultra-progressives, fearful that the tide-turning of the last five years threatens their radical, unsupported styles of music, lash out against "bureaucracy" and routinely ignore anything with a Vatican stamp.

In our eleven year history, CanticaNOVA Publications has always trumpeted a purposely moderate position. In a maelstrom of opinions, some self-righteous, some anti-magisterial, we have maintained that the only tenable position, the only path for any loyal Catholic, is to remain faithful to the Church — her documents, her leaders and ultimately, the Holy Spirit. How can we purport to believe Divine Providence and not accept what the Church teaches us. It certainly simplifies our liturgical-musical lives if all we need do is look at the documents and do what they say — instead of the cafeteria-line process of following the paragraphs that support our personal agendas and ignoring the rest. A faithful musician just obeys all the rules. I've yet to hear a more succinct and logical axiom than, "Do the red and say the black." Perhaps in the long run, this is the most pragmatic lesson we can learn from the heightened interest in the Extraordinary Form of the Mass, which places the rubrics and the texts above ideological bickering.

In 2008 can we musicians call a truce? Even if we don't agree with colleagues on either side, can we at least accept that some very well-intentioned Catholics cannot understand how guitars can ever present sacred music at Mass — or that a similar group on the other end cannot understand how Gregorian chant can ever speak to their intellectual and emotional needs in liturgy? Can we all accept what might be called a "course correction" that currently puts the Barque of Peter back on a more appropriate course regarding music in the Roman Rite?

I know that the fringes of thought and opinion in any contentious issue like church music will always exist. Perhaps what we should hope for in the coming year, and years after, is an expansion of the faithful moderates who hold true to what the Church teaches. Do you belong to this ever-expanding group of moderates? Here's a two-question test:

  1. If the Vatican mandated that the Offertory Chant at Mass must be written after 2000 and be accompanied by guitars, how would you feel — and what would you do?
  2. If the Vatican mandated that the "Gathering Song" at Mass must be the Introit Proper sung in Gregorian chant from the Graduale Romanum, how would you feel — and what would you do?

Are you "faithful" or just "opinionated"?

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