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Musical Musings: Liturgy


by Christopher Bord

On September 14, 2007, the motu proprio Summorum pontificum goes into effect, and on Sunday, September 16, the Missal of Blessed John XXIII will be used for the first time in 40 years in many churches throughout the world to celebrate Mass. In these Masses, Latin and Gregorian chant will by definition have "pride of place," something many of us have been fighting for decades to achieve. So we've won, right? Well, maybe. On the other hand, if we're not careful, this could lead to a setback that would reverse many, if not all, of our hard-fought gains.

It would be very easy to retreat to the extraordinary form of the Roman Rite, using our skills as liturgists and musicians to bring beautiful chant and polyphony to enhance these liturgies, while writing off the ordinary form as a lost cause. Indeed, I would not be at all surprised if attempts to integrate chant and polyphony into the ordinary form are now met with statements of the form "if people want that, they can go to the extraordinary form of the Mass — that's what it's there for." Given that well-trained liturgists and musicians are a resource in very short supply, and that most of us are already stretched to our limits in how much we can take on, adding an extraordinary form Mass while retaining all the work from our normal duties may simply be out of the question. And, frankly, it would be very nice to be able to do our work in a non-hostile environment, in which the people are actually looking for what we have to offer, rather than fighting us every step of the way.

The problem is that this would be admitting defeat and would bring an end to the "reform of the reform." The extraordinary form of the Roman Rite is just that — extraordinary. For most Catholics, the ordinary form will continue to be the primary, if not exclusive, mode of liturgy. If we abandon that form, then we ensure that the norm for most Catholics will be poorly done liturgy with little to no attempt to follow the guidelines of the Church, especially with regard to music.

That's not to say that we should not provide music for the extraordinary form Masses, when we can, nor that we cannot enjoy this Mass ourselves. Rather, in doing so, we should also re-commit to making proper liturgy done correctly according to the norms of the Church our goal, for all liturgies, regardless of form.

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