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No Music is Good Music

February 3, AD2017 18 Comments

hymn, church music, chant

Vatican II Music

If you read what the Second Vatican Council wrote about sacred music (in Chapter VI in the 1963 constitution Sacrosanctum Concilium) you will wonder what has happened over the last fifty years.

By reading the documents of Vatican II, we can learn that the Church considers our tradition of sacred music a treasure “greater than that of any other art” (112). This sacred music is to be “preserved and fostered with great care” (114). Vatican II called for Gregorian chant, polyphony, and the pipe organ. Highly trained choirs were to be fostered and institutes were to be established to promote sacred music. The Church specified that the texts “to be sung must always be in conformity with Catholic doctrine and drawn chiefly from Holy Scripture and from liturgical sources” (121).

Post-Vatican II Music

If you read what the Magisterium says about sacred music in Musicam Sacram (the 1967 Instruction on Music in the Liturgy), you will also wonder what has happened over the past half-century.

To explain, Musicam Sacram said that when we are going to sing at Mass, there are three degrees of participation “to make the celebration of Mass more beautiful” (28). “These degrees are so arranged that the first may be used even by itself, but the second and third, wholly or partially, may never be used without the first.” In other words, if we are going to have music, we start with the first degree, and and always include it when incorporating the second or third degrees.

Judge for Yourself

Here are the sung parts of Mass in order of priority (judge your parish music accordingly):

The following belong to the first degree:

(a) In the entrance rites: the greeting of the priest together with the reply of the people; the prayer.
(b) In the Liturgy of the Word: the acclamations at the Gospel.
(c) In the Eucharistic Liturgy: the prayer over the offerings; the preface with its dialogue and the Sanctus; the final doxology of the Canon, the Lord’s Prayer with its introduction and embolism; the Pax Domini; the prayer after the Communion; the formulas of dismissal.

The following belong to the second degree:

(a) the Kyrie, Gloria and Agnus Dei;
(b) the Creed;
(c) the Prayer of the Faithful.

The following belong to the third degree:

(a) the songs at the Entrance and Communion processions;
(b) the songs after the Lesson or Epistle;
(c) the Alleluia before the Gospel;
(d) the song at the Offertory;
(e) the readings of Sacred Scripture, unless it seems more suitable to proclaim them without singing.

Four-hymn Sandwiches

If I am reading correctly, the kind of music actually used recently—the four-hymn sandwich as some call it—belong to the last degree. Given how inappropriate, if not downright terrible, many of these hymns are, it seems we’ve been subjected to a travesty.

I do not how to reform this situation. It seems that when it comes to the kind of music we should be experiencing in the Mass, we are at zero on a scale of 1 to 10.

A Mass without music and with some silence is often much more edifying.

Photography: See our Photographers page.

About the Author:

Kevin and his wife have seven children. He has a MA in English literature from San Francisco State University and is completing a MA in Theology with an emphasis on Sacred Scripture from Holy Apostles College and Seminary. He is currently teaching English and theology in a Catholic high school in Central Illinois. He has an extensive background in teaching, school administration, character education, and curriculum development. He also writes screenplays, TV pilots, novels, and non-fiction books and articles. His weekly homiletic lectionary-based blog is Doctrinal Homily Outlines.

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