“…we shall lose a large portion of that wonderful and incomparable, artistic and spiritual reality, Gregorian chant. We indeed have reason for sadness and perhaps even for bewilderment.” (Pope Paul VI, 1969)
Since the time, the reasons often given for this loss was the change from Latin to the vernacular in the Mass and the desire to become modern. Pope Paul VI described “liturgical innovations in the new rite of Mass that will come into use” and said “We shall have to prepare for this many-sided upheaval”.
It has been 46 years since Paul VI tried to prepare us for changes, as a result of the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council (Vatican II – 1962/1965). He knew it would be difficult for many who had to adjust to the experience, but this effort was necessary in order to be of service to the future faithful. He said, “If our sacred Latin should, like a think curtain, close us off from the world of children and young people, of work and the business of everyday, then would we, fishers of men, be wise to allow it exclusive dominion over the speech of religion and prayer?”
The turbulent social change that started just before 1962 when the council was opened, and the ambiguity in some of the Vatican II documents including Sacrosanctum Concilium (Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy), eventually allowed major changes to take place within the entire church. The result was an the ideological split of the faithful that we see today – “Sadness and bewilderment” by some and celebration by others.
We read in Sacrosanctum Concilium:
Particular law remaining in force, the use of the Latin language is to be preserved in the Latin rites…Nevertheless steps should be taken so that the faithful may also be able to say or to sing together in Latin those parts of the Ordinary of the Mass which pertain to them…In the Latin Church the pipe organ is to be held in high esteem, for it is the traditional musical instrument which adds a wonderful splendor to the Church’s ceremonies and powerfully lifts up man’s mind to God and to higher things. But other instruments also may be admitted for use in divine worship, with the knowledge and consent of the competent territorial authority…
An Up-Close Observer
Kathy Reinheimer is founder and director of Regina Pacis Cantorum (Queen of Peace Choir) Gregorian Chant choir in the Diocese of Reno, Nevada. She is a cradle Catholic having been Catholic-educated through high school just before the end of Vatican II. She attended traditional Catholic schools in Southern California where it was required to attend daily Mass and singing was a part of daily life at school. It was a time when the sisters wore full habits. Her father was a choir director and she excelled at music, receiving many accolades for her knowledge and ability in sacred music even as a child. She has a beautiful voice still, and is a tireless advocate for Gregorian Chant which she has taught.
Recently, I had the opportunity to speak with Kathy about this topic.
HL: “Occasionally I feel very at home at a Novus Ordo Mass because some of these songs bring back fond memories of my boyhood in the Episcopal church.”
Kathy: “I had an organist in an Episcopal church who came up to me one day and said, “Kathy, what has happened to the music in the Catholic church? You used to have the finest music in the world, and now you sound just like everybody else?””
HL: “Do you think there was a sense of ecumenism that came from the council (Unitatis Redintegrati, Declaration on Ecumenism) that was interpreted to change the music this way”
Kathy: “Absolutely. We ended up Protestanizing our liturgy which was probably the crown jewel of the world. (The thought was) If we use some of this music it will make them (Protestants) more comfortable. What has happened is the exact opposite. It has driven solid Catholics away.”
What Prompted the Desire for Change?
Kathy: “Vatican II opened the flood gates but the water had been seeping under for a long, long time. I think one of the reasons that we have ended up with the mess that we have today as well as why the council undertook to make the recommendations that it did with regard to sacred music, is that by-and-large the state of music was pretty bad.”
HL: “Not the music itself, because most of it was written years and years before.”
Kathy: “Correct…but the execution of it…execution would be a good word for it because the music was really executed. Other than the bigger cathedrals or if you got lucky and had a trained smaller group in a parish, going to Mass where there was a choir was a painful experience.”
HL: “Was this world-wide?”
Kathy: “I think it was primarily in the United States, but by that time the decline had already started in Europe. It was certainly in existence in Ireland. Ireland had never been noted for prominence in sacred music. A lot of that goes back to the Irish and English persecutions (that began with Henry VIII). That is how we got the Low Mass. Before that period of time it was always sung Mass the way it was intended to be. Low Mass was the beginning of the end for sacred music generally, because that is when it go to be a matter of the priest and maybe if he had altar servers doing their thing and everybody else sitting there afraid to make a noise. They were in peril of their lives just being at a Mass. If you are talking English persecutions and going back to the time of William Byrd (1540-1623), he really took his life in his hands composing a lot of the material that he did for the church.”
What About Singing Ability?
HL: “What caused the decline in the ability to sing the Mass.”
Kathy: “I think a lack of understanding in how important it was to the actual Mass. There was really no catechesis, no real strong music programs. I’m sure there were at some of the universities, but at that time we didn’t have the mentality that we have today that everyone has to go to college. College was largely for the wealthy and it was only after the upheaval of the 60s that it became more common. The Catholic universities were the only places that had the wherewithal to teach it. The priest when they were in seminary were taught some Gregorian Chant, they certainly knew Latin, they didn’t want to do that (teach singing) when they got into a parish. They had so many things to do in those days the pastor was a mechanic, the maintenance man, an accountant, the grounds keeper as well as being in charge of the celebration of all the sacraments.”
HL: “So, why did people sing better in 1700 than in 1950?”
Kathy: “I think some of it is because of what they were singing. Because in 1750 they were singing the Mass. By the time you got to 1950 the Low Mass had become to be more prevalent. I know as a child going into my parish if somebody came out and lit the tall candles we all went Oh, no because Father O’Brian couldn’t carry a tune in a bucket. He was a really nice man but it was painful to go to one of his Masses. People would seek Low Masses and that meant just hymns. They were singing Holy God be Praised Thy Name, traditional Catholic hymns that had good theology but if you had one High Mass on a weekend it was a lot.”
What We Have Lost?
HL: “So if I am following then, in a period when there were many high Masses the experience of singing those Masses carried forward it was part of life. When that diminished then people lost the knack, the ability, even though the music was complicated at the time.”
Kathy: “That’s right, but it isn’t (complicated). The parts of the Mass in Gregorian Chant…the Ordinary of the Mass…they were composed for congregations, they are very simple, not hard to sing, they knew them, in the middle ages.”
HL: “Today we are lucky if we can throw back the responses.”
Kathy: “It is amazing to me…sometimes a church will opt for Mass 8. There are 18 complete Gregorian Chant Masses, Mass 18 being the Requiem Mass. There are a lot of Kyrie, Sanctus, and Agnus Dei that are not part of a full Mass. Part of the reason for this choice is that when you hear the Sistine Choir sing they sing Mass 8. It is a 17th century composition, so it is rather late as far as Gregorian Chant compositions are concerned. It is without a doubt the most complex of all the Masses. It has a wider range, it is harder to sing…it’s like why wouldn’t you do Mass 11 which is so much simpler, just as beautiful. The answer I hear is that we don’t know it.”
Where Does That Leave Us Today?
HL: “Where do you think we are headed today? Are you optimistic, pessimistic, or indifferent?”
Kathy: “I am certainly not indifferent about it , I think we are going in both directions. A lot of it depends on what the local bishop wants, what his training is. Look at the good Archbishop Cordileone, who is taking a battering, and the wonderful changes he has made to the liturgy in San Francisco, he is having a positive impact on the seminary. He expanded the use of the Extraordinary Form of the Mass (the traditional Latin Mass) in more parishes, more training for priests. He celebrates Mass in the Extraordinary Form himself. A very good friend of mine was instrumental in teaching him everything he knows about this liturgy and sacred music. When Archbishop Cordileone was an auxiliary bishop in San Diego he told me himself that they never taught us any of this in seminary.
But, you look at other dioceses where the bishop has not had the benefit of having somebody mentor them, they are very much going down this same slippery slope where choirs have been dismantled, Gregorian Chant is virtually forbidden. At the same time I am seeing bright spots of scholae popping up all over the country.”
HL: “It still depends on the local bishop.”
Kathy: “My choir, which I think is a pretty good choir, operates at the pleasure of the bishop even though we are an independent 501c3, all he would have to do is send out a notice to all the parishes that Regina Pacis is no longer welcome and we would be done, just like that. Bless his heart he has chosen to not do that, but there are other places that have not been as fortunate. I there were a lot of parishes that were starting to go in a positive direction when Benedict was pope. Now, I think everbody is sort of waiting to see which way things are going to go. Although, Cardinal Sarah who is the Prefect of the Congregaton for Devine Worship, in the last few of weeks, said his instruction from Pope Francis was that he was to continue the efforts begun by Benedict. People are feeling a little bit better. This is really good news. ”
The lay organization Paix Liturgique has published on their website this summation:
The French translation of Cardinal Raymond Leo Burke’s book Divine Love Made Flesh is coming out this autumn. That edition will include a previously unpublished interview between the cardinal patron of the Sovereign Military Order of Malta and Father Claude Barthe, chaplain for the pilgrimage of the Summorum Ponctificum people in Rome.
Card. Burke: Yes, to be sure, Benedict took the entire liturgical crisis pretty hard, as he recounts in his autobiography Milestones. In the letter to the bishops that accompanied the Motu Proprio, he gave a summary of his experience: “[I]n many places celebrations were not faithful to the prescriptions of the new Missal, but the latter actually was understood as authorizing or even requiring creativity, which frequently led to deformations of the liturgy which were hard to bear. I am speaking from experience, since I too lived through that period with all its hopes and its confusion.” And I believe that by allowing for the rediscovery of the sacred liturgy that had existed for a millennium and a half in the Roman Church, Pope Benedict XVI made it possible to start rectifying abuses and also to provide a reference point for the necessary enrichment of the ordinary form.
Ralph Wiltgen, The Rhine Flows into the Tiber: A History of Vatican II.
Emeritus Pope Benedict XVI, Summorum Pontificum.
Saint John Paul II, Chirograph for Centenary of Tra le Sollecitudini (Instruction on Sacred Music).
Pope Pius X, Tra le Sollecitudini (Instruction on Sacred Music) from adoremus.org, an English translation was not provided by Rome.
A YouTube talk by Dom Cassian Folosm on Sacred Music, 45 min.