Tuesday, July 08, 2008


Panic?
Then panacea!
My take on...


Sacred Music that Serves the Word of God
from the interview on Zenit with

Father Samuel Weber on Sacred Music Institute
conducted by Annamarie Adkins


Dear Friends and inadvertent readers,

In the interest of not wasting your time, I have edited the whole interview in order to more speedily address issues of my concern. For the unedited interview, go to (Zenit.org). I will select portions of Fr. Weber's responses and indicate those by using blue to color those portions. My responses will then be noted in red.


ST. LOUIS, Missouri, JULY 4, 2008 Parish music directors -- and congregations -- in the Archdiocese of St. Louis soon will benefit from Archbishop Raymond Burke’s recent initiative: The Institute for Sacred Music.Archbishop Burke, who has since been named to head the Apostolic Signature, the Church's supreme court, appointed Benedictine Father Samuel Weber as the first director of the new institute earlier this year.
Father Weber is a professor in the divinity school of Wake Forest University in North Carolina and also a monk of the St. Meinrad Archabbey in Indiana.


Q: Is there a difference between sacred music and religious music?

Father Weber: Although the two terms are often used interchangeably, we can make a distinction. Sacred music, properly speaking, is music that is united to a sacred text -- especially psalms and other scriptural texts and texts of the Mass, such as the Introit, Gloria, Sanctus, Agnus Dei, etc., and it includes certain traditional hymns that are -- or have been -- part of the official liturgical books.The authority of the Church must confirm all the liturgical texts; these sacred words are not to be altered in setting them to music.All sacred music is “religious music,” obviously. But religious music would encompass everything from classic hymns to contemporary songs with a religious theme in a wide variety of styles and varying quality. Not all religious music is suitable for sacred worship, certainly.


The following statement of Fr. Weber’s I find the least problematic in terms of implications. On the other hand, in terms of applications, that’s a whole other can of worms….


Ultimately, it is the responsibility of competent authority -- i.e., the bishop or the Holy See -- to determine the suitability of all religious music for sacred worship, even though parish musicians will usually choose the music for a parish Mass and other liturgical celebrations.

Both halves of this statement’s equation are, on face value, valid. I, for one, would love to hear my bishop, any of my former bishops or anyone else’s, pipe in now and then about the status quo of worship and music in their sees. However, this presumes that such a bishop is actually a competent authority in the realm of sacred music and, because of Weber premises to follow, music in general; enough so to determine a”music’s” suitability. One might counter that bishops lacking that competency should retain the services of staff such as Fr. Weber who do possess the requisite knowledge to inform the “authority.” But, as we have seen over the decades, that hasn’t worked out all that well either. Just ask Archbishop Wuerl.


All Church musicians need to be able to make truly informed choices about appropriate music for use in the liturgy, based on authentic Church teaching. This is not always easy, nor is the choice simply a matter of taste.

Again, this statement rings very true, but “authentic Church teaching” also endorses and, in fact, encourages and fosters the creation of contemporary sacred art in service to the liturgy and edification of the faithful. As I recall, document statements do not directly specify any artistic (not literary) parameters contemporary artists must adhere to in the promulgation of those new works. However, it seems that there is a clear crescendo of voices who have intuited from the “pride of place” assignment to chant and polyphony, that those documents meant to, or should have, gone further towards clarifying that such parameters are implicit, and that “new music” must have obvious DNA and tendons connecting its forms to the music native to the Roman Rites.

Q: Many complain about popular or secular forms of music creeping into the liturgy, but this has been a perennial problem for the Church. What causes this recurring problem, and how have the great renaissances in sacred music such as those fostered by Palestrina and Pope St. Pius X turned the tide?

Father Weber: Yes, you could say that the concern about secular -- or frankly anti-Christian -- musical styles supplanting sacred music in worship is perennial -- though it may manifest itself differently in different cultures and historical periods.

I’d be interested in knowing if Fr. Weber would notice any resemblance between his acknowledgement that there are, in fact, “frankly anti-Christian musical styles” and the former Senator Jos. McCarthy speechwriter cum preacher, Billy James Hargis whose mantra in the formative era of popular rock music decried that “rock and roll sapped the moral fiber of the young, unwittingly achieving the goals of the revolutionary left.”? (S. Turner, THE GOSPEL ACCORDING TO THE BEATLES, Westminster John Knox Press)

For example, in early centuries, all music other than chanting was strictly forbidden by Church authorities, because use of musical instruments had strongly pagan associations.

I have already allowed that Fr. Weber is employing a casual, easily digestible dialectic in the interview. But this statement, based upon the psalms alone (which he later cites,) shouts out for citation and evidence. What early centuries, exactly forbade instruments? Those of the Medieval, those of the post-resurrection Churches particularly when they spread throughout the Grecian peninsulas and isles and into North Africa and eastward into what is now Armenia? If modern musicology has made such declarations with proof positive, I haven’t heard of it yet. And, if that’s so, please someone tell me so. But I really suspect that the omission of such citations would undermine his premise that there is documented evidence of a formal ban upon instrumental music at service that originated in an already well-institutionalized Church, whose very existence, out of necessity, demanded the formation of a universal culture both in worship and theology. But I am yet and still wondering if Fr. Weber would acknowledge the also-documented reality that not only the organ, but instrumental ensembles were at regular use doubling the voice parts of late Renaissance motets and service music in Venice and elsewhere? And this implies, despite this occurring after the Council of Trent and the Palestrinian myth that polyphony could co-exist with chant as the official “voice” of the Church, that some other competent authorities in Venice officially endorsed the Gabrielli’s mode of polyphonic “orchestration.” If Fr. Weber can imply, others should be granted that privilege as well.


In the 19th century, the style of opera had so greatly influenced Church music that Pope St. Pius X warned strongly against this “profane” music, and forbade composing music imitating operatic styles. He initiated the 20th Century Liturgical Movement by his 1903 document, “Tra le Sollecitudini.”

In particular he encouraged Gregorian chant, which he (Pope Pius X) said in the third paragraph of the document, “has always been regarded as the supreme model for sacred music,” thus “it is fully legitimate to lay down the following rule: The more closely a composition for Church approaches in its movement, inspiration and savor the Gregorian form, the more sacred and liturgical it becomes; and the more out of harmony it is with that supreme model, the less worthy it is of the temple.”It was Pope Pius X, also, who coined the phrase “active participation” of the people. And he also said in paragraph five of the document that “modern music is also admitted to the Church, since it, too, furnishes compositions of such excellence, sobriety and gravity, that they are in no way unworthy of the liturgical functions.”

Well, we now get to Fr. Weber’s first substantive citation. And despite my inclination to fundamentally agree in principle with that Holy Father and Fr. Weber, the papal utterance that chant “has always been regarded as the supreme model for sacred music” is not a dogmatic, inerrant pronunciation of fact. Its truth does bubble up from real belief and practice that Tradition subsequently codifies. But there were hundreds of courts of the princes of the Church throughout humanist Europe that testify that chant was not so highly regarded, and in fact, discarded. And Piux X’s motu proprio was primarily directed at such “courts” in his own geographical region. In simple terms, Fr. Weber, like many, are perfectly willing to hang their hats solely upon what “he said,” rather than a more thorough analysis of the Church’s musical geneaology.


After the Second Vatican Council it was the pop and folk style music of the late 1960s and 1970s that dominated newly composed music for worship -- Catholic and Protestant. Despite the Constitution on the Liturgy’s emphasis on the “pride of place” for Gregorian chant in the liturgy, the council’s teaching was ignored, and chant virtually disappeared. The reasons for this are many and complex. But one major element was plain confusion and misunderstanding. The liturgical reform following the Council was astoundingly rapid, and serious upheavals in the secular world of those times also affected the anti-authoritarian mood within the Church. This was played out dramatically in the liturgy. Changes were made precipitously with too little consultation with the bishops...

The present “renaissance” in liturgical music we are now seeing is in large part due to Pope Benedict XVI and his many scholarly works on the subject even before he became pope.The historic heritage of sacred music, then, always serves as an indispensable teacher and model of what best serves the celebration of sacred worship, and leads worshipers to greater holiness. Just a reminder that this is premised upon the “he said” philosophies of Piux X, which I do not dispute. But this “heritage of sacred music” glaringly omits those forms which were quite dispensable and controversial models” of what best serves the celebration of sacred worship. My own experiences “in the fields” for nearly four decades also compels me to wonder how anyone, Fr. Weber included, can unequivocally determine that alone which can lead “worshippers to greater holiness.”

(Part 2)
In Part 2 of this interview with ZENIT, Father Weber discusses why he thinks chant is "the song that [God] wants to hear from our lips and our hearts."

Q: Why did the Second Vatican Council state that Gregorian chant should be given "pride of place" in the Church's liturgy?
Father Weber: The Second Vatican Council's constitution on the liturgy, "Sacrosanctum Concilium," as well as numerous statements of the Popes and the General Instruction of the Roman Missal [GIRM], teach us that Gregorian chant and sacred polyphony -- that is, sacred music sung in harmony -- such as compositions of Palestrina, are to enjoy "pride of place" in sacred worship.
This means that chant is not only to be in common use in the liturgy, but it is also to provide examples and inspirations for new compositions.
The reason for this is to assure a genuine organic development in the sacred music Catholics experience in worship -- in continuity with the Church's history,
and transcending limitations of time and cultures.
Understanding and appreciating this universality in Catholic music for worship might be seen as one facet of the obedience of faith
.

Now we’re seeing the incisors of Fr. Weber’s argument: “I have proven the contention that chant fulfills all of the criteria for authentic worship according to the Roman Rite. Now, we must implement the reforms that will correct the mistakes that were tacitly allowed in former centuries, not just the twentieth. To accomplish that, the Faithful must accept the discipline of “obedience of faith.” Again, I don’t have a library at hand as I type, and I suspect that this term that Fr. Weber uses might be a rhetorical contrivance made in good faith. But at first blush, faith as a veritable human expression comes after a personal revelation or epiphany in the supremacy and benevolence of I AM. I don’t recall anyone declaring that human free will (though obviously not always a good thing) is quashed and subjugated by the Almighty before that individual decision to believe according to faith., thus laying the way for the submission and yielding to the blessing of believing, having not seen and touched Christ’s wounds. Our faith is accepted and embraced in mystery. And upon that mystery we human believers then tend to apply the disciplines necessary to express, nurture and perpetually cultivate that faith. And that also necessitates obedience to many things. But Fr. Weber’s employing of this term, “obedience of faith,” seems another convenient deus ex machina that merely says, yet again: we’re all gonna chant, and we’re all gonna like it, like it or not.”


We need to remember, of course, that the Council teaches under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. God is telling us both how he wants to be worshiped, and what best serves the religious needs of those gathered for sacred rites.
Now we have the “good” Vox Dei!” Is this the same Holy Spirit of Vatican II that Blessed John XXIII acknowledged, or the smoke of Satan that Pope Paul XI brooded over? God, Himself, whom scripture occasionally mentions that his concerns about worship are less about how, than why we worship, is telling us (via “Tra le sollectudini”) actually HOW He wants to be worshiped. My mind moves to King David’s elegant muse (The Lord is my shepherd, there is nothing I shall want….) and am somewhat amused that the Lord of all universes “wants” for anything. He loves, that I know. He loves me, I know that as well. He loves me to love Him, that I know. If that means He wants me to love Him, I can live with that. That he wants me to express my reciprocal yet lesser love for Him through praising him only through the virtues of chant (in any language) seems to require a huge leap of faith. Maybe that’s Fr. Weber’s self-fulfilling logic. Or maybe I'm just blowing smoke? Who knows?


Before all else, worship is about God. It is the duty of the creature to know, love and serve the Creator, and to render to God the service of prayer, praise and thanksgiving that is his due...
Historically, Gregorian chant is in direct, organic development with ancient cantilation -- chanting -- patterns of the psalms in temple and synagogue. This was the background and experience of the first Christians. So our chanting today is in direct relationship with theirs.
One can see, then, that when we sing the chant, we are truly "in connection" with our fathers and mothers in the faith.
Jesus, Mary and Joseph heard and sang many of these patterns of sacred chant in synagogue and temple worship. The apostles, the martyrs, the great saints whose witness continues to inspire us today, were all nourished on these traditions of sacred chanting.
Even the saints and blesseds of our own day -- Blessed Teresa of Calcutta, St. Pio of Pietrelcina, St. Gianna Beretta Molla, for example -- all sang, heard and knew the chant and the traditions of sacred music inspired by the chant.
They were formed in this "school of sacred music" that is the chant, and, to borrow a phrase from St. Athanasius, the "gymnasium of spiritual exercises"
that is the Psalter -- the Psalms of David.
I think, too, of my grandparents and parents, so many beloved family members, teachers and friends, who have gone before us "marked with the sign of faith."
How they loved the sacred chants, and passed them on to me with piety, devotion and reverence. What an opportunity to participate in the Communion of Saints. What could be richer or more spiritually satisfying?
Gregorian chant serves the word of God. It has no other purpose than to draw us to the sacred text, especially the Psalms, and to enable us to treasure God's word ever more deeply in our hearts.
It is entirely free of anything that is contrary to the faith, free of purely human agendas or experiences that lead us away from God's will and plan for us. To use the language of our computer age: The chant is "safe and secure." No viruses can enter.
I would have commented about this declaration, but Todd Flowerday has already voiced similar concerns in his post of today at “Catholic Sensibility.”


Q: Benedict XVI has given a number of speeches discussing the importance of preserving the Church's heritage of sacred music, and a number of documents have been issued by the Holy See calling the universal Church back to that grand tradition, yet little seems to have changed on the ground. Why is there resistance to what should be seen as a form of Vatican II's concept of "ressourcement," that is, return to the sources?
Father Weber: Perhaps it is not so much resistance as a lack of communication and ineffective teaching that stalled things.
Pope Benedict is tireless in his teaching -- even before he became Pope -- for example, "A New Song for the Lord." An accomplished musician himself, he fully understands the power of music on the human heart, thus the central role of music in the liturgy.
Clearly, part of our task is to help "get the word out." I think we can already see many positive results of the recent actions of the Holy See concerning the liturgy.
For one thing, there is a growing interest among Catholic people in reviving their immensely rich heritage of music and art, and a real desire for greater beauty, reverence and solemnity in worship.
By all means, yes! Hear, hear…..huzzahs……damn skippy!
But when there is actual resistance? In the end, I believe that this comes down to the perpetual struggle between good and evil. God is constantly giving us all the grace we need to know, love and serve him.
But we are tempted by the devil, and suffer under the effects of original sin, so we sometimes make choices that, sadly, draw us away from God our Creator, and even extinguish the fire of love in our hearts.
I’m hearing Tiny Tim in the distance of time, singing “Tiptoe through the tulips….” It could be Rudy Vallee, hard to tell. Anyway, is this the pastoral face of the faces of the farcical organization, the Society for the Moratorium Upon Haugen, Haas, Joncas et al showing? Is it deplorable to suggest that many bereaved folks show unimpeachable evidence that the singing of “Be Not Afraid” or “On Eagles’ Wings” alongside that of In Paradisum at a funeral Mass drew their souls closer to God? Or should I just gently refuse their testimonies of the past, and gingerly steer them away from these musical and poetical buoys that they call for in the future? Do the angels weep or wag their fingers when a funeral congregation sings “Be still my soul’ or “Shall we gather at the river?”
It is the duty of all the pastors -- that God in his love has given us -- to call people back to that which will bring us true peace and blessedness. With great wisdom, over the centuries the popes, the Councils, have understood the importance of sacred music, art, architecture and ritual in the spiritual formation of the human person.
As a result, they have never ceased to teach us about the care that must be exercised in cultivating all sacred arts that serve divine worship.
Now it is our job to receive this teaching and implement it in our lives for our spiritual good...
It's encouraging to know that many people who are discovering chant for the first time are so strongly attracted by its beauty and solemnity that they want to become a part of its revival.
Speaking from experience, I would agree that Gregorian chant may require a greater discipline, more attention and sacrifice of time and energy in order to "make it happen" in our parishes.
But difficulty is not a real impediment.
In our American society we greatly value sports. I'm a Green Bay Packers fan myself, rabid, actually.
I'm really grateful to the Packers for all the hours they spend in practice and preparation for their games. All the sacrifices they make. It's worth it.
The payoff is really something awesome. We, the fans, would settle for no less. Doesn't this same expectation apply to the things of God?
It really isn't that hard to understand, is it?

No, Fr. Weber, to disciplined and accomplished musicians it’s our bread and butter. When I taught choral music in the public schools I dubbed our daily rehearsals as “hitting the sleds” that would lead to the payoff, if not on the stage, then in the rehearsal room. But does that maxim of “practice and preparation” also apply to all other forms of sacred and liturgical music performance? And were that systematically called for and supported, would we find ourselves longing for “just the chant, please.”?
St. Augustine taught the people of Hippo: "Cantare amantis est." Singing is characteristic of a lover. If the supreme love is, as we believe, between Christ, the Bridegroom, and the Church, his Bride -- can any effort be spared to express this love in true beauty? Is any sacrifice too much?
We don't have to guess at the song. This tremendous Lover of ours tells us the song that he wants to hear from our lips and our hearts.

Not all of us have been guessing, it has to be said. We have deliberated, we have practiced, we have separated the wheat from the chaff. The Lover does require a song from us. But in song, just like in all of Creation, in the beginning was the Word. The music followed.
This is our Catholic faith. What more need be said? Let us begin!
Just a moment, Father. I know this is another can of worms, but I can’t let this commentary pass without observing that your interview remarks reflect an absolute Western POV that subsumes enculturation, and presumptively makes it “less than or second class” by its direct omission from the body of your argument. And yes, I’m aware that Latin is alive, universal and all-inclusive. In principle and here and there in far flung places, in practice.

Well, dear Reader and hopefully still-Friend, you have it. The extemporaneous reflections (you could tell, right?) of this aging artifact of the Music Wars Era, post WWII episode. Please take any, all and your best shots at my "take." For there's not a one of us that can't use a little more schoolin', now and then.


'Til then, vaya con Dios,
Carlitos






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2 comments:

Gavin said...

This touches on many things on my mind recently. To comment on a few:

"competent authorities" - I'm always puzzled why this refers to bishops. Why is my bishop competent to decide ANYTHING to do with music at my parish? When I think "bishop" and "music", "competent" usually doesn't come to mind, although there are happy exceptions.

I'd say a bit of this suffers from an all-too-typical Romaphilia. I don't mind a focus on Gregorian chant or the Latin language in the corners of the blogosphere I frequent, since that's the rite we all serve. I'm VERY bothered, on the other hand, at the implication that these things are superior to other languages and music! To read this article, one might think that Byzantine chant or the Greek liturgy are spiritually harmful! I'd even question the assertion some may make that protestant forms of worship have no value, but that's another topic.

But this revolves around "organic development", doesn't it? The issue isn't that people aren't chanting, it's that organic development hasn't produced our current musical situation. And I agree, this is a bad thing. But more and more I question if God really cares about organic development. Does He really frown on changes that don't take 5 centuries to happen? The issue is partially how we view Tradition, but again one can have Tradition without development! Obedience is good, tradition is good, historical integrity is good, but I'm just not so convinced anymore that God wants anyone to use Gregorian chant. I've got plenty of reasons to keep at it, but ultimately I think we're mostly pleasing human philosophies while we do it.

Charles said...

Pleasure to see you here, Gavin. There is no doubt that the act of chanting the "song of the Church" with others also with that similar investment, intent and interest is a transcendent experience, each and every time. But there is so much hubris masquerading as humility in many of the blogging exponents of the EF, that occasional lapses of intellectual honesty are overlooked.
Homey don't play dat.