Thursday, April 16, 2009

A Brief Reflection on the Concluding chapter of


Fr. Anthony Ruff, OSB

I recently finished reading the most comprehensive and beneficial book concerning liturgical music I’ve ever encountered: “Sacred Music and Liturgical Reform; Treasures and Transformations,” by Fr. Anthony Ruff, OSB. Though it is over six-hundred pages and costs roughly $100.00, I believe that it should be required reading for anyone who aspires to professional liturgical and musical careers, seminarians, priests and certainly bishops.
Fr. Ruff is known nationally as one of our nation’s foremost chant scholars, and this book is an augmented version of his doctoral thesis. However, it does not read at all as do many academic tomes. And though his personal enthusiasm for chant is made evident, he does not allow that preference to influence the progression of analysis and thought regarding the history of our Church’s worship music.
I thought I would whet the reader’s interest in this book by outlining a series of points he makes in his final chapter, “Conclusion.” In the process I will offer some of my own reflections.

On page 609 of the book Fr. Ruff offers this for our consideration: “

For those of us who cherished inherited music treasures,
the task since the liturgical reform is not to see how much we can ‘get away with,’ despite the liturgical reform. This has it upside down. It even borders on an idolatrous attachment to the music we cherish.”

That seems almost an affront to the efforts of many folks from diverse points of view who have labored to distill the pure intent of the liturgical reforms as authoritatively documented by Vatican decrees both before and after the Second Vatican Council. I personally think the upshot of that statement is a plea for clerics, liturgists and musicians to to not become entrenched in their own philosophical comfort zones as they evangelize the Roman liturgical culture to realize much needed reforms throughout our ritual practices. Ruff then even advocates a personal detachment, or

“kenotic self-emptying,” in order that we don’t regard our “treasury of sacred music (as)…a burden…., but a gift and a grace.”

This might seem akin to the cliché “if you love it, let it go; if it loves you, it will come back to you.” But his take is far from cliché,

“...we will employ inherited musical treasures not for their own sake, but precisely because they correspond to the nature of the reformed liturgy in exemplary fashion. Music of the past will be employed precisely (my emphasis) because it glorifies God and sanctifies the faithful, fosters festivity, enhances kerygmatic proclamation, strengthens bonds of community, promotes participation, and fosters cultural and artistic goods.”

If you happened to have watched the installation of the new Archbishop of New York City and Archdiocese, you would have noticed an order of music, both for inspiration and during the actual liturgy, that reflects a sort of solemn eclecticism that becomes tenable according to the next statement of Ruff’s conclusion:

“The exuberant joy of a Mozart Mass movement; the soaring beauty of a Proulx choral anthem; the dynamic serenity of a Gregorian chant proper; the rugged simplicity of an early American hymntune: treasures such as these sound the depths of the reformed liturgy and sound the wide range of affects of believers standing before God….the reformed liturgy would be impoverished, were we not open to such treasures….(and) invites us to employ such treasures, even when they seem to stretch the parameters of the reformed liturgy.”

For an interesting, opposite point of view I would suggest visiting the website NEW LITURGICAL MOVEMENT-Installation Mass, Archbishop of New York by Jeffrey Tucker, at

Ruff states then that this

“stretching the parameters of the reformed liturgy…represents one of the most important conclusions of this study.”

He contends that demands

“as perfect an integration as possible between the liturgical structure and music.”

What one cannot discern from this conclusion is that a thorough discussion of the various and certain types of music, “Gregorian” chant, classic polyphony, Hymns and hynmtunes, motets and various “hybrid” forms precedes the conclusion chapter in great and detailed measure. It is one thing, for example to say that, as music, “Gregorian chant holds highest pride of place in the Roman liturgy,” and a discussion that basically questions “Is Gregorian chant really ‘music’ in the first place?” Yes, that deep runs Ruff’s waters.
Though some folks have eloquently critiqued Ruff’s analysis and conclusions using charges such as “equivocating” or “compromising,” he sees the reform of the liturgy as almost perpetually standing

“between a desire for perfect correlation and an acknowledgment of the propriety of compromise. If the treasury of sacred music is to be preserved and fostered in the liturgy, some degree of incongruity, paradox, and contradiction is inevitable.”

Naturally he then addresses these same folks’ insistence upon eliminating such “difficulties” by adhering to a

“bar of narrowly-understood liturgical requirements.”

He boldly then asserts “The Roman documents, even as they strongly affirm liturgical reform, resists this conclusion.”

Questioning his own understanding of the intent of the VII liturgical reforms, he makes this bold assertion:

“there is no absolute model of worship music in the Roman liturgy. Too many ideals stand in creative tension with each other.”

As I mentioned earlier, one can assume there is plenty good discussion of the Pius X movement towards implementing an absolute ideal, but Ruff provides ample evidence that such an ideal never actually existed in either antiquity or in our modern eras. For myself, I can literally see my more conservative and traditionalist colleagues’ faces burn red with the frustration of “what then?”
Ruff answers,

“In the present day…., one will seek out solutions in given situations that take account of many praiseworthy aims, including: structural, ritual coherence; active, external, congregational participation in song; openness to local cultures; respect for local traditions; and cultivation
of inherited musical treasures.”

He then outlines a few scenarios of which the seasoned liturgical musician is very familiar. And Ruff probably infuriates a great number of folks on both sides of the music wars with this:

“No solution is absolutely perfect; a wide variety of solutions deserves respect.”

For myself, I am drawn more frequently and incessantly towards the “rightness” of learning and utilizing chant as our most native of musical forms. But as a director of a metropolitan (in a cultural, not demographic sense) parish that serves within a universal communion, I concur with Ruff’s assessment that the best we can do is to explore the fence lines of those stretching parameters of the reformed liturgy (which, by the way, would include an absolute necessity of implementing both forms of the Roman Missal as promulgated by Pope Benedict XVI in his motu proprio Summorum Pontificum of July 7, 2007) while simultaneously providing the faithful with such a holistic vision of musical options that upholds liturgical coherence and structural integrity.

This brief posting might even seem too heady for general readership, but I assure it’s not intended to be so. The finest testimony to being a member of Christ’s Holy Bride, the one true, holy, catholic and apostolic Church is that we remain faithful to Her ritual acts of praise, and within the command of the latest U.S. Episcopal document, “Sing to the Lord,” we do so as another scholar, the aforementioned Jeffrey Tucker, recommends in his book, “Sing like a Catholic.”