Sacrosanctum Concilium 112

Now we get to (almost) everybody’s favorite topic, sacred music. Chapter VI has ten sections, beginning with praising music above any other art:

The musical tradition of the universal Church is a treasure of inestimable value, greater even than that of any other art. The main reason for this pre-eminence is that, as sacred song united to the words, it forms a necessary or integral part of the solemn liturgy.

This is along the lines of what progressive musicians have been saying for at least the past twenty years: music as an integration into the liturgy. This is far more than the appropriate matching of the texts of musical treasures and inserting them into lulls in the liturgical action.

Holy Scripture, indeed, has bestowed praise upon sacred song (Cf. Eph. 5:19; Col. 3:16.), and the same may be said of the fathers of the Church and of the Roman pontiffs who in recent times, led by St. Pius X, have explained more precisely the ministerial function supplied by sacred music in the service of the Lord.

The council looks with high regard on the various documents on sacred music that preceded, if not presaged Vatican II.

Therefore sacred music is to be considered the more holy in proportion as it is more closely connected with the liturgical action, whether it adds delight to prayer, fosters unity of minds, or confers greater solemnity upon the sacred rites. But the Church approves of all forms of true art having the needed qualities, and admits them into divine worship.

This is a vital paragraph. First, it acknowledges that all church music is not equal. The highest regard is not given to classical tradition, but how closely connected to the liturgical action it may be. In other words, the highest value is accorded to the ritual relevance of the music. This would be why Music in Catholic Worship would apply this judgment to the Eucharistic Acclamations, the psalm and the alleluia.

Look at the other judgments:

#2: adding to delight in prayer

#3: fostering unity

#4: enhancing solemnity

The order given is telling: first, the connection with ritual action. In other words, the music actively supports what the people are doing, not just provides an accompaniment to the busy-ness. “Delight” is a significant factor. Can we church musicians say our music delights our parishioners? Fostering unity seems self-evident, that the best church music is that which people sing actively, or that which aligns with their sense of the spiritual. And of course, the notion that “fancy” music helps “fancy” occasions.

Assuming that a musical genre is capable of rendering these four factors, such music is acceptable for liturgy. Period.

Accordingly, the sacred Council, keeping to the norms and precepts of ecclesiastical tradition and discipline, and having regard to the purpose of sacred music, which is the glory of God and the sanctification of the faithful, decrees as follows.

And we’ll get to these decrees later on …

Meanwhile, comments?

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Todd and his family live in Ames, Iowa. He serves a Catholic parish of both Iowa State students and town residents.
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One Response to Sacrosanctum Concilium 112

  1. Gavin says:

    Sorry, I missed all the “progressive musicians” going around saying, “The musical tradition of the universal Church is a treasure of inestimable value.” Maybe if I would have been alive in the 60s and 70s I’d had heard that? When my mother was in high school she played guitar for Mass, but that doesn’t sound like something I’ve ever heard her say.

    In all seriousness though, to me that first paragraph clearly says to preserve and promote chant, polyphony, and other sacred music of the past 1300 years or so. If by “progressive musician” you mean NPM members, then they clearly ignore this mandate. If you mean organists who a pro-gay marriage democrats , then I suppose they do pay attention to that as many of my more liberal colleagues are huge supporters of traditional music.

    I like that you included that hierarchy of what’s important in music. However, I’d say that the chant model is closest to what’s called for. It’s the MOST connected with the action, it has almost universal appeal, the unity is of course beyond what can be written here, and it certainly does lend a sense of the sacred. I’d say that the so-called “vatican II music” falls short with that. It is difficult to pair it with many liturgical actions, I’m often astonished when a parish will close a liturgy with a sing-songy “You are Mine” or something. If one is to have a “blended” Mass, I’d say go with the organ hymn at the end! Of course, the recessional hymn is not technically a part of the Mass, but you get my point. Delight? By whose standards? Most of that music doesn’t delight anyone but, sorry to be blunt, old people. Well, by my standards at least. I’m 21, so “don’t trust anyone over 30.” :P Seriously though, while the “Vatican II generation” does deserve to be happy as much as anyone else, their preferences shouldn’t be held as dogma just because they may be the only people voicing preferences. Unity? I suppose it does unite middle-class white Americans well and speaks to our suburbanite heritage. OK, to be fair maybe some people do enjoy it more than meat-and-potatoes chant, but that’s more a quality for point 2. And please don’t try to tell me it enhances solemnity, because that’s just not true.

    As for point 3, here’s a quote of the Pope’s that I like:
    “I cannot forget the Bach concert that Leonard Bernstein conducted in Munich after the early death of Karl Richter. I sat next to the evangelical Bishop Hanselmann. As the final tones of one of the great cantatas of the Cantor of St Thomas died away triumphally, we looked at each other spontaneously and, just as spontaneously, said to each other: anyone who has heard that knows that faith is true.”
    The music of Bach transcended the deep divide between Catholic and protestant, if only for a minute. My parish, as you may know, hosted a chant schola today. Last week we had a violinist play with the choir. None of those times was a congregation singing, but all were united in their appreciation and enjoyment of such music. So unity IS in fact fostered by listening, perhaps in some cases more so than by congregational singing.

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