In dealing with SC, all church musicians must come to terms with the prescription laid down here:
The Church acknowledges Gregorian chant as specially suited to the Roman liturgy: therefore, other things being equal, it should be given pride of place in liturgical services.
What Vatican II did not do was to clarify the condition, “other things being equal.” What do they mean? Is it a cultural thing? Is it formation of musicians and people in places where chant has not been utilized?
“Should” is also a big question. It does mean “must,” so a margin of wiggle room is given, at least in an implementation phase.
But the real debate is the question of “pride of place.” Does that mean the most central and core elements of the Mass should be chant? Does that mean a representation of the repertoire should include it? Should chant pieces outnumber any other style or all other styles put together?
But other kinds of sacred music, especially polyphony, are by no means excluded from liturgical celebrations, so long as they accord with the spirit of the liturgical action, as laid down in Art. 30.
Polyphony is a nearly exclusive choral domain. That leaves chant as the preferred style for the voice of the people. But SC stops short of endorsing other classical styles. Mozart and Bach, though geniuses, do not rate above the masters of polyphony in the Church’s eyes. We might also add that Bach and Mozart and other classical composers don’t rate above the best of other genres either.
The bottom line for church musicians is this:
- If your people aren’t singing chant, you have a problem with implementing Vatican II
- If you are singing chant, then a prudential assessment is needed in light of your other repertoire. At minimum, I would say that a Mass setting, one or two seasonal pieces, and possibly a weekly representation of chant should be up for consideration. If not, then a justification of the escape clause, “other things being equal” is needed. In other words, what’s so special about your parish.
I think apt criticism can be levelled at those who summarily dismiss appropriate musical styles based on personal taste. I think that a choral repertoire of the “musical treasures” is insufficient without a congregational repertoire of chant.
Anything I missed?