(This is Neil.) Let me contribute one last post based on the writings of Peter Jeffery. On his webpage, he has an RTF file of an unpublished 1992 piece written for Boston College that he has provocatively titled, “What’s Wrong with Catholic Liturgical Music in the US Today?” Is there something wrong with Catholic music? Professor Jeffery quotes from the Notre Dame Study on Catholic Parish Life (its final report was published in 1989 and can be read here):
More than two-thirds of the congregation joined in hymn-singing in only 30 percent of the Masses observed. Participation is quite low when it comes to singing parts of the Mass [i.e., as opposed to hymns]. The pattern seems to be that the general level of singing the seasonal parts of the Mass is far from impressive. But the congregation does a little better with familiar, repeated texts such as the Sanctus than with texts which change from week to week.
Hopefully the situation has improved (perhaps Todd can tell us). But I doubt that very many people would argue that it is satisfactory. What has gone wrong? Professor Jeffery gives numerous reasons – the “legacy of centuries of clericalism and authoritarianism” that makes it easy to dismiss concerns about lay participation, the reality of time and financial constraints, and the lack of musical training in Catholic universities and seminaries that leads many pastors to imagine that barely trained amateur musicians are either completely adequate or even represent some sort of pastoral ideal. Todd has very usefully brought these up before. But there is a “deeper problem,” Jeffery opines – a lack of awareness of musical scholarship that makes it hard to set goals or even to discuss problems with any real precision.
Professor Jeffery suggests that we begin by avoiding simplistic terms and apocalyptic rhetoric. We should instead seek to identify competing yet complementary models of church music (here, he relies on now-Cardinal Avery Dulles’ classic work on the five models of the church).
The first model, he says, is sacred music, which follows two Tridentine principles: first, that liturgical music should be the servant of the words of the liturgy, and, second, that it should be free of the apparent “lasciviousness” of secular music. Thus, in Gregorian chant, the words are those of Scripture or the liturgy, and there is an emphasis on the holiness of the singer (“See that you believe in your heart what you sing with your mouth,” the medieval bishop or priest told the cantor).
This seems relatively clear until we realize that the first model is often confused with a second model, that of inspired art. This second model – very common in Germany – places a great deal of emphasis on artistic creation and our encounter with it as inherently spiritual. Thus, the then-Cardinal Ratzinger asserted that church music had to have “a power to enrapture which mere functional application can never produce,” revealing the hidden glory of God through “inspiration, which surpasses the level of the mere rational and objective.”
Alas, the confusion of the first and second model results in conceptual imprecision. Conceivably, the traditional claim that sacred music is the servant of the word should mean that we now use vernacular chant (perhaps the psalmody of Gelineau or Taizé comes to mind). But many who suppose themselves to be defending the traditional sacred music model borrow the criteria of the inspired art model to suggest, for the same aesthetic reasons used by those who oppose opera in translation, that chant should be kept in Latin, with even the original accent patterns. Furthermore, those who espouse the inspired art model to suggest the use of Mozart and Haydn “seem to forget that the liturgical music of these composers were frowned upon and even banned in the decades before Vatican II, when they were perceived as too operatic to meet the requirement that sacred music be free of secular elements.”
We encounter even more imprecision when we consider the other models. Our third model is pastoral music, which “wishing to emphasize the communal character of the liturgy, gives primary importance to the singing of the assembled congregation, almost to the exclusion of every other kind of musical activity.” The main difficult with the pastoral music model is that it makes unexamined assumptions about musical cultures and inculturation, often ignoring the fact that many cultures happen to make sharp distinctions between music used for worship and other music.
Our fourth model is the folk mass. There are serious conceptual problems with this model. Most so-called folk songs are really what scholars “call ‘popular music’ — a commercial product for sale in cosmopolitan, urbanized societies that have left behind the rural, tribal environment of ‘traditional music.’” This is true whether we speak of the Missa Luba of Africa’s industrial workers or the American folk revival of the 1960s, which did not really involve, in Peter Jeffery’s words, “hoary, semi-literate backwoods types trucked in from Appalachia.” Basically, then, there is no reason to think of “folk” music as some sort of authentic native American idiom and no reason to be surprised that many American Catholics remain unresponsive to it. While some American Catholic cultures will participate enthusiastically in some sort of “popular music” (African-American Catholics and gospel music, for instance), there is no real universal “popular music” that naturally crosses the divides in American society to unite Catholic congregations in full and active participation.
The fifth model is hymns and spiritual songs. Often the difficulty with this model lies in the simple fact that many Catholics are ignorant of the large repertoire of Protestant hymns, and hymns are thus associated solely with pre-conciliar Catholic selections that were used less in the liturgy than now discarded paraliturgical ceremonies and expressed an old-fashioned spirituality. Furthermore, there is the problem that singing the customary four hymns can overshadow the singing of the liturgy itself. Nevertheless, Peter Jeffery is most positive about the possibility of incorporating Protestant hymnody in Catholic services (I would, by the way, enthusiastically agree with this). Let me quote him at length:
The singing of strophic hymns should not be allowed to take priority over the singing of the liturgy itself — the Ordinary and Acclamations of the Mass, the psalmody of the Office. Yet it does have great value, so that any efforts to promote and improve it would be highly beneficial. The melodies are generally easy to learn and sing, and the best of them have been loved for generations and even centuries. The traditional “churchy” sound confirms our cultural expectations of church music rather than confounding them as liturgical pop music does. And unlike pop music, they are not identified with the political and social antagonisms of our own time, but reflect a common cultural heritage. This is even truer of the melodies than of the texts, which belong to the common tonal language of Western music that underlies much classical art music and most kinds of popular music. No music has a better claim to being the real musical culture of ordinary people.
Much Protestant thinking about musical worship begins with the Pauline admonition to “be filled with the Spirit, addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with all your heart” (Ephesians 5:19, similarly Colossians 3:16). It therefore has tended (following broader trends in Renaissance and Baroque music) to emphasize the emotional power and effects of music on those who hear or perform it. The value of music for both expressing and directing the human heart is readily appreciated by most people today, and by no means foreign to the Catholic tradition. Therefore a place can and should be made for it in the more inclusive models of musical worship that need to emerge.
So, if I’ve read him right, Peter Jeffery would suggest that before we try to solve the problem of Catholic congregational singing, we need to speak with precision. We should take care to understand the difference between sacred music and inspired art. The proponents of pastoral music need to grasp that congregational singing requires a real understanding of music cultures. The espousers of the folk mass need to understand what folk music really is. Finally, we need to be able to answer the question of why very few Protestant hymns and spiritual songs have been incorporated into Catholic worship.
Would you agree with him?(Disagreement always welcome.)