Musicam Sacram: More Norms (9-12)


As Musicam Sacram draws to complete its first chapter outline of general norms, we read of matters of repertoire and style.

First we see a pragmatic statement which pretty much opens up the repertoire to any suitable genre:

9. In selecting the kind of sacred music to be used, whether it be for the choir or for the people, the capacities of those who are to sing the music must be taken into account. No kind of sacred music is prohibited from liturgical actions by the Church as long as it corresponds to the spirit of the liturgical celebration itself and the nature of its individual parts,[SC 116] and does not hinder the active participation of the people.[SC 28]

The guiding principles are first, liturgical suitability, then active participation.

10. In order that the faithful may actively participate more willingly and with greater benefit, it is fitting that the format of the celebration and the degree of participation in it should be varied as much as possible, according to the solemnity of the day and the nature of the congregation present.

Section ten reminds us of a very important principle: good liturgy is not achieved by a sameness in format or participation level. The clergy, people, and musicians do not, for themselves in any way, have 100% maximum participation as a goal. Liturgical factors as well as pastoral considerations will contribute to the judgment about what gets sung, and by whom. Variety in form and theme is essential to any good work of art.
11. It should be borne in mind that the true solemnity of liturgical worship depends less on a more ornate form of singing and a more magnificent ceremonial than on its worthy and religious celebration, which takes into account the integrity of the liturgical celebration itself, and the performance of each of its parts according to their own particular nature. To have a more ornate form of singing and a more magnificent ceremonial is at times desirable when there are the resources available to carry them out properly; on the other hand it would be contrary to the true solemnity of the liturgy if this were to lead to a part of the action being omitted, changed, or improperly performed.

This section provides the strongest argument for a sober approach when great musical resources are at hand. If the rubrics state, for example, that the Sanctus is sung by the priest with the people, a choral performance is clearly an “improper” performance from a liturgical view. MS demonstrates, at least to me, how and why traditional five-movement sung Masses were judged by most Catholic musicians to be of questionable applicability–even from 1967 on. One need not look beyond MS to find the justification.
12. It is for the Holy See alone to determine the more important general principles which are, as it were, the basis of sacred music, according to the norms handed down, but especially according to the Constitution on the Liturgy. Direction in this matter, within the limits laid down, also belongs to the competent territorial Episcopal Conferences of various kinds, which have been legitimately constituted, and to the individual bishop.[SC 22]

We conclude Chapter I with the Consilium’s statement that Rome is responsible for laying down the “more important general principles,” something we see in the GIRM. From there, bishops’ conferences, then in turn, individual bishops will fill in the gaps (or not, as the case may be) from there.

It becomes clear that authentic legislation on church music will only be complete by a confluence of guidance on norms and the completion of the liturgical reform from Rome, as well as particulars added by bishops on the national and diocesan level. I don’t think the Consilium ever envisioned a complete body of music legislation originating with the pope or the curia. The expectation that this isntruction provided it or began its provisionwould seem to go against the explicit text in section 12.

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Todd lives in the Pacific Northwest, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
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5 Responses to Musicam Sacram: More Norms (9-12)

  1. Gavin says:

    Section 10 is the eyebrow-raiser here, at least for me. I often disagree with you often over the ideal of “active participation”. For example, I’d have no problems with a choral Sanctus. Yet I also disagree with those who would diminish the congregational parts to responses (and less, if they could find choral settings of responsories). However, this document seems to imply something leaning towards congregational activity rather than “internal participation”. Observe section 10 talking about “the degree of participation” If “participation” was always a Vatican codeword for “interior” participation, then the document is here advocating that at some time people should forfeit their internal participation! Rather, this seems to clearly define “participation” as doing/saying/singing something. And, as I advocate, the amount of congregational participation ought not to be a solidly and universally fixed matter.

    Since this comes up often, what are your thoughts about what “hinder[s] the active participation of the people“? This is a common charge brought against contemporary music, choirs, traditional hymns, “new” hymns, organs, guitars, kneeling, etc. But yet no one ever makes a solid case besides “{thing I don’t like} hinders active participation.” I don’t know what would qualify.

  2. Liam says:

    Read Mediator Dei from 1947 and you will see the longer context and vector of this thought that had been expanded upon by the Council. There’s a longer arc at work here.

  3. Todd says:

    Gavin, I think the “degree of participation” would always include some manner of the internal. Certainly a Sunday Mass in a large parish, attracting folks on a large spectrum of the faith life, would benefit from both external expressions and silence. One just might see less of those externals in small parishes, monasteries, religious communities, more homogeneous Masses, early mornings, etc.: any number of circumstances, pastoral or liturgical, in which a lesser degree of music is called for.

    You ask what hinders? I would say an unshepherdly forcing of people to wrench away from the familiar setting of worship. Too many new things, yes, but also aspects like forced greetings, too much or too little choir music at big Masses, a lack of pacing in the liturgy where silence is not part of the experience. I’d say also a consistent movement away from the ideals in the GIRM addressing participation.

    It’s worth some reflection; maybe I’ll ponder it and post later this week.

  4. Jan Fredericks says:

    When will Musicam Sacram article 29 be implemented? The current method of providing music (throughout the world it seems to me) is not according to this most important document. What hinders its implementation? What will happen if we do to start the conversation going?

  5. Todd says:

    Thanks for commenting, Jan. If you’re speaking of MS 29 only, you’ll have to ask the priest. Some don’t sing, and some who do, don’t prefer to sing the dialogues.

    As for the prayers, I’m not sure I share the regard for the “first degree” importance of presidential prayers.

    If you’re speaking of a more broad approach, MS’s three degrees, the notion of progressive solemnity, or the USCCB’s elaboration in MCW and LMT, then the hindrance of a better implementation (I think we indeed have implementation, just not a perfect one) rests with parish clergy and the competence of the people they hire.

    I would offer a correction on the “most important” document. The Roman Missal, in subsequent editions, would supercede Musicam Sacram where anything appeared to be in conflict. As a liturgist, I’m trained to go to the Rite first, as the prime expression of liturgical law.

    Jan, would you care to e-mail me a conversation starter? I’d be happy to post it.

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