In all of our interesting internet discussions on liturgy, one thing you can count on: reform2 liturgists rarely head to the source. Unless it’s a Roman one. I feel fortunate to know some of the people who actually wrote MCW, so when I had the chance very recently to ask one of them about it, I got some interesting answers.
When liturgical folk music exploded in 1966, there were a lot of alarmed church musicians. My friend conceded that most folk groups were quite bad in those days. I’m not surprised by that assessment, coming as it does from an organist. It’s likely I would concur.
The US bishops approached some of the clergy involved with the FDLC and asked them to write a document on music. MCW was the result of that request. I found it interesting the bishops approached clergy who were musicians. No lay people were among those who penned various sections and then put the whole package together. And it was in part, a response to the lack of excellence many folk groups brought to the liturgy in American parishes.
I asked my friend about the three judgments, seeing that has been a recent source of vigor on this blog. He didn’t mention a connection with Musicam Sacram 5ff. I stand corrected on that, though I think MS sections 5 through 12 do parallel much of the thought on the judgments.
Of the other folks who wrote MCW for the bishops, one was a chant scholar, and another was a theologian. There were no folk or contemporary musicians, and as I said above, they were all priests.
It strikes me as a curiosity that William Mahrt would misread the three judgments so badly. He was right that those who wrote MCW fully intended for music to be the first judgment. Musical excellence was very much on their minds. Despite their training in classical church music and theology, there was a distinction made about musical style being a separate consideration from musical excellence.
What was the relationship between Musicam Sacram and MCW, I asked. It was intended to be an American statement, I was told, a response to the unique challenges in US parishes at the time. There was certainly a familiarity with MS, my friend said. One example of an aspect that was more or less dismissed in MCW was presider chants. When I asked why, I was told it was a practical matter. American priests didn’t sing. There wasn’t a thought to list sung dialogues as essential: the writers (presumably as clergy themselves) knew it wouldn’t go anywhere.
It’s clear to me that the Church was operating in a totally different way in the early seventies of the past century. Bishops asked experts in certain fields to produce material for them. I don’t believe there was a widespread ill intent to ignore or circumvent Roman documents. It struck me that MCW was intended to fill in the gap where pragmatic American clergy saw that Rome wasn’t even in the ballpark.
It begs the question for today: is Rome any more connected to what’s going on in parishes? Aside from what it hears from the Culture of Complaint, of course.