Msgr Marini on Music

Yet one more post on Msgr Marini’s oft-quoted and recognized address to clergy as part of a conference for the Year for Priests. That may be an important context for the papal  liturgist’s remarks here: they are directed not at musicians, but at pastors and others in Holy Orders.

Msgr Marini concedes his brief remarks on music touch on only two questions:

Why does the Church insist on proposing certain forms as characteristic of sacred and liturgical music which make them distinct from all other forms of music?

Why, also, do Gregorian chant and the classical sacred polyphony turn out to be the forms to be imitated, in light of which liturgical and even popular music should continue to be produced today?

Good questions. Msgr Marini answers his own questions as follows:

It is properly those forms of music, in their holiness, their goodness, and their universality, which translate in notes, melodies and singing the authentic liturgical spirit: by leading to adoration of the mystery celebrated, by favouring an authentic and integral participation, by helping the listener to capture the sacred and thereby the essential primacy of God acting in Christ, and finally by permitting a musical development that is anchored in the life of the Church and the contemplation of its mystery.

And yet, this will not always translate into the same type of music for different nations and cultures, for different churches and their local traditions, or even within the same parish in the gamut of “informality” to more grave occasions. The suggestion that chant and polyphony will fit a wide swath of Catholic liturgy is correct. But chant and polyphony do not always and everywhere facilitate the ideals listed in Marini’s answer, especially universality, adoration, participation, and sometimes even the “capture” of the sacred.

Even as a musician, I can concede music is a tool. It may well be the best tool in the artist’s box, but it remains a means to an end. I think any serious Catholic church musician must consider the role of plainsong. My readers know of my advocacy for traditional music and the form of the propers of the Mass. And yet, when it comes to musical style, one cannot avoid consideration of the architecture and acoustics, the abilities of the music leaders, the pastoral situation of the assembly, the context of the liturgical celebration (Sunday Mass, daily Mass, wedding, funeral, youth, elderly, etc), the support from the clergy, the financial resources of the community–just to name a few.

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Todd lives in the Pacific Northwest, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
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8 Responses to Msgr Marini on Music

  1. John says:

    It is nice to know that Msgr Marini considers his personal opinions on chant to speak on behalf of all Catholics. He skews his own questions to give preconceived answers. The church talks, evangelizes, and moves our very essence through so many formats including music. For a single individual to believe, preach, and ultimately dictate that there is only one form of music that is truly acceptable is arrogant at best. The sad part is that the pews have already begun to empty out and the hope for our children and future generations is in serious jeopardy.

    Msgr Marini and others like him slowly chip away at the precepts of Vatican II. John XXIII opened the windows of the church to allow for fresh and renewed air. Many of us no longer believe in a church that rules through power, authority, and fear. Our ears have been opened to music that is alive. To return to the romantic notion that music should be of only a certain genre will only make for a church that is without life. Sadly, I feel we are heading in that direction.

  2. Sam Schmitt says:

    Far from expressing his own “personal opinions on chant,” the good Msgr. is largely paraphrasing what the popes (especially Pius X) have said many times over, as well as Vatican II.

    Not sure how you go from this to “a church that rules through power, authority, and fear.” Huh?

  3. tom Kolar says:

    I faithfully support the church financially, but no longer attend Mass because of the contemporary Catholic Music. I have it in my Last Will And Testament that there is to be no music at my Funeral Mass. From my conversations with my family over the years about the state of church music on Sundays – I should say they will be happy with my funeral.

    • Harry says:

      Tom, to each his own. But I can’t help but note the irony of you taking advantage of the fact that you can now decide whether or not to have music at your funeral. That wasn’t always possible.

      I will also note that every piece of music you hear in church, including Gregorian chant, was “new” at some point in the church’s history. And all of it had it’s critics of being too “contemporary.”

      Granted, lots of church music stinks, according to my taste. But there is so much of it, recent and otherwise, that is absolutely stunning.

      I have already selected the music for my funeral. I have chosen hymns that are meaningful to me should be familiar to congregation, and I have asked that an announcement be made before Mass begins to encourage all to sing. That’s the way I want to go out and be remembered.

      • tom Kolar says:

        Hi Harry,
        I always enjoy your comments and your insights, but as for myself I don’t want someone sitting at the organ in our sanctuary singing in a key no one can sing and hymns that no one knows. They might as well drag me into a cocktail bar and sit my casket in front of the piano and let the entertainment begin.
        It is not that I dislike music. When I was a kid I had the opportunity to sit with Mary Curtis and Ephrem Zimbalist as a guest of Alexander McCurdy and his wife Flor Bruce Greenwood for Dr. McCurdy’s student’s graduation recitals.I loved the choral works at the Westminster Choir School when I was a kid – I guess at nearing 70 I am stuck in another time and place. As my sister says about her church – that she wants to run out screaming by the time Mass is over. I have stopped that – I try to go to a Mass without music or if I oversleep – pray on my own. I know Theologically it is not the same. I don’t care if I go out remembered, but I would like God remembered – and for me- no music at my church will do it.
        It was bad when I was a kid in the fifties, but not because of the music, but because of the musicians, but there was not much of it – so it wasn’t as annoying.
        Have a good day, Harry.

  4. Todd, as odd as this may appear, I actually concur with your caveats. Trouble is, folks like us live and breathe in a vibrant bubble of “catholic cultures” and daily add new data and philosophies to enrich the atmosphere within our bubble. As Sam points out, “John” mistakenly purports Msgr. Marini’s commentary as personal opinion. For true progressive growth towards the ideals of universal, timeless and beautiful, more catholic musicians at service to the Church must actively acquire knowledge of both doctrines and traditions-the doctrines which are culled from centuries of wisdom, and traditions from all corners of Christendom.
    Any musician in the church worth his/her salt cannot purposefully ignore the “sacred treasury” (which even Fr. Ruff acknowledges is an amoebic entity) and regard themselves as authoritative.

  5. Just offering my opinion: church musicians, in the main, are not enough in touch with serious music that is being composed now. A good number of them would know the name James MacMillan, but would they know the name Tarik O’Regan, or Joby Talbot? These are composers of really serious music, which is thoroughly contemporary and yet stylistically acceptable for the church. I’m not saying that these particular composers are the ones to be commissioned; I’m only saying that their work would be a good place to start for good ideas. It gets us out of this boring Palestrina vs. Glory and Praise debate.

    Similarly, with respect to inculturation, it might benefit us church musicians to pay attention to the various styles of chant used in other cultures. Chinese liturgical chant is utterly fascinating, and completely in harmony with the liturgy.

    This is not a traditional, conservative, or liberal issue, as I’m sure Todd would agree. It’s an artistic issue. Are we going to be good artists, or are we going to be good politicians who create false dichotomies in endless debates? I choose the former.

  6. Jimmy Mac says:

    I want my funeral to start with “Pass Me Not O Gentle Savior” and the final hymn to be “I’ll Fly Away.”

    In between I want these played: “Panis Angelicus”, “You Raise Me Up” and “Pie Jesu .“

    This music will be a true reflection of my beliefs in life and the proper advance notice that I’m going home.

    This should be the ONLY eulogy or funeral homily by anyone:

    PIPPIN: “I didn’t think it would end this way.”

    GANDALF: “End? No, the journey doesn’t end here. Death is just another path, one that we all must take. The grey rain-curtain of this world rolls back, and all turns to silver glass, and then you see it.”

    PIPPIN: “What? Gandalf? See what?”

    GANDALF: “White shores, and beyond, a far green country under a swift sunrise.”

    PIPPIN: “Well, that isn’t so bad.”

    GANDALF: “No. No, it isn’t.”

    From “The Lord of The Rings”

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