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.