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Today let’s have a look at John Paul II’s brief thoughts on contemporary compositions:
10. Since the Church has always recognized and fostered progress in the arts, it should not come as a surprise that in addition to Gregorian chant and polyphony she admits into celebrations even the most modern music, as long as it respects both the liturgical spirit and the true values of this art form. In compositions written for divine worship, therefore, the particular Churches in the various nations are permitted to make the most of “those special forms which may be said to constitute the special character of [their] native music”[TlS 2]. On the lines of my holy Predecessor and of what has been decreed more recently by the Constitution Sacrosanctum Concilium[SC 119], I have also intended in the Encyclical Ecclesia de Eucharistia to make room for new musical contributions, mentioning in addition to the inspired Gregorian melodies, “the many, often great composers who sought to do justice to the liturgical texts of the Mass”[EE 49].
Let’s tease out this first comment about “progress” in the arts. I suspect that the Holy Father was talking less about one era improving on another in terms of better music, more progress, and such. I would agree. However, I think individual composers can and should improve on their craft. Publishers can improve their product. Parishes and other faith communities search out better repertoire for congregational singing. Progress is good, possible, desirable.
It’s inevitable that the skill or charism of composing music nets us a pyramid. Many people try it. Fewer are good at it. A select few are universally acknowledged as “great composers.” It comes with the territory of human endeavor. Preachers exhibit this: most are poor to mediocre. Some are good. Few are excellent.