More from the statement Cantate Domino Canticum Novum. In their second of six analyses of “The Current Situation,” the concerned musicians level criticism at aspects of the liturgy they believe has adopted too much of the qualities of contemporary culture.
The flaw in the argument is that the Church has always adopted secular elements into liturgy. Basilicas were originally Roman public buildings. When Constantine legalized Christianity, believers didn’t just maintain house churches. They moved into the big structures of their town, embracing secular architecture for their own purposes–public worship on a large scale.
But let’s read:
2. This loss of liturgical and theological understanding goes hand-in-hand with an embrace of secularism. The secularism of popular musical styles has contributed to a desacralization of the liturgy, while the secularism of profit-based commercialism has reinforced the imposition of mediocre collections of music upon parishes.
We might expect the accumulated repertoire of a millennium to have a leg up on a vernacular repertoire cobbled from catechetical songs, Low Mass refugees, and Protestant hymnody. But this music, plainsong, polyphony, and other western classics, were not the usual fare in most parishes. The market force in the Catholic church was with those who addressed the problem most parishes had: How to get people in the pews, not just the choir, to sing the new liturgy.
If the presumption was that liturgical and Biblical texts addressed the matter of praying to God, then the emphasis on the people’s song wasn’t a concern. Except in CDCN in an appeal to “human-centered” worship:
It has encouraged an anthropocentrism in the liturgy that undermines its very nature.
According to the Church, one of the two main purposes of the liturgy is the sanctification of people. Christians at worship do not “minister” to God. But worship leaders do minister to people through their leadership. The earthly manifestation of liturgy is “anthropocentered” by its nature and definition.
In vast sectors of the Church nowadays there is an incorrect relationship with culture, which can be seen as a “web of connections.” With the actual situation of our liturgical music (and of the liturgy itself, because the two are intertwined), we have broken this web of connection with our past and tried to connect with a future that has no meaning without its past. Today, the Church is not actively using her cultural riches to evangelize, but is mostly used by a prevalent secular culture, born in opposition to Christianity, which destabilizes the sense of adoration that is at the heart of the Christian faith.
Is the Church being used by secular culture? I’d say there are efforts where church leaders adopt and adapt aspects of communication, art, technology to further the Gospel mission. As with anything, the internet, psychology, keyboard instruments, and the printing press can be abused for sinful or ill-conceived ends.
Let’s pick up on that notion of adoration:
Pope Francis, in his homily for the feast of Corpus Christi on June 4, 2015, has spoken of “the Church’s amazement at this reality [of the Most Holy Eucharist]. . . An astonishment which always feeds contemplation, adoration, and memory.” In many of our Churches around the world, where is this sense of contemplation, this adoration, this astonishment for the mystery of the Eucharist? It is lost because we are living a sort of spiritual Alzheimer’s, a disease that is taking our spiritual, theological, artistic, musical and cultural memories away from us. It has been said that we need to bring the culture of every people into the liturgy. This may be right if correctly understood, but not in the sense that the liturgy (and the music) becomes the place where we have to exalt a secular culture. It is the place where the culture, every culture, is brought to another level and purified.
My sense is that this charge is a matter of a narrow perspective. It is also entwined with a cultural reluctance to engage the emotional life of human beings. As offspring of the Enlightenment, we want reason to win the day. It is why many Catholics embrace such tools as the catechism, canon law, apologetics, and other aspects of the human intellect.
Pope Francis is appealing to “astonishment,” which, I would submit, is a matter of more than reason. We do not adore God because we are told to do so. We do so because we have connected on a new, or better, on multiple levels at once.
My suggestion is that the culture we encounter can be used for the purposes of the mission of Christ. Adding new music that assists in this is not an enslavement to secular culture. But if done with excellence, is indeed where human aspects can be brought to that new level.
The full document may be found here.