CDCN: The Challenges of Renewal

The statement Cantate Domino Canticum Novum, in their third point considering “The Current Situation,” looks to the problem of “a ‘renewal’ that does not reflect Church teaching but rather serves their own agenda, worldview, and interests.”

I would say that these church musicians come into conflict at times with agendas other than their own. Not all of them are personal. Some may be in agreement with the Church’s views on liturgy. Some may be misinterpretations, either by opponents or by the musicians themselves. And let’s be clear: musicians at liturgy function as part of a team. Not all clergy see eye to eye on matters. And all sides make mistakes and errors from time to time. After all, we are only human. Which is why I find statements such as this an unfortunate misdiagnosis:

These groups have members in key leadership positions from which they put into practice their plans, their idea of culture, and the way we have to deal with contemporary issues. In some countries powerful lobbies have contributed to the de facto replacement of liturgical repertoires faithful to the directives of Vatican II with low-quality repertoires.

The truth is that most parishes never had a “faithful” repertoire to begin with. And also that new music, much despised, can be criticized more for its performance, and not so much the content. If this statement conceded the positive fruits of post-conciliar liturgical music, of renewal accomplished within the bounds of the Council, I would be inclined to take its valid criticisms more seriously. The truth is that post-conciliar contemporary music, even that of the praise and worship variety, is much more attuned to and based on Scripture than pre-conciliar Low Mass hymnody. The failure to recognize that church musicians do not and should not always get “their way,” suggests to me there’s a bit too much narcissism underlying the intent of this document.

More on Gregorian chant:

Today this “supreme model” (of Gregorian chant) is often discarded, if not despised.

There are three significant reasons why this might appear to be so. One, chant was done poorly before the Council, to the point where any decent music decently done was seen as an improvement. Two, chant wasn’t sung by parishioners in most parishes, and the post-conciliar emphasis was to follow the directives of the Roman Missal, that the people would sing at certain moments in the Mass appropriate to them. Three, there was a certain ambivalence among some church musicians in the late 60s and early 70s, in that they were slow to adapt to the reformed liturgy. So-called folk music was not. Neither were organ/choir rooted musicians and composers such as Proulx, Peloquin, Kreutz, Hughes, Carroll, Batastini, and others. These people didn’t ignore chant, but they also emphasized hymnody. And if one criticizes their like for not emphasizing chant enough, you can’t call the output of these leading post-conciliar composers as “low-quality.”

The entire Magisterium of the Church has reminded us of the importance of adhering to this important model, not as way of limiting creativity but as a foundation on which inspiration can flourish. If we desire that people look for Jesus, we need to prepare the house with the best that the Church can offer. We will not invite people to our house, the Church, to give them a by-product of music and art, when they can find a much better pop music style outside the Church. Liturgy is a limen, a threshold that allows us to step from our daily existence to the worship of the angels: Et ídeo cum Angelis et Archángelis, cum Thronis et Dominatiónibus, cumque omni milítia cæléstis exércitus, hymnum glóriæ tuæ cánimus, sine fine dicéntes…

I can’t disagree with the notion we should prepare music that is the very best. But I would differ with my colleagues in suggesting that inculturation, contemporary genres, and at times, a setting aside of what of tradition does not work, is often needed.

Comments from you readers?

The full document may be found here.

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About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in the Pacific Northwest, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
This entry was posted in Cantate Domino Canticum Novum, Liturgical Music. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to CDCN: The Challenges of Renewal

  1. Liam says:

    I would venture that one key failure after the Council, at least in the USA, was the failure of the overwhelming majority of priests to sing the dialogues with the people. It may seem to be a small thing, but that failure made it harder to weave a more thorough tapestry for the norm of the sung Mass, and allowed the Low Mass mentality to survive more vigorously, albeit often dressed up with sung Responsorial Psalms of divers qualities and typically less-than-excellent settings of the Ordinary that both musicians and congregants strongly tended to treat as background rather than foreground.

    I ask for prayers for the repose of my father, who died on Easter Thursday, and will be buried this coming Friday.

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