4. This disdain for Gregorian chant and traditional repertoires is one sign of a much bigger problem, that of disdain for Tradition. Sacrosanctum Concilium teaches that the musical and artistic heritage of the Church should be respected and cherished, because it is the embodiment of centuries of worship and prayer, and an expression of the highest peak of human creativity and spirituality. There was a time when the Church did not run after the latest fashion, but was the maker and arbiter of culture. The lack of commitment to tradition has put the Church and her liturgy on an uncertain and meandering path.
To one extent, I can agree that we can fruitfully attend more deeply to tradition. But there’s too much caricature in this portrait as painted here.
Music and art serve a higher good, namely the liturgy. When the liturgy reforms, music and art must adapt. It is part of a mindset of service. That Roman Catholic music did serve select communities so well for so many centuries is not an entitlement for the present age. At times, the Church has resisted new developments. Critics might dismiss them as “latest fashion(s).” Time will tell.
The attempted separation of the teaching of Vatican II from previous Church teachings is a dead end, and the only way forward is the hermeneutic of continuity endorsed by Pope Benedict XVI. Recovering the unity, integrity, and harmony of Catholic teaching is the condition for restoring both the liturgy and its music to a noble condition. As Pope Francis taught us in his first encyclical: “Self-knowledge is only possible when we share in a greater memory” (Lumen Fidei 38).
This is where I would part company from my musician colleagues behind this document. I’ve written many times traditionally-inclined Catholics rely too much on the “continuity” principle. It gets one and only one mention in Sacrosanctum Concilium. And that, in a particular context. It ignores the essence of religious conversion. Sometimes a believer must make a break from a previous life. When a person becomes an adult, the ways of youth are set aside. An adult doesn’t need to deny positive experiences of childhood and adolescence. Healthy adults build on those experiences. But they move forward.
As for a “unity, integrity, and harmony of Catholic teaching,” I’m not sure of the place of this in a document on church music. Nearly all of the Church’s liturgical repertoire is a matter of prudential choice. Is the Gloria less a song of praise sung after Communion? Is Peace better placed before the Preparation of the Gifts? Unity is a tricky thing, and uniformity is a dangerous substitute.
The full document may be found here.