Too often I read massive criticisms of the Church, from most any ideological viewpoint, with no suggestions for improvement. I might disagree with a diagnosis or treatment, but I would still commend any group that puts out proposals for moving forward. But as a progressive, you would expect that of me.
The church musicians behind Cantate Domino Canticum Novum spell out a frank admission before they offer “Positive Proposals.”
It may seem that what we have said is pessimistic, but we maintain the hope that there is a way out of this winter. The following proposals are offered in spiritu humilitatis, with the intention of restoring the dignity of the liturgy and of its music in the Church.
Agreed on pessimism; disagree on the “winter.” Very little positive news has been shared in this document. No word on small publishers who have worked long and hard to make inroads with the music they promote. No recognition of projects like Psallite or By Flowing Waters or the handful of new hymnals. No acknowledgement of the organizations that have supported this statement and promoted it on their sites. It’s not hard to get the notion that the world and church as they are are one-hundred percent bad and wrong and the signatories alone have the roadmap for the way out.
That said, let’s read carefully eight proposals offered, beginning with this one:
As musicians, pastors, scholars, and Catholics who love Gregorian chant and sacred polyphony, so frequently praised and recommended by the Magisterium, we ask for a re-affirmation of this heritage alongside modern sacred compositions in Latin or vernacular languages that take their inspiration from this great tradition; and we ask for concrete steps to promote it everywhere, in every church across the globe, so that all Catholics can sing the praises of God with one voice, one mind and heart, one common culture that transcends all their differences.
This would be a significant challenge. The culture of complaint has raged long and hard among many Catholics. Swallowing a tongue accustomed to cattiness and backbiting can be difficult. While western European music certainly has something significant to offer a worldwide “common culture,” I don’t think of Europe as the embodiment of a certain unity of style. If we cannot accustom ourselves to a broad acceptance of differing styles, a sense of “I wouldn’t do the music that way, but I recognize it is sacred, spiritual and holy for others,” I think this statement, this effort will do little more but underline modern bitterness.
The “concrete steps” mentioned above are cited in the subsequent proposals.
We also ask for a re-affirmation of the unique importance of the pipe organ for the sacred liturgy, because of its singular capacity to elevate hearts to the Lord and its perfect suitability for supporting the singing of choirs and congregations.
The problem is that pipe organs are far from universal in the First World. Most churches in the developing world lack organs at all. And most of the organs in existence today are not pipes, but based on electronic or digital. Are the Church’s musicians prepared to explain to non-musicians the merits of pipe instruments? Speaking from personal experience, I can tell you it is a challenge.
The full document may be found here.