Thursday, May 24, 2007

He who sings...

Taking a break for a second on restoration eschatology in Scripture and historical Jesus studies, I want to mention something we talked about in class today at JP Catholic.

First, let me give some background. I am currently teaching a class on early Christian literature, art and music.
It's a blast. The students are really great here at JP Catholic. Among other selections from the Fathers of the Church, the students are reading the entirety of Augustine's Confessions. The class discussion is great because we have a brilliant group here.

They are also each writing a research paper on some early Christian piece of art from the first 1000 years of the Church--usually one of the early icons, such as the Pantocrater. We're having a lot fun discussing all of that as well.

Today we started talking about early Christian chant and the rise of Gregorian chant. I'm really learning to really love this ancient style of music--which at first was a bit of a stretch for a guy who has played guitar and sung lead vocals in rock bands. But I'm discovering the great contemplative value of chant.

What really took me by surprise--and what I brought out in class today--was the following quote from Vatican II:
Sacrosanctum Concilium 112: The musical tradition of the universal Church is a treasure of inestimable value, greater even than that of any other art. The main reason for this pre-eminence is that, as sacred song united to the words, it forms a necessary or integral part of the solemn liturgy.
The words here regarding the value the Church places on the ancient music of the Church--and within context this is talking above all about Gregorian Chant--is stunning. It is greater than even that of any other art. If one thinks of all the works in the Vatican churches and museums--the works of all the great artists--and then considers this line, it is truly remarkable.

Just food for thought...

Of course, the importance of Gregorian chant has been emphasized just recently by Pope Benedict in his letter, Sacramentum Caritatis, 42:
The People of God assembled for the liturgy sings the praises of God. In the course of her two-thousand-year history, the Church has created, and still creates, music and songs which represent a rich patrimony of faith and love. This heritage must not be lost. Certainly as far as the liturgy is concerned, we cannot say that one song is as good as another. Generic improvisation or the introduction of musical genres which fail to respect the meaning of the liturgy should be avoided. As an element of the liturgy, song should be well integrated into the overall celebration. Consequently everything – texts, music, execution – ought to correspond to the meaning of the mystery being celebrated, the structure of the rite and the liturgical seasons. Finally, while respecting various styles and different and highly praiseworthy traditions, I desire, in accordance with the request advanced by the Synod Fathers, that Gregorian chant be suitably esteemed and employed as the chant proper to the Roman liturgy [emphasis added].


Paul said...

Michael, it was very exciting to read this. I'm wondering about something though. "Certainly as far as the liturgy is concerned, we cannot say that one song is as good as another." How do you determine whether or not the music is fits the sacred nature of the liturgy? Is there a kind of hierarchy of liturgical music?

Theocoid said...

Another former rock musician turned theologian! (Or, I guess I should say a rock musician turned theologian since I still have a way to go before I can call myself the latter.)

Anonymous said...

Why do radfemnuns always pressure the priests to stop singing the Mass and the Our Father? It is so beautiful sung. Why would the nuns hate it?


Diane said...

Welcome to the world of heavenly Chant, Michael.

I once played in the folk groups at various parishes and there is no way I could go back to it now that I've had a taste of Gregorian chant and sacred polyphony.

I think it is all in separating ourselves from the world when in the Mass. When the Mass becomes like the world with its art, its literature, and music, we lose that sense of the sacred.

Also, when thinking of art, I never realized just how much art can create an opportunity for meditation. Originally, the great masterpieces on the ceilings, walls, and glass of Churches were done to help those who could not read. Even though I'm capable of reading, I would not want to trade the beautiful artwork of my own parish for the green blob representing the Blessed Mother I had to look at for the first 40 years of my life. Hardly meditative in quality.

I am moved by many contemporary Catholic songs - at least those that are theologically correct. However, I would rather have the contemporary music outside the context of Mass.