10 Steps to Rediscover and Recover
I have been asked on several occasions on where to start the journey of rediscovering the Catholic traditions for the Mass (in the Ordinary Form). And in several conversations with various individuals who sincerely seek to come to terms with accepting the teachings of the Magisterium, very often there is difficulty in letting go the favoured and popular music that have become staple in our Catholic Mass.
Here are possibly (though not exhaustive) 10 topics that have been repeatedly mentioned at length in various formation talks, workshops, seminars that I have attended in the past as well as books and documents that I have had the privilege of reading – all summarized for the eager beaver 🙂
(All sources are from cited bibliography unless otherwise stated.)
- THE SIGNIFICANCE OF A SERIOUS APPROACH TOWARDS THE LITURGY
From “Ecclesia de Eucharistia“, St. Pope JP II, #52
“… I consider it my duty, therefore to appeal urgently that the liturgical norms for the celebration of the Eucharist be observed with great fidelity. These norms are a concrete expression of the authentically ecclesial nature of the Eucharist; this is their deepest meaning. Liturgy is never anyone’s private property, be it of the celebrant or of the community in which the mysteries are celebrated. The Apostle Paul had to address fiery words to the community of Corinth because of grave shortcomings in their celebration of the Eucharist resulting in divisions (schisms) and the emergence of factions (heresies) (cf. 1 Cor 11:17-34). Our time, too, calls for a renewed awareness and appreciation of liturgical norms as a reflection of, and a witness to, the one universal Church made present in every celebration of the Eucharist. Priests who faithfully celebrate Mass according to the liturgical norms, and communities which conform to those norms, quietly but eloquently demonstrate their love for the Church. Precisely to bring out more clearly this deeper meaning of liturgical norms, I have asked the competent offices of the Roman Curia to prepare a more specific document, including prescriptions of a juridical nature, on this very important subject. No one is permitted to undervalue the mystery entrusted to our hands: it is too great for anyone to feel free to treat it lightly and with disregard for its sacredness and its universality.”
Ecclesia de Eucharistia, St. Pope JP II, #51
“… It is necessary, however, that this important work of adaptation be carried out with a constant awareness of the ineffable mystery against which every generation is called to measure itself. The “treasure” is too important and precious to risk impoverishment or compromise through forms of experimentation or practices introduced without a careful review on the part of the competent ecclesiastical authorities. Furthermore, the centrality of the Eucharistic mystery demands that any such review must be undertaken in close association with the Holy See. As I wrote in my Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation Ecclesia in Asia, “such cooperation is essential because the Sacred Liturgy expresses and celebrates the one faith professed by all and, being the heritage of the whole Church, cannot be determined by local Churches in isolation from the universal Church”
“For the liturgy of the Sacraments and Sacramentals, and for other special celebrations of the liturgical year, suitable melodies should be provided, which can encourage a celebration in a more solemn form, even in the vernacular, depending on the capabilities of individual congregations and in accordance with the norms of the competent authority.”
“New works of sacred music should conform faithfully to the principles and norms set out above (the principles and guidelines that follow Gregorian Chant).”
“It is easy to infer from what has just been said that the dignity and force of sacred music are greater the closer sacred music itself approaches to the supreme act of Christian worship, the Eucharistic sacrifice of the altar. There can be nothing more exalted or sublime than its function of accompanying with beautiful sound the voice of the priest offering up the Divine Victim, answering him joyfully with the people who are present and enhancing the whole liturgical ceremony with its noble art.”
- PREPARING MELODIES FOR VERNACULAR TEXT
“In preparing popular versions of those parts which will be set to melodies, and especially of the Psalter, experts should take care that fidelity to the Latin text is suitably harmonized with applicability of the vernacular text to musical settings. The nature and laws of each language must be respected, and the features and special characteristics of each people must be taken into consideration: all this, together with the laws of sacred music, should be carefully considered by musicians in the preparation of the new melodies.”
“The new melodies for the vernacular texts certainly need to undergo a period of experimentation in order that they may attain a sufficient maturity and perfection. However, anything done in churches, even if only for experimental purposes, which is unbecoming to the holiness of the place, the dignity of the liturgy and the devotion of the faithful, must be avoided.”
- THE NEED FOR TRAINING OF A CHOIR FOR LITURGICAL FUNCTION
“Besides musical formation, suitable liturgical and spiritual formation must also be given to the members of the choir, in such a way that the proper performance of their liturgical role will not only enhance the beauty of the celebration and be an excellent example for the faithful, but will bring spiritual benefit to the choir-members themselves.”
“In order that this technical and spiritual formation may more easily be obtained, the diocesan, national and international associations of sacred music should offer their services, especially those that have been approved and several times commended by the Holy See.”
- Liturgical Music Committee (LMC), under the umbrella of the Archdiocesan Liturgy Commission serves this role. (update May 10, 2017: the Liturgical Music Committee of the Archdiocese of Singapore has been subsumed under the Diocesan Liturgy Commission as of May 1, 2017)
“The Spirit of the Liturgy”, Cardinal Ratzinger, p.173-175:
“It is God who does the activity, and we are drawn into the action of God: Everything else is secondary. If the various external actions (as a matter of fact, there are not very many of them, though they are being artificially multiplied) become the essential in the liturgy, if the liturgy degenerates into general activity, then we have radically misunderstood the “theo-drama” of the liturgy and lapsed almost into parody. True liturgical education cannot consist in learning and experimenting with external activities. Instead one must be led toward the essential actio that makes the liturgy what it is, toward the transforming power of God, who wants, through what happens in the liturgy, to transform us and the world. In this respect, liturgical education today, of both priests and laity, is deficient to a deplorable extent. Much remains to be done here.”
“It is the duty of all those to whom Christ the Lord has entrusted the task of guarding and dispensing the Church’s riches to preserve this precious treasure of Gregorian chant diligently and to impart it generously to the Christian people. Hence what Our predecessors, St. Pius X, who is rightly called the renewer of Gregorian chant, and Pius XI  have wisely ordained and taught, We also, in view of the outstanding qualities which genuine Gregorian chant possesses, will and prescribe that this be done. In the performance of the sacred liturgical rites this same Gregorian chant should be most widely used and great care should be taken that it should be performed properly, worthily and reverently…”
“First of all see to it that there is a good school of singers in the cathedral itself and, as far as possible, in other major churches of your dioceses. This school should serve as an example to others and influence them to carefully develop and perfect sacred chant.”
- Schola Cantorum Sancti Gregorii Magni (now resident choir for the Latin Mass in Extraordinary Form, Church of St. Joseph Victoria Street)
“Great care must be taken that those who are preparing for the reception of sacred orders in your seminaries and in missionary or religious houses of study are properly instructed in the doctrine and use of sacred music and Gregorian chant according to the mind of the Church by teachers who are experts in this field, who esteem the traditional customs and teachings and who are entirely obedient to the precepts and norms of the Holy See.”
- ON THE QUALITY OF MUSIC
St. Pope JP II’s Chirograph on Tra Le Sollecitudini, #4 & #5
“In continuity with the teachings of St Pius X and the Second Vatican Council, it is necessary first of all to emphasize that music destined for sacred rites must have holiness as its reference point: indeed, “sacred music increases in holiness to the degree that it is intimately linked with liturgical action“. For this very reason, “not all without distinction that is outside the temple (profanum) is fit to cross its threshold”, my venerable Predecessor Paul VI wisely said, commenting on a Decree of the Council of Trent. And he explained that “if music – instrumental and vocal – does not possess at the same time the sense of prayer, dignity and beauty, it precludes the entry into the sphere of the sacred and the religious”. Today, moreover, the meaning of the category “sacred music” has been broadened to include repertoires that cannot be part of the celebration without violating the spirit and norms of the Liturgy itself.
Indeed, liturgical music must meet the specific prerequisites of the Liturgy: full adherence to the text it presents, synchronization with the time and moment in the Liturgy for which it is intended, appropriately reflecting the gestures proposed by the rite. The various moments in the Liturgy require a musical expression of their own. From time to time this must fittingly bring out the nature proper to a specific rite…”
“The progress of this musical art clearly shows how sincerely the Church has desired to render divine worship ever more splendid and more pleasing to the Christian people. It likewise shows why the Church must insist that this art remain within its proper limits and must prevent anything profane and foreign to divine worship from entering into sacred music along with genuine progress, and perverting it.”
“Certainly no one will be astonished that the Church is so vigilant and careful about sacred music. It is not a case of drawing up laws of aesthetics or technical rules that apply to the subject of music. It is the intention of the Church, however, to protect sacred music against anything that might lessen its dignity, since it is called upon to take part in something as important as divine worship.”
“Since this is true of works of art in general, it obviously applies also to religious and sacred art. Actually religious art is even more closely bound to God and the promotion of His praise and glory, because
- its only purpose is to give the faithful the greatest aid in turning their minds piously to God through the works it directs to their senses of sight and hearing (ed. No question of Holiness, and Catechesis of the Faith).
- Consequently the artist who does not profess the truths of the faith (ed. no ambiguity about interpretation of text in the music, and subscription to the Magisterium) or,
- who strays far from God in his attitude or conduct (ed. personal disposition toward holiness – Lex Orandi, Lex Credendi, Lex Vivendi) should never turn his hand to religious art.
- He lacks, as it were, that inward eye with which he might see what God’s majesty and His worship demand (ed. the music must be Holy. The mystery of the Logos and cosmic experience of God in the liturgy. The music should not remind any individual of the secular or profane. i.e. fitting liturgical text to secular tunes).
Nor can he hope that his works, devoid of religion as they are, will ever really breathe the piety and faith that befit God’s temple and His holiness, even though they may show him to be an expert artist who is endowed with visible talent. Thus he cannot hope that his works will be worthy of admission into the sacred buildings of the Church, the guardian and arbiter of religious life.”
- “The dignity and lofty purpose of sacred music consist in the fact that its lovely melodies and splendor beautify and embellish the voices of the priest who offers Mass and of the Christian people who praise the Sovereign God (ed. the music should resemble and be an extension of the sung parts of the Priest. It should continue the character of the music and prayers of the parts sung by the Priest).
- Its special power and excellence should lift up to God the minds of the faithful who are present (ed. the music & text should focus on the worship of God, not “Me”).
- It should make the liturgical prayers of the Christian community more alive and fervent so that everyone can praise and beseech the Triune God more powerfully, more intently and more effectively” (ed. the music should bear no ambiguity about the function of prayer and liturgical rites & rituals. The music should grow into familiarity and universality so that it is easily recognizable for any faithful in any church).
“… And if, because of recently instituted feast days, new Gregorian melodies must be composed, this should be done by true masters of the art. It should be done in such a way that these new compositions obey the laws proper to genuine Gregorian chant and are in worthy harmony with the older melodies in their virtue and purity.”
“Above all, the study and practice of Gregorian chant is to be promoted, because, with its special characteristics, it is a basis of great importance for the development of sacred music.”
- TYPES OF MUSIC THAT ARE OPPOSED TO THE ESSENCE OF THE LITURGY
From “Liturgy and Sacred Music”, Cardinal Ratzinger, lecture in Italian at the VIII International Church Music Congress in Rome, November 17, 1985. It may also be found in “A New Song for the Lord” (NY: Crossroad, 1995):
“First of all there is the Dionysian type of religion and music. In not a few forms of religion, music is ordered to intoxication and to ecstasy, music supposedly of holy madness, through the delirium of the rhythm and the instruments. Music becomes ecstasy. We experience the profane return of this type today in rock and pop music. … Music has become today the decisive vehicle of a counter-religion. … Because rock music seeks redemption by way of liberation from the personality and its responsibility, it takes, in one respect, a very precise position in the anarchical ideas of freedom, which predominates today in a more unconcealed way in the West than in the East. But precisely for that reason, it is thoroughly opposed to the Christian notion of redemption and of freedom as its exact contradiction. Not for aesthetic reasons, not from reactionary obstinacy, not from historical immobility, but because if its very nature, music of this type must be excluded from the Church.
Second, there is music that provokes; it rouses people for various collective goals.
Third, there is sensual music which drives people into the erotic or is in some other way essentially intent on sensual feelings of pleasure.
Finally, there is rationalistic music in which the tones simply serve rational construction, but no real penetration of the mind and senses ensues.”
“The Spirit of the Liturgy”, Cardinal Ratzinger, pp. 146-147
“It is clear that these opportunities for artistic creativity and the adoption of secular tunes brought danger with them. Music was no longer developing out of prayer, but, with the new demand for artistic autonomy, was now heading away from the liturgy; it was becoming an end in itself, opening the door to new, very different, ways of feeling and of experiencing the world. [Secular] Music was alienating the liturgy from its true nature. At this point the Council of Trent intervened in the culture war that had broken out. It was made a norm that liturgical music should be at the service of the Word; the use of instruments was substantially reduced; and the difference between secular and sacred music was clearly affirmed.”
“The Spirit of the Liturgy”, Cardinal Ratzinger, p. 149
“Thus the relation of liturgical music to logos means, first of all, simply its relation to words. That is why singing in the liturgy has priority over instrumental music, though it does not in any way exclude it. It goes without saying that the biblical and liturgical texts are the normative words from which liturgical music has to take its bearings. This does not rule out the continuing creation of “new songs”, but instead inspires them and assures them of a firm grounding in God’s love for mankind and his work of redemption.”
“The Spirit of the Liturgy”, Cardinal Ratzinger, pp. 151
“Not every kind of music can have a place in Christian worship. It has its standards, and that standard is the Logos. If we want to know whom we are dealing with, the Holy Spirit or the unholy spirit, we have to remember that it is the Holy Spirit who moves us to say, “Jesus is Lord” (~Cor 12:3). The Holy Spirit leads us to the Logos, and he leads us to a music that serves the Logos as a sign of the sursum corda, the lifting up of the human heart. Does it integrate man by drawing him to what is above, or does it cause his disintegration into formless intoxication or mere sensuality? That is the criterion for a music in harmony with logos, a form of that logike latreia (reasonable, logos-worthy worship)…
“An authentic updating of sacred music can take place only in the lineage of the great tradition of the past, of Gregorian chant and sacred polyphony.” (Pope Benedict XVI, Sistine Chapel, June 24, 2006)
DMS #51 & #52
“Hymns have their own part to play in all the festive solemnities of Christian life, whether public or of a more personal nature; they also find their part in the daily labors of the Christian. But they attain their ideal usefulness in all private devotions, whether conducted outside or inside the church. At times their use is even permitted during liturgical functions, in accord with the directions given in paragraphs 13-15 (of DMS).
If hymns are to attain their purpose, their texts “must conform to the doctrine of the Catholic Church, plainly stating, and explaining it. The vocabulary should be simple, and free of dramatic, and meaningless verbiage. Their tunes, however brief, and easy, should evince a religious dignity and propriety”. Local Ordinaries should carefully see that these ideals are observed.”
“Where, according to old or immemorial custom, some popular hymns are sung in the language of the people after the sacred words of the liturgy have been sung in Latin during the solemn Eucharistic sacrifice, local Ordinaries can allow this to be done ‘if, in the light of the circumstances of the locality and the people, they believe that (custom) cannot prudently be removed.’ The law by which it is forbidden to sing the liturgical words themselves in the language of the people remains in force, according to what has been said.”
MSD #63 & #64
“If hymns of this sort are to bring spiritual fruit and advantage to the Christian people, they must be in full conformity with the doctrine of the Catholic faith. They must also express and explain that doctrine accurately. Likewise they must use plain language and simple melody and must be free from violent and vain excess of words. Despite the fact that they are short and easy, they should manifest a religious dignity and seriousness. As we have written above, such hymns cannot be used in Solemn High Masses without the express permission of the Holy See.”
- THE IMPACT OF NEW MUSIC BEING PRODUCED IN THE FOLK-MOVEMENT OF MUSIC ACCOMPANYING VERNACULAR MASSES
“A New Song for the Lord”, Cardinal Ratzinger, p. 144.
“The new music is the characteristic of the group’s identity, the emergence of another church. For this group, the content of Pope St. Pius X’s motu proprio on church music is called a “culturally shortsighted and theologically worthless ideology of sacred music.” Gregorian chant and Renaissance polyphony symbolize the power of the institution and the clergy–the other church, which curtails the group’s freedom. The pontiff writes that the “treasury of musica sacra, the universality of Gregorian chant handed down through the ages, now appears as an outmoded and quaint practice of the pre-conciliar Church for the purpose of preserving a certain form of power.
What we are experiencing today is to a large extent due to the disintegration of the liturgy which at times has even come to be conceived of etsi Deus non daretur, (that is, the liturgy has even come to be celebrated as if there were no God).”
“These laws warn that great prudence and care should be used in this serious matter in order to keep out of churches polyphonic music which, because of its heavy and bombastic style, might obscure the sacred words of the liturgy by a kind of exaggeration, interfere with the conduct of the liturgical service or, finally, lower the skill and competence of the singers to the disadvantage of sacred worship.”
(ed. notes as follows)
- cautions against overly rhythmic songs
- songs with lyrics / text that are not aligned with the sacred words of liturgy
- songs that create sentimentalism
- songs that promote the emphasis of self (or private devotion) over the public work of communal worship in the Holy Sacrifice
- THE COMPETENT CHOIR IN ITS LITURGICAL FUNCTION REPRESENTING THE PEOPLE
“A New Song for the Lord”, Cardinal Ratzinger, pp. 141-142
“Whoever does not pay attention to the mystery character and cosmic character of the invitation to sing in unison with the praise of the heavenly choirs has already missed the point of the whole thing. This unison can occur in a variety of ways, and it always has to do with being representative of or standing in for others. The congregation assembled in one place opens into the whole. It also represents those who are absent and unites itself with those who are far and near. If the congregation has a choir that can draw it into cosmic praise and into the open expanse of heaven and earth more powerfully than its own stammering, then the representative function of the choir is at this moment particularly appropriate. Through the choir a greater transparency to the praise of the angels and therefore a more profound, interior joining in with their singing are bestowed than a congregation’s own acclamation and song would be capable of doing in many places…. Does it not do us good, before we set off into the center of the mystery, to encounter a short time of filled silence in which the choir calms us interiorly, leading each one of us into silent prayer and thus into a union that can occur only on the inside? Must we not relearn this silent, inner co-praying with each other and with the angels and saints, the living and the dead, and with Christ himself? This way the words of the Canon do not become worn-out expressions that we then in vain attempt to substitute with ever newly assembled phrases, phrases which conceal the absence of the real inner event of the liturgy, the departure from human speech into being touched by the eternal. Lengeling’s veto (of Gregorian and sacred polyphony which excludes the congregation from participating), which has been repeated by many others, is meaningless. The choral Sanctus has its justification even after the Second Vatican Council.”
- THE MISUNDERSTANDING AND MISINTERPRETATION OF “ACTUOSA PARTICIPATIO” (ACTIVE PARTICIPATION)
“In the Presence of the Angels”, Cardinal Ratzinger (Adoremus Bulltein, Vol. 2, Nos. 6-8, Oct-Dec 1996)
“Wherever an exaggerated concept of “community” predominates, a concept which is (as we have already seen) completely unrealistic precisely in a highly mobile society such as ours, there only the priest and the congregation can be acknowledged as legitimate executors or performers of liturgical song. Today, practically everyone can see through the primitive activism and the insipid pedagogic rationalism of such a position which is why it is now asserted so seldom. The fact that the schola and the choir can also contribute to the whole picture, is scarcely denied any more, even among those who erroneously interpret the council’s phrase about “active participation” as meaning external activism.”
“The Feast of Faith”, Cardinal Ratzinger, pp. 123 – 124.
“Silence is another mode of active participation, a fact verified by throngs who nightly fill concert halls. Is it not active participation at being moved by a piece of music, sung or played? Are we to compel people to sing when they cannot, and, by doing so, silence not only their hearts but the hearts of others too”
- RELIGIOUS MUSIC ENCOURAGED AT THE PROPER OPPORTUNITY FOR USE
“Moreover, in these same popular devotions, and especially in celebrations of the word of God, it is excellent to include as well some of those musical works which, although they no longer have a place in the liturgy, can nevertheless foster a religious spirit and encourage meditation on the sacred mystery.”
MSD #36 & #37
“We must also hold in honor that music which is not primarily a part of the sacred liturgy, but which by its power and purpose greatly aids religion. This music is therefore rightly called religious music. The Church has possessed such music from the beginning and it has developed happily under the Church’s auspices. As experience shows, it can exercise great and salutary force and power on the souls of the faithful, both when it is used in churches during non-liturgical services and ceremonies, or when it is used outside churches at various solemnities and celebrations.
The tunes of these hymns, which are often sung in the language of the people, are memorized with almost no effort or labor. The mind grasps the words and the music. They are frequently repeated and completely understood. Hence even boys and girls, learning these sacred hymns at a tender age, are greatly helped by them to know, appreciate and memorize the truths of the faith. Therefore they also serve as a sort of catechism. These religious hymns bring pure and chaste joy to young people and adults during times of recreation. They give a kind of religious grandeur to their more solemn assemblies and gatherings. They bring pious joy, sweet consolation and spiritual progress to Christian families themselves. Hence these popular religious hymns are of great help to the Catholic apostolate and should be carefully cultivated and promoted.”
MS: Musicam Sacram (Instruction on Sacred Music in the Liturgy, 1967)
MSD: Musica Sacrae Disciplina (Encyclical on Sacred Music, 1955)
DMS: De Musica Sacra (Instruction on Sacred Music & Sacred Liturgy, 1958)
TLS: Tra Le Sollecitudini (On the Restoration of Sacred Music, 1903)
Other citations from books and references stated within.
All sources are from cited bibliography unless otherwise stated.
Kenneth Wee has been with the SPP Choir since 1999 and is currently serving as the Music Director of the Choir. He conducts the choir most of the time and plays the organ some of the time, while taking care of his two young children all of the time.