Thursday, January 29, 2009


I wanted to draw out some further implications of Pope St. Pius X's, 1903, Motu Proprio Tra le sollecitudini (Restoration of Sacred Music).

We need to keep our focus clearly on the notion of active participation. The purpose of music is to aid in our worship and not to entertain us. The musical instruments should be played in a way that aids the singing and should not draw attention to the musician or the instrument. For example if the piano is used it should not be louder than the singing. St Pius notes, "singing must always have the chief place, the organ and other instruments should merely sustain, never suppress it." (AOG 121) The manner in which the music is played should be simple and not involve complicated extra musical parts that interrupt or delay the singing. "It is not lawful to introduce the singing with long preludes, or to interrupt it with intermezzos" (Ibid). In my experience this means that those playing key boards need to reign in the tendency to add musical flourishes. St. Pius' admonition that music must be good and also "suited to the ability of the singers and always sung well" means that the sometimes common philosophy of saying we are just hear to "make a joyful noise" regardless of the quality is misguided. The choir should contain singers with ability, and who have practiced, and are singing what they are good at. Better to have a small choir of good singers than a large one that is mediocre. Further if the goal of the choir in to encourage the entire congregation to sing, then the music director must choose songs that are sing-able. The songs choice must be in a key that most people can sing and the words of the song must be inspiring and not banal or trite. Some thought must be given to not simply singing the "old favorites" that are now the "favorites of the old people". I honestly don't know what to say about generation problem, but clearly experience shows that younger people are drawn to the music and the leadership of their own generation. Prudence would suggest at least some method of sharing the worship time among differing tastes. Perhaps this means hosting a youth Mass, and allowing for some diversity in the regular worship. This of course could be taken to extremes where the Altar is replaced with a rock band, and liturgy becomes a performance. There is nothing wrong with a Christian rock concert, it is just not what we mean by liturgy. I think I will leave it here and hope I haven't offended everyone. J

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

The sources of Sacrosanctum Concilium

As we journey back and look at the recommendations of St. Pius X we must not lose sight of the fact that the one of the new developments in Sacrosanctum Concilium involves the permission for competent territorial authorities (e.g. the USCCB) to make legitimate, approved inculturations of the liturgy. The new General Instruction of the Roman Missal (GIRM) contains such an approved variation;

Adaptations of the Institutio Generalis Missalis Romani, editio typica tertia

Musical Instruments and Approval of Musical Settings
This adaptation will be inserted at number 393:

Bearing in mind the important place which singing has in celebration, as a necessary and integral part of the Liturgy, all musical settings of the texts for the people's responses and acclamations in the Order of Mass and for special rites that occur in the course of the liturgical year must be submitted to the USCCB Secretariat for the Liturgy for review and approval prior to publication

While the organ is to be accorded pride of place, other wind, stringed, or percussion instruments may be used in liturgical services in the dioceses of the United States of America, according to longstanding local usage, provided they are truly apt for sacred use or can be rendered apt.

Writing in 1903 Pope St. Pius X, Motu Proprio Tra le sollecitudini (Restoration of Sacred Music) notes that in order to acquire the Christian spirit the “first and most indispensible source” is “active participation in the sacred mysteries and in the public and solemn prayer of the Church” (AOG 117).

Purpose of sacred music is “to clothe with suitable melody the liturgical text presented for the understanding of the faithful” (AOG, p. 117). He remarks that sacred music must possess holiness, beauty of form, and universality (AOG, 118). Gregorian chant is the “supreme model of sacred worship” and needs to be “restored to the people so that they may take a more active part in the sacred liturgy” (AOG, 118). This is still the case in the most current GIRM which notes; “All other things being equal, Gregorian chant holds pride of place because it is proper to the Roman Liturgy” (GIRM 41).

At a somewhat later date Pius XI, in Divini Cultus (1928) declared;

In order that the faithful may more actively participate in divine worship, let them be made once more to sing the Gregorian Chant, so far as it belongs to them to take part in it. It is most important that when the faithful assist at the sacred ceremonies, or when pious sodalities take part with the clergy in a procession, they should not be merely detached and silent spectators, but, filled with a deep sense of the beauty of the Liturgy, they should sing alternately with the clergy or the choir, as it is prescribed. (

Pope St. Pius X comments that modern music can also be appropriate if it is good, beautiful and in keeping with liturgical law. He forbids the use theatrical style of 19th Century Italy. As far as I can tell this would be Italian Opera. I wonder what this says about the use of vibrato in Church singing? Classical polyphony, though difficult to produce, accords well with Gregorian chant. At the time of Pius X, however, all vernacular singing is forbidden. The Latin words are to be sung without distorting syllables in a manner intelligible to the faithful.

Commenting on singers Pope St. Pius X, notes that women are excluded, and men must be of known piety. Further the choir should where cassocks and a surplice and be hidden from view. Making observations on the use of organ and other instruments he clarifies “singing must always have the chief place, the organ and other instruments should merely sustain, never suppress it.” (AOG 121) He is also uncomfortable with music as a performance. “It is not lawful to introduce the singing with long preludes, or to interrupt it with intermezzos” (Ibid).

The use of piano, drums, kettle drums, cymbals, bells, and the like forbidden and bands are strictly forbidden to play in church. Finally he observes that music must be good but also “suited to the ability of the singers and always sung well.”

Once again we are reminded that St Pius’ specific advice is not part of the current norms of the Church. Yet we can still ask ourselves, what broad principles can we see in Pope St. Pius X’s remarks? First the purpose of sacred music is to facilitate active participation in the liturgy. The focus should be on congregational singing which inspires a deep sense of the beauty of the Liturgy. Our attention should be on worship and not on the music itself, or the performers. If we are tempted to clap after hearing the music then we have missed the entire point. Worship should lift our hearts to the transcendent, the good and the beautiful. It should be a means of prayer. Clearly the musicians, cantors, and choir should try not to draw attention to themselves, either by their dress, or their performance. The theme of active participation will be further discussed in the next blog on Pius XII, Mediator Dei (On Sacred Liturgy) 1947.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Vatican II and the Liturgy

Today I have been thinking about the Vatican II Constitution, Sacrosanctum Concilium.

I have found a couple of great resources that I would recommend. The first is the essay by Pamela E. J. Jackson, “Theology of the Liturgy” in Ed. Matthew L. Lamb and Matthew Levering, Vatican II: Renewal Within the Tradition (New York: Oxford University Press, 2008), p. 101-128. This anthology opens with a address by Pope Benedict XVI on “The Proper Hermeneutic for the Second Vatican Council.” ('hermeneutic' means interpretation). I highly recommend all the essays in this anthology.

Pamela Jackson also has a longer book length essay in An Abundance of Graces: Reflections on Sacrosanctum Concilium (Chicago: Hillenbrand Books LTP), 2004. This is a very informative volume which contains a lengthy appendix reprinting Sacrosanctum Concilium; Pope Pius X, Motu Proprio Tra le sollecitudini The Restoration of Sacred Music; and the extremely important work, of Pius XII, Mediator Dei (On Sacred Liturgy) 1947.

Pamela Jackson notes; “ . . . it is important to recall that [Sacrosanctum Concilium] did not suddenly appear out of nowhere, but was the culmination of over a hundred years of research, reflection, writing, and pastoral work of the Liturgical Movement” (AOG, p. 3). It is fascinating to follow this journey and to ask how we got from Pope St. Pius X to the place we are now.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Gospel Commentary: Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time (Feb 1, 2009)

This Sunday’s reading from Mark 1:21-28 contains some puzzling elements. Jesus begins his ministry in Galilee, in St. Mark’s Gospel by declaring, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent, and believe in the gospel.” The evidence of the “in-breaking” of the reign of God in his kingdom was seen in Jesus’ ministry of proclamation which was accompanied by “signs and wonders” Act 4:30; 5:12; 14:3. Miraculous healings, raising the dead and especially the authority to cast out demons are seen as evidence that Jesus was the expected ‘end times’ messenger and was acting with divine authority. As the Catechism reminds us;

“The coming of God's kingdom means the defeat of Satan's: "If it is by the Spirit of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you." Jesus' exorcisms free some individuals from the domination of demons. They anticipate Jesus' great victory over "the ruler of this world". The kingdom of God will be definitively established through Christ's cross: "God reigned from the wood." (CCC 550)

St. Mark summarizes typical events in Jesus’ ministry noting that,

[He ] healed many, so that all who had diseases pressed upon him to touch him. And whenever the unclean spirits beheld him, they fell down before him and cried out, "You are the Son of God." And he strictly ordered them not to make him known (Mark 3:10-12).

This is precisely what happens in the incident in the synagogue in Capernaum recorded in this Sunday’s reading. Jesus was teaching with authority in the synagogue and a man with an unclean spirit cried out;
“What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are, the Holy One of God” (Mark 1:24). We are puzzled by the apparent confession by a demon of Jesus’ identity as the ‘Holy One of God.’ Demons would seem to be rather unreliable witnesses.

In Mark’s Gospel we can distinguish between the views of the characters in the narrative, and the extra knowledge given to the readers of the Gospel by St. Mark. The readers have already been alerted by Mark that this is “The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God” (Mark 1:1) and they have heard the voice of God the Father declaring at Jesus’ baptism, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased” (Mark 1:11). We are left with no doubt that Jesus is indeed ‘Holy One of God’ who is God’s Son. Even if the people in the narrative who heard the demon declare that Jesus was ‘Holy One of God’ were initially puzzled, Mark has made sure that his readers know the truth. Yet even those who witness the exorcism in the narrative are filled with wonder and puzzlement at Jesus’ authority.

Based on Old Testament allusions, the first part of the demonized man’s response is seen as a challenge while the second part is a defiant declaration which recognizes that although the final judgment for demons has not yet taken place it most certainly will. In effect he is saying “You cannot destroy us until the appointed time, and it is not here yet, so leave us alone!” The demonized man then cries out, “I know who you are, the Holy One of God” (Mark 1:24). These words are either an attempt to control Jesus by exact knowledge of his name following first century magical practices, or more likely an attempt to confuse the crowd with regard to Jesus’ true identity.

The term ‘Holy One of God’ is rare in the Bible, but here in Mark’s Gospel it is surely to be connected with Jesus’ own status as the divine Son of God (Mark 1:1, 1:11) which Mark has already pointed out. There are also Old Testament parallels for this term with the prophets Elisha (2 Kings 4:9) and Samuel (Judges 13:7; 16:17). Both of these prophets are called holy and did wondrous works under the influence of the Holy Spirit.

Jesus does not engage in dialogue but rebukes the demon. The original Greek is likely a ‘commanding word’ of exorcism, “’Be silent, and come out of him!’ And the unclean spirit, convulsing him and crying with a loud voice, came out of him” (Mark 1:25-26).

St. Augustine reflected on this passage noting that the title ‘Holy One of God’ used here by the demon is identical to Peter’s confession in St. John’s Gospel at John 6:69. St. Augustine asks, “So what is the difference? Peter spoke in love, but the demons in fear. . . So tell us how faith is to be defined, if even devils can believe and tremble? Only the faith that works by love is faith” (Sermon 90).

The connection between faith and love leads us to consider a parallel with how the Fathers of Second Vatican Council encouraged us to participate in the Liturgy. Our active participation needs to be both internal and external (SC 19). It needs to be full, intelligent, and active (SC 14). In a word it needs to be done in love. We need to approach the Liturgy in the “the right frame of mind” and “cooperating with grace from on high” (SC 11). As St Augustine noted, “Have faith together with love, because you can’t have love without faith” (Sermon 90). Let us agree together to “lift up our hearts” to the Lord in the fullness of love.