2 June 2007



Father, Pope Benedict XVI comments upon sacred music in his apostolic
exhortation of February 22, 2007:

In the ars celebrandi [the art of celebrating], liturgical song has apre-eminent place.... In the course of her two-thousand-year history, the Churchhas created, and still creates, music and songs which represent a rich patrimonyof 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 hich fail to respect themeaning of the liturgy should be avoided…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 respectingvarious styles and different and
highly praiseworthy traditions, I desire, inaccordance with the request advanced by the Synod Fathers, that Gregorian chantbe suitably esteemed and employed as the chant proper to the Roman liturgy.(42)

Pope Benedict makes three main points: the importance of the heritage of Roman Catholic sacred music, the importance of careful selection of sacred music to accompany the celebration of the sacred mysteries, and the pre-eminence of Gregorian chant in the sacred music repertoire. Roman Catholic sacred music arises not only from Holy Scripture, but is linked by tradition to the ancient music of the early church, finding its basis in the music of Hebrew temple worship. Catholic sacred music did not appear from a vacuum. Its origins are clearly traceable from the ancient Israelites to chant forms, to polyphonic music of two and more voices, unison and multi-part hymns and canticles arising from Scriptural models, to contemporary motets and choral works building upon and developing from the tradition of Renaissance polyphonic masters. It is important to note that what is referred to here is not the development of secular song forms, but specifically Sacred music forms. In the progression of music history, secular forms develop alongside sacred forms, sometimes, as today, intertwining. When the sacred takes on such attributes of the secular so as the two can no longer be differentiated, the difference traditionally has been pointed out and the correction made. This was true of the parody Masses of the Renaissance, it was true before the Motu Proprio of Pope St. Pius X, and it is true today as contemporary pop styles threaten once again to blur the limits between the sacred and the profane. The Holy Father does not skirt the issue as many have by claiming music is merely a matter of taste. Certainly, he instructs, we can not say that one song is as good as another.

“Praise choruses” and much of what we blithely term “contemporary Christian” music has arisen outside living liturgical tradition of Roman Catholicism, and as such, does not comprehend the liturgical seasons and less so the concept of religious mystery. Finding its origins in non-Catholic, non-liturgical surroundings, devoid of mystery, stripped of tradition, often lacking any distinct creed or body of doctrine, the “contemporary Christian” genre is hardly a perfect match for the celebration of the Mass in the Roman Rite. Although often fitted with Scriptural texts or Scriptural paraphrases, the style of music or nature of the paraphrases are not in keeping with the reverence and dignity demanded by the celebration of the Mass in the Roman Rite. It is a music which in form and style falls short of the profound mystery inherent to Holy Mass.

Instead of deepening true devotion and expounding upon sacred mystery, it detracts from the celebration, making itself the focus as a means whereby the faithful are caused to succumb to a primitive emotional response. Sacred music within the Roman Catholic context must enhance worship, enabling a deeper participation in the transcending sacrifice of Calvary made real and present to us in the Holy Mass. Music of the Praise and Worship genre by its very nature is designed as a “stand-alone” worship experience within a context of an assembly of non-Catholics who have no Mass, who have no Eucharist, indeed, who have no Christ, risen and fully present to them Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity. Music fit for an emasculated, secular God, who can not communicate with his people, who is present to them only in vague symbols: a cross without a corpus, a church year without Advent, Lent, without Christmastide, without Eastertide, indeed also without Pentecost. Use of such music within the Roman Catholic context is in the strictest sense impossible. Holy Mother Church offers the faithful the complete revelation of Christ. The Holy Father concurs with the Synod Fathers that the true proper music for the Mass in the Roman Rite is Gregorian chant.

The Church has known this for centuries, hence her two-thousand year history of music which is organically connected to chant, a succession of musical composition which still continues today. Secular religious music is not suitable for use to accompany the Roman Rite. It is entertaining, religious music, but it is hardly sacred music.

Jason, at Christus Vincit has written a commentary on the Sacramentum Caritatis, as it pertains to Sacred Music. I have cited his last discussion above, but there is alot more here:

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