22 November 2013

Santa Cecilia

Today is the feast of St. Cecilia and in the Office of Readings, we find this quote from St. Augustine:
If you were asked, “Sing to please this musician,” you would not like to do so without having taken some instruction in music, because you would not like to offend an expert in the art. An untrained listener does not notice the faults a musician would point out to you. Who, then, will offer to sing well for God, the great artist whose discrimination is faultless, whose attention is on the minutest detail, whose ear nothing escapes? When will you be able to offer him a perfect performance that you will in no way displease such a supremely discerning listener?
I wonder if many who perform music at Mass have ever considered this? As someone that knows a little bit about music, it seems rather doubtful. Given the comments I've heard from professional musicians, it seems even more doubtful. Although it is far from the ideal, the Low Mass is a very reasonable solution to the lack of music proper to the Mass.

Why is there this lack? One of the most fundamental reasons is that very few people in the Latin Rite seem to realize what music is proper to the Mass. When someone hears the music that Vatican II said "should be given pride of place in liturgical services," it often amazes the person that this heavenly music is the official music of our liturgical services. This goes for other music that is in "accord with the spirit of the liturgical action."

Why is this music not commonly heard at Mass? The primary reason is because one must be familiar with it, which usually requires some musical training. Although, if one grew up hearing this music every Sunday, or better yet, every day, that in itself would be sufficient training for the music common to every Mass and may be enough for the music proper to each individual Mass. The problem is that very few are familiar with this music and what music they are most familiar with bears little or no resemblance to suitable music for the Mass.

The only two arguments against using music that is suitable for liturgical use is that it may not be to everyone's tastes and that the music has to attract the youth. The problem with the first argument is that it would be impossible to have music that appeals to all tastes and more people are excluded than not by using music not suited to the Mass. The problem with the second is that the musical choices are usually based on what adults think would attract the youth. If the adults do get it right for the taste of a few, these few probably know of a bar where this type of music is performed much better.

It is odd that music that is proper to a place where Christian parents would not want their children to be heavily influenced by is used to attempt to attract them to where there would be a good influence. Imagine what would happen if music proper to the Mass were played in establishments that usually attract the negative influences Christian parents try to protect their children from: these negatively influential persons would like run to Mass to get away from the sacred music. The youth, on the other hand, would likely stay there because the don't often get the opportunity to hear this music.

Why compete with someone that can do it better than you, especially when it conflicts with your goals. Why not offer something unique that your competition can't. In fact, your competition would become your ally if he were to begin to offer it.

What follows is a fictitious dialogue (based on a true story, but we won't talk about that) that illustrates this point:

Parish council meeting:

President: "We have to fire this new young music director. He's bringing in all this old fashion music and we're going to lose the youth, especially now that there seems to be so many of them coming to Mass. Does everyone agree?"

All: "Yes!"

Next month's parish council meeting:

President: "We all agree that the music is much better now that we got rid of that fanatical music director, but I'm afraid we were too late. There are even less youth coming to Mass now than before we hired him. Bill, you're the youth coordinator. Ask around and find out where they've all gone and tell them to come back now that we've fixed the problem with the music. I'm guessing they've gone to one of these new mega churches."

Next month's parish council meeting:

President: "Bill, did you find out where all the youth have gone? I think even less are coming now."

Youth Coordinator: "It seems they're all going to the Mass by the Priestly Fraternity of Saint Peter."

President: "You mean those schismatics?"

Youth Coordinator: "No, that's the Society of St. Pius X. These priests are loyal to the pope and our bishop even invited them to our diocese."

President: "Well what kind of music are they using? Maybe we can hire their music director if he's not too busy."

Youth Coordinator: "Well... It seems they hired they guy we fired and all our youth followed him, only he's now got them singing in Latin."



If you'd like to know what music is proper for the Mass, the common parts are all in the big red book the priest uses on the altar, and the International Commission on English in the Liturgy (ICEL) has even made it available on the internet. Corpus Christi Watershed has also made some videos so you can learn this music without being a trained musician.

If you're wondering about the Latin, Vatican II said: "Nevertheless steps should be taken so that the faithful may also be able to say or to sing together in Latin those parts of the Ordinary of the Mass which pertain to them."