Saturday, July 29, 2006

An Apology for Liturgical music and High Standards

As a one of a kind event, I now propose to post for a second
consecutive day. Before I go further, I apologize for the lengthiness of this post. I will try to prevent it from happening again, but there is so much to be said. In light of the recent controversies, I am sure that if we wanted to, we could think up a few more controversies, and turn it into a forum. Anyway, I don't know what others think, but I would like to have those who respond to articles to post them as new articles, if possible. Maybe I am strange, but I prefer the discussions to be public, and easier to reference.
Today I will briefly respond to Geoff's post. I am not in total disagreement, but I did want to respond to several things that he had to say. First, I must acknowledge that too many Traditionalist Catholics are prone to being critical, suspicious, and even holier-than-though. Sad
to say, the aforementioned type of Catholic seems to focus on problems in the Church, failings of Bishops and priests, and even to finding and maintaining all kinds of ridiculous conspiracy theories concerning the Papacy and Church. Needless to say, they are as true a bane to the good
of the Church as are those liberals who care about nothing but making the Church an instrument of social justice. One minor caveat I do have to say is that damaging as they may be, and wrong as they may be, such problematic Traditionalists have one benefit; that they do want to restore much of what the Church has lost. This is perhaps small recompense for the trouble they cause, but I think that I prefer them to liberals as an influence in the Church. That being said, I think that objectively speaking, a person who acts in such a way has more to answer for in relation to his disobedience and lack of charity. Such a person has real knowledge of the true and the good (in theory) and in deviating from it are worse off than those who don't know better. That was slightly longer than I intended, but onto the next lengthy point. I suppose I need to make up for the lack of posts that I have put on here in the past. I thought Geoff's image about sitting on the edge of the Bark of Peter especially apt, and rather clever, in fact. I do want to say that I think a major point missing from his comparison of the Novus Ordo and Tridentine masses is their organic nature. Whatever beef (unintended humor) you may have with the Tridentine mass, it grew naturally, for the mostpart, from the first masses of the Apostles. The vestments, the liturgical gestures, the postures, etc., all arose out of contact with the civilizations surrounding Christianity, but were incorporated slowly and with care for the liturgy. A brief comparison of the Eastern and Western Rite liturgies with ancient Jewish liturgical practice shows very much in common among all three. (It would take far too long to describe these, but many similarities, especially in structure and language, exists.) The uniformity of the Western Rite arose because the many 'rites’ or usages within it dropped their practices in the face of Protestant revolt, to demonstrate loyalty to Rome. However, the Roman Liturgy had been since the 400's that upon which others were based. In fact, much of the liturgy as we know it was in place at that point in
history and had to be restored to Rome after Barbarian raids on the city by Frankish visitors. At any rate, the liturgy of Pius V was primarily a codification of the existing norms from the times of Gregory the Great. This lengthy deviation from the topic, so I hope, demonstrates the organic nature of the Tridentine mass. The new mass, however, was a significant deviation from long standing liturgical practice. Many of the elements central to the Novus Ordo (Vernacular, ad Populam, lay interaction, etc.,) may have been extant in the Early Church, but as the new generation of liturgical experts failed to note, were mostly phased out early on in liturgical history because they were not most fitting for the liturgy. These experts, following Hans Kung and other liberal/liberation theologians, even denied that the Liturgy should be sacral and removed from contemporary culture in any way. They explicitly desired to make the Mass like ordinary life and society: simplistic, ordinary, convivial, and comfortable to a generation of uncomfortable Catholics. Keep in mind that these same theologians also felt free to deny various principles of Catholic Dogma, including but not limited to Papal Authority, Church teaching on abortion and contraception. Others of their persuasion openly rejoiced at "Hootenanny" and folk masses. There is, sadly, a clear correspondence between the implementation of the Novus Ordo as we know it, and the liberal and dissident theologies plaguing the Church to this day. That being said, I do want to reiterate that this does not in one whit hange the nature of the Mass itself, nor could such changes ever do so unless formal and material changes to the nature of the Mass itself. I do believe and hold that said changes were hasty and ill-advised (both literally and idiomatically), and that the resulting liturgy, especially with its looser guidelines, proves all too open to human manipulation and desacralization. Lastly, I wish to say something about music. (Minor deviation: Not all the applications of symbolism to vestments were after the fact. The
Sabbath did pre-exist man, after all. Jewish priests wore holy robes, and the cincture or belt or rope has been a symbol of purity since before Christ.) This is truly the gist of my disagreement with Geoff, though I strongly suspect it is more in practice than principle. First, lamentable as it may be, there is the standing joke in choir--any choir, not just ours--about the singing of the congregation. I say that this is for the sake of humor; the choir is human and needs to laugh, especially when faced with its own insufficiencies. In truth we all tend to do this in any circumstance, comparing ourselves to that which is below us. While this is often wrong, and does often stem from pride, it is not malicious. Nor is it aimed at anyone in the congregation or any person at all. As I said it is much more of a way of relieving stress. Again, this is not to deny that musical snobbery does not exist, nor that choirs or choir members are not human and subject to pride. This post has gone on too long; I only hope someone may read it and debate points or find
relief of mental stress. To conclude: some kind of musical snobbery is necessary. Especially since 1968 (which Pope Benedict calls the "second Enlightenment") the musical standards for the liturgy, never high in this country, have died and headed south. Or west. Anywhere but here. But, since ancient times, even the very earliest days of the Church, music (psalms, hymns, etc.) have been an integral part of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. Thus, to love true liturgy, which Pope Benedict said is the source of the fortunes of the Church, is to love liturgical music. And
to love is to hold to a high standard, for even so we are held to high standards by our own Creator and Redeemer. There must always be someone to hold others to a higher standard, whether as ruler or authority of any sort. These figures are frequently reviled and held to contempt by others, quite possibly due to the relativism and individualism of our day. Nonetheless, in holding the liturgy and its music to a high standard and trying to help and promote it wherever possible, such people do a necessary and good service. This does not excuse intellectual pride and belittling of others by such people, yet it does not excuse them from duty, and certainly should not (as such) be a cause for criticism of the same people. As a sacristan, member of choir and schola, as well as a Traditionalist and faithful Catholic, I thus defend
myself. God bless, and please respond if you have any comments or questions.

1 comment:

anonymous girlfriend of poster said...

Excellent post, Michael! I agree 100% and have found great relief of mental stress in reading it again. I must say, though, I don't see what's funny, intentionally or otherwise, with "beef."