Lecture focuses on music and beauty of Mass Print E-mail
Around the Diocese
Written by Kevin Wondrash, Catholic Herald Staff   
Thursday, Nov. 26, 2015 -- 12:00 AM
abbot rooney lecture
Abbot Marcel Rooney, OSB, delivers the fall St. Thérèse Lecture (above) called “A Treasure of Inestimable Value: The Beauty of Liturgy” at the Bishop O’Connor Catholic Center in Madison on November 20. Bishop Robert C. Morlino of Madison (below) answers questions from attendees following the lecture. (Catholic Herald photo/Kevin Wondrash)

MADISON -- “Of all the things that should be beautiful in the sacred liturgy, music is one of the most important ones,” said Abbot Marcel Rooney, OSB, to the attendees at the St. Thérèse Lecture November 20 at the Bishop O’Connor Catholic Center in Madison.

The theme of the lecture was “A Treasure of Inestimable Value: The Beauty of Liturgy” and was presented by Abbot Rooney -- president of the Orate Institute of Sacred Liturgy, Music, and Art. The institute is dedicated to the renewal of the sacred liturgy in churches and other Catholic institutions.

Abbot Rooney, highly educated in music and sacred liturgy, is also the former abbot primate of the Benedictine order and now resides in Madison.

The lecture was intended to help define the vision of liturgy within the Diocese of Madison and the universal Church. Directors or coordinators of liturgy and music in the diocese were encouraged to attend.

Evening opens with prayer

Prior to Abbot Rooney’s lecture, Bishop Robert C. Morlino welcomed everyone who braved the first significant snowfall of the season to attend, calling it a “wonderful evening of prayer and learning” and added that the Diocese of Madison is “most grateful to have” Abbot Rooney presenting that evening.

Bishop Morlino then led Evening Prayer.

As Abbot Rooney began his talk, he called beauty a “transcendent reality” and “the combination of qualities in a person or a thing that gives pleasure to the senses and pleasurably exalts the mind or the spirit.”

He added many elements can make up beauty in sacred liturgy from the architecture of the church to the vestments worn by the presider.

“Every aspect of the sacred liturgy, because it puts us into contact with the divine, should proclaim our commitment to giving God the most beautiful reality we can,” Abbot Rooney said.

To help illustrate the Catholic Church’s mind on sacred liturgy, he outlined some of the most historical points over the last century.

What does the Church say?

The first example Abbot Rooney used was from the writings of St. Pius X, who was pope from 1903 to 1914. Pius X reestablished the official teaching of the Church on sacred music in the liturgy in the Instruction on Sacred Music (Tra le sollecitudini).

He decreed sacred music should have three particular qualities. One of these is holiness -- or different from the normal everyday routine -- not what “we’d whistle while we’re doing the dishes,” Abbot Rooney said.

Another is goodness -- “it cannot be trite . . . or full of catchy banality, but true art,” he said.

The third quality is universality -- “an attraction to Catholics across the globe.” He added Pius X saw Gregorian chant and Renaissance polyphony as “the ideal of that holiness” of music in sacred liturgy.

Pope Pius XI’s Divine Worship (Divini cultus) from 1928 stressed the importance of training seminarians.

Abbot Rooney called the next pope, Pius XII, “very important.”

“This pope had sacred liturgy as an important part of all of his teaching,” he added.

Abbot Rooney called the 1947 encyclical Mediator Dei the “Magna Carta of the liturgical movement” or the most important teaching on liturgy before the Second Vatican Council.

Pius XII also modified the Eucharistic fast and reinstituted the Easter Vigil and all of Holy Week, in addition to later giving permission for parts of Mass to be in vernacular other than Latin.

Second Vatican Council to present

The first document of the Second Vatican Council was Sacrosanctum concilium (Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy).

Abbot Rooney said the bishops at the council thought “the first thing we should deal with is the sacred liturgy because all of the life of the Church flows through the sacred liturgy.”

He added, the constitution says, “Sacred music is to be considered more holy in proportion to the more closely it is connected to the liturgical action. Whether it adds delight to prayer, fosters unity of mind, or confers greater solemnity on the sacred rites . . . the addition of music gives liturgical worship a more noble expression.”

Abbot Rooney also pointed out another part of the document saying, “Religious singing by the people is to be skillfully fostered so that during liturgical services, the voices of the faithful may ring out according to the norms and requirements of the rubrics.”

He added that Latin was still recognized as the official language of the Church and its liturgy.

Abbot Rooney also referenced modern documents such as the General Instruction of the Roman Missal (GIRM) and Sing to the Lord: Music in Divine Worship.

The GIRM “emphasizes the importance of the entire people of God celebrating the sacred liturgy, not just the ministers,” Abbot Rooney said. He added the GIRM “sees singing as the sign of the heart’s joy.”

At the conclusion of his talk, he stressed through all the teachings and documents, “everything comes down to authentic heart-felt prayer” and making liturgical music and singing a prayer and communication to God.

Following the talk, both Abbot Rooney and Bishop Morlino answered questions from attendees about sacred music and its use in liturgy.

Attendees were able to ask more questions at a reception that followed.

For more on the Orate Institute of Sacred Liturgy, Music, and Art, go to

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