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Vatican II documents give Gregorian chant first place among liturgical music Print
Letters to the editor
Thursday, Nov. 15, 2012 -- 12:00 AM

To the editor:

Thank you for publishing Nico Fassino’s article in a recent edition of the Madison Catholic Herald, and also the excellent articles on the authentic role and scope of sacred music by Sr. Joan L. Roccasalvo, C.S.J. In the other letters to the editor that I have recently read, I have seen many fallacies and inconsistencies relating to the role of music in the liturgy in regard to our role in the liturgy that I feel I must address.

The Second Vatican Council’s Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, Sacrosanctum Concilium, makes clear in §116 that Gregorian chant is the primary form of music for the Mass, having first place among liturgical music, alongside the great repository of sacred polyphony.

Vatican II dictated a revitalization of Gregorian chant (ibid, §117), not a wholesale abandoning of it. Gregorian chant is an immutable part of our identity as Catholics, and we see our Holy Father leading by example in this area, making ample use of the Gregorian chant ordinaries, and more notably, the propers of the Mass, truly allowing every scriptural part of the Mass to be sung, instead of being ignored and replaced with the words of men found in our hymns today.

In fact, we find Pope Pius X echoing these sentiments clearly in his Motu Proprio on sacred music in 1903, Tra le Sollecitudini. He makes clear for us that the closer in “inspiration and savor” (Tra le Sollecitudini, §3) a piece of music is in relation to Gregorian chant, the more suitable it is for use in the liturgy. Likewise, the further something is from Gregorian chant in form and style, the more “out of harmony it is with that supreme model, the less worthy it is of the temple” (ibid, §3).

Some may ignore this document, as it was published over 100 years ago. However, Pope John Paul II reaffirmed the merits of this document as still applicable for us today in his 2003 chirograph, Musica Sacra.

In all of the documents of the Second Vatican Council, we find high words of praise directed toward the pipe organ, and considering that nothing else was mentioned, this is something which should give us great pause. Of course, this does not bar the use of other instruments, but it should give us an idea of what our primary form of accompaniment should be.

In the 1958 document on sacred music, De Musica Sacra, we find this intention spelled out even more clearly: “The principal musical instrument for solemn liturgical ceremonies of the Latin Church has been and remains the classic pipe organ” (§61).
In addition, the circumstance in which Tra le Sollecitudini was published was quite similar to our own today: a gradual influx of secularly styled music had made its way into the liturgy, and needed to be excised.

In the November 1st edition of the Catholic Herald, Paul Krogman states that ordinary people do not have the time to learn chant. I would strongly beg to differ.

Learning chant is not the result of spending an inordinate amount of time on it. Just recently, I personally taught a group fifth and sixth graders a piece of chant that I wouldn’t call easy. But despite that, they were singing this piece in about 20 minutes. As much as I know and love these children, they are not super-human geniuses. They are relatively normal nine-to-11 year olds.

Learning Gregorian chant is not at all beyond the average Catholic, especially if it would be used on a very regular basis, as Vatican II desired. To that end, Pope Paul VI released a “minimum repertoire” of Gregorian chant in 1974 that all Catholics should know (Voluntati Obsequens). Clearly he didn’t think it was beyond the average Catholic either.

We should not be abandoning sacred music for our own personal tastes and preferences. Rather, we should be looking for ways to follow the mind of the Church in the realm of liturgical music.

Ben Yanke, Cottage Grove