Tag Archive: music


Sing a New Song

I have often been told by fellow-Catholics that I am too rigidly traditional, demanding staunch formality and intolerant of the Church’s diversity. Let me dispel this right now.

If by “traditional” you mean desiring reverence in the Mass which is the source and summit of Christian life, the unbloody representation of Calvary and the sacred medicine of souls, then yes, I am guilty. If “traditional” means desiring continuity, preserving Latin in the liturgy- as stipulated by the Second Vatican Council, desiring prayerful music, postures and adherence to the rubrics, then I am traditional as they come.

However “traditional” doesn’t mean I hate Mass in vernacular, regard the Novus Ordo as inferior and expect our worship to be solemn and depressing. I am not stuck in the Middle Ages and I appreciate lay participation in Mass. Vatican II did open up alot of great things, such as more Scripture readings, basic prayers in vernacular, ability for composers to draw up beautiful Mass pieces and most of all RCIA. I don’t hate Vatican II. What I do hate is people introducing irreverent improvisations, tearing everything down and allowing frankly, crappy music to be played at Mass in the name of Vatican II.

My ideal Mass is actually the Novus Ordo. It is the form I attended when coming into the Catholic Church. The Novus Ordo has a certain crispness and clarity that is not to be taken for granted. Modern-day hymns have a soul that shines when done right. I am okay with “Shepherd me O God”,  “On Eagle’s Wings” and “I Have Loved You” but I am NOT for their incessant overuse. The problem occurs when these newer hymns dominate and completely replace the old goodies. Vatican II specifically places chant as first priority. There is no sound more beautiful than the sweet strains of “Salve Regina” filling up a big cathedral! What angers me is not so much the variety of modern hymns as the average parish’s insistence on forgetting about ancient ones. Ironically, I ask why doesn’t the parish Church try something new? Why not try chanting the Mass ordinaries in Latin- at least for solemn feast days? The Vatican does it. Maybe just the “Sanctus” and “Agnus Dei” if all at once is too much? Why not throw in an “Adoro Te devote” during communion? Maye around Advent try doing “Creator of the Stars of Night” accapella? Try mixing in the soulful, “Were You There” with a fluid “Ave Verum” on Goood Friday.  I don’t hate diversity, actually my preference for combining old and new is the height of diversity!!

Growing up Protestant, I was used to guitars and drums in our worship. Now, I don’t believe these are proper for the Holy Mass. Yet, I’m not some meanie who despises talented guitarists and drummers because we can use them in a praise & worship service. Maybe Catholic churches should try that on a Wednesday night? You can have dancing and everything! -Just not at Mass. I don’t understand why people get such a bad rap for wanting to distinguish the secular and sacred. Mass is sacred time, where heaven and earth meet and Christ becomes present in His body and blood. This is not an ordinary occasion so we shouldn’t treat it like one!

I’d like to change it up a bit. Maybe try a Byzantine version of the “Kyrie”, during Lent just having silence at communion, at Advent celebrating Mass in candlelight. The power of the human voice as an instrument is seriously underestimated. There is no reason why a well-developed choir can’t take advantage of plainchant, polyphony and classical pieces. When is the last time you heard Bach in church? The moving nature of accapella is also neglected. I remember one time when my church choir sang “Amazing Grace” as the recessional hymn without any accompaniment. The stong but gentle melody nearly made me weep. Hymns don’t have to be sappy in order to be moving. Too much sap does the opposite. People cringe from obviously phony lyrics. Young people hate it. If teenagers come looking for authentic, hard-core faith and instead encounter wimpy “love songs” it’s guaranteed, you’ll lose them.

Sometimes the problem is that too much diversity can actually cancel out the Church’s universal character. Our Masses become segregated: Spanish Mass, Creole Mass and English Mass are separated thus, we cannot worship with our ethnic brothers and sisters. Now if the Mass settings were the universal chants used by the Vatican, we could all learn them and worship together. Even better, when you go to another country, visit another state or a new parish, those lyrics will match. Learn how to sing “Gloria in Excelsis Deo” and you can sing it anywhere! Bilingual Masses are confusing and uncomfortable whereas a Latin Mass can bring unity. I often hear the complaint “Then no one will understand it!” Good then, at least we’ll all not understand it together!

It’s not rigid or overly traditional to want these things in our liturgy- it is Catholic and what Vatican II intended. It is time to rediscover old beauty, to unveil hidden treasure. Our venerable church has such a rich history and we should utilize it. We shouldn’t be afraid to resurrect a hymn from Renaissance times, to intone a Medieval introit, raise up a Negro spiritual or belt out “Crown Him With Many Crowns”. Just remember- all in moderation- and keep it reverent. We should never hesitate to sing in Latin, because it is the language of the Church. It was the tongue used by St Francis, Joan of Arc, Augustine, and Theresa of Avila. I think the time is nigh, that we tap into our vast treasury, that we truly sing a new song to the Lord.

 

 

 

 

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This is not intended to start a huge argument but merely to point out what the Second Vatican Council and the popes say about the use of Latin in the sacred liturgy. I simply want to make my feelings known and why I feel them.

 

The Dogmatic Constitution of the Liturgy:

“Article 36. Particular law remaining in force, the use of the Latin language is to be preserved in the Latin rites. But since the use of the mother tongue, whether in the Mass, the administration of the sacraments, or other parts of the liturgy, frequently may be of great advantage to the people, the limits of its employment may be extended. This will apply in the first place to the readings and directives, and to some of the prayers and chants, according to the regulations on this matter to be laid down separately in subsequent chapters. These norms being observed, it is for the competent territorial ecclesiastical authority mentioned in Art. 22, to decide whether, and to what extent, the vernacular language is to be used; their decrees are to be approved, that is, confirmed, by the Apostolic See. And, whenever it seems to be called for, this authority is to consult with bishops of neighboring regions which have the same language.

 

Article 54. In Masses which are celebrated with the people, a suitable place may be alloted to their mother tongue. This is to apply in the first place to readings and the “common prayer,” but also, as local condition may warrant, to those parts which pertain to the people, according to the norm laid down in Art. 36 of this constitution. 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. And whenever a more extended use of the mother tongue within the Mass appears desirable, the regulation laid down in Art. 40 of this constitution is to be observed.

 

Article 63. Because the use of the mother tongue in the administration of the sacraments and sacramentals can often be of considerable help to the people, this use is to be extended according to the following norms: a) The vernacular language may be used in administering the sacraments and sacramentals, according to the norm of Art. 36. b).

 

Article 101. In accordance with the centuries-old tradition of the Latin rite, the Latin language is to be retained by clerics in the divine office. But in individual cases the ordinary has the power of granting the use of the vernacular translation to those clerics for whom the use of Latin constitutes a grave obstacle to their praying the office properly.”

Source: http://www.catholicliturgy.com/index.cfm/FuseAction/ArticleText/Index/65/SubIndex/111/ArticleIndex/37

 

When Latin is too big of an obstacle, it is to be limited.

What is a big obstacle?? In China, they use vernacular in the Masses because Chinese language is the farthest thing from Latin. Their mindsets are entirely different and the pronunciations opposing. English on the other hand, has a vocabulary that up to 50 % consists of Latin-derivatives. Not a giant leap. A big obstacle is when learning Latin or singing it would be utterly disruptive and inconceivable for the growth of faith.

I will make my point:  Seeing as how for hundreds of years, people in America have been hearing the Latin Mass, how has it suddenly become what constitutes a grave obstacle now? When the changes were made, it was actually hard for some, who had grown up with the Latin, to adjust to the English. I know some people for whom saying the Mass parts in English was an obstacle!

We live in a country with the highest literacy rate and accessibility to high education. It is not too hard to read and memorize Latin. Even if one cannot read or memorize Latin, translations were once always available in Missals for the English. Without Missals, even illiterate, medieval peasants memorized Latin and went along with the Latin Mass. Are we here in America less equipped that peasant farmers who only knew dirt and the plow to understand Latin?  The greatest saint in the Western Church were grown and nourished on Latin chant and prayers, many of them ignorant and lowly men/women. In my opinion- and this is just my opinion, it’s not compromise but laziness.

Currently, in the Vatican, all official documents are written in Latin and during councils all that is spoken is spoken in Latin. Why? Because bonding over a universal language, bishops from China can perfectly communicate with bishops from France. Latin makes language barriers go away. A person in a Hispanic Church needs not have difficulties in an English-speaking church and vice versa. The Catholic faith is made graspable and understandable for all. With the use of Latin ordinaries (while sermons, common prayers and readings obviously stay in the vernacular), people from all countries can sing the same song before God.

 

I wish to include what the Holy Fathers have said about the use of Latin:

 

“The Roman Church has special obligations towards Latin, the splendid language of ancient Rome, and she must manifest them whenever the occasion presents itself”

– Pope John Paul II (Dominicae cenae, n. 10).”

 

Excerpts from the encyclical letter, Veterum Sapientia by Pope John XIII (who called the Second Vatican Council):

“Of its very nature Latin is most suitable for promoting every form of culture among peoples. It gives rise to no jealousies. It does not favor any one nation, but presents itself with equal impartiality to all and is equally acceptable to all.”

 

“Since every Church must assemble round the Roman Church,” and since the Supreme Pontiffs have “true episcopal power, ordinary and immediate, over each and every Church and each and every Pastor, as well as over the faithful” of every rite and language, it seems particularly desirable that the instrument of mutual communication be uniform and universal, especially between the Apostolic See and the Churches which use the same Latin rite.

When, therefore, the Roman Pontiffs wish to instruct the Catholic world, or when the Congregations of the Roman Curia handle matters or draw up decrees which concern the whole body of the faithful, they invariably make use of Latin, for this is a maternal voice acceptable to countless nations.”

Source: http://www.adoremus.org/VeterumSapientia.html

 

“I would be in favor of a new openness toward the use of Latin. Latin in the Mass has come meanwhile to look to us like a fall from grace. So that, in any case, communication is ruled out that is very necessary in areas of mixed culture… Let’s think of tourist centers, where it would be lovely for people to recognize each other in something they have in common. So we ought to keep such things alive and present. If even in the great liturgical celebrations in Rome, no one can sing the Kyrie or the Sanctus any more, no one knows what Gloria means, then a cultural loss has become a loss of what we share in common. To that extent I should say that the Liturgy of the Word should always be in the mother tongue, but there ought nonetheless to be a basic stock of Latin elements that would bind us together.

–         Cardinal Ratzinger [God and the World, SF, CA: Ignatius, 2002, pp. 417-18]

 

Source: http://www.ceciliaschola.org/notes/benedictonmusic.html

 

-basically John XIII and Benedict XVI are making the same exact points I was making about the common universality of Latin!

 

Who are Roman Catholics? The Jews, who are proud of their cultural identity, show their identity by use of ancient Hebrew, the Greeks show their identity by use of Greek. Eastern Catholics employ other ancient languages. Why should Roman Catholicism hide who it is? When we fail to preserve our identity by connecting to ancient roots, we get swept up into the current of the age and this in my opinion has been the cause of many people leaving the church. They see church as no different from the world so what’s the use going? They see Roman Catholicism as no different from Protestantism so what’s the use staying?

I believe the liturgy and music are such important ministries and while being flexible they should also be transcendent, telling the world of the Church Christ established which is ever ancient and ever new. Liturgical music in my opinion should lift us out of the world and its modern age, not bury us deeper within it. It is vital that we have chants which send shivers down people’s spines and transfix them between earthly and celestial realms. It isn’t necessary that every word be understood. Indeed, understanding and analyzing every word can distract us from simply being with God so that we think of the words and not God. Sometimes mystery is a beautiful thing. After all, heaven touches earth during holy Mass.