From the bulletin for 6 June 2010
Part III of Great Theologians of the Liturgy in the Last 200 Years
Pope Benedict XVI will prove to be one of the great theologians of the liturgy of our age. Soon after my ordination in 1999 I found the lack of reverence and uniformity in the liturgy at the parish level very troubling, and it was Cardinal Ratzinger’s penetrating insights on the liturgy from his books The Ratzinger Report, Feast of Faith, Salt of the Earth, and The Spirit of the Liturgy, helpful in understanding what authentic liturgy is all about.
For example, the wide variety of music we hear in churches makes one question: What is the proper music for the sacred liturgy? Is there such a thing as sacred music? Passages like this one from The Spirit of the Liturgy explain why not all music is fit for the liturgy:
“The writings of Plato and Aristotle on music show that the Greek world in their time was faced with a choice between two kinds of worship, two different images of God and man. Now what his choice came down to concretely was a choice between two fundamental types of music. On the one hand, there is the music that Plato ascribes, in line with mythology to Apollo, the god of light and reason. This is the music that draws senses into spirit and so brings man to wholeness. It does not abolish the senses, but inserts them into the unity of this creature that is man. It elevates the spirit precisely by wedding it to the senses, and it elevates the senses precisely by uniting them with the spirit. Thus this kind of music is an expression of man’s special place in the general structure of being.
“But then there is the music that Plato ascribes to Marsyas, which we might describe, in terms of cultic history, as “Dionysian”. It drags man into the intoxication of the senses, crushes rationality, and subjects the spirit to senses...the Apollonian/Dionysian alternative runs through the whole history of religion and confronts us again today. Not every kind of music can have a place in Christian worship. It has standards, and that standard is the Logos. If we want to know whom we are dealing with, the Holy Spirit or the unholy spirit, we have to remember that it is the Holy Spirit who moves us to say, “Jesus is Lord” (1 Cor 12:3). The Holy Spirit leads us to the Logos, and he leads us to the music that serves the Logos as a sign of the sursum corda, the lifting up of the human heart. Does it integrate man by drawing him to what is above, or does it cause his disintegration into formless intoxication of mere sensuality?”
Music which excites the passions fails to help man to lift his mind and heart up to God in prayer, and instead drags him down to his more base desires. In her wisdom Mother Church has handed down to us Gregorian chant and polyphony as the music which most effectively cultivates contemplation during the Mass. We should trust her. For example in the Ordinary Form of the Mass the Church teaches:
“All other things being equal, Gregorian chant holds pride of place because it is proper to the Roman Liturgy. Other types of sacred music, in particular polyphony, are in no way excluded, provided that they correspond to the spirit of the liturgical action and that they foster the participation of all the faithful.
“Since faithful from different countries come together ever more frequently, it is fitting that they know how to sing together at least some parts of the Ordinary of the Mass in Latin, especially the Creed and the Lord's Prayer, set to the simpler melodies” (General Introduction to the Roman Missal, 41).
Here we see that in the Ordinary Form of the Mass the Church encourages the faithful to learn to sing the simple Latin melodies. At the same time the Church also allows hymns in the vernacular. However in the Extraordinary Form Mass, only hymns in the mother tongue of the Church, Latin, are permitted.
Finally, over my years at St. Mary Church I have often been questioned why we I make the decisions I do about our sacred music program. I have tried to teach and explain it, but I just came across a short video which succinctly explains it better than I can. See this link (which can also be found on the Sacred Music Page of the parish website) for a wonderful explanation of sacred music:
Sincerely in Christ,
Fr. Greg J. Markey