06 December 2005

Reforming the Liturgy

What with recent posts at Pontifications on a new translation of the Latin rite and one at the Holy Whapping on words of encouragement from Benedict XVI to composers of sacred music (see entry for Dec. 6), it seems like the so-called "reform of the reform" of Vatican II is gaining speed/ground (depending on which metaphorical usage you prefer).

This is a topic which clearly have some people fired up, that is to say, ire is high (read the comments on the post at the Whapping for a good example). I wonder, what should the new liturgy look like? Is there an essential expression of the liturgy that is valid versus one that is invalid (given that the normative parts of the mass are followed, etc.)? Specifically, can we say that there is a "Catholic" art form which should be utilized in the mass, versus a "non-Catholic" form which should be repudiated? If Bishops, under the supposed aegis of V2, are incorporating contemporary music and modern languages and taking down altar rails, are they attacking or distorting the substance of the mass? Opponents of the changes, of course, say yes, while proponents seem to think that they are just making it more accessible. I have heard both arguments and they both have convincing points.

If there is something "essentially Catholic" in the liturgical expression, music and language, then it means that we cannot use in church Bach, Beethoven and many of the "great" composers. Possibly we should not even listen to them in our spare time, since no doubt these would corrupt our fragile faith in God.

If on the other hand, Catholicism is able to incorporate and sanctify to its use things of secular origin (Roman architecture, for instance), then isn't it possible to sing songs that are more "contemporary" in style?

But clearly, not all of the reforms introduced have been seen as healthy, and some are apparently harmful. I for one, loathe the fact that the cathedral where I attend has taken out their altar rail and added this peninsula so that the altar may be out in the space of the people. Every time I am there I think, "They raped the building." And I really wish we'd stop singing those insipid songs by M. Haugen. (I feel vindicated by my dislike of these songs seeing who does like them.)

I personally haven't yet formed a clear position on this matter. I probably never will come up with a definitive answer for it either, and I am deeply suspicious of people who have a set-in-stone answer. The Church, as a living institution, is able to incorporate organic change (this is sometimes called growth). Some things, however, are not to be tampered with. We cannot continue to be Catholic Christians if we abandon core doctrines concerning Christ's identity and mission, most obviously.

I would, however, like to know what people think about this.

In the meantime, this is some of the liturgical music that I have been listening to:
Choir of King's College Cambridge, O Come All Ye Faithful
The Choir of Tewkesbury Abbey, Christmas Carols

Alberto Turco and Nova Schola Gregoriana, Adorate Deum

I got all these, by the way, off iTunes, where they can be had cheap.

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