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Monday, 6 March 2017
This important statement on sacred music in the Catholic Church was published yesterday. The full list of over 200 signatories (including me) can be found here.
“CANTATE DOMINO CANTICUM NOVUM”
A Statement on the Current Situation of Sacred Music
We, the undersigned — musicians, pastors, teachers, scholars, and lovers of sacred music — humbly offer this statement to the Catholic community around the world, expressing our great love for the Church’s treasury of sacred music and our deep concerns about its current plight.
Cantate Domino canticum novum, cantate Domino omnis terra (Psalm 96): this singing to God’s glory has resonated for the whole history of Christianity, from the very beginning to the present day. Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition alike bear witness to a great love for the beauty and power of music in the worship of Almighty God. The treasury of sacred music has always been cherished in the Catholic Church by her saints, theologians, popes, and laypeople.
Such love and practice of music is witnessed to throughout Christian literature and in the many documents that the Popes have devoted to sacred music, from John XXII’s Docta Sanctorum Patrum (1324) and Benedict XIV’s Annus Qui (1749) down to Saint Pius X’s Motu Proprio Tra le Sollecitudini (1903), Pius XII’s Musicae Sacrae Disciplina (1955), Saint John Paul II’s Chirograph on Sacred Music (2003), and so on. This vast amount of documentation impels us to take with utter seriousness the importance and the role of music in the liturgy. This importance is related to the deep connection between the liturgy and its music, a connection that goes two ways: a good liturgy allows for splendid music, but a low standard of liturgical music also tremendously affects the liturgy. Nor can the ecumenical importance of music be forgotten, when we know that other Christian traditions — such as Anglicans, Lutherans, and the Eastern Orthodox — have high esteem for the importance and dignity of sacred music, as witnessed by their own jealously-guarded “treasuries.”
We are observing an important milestone, the fiftieth anniversary of the promulgation of the Instruction on Music in the Liturgy, Musicam Sacram, on March 5, 1967, under the pontificate of Blessed Paul VI. Re-reading the document today, we cannot avoid thinking of the via dolorosa of sacred music in the decades following Sacrosanctum Concilium. Indeed, what was happening in some factions of the Church at that time (1967) was not at all in line with Sacrosantum Concilium or with Musicam Sacram. Certain ideas that were never present in the Council’s documents were forced into practice, sometimes with a lack of vigilance from clergy and ecclesiastical hierarchy. In some countries the treasury of sacred music that the Council asked to be preserved was not only not preserved, but even opposed. And this quite against the Council, which clearly stated:
The musical tradition of the universal Church is a treasure of inestimable value, greater even than that of any other art. The main reason for this pre-eminence is that, as sacred song united to the words, it forms a necessary or integral part of the solemn liturgy. Holy Scripture, indeed, has bestowed praise upon sacred song, and the same may be said of the fathers of the Church and of the Roman pontiffs who in recent times, led by St. Pius X, have explained more precisely the ministerial function supplied by sacred music in the service of the Lord. Therefore sacred music is to be considered the more holy in proportion as it is more closely connected with the liturgical action, whether it adds delight to prayer, fosters unity of minds, or confers greater solemnity upon the sacred rites. But the Church approves of all forms of true art having the needed qualities, and admits them into divine worship. (SC 112)