So then, brethren, stand firm and hold to the traditions which you were taught by us, either by word of mouth or by letter (2 Thess. 2:15). Guard what has been entrusted to you. Avoid the godless chatter and contradictions of what is falsely called knowledge, for by professing it some have missed the mark as regards faith (1 Tim. 6:21-22).

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Reading the Mass with Laszlo Dobszay: things about the music of the Mass which, if we do not know already, we should know.

The following excerpt is from The Bugnini-Liturgy and the Reform of the Reform by László Dobszay (2003). Phrases are highlighted which identify key elements either in need of reform or where there is a particular need to reclaim a proper theological understanding of the Mass.

Number sequencing of paragraphs and commentary added by CS.

Chapter Seven | High Church - Low Church: the Split of Catholic Church Music
  1. The first problem is the neglected state of church music. 
  2. The new ideal of the liturgy is a verbose celebration, and now the role of music is not to play an organic part in it, but rather to serve as an emotional addition. After the Council, music (of the Mass... e.g., Propers, Latin Ordinary chants) has been totally expelled from the liturgy in many places, the (trained) musician dismissed, and the church contented with the activity of amateur groups and their amateur leaders. ... .
  3. The second problem is the consequence of an anthropocentric view of the liturgy.
  4. The liturgy was traditionally understood as the permanent priestly activity of holy Church: she conducts the highest matters of salvation before God's throne and at the same time, it is her intimate communication with her divine Bridegroom. The greatest honor for the faithful is to join this divine work (opus Dei) as a member of the Mystical Body, and while the believer strives to live his life hidden in Christ and the Church, while he thus "loses" his life, he in fact finds it. The liturgy is not something we create but an objective reality we share in, a precious patrimony we inherit. (The wisdom of our elders, embodied in the great music of earlier times, has been tossed aside for tabloid "praise and worship" songs (P&W) or churchy adult contemporary ditties that are hardly worthy vessels for the magnificent texts of the Mass. Because P&W music is so musically weak, texts are made rhythmically awkward resulting in misplaced emphasis and confused spirituality. Far too often, the text is dominated by an adolescent concern for rhythmic and melodic predictability. I.e., P&W music makes use of mind numbing repetitive choruses that serve to engage the congregation. Engagement, but engagement at what price? A loss of mystery or a sense of the sacred? A loss of theological orthodoxy? A loss of liturgical focus on the One worshipped rather than on the assembly? The more music becomes sentimental, i.e., the more the goal of music becomes the stimulation of an emotional response, the more the congregation becomes excessively needy of affirmation.)
  5. What happens in the Mass is relatively true for all parts of the liturgy: it is not we but God Who is doing His work in it, and we ourselves become divine when we receive Holy Communion. So the reality we celebrate becomes our own. With respect to the prayers and chants, this truth is expressed by St. Benedict's classic saying: mens concordet voci. The mind should be concordant with the voice. It is not the soul who speaks in the voice, but it is the Church and the Holy Spirit. The harmony between soul and voice comes not from expressing the soul by the voice but from adapting the soul to the sounds that the Church and the Holy Spirit put upon our lips. (In other words, we become what we profess. We pray as we believe and we believe what we pray. We live what we pray and believe: lex credendi, lex orandi, lex vivendi. If the content of liturgical prayer is theologically corrupt and if the manner in which the Liturgy is celebrated lacks fidelity to the rubrics, thus also will be what we believe and how we live.)
  6. The Liturgical Constitution of the (Second Vatican) Council says nothing contradictory to this traditional view. And yet, according to the post-conciliar approach it was precisely the modern man, man hic et nunc, who became the focus of interest and the norm of the liturgy. Consequently the liturgy and its chant are supposed to express the religious experience of the individuals and communities. The result is: vox concordat menti. i.e. the voice is concordant to the state of the mind. The regrettable outcome of this approach is that the liturgy is unable to elevate and raise up heavenwards the individual and communities: they express themselves and so they remain where they are. (The churches designed according to this ethos affirm the merit of  Dobszay's criticism. Many parish building designs are more mall than temple. The formative space has been replaced by the utilitarian space wherein consumers of religion have their heads expanded but hearts ignored. Sanitized of its Catholic warmth and depth, the church building as a work of art or icon of the Incarnation has been largely discarded and has become a model of puritanical utility.
  7. This liturgical approach also influenced the church music. A great part of the clergy can accept music only as the chant of the assembly. The demand of actuosa participatio is taken in a (false or inappropriate) sense that excludes the possibility of silent and attentive listening to the chant of singers or choir. Consequently, in many places the choirs have disbanded and the musicians have fled their posts. (Several talented young Catholic singers I know are currently stipended choral scholars in Anglican, Lutheran and/or United Church of Canada communities. If we hope to retain our best voices, we must start supporting our trained singers AND offer the quality of music that is called for in the Sacred Liturgy. As it is, there is no place in most parishes for trained singers because the "music" is of such poor quality. Why would anyone with an ounce of appreciation for great music reduce themselves to singing trite ditties that are as far from Catholic worship as junk food is from cuisine?)
  8. To anyone who reads the Constitution (Sacrosanctum Concilium) it is clear that this fate was not intended by the Council. Par. 28 says that "each person should perform his role by doing solely and totally what the nature of things and liturgical norms require of him." Even in the new Missal of Paul VI we find the names of items belonging to the schola. Things are even clearer if we examine the natura rei, the nature of things: the liturgy is a dramatic event and the assembly participates "actively" in the ritual by performing the parts proper to them. The Council judged it opportune to stress the actuosa participatio because the role of the assembly had been taken over by others during the course of centuries. But this does not mean that now the assembly has to take over the role of others! (How often has the congregation been invited to sing ALL the sung parts of the Mass by choir directors who do not understand the distinct roles the choir and the congregation have in the Mass? Given that easy access to authoritative documents online, the blurring of liturgical lines can no longer be attributed to mere ignorance but to an agenda which seeks to compel the congregation to "participate" beyond what was envisioned by the Council (SC 28, 30). The Council envisioned the congregation joining in the acclamations and responses, and did not have the congregation appropriating from the choir elements such as the Propers.)
  9. The third problem with the new situation is the lack of norm in the matter of liturgical chant.
  10. Earlier the chant was regulated by three principles: The first was the text, the Proper of the given Mass or Office that had been created under the influence of the liturgical explanations and theological reflections of Church Fathers. The text-material guaranteed a universality and a universal norm for the chant; and not the ideas of individuals but the message of the praying Church defined what the chant is about. The second regulating principle was the order of celebration. The Lord's Prayer needs a different kind of melody than the Gloria in excelsis, the Communion, or the Offertory does. That is, a melodic form in harmony with the natura rei. The liturgico-musical genres did include liturgical features and a noble ritualism (in the correct sense of this word), and so they defined in some way also the norm of holiness. The later polyphonic settings already blurred, to some degree, this distinction of genres. The 'tone' of polyphonic pieces depended upon the emotions inspired by the words and not on the liturgical genres. But today, rarely if at all, are the songs sung by the people defined by a liturgical moment. The third element was the requirement of an absolute artistic quality. Musical works can embody or achieve artistic quality on different levels of difficulty. It is not necessarily the case that musical quality always requires technical difficulties. No doubt, recent developments in music produced more and more complex material, and simple but good-quality music can more easily be found today in early repertories than in contemporary music of eminent value. ... . (Good music may be either complex or simple. Good compositions can be found more easily among the compositions of earlier periods—e.g., the works of Palestrina, Vittoria, etc.)
  11. When church music lost its norms, one single principle took over their place: whether it appeals to the people (or rather: whether the leaders suppose it will appeal to them). The new principle could not but lead to the invasion of more and more inferior fashions into the Church, finding justification in each case in "taste." Moreover, the sort of human being who is now considered the measure of music is not a man destined for greatness and called to spiritual qualities; no, he is the marketable man, homo oeconomicus, subjected to any manipulation. (Is it any wonder that so many Catholics pick and choose which teachings they follow when the Mass, the source and summit of the Christian life, as celebrated in most parishes, reinforces cafeteria Catholicism? A buffet mentality exists which requires that the sacred Liturgy be conformed to the brainless ideologies of rebellious liturgists.) I think that nobody gave serious thought to the shortsighted nature of this principle with respect to pastoral tasks, either. How can the Church ask to be accented in her teaching if she makes her liturgical action relativistic? How can she avoid creating the impression that if the liturgy and church music can be adapted to different tastes, then also matters of faith and morals could now be submitted to the opinion of individuals or to the different social and psychological requirements of our age?
  • This appeal to "different tastes" forgets how people (especially children and youth) entering the church are open and thirsty for all the good they will learn there. "When the Church offers her own genuine goods with motherly tenderness, people naturally accept them because they come from the Church they love and respect. Eventually the goods thus absorbed and appropriated become highly formative of their opinions, tastes, preferences, customs, and in fact, their entire life." As we read in St. Augustine's Office: Cibus sum grandium, cresce et manducabis me, nec tu me mutabis in te, sicut cibum carnis tuae, sed tu mutaberis in me: I am the food of adults; grow up and eat me; it is not you who will change me into yourself, as is true of bodily food, but you will be changed into me (So, everybody—grow up!). This is valid for liturgy and church music, as well as for teachings of faith and morals. When we say: "The people like this" we regard them as unable to develop, as animals rather than human beings, and we simply neglect our duties in helping them towards a true human existence, — indeed, in this case, to truly Christian existence. pp. 180-185, Dobszay.
László Dobszay is one of the leading Hungarian conductors of chant and early Christian church music, in particular music associated with the Roman Catholic liturgy. He is also one of the foremost Hungarian scholars in chant, as well as modern liturgical music. In addition, Dobszay is regarded as one of the leading authorities on Hungarian and Transylvanian folk music, having studied and collected melodies from these ethnic sources at the behest of his teacher, Zoltán Kodály. Since 1978 Dobszay has made numerous recordings of chant, sacred and folk music, all of them with the choral ensemble Schola Hungarica, which he co-founded.—AllMusic

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