Skip to comments.Theories of Why Liturgical Music Died
Posted on 04/10/2013 3:06:22 PM PDT by markomalley
The archives contain images of thousands of young Catholic school children in the 1920s learning chant. It is a beautiful thing to see. But what happened to these people and why werent they around to protect the liturgy against what happened after the Second Vatican Council? This question touches on the great mystery Ive been thinking about for some 20 years and Ive yet to come up with a satisfactory answer. Perhaps thats because there isnt one answer.
One thing that is clear: it is absolutely not the case that Gregorian chant was in full flourish before Vatican II and then suddenly disappeared after. Many contemporary accounts of music in the 1950s document that the modal liturgical experience was Low Mass with English and Latin hymnody. High Mass typically used Psalm tones propers accompanied by organ, while the ordinary of the Mass used popular settings that are long forgotten.
Many puzzle about why folk music took over in the 1960s. A more interesting question is how and why authentic Gregorian chant didnt have much of a presence in the liturgy before the 1960s. How could this have happened? After all, the long-awaited Motu Proprio of Pius X came out in 1903. The new Graduals from Solesmes and the Vatican -- the culmination of a half century of research -- came out in 1908. The push throughout the first half of the 20th century was intense, from what I can tell. There were schools, classes, instruction manuals, and even clear mandates in place.
And yet by the 1950s, all evidence suggests that the chant was barely living. Ive always been spooked by a book called Chants for Church published by the Gregorian Institute of America in 1954. There was nothing in particular wrong with the book as such. It was just that it was so minimalist. It had only popular chant hymns. Ive always wondered if this book represented a last ditch effort.
Then of course the whole structure of Catholic music unraveled immediately following the Council. Its a strange thing to read what the Council said about the first place of chant in the Mass and then to read the accounts of how secular folk music swept the liturgy in America from 1965 all the way through to the promulgation of the new ritual in 1969 and 1970. By the time the music of the St. Louis Jesuits came along, many saw it as a sacralizing influence and a welcome relief.
Among the theories Ive toyed with for why all this happened or what was going on I would include the following. Ive considered the possibility that chant was actually still making progress in the 1950s but was still not ubiquitous; had that progress continued, we would have seen it really take hold. Ive also wondered if World War II devastated American parish choirs by sending the men out to war and the women to work, and everyone else was just too focussed on the war on the home front to bother with difficult things like chant. That disruption was never repaired. Or perhaps real chant was just too hard and Catholics are lazy and like English.
Maybe all of those are factors. Regardless, the center couldnt hold after the Council. The language was changed, the calendar was scheduled to be changed, and Gregorian chant seemed inapplicable. Or maybe it was the culture itself that proved too hard to resist. Or maybe it was purely a demographically driven change. The teens outnumbered the adults in the parishes of the 1960s -- and entirely unprecedented situation -- and they therefore had their way.
All of these are factors, and there are probably more too, such as the loss of a real sense of what liturgy is and does and why it matters. How many people in mid century truly understood that the music of the Mass is just as embedded as part of its history as the text? How many people really understand the destination of the liturgy is not to remain in time with the community but to transcend time and touch eternity?
I obsessed about these topics not because I want to keep stirring the pot from the past but because Im seeking lessons for the future. What can we do today that the generation of musicians in Pope Pius Xs day did not do? What can we learn from the mistakes of the past? How can we prepare the way for a singing Church in which Gregorian chant truly does serve as the ideal?
There are many answers to these questions. Weve worked on putting out English chant, holding elaborate national conferences, running forums and blogs, publishing serious books on the topic, speaking on the radio and making videos, and much more. Every bit helps the cause of chant evangelism.
Of all the methods we used, there is one that rises above everything else in my mind, one approach that I feel very confident has made the most substantive contribution to giving chant a real future in Catholic liturgy. That step is that weve all worked very hard to put as many chant editions online as possible, and made these editions as part of the commons of humanity. Anyone can download them. Anyone can sing them. Anyone can print them. Anyone can do all these things without asking permission, without paying fees, and without facing any legal reprisal at all.
This approach represents a recreation of the status that chant held in a pre-technology age from the early centuries. The music was owned by everyone. It had no one author. It was composed to evoke the stories in the text. Anyone who believed in it could share it. It was mainly transmitted through oral culture but the printed editions, once they came along, were also common property. In other words, chant was part of what is today called free culture -- artistic expression that is not held as the intellectual property of anyone.
Did you know that Pope Pius X wanted this status to pertain to the chants he asked to be published in 1908? I just discovered this for myself, as part of a paper that Im delivered in Rome at the Sacra Liturgia conference in July. In the course of my research I found the following statements from the Pope:
On March 9, 1904, Msgr. Giovanni Bressan, the private secretary to Pope Pius X, sent a letter to the Solesmes monastery in France that had long been at work on reconstructing the melodies of Gregorian chant. It was sent in the care of Dom Paul Delatte and read as follows:
His Holiness has arrived at the decision to publish at the Vatican Press the edition of liturgical books containing the chant of the Roman Church. This edition, produced under the auspices of the Holy See, will not have restricted copyright but any publisher will be permitted to reprint it as may please him best.
the marvelous promptness with which Your Reverence accepted the invitation of His Holiness to collaborate in the preparation of a a Vatican Edition containing the melodies of the Church and intended for the free use of all the churches throughout the world.
His Holiness does not wish to establish a privilege of monopoly for any publisher... As the pages are issued by the Vatican Press, they will be placed at the disposed of the publishers who will have the right to reproduce them but without change.
The folk song, like the Bible, grew from an oral tradition, pre-dating radio and recording technology. A singer observed a slice of life, turned the observation into a song and, with guitar or banjo, presented it to anyone who would hear, perhaps on a front porch, at the town square, or down in the mine. If people liked it they would sing along and bring the new song home to share with a new audience.... Sometimes the lyrics would change, sometimes the tune was modified, and no thought was ever given to composer credits or copyright protection. A song was a song, something free and sweet for the entire world to sing. And a good song was very sweet indeed.
VI. Organ and instruments
15. Although the music proper to the Church is purely vocal music, music with the accompaniment of the organ is also permitted. In some special cases, within due limits and with proper safeguards, other instruments may be allowed, but never without the special permission of the Ordinary, according to prescriptions of the Caeremoniale Episcoporum.
16. As the singing should always have the principal place, the organ or other instruments should merely sustain and never oppress it.
17. It is not permitted to have the chant preceded by long preludes or to interrupt it with intermezzo pieces.
18. The sound of the organ as an accompaniment to the chant in preludes, interludes, and the like must be not only governed by the special nature of the instrument, but must participate in all the qualities proper to sacred music as above enumerated.
19. The employment of the piano is forbidden in church, as is also that of noisy or frivolous instruments such as drums, cymbals, bells and the like.
20. It is strictly forbidden to have bands play in church, and only in special cases with the consent of the Ordinary will it be permissible to admit wind instruments, limited in number, judiciously used, and proportioned to the size of the placeprovided the composition and accompaniment be written in grave and suitable style, and conform in all respects to that proper to the organ.
21. In processions outside the church the Ordinary may give permission for a band, provided no profane pieces be executed. It would be desirable in such cases that the band confine itself to accompanying some spiritual canticle sung in Latin or in the vernacular by the singers and the pious associations which take part in the procession.
I have a similar issue with the contemporary music that is now predominant in the Evangelical churches.
The Christian church as long been undergoing a process of becoming softer and more feminized. We no longer sing songs about God, but instead sing songs to God as we would to one whom we are involved with in an intimate relationship.
Jesus is not your boyfriend, He is your Lord and Savior.
I graduated from Catholic grade school (Grade 8) in June, 1965. I remember very well singing the Missa BVM in church in 7th and 8th grade (1963-65, which would also be the last years of Vat II.)
I remember at the time that this, in itself, was supposed to be "The Liturgical Renewal" --- it was called "The Dialogue Mass," and it consisted of the whole congregation, assisted by the choir (7th and 8th graders from the school) singing the Ordinaries and also simply making the same responses as the acolytes ("Ad Deum qui laetificat juventutem meam", etc.---- see, I still remember it after 50 years!!)
We were just getting good at it, when I graduated from 8th grade. By 9th grade, High School, it was gone. All gone. Now we were doing that hideous stuff, Kumbaya, Michael Rowed the Boat (whatthehell was that all about?), To Be A-LI-I-I-I-IVE, Allelu, Allelu. It makes me cringe just to think about it.
I have the vague impression that our old choir director, Mr. Allard, a highly cultured man who was trained in the Gregorian Chant as well as polyphony at a monastery in I think Montreal, was more-or-less thrown out, and all his books with him.
It was cruel, the most insane cultural vandalism. And self-inflicted. As bad as anything that happened in the 16th century, except we did it to ourselves.
I sure don't understand it. But I was just a kid.
Modern hymnology has long been a pet peeve of mine. Many hymns and gospel songs written in the last half century have not only insipid lyrics but also insipid melodies--that is, when they're sung at all. In the Protestant churches, the electric guitar is chasing away the organ and choir, and hymns are being replaced by "praise music."
If I could be in charge of revising our Methodist hymnal, I would throw out everything written after 1939 and replace those songs with tunes written by Lelia Morris, Fanny Crosby, Charles H. Gabriel, Daniel Towner and other great hymn writers of our faith.
One problem is lack of musicians who can play the organ.
We have a great pipe organ and we spent 12K on it a few years ago and we get it tuned and stuff every year but it just gathers dust while it waits for someone to play it.
Most of our singing is Acapella except one group with a guitar and a clarinet.
this has been an issue within the church for hundreds of years, if not since the beginning... there was a time when no instruments were used... only a singing of the Psalms... Isaac Watts (Oh God, Our Help in Ages Past, When I Survey The Wondrous Cross, Joy to the World) introduced "new poetry" to worship, and set it to music... there must have been gasps and sucking in of breath at that time... and back then, a lot of the music was not original... but recycled from popular bar tunes, a la Greensleeves and What Child is This?
Not entirely, someone else got into the act. Someone praeter naturam -- with preternatural power -- someone positively
I agree the Gregorian chant was dying out when Vatican II came along. Any good liturgical music development was thrown out and replaced with hootenanny music that a few in the clergy at the time seemed to think was trendy. If Vatican II had happened a decade later we might have had our ears burned by disco masses. The hootenanny crowd prevailed now for decades getting only worse. I was very amazed when I was in France in 1972 that local parish churches actually had decent music and incorporated the chant tradition. The French church apparently did not adopt the hippy hootenanny.
-— If Vatican II had happened a decade later we might have had our ears burned by disco masses. The hootenanny crowd prevailed now for decades getting only worse. ——
The truth hurts.
Click on the images below for the videos.
Priests disco dancing at a Mass, Plobsheim, France, Pentecost 2009:
Easter Bunny Mass, Austria:
Or the devil and an angel in Würzburg:
And this seasonal thing in Rheinland-Pfalz:
You were saying?
we were forced to learn how to sing chant in grade school. I have hated it ever since (and I was a church organist).
You worship God in your culture. Just because the “liturgists” banned the old hymns we loved and replaced them with musical pap is no reason to replace them with older hymns that no one likes.
and the document quoted is someone’s opinion, not a matter of faith and morals. Jesus didn’t sing with an organ, and the psalms tell us to praise the Lord with cymbals...
Let’s not forget that popular musical culture died in the secular world as well. We have scattered remnants: rock’n’roll classics, some folk, some country-Western, some gospel, but if you put three-five random people together and ask them to amuse themselves by singing, — not for church, just for entertainment, over a beer, — chances are they will not be able to. There will be one who can hold the tune to Stairway to Heaven, another — This Land is my Land, a third — Acky Breaky Heart, but all these endeavors will need instrumental support not compatible with the other styles and not generally available. Or else there would be a guitar around and one singer will sing, and the rest will listen or hum.
I can think of one exception: American patriotic songs, like America the Beautiful or the National Anthem. These are singable a-capella and people can sing them universally, but not for pure amusement. They are also very few such songs that people know the lyrics of.
The popular singing culture has been replaced by professional or semi-professional singing in a band and overwhelmingly by recorded music.
My thesis is that people who cannot sing casually cannot sing in church: they feel self-conscious and just hum it softly for themselves. That is the kind of singing I see (and barely hear) around me in church.
It gets better if there is no church orchestra and simple well-known hymns are chosen. Then people just have to sing. Happens sometimes in Protestant churches. Let’s learn from that.
We have a band that plays at one of the Masses I attend on Sunday. It’s awful and they sing such non liturgical music that it grates my ears. Songs that were made popular with those TV commercials selling collections of “worship” songs.
The priest loves them though so we are stuck with them.
The second Mass I attend has some nice hymns but some of the contemporary garbage that’s been around for a couple of decades.
I would like to hear some beautiful chants at Mass.
Pray for Archbishop Alexander K. Sample, the new Archbishop of Western Oregon. He has the say on OCP — and I think he will tell it to go bye-bye.
But it will take some time and a lot of prayers by us.
You didn’t like endless choruses of “Son(s) of God, Hear His Holy Word” repeated over and over back in the late sixties? 8<)
My wife and I have some friends from Peru. They are universally appalled by what they see identified as a "Hispanic"-friendly Mass. They like organ and traditional Catholic hymns...just like what they have back home.
My wife and I have some friends from Uganda. Again, they are universally appalled by what they see identified as a "African"-friendly Mass. They, too, like organ and traditional Catholic hymns.
and the document quoted is someones opinion
That "someone" was Pope St Pius X.
For what it's worth, the document was endorsed (with some slight modification) by Pope Bl Pius XII (Encyl Musicae Sacrae):
20. Nevertheless it can rightly be said that Our predecessor of immortal memory, St. Pius X, made as it were the highest contribution to the reform and renewal of sacred music when he restated the principles and standards handed down from the elders and wisely brought them together as the conditions of modern times demanded. Finally, like Our immediate predecessor of happy memory, Pius XI, in his Apostolic Constitution Divini cultus sanctitatem (The Holiness of Divine Worship), issued December 20, 1929, We ourself in the encyclical Mediator Dei (On the Sacred Liturgy), issued November 20, 1947, have enriched and confirmed the orders of the older Pontiffs.
It was also positively endorsed by the Second Vatican Council (Const. Sacrosanctum Concilium):
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.
Pope Bl John Paul II endorsed it twice.
14. Again at the practical level, the Motu Proprio whose centenary it is also deals with the question of the musical instruments to be used in the Latin Liturgy. Among these, it recognizes without hesitation the prevalence of the pipe organ and establishes appropriate norms for its use. The Second Vatican Council fully accepted my holy Predecessor's approach, decreeing: "The pipe organ is to be held in high esteem in the Latin Church, for it is the traditional musical instrument, the sound of which can add a wonderful splendour to the Church's ceremonies and powerfully lifts up people's minds to God and to higher things".
Nonetheless, it should be noted that contemporary compositions often use a diversity of musical forms that have a certain dignity of their own. To the extent that they are helpful to the prayer of the Church they can prove a precious enrichment. Care must be taken, however, to ensure that instruments are suitable for sacred use, that they are fitting for the dignity of the Church and can accompany the singing of the faithful and serve to edify them.
And the second was in his Apostolic Letter, Spiritus et Sponsa: on the 40th anniversary of the Constitution "Sacrosanctum Concilium" on the Sacred Liturgy (December 4, 2003):
4. Then with regard to the different elements involved in liturgical celebration, the Constitution pays special attention to the importance of sacred music. The Council praises it, pointing out as its objective: "the glory of God and the sanctification of the faithful"13. In fact, sacred music is a privileged means to facilitate the active participation of the faithful in sacred celebration, as my venerable Predecessor St Pius X desired to highlight in his Motu Proprio On the Restoration of Sacred Music Tra le Sollecitudini, whose centenary occurs this year. It was this very anniversary that recently gave me an opportunity to reassert the need to preserve and to emphasize the role of music at liturgical celebrations, in accordance with the directives of Sacrosanctum Concilium14 and mindful of the Liturgy's real character as well as the sensibility of our time and the musical traditions of the world's different regions.
And, hopefully, we are all familiar with his successor's preferences on the Liturgy and Sacred Music. They line up very well with Pius X.
The point being that it is not merely "somebody's opinion."
Having said that, it is true that other instruments are allowed, with the permission of the Ordinary. This is validated by the above. As are other forms of music than Gregorian Chant. However, each of the above give criteria for what music qualifies to be incorporated into the Liturgy. As JPII said,
With regard to compositions of liturgical music, I make my own the "general rule" that St Pius X formulated in these words: "The more closely a composition for church approaches in its movement, inspiration and savour the Gregorian melodic form, the more sacred and liturgical it becomes; and the more out of harmony it is with that supreme model, the less worthy it is of the temple". It is not, of course, a question of imitating Gregorian chant but rather of ensuring that new compositions are imbued with the same spirit that inspired and little by little came to shape it.
Sadly, the composers whose works pervade modern Catholic liturgies: Haugen, Haas, Schulte, et al, don't even come close to approaching that standard. IMHO (and YMMV), the only thing about them is determining whose compositions are the most banal.
Our Liturgical worship should be vectored toward resemblance to the heavenly worship discussed in Apoc. 4 and 5. (and as alluded to in Isa 6). Timbrels, Harps, Cymbals, and so on are great (ref Ps 150). In a praise service. In a procession (such as a parade for a city's patron saint or for the Blessed Virgin). But not for the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.
In the right setting I DO like singing that kind of music. I got hooked at the Charismatic masses I attended for a few years. At my weekly mass only occasionally, when a Charismatic mass devotee gets to run the music program, do I hear it at my own church. We usually get the meaningless tripe in our new hymnals. Some are just so bad I put the hymnal down and silently protest it.
You are spot on. Got to remember that towards the end of the Psalms, did not the 150th and last psalm refer to instruments being used?
Doing church worship music, be it by voice only or with intruments, as long as it gives GLORY to God is the MORE IMPORTANT THING.
Equally as important: I am not Jesus. I do not care for songs in which His words are put in the first person for me to sing ... particularly when I suspect that the composers did so for the express purpose of avoiding the third person personal pronoun ("He") when referring to Jesus (or The Father, or the Holy Ghost).