Which documents are legally (canonically) binding?
  • Hi All,

    I've read and observed discussions that talk about different documents which contain legislation about what applies to the Mass for (Latin Rite) Catholics .

    In the video that has the twins and the dancing Jeff (I forget the name), there are many documents quoted. I'm confident that these are binding. There are other documents that seem to not be binding. For example, sometimes people will quote "Sing to the Lord," and someone would say, "Well, that's not been approved." or "That's not binding."

    So, for the plebe in the pew (me) who cares, but doesn't know, how can I identify what needs to be followed, and what does not? I've observed that some folks will only quote the documents that fit their plan, rather than the ones that are authoritative.

  • Jeffrey TuckerJeffrey Tucker
    Posts: 3,624
    I believe that the last binding document from Rome (I forget the technical term) is Musicam Sacram of 1967. What is true in law and what is law in practice can be very different - and this is something successful musicians must come to terms with. The pastor's word is law for most musicians working in the Catholic world.
  • chonakchonak
    Posts: 8,861
    Here's the criterion for bishops-conference documents:

    If it was adopted by a unanimous vote of the whole conference (not just a committee), or
    If Rome gave it official approval (recognitio), or
    If your bishop specifically ordered that it be binding for your diocese, it's binding.

    Otherwise, it's not.

    But like Jeffrey said.
  • We were discussing here the teeter-totter that those who serve the Catholic church as musicians stand on.

    The lack of a common repertoire makes planning any sort of event that involves various parishes difficult, especially if the pastor/celebrant is insistent upon the concept of hymn singing by the congregation as a requirement for active participation. The church has known for centuries that the congregation, be it people coming on from the fields or monks, is very capable of singing the ordinary of the Mass and well-known chants, leaving the propers to a small group or individuals to sing.

    In fact, the practice of singing AMEN that has been tacked on hymns in protestant hymbooks for years...and now abandoned in most, is done so that those who are not singing the prayer...in the case of it being an antiphonal one, for example...is so that all can affirm their response to the prayer.

    More recent local to the USCCB documents give permission to expand beyond what one might expect from:


    Indeed, through this form, prayer is expressed in a more attractive way, the mystery of the Liturgy, with its hierarchical and community nature, is more openly shown, the unity of hearts is more profoundly achieved by the union of voices, minds are more easily raised to heavenly things by the beauty of the sacred rites, and the whole celebration more clearly prefigures that heavenly Liturgy which is enacted in the holy city of Jerusalem.

    Pastors of souls will therefore do all they can to achieve this form of celebration.

    They will try to work out how that assignment of different parts to be performed and duties to be fulfilled, which characterizes sung celebrations, may be transferred even to celebrations which are not sung, but at which the people are present. Above all one must take particular care that the necessary ministers are obtained and that these are suitable, and that the active participation of the people is encouraged.

    The practical preparation for each liturgical celebration should be done in a spirit of cooperation by all parties concerned, under the guidance of the rector of the church, whether it be in ritual, pastoral or musical matters.

    Obviously, trained church musicians at the time saw the ordinary as being something the people could sing under these instructions. However, people took this and ran with it, putting us in the mess that we are now in.
  • Liam
    Posts: 4,531
    The rubrics and instructions in the ritual books are also canonically binding. This is particularly important to note because MS predates the current Missal, and the rubrics and instructions in the Missal - being more recent - trump MS where there is a conflict or question.

    There are often liturgical statutes at the diocesan level, promulgated by a bishop in his ordinary authority over liturgical direction where the ritual books or canon law provide or permit. To the extent they are within the authority of the bishop, they have the force of law within his jurisdiction. Unfortunately, I know of no diocese that publishes its statutes online.

    Many people are not aware that Music In Catholic Worship, while originally adopted as guidance by the BCL, and later updated by Liturgical Music Today, was adopted as law by the USSCB in the early 80s. (You will not find an online source for this action, because it occurred pre-Internet.) At that time, recognitio was not needed from Rome to do this. While Sing To The Lord does not have the force of law (except to the extent adopted by diocesan statute where possible), its one legal effect was to abrogate MCW/LMT as law. Which is a good thing.
  • Jeffrey TuckerJeffrey Tucker
    Posts: 3,624
    MCW was online until very very recently. Finally, it was taken down. whew. That document was an incredible catastrophe
  • Here is the chart I give to my students.
  • From Jeffrey.. The pastor's word is law for most musicians working in the Catholic world.

    So, if the pastor's word is law, why do we need documents? "Documents! We don't need no stinking documents!" (Sorry, I couldn't resist.)

    On a more serious note, is there any way to find out what has been decreed by my local bishop? How/Who/What do I ask?
  • incantuincantu
    Posts: 989
    "Many people are not aware that Music In Catholic Worship, while originally adopted as guidance by the BCL, and later updated by Liturgical Music Today, was adopted as law by the USSCB in the early 80s."

    Do you mean to say that this was voted on and approved by the entire conference of bishops? If so, you're right; this the first I've heard of that. Surely, there would be a record of this, when the meeting took place, etc.
  • MCW is the product of the Bishops Committee on the Liturgy and is advisory, except when it cites documents that have higher legal status. In the case of the latter, it has the status of the documents cited.
  • artdob
    Posts: 24
    While not by any means a music-centric document, believe the GIRM is in a similar category in regard to "binding documents."

    Comment above regarding pastor's word being law is interesting - considering occassions where pastors consciously deviate from directives of otherwise binding documents.
  • RagueneauRagueneau
    Posts: 2,592

    For those who are not aware,

    ----- ----- ----- ----- ----- ----- ----- ----- ----- -----
  • How do we fast forward to the dancing part?
  • Dear Mr. Frog.

    5:25 to 5:35 for "Dancing with the Liturgist"
  • CharlesW
    Posts: 11,611
    Even though I like much of what it says, I don't believe Musicam Sacram is binding. It applies to an earlier missal, and some would say, an earlier rite of mass.
  • Charles,

    Hmmm. I never thought of that. The video shows post-conciliar popes quoting pre-V-II documents. I know that's not sufficient. When the Pauline Mass (Novus Ordo) began, was there anything that would indicate that its beginning nullified previous norms for music? I'd assume that the rubrics that pertain specifically to the NO would replace previous ones. And, I'd also assume that ones that were not replaced, still remain.

    These are assumptions; are they well founded?
  • CharlesW
    Posts: 11,611
    I think a lot of that is anyone's guess. It would be great to get some clarification from someone in authority.
  • artdob
    Posts: 24
    A related question just came to mind. For those of us just getting familiar with the Tridentine Mass, which documents are useful to consult in regard to music? I suspect that most 1962 documents don't apply to Extraordinary Form services.
  • incantuincantu
    Posts: 989
    "The pastor's word is law" in that the Pope doesn't sign our paychecks. It's as good as law as far as most musician's are concerned. The question is, when a pastor forces a musician's hand and the action is contrary to church law, who is guilty of the liturgical abuse?
  • Liam
    Posts: 4,531

    Yes, I mean they adopted it as a body by vote. You can go try to read minutes or other sources - nothing online. There remains much that is not online.

    But it's moot now because STTL effectively repealed it - that was the one legal effect of STTL.
  • awruff
    Posts: 94
    Correct, the bishops' conference approved MCW according to the rules then in effect, long after the committee approved it.
    But here's an interesting canonical question. I'm not a canonist so I don't know the answer.
    If SttL doesn't have force of law because it wasn't unanimous nor was it recognitio'ed by Rome, does SttL's abrogation of MCW have force of law? I would think not. But it would be odd if MCW were still of higher status legally than SttL, since MCW came in under different rules. Stranger things have happened.
  • I just reviewed every reference to MCW in Thirty Five Years of the BCL Newsletter, and I did not find the place where the entire conference voted on MCW. Please correct my ignorance.

    Sing to the Lord: Music in Divine Worship says:
    Sing to the Lord: Music in Divine Worship, a revision of Music in Catholic Worship, was developed by the Committee on Divine Worship of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB). On No-vember 14, 2007, the Latin Church members of the USCCB approved these guidelines. These guidelines are designed to provide direction to those preparing for the celebration of the Sacred Liturgy according to the current liturgical books (in the ordinary form of cele-bration). Issued by USCCB, November 14, 2007.

    One cannot say that SttL repealed MCW, because neither had the force of law in themselves. Where either quote documents that DO have the force of law, there (in these places) they have the force of law.

    SttL replaces MCW. It has the force of an over two-thirds vote of the USCCB, moral force.

    If it had gotten a unanimous vote, it would have become law for the US Latin Church.

    If Rome had confirmed it, it would have become law for the US Latin CHurch.

    I understand that it was not sent to Rome because it might have come under too close an inspection by those unsympathetic to the liturgical music situation in the US Latin Church and may have been rejected in whole or in part.

    There are a few things in SttL that I think are incorrect and other things I wish had not been included, but it is a fine document and it is the one I teach in my seminary and around the country.
  • chonakchonak
    Posts: 8,861
    Thanks for looking into that, Prof. Ford. Fr. Ruff's book mentions (p. 389) that MCW was modified slightly in 1983. Is there any indication in your sources that the whole conference approved it at the time?

    I'm skeptical about whether the conference's limited legislative authority could have made it binding anyway.

    For completeness, we could also mention the 1982 document Liturgical Music Today, offered as a "companion" to MCW.
  • BachLover2BachLover2
    Posts: 330
    sadly, the current document, SING TO THE LORD, has some inaccuracies, which might explain why it was never submitted. e.g. it makes reference to an approved version (in english) of the graduale. there is no such thing.
  • DougS
    Posts: 793
    Add to the problem of "law" the matter of "interpreting" the law...reasonable people can disagree on the technical nuances of all the documents cited above.
  • G
    Posts: 1,391
    It's very mysterious, perhaps the Bishops revisited MCW under the leadership of Bishop Wormer, giving it their double secret approbation? Being ignorant of this was simply inattention on our parts, Monsignor Vogon posted it at Alpha Centauri.

    (Save the Liturgy, Save the World)
  • Maureen
    Posts: 671
    Musicam Sacram was intended to guide all Latin Rite parish music from then on, and to guide the use of the newer missal. Saying that "this happened before the new missal, so it doesn't count" is like saying that the US Constitution doesn't bind today's US laws, because the Constitution couldn't possibly envision today's legal conditions. In fact, the US Constitution was designed to bind just such unimagined changes. The future was its whole reason to exist. Same thing with Musicam Sacram.

    The whole thrust of the document is to define some norms, and thus show the principles of sacred music are to be applied in practice, as part of liturgical renewal. It is deliberately designed, as far as I can tell, to be applicable under just about any conceivable Latin Rite circumstance; and probably, other Catholic Rites would have no argument with most of the basic principles. (Although they would change some names and tweak it a lot.) This sort of big tent document, with its big generic name, shows that it was designed for the future, no matter what changes took place. (Or what planet or satellite or space station you were singing Mass on.) Principles are, in a way, more binding than explicit regs, because they can continue to apply under totally different conditions.

    Musicam Sacram strongly expresses continuity with pre-Vatican II documents, but so do most Vatican II documents. (So do most church documents period, because that's how they show you they're not just pulling this out of their rear ends.) If you are seriously going to claim that Musicam Sacram's not binding because of that continuity, or because it talks about "our own day"*, you're going to have to claim that no Vatican II document is binding on the new missal, because it didn't exist until after the Council stopped meeting. (Which would make it an "unguided missal". I kill me.) This would also mean that no other church document applied to the newer missal, and that all principles and regs of music used with the newer missal would have to be sui generis. As far as I've ever heard, canon law doesn't work that way.

    * The interesting thing is that, when people in the Sixties talked about "our day", they pretty much did mean the future. Part of this was the whole summit of history arrogance, but a lot of it was the assumption that all humans were going to get either blown into smithereens or sucked into the Teilhard de Chardin Singularity within the next few years. So "our own day" often meant "until the end of time". Check it out. Read around in different documents from back then, secular and otherwise. It's a pretty funny hidden assumption, but it's definitely there.
  • CharlesW
    Posts: 11,611
    I would disagree with you. MS is no more binding today than the 1962 or 1965 missals. The writers of Vatican II documents and MS had no conception of the order of change that would soon take place. Given the magnitude of change in the rite, it would be like saying the U.S. Constitution apples to another country. Of course, I still hope good Pope Benedict will clear up some of this and issue some directions. I will follow them, although many will not, I'm sure. So many musicians have gone their own way for so long, no orders or directions will cause them to change.
  • Paul F. Ford
    Posts: 825
    Thanks for looking into that, Prof. Ford. Fr. Ruff's book mentions (p. 389) that MCW was modified slightly in 1983. Is there any indication in your sources that the whole conference approved it at the time?

    There is no indication.
  • awruff
    Posts: 94
    I heard from Msgr Moroney that the entire conference approved MCW in 1983 and I took his word for it. I too would like to find the citation.
    Paul F, The reason it wasn't submitted to Rome wasn't because there was fear of their disapproval. It had to do with things approved in SttL (eg standing after communion for hymn) which contradicted binding law of the US GIRM, which would have opened up the can of worms of re-submitting all the earlier documents to bring them in line with SttL. At the last minute they decided "Let's not go there, let's just get this thing passed the best way we can." I was at the meeting with a Vatican official and there were no criticisms of SttL voiced at all. There was much praise for the US church for its lively attention to liturgy and music as witnessed by its creation of such documents.
    BachLover, where does SttL talk of the English Gradual? I don't find that. No.77 says the (Latin) graduale is a source for texts you might use and set in any English translation.
    Maureen, you write: "Musicam Sacram strongly expresses continuity with pre-Vatican II documents..." True, but only half so. It also has many revolutionary things in it. Look at the whole document.
  • miacoyne
    Posts: 1,805
    Thanks Maureen. If a musician try to completely break from the tradition of the Church and start or speak of as a "new rite', he is going against Church's directions and also of the our present Holy Father and all other Popes in the past in the Church. Musicam Sacram is clearly bining to music in N.O in Roman Rite. Novus Ordo is not a new rite, it is a new form in Latin rite, which the Church instroduced "since no Catholic would now deny the lawfulness and efficacy of a sacred rite celebrated in Latin,... (GIRM P.11)

    Even GIRM says right in the front, in Preamble "...bear witness to the Church's continuous and unbroken tradition,.. .'

    "40 years of misinterpretations by those who propose the hermaneutics of discontinuity could lead us to a split, worries the Holy Father. His papacy has seen the introduction of a new discipline ... to reapply contininuous analysis which is the key for (the Church) to interpret Vatican II documents correctly.

    "Always interpret with continuity" is the Holy Father's objective. The Holy Father teaches we cannot interpret the Documents of Vatican II as creating a break with the past." (Fr. Frank Parrinello from Harrisburg )
  • dvalerio
    Posts: 341
    Musicam Sacram is quoted many times by the General Instruction of the Roman Missal, in a manner that clearly indicates that it is in force. (The only argument somenone could come up with is that only those parts quoted are still in force, but that is more a display of bad will than a reasonable argument.)
  • BachLover2BachLover2
    Posts: 330
    @miacoyne: well said.

    @awrff, I invite you to carefully read:

    77. The Entrance and Communion antiphons are found in their proper place in the Roman Missal. Composers seeking to create vernacular translations of the appointed antiphons and psalms may also draw from the Graduale Romanum, either in their entirety or in shortened refrains for the congregation or choir.

    footnote 160 says
    Antiphons from the Graduale Romanum or Graduale Simplex might be sung in Latin or vernacular.

    the problem is, they didn't do their homework. there ain't no such thing. the bishops have never even bothered to approve a translation of the GR.

    I wrote to the Secretariat about this, and his answer was that the paragraph read like that in case an approved translation ever appears.

    other errors about the nature of the GR:

    157. The proper or seasonal Responsorial Psalm from the Lectionary for Mass, with the congregation singing the response, is to be preferred to the gradual from the Graduale Romanum.
    (on this, see approved church documents regarding the GR)

    158. In addition to the proper or seasonal Psalm in the Lectionary, the Responsorial Psalm may also be taken from the Graduale Romanum
    (the GR ain't got no resp. psalms)

    i was not surprised when this document was not submitted to rome
  • incantuincantu
    Posts: 989
    I think singing selections from BFW, for example, would constitute singing antiphons from the GS in the vernacular, whether their translations be approved or not, in accordance with article 77 above.
  • BachLover2BachLover2
    Posts: 330
    incantu, i believe by flowing waters is graduale simplex, not GR

    kudos to whoever started this thread. these are all great questions. i think they're worthy of consideration, thought, and examination. one of the 'bomb-shells' my students bring up (usually on a friday afternoon, when i have not kept them busy enough) deals with piux's legislation (which was issued as a juridical code to the entire latin rite, not just recommendations). is it my imagination, or are they extra polite when they ask, so i have no choice but to answer them? any way, it concerns a part of the Pius X motu proprio on sacred music (which I require them all to read). the part they are interested in reads:
    14. Finally, only men of known piety and probity of life are to be admitted to form part of the choir of a church.

    in particular, they always like to ask whether 'such and such' a person would be allowed to sing at Mass. i am very glad i am not a pastor of a church (and hopefully never become one) because i feel this would be a very difficult decision. how do i stay with the mind and heart of the church on this issue? particularly in light of recent events, what would the decision be? we hear, for instance, of catholics publicly stating such things as 'This makes the Pope’s every word about liturgical renewal, in my mind, rather hollow and hypocritical.' or, just yesterday, a friend of mine e-mailed me a public statement by a priest who said that the day the church approved more accurate liturgical translations is a 'sad day.' put another way, he said that allowing people in the pews to better understand the words at Mass is 'sad.' i doubt pius x had to deal with statements like this in his day.

    what is the correct response in cases like these?? my answer over the years has never changed: 'i don't know.'

    i don't know the answer. i would be grateful for any thoughts. all i can say is that i'm glad i'm not a pastor. has anyone on this forum ever heard of a pastor having to publicly ask a singer not to sing at Mass because they don't fit the requirements laid down by a Saint-Pope? remember that whenever an issue in canon law is not covered in a more recent document, the principle is to look in the previous document for clarification. does this hold over from canon law? again, i simply don't know. according to pius x, does the pastor have the responsibility to enforce the requirement cited above, or does that responsibility fall to the choir director?

    my answer to my students remains the same: 'i don't know, but good question.'
  • awruff
    Posts: 94
    BachLover 2 - oh, you're right, they put all that stuff in the footnotes of SttL from the US GIRM which makes no sense. That was a mistake. But that certainly isn't the reason why they didn't submit it to Rome - keep in mind, the US GIRM *did* go to Rome with all those mistakes and it got approved. So they would have to have undone all that stuff in the US GIRM in order to submit SttL to Rome, and they choose not to. Unfortunately, they just cited the problematic stuff from the US GIRM.
    The preference of the Responsorial Psalm of the Lectionary over the graduale is based on two documents from Rome, the ones cited in SttL in the footnotes.
  • Bachlover, I admire your desire for obedience.
    In response to your question about Pope St. Pius X's directive on women in choirs, much had been written on this site.
    I have to make lunch for all my children, but let me quickly point you to Pius XII allowing women in choirs in his 1957 document on music. I can't recall the name of it just now... Will post when I have time unless someone beats me to it.
    At any rate, Pius XII used his authority to effectively and officially change the rule. So you needn't worry about that one. Many people cling to the 1903 document without realizing that that part of it had been altered by another saintly pope. :)

    How the original rule was intended and recieved is an interesting topic, too. But the rule against women in choirs was in fact changed, notably before the Council.
  • In response to the original question, my understanding is that Musicam Sacram is a binding document.
    It is presented that way, and was not replaced when the new missal was given.
  • JahazaJahaza
    Posts: 468
    In response to your question about Pope St. Pius X's directive on women in choirs, much had been written on this site.

    MA, Singing Mum, I think Bachlover is referring to the "piety and probity" part, not the "men" part.
  • eft94530eft94530
    Posts: 1,576
    Pius XII allowing women in choirs in his 1957 document on music

    Actually ...
    1958-sep-3 De musica sacra et sacra liturgia

    I recall this material appears in several Forum Discussions.
    Across the top of the webpage is a banner with a button labelled "Search".
  • CharlesW
    Posts: 11,611
    Having all these documents from different times, often in conflict with each other, is not helpful. Clearly, what is needed are new documents from the top specifying what is to be done musically during mass. None of us will live long enough to see it, I'm afraid.
  • IanWIanW
    Posts: 749
    Maybe the problem is that the West is too legalistic - we look for clear-cut direction, rather than immerse ourselves in the tradition. That might be difficult in a Church that has, arguably, over-used law and central direction in reaction to Protestant challenge, but I suspect in the long run it will ground our faith and practice more deeply than legalism. We have the example of the Holy Father, who has publically abrogated his right to make arbitrary change to the liturgy, claiming for himself only the duty to carefully tend something that has a life of its own. This approach doesn't mean that the great Papal and Conciliar documents touching on the primacy of chant and polyphony are not valuable - rather, they become significant witnesses to a tradition that would exist without them.
  • CharlesW
    Posts: 11,611
    The appeal to tradition works in the eastern churches, where tradition is viewed as a gift from the Holy Spirit. I was alive during Vatican II and saw its aftermath. Too many in the west gleefully threw out tradition in pursuit of the greener grass they imagined others had to offer. It's difficult to appeal to a tradition most Catholics no longer know.
  • chonakchonak
    Posts: 8,861
    @IanW: we Americans are too legalistic, perhaps not the West as a whole. I suppose it invokes a stereotype to say this, but I figure we'd understand church law better if we adopted an Italian attitude about law.

    Fr. Ruff observed:
    the US GIRM *did* go to Rome with all those mistakes and it got approved

    And that reveals a problem with the USCCB's somewhat closed process for developing documents. I don't recall whether there was an opportunity for public examination and comment on the draft of the US GIRM. (Was that due to ICEL's copyright on the underlying translation?)

    With more disclosure, the bishops could probably be alerted to inconsistencies and ambiguities in the texts before adopting them in the Conference and submitting them for approval.
  • Jeffrey TuckerJeffrey Tucker
    Posts: 3,624
    Fr. Ruff settled the whole matter of women in choirs. It was a dead letter early on. He really proves this, and gives the background on how that rule emerged in the first place. A great treatment in his book.
  • Ian's point about immersing ourselves in tradition is well taken, its a very healthy approach. Its been rather discouraging for me to work in parishes (my present job is not one of them, thankfully) where binding documents are not read, and very, very few care to read them... or follow them...

    But most often the people who don't bother themselves with documents rarely care a lot for tradition either. My question would be what do we do when people disregard current liturgical law AND tradition? Tis a fallen world.

    Jeffrey, thanks for reminding me about Fr. Ruff's work. I read the excerpts you posted here and on NLM a few months ago. Time to buy the book!
    For folks who won't listen to anyone but pontiffs on the matter, I point them to Pius XII's 1958 (thanks, eft, I had the year wrong) De musica sacra, specifically nos. 99 and 100.
  • IanWIanW
    Posts: 749
    I'm not suggesting that we ignore the Papal and Conciliar documents. They are a powerful witness to the tradition, and as such can be a useful means of demonstrating it to those whom catechesis and practice have failed, and a salutary reminder to those who think they know better. But the best way we can make that tradition a reality for the many who don't know it, or are estranged from it, is to ensure they encounter it at its prayerful, beautiful best. Without that encounter, authority will simply go in one ear and out the other, with the full encouragement of those with an interest in it doing so. In any given place the effort to rescue and foster the tradition may have small beginnings, and there may be frustrating constraints and setbacks, but it will bear fruit, even if we're not always aware of it (perhaps because we're only planting a seed in somebody's mind). I'm also only too aware that at some places, at some times, the door is closed, but that shouldn't discourage us from keeping a weather eye open for opportunities as they arise.

    The alternative - merely to say 'this is law' - is not simply ineffective. It also encourages a quasi-Protestant mindset, in which a thing becomes as it is because a cleric makes it so by fiat, rather than because it is true to the character of our faith and liturgy, and the sacred continuity that underpin them.
  • DougS
    Posts: 793
    While I don't disagree with what IanW says, "the tradition" itself is largely a matter of speculation. It's not like Josquin's (or even Palestrina's) music was shepherded year to year and place to place down to the present day. There are many major black holes in our collective knowledge of actual musical practice through the centuries, which is the only foundation upon which a sense of tradition, literally a "handing over," can be constructed.

    We know more, or can speculate more confidently, about historical liturgical practice in general because we have documents written by Church authorities. But even this approach is problematic because it treats liturgical history as a "top down" enterprise--whatever the Church documents say must tell us something about reality. How many times have forum participants here cited approved liturgical documents as evidence of older practice?

    If tradition is truly what we seek, it is more difficult to pinpoint than we might suspect at first blush. This is because, generally speaking, we are missing a "bottom up" understanding of living musical practice. What music was anyone singing in church in New Orleans, Baltimore, or Philadelphia in 1810? 1790? 1770? 1750? When the American Society of St. Cecilia was formed in 1874, there must have been a certain reactionary component. Even so, isn't what it was reacting against part of "tradition"? Should it even matter? Are we ready to dismiss any "American" traditions at all in favor of a constructed "universal" tradition? Maybe constructing a tradition rather than discovering one is better anyway: "Hold fast to what is good," as Paul says.

    If we accept a hermeneutic of continuity with respect to liturgical music and Vatican II, we must ask continuity with what exactly? The year 1962?
  • IanWIanW
    Posts: 749

    It would certainly be a mistake to expect a consideration of religious tradition to to provide us with a degree of detail comparable to a legal judgement or a musicological dissertation. Not only is that detail not there, but to expect it would be to mistake apples for pears (or expect a papal bull on the breakfast table alongside the Times). It is clear, though, from liturgical books and other sources that chant and the Western Rites are closely related, and have been over the centuries of their development. So, too, the polyphony that had its origins in chant have had a long and close relationship with the liturgy. The relationship has ensured that these forms of music are peculiarly fitted to the Rites and their ethos, and to attempt to divorce them is to diminish the Church's worship.

    None of this is to deny that there are gaps in our historical knowledge, particularly in relation to performance practice; but as participants in a living tradition that need not worry us any more than the gaps in our knowledge of the development of the liturgy itself (thought both might fascinate us). Nor is to suggest that other forms of music might not come to have a fruitful role, to the extent that they are sympathetic to it; or, indeed, that the intoduction of the Novus Ordo gives us a number of issues to consider. But it is to assert that chant, and where resources permit, polyphony, should have a 'pride of place' in our worship.
  • DougS
    Posts: 793
    As a musicologist myself, it's statements like, "The polyphony that had its origins in chant have had a *long* and *close* relationship to with the liturgy" (added emphasis) that strike me as off the mark. The details do matter. If specific sacred pieces were lost or limited to few areas, it is hard to make a convincing case that it is part of a "tradition" in any real sense. Were people singing Josquin in Africa? Maybe they were!

    To say more simply that this repertoire is a part of liturgical history or of "the treasury of sacred music" is much more convincing than saying it is part of a tradition and needs no historical reasoning or evidence. We should recognize that it was resurrected in specific historical moments and has been reinserted into the storehouse of usable music. The same (i.e., "resurrection") could be said for a significant amount of Gregorian chant--at least as it is sung today. We often forget that the vast availability of music that we now enjoy wasn't always there, and it is easy to see a panoramic view of musical "tradition" with so many available options. I don't mean to sound like I'm attacking you personally, Ian, but I see this view articulated frequently in the CMAA literature and forum discussions and it seems related to our discussion here.

    On a different note, the knowledge gaps I'm referring to are more important than historically informed performance practice, which always seems rather irrelevant to me when it comes to praising God. It's my hunch that there is a vast amount of repertoire that has been lost or forgotten. The places and times that I listed are only a few about which we know very little. As you suggest, finding the repertory isn't critical for a tradition to continue to live, but why not enrich our musical and liturgical lives even more? Why not open the treasure chest? Maybe our conceptions of the standards--chant, polyphony, and even the Broadway stuff--would change in unexpected ways!

    In sum, I don't think I disagree with what you are saying on a fundamental level, but we need to be careful how we phrase our positions. "Tradition" has a very specific temporal dimension that words like "treasury" do not. To claim that we (as musicians) can make a tradition a reality "for the many who don't know it" assumes that WE know it ourselves. Indeed, I think we are merely discovering traditions along with everyone else.
  • IanWIanW
    Posts: 749
    I suspect, dshadle, that you're interpreting 'tradition' as a musicological term, whereas I'm using it in a theological and liturgical sense. Thus, you note the absence of a complete understanding of the history, and therefore rightly hesitate to make make assertions about it; whereas I observe that we sing the liturgy in a tradition that has been passed down to us by the Church along with the Rite with which it developed. As we accept and pray the Rite, so it is reasonable to accept the chant as a support to - and an element of - that prayer, and to suggest that to fail to give it pride of place diminishes the celebration.

    That it was or wasn't sung in (North?) Africa would be an archaeological issue, and as such of interest in itself, but not directly relevant to the form in which chant has developed and been transmitted to us in the extant western Rites.

    As for polyphony: it undoubtedly had its roots in chant, and the experience of the Church is that, where written with the needs and ethos of the liturgy in mind, it can greatly elevate our sense of worship. The fact that much of the repertoire is lost to us is unfortunate, but does not alter the value of what is left to us, or the Church's estimation of it.

    In conclusion, it is not condescending to suggest that we should make this tradition a reality to our neighbours. Rather, it is a passing on of a living element of our particular liturgical tradition. As Church musicians this is our duty and our joy. And if your researches add to our understanding of the tradition, I'll be happy to stand you a pint!