Please explain quote from John Paul II's Chirograph on Sacred Music
  • I'm writing a letter to my pastor in which I hope to convince him to allow the use of Mass XII, which will replace the Haugen Mass of Creation. I'm planning to quote from Sancrosanctum Concilium and the Chirograph on Sacred Music.

    Since I'm a novice regarding these things, I would like for someone to please explain the last sentence of this quote:

    6. The music and song requested by the liturgical reform - it is right to stress this point - must comply with the legitimate demands of adaptation and inculturation. It is clear, however, that any innovation in this sensitive matter must respect specific criteria such as the search for musical expressions which respond to the necessary involvement of the entire assembly in the celebration and which, at the same time, avoid any concessions to frivolity or superficiality. Likewise, on the whole, those elitist forms of "inculturation" which introduce into the Liturgy ancient or contemporary compositions of possible artistic value, but that indulge in a language that is incomprehensible to the majority, should be avoided.


    Could one not argue that since Gregorian Chant and Latin is incomprehensible to the majority, it should be avoided?
  • Kathy
    Posts: 5,402
    I would have to leave the discussion of the document to others, but I think your question raises another question: what does it mean to say that something is "incomprehensible?" Gregorian chant may be unfamiliar, but that does not mean it is incomprehensible. It may be in a different language, but everyone knows what is meant by the words at that part of the Mass, and a simple worship aid could translate each word. The tunes are easily grasped by very small children, so the music is not incomprehensible.

    Some forms of ancient and modern music may be completely inaccessible to most people, for the same kinds of reasons that some forms of modern are are inaccessible to most people. I don't think chant is one of them.

    Btw, why begin with Mass XII?
  • Except that can't be true because that would contradict Church teaching. I've seen plenty of liturgical events that display far-flung languages with ostentatious display of multicultural elitism.
  • Kathy, you have a terrific point about the meaning of "incomprehensible". Supposing it means "unable to be understood", then plain English sung by a drunkard might fit the bill.

    Most Catholics, I would think, know precisely what Kyrie Eleison means when it is sung, and likewise with the entire Ordinary.

    Since I've read that there's a negative reaction with some PIPs concerning the Mass of the Angels (I'll be accused of being a "throwback"!), I chose Mass XII because it touches my heart with its intense beauty. Yet they're all beautiful, aren't they?

    The line of reasoning regarding my position is something like this:

    1) The new translation is being implemented in Advent, and
    2) The people will have to learn both new spoken texts and sung texts, and
    3) We can't sing the newly-composed Mass parts until Advent, therefore
    4) Instead of overwhelming the people with everything at once, wouldn't it be nice to learn a new Mass NOW, and then everyone will know it by the time the new texts are in use?

    All this is quite convenient for me, since I've wanted to do a chant Mass since I became a choir director/organist.

    Jeffrey, you of course are quite correct, but that doesn't mean that it won't be used as ammunition against tradition (as you well know).
  • This may be helpful...


    My thoughts:

    "Likewise, on the whole, those elitist forms of "inculturation" which introduce into the Liturgy ancient or contemporary compositions of possible artistic value, but that indulge in a language that is incomprehensible to the majority, should be avoided."

    It seems clear that what is being said is that elitist forms of "inculturation", that is, that bring local culture into the Liturgy, but that delve into an ARTISTIC language that is incomprehensible is what is being warned against, not a spoken language.

    So music that is elitist from the past or the present is to avoided, music of modern forms such as some works Ligeti's and Stockhausen that would draw attention away from the liturgy through its style.

    It's pretty clear that the word language is not spoken, but rather a way of describing the tonal and rhythmic language of music in this case.
  • The best way to introduce singing a Latin Mass is to follow the Pope's brother's technique.

    After the Lamb of God is sung, when the priest receives, have your choir/schola sing the Agnus Dei you want to teach the people.
  • Adam WoodAdam Wood
    Posts: 6,423
    I'm a novice at reading documents as well, and am also someone who is eager to find support for contemporary music in the liturgy. Even with my particular lenses on, the meaning that immediately jumped out at me is what FNJ was getting at: This has nothing to do with spoken language (which should be either Latin or the local vernacular) but is rather a rule (?) about musical language.

    Regarding Gregorian chant as being "incomprehensible," that's covered: the directive only concerns music with "possible artistic value." That means (it seems to me) that music with definite artistic value is already allowed. The question of comprehensibility seems to only come up when:
    -the music is selected based for its use in an attempt at inculturation AND
    -the artistic value is not definite AND
    -the (questionable) artistic value is part of the reason that some individual is championing this particular piece of music.

    THEN (if those conditions are met), the comprehensibility of the musical idiom should be a guiding factor.
    THIS MAKES PERFECT SENSE! If you are doing something for the sake of inculturation, and yet the assembled people don't "get it," then you've just failed at your stated goal.

    Thus!
    The possible incomprehensibility of Latin, Gregorian Chant, or Sacred Polyphony (even if, indeed, they are completely incomprehensible) is not a reason to avoid them (at least, based on this quote).
  • Maureen
    Posts: 671
    It's probably more things like "don't sing rap in a parish of non-rap listeners". Or maybe it's "don't sing hymns written in American Academian" or "Enya is out, 'cause I can't tell what language she's singing in".

    This is probably one of those regs which is pointed at something European from the eighties. If we don't feel it jabbing at our ribs, we're probably safe.
  • Several things come to mind.

    First of all, it seems to me that John Paul II is not referring to language in terms of words. Rather, I believe he is employing the use of the term "language" to refer to style or genre, i.e., the musical "language" of a particular composer or school. For instance, the musical language of Langlais, while of high artistic merit, may be incomprehensible to a rural farm parish, to use an extreme example, and would be inappropriate for that congregation.

    But, if one takes it to mean words, to suggest that Latin is incomprehensible ignores an important concept (that I heard Rev. Skeris speak about on a repeat of "Mother Angelica Live" just this morning). We have been celebrating the Mass in the vernacular long enough now that even when we attend Mass in a parish that speaks only Spanish, Polish, German or French, we can still follow along, because we know (if they've not tampered with the Mass) that the Kyrie is followed by the Gloria, and when the Sanctus, Pater Noster and Agnus Dei occur within the order of things.

    To introduce a Latin chant Ordinary, while perhaps new, is hardly "incomprehensible", any more so that when an English-speaking congregation has a music director introduce a multi-lingual Taize song.
  • "Likewise, on the whole, those elitist forms of "inculturation" which introduce into the Liturgy ancient or contemporary compositions of possible artistic value, but that indulge in a language that is incomprehensible to the majority, should be avoided."

    Somebody can check the original, but it seems pretty clear to me from the context that the Holy Father is here referring to musical language, and not textual language. What he seems to be cautioning against is musical esotericism, the use of academic musical forms (be they twelve-tone rows or isorhythmic motets) or culturally specific musical forms (pop and certain types of world music) that cannot, of their nature, attain any sort of universality. It's a tricky aesthetic point -- one raised since at least Pius X. But in general, what it seems to suggest is that both high art of an esoteric variety, and popular styles specific to a limited culture, must both give way to something more universal and, presumably, more expressive of long-standing church norms. Based on other things he said, I seriously doubt he is here attempting to contradict Church teaching that chant and polyphony remain the best model for western church music composition, a point the current Holy Father has reiterated many times.
  • This would also seem to halt the introduction of music that, for one reason or other, was not accepted by the Church in the early years of chant.
  • As I say, FNJ, it's a tricky aesthetic question. The Church has rarely been successful singling out any particular musical style for censure. Pope John Paul understood that, and was more interested in forming pastoral judgment on the subject. But as we all well know, that more or less leaves us to the mercy of a pastor's personal preference, which can be the cause of much quenching of the spirit at either end of the compositional spectrum.
  • I guess part of the issue is that the answer that we reach as to the meaning of the wording must make sense. Why is it important that esotericism be avoided? Let's see if the answers so far make sense in relation to the Sacr. Conc.:

    37. Even in the liturgy, the Church has no wish to impose a rigid uniformity in matters which do not implicate the faith or the good of the whole community; rather does she respect and foster the genius and talents of the various races and peoples. Anything in these peoples' way of life which is not indissolubly bound up with superstition and error she studies with sympathy and, if possible, preserves intact. Sometimes in fact she admits such things into the liturgy itself, so long as they harmonize with its true and authentic spirit.

    119. In certain parts of the world, especially mission lands, there are peoples who have their own musical traditions, and these play a great part in their religious and social life. For this reason due importance is to be attached to their music, and a suitable place is to be given to it, not only in forming their attitude toward religion, but also in adapting worship to their native genius, as indicated in Art. 39 and 40.

    122. Very rightly the fine arts are considered to rank among the noblest activities of man's genius, and this applies especially to religious art and to its highest achievement, which is sacred art. These arts, by their very nature, are oriented toward the infinite beauty of God which they attempt in some way to portray by the work of human hands; they achieve their purpose of redounding to God's praise and glory in proportion as they are directed the more exclusively to the single aim of turning men's minds devoutly toward God.

    To my mind, inculturation is valuable only to the extent that it makes sense to the people for whom the adaptation is made. Otherwise, why make the adaptations? On the other hand, it seems to me that the adaptations need to be of a high quality; the word "genius" is used in all these passages. Of course, these are not mutually exclusive positions. I think what the Pope was doing was to ensure that the drive for utilizing "native genius" is not used as carte blanche for esoteric expression created by an artistic elite.

    I'm not sure that "language" should be conceived of in a metaphorical sense. That seems pretty unlikely in the context of such a pronouncement. I think it's safe to assume that spoken language is meant, and that the issue is that sometimes the language sung in a setting cannot be understood by the hearers as it is being sung, even if it's their own language. It's not that the language is Klingon. I think that it's more like the position of polyphony before Palestrina, where the Latin text was difficult to follow.
  • Ioannes, based upon your interpretation which does has merit, then Gregorian Chant and Polyphony in Latin would be banned, unless it was already in use. And, sorry to say, this MAY have been the intent of this document.
  • Adam WoodAdam Wood
    Posts: 6,423
    As I said, this statement doesn't seem to affect the use of Chant and polyphony, since it seems unlikely either of those musical languages would be used for the goal of inculturation. The comprension test, as it were, seems only to apply when the piece of music in question was selected for the purpose of inculturation. A piece of music selected (for example) because it is the Proper Introit text, in the official language of the Church, to the melody set down in the official books of the Church need not adhere to any standard of comprehensibility. (At least, from the narrow vantage point of this statement).
  • Hear! Hear! Look back at the clearest of these responses. They all take the sentences/paragraphs in question apart phrase by phrase, with an occasional definition of a large word. Two generations of poor teaching of English grammar in parochial schools have given us both PIPs and priests who are not capable of using this valuable tool of the English language!
  • Well, we were all careful to omit the use of the word ineffable.
  • Of course, one is at the mercy of the translators of such papal documents. It's also important to look at the larger context. Here is the same passage, in a different translation, and slightly expanded context:

    "Another principle enunciated by Saint Pius X in the motu proprio Tra le sollecitudini, a principle moreover intimately connected to the preceding, is that of goodness of form. There can be no music destined for the celebration of the sacred rites that be not first 'true art', capable of having that efficacy 'which the Church intends to obtain by receiving into her liturgy the art of sounds'.

    "And still such quality by itself is not enough. Liturgical music must indeed comply with its specific requirements: full adherence to the texts that it presents, consonance with the liturgical season and moment to which it is destined, adequate correspondence to the gestures that the rite proposes...

    "Song and music demanded by the liturgical reform -- it is well to emphasize -- must also respond to the legitimate demands of adaptation and of inculturation. Yet it is clear that every innovation in this delicate area must respect special criteria, such as the search for musical expressions that answer to the necessary involvement of the entire assembly in the celebration and that avoid, at the same time, whatever concession to levity or to superficiality. On the other hand are also to be avoided, in general, those forms of 'inculturation' of an elitist stripe, which introduce into the Liturgy ancient or contemporary compositions which are perhaps of artistic value, but which indulge in a most incomprehensible language. [T]he sacred sphere of the liturgical celebration must never become a laboratory for experimentation or compositional and performance practices introduced without careful control.

    "Among musical expressions that best respond to the quality required by the notion of sacred music, especially liturgical, a particular place is occupied by Gregorian chant. The Second Vatican Council recognizes it as "the song proper to the Roman Liturgy" to which it is necessary to reserve, all things being equal, first place in sung liturgical actions celebrated in the Latin language. Saint Pius X observes how the Church has 'inherited' it 'from the ancient Fathers', has 'guarded' it 'jealously over the centuries in her liturgical codices' and still 'proposes' it 'to the faithful' as her own, considering it 'as the supreme model of sacred music'. Gregorian chant, therefore, continues even today to be an element of unity in the Roman Liturgy..."

    * * *

    This suggests even more clearly that he is talking primarily about musical, rather than textual, language.
  • "[T]he sacred sphere of the liturgical celebration must never become a laboratory for experimentation or compositional and performance practices introduced without careful control."

    This should have been used to keep music based upon rhythm rather than text out of the Church.