Cantate Domino: Musicam Sacram, 50 years later

So yesterday, I had the pleasure of singing at my Diocese’s Rite of Election, where we welcomed all of the Diocese’s candidates as neophytes preparing for full reception into the Catholic Church. I love singing when I can, and this was one of the opportunities to do so.

However, I did not expect to be in a Gothic style Cathedral with drum set, guitar, and electric bass. I understand that half of the catechumens were of Hispanic origin and some did not understand English, but that does not mean we should use unsuitable music. The whole event felt more anthropocentric and not theocentric.

I will admit that I walked away somewhat perturbed. I mean, just a couple days before, I chanted my first Ash Wednesday in the Extraordinary Form and it was a great way to start Lent.

As some of you may know from previous blog posts, I am a lover of Tradition, especially in sacred music. I’m all for making Gregorian Chant and Polyphony great again.

It was especially fitting when I got home to my computer and immediately discovered that it was 50th Anniversary of Musicam Sacram, the Instruction of Music in Liturgy.

Musicam Sacram (Second Vatican Council,  05 March 1967) stated the following:

  • Gregorian chant, as proper to the Roman liturgy, should be given pride of place, other things being equal. Its melodies, contained in the “typical” editions, should be used, to the extent that this is possible.
  • In order to preserve the heritage of sacred music and genuinely promote the new forms of sacred singing, “great importance is to be attached to the teaching and practice of music in seminaries, in the novitiates and houses of study of religious of both sexes, and also in other Catholic institutes and schools,” especially in those higher institutes intended specially for this. Above all, the study and practice of Gregorian chant is to be promoted, because, with its special characteristics, it is a basis of great importance for the development of sacred music.

I then stumbled upon a statement signed by over 200 clergy, musicians, and others, regarding the state of Sacred Music today.

Some highlights:

  • There has been a loss of understanding of the “musical shape of the liturgy,” that is, that music is an inherent part of the very essence of liturgy as public, formal, solemn worship of God.
  • It is an exhibition of the vice of “liturgical sloth” to refuse to sing the liturgy, to use “utility music” rather than sacred music, to refuse to educate oneself or others about the Church’s tradition and wishes, and to put little or no effort and resources into the building up of a sacred music program.
  • The secularism of popular musical styles has contributed to a desacralization of the liturgy, while the secularism of profit-based commercialism has reinforced the imposition of mediocre collections of music upon parishes.
  • If children are to appreciate the beauty of music and art, if they are to understand the importance of the liturgy as fons et culmen of the life of the Church, we must have a strong laity who will follow the Magisterium.
  • Higher standards for musical repertoire and skill should be insisted on for cathedrals and basilicas.

It is a really short document at only 5 pages, and I urge you to read it and perhaps tell me what you think about it

Here is the link:

“Among the musical expressions that correspond best with the qualities demanded by the notion of sacred music, especially liturgical music, Gregorian chant has a special place. The Second Vatican Council recognized that “being specially suited to the Roman Liturgy”it should be given, other things being equal, pride of place in liturgical services sung in Latin. St Pius X pointed out that the Church had “inherited it from the Fathers of the Church”, that she has “jealously guarded [it] for centuries in her liturgical codices” and still “proposes it to the faithful” as her own, considering it “the supreme model of sacred music”. Thus, Gregorian chant continues also today to be an element of unity in the Roman Liturgy.” ~Pope St. John Paul II



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