Practical Sacrality

By Mahrt, William | Sacred Music, Winter 2010 | Go to article overview
Save to active project

Practical Sacrality


Mahrt, William, Sacred Music


The sacredness of the liturgy is axiomatic for a journal called Sacred Music; yet it is also axiomatic for a church whose most recent council issued its first document as a Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy called Sacrosanctum Concilium, the sixth chapter of which was entitled "Sacred Music." The sacredness of the liturgy was also axiomatic for the tradition before the council, especially beginning with Pope St. Pius X, whose Motu Proprio Tra le sollecitudini gave "sanctity" as one of the three characteristics of sacred music. This all suggests that music must be the vehicle of maintaining the sacredness of the liturgy, at least when it is music that is unambiguously sacred.

Pope Benedict XVI and Pope John Paul II before him emphasize the necessity of reading the council documents in the light of tradition, a process they name "the hermeneutic of continuity." Yet in the sixties the change to the vernacular and particularly to a mediocre translation unwittingly played into the hands of those cultivating the "hermeneutic of discontinuity," and it was followed by a period when music often compromised rather than fostered the sanctity of the liturgy.

It is now high time to reconnect with the tradition and to restore a sense of sacrality to the celebration of the liturgy throughout the church. One of Pope Benedict's purposes in encouraging the more frequent celebration of the extraordinary form was to hold up a mirror of sacrality to the ordinary form. Many of us look to the old rite itself as a kind of ideal, and this is understandable, since the preponderance of the treasury of sacred music was formed in that context. Moreover, for some of us, it was the liturgy we grew up with. But even if one were to hold that the extraordinary form is the more perfect form and seek to cultivate it exclusively--something completely admissible for individuals--as musicians and as an organization devoted to the cultivation of sacred music, we have a larger responsibility. Since the ordinary form is the norm in the parishes and cathedrals, the recovery of the sacrality of the liturgy in this form is essential. A slow, gradual improvement on a broad scale is necessary. The council gave Gregorian chant first place in the liturgy and also gave classical polyphony and organ music a special role, and the increased use of these can very well be an important step.

There are significant obstacles: 1) many musicians in the parishes have no formation in Gregorian chant; in fact, some of them have been hired from Protestant traditions, perhaps with the implicit assumption that this will insure and improve the Protestant model, the four-hymn sandwich; 2) some pastors do not see the centrality of music to the liturgy, sometimes being openly hostile to chant and polyphony; 3) congregations have become accustomed to the hymns or "songs" that have completely replaced the Propers of the Mass, and the question is reported to have been asked by a member of one congregation, "Why can't we have the good old Catholic music, like 'On Eagles' Wings'"?

On the other hand, many more pastors are becoming supportive of just that repertory--chant and polyphony. According to Musicam Sacram ([paragraph] 28--30), the repertory of chant includes three general categories, 1) the recitatives and simple formulae by which the priest sings his parts and engages in dialogues with the congregation, 2) the Ordinary of the Mass, generally sung by the congregation, and 3) the Proper of the Mass. All three of these categories can make a significant contribution to the sacrality of the Mass. When the priest sings his parts, his delivery is lifted up from the conversational tone of the everyday, which we all too often hear in the liturgy; when he sings his parts it is unambiguously clear that he is doing something sacred. Moreover, the lively alternation of priest and people singing is a vivid representation of the respective roles, enhanced by the melodic and rhythmic vitality of singing.

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
Loading One moment ...
Project items
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited article

Practical Sacrality
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

While we understand printed pages are helpful to our users, this limitation is necessary to help protect our publishers' copyrighted material and prevent its unlawful distribution. We are sorry for any inconvenience.
Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.

Are you sure you want to delete this highlight?