Sermons

Summary: We must strive for renewal of our liturgical music from within

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Monday in the Octave of Easter

25 April 2011

Spirit of the Liturgy

The Gospel today documents a coverup. It was not the first coverup in history, but it certainly is the one with the worst results. The Resurrection of Jesus from the dead, and the simultaneous appearance of a number of dead Hebrews in Jerusalem, should have convinced even the most skeptical member of the Jerusalem crowd. Jesus was proven to be the Messiah. But that would have ruined everything for the Jewish authorities. So they concocted this wild tale that even Tim Leary on LSD wouldn’t have believed. The disciples stole the body from under the noses of a squad of Roman legionaries. It is more logical to believe in the Resurrection of Jesus than in this fairy-tale coverup. So much so that when Peter preached the truth to the crowds at Pentecost, they believed and were baptized, about 3,000 in a matter of a few hours. Still, the tale of the stolen body, and the culture that supports it, has kept millions of Jews over the centuries from accepting their Messiah, and true freedom from sin and life in the Holy Spirit. We should pray for those from whom we have received so much, especially our Blessed Mother and Her Son.

The Resurrection of Christ is, of course, the focal point of our liturgy and of our liturgical music. In the light of the True Passover, the Church continues and perfects both the synagogue service and the Temple worship. This can be seen in the Byzantine chant, the Slavic polyphony, and, of course, “in the West, in the form of Gregorian chant, [where] the inherited tradition of psalm-singing was developed to a new sublimity and purity, which set a permanent standard for sacred music, music for the liturgy of the Church.” In the Renaissance, chant blossomed into polyphony, and instruments, particularly the pipe organ, became part of the musical mix. Something, however, was not quite right. Because composers did not necessarily distinguish between their own wills and tastes and the desires of the Church, artistic freedom began to run rampant. “This is particularly clear in the case of the so-called ‘parody Masses’, in which the text of the Mass was set to a theme or melody that came from secular music, with the result that anyone hearing it might think he was listening to the latest ‘hit.’” The paradigm for this kind of music were the Masses composed on a popular tune called “The Armed Man.” The danger pointed out by our current Holy Father prior to his election is that “music was no longer developing out of prayer, but, with the new demand for artistic autonomy, was now heading away from the liturgy; it was becoming an end in itself.”

In the 16th century, the Council of Trent, and in the 20th, Pope St. Pius X intervened. They made the norm that liturgical music should be “at the service of the Word.” (146) They affirmed the clear difference between sacred and secular music, and, over and over in the 20th century, from Pius X to the Council and its documents and soon-to-be-blessed John Paul II, told us that music is liturgical insofar as it has solidarity with Gregorian chant and the polyphonic tradition.


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