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Church music.

(C.I., Sept. 2006, pp. 27-28)

In his November 2003 chirograph for the centenary of the motu proprio, Tra le Sollecitudini, on Sacred Music, Pope John Paul II stated that "A composition for the Church is sacred and liturgical insofar as it approaches Gregorian melody in flow, in inspiration, and in flavour, and so much less is it worthy of the temple insomuch as it is recognized as departing from that supreme model."

The late pope repeatedly emphasized the value and necessity of Gregorian chant even to the extent that "new compositions must be imbued with the same spirit that inspired" it. Pope Benedict XVI recently concurred, adding that the entire church should be able to hear that type of music because it is part of the church's "invaluable spirit, artistic and cultural patrimony." Despite the numerous papal documents issued on the value of Gregorian chant, such traditional music is all too often dismissed as merely the private opinion of a few popes.

The Catholic Register published an editorial (Aug. 6-13, 2006) supporting modern music, boasting that if Church music were to be based on "Gregorian chant or its choral cousins" this would represent "a remarkable counterrevolution in liturgical music." Father Peter Novescosky, editor of the Saskatchewan Catholic weekly Prairie Messenger, expressed similar sentiments in his editorial "Music in church" (July 5, 2006). He downplayed the Pope's recent reflections in order to promote that type of modern music he finds conducive to a "lively Sunday Mass." This is to miss the point of the Mass with its sacrificial nature.

These editorials from mainstream Catholic publications represent well the present mentality and functional state of the church that has all but rejected tradition....

Despite people's diverse preferences and tastes, not all music is suitable for the Church. Papal teachings on sacred music are not the invention of personal preferences attributed to individual popes, but rather are the result of consistent, theological reasoning reflected in the consistent periodic pronouncements from the Church.

In his book The Spirit of the Liturgy, Cardinal Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict XVI, states that "Pop music ... is aimed at the phenomenon of the masses, is industrially produced, and ultimately has to be described as the cult of the banal. 'Rock' ... is the expression of elemental passions, and at rock festivals it assumes a cultic character, a form of worship, in fact, in opposition to Christian worship. People are, so to speak, released from themselves by the experience of being part of a crowd and by the emotional shock of rhythm, noise, and special lighting effects ... The music of the Holy Spirit's sober inebriation seems to have little chance when self has become a prison, the mind is a shackle, and breaking out from both appears as a true promise of redemption that can be tasted at least for a few moments."

Rap music, made popular by the "rapping priest" Fr. Stan Fortuna of New York, has a beat with a downward deflection that is condescending in nature; apart from its profane lyrics it retains essential rhythmic elements of bragging (braggadocio), ritualized insult, and toasting oneself. Rap, which developed into trends of violence and gratuitous sex, was largely influenced by Rock-'n-Roll (slang for sex). Early traces of Rap can be found in the folk music popularized by Bob Dylan. Merely putting Christian lyrics to such profane music, as does Fr. Stan Fortuna, does not make that music "Christian." Plain and simply, this is inculturation gone haywire. The purpose of inculturation is to purify the particular values of different peoples (Novo millennio ineunte No. 40). It is not to suggest that Catholic values be purified (changed) in order to adapt to our changing culture.

Traditional choirs and Gregorian chants, on the other hand, possess that solemn cadence capable of creating the correct ambience for perceiving God's Mystery. Yet rarely do we find it in Catholic Churches.... I believe if Gregorian chant and traditional choirs were more available, one might be surprised to find how many people really do think and feel in unison with our beloved popes and Church tradition.

Hamilton, ON

Editor: Thank you for your comments. While many readers would share at least some of your concerns, an important distinction must Be maintained Between tousle Jar sacred liturgy and other "Christian music." It is our understanding for instance that whereas Father Stan Fortuna, C.F.R. raps-very effectively--with youth in the streets of the Bronx he goes not use rap to accompany the Mass.
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Author:Kokoski, Paul
Publication:Catholic Insight
Article Type:Letter to the editor
Date:Dec 1, 2006
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