LITURGY CORNER 5
with Fr. James
Continuing our “Pop Quiz” about Vatican II’s teachings on the Mass:
5. What musical style did Vatican II state to be most suitable for use in Mass?
a. An eclectic mix of hymns from different traditions
b. Palestrina-like polyphony
c. Modern folk music
d. Gregorian chant
e. Contemporary Praise & Worship
ANSWER: d. Gregorian chant.
“The Church recognizes Gregorian chant as being specially suited to the Roman liturgy. Therefore, other things being equal, it should be given pride of place in liturgical services. Other kinds of sacred music, especially polyphony, are by no means excluded from liturgical celebrations so long as they accord with the spirit of the liturgical action as laid down in Article 30.” (The Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, #116)
Why is Gregorian chant “specially suited to the Roman liturgy”? Is it because it’s in Latin? Because it’s really old? Because the bishops are musical fuddy-duddies?
One of the principles of music in the Mass is that the text, the words themselves, along with their meaning are primary. Music functions to enhance, to deepen, even to help interpret the words, but not to overpower them. Music is not used at Mass just for the sake of having music, not just because it’s pleasant to do so. Because the Latin Gregorian chant has centuries of use behind it, and it so closely models the texts, the Vatican Council and the Popes since hold the traditional chant as the ideal toward which new compositions should strive.
The next Liturgy Corner will present the last question in our Pop Quiz.