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Tuesday, May 31, 2011

New York Times blasts founding of the Pontifical Institute for Sacred Music

Let's travel back in time 100 years and see what the Tired, Worn-out, Old, Grey Lady would have said about the founding by Pope St. Piux X of the Pontifical Institute for Sacred Music, which today officially marked its 100th anniversary ...

January 3, 1911

VATICAN CITY--In a move detractors say is sorely out of touch and which far right traditionalists say does not go far enough, Pope Pius X today ordered the formal foundation of the Pontifical Institute for Sacred Music. Announced through a statement by the Vatican's press office, the move comes in the wake of revolution in Mexico, Pneumonic plague in China, and the abolition of the monarchy in such places as Korea and Portugal. One detractor called it "insensitive."

The Institute's creation, said the Vatican's press release, is intended "to teach liturgical-musical disciplines from the standpoint of practical, theoretical ,and historical awareness and promote dissemination of traditional heritage of sacred music and encourage artistic expression appropriate to the current cultures, and lend a service to local churches worldwide to train church musicians and future teachers in the field of sacred music."

This reflects, says Vatican insiders, an abiding "preoccupation" on the part of the current pontiff with the extraneous trappings of the church's liturgical life to the detriment of what one observer called, "our gospel-given mission to transform the world by how we care for the poor."

"One concern I have," said Fr. Jonas Biese, SJ, an American Jesuit widely reputed to be an expert on all manner of issues relating to the Catholic church, "is what this will do to inculturation of the liturgy. Does this signal less respect for American or Mexican or Angolan or any other culture's liturgical customs and music? I suspect it does, and I think that is an ominous development."

"This is just one more example of the hierarchical, insitutional church imposing its questionable will on the people of God and thwarting a movement of the Holy Spirit," said Sr. "Doris," an American superior working in Rome at the headquarters of her Italian-founded order who asked that her name be changed because of her support for women's ordination. "Three months after the Pope's election, he ordered -- arrogantly ordered -- that no more 'tunes' be sung at Mass. Who is he to tell us what kind of music we can and can't have during the celebration of the Lord's Supper? I happen to like tunes. What about me?"

Dr. Clem Anders Hohrenschtuff, a professor of sacred music at Fordham University, says he supports the pontiff's move. "The Holy Father," he says, "has to protect the depositum fidei, and that includes preserving the precious patrimony we have been given of Gregorian chant and polyphony, which has been sadly lost over the last few centuries. Music is supposed to serve the liturgy, not us. For this reason, it must be elevated, just as the liturgy can't become something that is workaday or simply functional. As the saying goes, 'In the Mass, everything matters.' The 'interminable musical compositions,' as the Holy Father has called them, may have the ability to get our feet tapping or our hands clapping or our hips swaying. They do not, however, have the power to move our souls heavenward to God."

This is a reference to a statement made by the pope just three months after his coronation, where he called most music in Catholic churches "interminable musical compositions on the words of the psalms, all of them modeled on old theatrical works, and most of them of such meager artistic value that they would not be tolerated for a moment even in our second-rate concerts." This led by a sustained protests and calls for his resignation, with many liturgical composers and musicians claiming in a statement their "feelings have been hurt with no hope of healing."

"It feels bad to know that the work at which you labor so mightily is so little valued by someone who is supposed to be the Vicar of Christ. It's insensitive," said one such composer at the time. "Jesus didn't come to the world to make people feel small and puny and to hurt their feelings. He came to bring people together. I don't know that the current pope understands that."

One observer who has his fingers on the pulse of several high profile bishops says, "God bless the Pope for trying at something that's close to his heart and all, but the bishops I've canvassed have told me to a man they really don't care what the Holy Father does here. It's won't have much impact on their plans."

"What we need right now," said retired Italian priest Rev. Filipo Tellardini, a Vatican observer and expert, "is a focus on bringing social justice to workers and families who sorely need it. How does this push for castrated boys singing arias and cloistered monks singing obsolete chants help that? Don't get me wrong. Chant in its day -- 1,500 years ago, mind you -- was fine. It had its place. But now, when there are so many other things that need our pressing, urgent attention, this just seems so out of touch. God bless the Holy Father, but he really seems to have missed the mark."

Traditionalists, on the other hand, feel the Institute's creation does not go far enough.

"Why not are the heads rolling?" asked the retired Polish bishop of Lodz Andrzej Lechowiczski. "The pope has clearly said we must restore the sacred music that is beautiful. This is part of his plan to 'restore all things in Christ.' This is his motto! And yet go into any Catholic church in any diocese in any place in world, and what you find? People musically thumbing noses at very vicar of Christ and forcing laity to endure the most awful caucophony of noise imaginable. Why this allowed to happen? Why won't Holy Father take more concrete actions?!"

Many think that the bishop is simply grumbling about a disagreement over the direction his successor Bishop Stanisław Wiktor Wojtus -- who is seen as more pastoral than Lechowiczski -- has taken his former diocese.

Most lay people interviewed for this article say they support what Pius X is doing and that they're tired of listening on Sundays to what they say is bad music. But Agnes Rariden of Oneida, Ill., who works as a pastoral associate at St. Dignitata Parish in Brewer, Ill., says, "I think the liturgical music we have now is just fine. Honestly, I don't see why some people make the big deal they do. And I have a master's in theology from Trinity Lutheran College and one in femine studies from Wesleyan University, mind you, so I think I'm qualified to make that statement."
Now, again, this was a parody. This article never appeared. Ever.

However, let's review:
  • Three months after taking office, Pius X issued the motu proprio Tra le sollecitudini. It got rid of second rate music and restored the legacy of great liturgical sacred music, such as chant and polyphony, which had largely been lost.
  • When he founded the Pontifical Institute for Sacred Music roughly seven years later, there were no storms of protest. No one uttered a word of detraction -- at least like the above and certainly not in public -- because a) most people probably saw the sense in what he was doing and b) back then, well, he was the Pope! You didn't argue with the Pope. And that, I believe, was a good thing. He is given the charism of infallibility, not us. When he makes a decision in terms of faith and morals -- and liturgical music certainly impinges on the faith (after all lex orandi, lex credendi) -- we can trust that the direction in which he is taking us is sound. Not so for the average lay person, person engaged in the apostolate, seminarian, theologian, man or woman religious, deacon, priest, or even bishop (necessarily).
  • Unfortunately, these moves had only a temporary effect. While it's true the Second Vatican Council called for giving Gregorian chant "pride of place," this was ignored very, very quickly. It got so bad, that in 1974, Paul VI issued through the Sacred Congregation for Divine Worship the letter Voluntati Obsequens, and with it sent the booklet Jubilate Deo to every bishop in the world.
  • However, St. Pius X did succeed in reviving the almost dead art of chant, and if you've ever heard it done really well in a liturgical setting, you know how powerful it can be. Why aren't more parishes taking advantage of this force on Sundays? Some pieces are tough, granted, but it's not so difficult that they can't be mastered by people without master's, i.e., average lay folk.
  • Another point: Back then, we would never have seen the sort of emotional hand wringing witnessed in the above parody because people somehow understood that social justice and good Church discipline and doctrine all go hand-in-hand. They are not opposed to each other. Indeed, to be fully realized, each is wholly dependent on the other two.
  • All but the modernists would also have realized that the Pope has primacy in these matters (cf. Matt 16:18-20 and 18:18 and John 21:1-17), and they would have followed his lead.
  • And anyone who sniveled about hurt feelings would have been lynched (especially if they would have presumed to do so behind the sheer curtain of what Christ supposedly would or would not have done).
  • Finally, while you can't imagine these sorts of sentiments in a similar article back then, you sure can today, can't you? Hardly any voice given to those who support the Pope. Very little focus on what the actual action in question is intended to accomplish. An overabiding focus on the politics and sensitivities at play.
Yep, to paraphrase those geniuses behind the old Virginia Slims campaign, "We've come a long way, baby." The current pontiff is trying to support a return to good sacred music, often with much resistance. Let us pray that these efforts come to the fullest fruition possible. And let us pray for good Pope Benedict.

I'm interested to know: What do you think?

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