Music through the Ages

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					    Music through the Ages

    Review of Catholic Music through the Ages: Balancing the Needs of a
Worshipping Church by Edward Schaefer (Chicago: Hillenbrand Books, 2008)

    “Musicians, permit me to say that there prevails now in the churches
a type of singing that is new, but eccentric, fragmented, dancing, and
certainly not very religious; more suitable to the theater and to the
dance than to the Temple. It seeks the superficial, and it has lost the
primary goal of prayer and song.”

    This assessment of the state of Church music sounds very much like
criticism of sacred music we might read in current periodicals or
internet discussions. But it is a critique of the liturgical music of 400
years ago by the ascetic writer Drexilius (1581-1638), and was later
quoted by Pope Benedict XIV in his 1749 encyclical Annus Qui analyzing
the problems of liturgical music in his own day.

    More recently it was quoted by Edward Schaefer in his book Catholic
Music through the Ages: Balancing the Needs of a Worshipping Church.

    Dr. Schaefer is Associate Dean for Academic and Student Affairs for
the College of Fine Arts at the University of Florida, though for many
years he taught at Gonzaga University in Spokane, where he directed a
schola for a regular sung Mass on campus, as well as for a seminary, a
parish and a cathedral.

    Since the Church has been dealing with the problems of inappropriate
liturgical music throughout most of her history, Schaefer contends that
the principles by which the reform of liturgical music was accomplished
in past centuries should be applied to reform today.

    In his search for these principles, Schaefer devotes a large portion
of the book to a survey of the history of sacred music. He begins with
the development of Gregorian chant, explaining that historically the
primary form of Mass was the Missa cantata or sung Mass. Consequently,
the chants are musical settings of the words of the Mass itself and are
thus truly integral to the sacred liturgy.

    Schaefer explains each part of the Mass Ordinary (unchanging texts)
and Proper (variable texts), describing their function and the type of
music in the official settings. He stresses the unique combination of
musical characteristics possessed by chant:

        In as much as the liturgy is a most uncommon event, chant, that
is, the music that is uniquely bound to the liturgy both musically and
historically, is also the only music that can accentuate the exceptional
place that the liturgy holds in the life of every Catholic by means of
the exceptional commingling of musical characteristics that it enjoys.
(p. 36)

    Schaefer also discusses the development of later forms of Church
music: the development of polyphony, the Renaissance, the period of the
Enlightenment, and the first half of the twentieth century. In each of
these four eras he considers the characteristics of the secular culture
(Humanism, the Enlightenment, Modernism) and how they led to developments
in music that were not always compatible with the liturgy. In each of
these eras, then, the Church had to undertake a reform of liturgical
music, determining what traits of the new music were in keeping with its
liturgical role and eliminating what was inappropriate.

    This part of the book serves as an introduction to the treasury of
sacred music. Specific musical examples are mentioned throughout the
text, each accompanied by a recorded track. An appendix contains complete
information about these recordings, which span the history of sacred
music from Gregorian chant to the twentieth century, and includes texts
in the original language (usually Latin) and English translations. The
tracks are also available in mp3 format at Schaefer’s web site,

    Schaefer notes that the Second Vatican Council did not intend a
radical reform. Rather, in continuity with the historic development of
the liturgy, the Council gave “pride of place” to Gregorian chant,
required that new forms develop organically from older ones, and insisted
on the preservation of the treasury of sacred music, while also
encouraging new compositions with the qualities proper to sacred music.

    The discontinuity that in practice followed the Council can be
attributed in part to the overemphasis on one function of music, which
Schaefer calls “expressive” at the expense of its “formative” function:

        Music integrates both the expressive and the formative. It has
the power to express who we are, and the ability to shape us into
something beyond our present state.…

        Also, we have always viewed this dual nature as an ordered one.
The formative aspect of music has always been regarded, at some level, as
the higher nature of music or as the ultimate goal for its use. (p. 21)

    The Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, Sacrosanctum Concilium (SC),
recognized music’s formative power, both in saying that music contributes
to the “sanctification of the people” (SC 112) and with its insistence
that texts to be sung during the liturgy “should be drawn chiefly from
the Sacred Scripture and from liturgical sources”. (SC 118, 121)

    Because of the strong emphasis on the external aspects of liturgical
participation since the Council, however, there has been an almost
exclusive focus on music’s expressive function, with no clear connection
to Gregorian chant or any sacred style of the past. According to

        It is a music that rejects Tradition as a key element of our
faith, and that dismisses the formative capacities of chant, the sung
liturgy, and artistic music. Our current music, with its strong emphasis
on the popular, is highly expressive of who we are as individuals at this
point in time and in very specific locales, but not particularly focused
toward connecting us with anything more. (p. 167)
    In his discussion of how this departure from tradition came about.
Schaefer notes that documents from the Holy See such as the 1967
Instruction Musicam Sacram (MS) and the 2002 General Instruction of the
Roman Missal (GIRM) maintain continuity with the past, respecting the
distinction between a sung and a read Mass.

    In particular MS treated the reforms of Vatican II as a continuation
of those reforms of Pope Pius X and his successors, not as a radical
departure from them.

    However, the document from the US Bishops’ Committee on the Liturgy,
Music in Catholic Worship (MCW), Schaefer observes, “broke radically from
the tradition of local documents reinforcing and explicating the
instructions and mandates of their Roman counterparts”. (p. 145) He
believes that MCW “is largely responsible for the present-day abandonment
of the historical principles that guided musical reforms until today” (p.
168); in particular because MCW denies that there is any useful
distinction between a sung Mass (Missa cantata) and a read Mass (Missa

    The MCW model is a read Mass with some singing, replacing the Propers
with songs or hymns — many of which are theologically deficient. But, as
Schaefer points out, even when the texts are acceptable, hymns and songs
are not an integral part of the Mass, as the Propers are.

        They are, in fact, little more than the reflections of the
personal piety and taste of the individual who happens to select them.
Overall, this practice contributed just as much as the practice of
inserting musical acclamations to highlight certain moments of importance
to the overall notion that music is rather peripheral at Mass, something
inserted into the Mass but not particularly intrinsic to it — just the
exact opposite of the goal of the Council. (pp. 173-174)

    The recent USCCB document Sing to the Lord, which replaces MCW,
resolves some of the conflicts between MCW and MS, but does not succeed
in eliminating them entirely. If liturgical reform is to maintain
continuity with the tradition of the Church, Schaefer believes, MS and
historical principles of reform must be given more weight.

    From his survey of the history of the development of liturgical music
in the earlier chapters Schaefer extracts three principles common to
these previous reforms:

        1. Even though musical change is perhaps inevitable, new music
should always embrace and exhibit long-established core values for the
Church’s music;
        2. These long-established values, even if somewhat difficult to
quantify, are most perfectly embodied in Gregorian chant, Gregorian chant
being defined both explicitly as a specific body of Medieval monophonic
music and implicitly as a way of praying the liturgy;
        3. Any music employed in the service of the liturgy should be
music of the highest artistic quality. (p. 159)
    These three principles have been constant throughout the history of
the Church.

         The Church has adhered to these three principles from century to
century as she has navigated the waters of change in her music. They have
played a consistent role in defining how we express who we are and how we
form ourselves into whom we are called to be. Unless we are prepared to
break all ties with the way we have expressed ourselves and formed
ourselves for the better part of two millennia, these principles must be
at the basis of any serious considerations regarding the future. (pp.

    Based on these principles, Schaefer suggests several steps that can
be taken to improve liturgical music in parishes.

    The first step, he believes, is to overcome the current emphasis on
music’s expressive power by giving more attention to its formative power.
Since the Council there has been a sort of “cafeteria” approach to
liturgical music directives, following some and ignoring others in the
interest of being “pastoral”. But real reform will require submitting
ourselves completely to the directives of the Church.

    The second step is returning chant to its “pride of place” in the
liturgy and reestablishment of the sung Mass, including singing the
Propers. Schaefer believes the technical means are available to reach
this goal, but that cultural resistance will be a problem. Still, the
Missa cantata ought to be the goal toward which a parish strives, even if
only small steps toward it can be taken at first.

    If our liturgical reforms regarding music are ever to claim a true
sense of authenticity, they must be based on the historical model for
public worship, of which the Missa cantata is a direct descendent, rather
than the historical model for private worship, from which we have
received the Missa lecta. (p. 181)

    The third step is a rededication to the value of artistic music,
especially Gregorian chant. Even the addition of very simple chants would
raise the artistic level of the music in the typical parish. They are not
difficult to sing, but again Schaefer predicts there will be resistance.

        We have for the better part of the last two generations
encouraged and even inculcated principles of relativism with regard to
musical judgment that declare there are no qualitative absolutes. As
difficult as it will be to do, the current doctrines that claim all
musical styles are qualitatively equal must be exposed for the
rationalization of poor quality and often egocentric music that they are.
While we will certainly never be able to equal the quality of God’s gift
to us, we must never allow that truth to prevent us from giving Him our
best. (p. 182)

    Though the Church has never developed a perfect solution to the
problem of inappropriate music for the liturgy, she has always striven
for perfection. Schaefer gives practical advice on how to achieve
appropriate reform in various situations, based on his wide practical
experience in liturgical music. He concludes:

        [J]ust as it is through forming ourselves to Christ that we will
come to fulfill our calling “to manifest Christ to others”, so too will
our understanding of the formative power of music lead us to make choices
about music that will allow our music to fulfill its full role in our
liturgical lives. Our choices about music must be rooted in a deep
appreciation of music’s ability to shape who we are, what we believe and,
therefore, the way we enter the liturgy: so that we might be revived in
Christ’s love of us and our lives more deeply rooted in Him. Indeed, this
may be the single most important concept to be gleaned from this text.
(pp. 203-204)

    This book was commissioned for use in seminaries to give future
pastors a sense of the history of the role of music in the Church and
practical advice for use of music in the liturgy today. It would also be
an excellent resource for study of Church music at the college level —
and would be especially useful for both catechesis and practical action
in any parish trying to bring to its liturgy the “true and suitable
sacred music” that is “the right of the community of Christ’s faithful”
(Redemptionis Sacramentum 57).

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