A ZENIT DAILY DISPATCH

Sacred Music that Serves the Word of God

Part 1

Father Samuel Weber on Sacred Music Institute

By Annamarie Adkins

ST. LOUIS, Missouri, 4 JULY 2008 (ZENIT)

Parish music directors and congregations in the Archdiocese of St. Louis soon will benefit from Archbishop Raymond Burke’s recent initiative: The Institute for Sacred Music.

Archbishop Burke, who has since been named to head the Apostolic Signature, the Church's supreme court, appointed Benedictine Father Samuel Weber as the first director of the new institute earlier this year.

Father Weber is a professor in the divinity school of Wake Forest University in North Carolina and also a monk of the St. Meinrad Archabbey in Indiana.

In Part 1 of this interview with ZENIT, Father Weber discusses how the Institute for Sacred Music will try to restore Gregorian chant’s “pride of place” in the liturgy.

Part 2 of this interview will appear Sunday.

Q: Why did Archbishop Burke found the Institute for Sacred Music? What is its mission?

Father Weber: As Archbishop Burke explained, he established the institute to help him to cultivate more fully sacred music in the celebration of the complete Roman Rite.

The Institute will have many activities. First, it will form programs of sacred music, especially Gregorian chant, for parish musicians, musicians of other archdiocesan institutions and interested individuals.

Second, it will assist parishes with the singing of the Mass in English, for example, the entrance antiphon, the responsorial psalm and the Communion antiphon. Third, it hopes to foster the singing the Liturgy of the Hours.

A fourth activity of the institute is assisting parishes that wish to develop a "schola cantorum" for singing Gregorian chant; a fifth goal is aiding the full implementation of the English translation of the Roman Missal in the archdiocese.

Lastly, the institute aims to give particular assistance to the programs of sacred music at the Cathedral Basilica of St. Louis and at Kenrick-Glennon Seminary.

Q: Is there a difference between sacred music and religious music?

Father Weber: Although the two terms are often used interchangeably, we can make a distinction.

Sacred music, properly speaking, is music that is united to a sacred text especially psalms and other scriptural texts and texts of the Mass, such as the Introit, Gloria, Sanctus, Agnus Dei, etc., and it includes certain traditional hymns that are or have been part of the official liturgical books.

The authority of the Church must confirm all the liturgical texts; these sacred words are not to be altered in setting them to music.

All sacred music is “religious music,” obviously. But religious music would encompass everything from classic hymns to contemporary songs with a religious theme in a wide variety of styles and varying quality. Not all religious music is suitable for sacred worship, certainly.

Ultimately, it is the responsibility of competent authority i.e., the bishop or the Holy See to determine the suitability of all religious music for sacred worship, even though parish musicians will usually choose the music for a parish Mass and other liturgical celebrations.

All Church musicians need to be able to make truly informed choices about appropriate music for use in the liturgy, based on authentic Church teaching. This is not always easy, nor is the choice simply a matter of taste.

Q: Many complain about popular or secular forms of music creeping into the liturgy, but this has been a perennial problem for the Church. What causes this recurring problem, and how have the great renaissances in sacred music such as those fostered by Palestrina and Pope St. Pius X turned the tide?

Father Weber: Yes, you could say that the concern about secular or frankly anti-Christian musical styles supplanting sacred music in worship is perennial though it may manifest itself differently in different cultures and historical periods.

For example, in early centuries, all music other than chanting was strictly forbidden by Church authorities, because use of musical instruments had strongly pagan associations.

In the 19th century, the style of opera had so greatly influenced Church music that Pope St. Pius X warned strongly against this “profane” music, and forbade composing music imitating operatic styles. He initiated the 20th Century Liturgical Movement by his 1903 document, “Tra le Sollecitudini.”

In particular he encouraged Gregorian chant, which he said in the third paragraph of the document, “has always been regarded as the supreme model for sacred music,” thus “it is fully legitimate to lay down the following rule: The more closely a composition for Church approaches in its movement, inspiration and savor the Gregorian form, the more sacred and liturgical it becomes; and the more out of harmony it is with that supreme model, the less worthy it is of the temple.”

It was Pope Pius X, also, who coined the phrase “active participation” of the people. And he also said in paragraph five of the document that “modern music is also admitted to the Church, since it, too, furnishes compositions of such excellence, sobriety and gravity, that they are in no way unworthy of the liturgical functions.”

After the Second Vatican Council it was the pop and folk style music of the late 1960s and 1970s that dominated newly composed music for worship Catholic and Protestant. Despite the Constitution on the Liturgy’s emphasis on the “pride of place” for Gregorian chant in the liturgy, the council’s teaching was ignored, and chant virtually disappeared.

The reasons for this are many and complex. But one major element was plain confusion and misunderstanding. The liturgical reform following the Council was astoundingly rapid, and serious upheavals in the secular world of those times also affected the anti-authoritarian mood within the Church.

This was played out dramatically in the liturgy. Changes were made precipitously with too little consultation with the bishops.

During the papacy of Pope John Paul II, we began to see a sober reassessment of the post-conciliar liturgical changes, culminating in his last encyclical, “Ecclesia de Eucharistia.”

The present “renaissance” in liturgical music we are now seeing is in large part due to Pope Benedict XVI and his many scholarly works on the subject even before he became pope.

The historic heritage of sacred music, then, always serves as an indispensable teacher and model of what best serves the celebration of sacred worship, and leads worshipers to greater holiness.


Part 2

Father Samuel Weber on Sacred Music Institute

By Annamarie Adkins

ST. LOUIS, Missouri, 6 JULY 2008 (ZENIT)

Although learning Gregorian Chant might imply a little effort from parishioners, the end result is worth it, says the director of the Institute for Sacred Music in St. Louis.

Archbishop Burke, who has since been named to head the Apostolic Signature, the Church's supreme court, appointed Benedictine Father Samuel Weber as the first director of the new institute earlier this year.

Father Weber is a professor in the divinity school of Wake Forest University in North Carolina and also a monk of the St. Meinrad Archabbey in Indiana.

In Part 2 of this interview with ZENIT, Father Weber discusses why he thinks chant is "the song that [God] wants to hear from our lips and our hearts."

Part 1 of this interview appeared Friday.

Q: Why did the Second Vatican Council state that Gregorian chant should be given "pride of place" in the Church's liturgy?

Father Weber: The Second Vatican Council's constitution on the liturgy, "Sacrosanctum Concilium," as well as numerous statements of the Popes and the General Instruction of the Roman Missal [GIRM], teach us that Gregorian chant and sacred polyphony that is, sacred music sung in harmony such as compositions of Palestrina, are to enjoy "pride of place" in sacred worship.

This means that chant is not only to be in common use in the liturgy, but it is also to provide examples and inspirations for new compositions.

The reason for this is to assure a genuine organic development in the sacred music Catholics experience in worship in continuity with the Church's history, and transcending limitations of time and cultures.

Understanding and appreciating this universality in Catholic music for worship might be seen as one facet of the obedience of faith.

We need to remember, of course, that the Council teaches under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. God is telling us both how he wants to be worshiped, and what best serves the religious needs of those gathered for sacred rites.

Before all else, worship is about God. It is the duty of the creature to know, love and serve the Creator, and to render to God the service of prayer, praise and thanksgiving that is his due.

Worship is about us, the creatures, only insofar as we desire with all our hearts to serve God as he tells us he wants to be served.

Historically, Gregorian chant is in direct, organic development with ancient cantilation chanting patterns of the psalms in temple and synagogue. This was the background and experience of the first Christians. So our chanting today is in direct relationship with theirs.

One can see, then, that when we sing the chant, we are truly "in connection" with our fathers and mothers in the faith.

Jesus, Mary and Joseph heard and sang many of these patterns of sacred chant in synagogue and temple worship. The apostles, the martyrs, the great saints whose witness continues to inspire us today, were all nourished on these traditions of sacred chanting.

Even the saints and blesseds of our own day Blessed Teresa of Calcutta, St. Pio of Pietrelcina, St. Gianna Beretta Molla, for example all sang, heard and knew the chant and the traditions of sacred music inspired by the chant.

They were formed in this "school of sacred music" that is the chant, and, to borrow a phrase from St. Athanasius, the "gymnasium of spiritual exercises" that is the Psalter the Psalms of David.

I think, too, of my grandparents and parents, so many beloved family members, teachers and friends, who have gone before us "marked with the sign of faith."

How they loved the sacred chants, and passed them on to me with piety, devotion and reverence. What an opportunity to participate in the Communion of Saints. What could be richer or more spiritually satisfying?

Gregorian chant serves the word of God. It has no other purpose than to draw us to the sacred text, especially the Psalms, and to enable us to treasure God's word ever more deeply in our hearts.

It is entirely free of anything that is contrary to the faith, free of purely human agendas or experiences that lead us away from God's will and plan for us. To use the language of our computer age: The chant is "safe and secure." No viruses can enter.

Q: Benedict XVI has given a number of speeches discussing the importance of preserving the Church's heritage of sacred music, and a number of documents have been issued by the Holy See calling the universal Church back to that grand tradition, yet little seems to have changed on the ground. Why is there resistance to what should be seen as a form of Vatican II's concept of "ressourcement," that is, return to the sources?

Father Weber: Perhaps it is not so much resistance as a lack of communication and ineffective teaching that stalled things.

Pope Benedict is tireless in his teaching even before he became Pope for example, "A New Song for the Lord." An accomplished musician himself, he fully understands the power of music on the human heart, thus the central role of music in the liturgy.

Clearly, part of our task is to help "get the word out." I think we can already see many positive results of the recent actions of the Holy See concerning the liturgy.

For one thing, there is a growing interest among Catholic people in reviving their immensely rich heritage of music and art, and a real desire for greater beauty, reverence and solemnity in worship.

But when there is actual resistance? In the end, I believe that this comes down to the perpetual struggle between good and evil. God is constantly giving us all the grace we need to know, love and serve him.

But we are tempted by the devil, and suffer under the effects of original sin, so we sometimes make choices that, sadly, draw us away from God our Creator, and even extinguish the fire of love in our hearts.

It is the duty of all the pastors that God in his love has given us to call people back to that which will bring us true peace and blessedness. With great wisdom, over the centuries the popes, the Councils, have understood the importance of sacred music, art, architecture and ritual in the spiritual formation of the human person.

As a result, they have never ceased to teach us about the care that must be exercised in cultivating all sacred arts that serve divine worship.

Now it is our job to receive this teaching and implement it in our lives for our spiritual good.

Q: The book "Why Catholics Can't Sing" highlighted the abysmal state of congregational singing present in most American parishes. Why do you think parishes will be able to handle Gregorian chant? Isn't that harder to sing?

Father Weber: The author, Thomas Day, suggested among other things that people don't sing because the music they often encounter at Mass is not really worth the effort. Silence is one response to music that is inappropriate whether from the standpoint of aesthetics or theology.

Another factor is the disappearance of choirs from parishes, since choirs can effectively lead and encourage congregational singing.

It's encouraging to know that many people who are discovering chant for the first time are so strongly attracted by its beauty and solemnity that they want to become a part of its revival.

Speaking from experience, I would agree that Gregorian chant may require a greater discipline, more attention and sacrifice of time and energy in order to "make it happen" in our parishes.

But difficulty is not a real impediment.

In our American society we greatly value sports. I'm a Green Bay Packers fan myself, rabid, actually. I'm really grateful to the Packers for all the hours they spend in practice and preparation for their games. All the sacrifices they make. It's worth it.

The payoff is really something awesome. We, the fans, would settle for no less. Doesn't this same expectation apply to the things of God? It really isn't that hard to understand, is it?

St. Augustine taught the people of Hippo: "Cantare amantis est." Singing is characteristic of a lover. If the supreme love is, as we believe, between Christ, the Bridegroom, and the Church, his Bride can any effort be spared to express this love in true beauty? Is any sacrifice too much?

We don't have to guess at the song. This tremendous Lover of ours tells us the song that he wants to hear from our lips and our hearts.

This is our Catholic faith. What more need be said? Let us begin!
 

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