Liturgical and Musical Reforms

Author: Robert Skeris

SACRED MUSIC Volume 117, Number 4, Winter 1990


In all honesty one must make a judgement at various times in life when reviewing a project or development. The building inspector must judge whether the plans of the architect have been carefully and rightly carried out; the music critic must judge if the performers have artistically reproduced the intentions of the composer; the dressmaker, the cook, the barber and the teacher must all judge if their products are in conformity with the pattern or recipe or prospectus or order that was the model for working.

The judgement must be honest, or else we are like the emperor who had no clothes. One cannot fool all the people all the time. The truth must be acknowledged. The blueprint, the pattern, the plan and the directions remain and the product must be compared to them. Humility, which is truth, must admit to conformity or lack of it.

For twenty-five years, we have had a pattern, a set of directions for reforming the liturgy and its music. The Second Vatican Council, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, and with the full authority of the Magisterium of the Catholic Church, has clearly indicated its will, and the Holy See has given the world the authentic manner in which these decrees are to be implemented. The pattern is certain and clear. How well does the product measure up? Can the inspector approve of the results? Are we fooling ourselves when we proclaim the reform to be a great success?

Evidence continually is making it clear that the decrees of the Vatican Council have not been successfully implemented in the United States, and this failure has, in fact, led to many unfortunate results harmful to religion and Catholic life. Studies of Mass attendance reveal a drastic drop in attendance at Sunday worship; decrease in vocations to the priesthood and religious life continues; school children know less about their faith than ever before; knowledge of right and wrong, no longer learned through sermons at Sunday Mass, has become confused; the artistic quality of liturgy and music has fallen to an incredible level in the majority of churches, even those which before the council had fitting worship; ignorance of liturgy in its history or in the demands of the present reform, even in so-called professional liturgists, musicians and composers, exceeds all bounds.

How can the Church in our country extracate itself from the mire into which its liturgy has fallen? Who can clean the Agean stables? Roman decrees will not accomplish it, since we have had decrees for twenty-five years which have been ignored and deliberately disobeyed. Those decrees depend on the bishops to implement. But the bishops give their obligations over to their "experts" who put into operation what they have learned in the propagandizing centers of liturgical study.

The process of reversal is an educational one. It must begin with the schools. This means that bishops must demand graduate centers for true liturgical studies and seminaries where the future clergy are will be correctly instructed about the intentions of the Church given by the council and the documents that followed.

Bishops must seek competent and true teachers for their institutions and seminaries. Pastors must hire only those who have been correctly and competently trained and who exhibit a willingness to "think with the Church." The unfortunate performers, the inferior compositions, the lack of reverence and open violations of liturgical law and spirit must all be removed from our churches. It will be a long path to implementation of the conciliar decrees, because we are beginning now from a position that is farther removed from the true goal than we were before the calling of the council. The last twenty-five years have witnessed an almost total collapse of the sacred liturgy, causing the problems cited above.

The regulation of the liturgy on the local level is the immediate task of the bishop. Especially in the seminary and the cathedral, but also in his parishes he must see to it that the requirements of the council and the documents following the council be put into careful observance. He may be assisted by properly trained musicians and liturgists. But therein lies the cause of the present debacle. Too many occupying posts in diocesan and seminary musical and liturgical establishments are poorly trained, victims of propaganda peddled by centers of liturgical studies and some periodicals, ignorant of the regulations called for by the Church for its liturgy. Until that situation is rectified, our liturgy will continue to disintegrate and with the liturgy, the practice of the faith. R.J.S.