Stones Instead of Bread: Reflections on Contemporary Hymns: Part X
by Mary Oberle Hubley
The task of recovering our musical traditions, due to the range of our departure from them, is immense and discouraging. For far too many Catholics, the Mass represents very little more than a commonplace ritual for “gathering the assembly” (typical liturgical jargon), much as a picnic is the focus for a family reunion. Their sense of the Sacred has been dulled; and even for our older people, the anti-spiritual entertainment music to which they have grown accustomed wrongfully represents “Church music.”
One of the most profound fundamentals of our liturgical tradition is the ancient practice of “listening with the heart” even without an understanding of the mind. To this day our Eastern rite Catholics firmly maintain the importance of the “wisdom of the heart”; it flourishes untrammeled in their rites.
Because of the rationalistic arrogance of our age, many Catholics of the Roman rite have “bought into” the notion that the only way to understand is through the mind. As with a diptych, however, a balance of two fulfills the whole. Faith comes through understanding: not merely intellectual understanding, but especially understanding of the heart. The apparent dichotomy between mind/heart, active/passive or active/contemplative also represents a unity: each side of the diptych needs the other for the sake of the integrity of the whole.
The Catholic faithful, through century after century of widespread illiteracy, knew what the Mass was, knew the mysteries unfolding before them, knew the grandeur, solace and presence of the Church in their lives. Sacred chant, polyphony and the entire treasury of sacred music enriched and informed their hearts and their souls. Though the Latin words were often inexplicable to them, when wedded to Sacred music, their hearts understood.
There is an easily and generally propagated error in the minds of many that active participation, to which the Constitution is inviting people, is of a purely physical kind. Even listening is a form of intense activity. The modern human being, wearied by the noisy and hectic life, through an attentive listening can find in church a restful peace which is the springboard for true prayer. “Music to be listened to” (the greater part of the Gregorian repertoire, the multi- voiced singing of the choir, and organ music) is of great pastoral significance for the education of the people.1
The rejection of our musical tradition has been a world-wide, soul-felt scandal. Were our bishops, priests and pastors to prayerfully reintroduce the pre-eminence of this profound truth - - that faith comes through listening not just with the mind, but also with the heart - - they could go a long way toward recovery and use of our musical and spiritual riches so recently lost.
Had there been an honest adherence to the mandates of Vatican II, it is doubtful that lower level Church authorities would have needed to “sell their birthright for a mess of potage.” There would not have been the mad rush to fill the gaping void occasioned by their non-canonical (therefore, illicit) abolition of Latin.2
There must be no innovations unless the good of the Church genuinely and certainly requires them; and care must be taken that any new forms adopted should in some way grow organically from forms already existing. (emp.: m.o.h.)3
The natural and organic development and renewal of sacred song would have been assured, where instead an artificial and manufactured imposition of the rootless “new” resulted. We have been “spinning our wheels” ever since; For an error to be maintained, others must follow it to shore up the consequent weakness.
Article 36 of the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy states:
• Particular law remaining in force, the use of the Latin language is to be preserved in the Latin rite.
• But since the use of the mother tongue . . . may frequently be of great advantage to the people . . . the limits of its employment may be extended.
• It is for the competent territorial ecclesiastical authority . . . to decide whether, and to what extent, the vernacular language is to be used according to these norms.4
1 Overath, Ibid. Possibilities and Limitations of Congregational Singing (Study Paper: Joseph Lennards, Rt. Rev.; Roermond, Netherlands) p. 151.
2 Overath, Ibid. p. 11; 24: “An extreme solution to the question of the use of the vernacular, which in the days since the Council has to be the rule in many places . . . contradicts the will of the Council. Such a practice which we now see would not have been acceptable to the majority of the Fathers of the Council.”
3 Abbott, Ibid. Art. 23, p. 146 ff.