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Vatican newspaper examines crisis in sacred music

October 08, 2010

In a lecture delivered October 6 and printed in L’Osservatore Romano, Father Uwe Michael Lang discussed the views of Popes Benedict XIV and Benedict XVI on sacred music.

Lang, a consultor to the Office of Liturgical Celebrations of the Supreme Pontiff, recalled a 1977 lecture by Cardinal Ratzinger analyzing the theological roots of the contemporary crisis in sacred music. Cardinal Ratzinger believed that a “Puritan functionalism” led parishes to misinterpret the Second Vatican Council’s call for “active participation,” with the result that scholas, choirs, and classical musical instruments were downplayed and the song of the assembly exalted as the sole valid music.

At the same time, Cardinal Ratzinger saw a “functionalism of adaptation” that gave rise to church music inspired by jazz and pop music-- forms of music that were, ironically, just as “elite” as the choirs of old.

Lang also recalled Pope Benedict XIV’s 1749 encyclical Annus Qui, which he described as the most important papal text on sacred music before the papacy of St. Pius X. Pope Benedict XIV lauded chant and permitted polyphony and orchestral music-- in contrast to the tendency of his day to use music from the theater in the sacred liturgy.


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  • Posted by: Justin8110 - Oct. 08, 2010 4:17 PM ET USA

    The crisis could be solved if we just went back to traditional Catholic music like Gregorain chant and sacred polyphony. None of the problems in the Church would have happened had we never strayed from our ricj tradition, and that includes sacred music.

  • Posted by: garedawg - Oct. 08, 2010 10:37 AM ET USA

    I'm a Byzantine-rite Catholic, but every once in a while I attend the neighborhood Roman church. I've noted that the music is mostly modern and Marty-Haugen-like, and the people stand mostly silent. However, when the "Our Father" is chanted to the traditional plain-chant, it is as if the people suddenly wake up and start singing.