Sing to the Lord
Fr. Robert Imbelli has posted some observations below on the new USCCB document on liturgical music entitled Sing to the Lord: Music in Divine Worship (MDW hereafter). He has noted the increased emphasis on the use of Latin in liturgical music. I spent part of the weekend comparing this new document to two older USCCB documents on music and wanted to offer some observations as well. I’m also hoping that our blogging liturgist friend Todd Flowerday will give us the benefit of his wisdom.
The two earlier documents are Music in Catholic Worship (MCW) and Liturgical Music Today (LMT). Originally issued in 1972, MCW was revised in 1982. LMT was issued the same year. Part of the latter document’s purpose was to add material about music for the sacraments and the Liturgy of the Hours, an issue that was not treated at length in MCW.
So the first thing that a reader observes is that the MDW combines material from both MCW and LMT. Part V of the document is a reasonably extensive treatment of music for all the major liturgical celebrations of the Church, including the Order of Christian funerals and Sunday Celebrations in the Absence of a Priest.
MDW is not merely a merger of the two previous documents, however. It reworks much of the material from MCW and organizes it in different ways. For example, whereas there was relatively little discussion in MCW about the various actors in the liturgy, Part II of MDW—entitled “The Church at Prayer”— treats each actor in the liturgy and proceeds in the following order: bishop, priest, deacon, assembly, music ministers (choir, psalmist, cantor, musicians, music director).
MDW also reorders the well-known threefold judgment of music that those preparing liturgies must make. MCW organized this as follows: the musical judgment (i.e. is the music technically and aesthetically of high quality); the liturgical judgment (i.e. is the music capable of meeting the structural and textual requirements set forth by the liturgical books; and the pastoral judgment (i.e. does this music enable a specific congregation to “express their faith, in this place, in this age, in this culture?”
The new document makes two significant changes here. First, it reorders the propositions, placing the liturgical judgment ahead of the musical judgment. Since the three criteria are meant to be part of a single evaluation and are not ranked hierarchically, it is hard to know what to make of this change. But it is certainly not an accident.
Secondly, there is a significant shift in tone with respect to the pastoral judgment. As you can see above, the emphasis in MCW is whether the music allows the congregation to express its faith. The new document adds language that changes the emphasis from expression to reception:
The pastoral judgment takes into consideration the actual community gathered to celebrate in a particular place at a particular time. Does a musical composition promote the sanctification of the members of the liturgical assembly by drawing them closer to the holy mysteries being celebrated? Does it strengthen their formation in faith by opening their hearts to the mystery being celebrated on this occasion or in this season? Is it capable of expressing the faith that God has planted in their hearts and summoned them to celebrate?
This change in emphasis from the liturgy as communal expression to liturgy as reception of divine action is not an isolated change. In fact one of the most dramatic differences between the two documents is in their opening paragraphs. Considering the opening three paragraphs from the 1982 Music in Catholic Worship:
1. We are Christians because through the Christian community we have met Jesus Christ, heard his word in invitation, and responded to him in faith. We gather at Mass that we may hear and express our faith again in this assembly and, by expressing it, renew and deepen it.
2. We do not come to meet Christ as if he were absent from the rest of our lives. We come together to deepen our awareness of, and commitment to, the action of his Spirit in the whole of our lives at every moment. We come together to acknowledge the love of God poured out among us in the work of the Spirit, to stand in awe and praise.
3. We are cerebrating when we involve ourselves meaningfully in the thoughts, words, songs, and gestures of the worshiping community—when everything we do is wholehearted and authentic for us—when we mean the words and want to do what is done.
The word “we,” which begins the document, occurs 11 times in the opening three paragraphs. God is mentioned once, Jesus Christ twice, and the Holy Spirit twice. What one might call the “anthropological emphasis” is almost overwhelming, especially when one compares it to the new document as follows:
1. God has bestowed upon his people the gift of song. God dwells within each human person, in the place where music takes its source. Indeed, God, the giver of song, is present whenever his people sing his praises.
2. A cry from deep within our being, music is a way for God to lead us to the realm of higher things. As
St. Augustine says, “Singing is for the one who loves.” Music is therefore a sign of God’s love for us and of our love for him. In this sense, it is very personal. But unless music sounds, it is not music, and whenever it sounds, it is accessible to others. By its very nature song has both an individual and a communal dimension. Thus, it is no wonder that singing together in church expresses so well the sacramental presence of God to his people.
3. Our ancestors reveled in this gift, sometimes with God’s urging. “Write out this song, then, for yourselves,” God said to Moses. “Teach it to the Israelites and have them recite it, so that this song may be a witness for me.” The Chosen People, after they passed through the
Red Sea, sang as one to the Lord. Deborah, a judge of Israel, sang to the Lord with Barak after God gave them victory. David and the Israelites “made merry before the Lord with all their strength, with singing and with citharas, harps, tambourines, sistrums and cymbals.”
The new document begins with the word “God,” which occurs nine times in the first three paragraphs. The language strongly emphasizes the priority of God’s action. God is the giver of the gift of song. The document also moves quickly into the scriptural witness. By contrast, there are no references to scripture in the first nine articles of MCW.
While the changes in specific norms between MCW and MDW are no doubt important, I would suggest that this change in theological emphasis is the most striking part of the new document and one worthy of some serious reflection.