In his recent Apostolic Exhortation on the Eucharist, Sacramentum Caritatis, Pope Benedict wrote:

42. In the ars celebrandi, liturgical song has a pre-eminent place. Saint Augustine rightly says in a famous sermon that "the new man sings a new song. Singing is an expression of joy and, if we consider the matter, an expression of love". The People of God assembled for the liturgy sings the praises of God. In the course of her two-thousand-year history, the Church has created, and still creates, music and songs which represent a rich patrimony of faith and love. This heritage must not be lost. Certainly as far as the liturgy is concerned, we cannot say that one song is as good as another. Generic improvisation or the introduction of musical genres which fail to respect the meaning of the liturgy should be avoided. As an element of the liturgy, song should be well integrated into the overall celebration. Consequently everything texts, music, execution ought to correspond to the meaning of the mystery being celebrated, the structure of the rite and the liturgical seasons. Finally, while respecting various styles and different and highly praiseworthy traditions, I desire, in accordance with the request advanced by the Synod Fathers, that Gregorian chant be suitably esteemed and employed as the chant proper to the Roman liturgy.

I was reminded of the Pope's words by a comment made by Peter Vanderschraaf on the Rostropovich post below. Peter wrote:

I don't mean to start a tangent to this thread. Perhaps one of themoderators might think it appropriate to have a separate thread fordiscussion. But. . .

I guess I am about to do what some might call "coming out of thecloset". For many years, before I moved to Pittsburgh, I was aguitarist for a number of contemporary music groups in various Catholicchurches. (And not a bad one, judging from the comments of my fellowmusicians and members of these churches. When I arrived in Pittsburghto start my first regular appointment as a philosophy professor, thediocese's own office of music ministry could not tell me where I mightfind a parish with a contemporary music group I could join.) I lovedbeing a music minister, and I had been under the impression that I wasdoing something that added positively to the lives of thesecommunities. But for quite some time now, I have heard nothing positiveabout the use of contemporary music in Catholic churches. I won't evenget started on some of the comments I have read in media outside thisweb log. However, while the conversation on this web log is generallylively and civil, I am dismayed that every reference I have seen in anythread here to contemporary music in Catholic churches has beennegative. This worries me particularly because I know of no parish thathas contemporary music in all its masses. Indeed, I know of parishesthat are banning contemporary music.

I am not against the use of more traditional hymns at mass, though Ihappen not to like most traditional hymns in the missals I know. I amnot against easier access to a Tridentine mass, though I do not plan onparticipating in any myself. I've believed for a long time that peopleshould have access to what best fills their spiritual needs. But(sorry, it's the philosopher in me) why shouldn't I ask for reciprocityfrom those who don't like contemporary music in a mass?

Please realize I am not offended by what anyone has said aboutcontemporary music in this web log. I'm just saddened, and I admit Imay not be so eager to join a contemporary music group in the future.But again, maybe any additional discussion on this should have its ownthread?

While the Pope clearly expresses the desire that the musical heritage of the Church not be lost, especially its priceless heritage of chant, he does say "and still creates." At the same time he offers criteria for what music is appropriate to liturgical celebration.

Thus I would be interested in hearing from Peter and others what liturgical music they have found particularly prayerful and moving, whether classical or contemporary.

To begin, one of the ten CDs I would surely take to the proverbial desert isle is a recording of de Victoria's Missa "O Magnum Mysterium." It is for me impossible to hear it (especially in the recording by the Wesminster Cathedral Choir) and not to pray.

Robert P. Imbelli, a priest of the Archdiocese of New York, is a longtime Commonweal contributor.

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