Yesterday,USCCB Committee on Divine Worship released its long awaited document on music in the liturgy Sing to the Lord: Music in Divine Worship.
I wish to highlight one particular section of the document that speaks about Gregorian Chant and its proper place in the liturgy. Emphases and [comments] mine.
72. “The Church recognizes Gregorian chant as being specially suited to the Roman Liturgy. Therefore, other things being equal, it should be given pride of place in liturgical services.” [Seems simple enough, but wait!] Gregorian chant is uniquely the Church’s own music. Chant is a living connection with our forebears in the faith, the traditional music of the Roman rite, a sign of communion with the universal Church, a bond of unity across cultures, a means for diverse communities to participate together in song, and a summons to contemplative participation in the Liturgy. [Yes. Gregorian Chant has that rightful place and should be a bond of unity across cultures. This was clear from the documents of Vatican II. So what happened? The Caveat happened, that’s what. If you were reading quickly you may have missed it, but no worries, they will make it clear. ]
73. The “pride of place” given to Gregorian chant by the Second Vatican Council is modified by the important phrase “other things being equal.” These “other things” are the important liturgical and pastoral concerns facing every bishop, pastor, and liturgical musician. In considering the use of the treasures of chant, pastors and liturgical musicians should take care that the congregation is able to participate in the Liturgy with song. They should be sensitive to the cultural and spiritual milieu of their communities, [Who talks like that?] in order to build up the Church in unity and peace.
74. The Second Vatican Council directed that the faithful be able to sing parts of the Ordinary of the Mass together in Latin. In many worshiping communities in the United States, fulfilling this directive will mean introducing Latin chant to worshipers who perhaps have not sung it before.[Well, if VII directed it, why didn’t it happen? It did not happen because bishops, pastors, and musicians were more concerned with sensitivity to the cultural and spiritual milieu of their communities than actually doing what was asked. Who could complain, they had the caveat on their side. Phrases like pastoral concerns and “other things being equal” are phrases that are meant to say “Please ignore everything we just said, we just said it to placate the more traditional minded in order to get their sign-off. Suckers.” If you don’t believe it, just look at the the last 40 years of music.] While prudence, pastoral sensitivity, and reasonable time for progress are encouraged to achieve this end, every effort in this regard is laudable and highly encouraged.
The fact that this document focuses such direct attention on the caveat “other things being equal” and provides excuses such as “sensitive to the cultural and spiritual milieu of their communities” does not bode well. I know that this is a different generation, but these phrases remove any “teeth” from these directives. Any pastor or liturgical musician who wants no part of chant at mass can simply cite their concerns over unity and pastoral sensitivity. Who can argue with them? What will change?
With loophole laden language such as this, I am afraid that Gregorian Chant will continue to have pride of place only in documents about liturgical music and not in reality. Why else provide the preemptive excuses so blatantly in the document? Read the whole thing but keep in mind the Caveat Pre-emptor.