Sacred Music and Secular Culture

March 5th was the 50th anniversary of the promulgation of the instruction Musicam SacramTo mark the occasion, Pope Francis gave a speech to an international conference on sacred music. In his speech the Holy Father points out the central tension involved in debates about sacred music since the Council. On the one hand, sacred music should heighten the solemnity and glory of the liturgy, it should help manifest the “hierarchic and communal nature” of the liturgy, and raise minds  “to celestial things through the splendor of sacred things,” and help the liturgy prefigure “more clearly the liturgy, which is carried out in the heavenly Jerusalem.” But on the other hand, sacred music should be “fully ‘inculturated’ in the artistic and musical languages of the present.” The “rich and multi-form patrimony inherited from the past” must be preserved, but it must be preserved in a balanced way that avoids “the risk of a nostalgic or ‘archaeological’ vision.” The Holy Father is very forthright about the difficulties involved in such a balance: Continue reading

Liturgy as Court Ritual


Pontifical High Mass at the Throne in the Usus Antiquior

Peter Kwasniewski has a wonderful post up at The New Liturgical Movement defending the liturgy as ‘Court Ritual’. He argues that especially in our democratic times it is necessary to emphasize that the Sacred Liturgy is a the court ritual of Christ the King as well as the oblation of Christ the Priest:

Monarchy or princedom, the oldest and arguably the most natural form of political organization, has been a far more consistent part of the human experience and of the formation of Christian culture than the democratic/egalitarian ideology of “self-evident truths” of which we have persuaded ourselves in modernity. Regardless of whether we think democracy can be made to work or not, in the realm of supernatural mysteries, Christianity is purely and entirely monarchical. Against the backdrop of the Old Testament revelation of God as the (one and only) great King over all the earth, and of the people of Israel as a kingly, priestly people ruled by prophets, judges, and ultimately the Davidic dynasty, we profess that Christ is our King, the Lord of heaven and earth, of all times, past, present, and to come, of this world and of the next; that His angels and saints are His royal court; that He deigns to call us His friends and brethren, yes, but such that we know that we never cease to be His servants. We long for His courts and tabernacles. The thick “politicism” of the imagery points to the real, sovereign polity of the Mystical Body, subsisting in the Roman Catholic Church as a societas perfecta and altogether perfected in the heavenly Jerusalem, the city of the great King. Our ecclesial sacrifice, the Most Holy Eucharist, is a kingly and high-priestly oblation.

Consequently, the modern fixation on democracy, as if it were the best or the only good form of government, not only does not abolish our need for the language of kingship and courtliness, but makes it far more needed than ever before, in order to impress on our minds the way things really stand in the definitive reality of the kingdom of God. All of our democratic and egalitarian experiments will fall away at the end of time, as the glorious reign of Christ the King is revealed to all the nations, and those who have submitted to His gentle yoke will be raised to eternal life in glorified flesh while those who have rejected Him will wail and gnash their teeth, condemned to eternal fire in unending torment. The liturgy should reflect the truth of God — His absolute monarchy, His paternal rule, His hierarchical court in the unspeakable splendor of the heavenly Jerusalem — and not the passing truths of our modern provisional political organizations, or, in other words, that continual redesign of the liturgy, in language and ceremonies and ministers, for which the noveltymongers are agitating.

Yes, yes, yes! A thousand times yes!

Many years ago, in my undergraduate thesis, I made a similar point (though with much less eloquence):

The principle of active participation, which the Second Vatican Council was so right to insist on, has been nearly everywhere misunderstood and misapplied. This is because in modern democracy participation in the political order is understood in terms of being one of the rulers. We see this understanding of participation taken over so that active participation in the life of the Parish or Diocese is understood as participation in “pastoral councils” and similar tom-foolery. In the Sacred Liturgy active participation is taken to mandate all kinds of laypeople messing around in the sanctuary as lectors, ‘introducers,’ extraordinary ministers of the Eucharist, etc. This banal caricature of true active participation and the priesthood of the faithful persists despite all efforts of the Magisterium to correct it. The problem is that when political government ceases to be what it should be the “wonderful resemblance” that it bears to God’s government, of which Pope Leo XIII speaks, is destroyed. But grace builds on nature and men ought to be disposed to the higher by the lower. (p. 36)

In Paradisum

Yesterday was the funeral of my grandmother. The whole occasion was very beautiful and moving. There was such love and gratitude towards her. A great many people were at the funeral whom I had not seen in years, or whom I only knew from stories.

On Tuesday evening we prayed the rosary for the repose of her soul in St. Sebastian. The Archbishop of Salzburg came and simply knelt in a pew and prayed the rosary with us. I was very touched by this sign of fatherly and pastoral care. So good of him to take the time to pray the rosary with us given all the other things an archbishop has to do.

Earnest solemnity rather than sadness was the dominant note. The solemn nobility of the Usus Antiquior seemed particularly fitting. (See the photos of the Requiem in St. Sebastian above). Auxiliary Bishop Laun preached the sermon, recounting how he had known my grandparents when he was a little boy, and how he had been impressed by their courtship. He read my grandfather’s description of meeting my grandmother from his autobiography. They met at the house in Morzg where the Launs (including the future Auxiliary Bishop) and the Seiferts were living after the war.

The burial was at the cemetery in Aigen, at the grave of my grandmother’s parents-in-law. The sun was shining through the crisp, clear, winter air on the masses of snow that lay about the graves. It was very beautiful.

Solemn Profession of Vows in Heiligenkreuz

The video embedded above shows the Mass of the Assumption in Heiligenkreuz yesterday, during which four of my confrères made their solemn profession of vows. The Assumption is the patronal feast of all Cistercian churches, and it is very often the occasion of vows. During the glorious liturgy I thought back to the first time that I witnessed solemn vows in Heiligenkreuz on the Assumption day of the summer between my freshman and sophomore years of college. It was then that I decided to enter Heiligenkreuz myself. And, of course, I thought back to my own solemn vows on Assumption day of 2010. Each subsequent Feast of the Assumption has been for me a renewal of joy and gratitude at being a monk of this abbey. Continue reading

Ember Days in the EF and OF

A few days ago was the Ember Wednesday of Lent. I happened to say two Masses on that day— one in the “extraordinary form” (1962 Missal), and one according to “ordinary form” (German translation of 1974). It is sometimes claimed that the ember days were “suppressed” in the OF, thus Michael P. Foley recounts hearing a priest who was “furious” at their suppression. But this is not quite true, as Foley points out, the “time and plan” for the celebration of ember days has been left to conferences of bishops, in order to adapt them to local conditions. In many parts of the world the bishops never determined the time and plan of the ember days (Foley does not know of any), and thus in many parts of the world they have been practically suppressed.

In Austria, however, the bishops have determined the dates of the ember days. And in Lent they correspond to the ember days on the old calendar. But there is a great contrast between their celebration according to the old and new missals. There is something splendidly mysterious about the old ember-day liturgies: the extra readings and orations, the flectamus genua etc. But in the new Missal none of these archaic elements survive. There are orations for “Ember week in Lent” in the German Missal, but as far as I can see they are meant simply to replace the orations of the day— so that there is no addition of prayers. That is typical for the style of the newer use, which tries to avoid “useless repetition” etc.

The liturgical propers for the ember days being so spare in the Missal, the Austrian bishops have attempted to mark them by what they call “themes.” There are general themes that are observed every year (in Lent the theme is “bread for all people”). But then they positively encourage the integration of what they call aktuelle Anliegen (current concerns):

Current concerns, whether taken up at a pan-Austrian, diocesan, or parish level, should, if possible, be integrated into the thematically suitable ember week, in order to disencumber the rest of the Church Year.

How exactly are these themes to be integrated into ember week? One method is by extra-liturgical activities such as gathering food for the hungry etc., or in para-liturgical ceremonies. But the odd reference to “disencumbering the rest of the Church Year,” suggests to my mind that they are thinking “theme liturgies”— the delight of progressive Austrian pastoral assistants and planners.

Such celebrations point to a great weakness of the newer use of the Roman Rite. One of the (many) reasons why people are so apt to make additions to the liturgical rites (whether spontaneous or planned), is that the rites themselves have been so much trimmed down in the name of noble simplicity. The average parish not having much use for ascetic simplicity— they add things according to their own taste. But such additions are very unlikely to be either as noble in themselves, or as consonant with the spirit of the liturgy, as the ancient accretions that were stripped away in the first place. I am reminded of something the modernist church architect in  Graham Greene’s Burnt-Out Case says:

But people hated [my churches]. They said they weren’t designed for prayer. They meant that they were not Roman or Gothic or Byzantine. And in a year they had cluttered them up with their cheap plaster saints; they took out my plain windows and put in stained glass dedicated to dead pork-packers who had contributed to diocesan funds, and when they had destroyed my space and my light, they were able to pray again, and they even became proud of what they had spoilt. I became what they called a great Catholic architect, but I built no more churches, doctor.’ (p. 45)

Much could be said to elaborate the analogy mondernist architecture: Romanesque or Byzantine or Gothic:: OF : EF. None of which will be said in this post. Except to point out something that I have argued before: ascetic austerity even in architecture can be a good thing, but that their is a great difference between (say) the austerity of early Cistercian architecture and the austerity of modernism.