While there is a wonderful mix of ages within the organization, it is heartening to see the generation behind me making up the lion's share of the demographics. While the leadership now is internationally respected and well-known, I do ask myself who is capable of stepping up to replace those now in front. There are many worthy candidates to carry the torch. It will be a classic case of pygmies standing on the shoulders of giants.
I would like to introduce you to a person (or in this case, let him introduce himself) who may someday, if willing, fill a pair of shoes. An accomplished organist with a Master of Music from Cleveland State University, he recently started a new position after a successful stop in the Pittsburgh area. My gratitude for allowing me to re-post this presentation he made this morning at his new digs. (Edited for format only.)
For those of you who might not know me, my name is Ryan Murphy and I’m the new Director of Sacred Music and Liturgy here at Our Lady of Lourdes Parish. (Editor's Note: Sun City West, AZ.) I’d like to take some time to talk about my job title and what it entails, as many of us are confused about what “liturgy” and “sacred music” really are.
First, liturgy. What is liturgy? My dictionary tells me that it’s “a form or formulary according to which public religious worship, esp. Christian worship, is conducted.” or “a religious service conducted according to such a form or formulary.” The Catholic Encyclopedia tells us that in Christian use “liturgy” means the official public service of the Church. But what makes up this official public service of the Church?
The first thing that comes to mind is the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. As Fr. Larry Richards tells us “the most important thing we can do on this earth is to go to Mass.” Pope Paul VI told us that “the Mass is the most perfect form of prayer.” The Church even teaches us that we must attend Mass every Sunday and Holy Day of obligation, and we are encouraged to go more often as well. The Mass is the most important aspect of the liturgy.
The second most important aspect of the liturgy is the Divine Office, or the Liturgy of the Hours. All priests are required to pray this every day, and the second Vatican council encouraged the laity to do this as well. The Divine Office consists mainly of singing or reciting psalms, with readings and antiphons interspersed as well. Lauds, or Morning Prayer; Vespers, or Evening Prayer; and Compline, or Night Prayer are some of the most important parts, or “hours” of the Divine Office. Unfortunately the Divine Office has not been a very public part of the experience of being a Catholic in recent times. Most of us see it as something that cloistered monks and nuns do, not the Catholic civilians like us. On the contrary, the Divine Office is a hugely important part of our Faith. For example, in the Middle Ages, everyone was required to attend Sunday Vespers in addition to Sunday Mass.
The other six sacraments besides the Eucharist are also part of the Church’s liturgy. However, anointing of the sick is usually not public, and thanks be to God, neither is confession! But matrimony, holy orders, and confirmation are certainly important parts of the Church’s liturgy.
What, then is something we as Catholics do that is not the liturgy? Well, lots of things. For example, the recitation of the rosary, even in public, is not liturgy. However, the rosary is perhaps our most important devotion. After all, at Fatima Our Lady asked us to pray it every day.
The distinction between what is liturgy and what is not liturgy can be classified with the terms “liturgical” and “devotional”. What is liturgical is codified, official, and even somewhat rigid. It is handed down to us from our ancestors in the Church. Liturgy comes from God. What is devotional is personal. It is the cry of the children of God, praying to Him or to his saints for intercession. The charismatic prayer group that we have at Our Lady of Lourdes is a good example of devotional prayer. Think of your favorite hymns. These are devotional prayers.
Back to the liturgy. How does it work, exactly? Well, the liturgy is noble work, the most noble work we can engage in. But who does that work? Isn’t it us, the people of God? Don’t we do liturgy when we attend and participate in Mass? The answer may surprise you.
The sacred liturgy is Christ's work, not ours. The liturgy is not something we do, it's something that God is doing in our presence. It is not for cardinals, popes, bishops, or any of us, to do things with the liturgy. Rather, it is our privilege and duty to join in the liturgy as it has been handed on to us and to allow it, to allow Christ working in and through it, to do things with us!
So when we participate in the liturgy, it is important to do what God wants from us. God is doing the work, after all, we need to put our desires and cares by the wayside and surrender to God’s almighty presence. This is our joy and our privilege. After all, Vatican II teaches us that “the Sacred Liturgy is the the source and summit of the life and mission of the Church.”
So how do we do this? How do we know what God wants from us within the context of the liturgy, especially the Mass? Well, God’s Son gave us a Church. He promised that the gates of hell would not prevail against it and he promised to be with us until the end of time. Our Catholic Church has clear teachings about the liturgy and what is best for it. Since liturgy is the very highest form of prayer, let’s look into some of those teachings.
We’ll start with the Catechism. Articles 1124 and 1125 are as follows:
“The Church's faith precedes the faith of the believer who is invited to adhere to it. When the Church celebrates the sacraments, she confesses the faith received from the apostles—whence the ancient saying: lex orandi, lex credendi,...(t)he law of prayer is the law of faith. The Church believes as she prays. Liturgy is a constitutive element of the holy and living Tradition.
For this reason no sacramental rite may be modified or manipulated at the will of the minister or the community. Even the supreme authority in the Church may not change the liturgy arbitrarily, but only in the obedience of faith and with religious respect for the mystery of the liturgy.”So the liturgy is something we should not be tampering with! It is ours to engage in and to safeguard. Since the liturgy is something that God is doing in our presence, we must give life to it in the best way possible. The liturgy must be sacred and beautiful.
One of the easiest ways to make the liturgy sacred and beautiful is through music. Vatican II teaches us that “the musical tradition of the universal Church is a treasure of inestimable value, greater even than that of any other art.” “Sacred music is to be considered the more holy in proportion as it is more closely connected with the liturgical action, whether it adds delight to prayer, fosters unity of minds, or confers greater solemnity upon the sacred rites.” “The Church acknowledges Gregorian chant as specially suited to the Roman liturgy: therefore, other things being equal, it should be given principal place in liturgical services.”
So Gregorian chant is the answer. It is the most important, most appropriate music for Mass, according to our Church’s teaching. In fact, Pope Pius X said that “The more closely a composition for church approaches in its movement, inspiration and savor the Gregorian melodic form, the more sacred and liturgical it becomes; and the more out of harmony it is with that supreme model, the less worthy it is of the temple.” Gregorian chant is the paradigm.
You are all familiar with the Gregorian chant settings of the Kyrie, the Sanctus, and the Agnus Dei that we sing at Sunday Mass. These are three of the five parts of the Mass Ordinary, the other two being the Gloria and the Credo, or Nicene Creed. The Mass Ordinary refers to the parts of the Mass that are generally repeated in each liturgy, making them easiest for the congregation to sing.
But there are other musical parts of the Mass that change with each Mass. These are assigned to the choir and are called the propers. There are five sung Propers: the Introit, the Gradual, the Alleluia, the Offertory, and the Communion.
The Introit chant proper is often replaced by the processional hymn. The Gradual, which follows the first reading, is now almost always replaced by the Responsorial Psalm. The Alleluia, with its verse, immediately precedes the Gospel reading; it is replaced by the Tract during Lent. The Offertory is not just the act of presenting and preparing the gifts, but is a chant prescribed for the Mass of the day. The Communion chant, sung after the communion of the priest, is also prescribed for the Mass of the day.
Ideally, all five Propers are sung in their Gregorian settings. Since this is unfortunately a foreign concept to us, I’d like to take the time now to introduce you to the Propers by singing those which are prescribed for the feast of the Epiphany.
[Sang and briefly explained the Epiphany Gregorian propers and Simple English propers]
Sure, Gregorian chant is the most important music for Mass, but aren’t there other forms of music that are OK for Mass? Absolutely. Vatican II taught that sacred polyphony holds an important place too. Sacred polyphony is choral music that is woven together in many lines of music, as opposed to Gregorian chant which is just one line of music. Here’s an example from English composer William Byrd:
[Played the King’s Singers’ recording of Byrd’s Civitas sancti tui]
Another instrument especially important for the liturgy is the pipe organ. Vatican II taught that “the pipe organ is to be held in high esteem, for it is the traditional musical instrument which adds a wonderful splendor to the Church's ceremonies and powerfully lifts up man's mind to God and to higher things.” The organ’s method of producing sound recalls the human voice itself. Its use over the centuries in a solo and supportive role has given the organ a unique status above all other instruments. For an example of organ music, you’ll have to come to my recital on Sunday, October 27 at 3:00 PM, right here at Our Lady of Lourdes. One afternoon only!
But what about hymns, you ask? Well, they’re devotional music, not liturgical music. They are allowed in the liturgy, but they’re not ideal. This is not to discredit hymnody. There are many wonderful and theologically important hymns that we sing. But hymns are not sacred music. As our Bishop, His Excellency Thomas Olmsted teaches us:
“Sacred music is distinct from the broader category of what we may call ‘religious’ music, that which aids and supports Christian faith but is not primarily a part of the sacred liturgy. ‘Religious’ music includes various devotional music, such as much popular hymnody, ‘praise and worship’ music, as well as a host of other musical forms.” “In the sacred liturgy, we enter the precincts not of man’s culture but the heavenly courts of Christ, the culture of the Church, the wedding feast of the Lamb.”In the liturgy we should be taken out of our ordinary lives and encounter God. Thus, it is fitting that the music we sing at Mass is otherwordly, beautiful, and prayerful. As Archbishop Alexander Sample says:
“It is clear that the Second Vatican Council calls for the liturgy to be sung. In recent decades we’ve adopted the practice of singing songs at Mass. We take the Mass, and attach four hymns or songs to it. But this is not the Church’s vision. We need to get away from singing songs at Mass and return to singing the Mass.”
So let us follow and even embrace the teaching of the Church in humble obedience, trusting in her wisdom with our whole hearts. And let us heed the words of St. Josemaria Escriva, who said:
“The Church sings, it has been said, because merely to speak would not satisfy its desire for prayer. You, as a Christian—and a chosen Christian—should learn to sing the liturgical chant.”
One of many out there.
The "kids" will be alright.