A review of music written using Latin texts in service of the liturgy of the Catholic Church encompassing music written in all periods with a concentration on contemporary composers.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Sacred vs Secular

By now you have probably noticed a link doing the rounds of most sites concerned with Sacred Music. (Doffing my hood in multiple directions). It's a computer generated cartoon depicting a conversation 'at the water cooler' (I gather this is a particular genre of cartoon) between a man and a woman. Most of the dialogue is sourced from various Papal documents concerning sacred music and the basic point is that some music is appropriate to the Sacred Liturgy, other music not appropriate, indeed excluded. Towards the end of the piece the following comment is made;

Man: I guess it makes sense... that music written by people in the 20th Century should not replace Catholic music that has been refined for well over 1000 years.

There are problems with this comment. Whilst the apologetic purpose is obviously against certain types of music used in Churches at the moment one could get the impression that the author wants to exclude any music composed since 1900. This has been picked up by various commentators.

The balance between 'new' and 'old' musics in the liturgy is a problem that has vexed both Western and Eastern Christianity without even considering the abandonment of a traditional liturgical language. In the East the incorporation of a much beloved but largely 'classical' repertoire is viewed with suspicion in some quarters. In the West the recent legislation, say of the last fifty years, is plagued by the way it was generated. The final form of 'authoritative' documents, upon scrutiny, reveal the various authors, and pressure groups, at work in the earlier drafts. Anecdotally, Musicam Sacram (1967) was originally rather light on the retention of Gregorian Chant and only received it's published form very late in the day.

As it stands the legislation available clearly requires the maintenance of the received sacred treasury. However it does not exclude new compositions appropriate to the liturgy. It is the purpose of Jubal's Review to encourage and make these new Latin text compositions better known. By a literal interpretation excluding the music of the 20th Century a lot would be lost and a musical antiquarianism would be introduced for the first time. This surely cannot be the author's intention. Certainly the traditional repertoire should not be 'replaced' but this does not mean a simple date line test, for what is good and bad in Sacred Music, should be created which would exclude the further addition to that sacred repertoire.


  1. Yes, as a composer, that rubbed me a bit the wrong way. I know Jeffrey O. didn't mean it that way though. It does seem as if the OF doesn't seem to allow for much music to be listened to rather than sung by the congregation, and that will always be a problem for composers.

  2. And there I was - just for a moment - thinking the link would be to +Arundel & Brighton's reported comments on the extent of Latin sung at the Papal Mass at Westminster. Far more concerning.

  3. IanW, Many thanks for your comment. The comments from A&B are certainly worrying but expected. If the bishop published them in a public forum it would be easier to comment. At the moment it stands as a private letter that has been 'leaked'. Somehow I suspect a public statement would be more 'nuanced'.