We need more beauty in our lives. Fortunately beauty is not confined, or can be confined, to any one area of life, any one medium, any one group, person, or style. Beauty transcends. When it comes to the music we hear and sing at Mass, beauty can be found in both contemporary and ancient music, and everywhere in between. And yet, there are some kinds of music, and certain presentations of music, that are more suited to both worship and the purpose of the Mass than others.
Of course, it’s not just about beauty. We are designed by our Creator to worship. The act of worship is the healthiest thing we can do for our souls. One way we worship is our participation in the Divine Liturgy. Music is a gift from God to help us worship Him. Beautiful music, appropriate to accompany worship, is a very good thing. That music certainly doesn’t have to be Gregorian Chant, or other similar music. But that’s not a bad place to start.
I am also convinced that the felt need by some in years past, probably most noticeably of the baby-boomer generation, but also of others over the last half of the 20th century, to do away with more traditional sacred music and replace it with more contemporary, secular music, was to solve a perceived “problem” that no longer, or never did, exist. And if the problem did exist, then moving from sacred to secular music at Mass was the wrong answer. Embracing secularity or popular styles, or having contempt for the past and its traditions, does not make worship more authentic and meaningful. And it’s not, fundamentally, a matter of taste. Nonetheless, not all taste is equal, and some (perhaps many) people have poorly formed taste, though it’s bad manners to say so out loud.
Below I have tried to pull together a few resources to help consider and think about what truly sacred music might be, what would be appropriate for Mass, and how we might encourage our local parishes to present the Mass as a Holy work. You can tell from my choices that I lean towards the older, more traditional forms of sacred music, but I think there is a spirit here that can also inform the use of more contemporary music.
I know almost nothing about music, and certainly nothing about music theory. I would love to hear your thoughts about sacred music at Mass, and if you have any additional resources to add to the list below. Please feel free to comment.
Here is a video, with specific intentions, but also a great overview of many concerns regarding sacred music:
This document provides some historical background on where the Church is today in relation to the past: A Chronicle of the Reform: Catholic Music in the 20th Century by Msgr. Richard J. Schuler
Here is an encouraging letter from my Archbishop on bring sacred music more fully back into Catholic worship: Pastoral Letter on Sacred Music in Divine Worship by Archbishop of Portland, OR, Most Reverend Alexander K. Sample (formerly Bishop of Marquette, MI)
A free classic book on teaching/leading Gregorian Chant: Gregorian Chant for Church and School by Sister Mary Antonine Goodchild, O.P.
An approach to learning and teaching chant: The Easiest Way To Teach Your Choir Polyphony
The following are some great video covering various aspects of sacred music, what it is, its history, how to sing it, and parishes incorporating it into their communities: