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Sacred Music: What Is It and Why Do We Care?
There is no more divisive component of any church than the style of worship that is offered and fostered within the liturgy. There are no more places of misunderstanding and openness to opinion than sacred art and music. Within these two facets lies the potential to alter one’s grasp and experience of the sacred mysteries of Holy Mass.
The very word sacred holds the implication of being set above the secular which is temporal or profane. Sacred music exists purposely for use within the Church and her liturgies, and as with all things Church there is an authority that helps us to define, and therefore use as a guide, what we should sing.
Both Popes St. John Paul II and Benedict XVI urged the reform of sacred music in the liturgy because it is not only one of our oldest treasures, it also helps us to transcend past the secular into the heavenly realm. Why does sacred music need reforming? Here are some common statements every music director hears:
- I like upbeat music and need Mass to lift me up.
Music and emotion go hand in hand. However, we cannot use emotion as criterion for what is sacred. If this were the case, my opinion would be just as valid as anyone else’s. It also takes us away from what is truly important: the text.
- I prefer contemporary songs and hymns because it is what we know.
Contemporary music is truly a good thing and both S. JPII and BXVI encouraged the writing of contemporary music suitable for the liturgy. However, what is often meant by this term “contemporary” is music composed from 1970-1985 or so. Because these compositions are rooted in secularity they are truly “temporary,” as they appeal only to a particular group of a particular age and do not stand the test of time. The ancient hymns and chants live on, somewhat because of style, but mostly because of the text.
- What do the words matter, I like the sound and style.
Singing at Mass comes from the ancient tradition of singing the Psalms and other biblical texts. The Sacred has become infiltrated with secular texts, so much that the average person cannot tell the difference anymore. One example that comes to mind is the song: “The Lord of the Dance.” This hymn has no biblical basis and is heresy. Because the tune is catchy and people like it, our brains shut down and accept it as Sacred. Secular means “outside the temple” and certainly this song and many other popular ditties should remain so.
Holy Mass is a prayer from beginning to end. The goal for Sacred Music, or anything at Mass should never be “me” but always a focus on God as we work to conform our lives to Him. The Mass is our foretaste of the Heavenly Liturgy; let us give our absolute best to God! Sacred Music is no exception!
Taken in part from http://www.sfcatholic.org/worship/what-is-sacred-music/