The question of music for use in the Catholic liturgy was a hot button issue in Catholic circles for a good number of years after Vatican Council II, particularly in the U.S.
The result of the upheaval following the Council has been a radical shift in the musical content of the service, mostly involving a cantor leading the congregation in some sung Mass parts and several hymns that are dispersed over the liturgy. This discontinuity in the tradition thoroughly ignores both the Church’s intentions for musical reform as reflected in documents from the late 19th century to the late 20th century, and efforts in the U.S. dating from before 1963 that were inspired by several popes.
Just after the Council, in 1966, several of the most distinguished international scholars and church musicians met in Chicago and Milwaukee to discuss the state of the reform. Many ideas were presented and plans were made, but all for naught. A group of liturgists, relying on their own readings of the Council—and, for the most part, little musical knowledge—nimbly redirected the reform, mostly due to their connections with U.S. Bishops and widespread confusion (even among the bishops) about what exactly the Council and subsequent documents said. The result has been the overwhelming musical banality in self-designed liturgies that can be widely witnessed in Catholic churches in the U.S. and beyond.
This according to a series of seven articles by Richard J. Schuler (above) originally published as “A chronicle of reform” in Sacred music in 1982 and 1983 and reissued in Cum angelis canere: Essays on sacred music and pastoral liturgy in honor of Richard J. Schuler, 1920–1990 (Saint Paul: Catholic Church Music Associates, 1990, pp. 349–416).
Below, an example of the reformed Mass as it may have been envisioned.
In 2012 the Akademia Muzyczna im. Karola Lipińskiego in Wrocław launched the series Psalate synetos with Wybrane zagadnienia akompaniamentu liturgicznego (Selected problems of liturgical accompaniment, ISBN 978-83-86543-69-2), edited by Marta Kierska-Witczak. The series is dedicated to church music and is addressed to organ students and others who wish to widen their scope of knowledge and practical skills.
The first volume combines contemporary church music theory and practice. Its 16 essays are divided into two groups: Chorał gregoriański źródłem odniesień dla nowożytnej muzyki liturgicznej (Gregorian chant as a source of reference for modern liturgical music) and Historyczny, estetyczny oraz praktyczny wymiar akompaniamentu liturgicznego i liturgicznej improwizacji organowej (Historical, aesthetic, and practical aspects of liturgical accompaniment and liturgical organ improvisation). The table of contents is here.
In the preface to his collection Polyhymnia caduceatrix et panegyrica (1619) Michael Praetorius engaged in a play on words, juxtaposing the similar-sounding Latin terms concio and cantio. But the passage is not a mere display of cleverness—it is a theological assertion that musicologists have described as a manifesto on liturgical music.
Praetorius wrote (translated here): “for the completeness of worship it is not only appropriate to have a concio, a good sermon, but also in addition the necessary cantio, good music and song.” By stating that worship would be incomplete without “good music and song”—which he further deemed “necessary”—he was expressing the underlying premise of his entire career as a Lutheran church composer and cantor.
This according to “Concio et cantio: Proclamation and praise in song and music” by Daniel Zager; the article is published online here. Below, the Monteverdichor Würzburg and the Monteverdi Ensemble, conducted by Matthias Beckert, perform Praetorius’s Puer natus in Bethlehem from the same collection.
Ludus Danielis (Beauvais, 13th century), one of the most discussed and performed liturgical dramas of the Middle Ages, is found in only one manuscript (GB-Lbl MS Egerton 2615) together with the New Year’s Office from Beauvais, indicating an association with that celebration.
Chants at certain important points of the play are intriguing not only for their musicological interest or for their theological or liturgical associations, but also in terms of time representation and the genre, which does not easily lend itself to the scholarly categories of liturgy or drama.
This according to “Danielis ludus and the Latin music dramatic traditions of the Middle Ages” by Nils Holger Petersen, an essay included in The past in the present (Budapest: Liszt Ferenc Zeneművészeti Egyetem, 2003) pp. 291–307.
Above, Daniel interprets the Writing on the Wall to King Belshazzar in a painting by Benjamin West. Below, the corresponding scene of Ludus Danielis as performed at The Cloisters, New York City, in 2008.
CANTUS: A database for Latin ecclesiastical chant is a free online resource that assembles and publishes indices of over 380,000 chants found in manuscript and early printed sources for the liturgical Office. The database is searchable by text incipit, keyword, Corpus Antiphonalium Officii identification number, or Liturgical occasion.
CANTUS is supported by the University of Waterloo and The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. Terence Bailey serves as the project’s director.