Thursday, January 5, 2012

Music in the Church

Rome, not always the high water mark in church music, has become aware of this problem of music that conflicts with the faith and with the nature of what happens in the Mass and has begun to do something about the sad state of music in worship in the average Roman parish.

From Mons. Valentín Miserachs Grau, the President of the Pontifical Institute for Sacred Music:  [T]he Church has always requested as essential connotations of liturgical Sacred Music: holiness, excellence of the forms (true art) and universality, in the sense that liturgical music could be acceptable to everybody, without shutting itself in abstruse or elitist forms and, least of all, turning down to trivial consumer products...  This one is a sore point: the rampant wave of false and truly dreadful liturgical music in our churches... how is it possible that the musical praxis in our churches distances itself in so evident a way from the same doctrine?

[On the issue of experimentation:] One cannot transform the “oratory” into “laboratory”.... The second aspect of the problem derives from a false interpretation of the conciliar doctrine on Sacred Music. As a matter of fact, the post-conciliar liturgical “renewal”, including the almost total lack of mandatory rules at a high level, has allowed a progressive decay of liturgical music, at the point of becoming, in the most cases, “consumer music” according to the parameters of the most slipshod easy-listening music.

While Rome's concerns and its methods of dealing with the problem are not exactly the same as Lutherans, it is a good thing that Rome is awaking to the growing distance of the music of worship -- both in content and style  -- from the faith the Church believes, confesses, and teaches.  It will certainly take some time for this top down approach to change the Haugen-Haas pop hymn culture of the local parish, but at least they are doing something.

The best that we can hope for among Lutherans is a good conversation and some leading by example.  We lack the jurisdictional authority to tell a local congregation what they can or cannot sing.  Whether good or bad, that is the way we operate.  Nevertheless, we have abused our liturgical freedom both to the detriment of the unity of the Church and the catechetical well-being of the folks in the pew.  This is one area in which we all share the need for some repentance and change.  We have borrowed from those who have a completely different understanding of worship and a different theology and the price we have paid is that our people do not see the difference between the pop gospel songs they hear on Christian radio and the hymns of the faith (both new and old).

For us it is not about changing the rules or enforcing the ones on the books -- it is about convincing Pastors and those who plan and lead worship to be more faithful in their calling.  It is about believing that what can be done is not the same as what should be done.  It is about putting the effort in to choose music for the liturgy that reflects the lectionary and not personal taste.  It is about getting serious with respect to what we confess to our people and to the world when we use music that conflicts with the faith or is trite, trivial, and banal in content and style.  It is about paying our parish musicians a decent wage so that they can be serious about their craft and about recruiting others for this noble calling.  It is NOT about style vs substance, NOT about culture warfare between high brow and low brow music, NOT about whatever works, NOT about what people (or Pastors) want, and NOT about musical instruments (though I would argue that the guitar is not a melodic instrument and therefore cannot on its own support congregational song).


Anonymous said...

We have borrowed from those who have a completely different understanding of worship and a different theology and the price we have paid is that our people do not see the difference between the pop gospel songs they hear on Christian radio and the hymns of the faith (both new and old).

Yes! Lutherans who grew up attending traditional worship services cringe when hearing the "David Letterman style" praise band at a contemporary worship service. They sense the differences in theology between the two worship styles. Many (Most? All?) new converts to Lutheranism were never exposed to the liturgy and therefore view pop/contemporary worship at their new LCMS church as 100% compliant with LCMS doctrine.

I will assume that the pastors of Willow Creek Lutheran congregations are convinced that people under the age of 40 automatically hate the liturgy. Do they really?? Has such a claim been substantiated with facts?


Cafeteria Lutheran

Pastor J. Sollberger said...

Your distinctions are spot-on, Pastor.

This debate too often deteriorates to peripheral arguments that are as banal and self-centered as most praise songs.

These peripheral issues of personal choice, musical taste, and "relevance" to various demographics make Christ Our Lord a pitiful, impotent bystander during worship.

The truly more central issue is this: The Church cannot borrow its sung confession from a fallen world and expect to be faithful to Our Lord; neither are we letting Him speak to us on His own terms.

The text must always be faithful to the Word - that's an understood principle, even by those who abuse it. But what is not always understood is that the tune must always be servant of its master, the text; music must never overpower the Word.

Music derived or borrowed from pop-culture is crafted and designed to be about the tune - over and above the text; melodic structure and tempo are its hooks, not the message.

This inevitably leads to evaluating the effectiveness of "worship" by purely emotional, "felt-needs" criteria.

Janis Williams said...

It also behooves those who understand these things to catechize their neighbors. Sometimes good/right intentions of Shepherds are overwhelmed by we ignorant sheep.

Anonymous said...

Not every hymn in LSB is singable.
The laity need to have hymns that
they can sing, otherwise they become
mute. Sometimes the pastor picks
out hymns that really accent the
propers and lectionary readings for
the day. But if nobody can sing them
but the choir, who is really involved
in worship? There are many singable
hymns in LSB, so we need to use them.

Pastor J. Sollberger said...

Dear Anonymous,

Your godly appreciation for singing the Church's hymns is a blessing and a godly expression of your faith. And you're right - it is hoped that we would always be able to sing all the hymns.

It is also a great comfort to know that if a hymn that's faithful to the pericope is chosen - though it be one we don't know - we are still very much involved in worship.

In fact, by not singing, but rather silently contemplating the words of an unfamiliar hymn, we are very strengthened in our faith, may well learn something new, and gain new insight into our Lord and His Church.

It is the greatest blessing that God is involved first and foremost in our worship, granting us forgiveness, life and salvation.

Terry Maher said...

Apart from whether the lyrics are in harmony, so to speak, with Scripture, what is trite, trivial and banal is entirely a function of time and place.

The "church" has been borrowing, adapting and adopting music from the world around it ever since the first guy started jamming above and in between the notes of the chant and started us on the road to polyphony.

And the "church" has officially opposed every step along the way to what we at this point in time and place think of as "traditional" as trite, trivial and banal. From the very beginnings of polyphony as obscuring the liturgical text, to opposition to duple metre because it does not reflect the perfection of the Trinity, on and on.

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