How the New Roman Rite can be Reformed

Now I will give one example, focusing on the revival of sacred music, as to how the modern-day Roman Rite can be reformed (returned-to-form) in light of the principles elucidated in my last two posts, namely, the process of giving life to old Latin traditions by following the model of contemporary Eastern practices.

As we have seen, TLMers have seen great sucess in returning the old Sung Mass to parish practice, and much of their approach is also relevant to the new Mass. One positive development that has taken place in the reformed Roman liturgy is that it is rare for it to be celebrated without music on Sundays and feast days.

However, the style of music employed often leaves much to be desired, and one sometimes wonders if it would be better just to have the Low Mass as before! Probably the most prominent source of these abuses is in musical instruments. As a Byzantine, I would naturally like to see the use of only the human voice in the divine services. But perhaps the Latins could agree that any instruments characteristic of pop music should not be employed during the sacred liturgy.

Beyond the call for restoring sacred music in Vatican II’s liturgical constitution, one can also look to Pius X’s directives on musical reform in Tra le sollecitudini. In response to a common abuse in his day of performing theatrical (operatic) music during Holy Mass, the pontiff instructed that only the organ and perhaps wind instruments could be permitted, while reiterating, in conformity with the Eastern custom, that “the music proper to the Church is purely vocal music.” 1

Sacrosanctum concilium famously insisted that Gregorian chant be given “pride of place” in the reformed Roman liturgy – nothing strange at all for a Byzantine. In the Ruthenian Greek Church we have a continuous tradition of prostopinije (Carpathian plainchant) which is at the heart of the liturgical life of our people. When our fathers came to America and assimilated into the linguistic culture here, the chants were very naturally translated into English, according to the longstanding Eastern practice of celebrating liturgies in vernacular languages.

But most importantly, the chant melodies were kept (with small variations) in their traditional forms, and to this day parts of the liturgies are often sung in the Old Church Slavonic, thus preserving a link to the heritage of the Old Country. There was never an abrupt “rupture” or “break” in the liturgical life of our church.

Something similar could be done with the liturgical reform in the Roman Church. Instead of throwing out the Gregorian chant wholesale, as has happened almost universally, the Latin text could rather be translated into formal English and re-set to the same melodies, with some small adaptations for continuity and flow. Thus, a true reform in the spirit of the living tradition could be accomplished.

1 Pius X, Instruction on Sacred Music Tra le sollecitudini, (Nov. 22, 1903), VI, 15.

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