Do you remember when the former editorial staff of the Catholic Telegraph of Cincinnati would run the confusing, tortuous Q&A columns by the late Fr. John Dietzen?

(Refresh your memory here.)

Thankfully, those days are gone, and we can be grateful for a new Q&A column, “A Question of Faith,” by Fr. Earl Fernandes, dean of academics at Mount St. Mary of the West seminary.

The inaugural column is on the much-debated and “controverisal” topic of music in the liturgy, and he offers a response that is both faithful to Church teaching and, in the best sense of the word, pastoral. Here’s a snippet:

While some liturgical theologians would say that the whole liturgical assembly should be singing together and praying together as an outward sign of unity, church teaching on the liturgy speaks of active participation, not only as external participation, but also as interior participation. The real issue is whether the liturgical celebration is helping the faithful to achieve this deeper union with God and with each other.

One means of helping the faithful experience this deeper communion is music. The General Instruction of the Roman Missal (n. 87) gives four options for the Communion chant, which indicates the sense of sobriety of the Roman liturgy: (1) the antiphon from the Roman Missal or the psalm from the Roman Gradual as set to music; (2) the seasonal antiphon and Psalm of the Simple Gradual; (3) a song from another collection of psalms and antiphons approved by the bishops conference or the bishop; or (4) a suitable liturgical song, either sung by the choir or with the people.

From the Instruction, the church’s preference for chant and the use of the antiphons and psalms for the liturgical season appears. Unfortunately, in many parishes option four is used exclusively and much of the beautiful music from the church’s liturgical tradition has been neglected. One must also acknowledge the dearth of well-trained liturgical ministers and how it would be difficult to sing some of the chants, antiphons and graduals without proper training.

Loud and intrusive. What is loud and intrusive is somewhat subjective. For example, there were many beautiful liturgical pieces that had entered the Roman liturgy prior to the liturgical reforms of St. Pius X at the start of the 20th century. While these were beautiful, they often prolonged the liturgy and made the faithful spectators at the liturgy. Thus, Pius X wished to restore participation in the liturgy to the faithful encouraging the singing of Gregorian chant, which continues to hold pride of place in the Roman Church. In Sacramentum Caritatis (n. 42) Pope Benedict comments: “In the course of her 2,000 year history, the church has created, and still creates, music and songs which represent a rich patrimony of faith and love. This heritage must not be lost. Certainly as far as liturgy is concerned, we cannot say that one song is as good as another. Generic improvisation or the introduction of musical genres which fail to represent the meaning of the liturgy should be avoided.”

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