Wednesday, 14 May 2008

Archbishop Coleridge on Church Music

HT to Peterand to Athanasius for putting me onto this statement by Archbishop Coleridge (late of Melbourne) to his flock in Canberra-Goulburn.

His comments on language are spot on (as one would expect from someone working directly on the new translations for the English missal):
When the Fathers of the Second Vatican Council approved the use of the vernacular languages in the liturgy, they had no idea of what was on the way. They imagined that some parts of the liturgy would move into English (in our case), but that Latin would remain in general the language of worship. ...[I]t seemed that the Church went from Latin to English overnight. Some in the Church have continued to worship in Latin – as is their right – but most are happy to have moved into English. At the same time, it does not have to be a stark choice of one or the other. In the Cathedral [in Canberra] at least...the Kyrie is sung at times in Greek, and the Common of the Mass, the Gloria and the Creed are sung at times in Latin. Similarly some of the great hymns of the Gregorian repertoire – especially the Marian anthems – are sung at times. It would be a pity if such a heritage were wholly lost to us.
To be sure!

His comments on music generally are certainly noteworthy:
Some of the texts used are also decidedly feeble and even at times questionable theologically. [He can say that again!] Historically, the Roman Rite used only the Psalms in the Eucharistic liturgy: hence the Entrance and Communion Antiphons which were sung with the Psalms and accompanied the Entrance and Communion Processions. [And it is a great pity that we do not today have a way of singing these properly.] ...I might add that the Holy See has asked Bishops’ Conferences around the world to draw up a list of music approved for use in worship. This is part of a pruning process of the repertoire that has built up over the last forty years, and it is already taking place in Australia.
Yes, I know that this process is continuing, in fact, I have often dropped in on the meetings of the Australian committee to whom this work has been charged. This little group of three meets here in the same building in which I work, and believe me, they have their work cut out for them. They are attempting to do two tasks: First, to draw up a draft list of song for the Bishops according to the Holy See's request; and Second, to come up with a new hymnody resource for the Australian Churches. One of the members told me especially of the frustration of there being so few really decent hymns and songs for the Entrance and Communion. We will all experience this dearth in the next few weeks at the Feast of Corpus Christi (I am on music for that day in my parish, and believe me the choice is not good...)

But I do wonder about this comment from the good bishop:
It is worth recalling too that singing or music should not be prolonged unnecessarily. In the Roman Rite, singing or music tends to accompany action rather than stand in its own right. Therefore, the music or singing should stop once the action is complete.
Well, maybe. Depends on the hymn. Some hymns don't make sense if you stop it after verse two, when all verses are integral to the sense of the whole. On the other hand, I did have this experience at mass yesterday when we were singing Farrell's "Praise to you, O Christ our Saviour" for the Entrance--it did go on too long and could have been cut down.

I might pick up a couple of Archbishop Mark's other points later in the day, but for the moment, here is a question Athanasius suggested I pose for you all. If you were making a list of hymns to be sent to the Holy See, which would you insist were put in and which would you insist were left off (ie. FORBIDDEN!). That's a big question, so limit yourselves a bit, eh?