Music in the Catholic Church in Britain is in a serious and difficult situation. The origins of many of the problems stem from the varied interpretations of the decision of the Second Vatican Council to permit the use of the vernacular in the liturgy.
- Catholic Herald
The normative language of the Church remains Latin, though, for many, use of this language has inhibiting associations. This was able to be generally ignored, if not hidden, that is, until the New Translation of the Mass, begun under Pope John Paul II and instituted by Pope Benedict XVI, on the first Sunday in Advent in 2011.
The New Translation is now used throughout the English-speaking Catholic world. It was the AD2000 Latin Missal that first increased the amount of music in the Missal. The English edition reflects this. The music has been taken from the rich repertoire of Gregorian – and other – chant, and to preserve the sense of Latin still being the official language, the Missal is now published with Latin and English side by side.
The chants are similarly printed, the Latin originals alongside adaptations for the English translation. We are used to singing these chants in the original language; the English versions are neither so familiar, nor, in some cases, do they have that natural ‘feel’ of prayer sung through the musical setting, which is such an inherent feature of the original.
It might be thought that the restoration of so much music, refined by centuries of use, would be welcomed by those whose are responsible for music in the Church. Article 112 of Sacrosanctum Consilium, one of the defining documents of the Second Vatican Council, states: “In the musical tradition of the universal Church is contained a treasure of inestimable value. It occupies a place higher than that of other art forms chiefly because it is a sacred chant wedded to words and, as such, constitutes a necessary and integral part of solemn liturgy.”
In case there should be some ambiguity over what constitutes the ‘musical tradition’ there is further clarification in Article 115: “The Church recognises Gregorian chant as the chant proper to the Roman Liturgy. Therefore, other things being equal, it should have the chief place in liturgical functions.”
However, although these developments have been welcomed in some circles, in others, there has been so much opposition, that it seems worthwhile asking why.