Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Liturgical Music is a Prayer

Stephanie Mann explains exactly the reasons why I have trouble listening to chant in the car or as background music at dinner. It is music for praying the sacred liturgy; it is not recreation. From The National Catholic Register:
Because my interest in the history of the English Reformation, I have collected recordings of the Masses and motets of Robert White, Robert Parsons, Thomas Tallis, William Byrd, and Peter Phillips. Several of the professional choirs have made recordings to highlight the historical context of these composers’ careers as they struggled to remain Catholic in England when celebrating the Mass, assisting a priest, and denying that the monarch was the head of the Church were all felony crimes. Tallis and Byrd were so talented that Elizabeth I seems to have ignored their dissent from her Church of England, but Peter Philips, in exile on the Continent, was arrested and imprisoned by English authorities suspecting him of conspiring against her. I’ve written more about these recordings here.
I try not to listen to Gregorian chant or other liturgical music as though it is background music. Readers might remember the “Gregorian Chant for Relaxation” CDs issued after the great success of the recordings by the Benedictine Monks of Santo Domingo de Silo in the mid-1990’s. Gregorian chant was promoted as calming and perfect for meditation, Christian or otherwise. One critic commented on an anniversary re-release of the CDs:

. . . this is music for reflection, calming down, re-fueling and getting away from the hustle and bustle of everyday life--which may be even more needed now than they were 10 years ago. Texts are not supplied and you won't need them; it's all about reverence and mood. Doing nothing but listening to this in 25-minute chunks will allow your breathing to slow and re-energize you. Each 55-minute CD will probably put you to sleep--and this isn't meant as a criticism.”(Emphasis added)

Since the Latin Biblical texts are the reason that chant exists, saying that they’re not necessary demonstrates a real misuse of this liturgical music. A listener should not be lulled to sleep listening to chant: she should be awakened and inspired to prayer and devotion. On the other hand, I don’t want to respond to this music as though I’m in a concert hall, applauding a performance. (Read more.)

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