US Catholic Faith in Real Life

Great achievements of Vatican II: Liturgical music

By Bryan Cones | Print this pagePrint | Email this pageShare

One of the favorite punching bags of those who don't like post-conciliar liturgy is the music. Most recent is this throwaway from Michael Sean Winters on America's blog:

Much of the music written for the post-conciliar liturgy is unbeautiful and pedestrian in the extreme.

Seriously? Can we dismiss the efforts of our sisters and brothers so flippanty? I am quite frankly shocked any Catholic would so poorly judge the faith-inspired efforts of so many dedicated Catholics with such an extreme overstatement. Sure, there has been bad music written since Vatican II, and I'm sure everyone has their favorite straw man song. But there was a lot of garbage written well before that, too, it just got consigned to the big a long time ago, and even lyrics that have survived have dubious theological value. (Try the Dies irae.)

What everyone, Winters included, forgets is that music for the "new" liturgy, following the directives of the liturgy constitution, made the "full, conscious, and active participation of the faithful" the first priority. The admittedly beautful music of the baroque period was never meant to be sung by the assembly; it was music for professionals, written for a liturgy done by "professionals." It's apples and oranges.

Musicians after Vatican II took on a massive project. Here is what they produced:

Vernacular settings of the psalms for the lectionary and the liturgy of the hours, bringing the psalter to the faithful to an extent not seen since the patristic age

Setting after setting of service music (Kyrie, alleluia, Holy, memorial acclamation, great amen, lamb of God) that can easily be sung by any assembly

Hymns inspired by scripture, sometimes taken directly from scripture, again bringing scripture to the faithful in a new way

Inspired and creative music in multiiple languages, which allows multilingual assemblies to sing the same songs

Accessible music that untrained choirs and assemblies can sing well and beautifully

So stop picking on the musicians.