Sacred music: an integral part of worship

Sacred music: an integral part of worship

Michael Gilchrist

Easily overlooked as we anticipate an improved translation of the Missal in the not-too-distant future is the need for a similar improvement in our sacred music in many parish churches.

Several years ago, Bishop Kevin Manning of Parramatta commented that 'some of our present-day Church music and hymns' are 'infantile, superficial, banal and utilitarian'. Church music, he said, 'is meant to uplift minds and hearts to the eternal ... for we are seeking to glorify the 'Eternal Other'.'

Sacred music should complement rather than distract from the flow of the liturgy, yet all too often Masses are cluttered with hymns that have little to do with this flow but rather simply fill in spaces where silence might be more appropriate.

In his recent Apostolic Exhortation on the Eucharist, Benedict XVI emphasised the importance of suitable sacred music. 'In the course of her two- thousand year history', he said, '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 the liturgy is concerned, we cannot say that one song is as good as another'.

The key to use of sacred music, he pointed out, was its integration 'into the overall celebration' so that the 'texts, music, execution ... correspond to the meaning of the mystery being celebrated, the structure of the rite and the liturgical seasons'. He singled out Gregorian chant as the best vehicle for this, with the occasional use of Latin.

Whether in English or Latin (Greek), the primary need is for congregations to learn to sing the Kyrie, Holy Holy, Lamb of God, Our Father and other unchanging parts of the Mass. In addition, greater care is needed in the choice of suitable hymns. There is a wealth of largely untapped music suitable for worship from before and after the 1960s, and from other Christian churches. The works of James McAuley and John Wesley come to mind.

The release of an improved Missal translation will provide a moment of opportunity to bring about an equal improvement in our sacred music.

Michael Gilchrist, Editor (email address provided on request).

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