In a letter dated 17 December 2013, Antonio Cardinal Cañizares Llovera and Gianfranco Cardinal Ravasi announced a joint venture by the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments and the Pontifical Council for Culture: a questionnaire entitled “Sacred Music: Fifty Years after the Council” intended to “foster, at the Episcopal Conference, in the liturgical Commissions, formation Centres, pastoral, musical or liturgical journals, and intense and enriching reflection on the musical patrimony of the Church, the liturgical music composed in the last 50 years, and the influence of both on the quality of liturgical participation and the dialogue between the Church and the panorama of contemporary art and culture.” Formally addressed to Episcopal Conferences and Major Religious Instituted and Faculties of Theology, the questionnaire is intended as an “enquiry into the state of sacred music in all its aspects (liturgy, formation, pastoral activity, concerts) with the aim of reflecting on the developments in the field of music and the desire to offer a contribution to the ministry of musicians for the glory of God and the sanctification of the faithful.”
The questionnaire is divided into seven major sections totaling 40 questions. Each section includes an orienting paragraph exploring the topic and a series of appended questions. The sections comprise: 1) Formation of those cultivating music for ministerial service (7 questions); 2) Musical Heritage (4 questions on the Church’s musical patrimony and inculturation; 1 question on regulation of concerts in churches); 3) Contemporary musical culture (3 questions on the use and evaluation of new musical registers in contemporary cultures); 4) Eucharistic celebrations, other sacraments and the Liturgy of the Hours (5 questions on the use of music in various liturgical settings); 5) Composition (10 questions identifying who the main composers of sacred music have been in the past fifty years, how their compositions have been received by worshiping assemblies, and what procedures are in place to foster and control liturgical music composition); 6) Choir (5 questions on the existence, function and placement of choir and animator); 7) Instruments (5 questions on the pipe organ and other instruments in use during worship, regulation by episcopal conferences, and funding for performance and distribution of musical scores).
What may be of the greatest interest in the questionnaire, however, is a seven-article “Accompanying Text,” “offered as a support to the questionnaire…, and considers particularly the instruction Musicam Sacram of 5 March 1967….” Articles2-5 and 7 are dense reflections on sacred/liturgical music that will repay much study and discussion. For example:
2. Sacred music, an integral part of the ars celebrandi, has a particular bond with the liturgical celebration and is called to foster in the faithful a full, prayerful and respectful participation of the sacred silence. The celebrative style of liturgical music should tell aloud the primacy of God and His work of salvation for us, testifying to the centrality of Christ who died and rose again, and renews his sacrificial offering in the Eucharist. The language of sound, which reaches across every geographic-cultural boundary and can be understood in every time and place, is the privileged instrument with which to celebrate the universality of the Church, whose Mystery of Unity is made present in every community reunited around the Eucharistic table. As with the liturgy, sacred Music must aspire to a noble beauty, and be able to bring together the treasures of the past with the real art of our time.
Given the richness of this kind of writing it is somewhat surprising to find in article 6 the condemnation of a particular genre of music:
6…. In daily liturgical celebrations use is made, in some parts of the world, of a music of a minimalist character defined “ambiental music” or “new age”. Often, for example, it is used as background music for Eucharistic adoration, but it is not really conducive to a state of personal prayer. While prayer opens up, through the action of the Spirit, to the mystical contemplation of the mystery of Christ, ambiental music raises states of consciousness that are artificial and inadequate, being similar to some techniques of mind manipulation commonly used in subliminal psychology. Liturgical music does not induce silence but conduces it; it welcomes as a gift and fruit of grace what ambiental music achieve through mere human effort…
Since no other genres of music are similarly brought forward for condemnation, one wonders if the entire exercise may be a thinly disguised attempt to make sure that “ambiental/new age music” is not used in the liturgy.
The questionnaire in English, French, Italian, Spanish and Portuguese can be found at the Pontifical Council for Culture. Responses to the questionnaire should be sent before 30 April 2014 to the Pontifical Council for Culture, Vatican City, or via email to firstname.lastname@example.org.