Conference in Rome – 50 Years after Musicam Sacram

ceciliaNext March 2-4 (2017) there will be a conference on liturgical music in Rome: Music and Church: Cult and Culture 50 Years after Musicam Sacram.

The conference is presented in collaboration with the Pontifical Liturgical Institute of Sant’ Anselmo and the Pontifical Institute of Sacred Music of Rome. Participating will be curia officials, representatives of episcopal conferences and religious orders, musicians, and various associations and movements.

It promises to be a thoughtful and constructive event, judging from the conference objectives:

The Conference seeks to stimulate a deep reflection in musical, liturgical, theological and phenomenological terms that, leaving aside sterile polemics, can be a positive proposal for Christian  worship, expression of praise to God, pleasurable to the ear in the diversity of cultural models, with the following aims:

  • Reflect on the current interest for the musical phenomenon, always present in the history of the Church.
  • Evaluate the weight of paradigmatic change in the understanding of music in the Church, 50 years after the Instruction “Musicam Sacram” (1967).
  • Consider the languages most apt with which to celebrate in sonorous translation the Church’s public, official and solemn praise.
  • Remember the place and role of Church musicians, opening up to non-Roman liturgical traditions.
  • Recover musical heritage, in ecumenical dialogue and with contemporary culture.
  • Promote the urgent need for strong formation in the different musical ministries.

ravasiAmong the presenters at this point are Cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi, President of the
Pontifical Council for Culture; Michele Dall’Ongaro, President of the Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia, Rome; Pray Tell’s Paul Inwood; Fr. Fergus Ryan, OP; Jordi-A. Piqué OSB, President of Sant’ Anselmo Pontifical Liturgical Institute; Elmar Salmann OSB; Fr. Alois, Prior of the Community of Taizé; and many others.

Practical topics to be treated include new music for new communities, criteria for making the most of the Church’s musical heritage, promotion of contemporary music in continuity with heritage, music and inculturation, training for ministry in schools of sacred music, the function of choirs and animators of the assembly, musical preparation of deacons and priests, and musician at the service of the Christian community.

Musicam Sacram was issued in 1967 to give greater guidance in the area of liturgical music regarding the many questions thrown up by the deep-reaching liturgical reforms of the Second Vatican Council. Following the spirit of Sacrasanctum Concilium, the document shows respect for the Church’s heritage of sacred music including Latin chant, but always in the context of a renewed understanding of music’s place in worship.

The document emphasizes that music is to fit the structure of the reformed liturgy and be in accord with the purpose of each element of the liturgy as reformed. This means that the starting point is not aesthetic veneration for musical masterpieces, but theological meaning of the rite as it is expressed in song and music. This expression might well be in traditional musical forms, but also in newly-developed genres and repertoires.

paul-vi-bugniniAnnibali Bugnini recounted what he called the “via dolorosa,” the difficult path in the drafting of this Musicam Sacram, in Reforming the Liturgy (1948-1975) (Liturgical Press, 1990). Pope Paul VI stepped in to mediate between traditionalist musicians and reform-minded liturgists. The pope was so massively involved in the final text that he can be considered the author of the document, though it was co-issued by Congregation of Sacred Rites and the Consilium.

I treat Musicam Sacram in Chapter 16 of my Sacred Music and Liturgical Reform: Treasures and Transformations.

Pray Tell’s Michal Joncas wrote a landmark article on it in the journal Worship, “Re-Reading Musicam Sacram:  Twenty-Five Years of Development in Liturgical Music” (Worship 66, 1992).

Musicam Sacram is one of the finest documents Bugnini and his collaborators gave us. Apart from some things in it here and there that have since been overtaken (the place of the Responsorial Psalm, for example), the document has held up well. It is good that Bugnini’s work is being received, studied, and developed.

I look forward to conference reports from Paul Inwood, and from any others!


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