Simply put, music is the science and art of sound. Music has long been regarded as one of the most important academic disciplines. Music, along with mathematics, geometry, and astronomy, is considered one of the mediaeval quadrivium’s arts. It has been dubbed “The Greatest of the Sacred Arts” by the Catholic Church because of its power to elicit transcendence even more than visual art.
In this regard, music’s definition is similar to the meaning of Sacred. Simply said, sacred refers to something that is unique, exceptional, or not intended for general use. Liturgies within Catholicism provide clear instances of what is sacred: liturgical vesture, furniture, and architecture are only a few examples. Each has been given specific instructions based on thousands of years of research and dating back to Jesus’ and His Disciples’ Traditions.
As a result, Musica Sacra refers to music created specifically for use in the Church and its Sacred Liturgies. Everything else is considered secular, or outside the temple, common, and unimportant in a liturgical sense. It is possible to listen to Sacred Music on the radio, which draws our thoughts and souls to the otherworldly, but it is absurd to use secular music from the radio, for example, to divert our attention away from Holy Mass.
You might wonder why. Isn’t it a matter of personal preference and opinion? Who has the last say?
Beyond the foregoing definitions, the Church and Her Magisterium have provided us with unambiguous direction. Over the years, the subject of secular versus sacred music in Catholic Church music has been addressed numerous times. This conundrum should be resolved soon, especially in our modern age of information, with Ecclesial Documents at our fingers.
Let us consider why Catholic Sacred Music requires restoration, using common reactions that one can hear today:
I enjoy lively music and rely on Mass to keep me going.
Music has the incredible ability to elicit any emotion. Emotions aren’t a good criterion for determining if something is sacred or not. If that were the case, my point of view would be equally valid as yours. It also diverts our attention away from what matters most: the text.
Because that is what we are familiar with, I like contemporary tunes and hymns.
Contemporary music is a positive thing, because we should, as Psalm 96 states, “sing a new song unto the Lord.” However, when the term “contemporary” is used, it usually refers to music created between 1970 and 1985. It’s also worth thinking about the root of the word tempus, or even “temporary,” because that’s exactly what most of this music is becoming. The old hymns and chants have survived, partly due to their style, but primarily because to the text.
What does it matter what the words say? I appreciate the tone and aesthetic.
The ancient custom of singing the Psalms and other biblical texts led to the practise of singing at Mass. The Sacred has been so thoroughly permeated by secular literature that the typical individual can no longer recognise the difference. The song “Precious Body, Precious Blood, Here in Bread and Wine” comes to mind as an example. This is heresy since it is not based on the Bible. As Catholics, we believe that the Holy Eucharist is Jesus Christ’s Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity. It’s not a metaphor. Our brains shut down and accept it as Sacred because the melody is catchy and people like it. Secular means “outside the temple,” and this song, like many others, should be kept that way.
These are only a few of the many issues that need to be addressed. It’s worth noting that they all include the words “I,” “we,” “us,” and “myself.” “Me” should never be the purpose of Sacred Music or anything else at Mass. Let us not be too self-centered; rather, we should adjust our lives to God’s will. “All things have God as their first model,” remarked St. Thomas Aquinas, a famous doctor, philosopher, and theologian.