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Under the patronage of St. Tammany
Mark C. N. Sullivan is an editor at a Massachusetts university. He is married and the father of three children. Email
Monday, November 25, 2002 "Who commissioned this awful stuff? Why has this been tolerated all this time?"
One of Madison Avenue's leading composers appraises the pap heard in today's parishes.
The awful stuff that has passed for liturgical music in the Catholic Church for the past thirty-five years is a continuing disgrace and embarrassment. The insipid "hymns" and utterly trite musical settings of parts of the Ordinary of the Mass suddenly appeared from nowhere sometime shortly after Vatican II.
Overnight, fifteen hundred years of some of the most beautiful, inspired music in all of Western culture was thrown out and replaced by what sounds like bad 1960's folk-pop-elevator music. In fact, it's worse than that. Nothing in pop music ever sounded quite as loathsome as what is played and sung in the church today.
The magnificent and austere chant as well as Masses and other liturgical music written by a succession of history's greatest composers has largely disappeared from the Catholic Church. As Richard Morris has pointed out, the great tradition of Liturgical music flourishes today in concerts, on CDs, everywhere but in the church. How did this great art get replaced by the repugnant drivel we hear today? What happened? Who commissioned this awful stuff? Why has this been tolerated all this time? Who writes this trash? If there is to be new music, why isn't it better? This rubbish is not heard just in regional parishes in the U.S. It is worldwide. To my horror, I heard this same shameful music performed at the Basilica of St. Peter in Rome!
Try to imagine what it would be like if the rest of the Church's art were dumbed-down to this degree. Paint-on-velvet say, replacing the Sistine Chapel ceiling. Or an upturned bathtub with a plastic Virgin, spray painted blue, replacing the Bernini's. Would the clergy and faithful sit by silently and endure such an insult? Is music a less important art form in the eyes of the modern church? It would seem so.
Apparently, part of the reason for the sweeping changes of Vatican II was to make the service more accessible. It was thought that vernacular "folk masses," and other such misguided secular notions would somehow bring the parishioners closer to the service. It has not done so. How could it? Bad music is just bad music. Some of these ideas might have worked to some degree if the job of writing the music had been given to anyone capable. But that didn't happen. The congregation does not participate in singing any more than they ever did. Why would they? Who would want to sing this music?