I’ve joked before about why liberals and heretics should sing Gregorian chant, and regular readers might have seen my personal essay at PrayTell about how and why I think progressive/liberal theology fits well with traditionalist liturgical practices.
But a recent story at the Friends of Jake Blog (regarding a homophobic presentation at a Catholic High School in Minneapolis), reminded me of the strained relationship between liberals and conservatives (however they define themselves) within Christianity generally, and the Catholic Church specifically. Moreover, I continue to be troubled by the fact that the apparent resurgence of traditional liturgy and music is tied (in both real and imagined ways) to an increase in political and theological conservatism.
In short, I think the glories of traditional music, much like the glories of Christ Himself, are being co-opted by political and theological conservatism; I also think that the liberal establishment (not all liberals- just the establishment ones) are letting them do this, pretty much without a fight.
This is wrong.
The sacred music of our heritage – Gregorian Chant and Polyphony (and, I might include, Anglican choral music and traditional hymnody) – this music belongs to ALL OF US. It is “a treasure of inestimable value,” and allowing it to become the possession of a single sub-group (Conservatives) denigrates both the music itself as well as any other groups (non-conservatives) who are, apparently, not Catholic enough to sing the most Catholic of all music.
In the name of activism or active participation, liberals and progressive-minded types have spent the last forty (or more) years fighting against a culture of elitist liturgical practice, “reclaiming” the Liturgy from the hierarchs, the clerics, and the general fuddy-duddies.
But what has been reclaimed by the liberals? Not the liturgy itself, but only the time-period on Sunday mornings when the liturgy is going on. The hour (mas o menos) has, in large part, been taken over by progressives. Even in parishes teeming with conservatism, the use of mainstream Catholic hymnals means that 4 or more pieces of music each Sunday were pre-selected by a (likely progressive or liberal) committee or editorial board at one of the major publishing companies.
That’s not a victory to be over-proud of. We took the hour, but we left the Liturgy (the WORK) alone. We created an alternate way of doing Mass- something seperate from the traditionalists, and imagined that it could be equal in value.
How, then, can we be surprised that the point-of-view associated with this “separate but equal” liturgical pracice is marginalized in the institutional Church, and will likely become marginalized within ageneration by the laity? How can an ideology long survive if it yokes itself to a passing fad (popular music), while its opposition is anchored firmly in the oldest extant musical culture on Earth? Shouldn’t we build our liturgical lives on a solid bedrock of music that will ALWAYS EXIST, instead of on the shifting sands of WHATEVER IS POPULAR RIGHT NOW?
Well, yes of course we should.
But there’s more!
It isn’t merely survivalism that lobbies for a greater adoption of traditional music. It isn’t only that we deserve an equal seat at the table of REAL liturgy.
From a liturgical standpoint, traditional sacred music has in it everything that liberals and progressives have been looking for. It accomplishes what the liberal reforms set out to do. In a sane world, it would be embraced by the liberals, and feared by the conservatives.
Or, to put it another way:
Gregorian Chant is radical.