What is Liturgy?

In the Catholic Church we often talk about something we call “liturgy.” The question is: what is “liturgy?” Our new Director of Liturgical Music, Susan De Marco, has extensively studied the liturgy and music and so will be sharing bits of her learning with the parish in several bulletin articles. I hope this can help us all to deepen our participation in the Holy Mass. -Fr. Patrick

In the last article, I mentioned that the three criteria given by the Catholic Church for liturgical music are that it be (1) holy, (2) possess a beauty that reveals God, and (3) transcend time and space. This article will delve a little deeper into what it means for music to be holy.

Many popes have written about this quality, rebuking “profane” music. By “profane,” though, they were not talking about music that was crude or vulgar. Rather, they were referring to the term pro fanum which means outside of the external wall of the temple. Thus, when church documents speak about that which is “profane,” they are reminding us that the music in our liturgies should not be influenced by those things which are not sacred. In other words, there should be a clear distinction between our liturgical music and our popular music.

The Second Vatican Council said that sacred music is closely bound to the text and because of this, it “forms a necessary or integral part of the solemn liturgy”  (Sacrosanctum Concilium 112). Reading the Bible, we see that our salvation is brought about through the spoken word (God SPOKE and the heavens were created; Mary SAID yes and conceived of the Holy Spirit, etc . . .). In the Mass, it is when the priest SAYS “This is My Body” that the bread and wine transform into the Body and Blood of Christ. In other words, language matters. It is no less true of the language in our music. The texts of our liturgical music should express our beliefs and the reality of what is taking place in the Mass.

The council went on to say that the “sacred music will be the more holy the more closely it is joined to the liturgical rite” (SC 112). We recently began to chant the communion antiphons in Mass. The holiness of these antiphons comes from the fact that each and every Mass has antiphons designated to it by the Church. Thus, the antiphons are, from their very conception, part of that particular Mass and are as closely joined to the liturgical rite as is possible. Until next time, keep on singing!