As a convert to Catholicism I have always fathomed over and enjoyed Sacred Music, that of Gregorian Hymns and Chants, as well as those old traditional English and Latin hymns. Sacred music is not found within many Protestant liturgies, rather it is concerto style music, lots of emotions, and usually quite loud. This past Fall I was prompted by a friend to learn the simple tone of the Salve Regina, and with that came the many memories of first discovering Catholicism and Sacred Music from the start of my conversion in 2012. So as I found myself venturing back to the heart of Traditional Catholicism this past Fall, I rediscovered the beauty and art of Sacred Music. I also realized that Sacred Music was being stripped from so many of our sacred liturgies in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.
What is Sacred Music? Simply, Musica Sacra, or Sacred Music, is to only be used within the Church and Her Sacred Liturgies, it has been solely created for these.
When I began to discover the Traditional Latin Mass one of the first things that I was attracted to was the use of Sacred Music. I am not necessarily saying that I had never experienced Sacred Music before, however, secular and contemporary-styled hymns had been making their way into the liturgies. Many suggest that when starting to attend the Latin Mass to first attend low masses, basically a Mass without music. However, that was not the case for myself, as I wanted the smells, the bells, and the music!
I was instantly captivated. The Schola was beautiful and the organ ushered the Mass in beautifully. There weren't any drums, no guitars, or other distracting instruments. It was simply simple. But within the simplicity was the weight of sacredness and holiness. As stated in the Vatican document Musicam Sacram there are not to be any secular instruments used during the Mass, such as drums and guitars (VI). The norm in many parishes is a piano, guitars, drums and a group of other instruments, however, Musicam Sacram states that the pipe organ should be held in the highest esteem. The pipe organ will “powerfully lift up men’s minds to God and higher things.” (VI 62). The same document also states that even in vernacular Masses, the Latin language, that being the traditional Latin hymns should be preserved and used in all liturgies (IV 47). Needless to say, if you have not read the Second Vatican Council’s document Musicam Sacram, please do!
Music used in liturgies should lift the soul to God, should call to the minds of men the mysteries of Christ, and most importantly, music should pull the minds of men to the heart of the Mass - the sacrifice. I recently discovered a document which lays out the parts of the Traditional Mass from when the priest enters the sanctuary until the priest concludes with the Last Gospel in which every part of the Mass is coincided with the life of Christ from when He enters the Garden of Olives (entering the sanctuary) until after His Ascension and the spreading of the Gospel to all people (Last Gospel). This document should remind us that the Mass isn’t about feeling good, rather it is about coming together to worship Christ and to enter into His Passion, and to claim Christ as our Savior, the Risen Lord.
Sacred Music is vital. It is key to our liturgical celebrations, whether one attends the Traditional Latin Mass or the Novus Ordo, Sacred Music is important. Recently, the Benedict XVI Institute for Sacred Music and Divine Worship was commissioned by Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone to create a collection of Sacred Music for a Mass of the Americas. Frank La Rocca, the composer for the Mass of the Americas from the Benedict XVI Institute said “[Sacred Music] will draw people closer together and closer to God.” Several of these Mass of the Americas have been celebrated in the Extraordinary Form, and recorded, in which the attendance is to be of the majority of Catholic youth. This is how we will cultivate and pull back in the young, re-instituting the necessity of Sacred Music.
Young people are filled with the secular culture, in which a major component is secular music. Secular music is filled with broken promises, emotions, and false hope. It is in our Sacred Music that one, even the young, are inspired and their souls are lifted up to God. As our souls are brought up to the midst of God, we are entering into the Communion of Saints, one of the greatest joys of being on Earth.
Rooted deep within our Called to Tradition movement is the overall sense to "restore the sacred." Sacredness has been stripped from so many of beauties and joys of our faith, and our small group of young people are working weekly to "restore the sacred" within our Church. We share the a similar mission as the Canons Regular of St. John Cantius, the "restoration of the sacred." The parish church of St. John Cantius houses nine separate choirs, all which submit to traditional and sacred music. Within these nine choirs they submit themselves to the rubrics both for the Traditional Latin Mass and the Ordinary Form (Novus Ordo), proving that Sacred Music just isn't for the Traditional Mass, but also for all Masses offered in the Ordinary Form.
Take some time to rediscover Sacred Music. I would encourage you to find a parish near you that uses Sacred Music in their liturgies (whether it be a Sung Latin Mass or a Reverent and Solemn Novus Ordo). If this is not available to you, start with the soundtrack for the Mass of the Americas and then begin to find and search for Sacred Music. Recordings of the music of St. John Cantius Parish are also available on their website. Sacred Music will lift and inspire your soul whether at Mass, at home, or in the car. Allow your soul to stir and to be in union with God.
Seth is a convert to the Church and lives in Fort Wayne, Indiana.