b. Other Sacred Music of the Church
As regards the sacred music which is appropriate for liturgical worship, next in importance to Gregorian chant is the vast repertoire of sacred polyphony, old and new, Eastern and Western. In the words of Vatican II:
(O)ther kinds of sacred music, especially polyphony, are by no means excluded from liturgical celebrations, so long as they accord with the spirit of the liturgical action. (emphasis added by +Sample)
The treasure of sacred music is to be preserved and fostered with great care. Choirs must be diligently promoted.
(Sacred polyphony is composed in a particular musical form and is most often associated with the Renaissance and composers such as Palestrina, Victoria, Tallis, Allegri and the like.)
Also a part of the Church’s musical treasury is the vast body of popular sacred music. In the context of the sacred liturgy, **the term “popular” does not signify the so-called “pop culture” **but comes from the Latin populus, people. Popular sacred music includes hymnody, psalmody, vernacular Mass settings, many of the Latin chant Mass settings, and other forms of sacred music suited to the musical abilities of the people.
Religious singing by the people is to be intelligently fostered so that in devotions and sacred exercises, as also during liturgical services, the voices of the faithful may ring out according to the norms and requirements of the rubrics. - SC 118
The musical treasury of the Church includes not only sacred music indebted to European musical culture but also the sacred music native to other nations and peoples, which has organically developed in the context of the Latin Rite. In a community with vital social and historical ties to a specific culture, it can be most fitting that the sacred music tradition of that culture be a part of its worship when, under the guidance of the Church, it can be organically integrated into the context of Catholic worship.
In certain parts of the world, especially mission lands, there are peoples who have their own musical traditions, and these play a great part in their religious and social life. For this reason due importance is to be attached to their music, and a suitable place is to be given to it, not only in forming their attitude toward religion, but also in adapting worship to their native genius.
It is important to note here that when we speak of the sacred music of a particular culture, we are indeed speaking of music that is considered truly “sacred” within a culture. This principle is not applicable to subcultures within a given society that have no connection with a religious or spiritual culture.
c. Secular Music
The Church recognizes an objective difference between sacred music and secular music. Despite the Church’s norms, the idea persists among some that the lyrics alone determine whether a song is sacred or secular, while the music is exempt from any liturgical criteria and may be of any style. This erroneous idea, which was alluded to earlier, is not supported by the Church’s norms either before or since the Second Vatican Council.
This does not mean that more modern compositions are not to be admitted into the Mass. However, such compositions must meet the essential and objective criteria for what constitutes sacred music. Following are some useful citations illustrating this point. First, from before the Second Vatican Council:
It cannot be said that modern music and singing should be entirely excluded from Catholic worship. For, if they are not profane nor unbecoming to the sacredness of the place and function, and do not spring from a desire of achieving extraordinary and unusual effects, then our churches must admit them since they can contribute in no small way to the splendor of the sacred ceremonies, can lift the mind to higher things and foster true devotion of soul.
An exhortation from the Council itself:
Let (composers) produce compositions which have the qualities proper to genuine sacred music.
From Blessed John Paul II:
Today, the meaning of the category ‘sacred music’ has been broadened to include repertoires that cannot be part of the celebration without violating the spirit and norms of the Liturgy itself. Not all the expressions of music are able to express adequately the mystery grasped in the fullness of the Church’s faith. Consequently, not all forms of music can be considered suitable for liturgical celebrations.
From our Holy Father Pope Benedict XVI:
As far as the liturgy is concerned, we cannot say that one song is as good as another. Generic improvisation or the introduction of musical genres which fail to respect the meaning of the liturgy should be avoided. As an element of the liturgy, song should be well integrated into the overall celebration. Consequently everything–texts, music, execution–ought to correspond to the meaning of the mystery being celebrated, the structure of the rite and the liturgical seasons.
These reflections on the nature, purpose, qualities and treasury of sacred music in the Church’s liturgy present serious challenges in our own day as we seek to renew the Mass in a way that respects, fosters and promotes the true nature of the Mass itself. It will not be easy and will take time and patience. But it must be done if we are to achieve a genuine ars celebrandi in the Mass. The practical Directives regarding sacred music in this pastoral letter will help move us in the right direction.