“The more closely a composition for church approaches in its movement, inspiration and savor the Gregorian form, the more sacred and liturgical it becomes; and the more out of harmony it is with that supreme model, the less worthy it is of the temple.” ~Blessed Pope John Paul II
“An authentic updating of sacred music can take place only in the lineage of the great tradition of the past, of Gregorian chant and sacred polyphony.” ~ Pope Benedict XVI
Have any of our bishops (excepting a select few) in the United States come close to saying anything like what you just read from our previous Holy Fathers? One of Benedict XVI’s greatest gifts to the Church was his emphasis on the restoration of Catholic identity and culture, and on the power of beauty to evangelize the world.
A huge part of the problem has to do, in my opinion, with the overall and widespread vulgarization of our culture in the United States. Bishops and priests, like many in today’s society, simply are not inspired by true beauty anymore, so there is little demand for it from them. Most bishops in the U.S. were reared in the iconoclastic, culturally depraved years of the 1960s, or in its immediate aftermath, which speaks volumes about their cultural formation. Hello Archbishop Rembert Weakland. (Really, you have only to look at the sartorial abominations of those days to get a sense of the horror.) High culture has been relegated to an undesirable elitist status that is seen as unappealing to the everyday man, who is more interested in sports, pop-culture and inane television shows. So, back in the day, two options were presented to us: First, be confident in our Catholic identity and heritage and insist on raising the bar, and thereby shape the world to meet the challenge of a higher culture of beauty, or second, let the hollow, pseudo-culture of the times mold, shape and influence us in order to prove that we are “relevant” and au courant. By and large, we chose the latter.
Bishops desperately want to be seen as approachable and average Joe-ish, so they are deeply insecure and nervous about promoting a high culture of beauty that challenges the banal, status quo low culture of today. They fear being seen as out of touch, and all that nonsense.
What I find interesting and inspiring is that, in the absence of any serious leadership from the bishops, who are running away from high culture, there is a nascent movement of cultured and educated laity rising to the challenge to fill the void, re-educating Catholics about the necessity of beauty and the arts, in other words, authentic culture. Lee Erickson, Director of Music at Saint Anthony Parish on Milwaukee’s South Side, is leading the way when it comes to the implementation of authentic sacred liturgical music. The choir under his direction is outstanding, one of, if not the best I’ve ever heard. For another excellent example of lay Catholics paving the path for a Catholic cultural renaissance, check out what the folks at Corpus Christi Watershed are doing.