In 2013, Archbishop Alexander Sample, while still bishop of the Diocese of Marquette, wrote a pastoral letter to the faithful of his diocese on sacred music entitled Rejoice in the Lord Always. It is practically a primer for Catholics on the history, fundamentals of and requirements for truly sacred music in liturgy. I think this topic is often one of the most misunderstood aspects of post-Vatican II liturgical life, and so drawing attention to this exceptional letter is a must. Here’s an excerpt, but please read the letter in its entirety. It’s not long and it’s very accessible. Archbishop Sample, who now heads the Archdiocese of Portland, is a great blessing to the Church in the United States. If only every diocese in the U.S. would issue such an outstanding letter on the subject of sacred music and the ars celebrandi!
With a proper understanding of the nature and purpose of sacred music and its relationship to the Holy Mass, it is necessary to next discuss the essential qualities of sacred music. These qualities are not arbitrary or subjective. Rather they objectively flow from the essential nature and purpose of sacred music itself.
Church teaching emphasizes that the music proper to the Sacred Liturgy possesses three qualities: sanctity, beauty, and universality. Only music which possesses all three of these qualities is worthy of the Mass.