After Vatican II, when a “translation” of the liturgy seemed to be necessary again, the Church and church musicians found themselves at a crossroads. The Constitution spoke for the first — we may say, the “orthodox” — way. The chant is a mediator of concrete liturgical content. Beside the Latin that should be preserved, it would generate — combined with new ritual languages — new branches of the old musical family. A natural way, suggested by good examples, would be to begin singing the words of the liturgy and give time for assimilating the musical idioms to the character of the different languages.

Instead, people became entrenched in the false question of the possibility or impossibility of adapting Gregorian melodies to the prosody of the new languages. The creation of a musical language and repertory for the rite demands, of course, knowledge and musical invention; but an acceptable liturgical music is more than the result of paperwork by scholars and ambitious composers. The keyword in the post-cociliar documents became: vel alius cantus aptus. By the use of this concession the liturgy turned in practice to the second way: replacing the liturgical items by various musical pieces. This led to three consequences:

1. Phrases interpreting the term “aptus” proved to be empty formulas unable to be used as norms for actually assessing chant material. The few objective norms given in the Constitution (such as: the text of chants should be taken mainly from the Bible and the rite; Gregorian chant should take pride of place in the liturgy; it should be introduced in small parish churches, too; only items approved by the bishops’ conference should be sung; chant must consist of noble artistic material, etc.) lost increasingly their regulating strength.

2. Chant at the moment does not participate in preserving and conveying concrete liturgical content and has become an element of ‘mood’ in the liturgy. Its unity with the celebration, its part in the dramatic structure of the liturgy has been abandoned, and it plays the role of mere ‘insertion’ (the only exception, perhaps, being the interlectionary chants).

3. Chant is assessed now according to its capacity to express the feelings of the community. In this connection, a totally unauthentic interpretation of “folk music” has spread (discussed below). Chant is regarded as a means of “inculturation,” an expression of the different mentalities of different nations. Music as promoting the catholicity of the church, or to express a kind of universality as a bridge connecting gender, generations, social strata is out of the question and has been forgotten in practice. This attitude stems, in the last analysis, from a false anthropology that prefers the differences among people to their community, and takes man as an unchangeable entity regardless of the use of learning and training (the “second nature” of man in a former view).

Liturgical music — if taken in the original sense of the word — has been relegated either to the liturgical museum of “Gregorian” festivals, courses, and workshops, or to the “New Age” and “World Music” sections of CD stores.

Laszlo Dobszay, The Bugnini-Liturgy and the Reform of the Reform (2003)

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