This article was previously published by The Lepanto Institute
Classical music is sometimes divided in two large groups: the sacred and the profane. One example of musica sacra could be Bach’s Jesus Joy of Man’s Desire, or Beethoven’s Missa Solemnis. On the other hand, Bizet’s Carmen or Verdi’s La Traviata are examples of profane, entertainment music. In the centuries before the Second Vatican Council, the music played during Mass was always musica sacra. Everyone respected that division. In fact the part covers would identify the composition as da chiesa (Italian for “for the Church”) or da camera (“for the room, or house”) — In the good old days, no one would dare to play sacred music in a theater nor play a profane piece as part of the Mass. In fact, the original meaning for sacra is “holy” or “separated, reserved for a divine purpose.” 1 Peter 2:9 expresses that idea perfectly:
“But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession, to proclaim the virtues of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light.”
From antiquity, men have instinctively learned to separate the sacred vessels from those destined to everyday use.
In the frenzy for change for the sake of change that followed Vatican II, soon mantillas (sacred use) were discarded. That lovely custom that Catholic women had for twenty centuries was no longer kept. The space inside and outside the Church were treated in the same way. Women could walk into church with their heads uncovered, in the manner of men. That sent a subtle signal. First, that the inside was the same as the outside. Second, that women were not special before God, daughters of Mary Most Holy but could behave just as men do. That sacred distinction was lost. Many others would follow, as anyone can sadly confirm today.
Small things may appear inconsequential to the untrained eye but in God’s view, nothing is small. The very name of God in Hebrew begins with the smallest letter, the yod. The Greatest One, the Almighty starts to sign His own Glorious Name with the tiniest character in the alphabet. That should lead us to reflection.
In time, the beautiful music of Palestrina, Vivaldi, and Bach was replaced with pieces written by pop authors. The neighborhood parish where I hear Mass often, plays a hymnal composed over the music of Bob Dylan’s Blowing in the Wind. There are other tunes modified for liturgical use that I recognize although I cannot recall their titles but Dylan’s tune should suffice as an example. That is, in my humble opinion, unacceptable. We should not be mixing the profane with the sacred. There is no need to discard what was created exclusively to give glory to God and replace it with some hand-me-down composition.
Melodies make us evoke moments we have lived. When I hear the hymnal The World Is About To Turn, I cannot avoid remembering The Star Of The County Down. The religious song has borrowed the score from the popular Irish song. So, even if it is for a single second, my mind wanders off from the things of Heaven to the vision of the prettiest girl in Ireland’s County Down. I love the Irish landscape and it may be the closest thing to Heaven in this earth but at the hour of Mass, our focus should be on Heaven.
I have learned a lot lately about the origins of the abominations imposed on the Church in the name of “the spirit of Vatican II” — The more I learn about it, the more I am convinced that the crescendo of impurity that we are enduring today, began with those small invasions of the profane into the realm of the sacred.
What began with a few drops of profane innovations is now a flood of impurity. The changes have grown both in their quantity and in the density of their impurity. Tunes born of the mind of devil worshipers, drug addicts, and perverts entered our liturgy first. Now the feelings and vices that inspired those melodies in the first place are invading the very souls of the faithful.
A long period of poor catechesis preceded the entrance of these abominations in the spaces and times consecrated to God.
We need to revisit not only the truths of our Catholic religion but also the cultural treasure that was left behind by the barbarians that have invaded us.
We can learn a lesson from the Christians that lived about the time of the fall of the Roman Empire. The barbarians that invaded Rome managed to destroy much of the Roman heritage because they were simply too ignorant to distinguish a book from a wooden log. Precious libraries across Europe burned to warm up the Vandals, Goths, and other invaders. Yet, the Christians persevered and taught the savages the truths of the Gospel. The sons and grandsons of the invaders produced great saints. Take for example Dante Alighieri. One can easily deduce from his italianized last name (from the Gaelic “Alixer”) that the great Christian poet was the descendant of barbarian invaders.
The ways of God are mysterious. We know this sad invasion will eventually come to an end. The prophet Daniel gave us a clue: “Many will be purified, made spotless and refined, but the wicked will continue to be wicked. None of the wicked will understand, but those who are wise will understand.” (Daniel 12:10) It seems to me that purification is born of the struggle to understand the ways of God. That is why we have to return to Sacred Tradition, to the deep familiarity with the mysteries of faith that the Church has treasured for centuries. The wicked will not understand that. They will pay the price for trying to make the Church adapt to the ways of a passing world. They are too thick to tell a holy book from a wooden log.
We want to understand more and more. We want to purify our worship and eliminate the profane elements introduced in it by men without understanding. We have to learn the ancient faith anew.