“Such stupidity”

The following is an extract from an article (‘Laylines’) by Seán Mac Réamoinn in Doctrine and Life, April, 1996:

An old friend who died last month had made it clear to his family that he wanted a sung Requiem in Latin for his funeral. Fortunately, with more than a little help from the Dominicans, his wish was granted. And I know that all who were present were considerably moved by the liturgy. For many of us it was a reminder not just of old ways, but of the power of plainsong to shape our worship. And for those to whom it was a new experience it was, I believe, no less affecting, if at times more obscurely so…

Some of us who joined in the singing were out of practice, to put it very kindly. I hope we didn’t damage the ensemble too seriously. And I believe we didn’t for, though the Gregorian discipline demands as much careful respect, if not more, than other musical forms, it can cover a multitude of imperfections…

[L]ast month’s experience was a sharp reminder of what we have lost, or rather mislaid or thrown aside. I have written here before about the appalling philistinism which has allowed us to neglect so much of our western Catholic heritage: it is as if the Orthodox world had suddenly decided to embrace iconoclasm as a way of living and praying, and thrown all those images — which are plainsong’s rival in their deep and direct communication of the spiritual — on the ecclesiastical scrap heap. And I shudder to think what the more enthusiastic among them would have adopted as substitutes, what glossy meretricious essays in neo-sentimentality would have paralleled some of our recent hymns, post-modern effusions of sentimental pietism…

When we ignore plainsong, or for that matter, classical polyphony, to the point of banishing this great music from our churches and denying it to our younger people, we are depriving them and us of a spiritual enrichment whose value is more, far more, than aesthetic — important as that may be. It reminds me of nothing so much as the pathetic way so many of our great-(great-) grandparents believed that they must not pass the Irish language on to their children….such was the crazy logic of the time, they thought that a knowledge of Irish and of English were mutually exclusive. We now realise, or at least I hope we do, what an injustice was done in those days, from the best of motives.

Mind you, it is harder to see what has been the motivation of ‘getting rid of the oul’ Latin’ over the past thirty years or so. How can anyone have possibly seen such stupidity as an aid to liturgical renewal? Certainly the composition of vernacular settings was, and is, to be encouraged, but not to the exclusion of work of a standard which it would be difficult to emulate or approach overnight. And interestingly, the simple O’Riada Cúil Aodha Mass seems to be the most generally popular of all the new settings, not least among congregations who would be hard put to it to provide translations of the texts…The ‘poetry’ seems to get through, in spite of any verbal problems. Is there a moral here?

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Posted on October 4, 2011, in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. Sean Mac Reamoinn was, with Seamus Ennis and Ciaran Mac Mathuna, responsible for not only collecting Irish traditional music when working for Radio Eireann after the war but for bringing to the attention of people, not all of whom appreciated it. It was Ciaran, God rest all their souls, who brought it to the people through his programmes ‘A Job of Journeywork’ and ‘Ceolta Tire in the 1950s and later. (The two programmes, as I recall, were essentially the same). Many scoffed at the music but then Sean O Riada began to build on it and traditional music took on a new life. ‘Riverdance’ didn’t come out of nowhere.

    Could the same happen to Church music? Part of the problem, as I see it now, is that Vatican II is still seen by some as a sort of Year Zero, when everything began anew and the past was discarded. The Khmer Rouge carried the notion of a Year Zero to an extreme.

    The Council documents did not see the Church as dumping the past. I wonder if the dumping of the past that has happened is one of the factors in the loss of faith in Ireland. Sean Mac Reamoinn wrote about the loss of our language. Is there a parallel?

  2. Father, I completely agree. I don’t know whether you’ve read it or not but I think you will very much like this (and also this).

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