I know I just tortured everyone with the French Fried Star Wars post, but just to show you what a cruel S.O.B. I can be sometimes, I’m gonna follow it right up with this.
For those of you who managed keep your heads from imploding, I think the lesson here is obvious. Just because you CAN insert popular musical forms into a particular setting doesn’t necessarily mean you always SHOULD.
It was that very train of thought which led the soon to be Pope Benedict XVI to write in The Spirit Of The Liturgy, “Not every kind of music can have a place in Christian worship. It has its standards, and that standard is the Logos. If we want to know whom we are dealing with, the Holy Spirit or the unholy spirit, we have to remember that it is the Holy Spirit who moves us to say, “Jesus is Lord” (~Cor 12:3). The Holy Spirit leads us to the Logos, and he leads us to a music that serves the Logos as a sign of the sursum corda, the lifting up of the human heart. Does it integrate man by drawing him to what is above, or does it cause his disintegration into formless intoxication or mere sensuality? That is the criterion for a music in harmony with logos, a form of that logike latreia (reasonable, logos-worthy worship).”
From that statement he went on to basically trash “modern so-called ‘classical’ music” (“an elitist ghetto”), pop music (“a cult of the banal”), and rock music (no more than an “expression of elemental passions”). But do these kinds of personal reservations from the pope necessarily exclude the use of popular forms of music in liturgy or insinuate that chant should be brought back as the go-to option for music at mass? Well, while such a move would hardly break my heart given my own taste in liturgical music, the actual answer appears to be… no, not really. In his book, Cardinal Ratzinger also pointed out that we have to take into consideration “the cultural universalization that the Church has to undertake if she wants to get beyond the boundaries of the European mind. This is the question of what inculturation should look like in the realm of sacred music if, on the one hand, the identity of Christianity is to be preserved and, on the other, its universality is to be expressed in local forms.”
Reflecting on this tension in his Chirograph on Sacred Music, Pope John Paul II wrote that “It is not, of course, a question of imitating Gregorian chant but rather of ensuring that new compositions are imbued with the same spirit that inspired and little by little came to shape it. Only an artist who is profoundly steeped in the sensus Ecclesiae can attempt to perceive and express in melody the truth of the Mystery that is celebrated in the Liturgy. In this perspective, in my Letter to Artists I wrote: "How many sacred works have been composed through the centuries by people deeply imbued with the sense of mystery! The faith of countless believers has been nourished by melodies flowing from the hearts of other believers, either introduced into the Liturgy or used as an aid to dignified worship. In song, faith is experienced as vibrant joy, love and confident expectation of the saving intervention of God"