In the Church today, the need for the sacred liturgy to draw us into the mind and heart of God and take us out of our present world and its mindset is paramount, as it has always been. The role of sacred music in this is chiefly important, as the music we hear in the liturgy has the power to either raise our minds to God or keep us in the world and ultimately away from God. Sacred music is meant to enhance our experience of the liturgy and if it does not, then it really is a waste. It is supposed to complement the liturgy’s purpose and draw us further into prayer and meditation, not jar us out of this state and bring us back to the world. The type of music we use in the liturgy is a reflection of where we are headed and want to be, either with God or in the world.
When listening to Gregorian chant or any of the other early styles of chant, the simplicity of the composition causes us to be drawn into the mind and heart of God as we follow along with the Mass, and it also is seamlessly woven into the Mass so as not to disturb our prayer and meditation and to provide a respectful form of worship to God. And even Vatican II made clear that Gregorian chant was to remain prominent in the Mass (“Musicam Sacram” section IV 50a). In our modern times, although not all choirs and forms of music are disrespectful or taking us out of a prayerful state, more often than not we are jarred out of our meditations by a more upbeat version of the various parts of the Mass, such as the Gloria or the Sanctus. And some instruments used take us out of this too. The strumming of a guitar is just not as conducive to prayer or as respectful as the piano or organ, or even a violin. Even the more modern hymns, since they conform to a more modern form of music, tend to take us out of the Mass and back into the world, with the exception of a few. In all of this, we lose a sense of the sacred and replace it with worship done our own way, not God’s way. A trained choir is also important, since they know how to harmonize and are trained in the art of singing, as are monks and others who are specifically trained in Gregorian chant. The choir at EWTN, although they sometimes do more modern hymns, are formally trained and always sound beautiful in their worship of God. They also chant the Mass parts in Latin. Although well meaning, other choirs who choose more upbeat versions and use instruments like guitars aren’t realizing that their aim is not to connect with the congregation, but with God. They are to honor Him with respect.
When we choose the more worldly ways of music during the Mass, that’s where we will end up, caught up in ourselves and in the world, not in God. To be caught up in God and honor Him in the liturgy correctly, we must use music that will keep us in our prayerful state and be as though it flows seamlessly with the sacredness and reverence of the sacrifice we are celebrating.