The Song of Divine Love: a book to be released in 2020!

St. Cecilia  by Guido Reni

St. Cecilia by Guido Reni

From the Introduction:

The history of Catholic sacred music, corresponding to the history of Christianity, is clearly not one long success story. Rather, it is the history of an adventure. In this adventure, real, free-willed people are endowed with great gifts but then also faced with responsibilities, opportunities, difficulties, temptations, and crises. Their response to these challenges determines to a large extent the integrity, or lack thereof, which characterizes the Church and its sacred music at any given time and place.

Sacred music is a reflection of the spiritual and intellectual health of the Church, as well as a potentially powerful force in renewing this health. If there is an abundance of holiness and wisdom among the clergy and laity, this will normally be reflected in the way that liturgical music is sung and developed. This is the source of our great Catholic traditions of sacred song, and can be seen eminently in periods such as the early apostolic Church, the great monastic movements of the 4th to 6th centuries, and the European Renaissance under the influence of many saints and scholars, including St. Philip Neri and his far-reaching Oratory movement.

But in the midst of spiritual malaise and crises, sacred music can also be a source of healing and renewal. Such was the case with St. Ephraim of Syria in the 4th century, St. Francis of Assisi and his followers in the High Middle Ages, and the Spanish missionaries to the Americas in the 16th - 19th centuries.

Surrounded and inspired by such a cloud of witnesses, and the faithful models whom I have had the grace of knowing personally, I hope and pray with many others for such a renewal in our own time. It is out of this fervent hope and prayer that I have written this short book on the renewal of sacred music in the Roman Rite of the Catholic Church.

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So why do we need renewal in the realm of the sacred music, i.e., the music which accompanies and clothes the words of the Sacred Liturgy? Here are a few vitally important reasons:

  • We have for the most part jettisoned our great traditional repertoire of sacred music, which has been our connecting link to the music handed down by Christ through the Apostles and their successors. This repertoire, most prominently sacred chant and polyphony, has an amazing genius for clothing the sacred text of the Liturgy, that has been developed, tested and refined through the centuries. With it as our foundation and guide, we can be assured of integrity and depth of spirituality, even as we develop new and fresh musical forms to meet present needs; without them we are doomed to idiosyncrasy and/or provincialism.

  • We have lost touch with the way in which this repertoire is meant to be sung; this involves a whole set of vital skills that allow the music to have its intended character and effect: to resonate clearly and powerfully in the hearts and minds of all those who are present, so as to allow them to fully participate in the interior as well as exterior dimensions of the Liturgy. This sacred “artistry”, while requiring diligent study and training, is remarkably adaptable and accessible. It can bring beauty and depth to the most humble circumstances where seemingly little talent or resources are found, as well as to the most exalted situations in which an abundance of such talent and resources are available.

  • We have lost the sense of virtue and spirituality that needs to inform and transform our singing. While this dimension has been emphasized in the charismatic renewal over the past fifty some years, it has in fact been at the heart of all authentic sacred music across the ages. For the point of sacred music is to draw people into the reality of God's presence, so that they can adore him with profound reverence, be transformed by his grace, and enter into loving communion with him. To accomplish this includes but also goes beyond our greatest natural capacities; we need to learn how to allow the Holy Spirit to fill us and imbue our music with his Divine guidance, inspiration, and power.

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Because of these and other reasons, the sacred music tradition of the Roman Catholic Church is in great need of being rediscovered and renewed! And when it is rediscovered and renewed, it will by its nature vivify and foster the greater renewal of that faith, hope, and love for which we have been created.

In The Song of Divine Love, I share a unique approach to the renewal of sacred music in Catholic parishes and communities. My reflections flow from the reality of our patrimony of sacred liturgical music, from authoritative Church teaching on the subject, and from my own experience as musician, educator, coach, and composer over the past five decades. I am deeply aware that none of these ideas are truly “mine”, but rather originate in that great Tradition of which we are all meant to be the beneficiaries. And my debt is not only to this Tradition and its Author, but also to the many scholars, colleagues, and friends through whose wisdom, love, and generosity I have received so much over the years!