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You are here: Articles > Art & Architecture > Humanism and the Sacred  Back one page.
Humanism and the Sacred
(Sacred Music) Winter 1969

Author:
Msgr. Richard Schuler


"The primary goal of all (Eucharistic) celebration is to make a humanly attractive experience." This is the statement of the Music Advisory Board of the American Bishops' Committee on the Liturgy, issued in 1968. And this is the expression of the real malady causing the deterioration of the sacred music that is apparent on all sides in our country today.

Pope Paul VI has warned so often that the sin of our age is one of atheism, not indeed a theoretical, academic denial of God, but rather a removal of God from life in its every-day, actual practice. Man has put himself into God's place, and thus he has no real need for God any more. Man has himself become God, and little wonder then that we have "God is dead" theologians.

The evidences of this are numerous, and we need not turn to the marvels of technology to find the reasons for man's pride. Strangely enough in this "age of the moon" it is not the astronauts who would deny God's role in human life, but knowingly or not, those who would consider themselves most in His service. Let us observe only the reformers of the liturgy, where one might expect to find expression of man's dependence on his Creator, acknowledgement of his own sinfulness, and hope in a life of eternal happiness in heaven.

In many subtle ways one can see the exaltation of man. Someone has pointed out that the Canon of the Mass in Latin begins with the word Te (You), but in its English translation it begins with the word We. Elaborating its statement on the purpose of the Mass, the Mus Advisory Board says: "We assemble at Mass in order to speak our faith over again in community and, by speaking it, to renew and deepen it." One looks here in vain for God's saving grace, for any acknowledgement of the four great ends of all prayer: adoration, thanksgiving, reparation and petition. Indeed, can we ourselves directly increase any supernatural virtue in ourselves, if they are gifts of God who alone can give them or increase them?

Or again, for example, we can examine the whole effort to turn the altar versus populum, something that one can search the documents of the Vatican Council and not find even a reference to. It is an exaltation of man by thrusting the face and the person of the man who is a priest into the place of the alter Christus, whose face one does not need to see. With the celebrant facing the people, the human element is so greatly exaggerated with all of the facial and bodily gestures which necessarily attract the attention of the congregation toward a certain, particular man who stands there, not toward an alter Christus, a priest who is Christ. Even Father Jungmann, to whose credit a great responsibility for the turning around of altars can be given, now says that he has second thoughts on its pastoral advantage; there never was any historical or artistic basis for such a "reform".

And again, consider the current insistence on the educational dimensions of the liturgy. A kind of rationalism, a form of humanism, it demands that every single word be immediately understood, which is perfectly logical if liturgy is man-directed, but not really a total necessity when liturgy is God-centered and the general ends of prayer are grasped. And so too with music. If the purpose of any art in the service of worship is to give glory to God and to sanctify the faithful, then dignity, beauty and reverence are imperative marks of such art, for sacred art would not fulfill its very purpose if it lacked any of these characteristics. But let one make the purpose of art and music in liturgy be rather the "creating of a humanly attractive experience" and immediately both art and music descend to the level quite logically of music for his entertainment, at whatever level of competency or sophistication it may exist. But music created and performed for the glory of God and the sanctification of the faithful demands quite different standards for judgement. One can easily grasp that the present use of so-called folk music and various forms of instrumental combos within the liturgy is nothing more than entertainment by merely attending such a service. One who does not attend can reach the same conclusion by simply noting how often such musical presentations must be changed, indicating that in a short time they bore the audience, who are no longer entertained by them. Like any show, they must be constantly "updated" or "renewed".

Humanism is at the root of the trouble in our liturgy today. How can an art that is dedicated Ad majorem Dei gloriam (to the greater glory of God) exist when man has replaced God, when a "humanly attractive experience" becomes its purpose for being?

One cannot, of course, deny that man is master of his universe and the center of his own activity in his world, even in his efforts to reach God. But one must hasten to point out that the world and all that is in it, together with all man's efforts and talents, have been raised up through the Incarnation to a supernatural level as they share in the redemptive grace of Christ. All of these created and redeemed materials, talents and efforts, however, must be used to carry us beyond matter to God the Father, who "dwells in light inaccessible", as Saint Paul says.

Art is the product of both the spirit and the body of man, and it can lead him to God. Indeed, art can sometimes lead him away from God, when it is not true art, for Satan can sometimes use material things in artistic garb to lead us astray. But when art is true and noble and directed toward God, man can expect that through it he will reach Him. But when art is aimed only toward man, then even if it be true and beautiful, it will not serve as a means of reaching Him. Rather, ultimately, man will flounder in his own materialism; he will seek art for art's sake; he will turn to it for his own glorification.

The denial of the sacred, or the substitution of the secular for the sacred, is the logical sequel coupled to humanism. Sacred by definition means the setting aside of something for the exclusive use of the Deity, particularly in the worship of the Deity. Something that is secular is what is employed for the daily use of man. Both are good; both are created by God; both indeed share in the effects of the Incarnation; both have perfectly legitimate purposes in man's life and salvation. But by common agreement, every society sets aside persons, places and things, including forms of art, that are pledged to the end of serving it in the endless effort of reaching God. Obviously these things are material for the most part, and they are closely connected with the senses of man, but through their sacralization, their sacramentalization and even their supernaturalization, they are elevated to the highest possible level in man's relationship with God. Reverence, dignity and beauty will characterize these material things selected for such use, because man must seek the highest forms of expression of which he is capable in turning toward his God; his art provides that excellence and that perfection.

But when man assumes the place of God in the liturgy by an exalted humanism, the need for the sacred ceases. The need to dedicate material things to God by sacralizing them, even the need for the sacraments or the acknowledgement of the supernatural elevation of man through grace, ceases. The secular fulfills the purposes of humanism as well, if not better, than the sacred. Man does not then need God, and we have returned to the "practical" atheism about which Pope Paul warns us.

The problems of sacred music today do not lie in selection of repertory or the encouraging of congregational participation. The disputes over Latin and the vernacular, the choir, the use of various instruments besides the organ are not the essential points.The problems are not musical; these, musicians could solve. It is not a question of composers or performers or even of money to encourage them. The problem is one of Faith, as it is in every other area of the Church today - Catholic education, religious vocations, celibacy for the clergy, birth control, or the authority of the Holy Father.

As early as during the preparation for the Fifth International Church Music Congress in 1965, one could see that there were those who would deny the existence of the sacred or the place of sacred music in the liturgy, despite the clear statement of the Vatican Council itself that sacred song forms a necessary or integral part of the solemn liturgy. Both the Pope and the Council frequently refer to "sacred" music, and the Instruction of 1967 begins with the very words, Musica Sacra. The malady that afflicts the Church today was first seen in the liturgy and in sacred music. But it is apparent by now that what ails music in the service of worship is only a ripple on the surface of the sea; beneath there is a churning, seething, boiling ferment of error and disbelief. We will never have a renewal of sacred music without Faith; we will never have sacred music at all until the place of man in relation to God is clearly established. There will be no sacred music until the place of art in man's seeking God is defined and the affirmation of the sacred in art is maintained.

Atheism is the sin of our day. The music of our day has become its tool by abandoning its sacred function. The secular forms of art will never serve for worship of God, but they will continue to exalt man, as they have always done throughout human history. If we seek only man and place him at the center of a life restricted to time and to earth, then we have indeed found through art the proper means of exalting, entertaining and even worshipping him. But if we wish to obey the Vatican Council in its efforts to renew sacred music and to continue two thousand years of Christian teaching, then we must restore God to the center of our worship, re-establish the position of the sacred arts as means of communication with God, and fall on our knees in belief, in hope and in love before the Creator, the Redeemer and the Sanctifier of sinful man, who comes to us through material things - things that man through art has dedicated to Him as sacred.

Rev. Richard J. Schuler

Rev. Richard Schuler, a frequent contributor to SACRED MUSIC, is pastor of St. Agnes Church in St. Paul, Minnesota, and was a member of the Board of Directors of the Church Music Association of America.


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You are here: Articles > Art & Architecture > Humanism and the Sacred  Back one page.

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All contents © copyright, 1998-2014
The Catholic Liturgical Library
http://www.catholicliturgy.com