I have no idea how his pastoral directive was received, but a belated bravo to Bishop John F. Doerfler of the Diocese of Marquette! Although given on January 26, 2016, I had only become aware of his pastoral directive on sacred music today.
And as the Director of Music at my parish I think his pastoral instruction represents the only effective method for ensuring that ordinary Catholics will receive the benefit of the Church’s teaching on sacred music. (e.g. the teachings contained in Sacrosanctum Concilium and Tra Le Solecitudini)
Here, in summary, are the five directives from Bishop Doerfler’s instruction Sing to the Lord, All the Earth:
1. All parishes and schools will learn to chant the Ordinary parts of the Mass in English that are found in the Roman Missal, and they will be sung by the congregation some of the time throughout the year.
2. All parishes and schools will learn to chant the KYRIE, SANCTUS and AGNUS DEI from the Missa lubilate Deo, and they will be sung by the congregation some of the time throughout the year.
3. All parishes and schools will learn to chant the Communion Antiphon in English to a very simple tone that everyone can sing, and the Communion Antiphon will be sung at every Sunday Mass….
4. A Diocesan Hymnal will be used to ensure the musical quality and doctrinal integrity of the Sacred Music….
5. The Diocesan Director of Sacred Music will provide annual, regional workshops for parish musicians to assist them in the implementation of these directives. He will also assist music teachers in Catholic schools to implement Sacred Music in the school curriculum and at school Masses…
How else can the ordinary parish expect to foster a return to authentic sacred music?
Before you answer this, consider that the vast majority of Catholics, through no fault of their own, have a deeply ingrained musical custom that has acclimated their ears and musical affections to a type of “religious music” that is significantly other than, say, Gregorian chant.
As the fifth century BC Greek poet Pindar asserted,
Custom, the king of all, of mortals and immortals, leads … by its very powerful hand.
At best, lacking the kind of Diocesan leadership that Bishop Doerfler exemplifies, a maverick pastor might attempt to implement a return to authentic sacred music on his own initiative. But for a pastor to do so is most certainly to ask for trouble. Sure, one does hear anecdotes from time to time about how this or that parish successfully changed its music program to one that resembles actual church teaching on sacred music. But more often than not, the individual parish that implements a sacred music program that includes an emphasis on Gregorian chant, for example, is bound to be viewed by most parishioners as something of an oddity.
“Oh, Father X is sort of a throw-back” or “Father is traditional and likes old stuff.”
Or perhaps the music will be attributed to the quirky tastes of the music director.
“Our Director of Music likes gregorian chant, but I do wish that he could choose some happier more upbeat music.”
And when Father X is transferred, Father Y will either continue to implement the sacred music program already in place, or, what is more likely, he will simply begin to implement a program that is more in tune with the customs and affections of his congregation.
It is improbable that individual pastors or music directors can succeed singlehandedly in implementing a sacred music program in their parishes.
Without a mandate from the diocese any such program will be seen as emanating from personal taste or idiosyncratic preferences of the pastor or music director.
True, perhaps theoretically, through a very careful and cunning long-term plan, coupled with a strategic parish music education program, a pastor or music director might gradually acclimate parishioner’s ears, hearts and affections to Renaissance polyphony and chant, but realistically, the chances of success are slim at best. Individual efforts simply lack authoritative force.
As I spend another weekend in the choir loft, I am not going to give up trying to make our own parish music program prayerful and noble. But without a mandate from above, I will not be singing the Kyrie, Gloria, Sanctus or Agnus Dei.
In the mean time, I will pray that Bishop Doerfler’s pastoral instruction will meet with great success. And I will pray that the successful return to Sacred Music in the Diocese of Marquette will foster and inspire many other bishops to implement similar directives in their own dioceses.