Rome, not always the high water mark in church music, has become aware of this problem of music that conflicts with the faith and with the nature of what happens in the Mass and has begun to do something about the sad state of music in worship in the average Roman parish.
From Mons. Valentín Miserachs Grau, the President of the Pontifical Institute for Sacred Music: [T]he Church has always requested as essential connotations of liturgical Sacred Music: holiness, excellence of the forms (true art) and universality, in the sense that liturgical music could be acceptable to everybody, without shutting itself in abstruse or elitist forms and, least of all, turning down to trivial consumer products… This one is a sore point: the rampant wave of false and truly dreadful liturgical music in our churches… how is it possible that the musical praxis in our churches distances itself in so evident a way from the same doctrine?
[On the issue of experimentation:] One cannot transform the “oratory” into “laboratory”…. The second aspect of the problem derives from a false interpretation of the conciliar doctrine on Sacred Music. As a matter of fact, the post-conciliar liturgical “renewal”, including the almost total lack of mandatory rules at a high level, has allowed a progressive decay of liturgical music, at the point of becoming, in the most cases, “consumer music” according to the parameters of the most slipshod easy-listening music.
While Rome’s concerns and its methods of dealing with the problem are not exactly the same as Lutherans, it is a good thing that Rome is awaking to the growing distance of the music of worship — both in content and style — from the faith the Church believes, confesses, and teaches. It will certainly take some time for this top down approach to change the Haugen-Haas pop hymn culture of the local parish, but at least they are doing something.
The best that we can hope for among Lutherans is a good conversation and some leading by example. We lack the jurisdictional authority to tell a local congregation what they can or cannot sing. Whether good or bad, that is the way we operate. Nevertheless, we have abused our liturgical freedom both to the detriment of the unity of the Church and the catechetical well-being of the folks in the pew. This is one area in which we all share the need for some repentance and change. We have borrowed from those who have a completely different understanding of worship and a different theology and the price we have paid is that our people do not see the difference between the pop gospel songs they hear on Christian radio and the hymns of the faith (both new and old).
For us it is not about changing the rules or enforcing the ones on the books — it is about convincing Pastors and those who plan and lead worship to be more faithful in their calling. It is about believing that what can be done is not the same as what should be done. It is about putting the effort in to choose music for the liturgy that reflects the lectionary and not personal taste. It is about getting serious with respect to what we confess to our people and to the world when we use music that conflicts with the faith or is trite, trivial, and banal in content and style. It is about paying our parish musicians a decent wage so that they can be serious about their craft and about recruiting others for this noble calling. It is NOT about style vs substance, NOT about culture warfare between high brow and low brow music, NOT about whatever works, NOT about what people (or Pastors) want, and NOT about musical instruments (though I would argue that the guitar is not a melodic instrument and therefore cannot on its own support congregational song).