Continuing our look at how we identify and understand beauty in all its forms, we feature Denis McNamara, the Director of Benedictine College’s Center for Beauty and Culture. In Part III, McNamara discussed the inherent ontological reality of the liturgy. His conversation with Robert Mixa, the Word on Fire Institute’s St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Fellow for Catholic Education, now turns to liturgical music and where and why it can fail us.
Robert Mixa: Let’s talk about liturgical music. I know that’s something people like to debate all the time. I went to a high school where the liturgical music annoyed me so much. The music seemed more fitting for a Broadway show. Just as it would be inappropriate to play Kool & the Gang’s “Celebration” at a funeral, this music seemed inappropriate at Mass. Can you explain liturgical music, according to the three constitutive elements of beauty?
Denis McNamara: Remember, for anything to be beautiful, it has to reveal its ontological reality. And liturgy—and therefore liturgical music—has a nature that is particular to it, that is different from other kinds of singing. Many people assume that music at Mass means they sing a pious song that they like at the beginning, middle, and the end. But texts that are correctly liturgical come from the Church’s liturgical books, rather than other song books or even hymnals. These are called the “proper” texts, meaning the songs are specific to each day of the liturgical year. And so, they reveal something of what the Church wants us to know for each liturgical event.