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The “Hermeneutic of Continuity” and Twentieth-century Legislation on Sacred Music Philip Carl Smith Introduction In an address to the Roman Curia delivered on 22 December 2005, Pope Benedict XVI raised some important questions: “What has been the result of the [Second Vatican] council? Was it well received? What, in the acceptance of the council, was good and what was inadequate or mistaken? What still remains to be done?... Why has the implementation of the council in large parts of the church thus far been so difficult?” In addressing these questions, the Holy Father reminds us that the proper implementation of Vatican II “depends on the correct interpretation of the council or – as we would say today – on its proper hermeneutic, the correct key to its interpretation and application.” Benedict describes two contrary interpretations which he identifies as “a hermeneutic of discontinuity and rupture” and the “hermeneutic of reform.” The former “risks ending in a split between the preconciliar church and the postconciliar church” by claiming that the texts of the Council “are the result of compromises in which, to reach unanimity, it was found necessary to keep and reconfirm many old things that are now pointless.” According to this view, “it would be necessary not to follow the texts of the council but its spirit. In this way, obviously , a vast margin was left open for the question on how this spirit should subsequently be defined and room was consequently made for every whim.” On the other hand, the “hermeneutic of reform,” which Benedict styles also the “hermeneutic of continuity,” is an   An earlier version of this paper was read at the 2007 General Conference of the Society for Catholic Liturgy, held at the Pontifical College Josephinum , Columbus, Ohio, 20-23 September 2007. The author is grateful to Fr Neil J. Roy, Dr Alcuin Reid, Thomas Gordon Smith, John Haigh, and Brian Austin FSSP, for their helpful comments.   Benedict XVI, Discourse to the Roman Curia, 22 December 2005; English translation in Origins 35 (26 January 2006) 534-39, here 536.   Benedict XVI, Post-synodal Apostolic Exhortation Sacramentum cariAntiphon 13.3 (2009): 247-263 248 Philip Carl Smith interpretation of the Vatican II documents “in the continuity of the one subject-church that the Lord has given to us … a subject that increases in time and develops, yet always remaining the same, the one subject of the journeying people of God.” One of the most controversial issues surrounding Vatican II concerns the proper interpretation of its constitution on the liturgy, Sacrosanctum concilium, dated 4 December 1963 (henceforth SC). The question of sacred music, which the Council Fathers describe as making a “necessary or integral part of the solemn liturgy” (SC 112), has been a particularly contested one. Despite the explicit mandate that the Church’s musical tradition be preserved and promoted (SC 114), the current state of Roman Catholic sacred music, and in particular the near abandonment of Gregorian chant and sacred polyphony, indicates that many have interpreted the constitution on the liturgy through the hermeneutic of discontinuity or simply chosen to ignore its contents. Although the proper interpretation of some statements in Sacrosanctum concilium is not always self-evident – a problem that Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger (now Benedict XVI) attributes to the “definite tension within the Council document,” which “reflects the tension between the various approaches represented in the Council itself” – many of the contested questions could be clarified by use of the hermeneutic of continuity and reform, that is, by interpreting the ambiguous statements of Sacrosanctum concilium in light of the Church’s prior pronouncements on sacred music. This approach is indeed sanctioned by the document itself: the Council Fathers state that they are “keeping the norms and precepts of ecclesiastical tradition and discipline and having regard to the purpose of sacred music, which is the glory of God and the sanctification of the faithful…” (SC 112). Likewise, the 1967 Instruction Musicam sacram (henceforth MS) recognizes the continuing relevance of the Church’s musical legislation, noting that, although it attempts to clarify certain questions regarding the implementation of Sacrosanctum concilium, “It is not a collection of all tatis (22 February 2007), in Origins 36 (22 March 2007) §3, n...


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