Cleansing Fire

Defending Truth and Tradition in the Roman Catholic Church

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Liturgical Abuse – 16th Century Edition

August 19th, 2010, Promulgated by Gen

Sometimes we can get really caught up in the idealized picture we have of the Renaissance liturgy – clouds of smoke, perfect Latin, flawlessly-trained altar boys, scores of choirs, majestic organs, yards of lace and satin . . . I could go on forever. But guess what? They had liturgical abuse way back then, too, albeit in a different form.

The first bit of “evidence” is this video – please watch it. Now, once it’s done, think to yourself the possible reasons this constitutes liturgical abuse.

So what’s so objectionable? It’s an approved liturgical text, the Kyrie. It’s written by Palestrina, one of the best Renaissance composers of sacred music. It’s quality music which stirs the soul. So what’s wrong with it?

To answer, I supply this video. It is a French folk song from the same time, one which would have been quite popular all across Europe. In our recent dialogue with Lee Strong, both we at Cleansing Fire and Lee agreed that overtly secular music has no place in liturgy. This isn’t the conclusion that Palestrina, Dufay, Lasso, and other Renaissance composers arrived at. Listen to this piece, and then compare the opening notes and theme of “L’homme armé” to the opening notes and theme of the Kyrie.

Many Renaissance composers based their Mass settings off of popular folk songs, mostly French and Italian. Other examples include “Susanne un jour,” “Entre vous filles,” and “the Westerne Wynde.” Scores of Masses and motets were written using the themes from these secular madrigals. These songs would have been known by many a European, being performed at festivals, parties, banquets, etc. And for this reason, composers sought to duplicate the “catchy tunes” and use them in sacred music, to draw the people into the music.

The problem with this is that if you’re an average European, and you hear your favorite madrigal piece worked into an elaborate polyphonic Mass setting, you’re not going to be focusing on the Latin and Greek texts – you’re going to be thinking, “Aye, verily, ’twas quite a party Giuseppe hosted yesterday eve.” Just imagine the kind of quandary we’d be in if we walked into Mass and the Gloria was set to the tune of “Oops, I Did it Again.”

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One Response to “Liturgical Abuse – 16th Century Edition”

  1. avatar Choirloft says:

    In music, Palestrina’s Mass is called a parody or imitation Mass because it’s melodic line is based on a popular tune of L’Homme Arme. In the early 16th Century this was a fairly common style of composition. Many motets, especially of Palestrina, are written in the same style. He picked up this writing style from the Franco-Flemish composers with which he had studied. These parody Mass led to his writing the absolutely astonishing “Missa Papae Marcelli”. FYI – Palestrina and St. Philip Neri were best buds “back in the day”.


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