Sacred Music

by Paul Jernberg

Musicians will enter on this new work (the composition of sacred music) with the desire to continue that tradition which has furnished the Chruch, in her divine worship, with a truly abundant heritage.  Let them examine the woks of the past, their types and characteristics, ... so that "new forms may in some way grow organically from forms that already exist," and the new work will form a new part in the musical heritage of the Church, not unworthy of its past,

-Musicam Sacram, Art. 59

"The idea that we must always live on the "cutting edge" of progress, even if this means evaporating into learned abstractions (extreme forms of atonal music) or learning to accept the trivial as the inevitable meaning of the popular soul (yeah, yeah, yeah) is the terrible paradox of modernity as well as its bold successors.  This "law of progress" has affected every dimension of our culture and introduced the same heresy everywhere.  

According to this school (that is perhaps losing its grip already), one must never, for example, in architecture, use an arch or a column, as these elements of expression are forever lost: otherwise we would be attempting to turn the clock back.  

 Our own architect at Clear Creek Abbey, Professor Thomas Gordon Smith of Notre Dame University, however, inaugurated a movement in America that asked and continues to ask in sum, "Why not borrow elements from the most successful schools of architecture of past centuries, making them our own in a new synthesis for today?"  This points to an effective liberation from the hegemony of modernism and reconnects with an organic development that can continue in our time. We will not go merely back to Beethoven or Bach or Handel, to Palestrina and chant (though we will continue to use these sources) but we can learn from them and use that musical wisdom in order to produce something of quality in our our period.

 It seems to me that the liturgical compositions of Paul Jernberg do a good job of speaking a language that is both modern (of our time) and rich with harmonies that echo the best works of past ages.  This is a remarkable success given the very strong consensus about modern music having to relinquish the diatonic scale and the musical architectures of more classic times.  

 According to a book referred to as The Academy, July 22, 1905, page 765, "Mozart declared that he would give all his glory to have been the author of a single preface [of the Roman liturgy]."  That sort of sentiment seems to be rare in our day. I find in the Mass of Saint Philip Neri that artistic humility that is looking beyond itself to a noble ideal, especially that of Divine Revelation in the Word that is set to music, just as we find so perfectly in Gregorian chant. "

Comments from Fr. Philip Anderson,  Abbot, Our Lady of Clear Creek Abbey

Monastery at Fontgombault in France

Monastery at Fontgombault in France

©Paul Jernberg and Magnificat Academy.