Musical influences

Question: The Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy of the Second Vatican Council says nothing about the use of guitars and popular music in the liturgy. Where did the use of popular instruments and folk songs come from? Was this a legitimate development?

— D.W., Chicago. Ill.

 Answer: The introduction of popular styles of music and instrumentation into the liturgy after Vatican II was occasioned not so much by anything in the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy as by the general openness to modern cultural expressions that came into the Church after the council.

A number of trends may be identified as influencing liturgical music in the late 1960s. First, there was the folk music revival associated with the civil-rights era and the peace movement. Second, there was the official allowance of instruments other than the organ into the liturgy. Third, there was the new openness to modern culture expressed in the council’s Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World. Fourth, the 1960s saw the expansion of the popular music industry and the explosion of musical composition. Finally, there was the development of the youth culture.

Were all these influences on liturgical music good? In my opinion, they were not. Certainly the motivation was positive, but the early attempts were poor and became obsolete, repeatedly replaced by other forms.

In my opinion, the condition of liturgical music is not good. Too much of what belonged to the pre-conciliar era was jettisoned and too little of what was introduced after the council had much artistic quality.

Eye of the needle

Question: Jesus said that it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter heaven. I don’t believe Jesus was speaking literally about the needle that is used in sewing; otherwise there would be no hope for the rich. Please comment.

— James Page, Albany, N.Y.

Answer: There have been numerous attempts to explain this saying. Some commentators had claimed that the eye of the needle was a small gate at the entrance to Jerusalem through which a camel and its owner could enter after the city-keepers had locked the main gates. It was barely large enough for the camel to enter, but it was possible.

Others have held that the Aramaic word for rope was the same as the word for camel. The theory is that Jesus meant that a rope could enter the eye of the needle if the latter were large enough.

Whatever the explanation, Jesus is not saying that it is impossible for the rich to be saved. The rest of the narrative here makes this clear. We are told that the bystanders recognized what Jesus meant when they asked, “Then who can be saved?” Jesus’ answer is clear: “What is impossible for human beings is possible for God” (Lk 18:26-27).

Quite often Jesus warns against the dangers that material wealth can hold for the soul. Wealth in itself is not evil and material things do not in themselves corrupt. However, the human relationship to wealth can be skewed and the material things we own can lead us on morally troublesome paths.

No matter how much or how little we own, we are called to keep an outlook of simplicity and frugality and to be vigilant against the ways in which the material can have a corrupting influence on our souls.

Msgr. M. Francis Mannion is a priest and theologian of the Diocese of Salt Lake City. Send your questions to Pastoral Answers, Our Sunday Visitor, 200 Noll Plaza, Huntington, IN 46750 or to Letters must be signed, but anonymity may be requested.