LETTERS: Chant is a continuing tradition

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The Independent Online
From The Rev Paul P. J. Sheppy Sir: In his article on Gregorian chant "CD succes that could revive an ancient liturgy" (29 December), Tony Scotland suggests that the liturgical reforms which followed the Second Vatican Council were a deliberate rejectionof the maxim tenete traditiones. Mr Scotland appears to have read some of the tradition and to have taken it for the whole. I agree that some of the work of those who prepared the vernacular liturgies was flawed in the use of language which was not always elegant - although the Hebrew and Greek Testaments are not uniformly elegant, and elegance is not the only criterion of effective worship.

The essays of liturgists and of historians at the time and the minutes of meetings where the new liturgies were drafted are heavy with scholarship. To take but one example, the eucharistic prayers were researched in minute detail and from that research the "new" forms emerged. Contrary to what Mr Scotland implies, there was an extraordinary commitment to uncover and build upon the most ancient traditions of the Church.

Such liturgies were inevitably, by their newness, contentious and there is a considerable amount of amendment at present being proposed in many of the Western Church traditions. The Church of England, through its Liturgical Commission, has in the past two or three years provided a staggering range of new material in preparation for the eventual successor to the Alternative Service Book. The Church in Wales is also strongly active in this area, as are the Scottish Episcopal Church, the Church of Scotlandin its recent Book of Common Order (combining the Reformed and Celtic traditions) and the Methodists. Romans Catholics are busy too.

It is interesting to note how reactions vary to much modern hymnody which is melodic rather than harmonic. Taize and Iona are modern developments of the simple melodic style, and they are, indeed, very popular. Yet their acceptance is not unanimous. Four-part harmony is a part of the ecclesiastical tradition of these islands - as choral anthems and Christmas carols amply demonstrate. Furthermore, the numerical increases in charismatic congregations do not suggest that Gregorian chant is quite the panace a Mr Scotland proclaims it to be.

The Christian Church is diverse within its unity and is only a provisional creature until the Kingdom of God is revealed in all its fullness. Christian worship is therefore always adapting and is never complete simply in its liturgical forms. The Spirit alone gives life.

Yours faithfully, PAUL P. J. SHEPPY The Joint Liturgical Group of Great Britain Barnoldswick Lancashire 29 December