Book Review: Sacred Music and Liturgy After Vatican II: Significant Works of Monsignor Richard J. Schuler

Our kind friends at Arouca Press have published a wonderful new book that highlights the writings of Monsignor Schuler, penned over the span forty years and originally written for one of our favorite publications, Sacred Music, of which he was once the editor.  This new volume is a collection of his most significant articles, edited by a good friend of the author, Dr. Virginia A. Schubert.  

Monsignor Schuler was a professional church musician and a loyal son of the Church. Born in 1920, he was ordained priest in 1945 and was an eyewitness of history when the changes in the liturgy came in the 1960s as a shock turnaround. The abrupt new direction steamrolled church musicians and choir masters, as a spirit of revolution entered the Church and world. A state of chaos ensued with sacred music and liturgy at the epicenter, as well as the identity of the priesthood.  

Suddenly everything was questioned and a sour tenor descended upon any music or idea that was deemed "not with the times." It was a complicated mess, with the Vatican at times sending mixed messages. Meanwhile, Vatican II said one thing while it seemed most parishes were doing the opposite, overwhelmed by the mischievous "spirit of the Council," a false interpretation of the documents of Vatican II that was largely driven by media spin and slogans. 

Many faithful Catholics were deceived while countless others (perhaps a silent majority) couldn't believe what they were seeing - the abolition of choirs, folk music being introduced into the liturgy, unthinkable liturgical abuses and experimentation. Not to mention the ensuing lack of belief in the true, real, and substantial presence of Christ in the Eucharist. And much of this happened with the tacit approval of bishops and others who should have known better, including many priests and nuns. 

The good Monsignor believed firmly the liturgy celebrated on earth should be a reflection of the heavenly liturgy, which is carried out for all eternity with the praises of the saints and angels. For this reason he was particularly pained by many of the changes. The timing could not have been worse for sacred music as Vatican II coincided with the American folk music revival phenomenon. Music groups that came and went as passing fads unduly influenced the liturgy scene, such as the folksy Peter, Paul and Mary as well as others.  

In retrospect, Monsignor Schuler can be called a prophet of sorts. In fact, he is remembered by those who knew him for his keenness of perception, a sharp mental acuity. He was well aware of the dangers and temptations of secularization in the liturgy, and at great personal cost he sounded the alarm knowing that such wounds would hurt the life of the Church and endanger the chain of transmission. He was correct, given his natural instinct for truth and his grasp of the past, knowing all too well that it only takes one generation to lose an inheritance. 

This new book, a collection of Msgr. Schuler's writings, is a triumph and is essential reading for anyone with an interest in preserving and fostering the precious inheritance of sacred music and solving its new challenges. Given the catastrophic loss of musical art in the wake of Vatican Council II, its subject matter is more important than ever.

In Msgr. Schuler's thinking, for far too long the post-Conciliar period had been a time of deviation from the true intentions of the Council Fathers. Under the guise of the "spirit of the Council," he lamented how many in positions of authority had tailored their own interpretations of the documents of Vatican II to advance an agenda contrary to the tradition(s) of the Church.

Monsignor Schuler was keen to point out that the Council prescribes the treasury of sacred music to be preserved and cultivated with great care and that choirs should be diligently fostered. And that the Council also admits Gregorian Chant as proper to the Roman liturgy, and orders that it be given primacy in the liturgical action while ordering that the organ should be held in great esteem as the traditional musical instrument of the Latin Church.

All of this leads us to today. It is a matter crucial to this moment in history, to help the next generation achieve the correct viewpoint and valid evaluation of the Council's wishes in the midst of many divergent voices and confusing polemics. This book should be a mandatory textbook for seminary formation. 

The challenge, according to Monsignor Schuler, is to truly understand what the Council Fathers really actually intended to say in the original documents. Through his writings, Monsignor goes to great lengths to show what the Council Fathers meant by the meaning of actuosa participatio populi, in theory and in practice. First and foremost, this "active participation" is spiritual and internal (i.e. if the participation of one singing is active, not less active is the task of the one who listens to the chant in the same liturgical action).

This wonderful book helps communicate Monsignor Schuler's vast knowledge, deep insights, and immense devotion to the true interpretation of the Council and his firm conviction that the liturgy is a true school of reverence. The book articulates in clear language his immense love for the Church's musical patrimony as a universal gift, part of the Church's immemorial tradition, something to be preserved and fostered for future generations, with the heavenly liturgy as the goal of our earthly worship.

I have no doubt this book will be a great success. I encourage readers to click here for more information and to purchase a copy for a priest. The official book launch was yesterday and the book is now available for purchase HERE

Below is the Table of Contents: 

And one final note. Monsignor Schuler was no fool. He actively helped organize and participate in the Fifth International Church Music Congress that was held in Chicago and Milwaukee from August 21-28, 1966. The sponsor of the event was the excellent Consociatio Internationalis Musicae Sacrae in collaboration with the Church Music Association of America. There was great hope in the air. This was the first such conference since the closing of the Council. Although the papers delivered at the Congress were by and large excellent, unfortunately, the uncertain future of the Congress was already being derailed by progressive elements that had infiltrated the scene. Within a few years Monsignor Schuler wrote in the official record of the Congress: 

"But when, on the contrary, those in high places in the Concilium established as a principle for implementing the Constitution that 'it is not the letter but rather the spirit of the Constitution that is important,' then more and more in the liturgical practices of the post-conciliar period deviations from the true intentions of the Fathers of the Council have understandably appeared. The shimmering words of that slogan remind the church musician of much new music that was said to have been written 'in the spirit of Gregorian chant,' when in reality most of it could not even be called music." (Source: Sacred Music and Liturgy Reform After Vatican II, edited by Mons. Johannes Overath, Rome, 1969, p. 9)


If you enjoy John Sonnen's content on LAJ,  why not 
make a donation to him? You can choose the amount and it goes directly to him.

Why not also consider subscribing monthly/yearly to Liturgical Arts Journal? Choose the amount for yourself. Your support of LAJ and its writers makes all the difference.

Join in the conversation on our Facebook page.