At New Liturgical Movement, Peter Kwasniewski has a brief piece commemorating the fiftieth anniversary of Sacrificium laudis, Paul VI’s 1966 apostolic letter to religious exhorting them to retain the choral office in Latin. Kwasniewski’s essay includes a translation by the eminent English Dominican, Fr. Thomas Crean, of Paul’s letter. Echoing a point we have made here before, Kwasniewski observes:
But in many ways the greatest tragedy of the postconciliar period was the sudden, dramatic, worldwide collapse of religious life, especially in its contemplative branches, and the disappearance, as if overnight, of the chanting of the Divine Office in Gregorian chant. It was an anti-miracle, so to speak — a feat of Satan who, appearing as an angel of light, lured the religious to their doom. The praises of God, which had been sung day and night for well over a millennium with melodies more beautiful than any the world has ever birthed before or since, fell silent, with the silence of the tomb.
And yet, Pope Paul VI, in words no less clear, stalwart, principled, and prophetic than those he uttered about birth control in Humanae Vitae, urged religious in 1966 to uphold their traditional choral office at all costs, for it was their special contribution to the life, health, and growth of the Mystical Body. While it is true that Paul VI, with his self-admitted Hamlet syndrome, walked a zigzag path in contrary directions, seeming to be trapped in the torments and doubts of his age, he nevertheless rose above the churning waters now and again to speak a clear word that, had it only been followed, would have been a blessing for the Church.
(Emphasis supplied.) For example, consider this passage from Pope Paul:
What is in question here is not only the retention within the choral office of the Latin language, though it is of course right that this should be eagerly guarded and should certainly not be lightly esteemed. For this language is, within the Latin Church, an abundant well-spring of Christian civilisation and a very rich treasure-trove of devotion. But it is also the seemliness, the beauty and the native strength of these prayers and canticles which is at stake: the choral office itself, ‘the lovely voice of the Church in song’ (Cf. St Augustine’s Confessions, Bk 9, 6). Your founders and teachers, the holy ones who are as it were so many lights within your religious families, have transmitted this to you. The traditions of the elders, your glory throughout long ages, must not be belittled. Indeed, your manner of celebrating the choral office has been one of the chief reasons why these families of yours have lasted so long, and happily increased. It is thus most surprising that under the influence of a sudden agitation, some now think that it should be given up.
In present conditions, what words or melodies could replace the forms of Catholic devotion which you have used until now? You should reflect and carefully consider whether things would not be worse, should this fine inheritance be discarded. It is to be feared that the choral office would turn into a mere bland recitation, suffering from poverty and begetting weariness, as you yourselves would perhaps be the first to experience. One can also wonder whether men would come in such numbers to your churches in quest of the sacred prayer, if its ancient and native tongue, joined to a chant full of grave beauty, resounded no more within your walls. We therefore ask all those to whom it pertains, to ponder what they wish to give up, and not to let that spring run dry from which, until the present, they have themselves drunk deep.
(Emphasis supplied.) Read the whole thing there.