I would like to answer the question: "when was the golden age?"
For me, the golden age was the early sixties. Music at mass was very rare in those days, and easily avoided. I go to mass to pray and to offer sacrifice through the priest to God. Music does get in the way of that, and I would be happy to do without it. That said, the opinion of the council was that mass should have music, so I go along with that and have been helping to provide liturgical music for most of my life. The church then places two aims before musicians: to foster the singing of the assembly, particularly in those parts of the mass, and to preserve and expand the treasures of the church's repertoire of sacred music. Some musicians simply pick one of these aims and ignore the other, depending on their personal likes and dislikes. Surely this is disloyalty? The two aims can both be accommodated provided that we don't stick to one all the time. I thought that the Liverpool midnight mass achieved a good balance. The Widor was thrilling and prayerful, moving skillfully between moods, particularly in the gloria. The congregation sang carols, and Credo III. Alright, they did not sing everything which a congregation could have sung, but is that a cause for concern? Should the Widor be preserved only in some sort of museum, perhaps the vaults of the Bodleian? I think that to do so would be to fail the council in its stated intent.
For many parishes the music has to be simple, due to the lack of trained musicians. Many parishes don't even have a passable cantor. I have sat through a good many excruciating responsorial psalms. Hymns of one sort or another all very much the limit of what can be achieved. To add a bit of flavour to a feastday, the communion antiphon from the Graduale Romanum is about as much as most parish choirs can manage, once or twice a year. Communion goes on long enough to get a hymn in as well if you want. For the rest of the year, there are plenty of simple hymns in styles to suit most people.
People do seem to love to knock mass VIII. It is not quite Gregorian Chant, I know, but it is a passable substitute, and congregations cope with it fairly well if they sing it often enough. In my experience about ten times a year is enough. You cannot hope to teach a congregation all eighteen masses from the Kyriale: it is better to be content with one. Some people then moan about it becoming a bit of an old chestnut: you hear it everywhere you go. In my opinion that is actually a good thing. It gets to be like the football supporters songs that many clubs have. We sing it together, often, and it gives us a sense of community. Don't knock it.
I am pleased with Laudate in many ways. It is a much more tasteful and usable collection that the alternatives. I do have a few moans about it though. The music desperately needs proof reading. Do they not have someone who can play slowly and carefully through the two volumes and mark up the errors? The other moan is about the watering down of the words. A certain amount of changing words is probably justifiable because the meaning of words changes. The Victorians used "awful" to mean what we term "awesome", I think. However, some hymns have been very degraded. "God of mercy and compassion" comes to my mind.
We have a problem with fashion in music. In the sixties, people who were fairly young then introduced styles of music that were very much what they found fashionable. The example that springs to mind is the much derided "Songs of the Spirit." No succeeding generation has done anything quite like it. In particular, we have avoided "heavier" forms of rock. Was that a good idea? A lot of young people listen to little else.
I am myself very much a classical musician, but I do try to use a variety of other styles because I know other people appreciate them more than I do, but they give me a problem. Classical music often carries meaning without the words. I feel that I understand songs in foreign languages because of the emotion in the music itself. I'm often wrong, but I still feel it. "Lighter" music doesn't do that to me. It often doesn't seem to reinforce the words.
Perhaps the question is the wrong one. We should be asking ourselves what should we do in 2011 to make 2012 the start of the next golden age which will grow ever more golden as the years go on in saecula saeculorum. (I couldn't resist that.)
Happy new year/ Blwddyn newydd hapus i bawb.