Friday, March 22, 2013

Benedict XVI on Sacred Music

Cornelius Sullivan
March 23, 2013
Saint Cecilia and the Angel, Carlo Saraceni, c. 1610,
 Oil, Galleria Nazionale d'Arte Antica, Rome

Pope Benedict makes the case against dumbed down music in Church because it is music to praise God. He brings to this discussion equal expertise in knowledge of proper liturgy and a thorough knowledge of culture in general. As with his gentle hand in guiding the Church toward reverential liturgy and his balanced interpretation of implementing Vatican II, he honors tradition and at the same time encourages creativity. He understands that Sacred Music praises God. Formerly, the orientation facing the altar was correct for praising God rather than the stance of a concert where
everyone sings. 

There are times, for example after Communion, where the music was appropriately hushed and distant for that time of quiet personal prayer, not with an “in your face” ever present aggressiveness demanding attention. And everyone singing, priest and congregation, should not be an end in itself.
As Pope Benedict said

Active Participation –“Wherever an exaggerated concept of "community" predominates, a concept which is (as we have already seen) completely unrealistic precisely in a highly mobile society such as ours, there only the priest and the congregation can be acknowledged as legitimate executors or performers of liturgical song. Today, practically everyone can see through the primitive activism and the insipid pedagogic rationalism of such a position which is why it is now asserted so seldom. The fact that the schola and the choir can also contribute to the whole picture, is scarcely denied any more, even among those who erroneously interpret the council's phrase about "active participation" as meaning external activism.” 1
If there is any feeling that art or the liturgy should be made to  match young people’s sensibilities, one should heed the advice of Flannery O’Connor on the duty of teachers to educate and elevate taste. For a student, “His taste should not be consulted; it is being formed.”

Pope Benedict has contributed greatly with his inspired instructions on the use of Sacred Music in the Liturgy. 

Development in Sacred Music- "An authentic updating of sacred music can take place only in the lineage of the great tradition of the past, of Gregorian chant and sacred polyphony." 2

Trent and Music- “In the West, in the form of Gregorian chant, the inherited tradition of psalm-singing was developed to a new sublimity and purity, which set a permanent standard for sacred music, music for the liturgy of the Church.… Church music and secular music are now each influenced by the other. It is clear that these opportunities for artistic creativity and the adoption of secular tunes brought danger with them. Music was no longer developing out of prayer, but, with the new demand for artistic autonomy, was now heading away from the liturgy; it was becoming an end in itself, opening the door to new, very different. ways of feeling and of experiencing the world. Music was alienating the liturgy from its true nature. At this point the Council of Trent intervened in the culture war that had broken out. It was made a norm that liturgical music should be at the service of the Word; the use of instruments was substantially reduced; and the difference between secular and sacred music was clearly affirmed.”  3 

Sacred vs. Performance –“Whether it is Bach or Mozart that we hear in church, we have a sense in either case of what Gloria Dei, the glory of God, means. The mystery of infinite beauty is there and enables us to experience the presence of God more truly and vividly than in many sermons. But there are already signs of danger to come. Subjective experience and passion are still held in check by the order of the musical universe, reflecting as it does the order of the divine creation itself. But there is already the threat of invasion by the virtuoso mentality, the vanity of technique, which is no longer the servant of the whole but wants to push itself to the fore. During the nineteenth century, the century of self-emancipating subjectivity, this led in many places to the obscuring of the sacred by the operatic. The dangers that had forced the Council of Trent to intervene were back again. In similar fashion, Pope Pius X tried to remove the operatic element from the liturgy and declared Gregorian chant and the great polyphony of the age of the Catholic Reformation (of which Palestrina was the outstanding representative) to be the standard for liturgical music.

“A clear distinction was made between liturgical music and religious music in general, just as visual art in the liturgy has to conform to different standards from those employed in religious art in general. Art in the liturgy has a very specific responsibility, and precisely as such does it serve as a wellspring of culture, which in the final analysis owes its existence to cult.” 4

“Not every kind of music can have a place in Christian worship. It has its standards, and that standard is the Logos. If we want to know whom we are dealing with, the Holy Spirit or the unholy spirit, we have to remember that it is the Holy Spirit who moves us to say, ‘Jesus is Lord’ (Cor 12:3). The Holy Spirit leads us to the Logos, and he leads us to a music that serves the Logos as a sign of the sursum corda, the lifting up of the human heart. Does it integrate man by drawing him to what is above, or does it cause his disintegration into formless intoxication or mere sensuality? That is the criterion for a music in harmony with logos, a form of that logike latreia (reasonable, logos-worthy worship)…” 5

1. "In the Presence of the Angels..." Adoremus Bulletin, Vol. 2, Nos. 6-8, Oct-Dec. 1996). 
2.. Speaking in the Sistine Chapel following a tribute concert to Dominico Bartolucci, June 24, 2006.]
3. The Spirit of the Liturgy (SF, CA: Ignatius, 2000), pp. 146-47
4. Ibid, p. 148
5. Ibid, p. 151

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