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Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Singing the praises of Gregorian Chant


On Monday, I wrote a post regarding Sandro Magister's article on the state of liturgical music under Pope Benedict XVI.   This morning, in the Vatican Information Services daily Bolletino, comes the actual text of the letter that Pope Benedict XVI wrote to the Pontifical Institute of Sacred Music.  The good folks at Zenit graciously translated this important document into English:

To the Venerable Brother
Cardinal Zenon Grocholewski
Grand Chancellor of the Pontifical Institute of Sacred Music

One hundred years have gone by since my holy predecessor Pius X founded the Higher School of Sacred Music, elevated to Pontifical Institute after twenty years by Pope Pius XI. This important event is a reason for joy for all the cultivators of sacred music, but more in general for all those, beginning of course with the pastors of the Church, who give weight to the importance of the Liturgy, of which sacred singing is an integral part (cf. Ecumenical Vatican Council II, Constitution "Sacrosanctum Concilium," No. 112). Hence, I am particularly happy to express my sincere congratulations for this event and to formulate to you, venerable brother, to the director and to all the community of the Pontifical Institute of Sacred Music my cordial wishes.

This institute, which depends on the Holy See, forms part of the singular academic reality constituted by the Pontifical Roman Universities. In a special way, it is linked to the St. Anselm Athenaeum and to the Benedictine Order, as attested also by the fact that its didactic headquarters are located, since 1983, in the abbey of St. Jerome in Urbe, whereas the legal and historical headquarters continue to be in Sant'Apollinare. On celebrating the centenary, my thought goes to all those -- and only the Lord knows them perfectly -- who cooperated in some way in the activity of the Higher School, before and after the Pontifical Institute of Sacred Music: from the Superiors who succeeded one another in its direction, to the illustrious professors, to the generations of pupils. Added to the thanksgiving to God for the many gifts granted is the recognition of all that each one has given the Church, cultivating musical art at the service of divine worship.

To understand clearly the identity and mission of the Pontifical Institute of Sacred Music, it is opportune to recall that Pope Saint Pius X founded it eight years after having issued the Motu Proprio Tra le sollecitudini, of Nov. 22, 1903, with which he carried out a profound reform in the field of sacred music, returning to the great tradition of the Church against the influences exercised by profane music, especially operatic. This masterful intervention needed, for its realization in the universal Church, a center of study and teaching that could transmit, in a faithful and qualified way, the lines indicated by the Supreme Pontiff, in keeping with the authentic and glorious tradition that goes back to St. Gregory the Great. Hence, in the span of the last one hundred years, this institution has assimilated, elaborated and transmitted the doctrinal and pastoral contents of the Pontifical Documents, as well as of Vatican Council II, concerning sacred music, so that they can illumine and guide the work of composers, of chapel maestros, of liturgists, of musicians and of all formators in this field.

In this connection, I wish to highlight a fundamental aspect that is particularly dear to me: how the essential continuity of the teaching on sacred music in the Liturgy has been perceived since St. Pius X up til today, despite the natural evolution. In particular, the Pontiffs Paul VI and John Paul II, in the light of the conciliar constitution "Sacrosanctum Concilium," wished to reaffirm the end of sacred music, namely, "the glory of God and the sanctification of the faithful" (No. 112), and the fundamental criteria of Tradition, which I limit myself to recall: the sense of prayer, of dignity and of beauty; the full adherence to the texts and to the liturgical gestures; the involvement of the assembly and, finally, the legitimate adaptation to the local culture, preserving at the same time the universality of the language; the primacy of Gregorian chant, as supreme model of sacred music, and the wise appreciation of the other expressive forms which form part of the historical-liturgical patrimony of the Church, especially but not only, polyphony; the importance of the "schola cantorum," in particular in the cathedral churches. They are important criteria, which must be considered carefully also today.

At times, in fact, these elements, which are found in "Sacrosanctum Concilium," such as, in fact, the value of the great ecclesial patrimony of sacred music or the universality that is characteristic of Gregorian chant, were considered expressions of a conception that responded to a past to be overcome and neglected, because it limited the liberty and creativity of the individual and the communities. However, we must always ask ourselves again: Who is the authentic subject of the liturgy? The answer is simple: the Church. Not the individual or the group that celebrates the liturgy, it is first of all the action of God through the Church, which has her history, her rich tradition and her creativity.

The liturgy, and consequently sacred music, "lives from a correct and constant relation between healthy 'traditio' and legitimate 'progressio,'" keeping very present that these two concepts -- that the conciliar Fathers clearly underscore -- integrate mutually because "tradition is a living reality that, because of this, includes in itself the principle of development, of progress" (Address to the Pontifical Liturgical Institute, May 6, 2011).

All this, venerable Brother, forms, so to speak, the "daily bread" of the life and work of the Pontifical Institute of Sacred Music. On the basis of these solid and sure elements, to which are added an age-old experience, I encouraged you to carry on with renewed impetus and commitment your service in the professional formation of the students, so that they acquire a serious and profound competency in the different disciplines of sacred music. Thus, this Pontifical Institute will continue to offer a valid contribution for the formation, in this field, of the pastors and lay faithful in the different particular Churches, fostering also an adequate discernment of the quality of the musical compositions used in liturgical celebrations. For these important ends you can count on my constant solicitude, supported by a particular remembrance in prayer, which a entrust to the heavenly intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary and of Saint Cecilia, while wishing copious fruits from the centenary celebrations, I impart from my heart to you, to the director, to the professors, to the staff and to all the pupils of the Institute a special Apostolic Blessing.

In the Vatican, May 13, 2011

What I highlighted in bold, red letters struck me as significant.  Even though the Holy Father did not outright say it, the same problems that plagued the Church back in 1903 are still quite prevelant in liturgical music today.   What "operatic" music was to Pope St. Pius X is what the folk/soft-pop/jazz/blues/Mariachi  genres are to Pope Benedict XVI.  Once again, the music used in the Mass today stands in much need (if not greater need) of purification.

The next points that the Holy Father makes fall along the same lines as his argument concerning the hermeneutic of continuity and the liturgy.  Just as there have been false arguments that the Second Vatican Council eradicated the use of Latin in the Mass, there seems to be this mistaken notion that the same Council also did away with Gregorian Chant, even though Musicam Sacram, published in 1967 after Vatican II, specifically gave pride of place to it.

The Holy Father makes a case that Gregorian Chant does, in fact, retain its pride of place within the sacred liturgy, to the point that it is the supreme model for sacred music.  He even urges that scholas be in place at diocesan Cathedrals.  In my own case, he does strike a particular chord for me.  Redemptionis Sacramentum states that the diocesan cathedral should set the standard for how the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass is to be celebrated.  This also includes the kind of music that is used.  Mariachi music has become a regular staple at the cathedral Mass down here in the South Texas hinterland (although, in fairness, these past two weeks, the organ has made a return).   However, there is no schola in place, something that the documents, most recently, Sacramentum Caritatis, recommend.  Pope Benedict XVI, in this particular letter, once again renews that call for such to exist.  Perhaps it is time that those dioceses that do not have a schola should consider the possibility of forming one, especially for diocesan liturgies (the Chrism Mass, the Red Mass, the White Mass, ordinations and anniversary celebrations) so as to set the tone for how the liturgies should be celebrated in their particular areas.

Now, Pope Benedict XVI is not shutting the door completely to modern developments.  As he rightly states, there needs to be "healthy Traditio and legitimate Progressio".  To that end, composers such as Fr. Sam Weber, OSB, and the folks at the Church Musici Association of America, have made solid contribution to the Church's treasury of sacred music.  While these composers are not affiliated with the Big Three publishing houses (OCP, GIA and WLP), they independently compose sacred works that do show a strong hermeneutic of continuity with the Church's liturgical tradition.  With all due respect, I cannot say the same for the works by composers such as Dan Schutte, Bob Hurd, Ken Canebo, Marty Haugen and David Haas.  They seem to me to be more along the lines of the hermeneutic of discontinuity.

I pray that composers read the Holy Father's works and take them to heart.  In the coming months, the Church, at least here in the United States, will be using a revised English translation of the Roman Missal that restores the beauty and grandeur of sacral language.  These noble words deserve to have musical settings that are compatible to the sacred realities they are meant to convey.

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