I have been for a long time that the Pope has a kind of "Marshall Plan" for the Church. He is trying to revive, rebuild, reinvigorate many sectors of the Church after the devastation of the last decades.
Despite the happy gas blown around hither and yon, things in the Church aren’t actually so rosy these days, unless of course you wear rose colored glasses… which make it hard, by the way, to read rubrics.
I contend that Summorum Pontificum is a major component in the Benedictine Marshall Plan. For Benedict, we are our rites. If the Eucharist (the Sacrament and the celebration) ar the source and summit of Christian life, then liturgy is all important. Save the Liturgy, Save the World, after all.
Other people are noticing the Pope’s agenda.
For example, the gentlemanly Sandro Magister had a very good piece about how the Pope is underscoring sacred music. It deserves a close reading.
Here it is, somewhat edited, with my emphases and comments.
A New Musical Season Opens at the Vatican – And Here’s the Program [Even in translation, the perfect word choice for a title]
Pope Ratzinger seems to be stepping up the tempo. The curia will have a new office with authority in the field of sacred music. And the choir of the Sistine Chapel is getting a new director
by Sandro Magister
ROMA, October 18, 2007 – In the span of just a few days, a series of events have unfolded at the Vatican which, taken all together, foretell new provisions – at the pope’s behest – to foster the rebirth of great sacred music. [He has a plan.]
[1st] The first of these events took place on Monday, October 8. On that morning, Benedict XVI held an audience with the "chapter" of Saint Peter’s basilica –
The pope reminded them that "it is necessary that, beside the tomb of Peter, there be a stable community of prayer to guarantee continuity with tradition."
One example the pope gave to the chapter of St. Peter’s was the celebration of the liturgy at the abbey of Heiligenkreutz, the flourishing monastery he had visited just a few weeks earlier in Austria. [Ironic that the Pope shouldhave to go to Austria to give the chapter a lesson in singing the Roman liturgy, but let that pass…]
In effect, since just over a year ago, Gregorian chant has been restored as the primary form of singing for Mass and solemn Vespers in Saint Peter’s basilica.
The rebirth of Gregorian chant at St. Peter’s coincided with the appointment of a new choir director, who was chosen by the basilica chapter in February of 2006.
The new director, Pierre Paul, a Canadian and an Oblate of the Virgin Mary, has made a clean break with the practice established during the pontificate of John Paul II – and reaffirmed by the previous director, Pablo Colino – of bringing to sing at the Masses in St. Peter’s the most disparate choirs, drawn from all over the world, very uneven in quality and often inadequate.
Fr. Paul put the gradual and the antiphonal back into the hands of his singers, and taught them to sing Mass and Vespers in pure Gregorian chant. The faithful are also provided with booklets with the Gregorian notation for Kyrie, Gloria, Credo, Sanctus, Agnus Dei, and the translation of the texts in Italian, English, and Spanish. The results are liturgically exemplary celebrations, with increasing participation from a growing number of faithful from many nations. [Gee! What a surprise!]
[2nd] The second event took place on Wednesday, October 10, again in Saint Peter’s Basilica. The orchestra and choir of Humboldt Universität in Berlin, conducted by Constantin Alex, performed the Mass "Tu es Petrus," composed in honor of Joseph Ratzinger’s eightieth birthday by the German musician Wolfgang Seifein, who was present at the organ. [I wrote about this event.]
Make no mistake: this was not a concert, but a real Mass. Exactly like on November 19 of last year, when in St. Peter’s (see photo) the Wiener Philarmoniker provided the musical accompaniment for the Eucharistic liturgy celebrated by cardinal Christoph Schönborn, with the Krönungsmesse K 317 by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.
[3rd] The third event is Benedict XVI’s visit to the Pontifical Institute of Sacred Music, on the morning of Saturday, October 13.
He also confirmed that "three characteristics distinguish sacred liturgical music: sanctity, true art, and universality, meaning its ability to be used regardless of the nature or nationality of the assembly." [What an incredible vindication of the constant drumbeat kept up in the dark years by the late Msgr. Richard Schuler, well-known to the Holy Father (he sent a telegram for Msgr. Schuler’s funeral!) and Msgr. Georg Ratzinger, another great Church musician.]
And he continued:
"Precisely in view of this, ecclesiastical authorities must devote themselves to guiding wisely the development of such a demanding genre of music, not by sealing off its repository, [Msgr. Schuler used to talk about "opening up the treasury".] but by seeking to insert into the heritage of the past the legitimate additions of the present, in order to arrive at a synthesis worthy of the high mission reserved to it in the divine service. I am certain that the Pontifical Institute of Sacred Music, in harmonious agreement with the congregation for divine worship, will not fail to offer its contribution for an ‘updating’, adapted to our time, of the abundant and valuable traditions found in sacred music."
This expectation could soon be followed by the institution, in the Roman curia, of an office endowed with authority in the area of sacred music. It is already known that, as a cardinal, Ratzinger maintained that the institution of such an office was necessary. [Interesting, no?]
But Benedict XVI has also made clear his preferences in regard to the type of sacred music that should be promoted.
In his speech to the Pontifical Institute of Sacred Music, the pope mentioned the name of only one living "maestro" of great sacred music: Domenico Bartolucci, 91, who was seated in the front row and whom the pope later greeted with great warmth. [Read this carefully.]
Bartolucci was removed from his position as director of the papal choir of the Sistine Chapel in 1997. And his expulsion – supported by the pontifical master of ceremonies at the time, Piero Marini [What an impact he had.] – marked the general abandonment in the papal liturgies of the Roman style, characterized by great polyphonic music and Gregorian chant, of which Bartolucci is an outstanding interpreter. [BULLSEYE! It was a terrible scandal in Rome, years ago, when Bartolucci, who was the Maestro in perpetuo of the Sistina, was so unceremoniously (or rather very "ceremoniously" given the heave-ho. Everyone knew what happened.]
The only group that remained to keep this style alive in the papal basilicas of Rome was the Cappella Liberiana of the basilica of Saint Mary Major, directed since 1970 by Valentino Miserachs Grau, who succeeded Bartolucci in this role.
Miserachs is also the head of the Pontifical Institute of Sacred Music, to which the pope has entrusted the task of "guiding wisely the development of such a demanding genre of music."
Bartolucci and Miserachs: this is Benedict XVI’s dual point of reference, in Rome, in the field of liturgical music. [I have heard Miserachs speak a few times. He is such a breath of fresh air in his approach to music and liturgy after the horrible times from which we are now happily emerging.]
* * *
[4th ]The fourth event, which came shortly before the first three, was the replacement, on October 1, of the director of pontifical liturgical celebrations.
To replace Piero Marini – who will go to preside over the pontifical committee for international Eucharistic congresses – the call went out to Genoa, to Guido Marini, who’s close to his predecessor in name, but to pope Ratzinger in substance.
The removal of Piero Marini leaves unprotected the man he had brought in, in 1997, to direct the Cappella Sistina after Bartolucci’s dismissal: Giuseppe Liberto.
As director of the choir that accompanies the papal liturgies, Liberto is not the right man for the current pope. It’s enough to read what was written about him in the authoritative "International Church Music Review" by an expert in this field, Dobszay László of Hungary, in commenting on the inaugural Mass of Benedict XVI’s pontificate:
"The election of pope Benedict XVI gave hope and joy for all who love true liturgy and liturgical music. Following the inaugural Mass on the tv-screen we were deeply moved by Holy Father’s celebration and sermon.
"As the Mass went ahead, however, we became more and more unhappy with its musical feature. Most of what was sung is a very poor music; Gregorian chant was not more than pretext for a home-composer to display himself. The choir cannot be proud on anything except the old nimbus. The singers wanted to overshout each other, they were frequently out of tune, the sound uneven, the conducting without any artistic power, the organ and organplaying like in a second-rank country parish-church. [We used to call the the "Sistine Screamers". PHEW were they awful!]
"The poor quality of music was the consequence of another fault: the awkward and arbitrary fabrication (by Marini?) of the liturgical texts (proprium), [BULLSEYE again! Isn’t this the case? Marini just made up his own rites and Liberto set aside the Church’s "standard" and imposed his own schlock compositions. I have heard Liberto speak twice. The first time was at a day’s conference sponsored by the Congregation for Divine Worship and Discipline of the Sacraments. He was to talk for about 15 minutes… he took almost 45! All the time pushing nothing but his own weird view of music. The occassion? The anniversary of Pius X’s motu proprio on Sacred Music. It was awful.] that practically excluded the ‘precious treasury of Church music’ (cf. Sacrosanctum Concilium). A formula missae selected from the proper of the Roman Liturgy could have good influence on the music, too. Somebody, however, got again onto the path of vane glory and conceded to the temptation of voluntarism. Our happiness has been spoilt."
The director of the "International Church Music Review," a publication in four languages, is Giacomo Baroffio, a towering scholar of Gregorian chant and the head of the Pontifical Institute of Sacred Music before Miserachs.
* * *
[5th] One final event must be added to the events already mentioned, one that provides background for all the others. It is the promulgation of the motu proprio "Summorum Pontificum," by which Benedict XVI liberalized the ancient rite of the Mass. [Yes… this is the centerpiece of Benedict’s plan, make no mistake.]
It is increasingly evident that with this decision, pope Ratzinger wanted to make it possible for the modern liturgies to regain the richness of the ancient rite that they are in danger of losing: a richness of theology, textual form, and music.
It is no accident that maestro Bartolucci’s first words to the pope, during their brief conversation on Saturday, October 13, were a "thank you!" for the promulgation of the motu proprio.