An excerpt of the Holy Father’s Midnight Mass sermon: liturgical song

In the Holy Father’s Midnight Mass sermon there is a good and profound thought about liturgy, indeed, liturgical music. 

Watch the movement of the Holy Father’s thought.  He moves from the unification of God and Man in the Word made flesh who began to dwell among us on Christmas.  However, he also speaks of the material universe and the heavens uniting.  A sign of the harmony of heaven and earth can be found in sacred music in the liturgy.  Remember that liturgy is an encounter with MYSTERY.  It is no accident that we sing O magnum mysterium at Christmas.  

Here is the excerpt from the Holy Father’s sermon with my emphases. He has quoted Gregory of Nyssa and St. Anselm and made a fascinating arguement for concern for the earth’s environment.  Then, he moves to this:

The Earth is restored to good order by virtue of the fact that it is opened up to God, it obtains its true light anew, and in the harmony between human will and divine will, in the unification of height and depth, it regains its beauty and dignity. Thus Christmas is a feast of restored creation. It is in this context that the Fathers interpret the song of the angels on that holy night: it is an expression of joy over the fact that the height and the depth, Heaven and Earth, are once more united; that man is again united to God. According to the Fathers, part of the angels’ Christmas song is the fact that now angels and men can sing together and in this way the beauty of the universe is expressed in the beauty of the song of praise. Liturgical song – still according to the Fathers – possesses its own peculiar dignity through the fact that it is sung together with the celestial choirs. It is the encounter with Jesus Christ that makes us capable of hearing the song of the angels, thus creating the real music that fades away when we lose this singing-with and hearing-with.

A marvelous gloss on sacred music and what it does in the liturgy.  It is a sign of, and a creator of, unity between heaven and earth, man and the heavenly choir before God’s throne in anticipation of what will come in fullness only after Christ’s final Coming.

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21 Responses to An excerpt of the Holy Father’s Midnight Mass sermon: liturgical song

  1. Diane says:

    Merry Christmas Father Z!

    We were blessed with a Solemn High Mass at Grotto for our midnight Mass. I took many pictures and have a few posted already.

    God bless you on this glorious day!

  2. Mary Conces says:

    May you have a blessed Christmas season, Father Z.

    Thanks for your Herculean labors which back up the Holy Father’s brilliant championing of Catholic truth, which unites past and present with eternity and earth with heaven.

    Mary Conces

  3. Fr Z,

    As soon as I heard the Pope say those words, I knew you’d be ‘blogging them.

    Wishing you a blessed Christmas,

    Z.

  4. A most glorious and blessed Christmas to you on this Holy Day and thank you for all that you are doing! May God bless you and keep you close to him, always.

  5. RBrown says:

    The concept of the Incarnation uniting the Creator with the Creation is also found in Leo the Great–and adopted by St Thomas. It is, I think, an effective refuting to the theologia crucis that is found in Luther and much of Catholic theology during the 400 yr Counter Reformation period.

    IMHO, this theologia crucis had much to do with undermining the priesthood

  6. RBrown says:

    should be: antidote to the theologia crucis

  7. Zadok: Yes… it had to be done. They were simply too good.

  8. Fr Renzo di Lorenzo says:

    The risen Jesus still bears His wounds, an amazing theology of the cross by which I live as a very happy priest indeed. Luther had no true theology of the cross, for his justification by faith alone was a figment of his imagination which made Scripture and what he thought of as Tradition secondary. Trent, leading the counter-reformation so gloriously, understood the Sacrifice of the Mass (their/our theology of the cross) as central to the Catholic faith and priesthood.

    As we see in the Summa Contra Gentiles, God created the heavens and the earth for the redeemed Church. Foreknowledge? Yes. In view of redemption? Yes. Awesome? Way YES! I recommend a subscription to Revue Thomiste: http://www.revuethomiste.dominicains.com/spip.php?rubrique33

    The heavens and the earth created by the Word carry the logic of that Word, a reasoning which is not cold, but is the Living Truth of Charity God is. The Word resounds in us, each of us, and this is a symphony of God’s presence with us (Immanuel).

    Of course, maybe you, RBrown, have a different definition of the teologia crucis. Definitions are important. Maybe we totally agree!

  9. Chironomo says:

    It seems that he is trying to give a vivid enunciation, for the common man so to speak, of how liturgical music differs from other types of music. This realization is at the foundation of any further moves to work with the sacred music of the liturgy in a meaningful way. In the same way that it was necessary to make it clear that the 1962 Missal was never abrogated and so does not have to be “restored” to us, it has to be made clear that actual liturgical music has not been replaced with another type of liturgical music, but rather with a type of music that draws us away from rather than towards our worship of God. Until this is understood by all it will be very difficult to replace the current music of our Church with genuine liturgical music

  10. Chironomo says:

    Wow… that above post (from me) really rambled, didn’t it… going on 48 hours without sleep. Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to all of you!

  11. LeonG says:

    The liturgy must raise us up toward the Church Triumphant so that we may sing Sanctus, Sanctus, Sanctus Dominus Deus Sabaoth, together with the Heavenly Hosts. The key to understanding this lies within the terms of what constitutes the sacred, what is dignified and that which is truly restorative. Only music that brings Heaven and Earth together in unity and harmony is fitting. Alas! Popular and mass culture have trespassed impertinently on this domain for too long. Most of the musicless banalities that insolently occupied ecclesiastical time and space following the mid-1960s are little if ever used today, thanks be to God. However, some others still continue to offend ear and mouth. Only through restoring Latin as the major linguistic liturgical vehicle in the Roman Catholic Church will there be the necessary melodic unity and celestial harmony which gathers and does not scatter.

    This leaves place for some well-written, theologically sound and musical vernacular hymns but they should assume the role they once had.

    A Blessed Christmas to all. Thank you Father Zuhlsdorf for prayer & spiritual support throughout the year.

  12. RBrown says:

    The risen Jesus still bears His wounds, an amazing theology of the cross by which I live as a very happy priest indeed. Luther had no true theology of the cross, for his justification by faith alone was a figment of his imagination which made Scripture and what he thought of as Tradition secondary. Trent, leading the counter-reformation so gloriously, understood the Sacrifice of the Mass (their/our theology of the cross) as central to the Catholic faith and priesthood.
    As we see in the Summa Contra Gentiles, God created the heavens and the earth for the redeemed Church. Foreknowledge? Yes. In view of redemption? Yes. Awesome? Way YES! I recommend a subscription to Revue Thomiste: http://www.revuethomiste.dominicains.com/spip.php?rubrique33
    The heavens and the earth created by the Word carry the logic of that Word, a reasoning which is not cold, but is the Living Truth of Charity God is. The Word resounds in us, each of us, and this is a symphony of God’s presence with us (Immanuel).
    Of course, maybe you, RBrown, have a different definition of the teologia crucis. Definitions are important. Maybe we totally agree!
    Comment by Fr Renzo di Lorenzo

    1. Where in the SCG does St Thomas say that the Heavens and the Earth were created for the Redeemed Church? I am well aware of the Neo-Platonic strains in the SCG (cf Liber de Causis), but what you said seems more like Franciscan Voluntarism than the thought of St Thomas.

    N B: The creative act of bringing something into existence is an act of the will. Foreknowledge of a future contingency is not to be confused with the creative act itself. Thus: Just because God has foreknowledge that certain souls will be damned does not mean the He willed such in the act of creating them.

    2. Re Theologia crucis: This theology, which, as I said, goes back to Luther, overemphasizes Christ’s Passion and Death by underemphasizing the consequences of the Incarnation and Resurrection. Its foundation is an exaggerated understanding of the Kenosis that denigrates certain aspects of the Incarnation. It also brings with it a very negative anthropology.

    If you know St Thomas, you know that the genius of his Christology is that he keeps in balance the three components of Christ—the Incarnation, the Passion and Death, and the Resurrection.

    A superb way of understanding such balance is that St Thomas has two main principles of the Redemption. One–that it is effected by Christ’s Priestly offering of His Passion and Death (not unique). Two—that the Redemption begins at the first moment of the Incarnation (cf Leo the Great and the union of the Creator with the Creation). The obvious conclusion is that Christ’s Priestly Offering begins at the first moment of His Incarnation.

    BTW, last year I gave some lectures on this to the monks of Clear Creek Priory, the Fontgombault foundation in the US.

  13. Fr Renzo di Lorenzo says:

    RBrown, no one said God willed that any man sins. Anyway, I’m the first to say that “franciscan” voluntarism is rubbish. The Jesuit version is much worse. Oh… sorry… Is it forbidden to say that ! ? Apologies to Emilio, if he’s listening in!

    The understanding of the SCG mentioned above has been kicked around now for about ten years among the best of Thomists (who are all French… which must have something to do with Toulouse). Since you like Fontgombault, you are clearly an honerary Frenchman!

    A pioneering work on what Thomas himself says is now in its second year of preparation at your beloved Alma Mater. It will speak for itself when it comes time for the defense. You’ll know it has happened in that it will surely be publicized by the Revue Thomiste advertised above.

    It would be dishonest for me to speak more about this, doing a disservice to the student invovlved. I’m so tempted, but I can’t. You, having been a student, know this is true. But just to let you know, the student, as possibly yourself, reads everything in Latin, cover to cover. It’s amazing what is not put across in translations. At his lectio, the assisting professors were silenced, for the fast moving conversation between the young student and his professor was all in Latin, and with such precise argumentation, both citing from memory all relevant passages in Latin. The best exam that was probably ever seen there. I think you’ll immediately be able to agree with everything he writes, and rejoice even more in the brilliance of Thomas. Really, it’s amazing. But, time will tell. Keep up with the Revue.

    I have to say that I’m so happy to see this, for that student is noticing in Thomas what I’ve done in another thesis which is not on Thomas. That unity in Truth makes me rejoice. It’s the symphony that I mentioned, which is brought about by the Word of the Father resounding within us. The Liturgy emphasizes the symphony of the Word among us by incarnating, so to speak, the Sacred Mysteries in chant and Sacrement with the Sacrifice, now the Risen Christ whom we offer (still with the wounds upon Him!)

    Really, it seems we agree on much of this and the rest. Notice I speak immediately of the risen Jesus!

    God bless you, RBrown, in your apostolate to bring Thomas to the world. That’s being on the cutting edge, kind of a WDT-SCG-RS ? ! Good! Cheers.

  14. RBrown says:

    I assume you\’re referring to the question of desiderium naturale and potentia obedientialis in St Thomas, esp the texts on it in the SCG. Discussion on it goes back many years, mostly because of attempts to reinterpret St Thomas acc to Scotist theology. The SJ\’s were the prime movers in it. Along with a few French op\’s.

    In all honesty I must say that I am surprised how many are interested in it. I am very comfortable with the analogy of being and all its consequences.

    To me Sylvester Ferrara, the commentator on the SCG, admirably handles the problem.

  15. Fr Renzo di Lorenzo says:

    RBrown,

    I was feeling guilty about maybe having said too much about that student’s thesis. But I see that I haven’t, at all. Which is good. Sorry!

    I will say this, however. The reason that student and a few others in these very recent years are pioneering in their analysis of the Latin text of Thomas, is that they have this incredible ability to know the Latin text of Thomas, not only memorizing it and cross-indexing it their minds, but understanding it, seeing things which any dependence on commentaries destroys. Of course, no one is throwing out any comments of anyone, which would be horrifically contrary to the method of Thomas. Instead, these commentaries take a VERY distant second place.

    An analogy is the Liturgy involving the whole person in the Sacred Mysteries. Intense participation by way of intense reception — also with chant — is a universe apart from what is so very secondary, such as reading a mere commentary about it.

    Another analogy: Fr Z has the brilliant literal translations he does because any other version takes an extremely distant second place, if any place at all. If I had to use English, I would much, MUCH rather use the sometimes only slightly halting renditions of Fr Z for the reason that they express what has been hidden now for generations.

    Having said all that, the advert for the thesis is a real one. Anticipation isn’t a bad thing. Cheers!

  16. REF says:

    http://video.ap.org/v/default.aspx?g=a5c6f033-47be-4a20-9860-775d58fad068&f=dctms&fg=email

    In the above link to an AP videoclip of raw footage from the Holy Father’s Midnight Mass, (at about 1:00) I think the Holy Father is moving his lips during the incensation of the gifts and altar.

    Can the Incensation Prayers from the EF be used in the OF? Was it ever permitted at any time?

    Just curious as to what is permissible or forbidden.

    REF

  17. dad29 says:

    So–does Benedict XVI read Chesterton?

    The Christ-child stood on Mary’s knee,
    His hair was like a crown,
    And all the flowers looked up at Him,
    And all the stars looked down.

    There is Christus–between the earth’s flowers and the heavens’ stars…

    Hmmmmm?

  18. Michael Boyd says:

    Father,
    Having researched both the Catechism and Ott’s “Dogma…” I am confused as to whether Church teaching (or dogma, if considered different) is that Christ knew from conception that he would suffer and be crucified.
    Comments? Many thanks!

  19. RBrown says:

    I will say this, however. The reason that student and a few others in these very recent years are pioneering in their analysis of the Latin text of Thomas, is that they have this incredible ability to know the Latin text of Thomas, not only memorizing it and cross-indexing it their minds, but understanding it, seeing things which any dependence on commentaries destroys. Of course, no one is throwing out any comments of anyone, which would be horrifically contrary to the method of Thomas. Instead, these commentaries take a VERY distant second place.

    An analogy is the Liturgy involving the whole person in the Sacred Mysteries. Intense participation by way of intense reception—also with chant—is a universe apart from what is so very secondary, such as reading a mere commentary about it.

    Another analogy: Fr Z has the brilliant literal translations he does because any other version takes an extremely distant second place, if any place at all. If I had to use English, I would much, MUCH rather use the sometimes only slightly halting renditions of Fr Z for the reason that they express what has been hidden now for generations.

    Having said all that, the advert for the thesis is a real one. Anticipation isn’t a bad thing. Cheers!
    Comment by Fr Renzo di Lorenzo

    1. Actually, what I had read in Ferrara was what I had previously come up with myself some time before–that a desire to experience God as Cause is not the same as the desire to see God face to face. I referenced Ferrara simply because he is the commentator on the SCG.

    2. I use this hermeneutic rule: The best commentator on St Thomas is St Thomas himself. Thus, to understand what St Thomas says in one particular article in the ST, it is necessary to have read all the other articles. There is no text without context. Put in pedagogical terms, the part must be understood in light of the whole. This is why I have often recommended the Tour of the Summa to students–even with its deficiencies, it gives students a sense of the whole.

    3. Theology is a habit, and this habit is not gained by memorizing texts. In fact, too much familiarity with a particular text combined with not enough of the habit (gained by familiarity with the whole), the text is often interpreted according to someone’s own personal inclinations. De Lubac did this when he would cite St Thomas, and Rahner when he would cite Scripture.

    4. I am skeptical about “pioneering work” in theology, and especially, the thought of St Thomas. Any personal enlightenment in theology and philosophy can be considered pioneering from the subject’s standpoint as part of the process of understanding. But “new developments” in theology are usually just restatements of centuries old concepts.

    My reason for saying that is because theological and philosophical questions only have a few possible answers–either the truth or one of the two contrary errors.

  20. RBrown says:

    Chesterton is very popular in Germany, so I would think that JRatzinger has read GK’s 4 or 5 best works.

    Father,
    Having researched both the Catechism and Ott’s “Dogma…” I am confused as to whether Church teaching (or dogma, if considered different) is that Christ knew from conception that he would suffer and be crucified.
    Comments? Many thanks!
    Comment by Michael Boyd

    It is not a matter of dogma. But there is a link between Christ’s Priesthood and His knowledge–undermine His knowledge and His Priesthood is undermined.

  21. Fr Renzo di Lorenzo says:

    RBrown, ditto to all that.