Pope Benedict received in audience the “Saint Cecilia Association”, on the occasion of a congress of liturgical choirs taking place in Rome.
The reports on the Holy Father’s address were rather thin and I haven’t seen anything about this in English. However, in the Italian original I noticed some thoughts of the Holy Father that confirm and strengthen positions I have been trying to emphasize for many years.
Here is the last part of the Pope Benedict’s address in my fast translation:
The second aspect that I propose for your reflection is the relationship between sacred song and the new evangelization. The Conciliar Constitution on the liturgy calls to mind the importance of sacred music in the mission ad gentes and urges an appreciation of the musical traditions of peoples (cf 119). But also in countries of ancient evangelization, as is Italy, sacred music can have, and in fact does have, a relevant task, to foster the rediscovery of God, a renewed approach to the Christian message and to the mysteries of the Faith. Let us think about the famous experience of Paul Claudel, who converted while listening to the singing of the Magnificat during Vespers of Christmas in the Cathedral of Notre Dame in Paris: “In that moment”, he wrote, “an event happened that dominates my whole life. In an instant my heart was touched and I believed. I believed with a force of adhesion so great, with such a lifting of all my being, with a conviction so powerful, in a certainty that would not leave room for any kind of doubt that, from that point onward, no reasoning, no circumstance of my agitated life could either shake my faith or touch it.” But, without bothering with illustrious people, let’s think about how many people have been touched in the depth of their soul listening to sacred music; and even more how many felt themselves attracted anew towards God by the beauty of liturgical music as was Claudel. [NB] And here, dear friends, you have an important role: commit yourselves to improve the quality of liturgical singing, without fearing to recover and to make use of the great musical tradition of the Church, which in Gregorian (chant) and in polyphony have two of the highest expressions, as the same Vatican II affirms (cf Sacrosanctum Concilium 116). And I would like to underscore that active participation of the whole People of God in the liturgy does not consist only in speaking, but also in listening, in receiving the Word with the senses and with the spirit, and this goes also for liturgical music. [This is my constant point of “active receptivity”.] You, who have the gift of singing, can make the hearts of so many people sing in liturgical celebrations.
Note that the Holy Father isn’t just talking about Holy Mass. He is talking about liturgical celebrations. He uses the example of Vespers. Vespers is a liturgical celebration. Vatican II mandated that vespers be fostered in churches.
But be sure not to miss that point about participation by listening. Listening is not passive when the mind and heart are engaged by the will. Close listening is active reception.
Moreover, the Holy Father spoke of the sort of music that we are to use in liturgical services: sacred music. The texts and the musical idiom must be sacred.
Also, the Holy Father urged them not to be afraid of the treasury of the Church’s sacred music, especially Gregorian chant and polyphonic music. We must reopen the treasury and make use of our patrimony. It will take courage to open the treasury, but also courage to use what is inside. Some people of a certain age have a visceral reaction to the use of anything “old”, as if by using it, even thinking that it is good, is an attack on their persons. The sight of a traditional vestment or the sound of Latin or chant provokes many of them to a blind suspicion that their lives are being questioned, so bound up is their identity with the iconoclastic upheaval of the halcyon 60’s and 70’s.
Let this Year of Faith see a revival of sacred music.