The Pope on Gregorian chant

Papal ceremonies must set liturgical standards, Pope says

This is just the sort of news we need to spread around.

But first, a comment: I wrote this for the WDTPRS column for the 4th Sunday of Advent:

On 5 December I attended the annual conference on sacred music held by the Congregation for Divine Worship and Discipline of the Sacraments (CDWDS). His Eminence the Prefect, Francis Cardinal Arinze, presided and outgoing, indeed already out, Secretary Archbishop Domenico Sorrentino was moderator. Since the election of a Pope Benedict there has been a profound shift in “attitude” about sacred music. In the past, defenders of Gregorian chant and polyphony were nearly shouted down by the old-guard of musicians and liturgists pushing “lowest common denominator” music, the sort useful for what they think “active” congregational participation ought to be. In a nutshell, the old guard holds that chant and polyphony are too hard and that people are too thick; we can neither listen well nor grasp the music. In their passé view, “active” participation means that everyone must be singing. At this year’s conference proponents of what the Council asked for (chant and polyphony – therefore well trained choirs to which the congregation listens) spoke of the contemplative dimension of liturgy without which any liturgy inevitably dead-ends in a merely human experience. This doesn’t conflict with congregational singing, of course. This year, proponents of a rebirth of chant and polyphony dominated and were received by the participants with relief and enthusiastic applause. So much did this conference emphasize Latin chant and polyphony that Cardinal Arinze himself pointed out that settings of vernacular texts can also qualify as sacred music. Even during a discussion of inculturation, a speaker from Cameroon emphasized how chant and Latin, wide-spread and much desired in his country, also inculturates by underscoring our membership in one Catholic Church. The theology of Pope Benedict, writing as Cardinal Ratzinger, was at all times felt in this year’s meeting. There was a strong sense of how liturgy must lead to an experience of the supernatural: whereas spoken texts can take the participant only so far toward an experience of the supernatural, music and silence transcend the spoken word’s limitations and lead to an encounter with the true Word who is both the Father’s Song and perfect Singer.

If you don’t subscribe to CWN, you ought to. Now back to our story:

Papal ceremonies must set liturgical standards, Pope says

Vatican, Dec. 21 ( – Pope Benedict XVI (bio – news) today said that papal ceremonies “must be exemplary liturgy for the entire world.”

The Pope was speaking to choir of the pontifical chapel, led by director Giuseppe Liberto, after a concert in the Sistine Chapel. Speaking extemporaneously, the Pope spoke about the importance of liturgical music.

The importance of pontifical liturgy has become more pronounced, the Pope said. He noted that “today, with television and radio, many people, from all parts of the world, follow the liturgy.” Those who follow the papal ceremonies are likely to use them as a yardstick against which liturgy should be measured, the Pope said. Thus the liturgy becomes a way in which the Pope teaches the Catholic faithful, giving them a proper idea of what they should expect.

The Pope underlined the importance of beauty in liturgical celebrations. He observed that the beauty of music– especially chant– can enhance the experience of worship. And he added that doing something beautiful for God has its own merit– observing that the site of his talk, the Sistine Chapel, was an outstanding example of a work of great artistic beauty devoted to religious faiath.

Gregorian chant has a special place in liturgical music, the Holy Father continued. He reminded his listeners that the tradition of the Church has always suggested that angels chant rather than merely speaking, and that the beauty of their chant is “a celestial beauty, revealing the beauty of heaven.”

The chant performed by human singers provides an echo of that “angelic chant,” the Pope continued. He thanked the young singers for the contributions that they make to the beauty of papal liturgies, acknowledging the sacrificies they make in order to do so. Pope Benedict has always shown a keen interest in liturgical renewal and liturgical music. His 1999 book The Spirit of the Liturgy devoted a full chapter to liturgical music.

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