Benedict XVI recalls the vocation of liturgical music

Source: FSSPX News

The Holy See published on May 31 a letter by the pope written on the occasion of the 100th anniversary of the Pontifical Institute of Sacred Music, founded by St. Pius X.  The letter was addressed to Cardinal Zenon Grocholewski, Prefect of the Congregation for Catholic Education and Grand Chancellor of the Institute, who read it publicly on May 26 at the opening of the International Congress for Sacred Music, which was held in Rome from May 26 to June 1.

 In it Benedict XVI explains that the initiative of St. Pius X, following his Motu Proprio Tra le Sollecitudini dated November 22, 1903, had set the agenda for a profound reform of liturgical music in the tradition of the Church, apart from the influence of profane styles of music.

The Holy Father underscores the preeminence of Gregorian chant:  “This magisterial intervention endowed the universal Church with a center of studies and teaching that would faithfully and appropriately transmit the directives indicated by the Supreme Pontiff, who intended a return to the great Gregorian tradition.  In 100 years of activity, this Institute has assimilated, developed, and expressed musically this papal teaching, as well as that of Vatican Council II, to illumine and guide the work of composers of liturgical music, choirmasters, liturgists, musicians, and instructors” in this field.

Then the Supreme Pontiff recalls the purpose of sacred music, which is the glory of God and the sanctification of the faithful:  “The fundamental criteria are respect for tradition, a sense of prayer, dignity, and beauty; full adherence to liturgical texts and expressions; the correct participation of the assembly and, therefore, a legitimate adaptation to particular cultures, at the same time maintaining the universality of language; the primacy of Gregorian chant … and the careful assessment of other expressive forms that make up the cultural patrimony of the Church, especially but not just polyphony; and the importance of the schola cantorum, particularly in cathedral churches.”

These are important criteria, the pope continues, “which should be considered attentively even today”.  Gregorian chant, the supreme model of sacred music, polyphony and the schola cantorum have wrongly been considered “as the expression of a concept befitting a past that should be forgotten and ignored, because they limited the freedom and creativity of individuals and communities.”  But the authentic subject of the liturgy is neither the individual nor the group, Benedict XVI recalled.  “It is primarily God's action through the Church with its history, its rich tradition, and its creativity.”

“On the basis of these sure and lasting elements,” he concludes, “which are accompanied by centuries of experience, I encourage you to perform your service of professionally training students, so that they may acquire a serious, profound competence in the different disciplines of sacred music.”

Several months earlier, Cardinal Domenico Bartolucci, Perpetual Director of the Sistine Chapel Choir, expressed his views about the lost preeminence of sacred music in an interview entitled “The Cardinalate and the Choir”, published in 30giorni [English edition:  30DAYS] in November 2010.  “After the Second Vatican Council they did away with Latin, which was a tragic mistake.  With the promulgation of the 1970 Missal, the Proper prayers—the heritage of a millennium—were eliminated, and the opportunity to sing the Ordinary chants was considerably limited by the introduction of vernacular languages….  Since then, sacred music and the scholae cantorum have been definitively removed from the liturgy, despite the recommendations of the 1963 Constitution on the Liturgy, Sacrosanctum Concilium, and the 1964 Motu Proprio Sacram Liturgiam….  Before those aggiornamenti [attempts to ‘update’ the Liturgy], the people sang full-throatedly at vespers, during the Stations of the Cross, Solemn Masses, and processions.  They sang in Latin, the universal language of the Church.  During the funeral liturgy, they all intoned the Libera me, Domine, the In Paradisum and the De Profundis.  They all responded to the Te Deum, the Veni Creator Spiritus, and the Credo.  Today there has been a proliferation of ditties.  There are so many that very few people know them, and almost nobody sings them.”

The Higher School of Sacred Music opened on January 3, 1911, and was confirmed that same year by the pastoral letter Expleverunt dated November 4.  On July 10, 1914, by a rescript from the Secretariat of State, the School was declared a Pontifical Institute with the faculty of conferring academic degrees.  Pius XI, with his motu proprio Ad musicae sacrae restitutionem (November 22, 1922) issued its statutes and confirmed its immediate dependence on the Apostolic See.

(Sources: radiovatican/VIS/ – DICI no. 236 dated June 11, 2011)