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Papa Ratzinger and the Spirit of the Liturgy

My reading list is growing far faster than I can finish books. Right now my summer reading list may very well last until Christmas! Pontifications has posted excerpts from The Spirit of the Liturgy by then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger. (Now Pope Benedict XVI) Before anyone passes judgment on the new English translation of the Mass or frets over Pope Benedict’s lack of enthusiasm for “folk” Masses, they must read this book. Once again, Pope Benedict the teacher clearly explains the what’s and why’s of the liturgy. Listen to this:

…The importance of music in biblical religion is shown very simply by the fact that the verb “to sing” (with related words such as “song”, and so forth) is one of the most commonly used words in the Bible. It occurs 309 times in the Old Testament and thirty-six in the New. When man comes into contact with God, mere speech is not enough.

…In the West, in the form of Gregorian chant, the inherited tradition of psalm-singing was developed to a new sublimity and purity, which set a permanent standard for sacred music, music for the liturgy of the Church. Polyphony developed in the late Middle Ages, and then instruments came back into divine worship — quite rightly, too, because, as we have seen, the Church not only continues the synagogue, but also takes up, in the light of Christ’s Pasch, the reality represented by the Temple. Two new factors are thus at work in Church music. Artistic freedom increasingly asserts its rights, even in the liturgy. Church music and secular music are now each influenced by the other. This is particularly clear in the case of the so-called “parody Masses”, in which the text of the Mass was set to a theme or melody that came from secular music, with the result that anyone hearing it might think he was listening to the latest “hit”. It is clear that these opportunities for artistic creativity and the adoption of secular tunes brought danger with them. Music was no longer developing out of prayer, but, with the new demand for artistic autonomy, was now heading away from the liturgy; it was becoming an end in itself, opening the door to new, very different ways of feeling and of experiencing the world. Music was alienating the liturgy from its true nature.

…Wherever applause breaks out in the liturgy because of some human achievement, it is a sure sign that the essence of liturgy has totally disappeared and been replaced by a kind of religious entertainment. Such attractiveness fades quickly — it cannot compete in the market of leisure pursuits, incorporating as it increasingly does various forms of religious titillation.


The Pope is singing my song. Or maybe I should say I am singing his. In any case, we need to shed the idea that the Mass is supposed to be entertaining. Inspiring, instructional, reverential, prayerful—yes. Entertaining—no. Perhaps The Spirit of the Liturgy would make a good gift for your parish music director, liturgist, or pastor. I hope to soon have a copy join the stack of books at my bedside. It will probably move close to the front of the queue. I'll let you know.

Comments

Mack said…
Agree completely with you and Cardinal R.

But, we don't have to be locked in the late middle ages. The Church came before these forms of liturgy and will continue after. So, I would be open to new music, if it is prayerful, contextual and beautiful.

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