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Pope Emeritus Benedict speaks on sacred music

July 06, 2015

Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI received an honorary doctorate on July 4 from the Pontifical John Paul II University of Krakow and the Krakow Academy of Music.

The Pope Emeritus received the honor at Castel Gandolfo and paid tribute to Pope St. John Paul II as an exemplar of the combination “the joy of great sacred music” and “common participation in the sacred liturgy.”

The Pope Emeritus recalled how the tradition of Mozart’s choral Masses in Salzburg helped him to encounter God and also recalled how he became familiar with the liturgical movement in seminary.

Pope Emeritus Benedict continued:

In the Constitution on the Liturgy of the II Vatican Council, [Sacrosanctum Concilium], it is very clearly written: ‘The treasure of sacred music is to be preserved and fostered with great care.’ On the other hand, the text highlights the actuosa participatio of the faithful in the sacred action as a fundamental liturgical category. Those two things, which in the text of the Constitution remain together and at peace with each other, were in the implementation of the Council, often in a relationship of dramatic tension.

Significant areas of the Liturgical Movement believed that, in the future, there would be room for the great choral works and even for orchestral Masses only in concert halls, not in the liturgy. [In the liturgy], there could be space only for the singing and common prayer of the faithful. On the other hand, there was shock at the cultural impoverishment of the Church that would necessarily result from this. How to reconcile the two? How to implement the Council in its entirety? These were the questions that were particularly striking to me and to many other believers, to simple people, no less than to persons in possession of a theological education

Reflecting on the nature of music, Pope Emeritus Benedict said that music flows from love, sadness, and an encounter with God. The greatness of Western sacred music-- “from Palestrina to Bach, to Handel, up to Mozart, Beethoven, and Bruckner”-- is “a demonstration of the truth of Christianity” and a manifestation of a “true encounter” with the Creator.

Noting that the “great music of the Western tradition” was “not foreign to the liturgy” celebrated by St. John Paul II on every continent, the Pope Emeritus added that “we do not know what the future of sacred music will be, but one thing is clear: wherever the encounter with the Living God, who in Christ comes close to us, really occurs, there is born anew and arises anew the response, the beauty of which arises out of truth itself.”

“I sincerely thank all of you, not only for the honor you have given me, but also for all the work you do in the service of the beauty of the faith,” he concluded. “The Lord bless you all.”


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