Musical Wealth

Cardinal Farina Speaks of Sacred Song in the Church’s Patrimony

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ROME, JUNE 14, 2011 ( The Pontifical Institute of Sacred Music marked its 100th anniversary with an international conference, including not only round table discussions and meetings, but also concerts.

Cardinal Raffaele Farina, director of the Vatican Library and Secret Archives, played a part in the May 26-June 1 event.

ZENIT spoke with Cardinal Farina about what the treasures of sacred music mean for the faithful today.

ZENIT: What does it mean for the Church to have such a great variety of musical scores?

Cardinal Farina: It means that it preserves a patrimony of art and the liturgy of worship, together with the most ancient manuscripts of the Bible, the tradition of the biblical text and of what is part of the tradition of the Church of Rome, besides so many treasures of classical antiquity and much more.

The musical liturgical books are often enriched by sumptuous miniatures, in which the musical phrases are combined with the artistic beauty of the images. We preserve these treasures, which belong to the Church but also to humanity.

Music and art, moreover, are key for education — to teach an appreciation of what man has produced that is beautiful over the centuries means to spread and promote an education capable of opening minds and hearts to what is really worthwhile, which makes us better, which enriches the spirit. It means to cultivate important and fruitful seeds in a world at times saddened by negative events and misleading sub-products.

In particular, the liturgical-musical manuscripts are a testimony of the Church’s prayer through the centuries, of the beauty of the liturgy and of the universality of the language that has always united the faithful, making them participants in God’s action.

These precious treasures are kept not only in the Vatican Library, but also in the Basilicas of St. Mary Major, St. John Lateran and the archive of St. Peter’s Basilica.

Many books came to the Vatican Library as donations, purchases or deposits, in addition to the acquisition of copies and complete collections. This has guaranteed the preservation of this patrimony, which could have been lost due to different historical events.

Moreover, this makes it possible for scholars to widely enjoy the books, available in equipped environments that are ideal for consultation, as well as conservation.

ZENIT: Over the course of history, what is the constant, the common denominator in sacred music?

Cardinal Farina: Through the various epochs and their languages, sacred music has translated the liturgy into melody, stressing important moments, revealing the mystery of the encounter between God — the real protagonist of liturgical action — and the heart of man, who listens. Sacred music as a quid to the palate and a resonance that leads to the depths of the Mystery.

Moreover in virtue of its university and the fact that it touches the cords of the most profound desire in every man (the encounter with God), sacred music has the capacity to reach and draw in even the most estranged persons, bringing them to the truth of the Word.

Prayer becomes chant and chant becomes prayer to give glory to God, as the Fathers well illustrate (suffice it to think of Ambrose and Augustine), who singled out and expressed all the potentialities of liturgical chant.

ZENIT: Which Vatican Library archives are useful for studying musical liturgical manuscripts?

Cardinal Farina: There are many. Suffice it to leaf through the catalogues we have (from Bannister and Ehrensberger to Salmon and Llorens) to have an idea.

Beginning with the archives of the Sistine Chapel and the Julia Chapel, where there are works with Gregorian chant or polyphonic music used during solemn celebrations: most of them of great size and richly ornamented (the oldest preserved are from the middle of the 13th century).

They transmit works of famous composers who worked in the Papal Musical College through the centuries (G. Dufay, Carpentras, J. Desprez, C. Festa. G. P. Palestrina, G. Allegri) and in the Julia Chapel (reorganized by Julius II), the first of whose magister cantorum was Palestrina; then the Vatican musicali, constituted as an autonomous set in 1956 (up to then they had been attached to the Vaticani latini); and also to be recalled is St. Mary Major, in the Vatican since 1931.

Perosi was constituted as an autonomous set only at the beginning of the 90s of the last century (before it was among the Vatican musicali), which contains more than 200 autographed manuscripts, the majority unpublished. And then the Barberiani latini, the Chigiani, the archive of St. Peter’s Chapter, the Rossiani, just to mention a few.

These manuscripts transmit either sacred music or many other important testimonies on the history of music, in the perspective of that universality of learning that has always characterized the patrimony kept in the Library of the Pontiffs.

A library that was born — I think it is always appropriate to recall it — as humanistic and ready to receive — more than that, go in search of — texts of different disciplinary realms and in all languages, expressions of the different civilizations and religions: from Latin to Greek, from Hebrew to Arabic, from Persian to Turkish, from Aramaic to Ethiopic, to the Slav languages, Chinese and Japanese.

And its importance consists also in this ecumenical and unifying perspective of learning and civilization, a perspective that still today suggests to us how through study of the various disciplines — in respect of the identity of each one and with love of culture — man can become ever more man and approach his Creator.

ZENIT: Is it true that the Vatican Library is digitalizing its volumes?

Cardinal Farina: We have begun a project that calls for substantial investment and that we cannot yet accomplish. In the measure that we find sponsors willing to finance the endeavor, we will begin to work systematically and according to a good program.

Digitalizing all the manuscripts of the Vatican will take some 20 years. The project is thoroughly illustrated at the Vatican Library Web site.

[Translation by ZENIT]
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