Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI has credited his predecessor for making his spiritual and theological journey possible through his “brilliant example.” The retired Pope expressed this Saturday morning at Castel Gandolfo when being conferred a Doctorate Honoris Causa from Krakow’s John Paul II Pontifical University and Academy of Music.
Cardinal Stanislaw Dziwisz, archbishop of Krakow and Grand Chancellor of the John Paul II Pontifical University, conferred the two degrees.
After thanking those present for the honor, Pope Benedict said, “I rejoice, above all, over the fact that, in this way, my bond with Poland, with Krakow, with the homeland of our great Saint John Paul II has become more profound, because without him, my spiritual and theological journey is not even imaginable.”
“With his brilliant example he also showed us how the joy of great sacred music and the task of common participation in the sacred liturgy, the solemn joy and the simplicity of the humble celebration of the faith can go hand in hand.”
Written very clearly in the Constitution on the Liturgy of Vatican Council II, the German Pope went on to say, is that: “The patrimony of sacred music be preserved and incremented with great care” (1124). Benedict noted the many questions that later would be raised and then posed a question himself.
What is music?
“At this point it is right, perhaps, to pose the basic question: What is music in reality? From where does it come and what does it tend to?”
From here, he said, three “places” from which music flows can be identified.
The first source is love, he said. “When men are seized by love, a new dimension of being opens in them, a new grandeur and breadth of reality, and it also drives one to express oneself in a new way. Poetry, singing and music in general stem from this being struck, by this opening of oneself to a new dimension of life.”
A second origin of music, he added, is the experience of sadness, being touched by death, by sorrow and by the abysses of existence. “Opened also in this case, in an opposite direction, are new dimensions of the reality that can no longer find answers in discourses alone,” he said.
Finally, music’s third origin, Benedict underscored, is the encounter with the divine, “which–from the beginning–is part of what defines the human,” he said. “It can be said that the quality of the music depends on the purity and the grandeur of the encounter with the divine, with the experience of love and of pain. The more pure and true this experience is, the more pure and great also is the music that is born and develops from it.”
Music as proof of Christianity
Pope Benedict said that he would like to express a thought that “has gripped me increasingly, all the more so in as much as the different cultures and religions enter into relation among themselves.” He acknowledged how different cultures and religions possess great literature, architecture, paintings, and sculptures, and how everywhere there is also music.
“And yet,” he explained, “in no other cultural ambit is there music of equal grandeur to that born in the ambit of the Christian faith: from Palestrina to Bach, to Handle, up to Mozart, Beethoven and Bruckner. Western music is something unique, which has no equal in other cultures. And this – it seems to me – should make us think.”
“Certainly, Western music goes beyond by far the religious and ecclesial ambit. And yet it finds its most profound origin, in any case, in the liturgy of the encounter with God,” he said, noting how in German composer Johann Sebastian Bach–for whom the glory of God represents ultimately the end of all music– “this is altogether evident.”
“The great and pure answer of Western music was developed in the encounter with that God that, in the liturgy, makes himself present to us in Christ Jesus,” Benedict continued. “For me, that music is a demonstration of the truth of Christianity. Wherever such an answer is developed, there has been an encounter with truth, with the true Creator of the world. Therefore, great sacred music is a reality of theological rank and of permanent meaning for the faith of the whole of Christianity, even if it is not necessary that it be performed always and everywhere. On the other hand, however, it is also clear that it cannot disappear from the liturgy and that its presence can be an altogether special way of participation in the sacred celebration, in the mystery of the faith.”
He also exhorted those gathered to think of the liturgy celebrated by Saint John Paul II in every continent to realize “all the breadth of the expressive possibilities of the faith in the liturgical event,” and to see “how the great music of the Western tradition is not foreign to the liturgy, but is born and grows from it and in this way contributes ever again to give it form.”
The Pontiff concluded, thanking all those gathered “wholeheartedly,” and imparting his blessing upon them.
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