Below is a Zenit translation of Pope Francis’ address to participants in the International Congress on Sacred Music, organized by the Pontifical Council for Culture and the Congregation for Catholic Education, in collaboration with the Pontifical Institute of Sacred Music and the Pontifical Liturgical Institute of Saint Anselm’s Athenaeum. The Congress was held in Rome from March 2-4, 2017, on the theme: “Music and Church: Worship and Culture 50 Years after Musicam Sacram.
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Dear Brothers and Sisters,
I am happy to meet with you all, gathered in Rome from several countries to take part in the Congress on “Music and Church: Worship and Culture 50 Years after Musicam Sacram,” organized by the Pontifical Council for Culture and the Congregation for Catholic Education, in collaboration with the Pontifical Institute of Sacred Music and the Pontifical Liturgical Institute of Saint Anselm’s Athenaeum. I greet you all warmly, beginning with Cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi, whom I thank for his introduction. I hope that the experience of encounter and dialogue lived these days, in common reflection on sacred music and, particularly, in its cultural and artistic aspects, will be fruitful for the ecclesial communities.
Half a century after the Instruction Musicam Sacram, the Congress wished to reflect further, in an inter-disciplinary and ecumenical perspective, on the present relation between sacred music and contemporary culture, between the musical repertoire adopted and used by the Christian community and the prevailing musical tendencies. Of great importance also was the reflection on aesthetic and musical formation, be it of the clergy and Religious, be it of the laity committed in pastoral life, and more directly in the scholae cantorum.
The first document issued by Vatican Council II was in fact the Constitution on the Liturgy Sacrosanctum Concilium. The Conciliar Fathers perceived well the difficulty of the faithful in participating in a liturgy whose language, words and signs they did not fully understand. To concretize the fundamental lines traced by the Constitution, Instructions were issued, among which, in fact, was that on sacred music. Since then, although no new documents have been produced by the Magisterium on the argument, there have been different and significant papal interventions that have oriented the reflection and the pastoral commitment.
The premise of the mentioned Instruction is still very timely: “Liturgical action has a more noble form when it is celebrated in song, with ministers of all levels carrying out their office, and with the participation of the people. Thus, in fact, the celebration acquires a more joyful expression, the mystery of the sacred liturgy and its hierarchic and communal nature are manifested more clearly, the unity of hearts is rendered more profound by the unity of the voices, minds are raised more easily to celestial things through the splendor of sacred things, and the whole celebration prefigures more clearly the liturgy, which is carried out in the heavenly Jerusalem” (n. 5).
In keeping with the Conciliar indications, the Document often evidences the importance of the participation of the entire assembly of faithful, described as “active, aware and full,” and also underlines very clearly that the “true solemnity of a liturgical action does not depend on the richest form of the singing and of the more magnificent array of the ceremonies, but rather on the worthy and religious way of the celebration” (n. 11). Therefore, it is first of all about participating intensely in the Mystery of God, in the “theophany” that takes place in every Eucharistic celebration, in which the Lord makes Himself present in the midst of His people, called to really participate in the salvation effected by Christ dead and risen. Therefore, active and conscious participation consists in being able to enter profoundly in this mystery, in being able to contemplate, adore and receive it, in perceiving the meaning, thanks in particular to the religious silence and to the “musicality of the language with which the Lord speaks to us” (Homily at Saint Martha’s, December 12, 2013). It is in this perspective that the reflection moves on the renewal of sacred music and its precious contribution.
In this way, a twofold mission emerges, which the Church is called to pursue, especially through all those who, with various titles, work in this sector. On one hand, it is about safeguarding and appreciating the rich and multi-form patrimony inherited from the past, using it with balance in the present and avoiding the risk of a nostalgic or “archaeological” vision. On the other hand, it is necessary to see that sacred music and liturgical singing are fully “inculturated” in the artistic and musical languages of the present; that is, they must be able to incarnate and translate the Word of God in songs, sounds, harmonies that make the heart of our contemporaries vibrate, creating also an opportune emotive atmosphere, which disposes to faith and elicits the reception and full participation in the mystery being celebrated. The encounter with modernity and the introduction of spoken languages in the liturgy has certainly occasioned many problems: of languages, forms, and musical genres. Sometimes a certain mediocrity, superficiality and banality have prevailed to the detriment of the beauty and intensity of the liturgical celebrations. Therefore, the various protagonists in this ambit – musicians and composers, directors and choristers of scholae cantorum, animators of the liturgy – can make a precious contribution, especially qualitative, to the renewal of sacred music and of liturgical singing. To foster this path, it is necessary to promote adequate musical formation, also in those who are preparing to be priests, in dialogue with the musical currents of our time, with the instances of the different cultural areas, and in an ecumenical attitude.
Dear brothers and sisters, I thank you again for your commitment in the realm of sacred music. May the Virgin Mary accompany you, who in the Magnificat sang God’s merciful holiness. I encourage you not to lose sight of this important objective: to help the liturgical assembly and the people of God to perceive and participate, with all the senses, physical and spiritual, in the mystery of God. Sacred music and liturgical singing have the task to give us the sense of the glory of God, of His beauty, and of His holiness that envelops us like a “luminous cloud.”
I ask you, please, to pray for me and I impart to you my heartfelt Apostolic Blessing.
[Original text: Italian] [Translation by Virginia M. Forrester]