Sacred Music

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We have an awesome Pope.

Pope Benedict XVI wrote a letter to Cardinal Zenon Grocholewski, Chancellor of the Pontifical Institute of Sacred Music, on the occasion of the institution’s 100th anniversary. In this letter the Pope highlights the importance of sacred music and the type of music that is at the heart of proper worship.

The Pope then emphasized how, since St. Pius X until today, “even though evolving naturally, there has been a substantial continuity of the Magisterium on sacred music”. In particular he cited Paul VI and John Paul II who “in light of the conciliar constitution ‘Sacrosanctum Concilium’, reiterated the purpose of sacred music, that is to say, ‘the glory of God and the sanctification of the faithful’ and the fundamental criteria of the corresponding tradition…: a sense of prayer, dignity, and beauty; full adherence to liturgical texts and expressions; the assembly’s participation and, therefore, the legitimate adaptation to local culture, at the same time maintaining the universality of language; the primacy of Gregorian chant as the supreme model of sacred music and the careful assessment of other expressive forms that make up the historical-liturgical patrimony of the Church, especially but not just polyphony; and the importance of the ‘schola cantorum’, particularly in cathedral churches”.

“However, we always have to ask ourselves: Who is the true subject of the liturgy? The answer is simple: the Church. It is not the individual or the group that celebrates the liturgy, but it is primarily God’s action through the Church with its history, its rich tradition, and its creativity. The liturgy, and thus sacred music, ‘lives from a correct and constant relationship between healthy traditio and legitimate progressio’, keeping always in mind that these two concepts … are interwoven because ‘tradition is a living reality that, therefore, encompasses within it the very principle of development and progress'”, the Pope concluded.

In just a couple of paragraphs Pope Benedict XVI superbly describes what the Mass is all about.

Did I mention that we have an awesome Pope?

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  1. So I wonder how a lovely rendition of God Bless the USA I heard at Mass last weekend should be taken. Do you think it best illustrates the ‘glory of God and the sanctification of the people’ or ‘legitimate adaptation to local culture’? Personally, I think it was wrong to use a country song that has very little to do with God other than the line “God bless the USA.” “I’m proud to be an American/ where at least I know I’m free” doesn’t seem to be appropriate for the worship of Jesus. What are your thoughts? Should I approach my priest and music director and let my feelings be heard?

  2. In general, there is nothing wrong with approaching your pastor – in a respectful way – about any issue you may have. No problems would ever be solved if we remained silent. So if you feel passionately that the musical selection was inappropriate, then you should feel free to tell your pastor.

    As to the specific hymns, I have no problem with patriotic anthems so long as they are also liturgically appropriate – in other words they should not take away from the point of the liturgy. “God Bless America” would not necessarily be my first choice of hymn for the occasion.

  3. A very balanced letter from the Holy Father. If forced to quibble, I would just say when he refers to the church, I assume he means the Western Church.

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