Summary: The Church’s song is two millennia old and is deserving of use and respect

May 18, 2009

Sacramentum Caritatis

Acts 16: 11-21 and John 15: 21-27

When we listen to the Gospel of Luke and the Acts, and to the Gospel of John as well, we get the impression that the Holy Spirit was more active in the early Church than today. Paul was forbidden by the Spirit–probably warned by a prophetic utterance–not to preach in Asia, and not to go to Bithynia. Then in vision, he was begged to come to Macedonia and help the people there. The Spirit opened Lydia’s heart to hear the Word, and by the power of the Spirit Paul cast out the soothsaying spirit from the slave girl, who was liberated from her bondage. John tells us that the Spirit of Truth will counsel and console His disciples so they may bear witness to the Truth. But that Spirit was not active just in the sweet, sweet bye and bye, but is also powerful in the nitty gritty now and now. The Spirit is alive in the Church, yes, even in the institutional Church, and is present in power. Just look at the effect Pope Benedict recently had in the Holy Land, by exercising his charism of leadership and prophecy.

In this great letter on the Liturgy, he turned to liturgical song, and quotes Augustine: the new man sings a new song. Singing is an expression of joy and . . .an expression of love. Benedict points to the two thousand year history of music and song, a rich patrimony of faith and love. He insists that the heritage must not be lost, and that when liturgy is concerned, one song is definitely not as good as another. He tells us to avoid generic improvisation and the introduction of musical genres which fail to respect the meaning of the liturgy. He insists that song should be well integrated into the overall celebration, and that everything, texts, music, execution–ought to correspond to the meaning of the mystery being celebrated, the structure of the rite and the liturgical seasons. And he reiterates the Council’s command and the Synod’s request that Gregorian chant be suitably esteemed and employed as the chant proper to the Roman liturgy.

Because the Holy Father says no more here about music, for a couple of homilies beginning next week I’ll be turning to an earlier work of his, The Spirit of the Liturgy. I believe that if we listen to what he says about Logos and music, we may gain valuable and practical insights into our worship.

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