Tuesday, February 06, 2007

The Holy Father on Sacred Music - Part II

Some highlights from A New Song for the Lord: Faith in Christ and Liturgy Today by Cardinal Ratzinger:
Even for modern culture, however, the separation from its religious matrix has not been without consequences. For this reason it, too, has been driven into a dead end in which it can say less and less about its own quo vadis. Culture somehow seems useless in the modern world and, making a virtue out of necessity, it defines itself frankly as follows: Art is that which fulfills no function but is simply just there. There is some truth to this, but negation alone does not suffice to establish a meaningful space for any kind of phenomenon in the existential framework of humans and the world. (pg. 94)

But now something completely new has occurred. Music has split into two worlds that hardly have anything to do with each other any more. On the one hand there is the music of the masses, which, with the label "pop" or popular music, would like to portray itself as the music of the people. Here music has become a product that can be industrially manufactured and is evaluated by how well it sells. On the other hand there is a rationally construed, artificial music with the highest technical requirements which is hardly capable of reaching out beyond a small elite circle. (pg. 95)

Within the Old Testament, the Psalter is a bridge, as it were, between the Law and the Prophets. It has grown out of the requirements of the temple cult, of the law, but by appropriating the law in prayer and song it has uncovered its prophetic essence more and more. It has led beyond the ritual and its ordinances into the "offering of praise," and "wordly offering" with which people can open themselves to the Logos and thus become worship with him. In this way the Psalter has also become a bridge connecting the two Testaments. In the Old Testament its hymns had been considered to be the songs of David; this meant for Christians that these hymns had risen from the heart of the real David, Christ. In the early church the psalms are prayed and sung as hymns to Christ. Christ himself thus becomes the choir director who teaches us the new song and gives the Church the tone and the way in which she can praise God appropriately and blend into the heavenly liturgy. (pgs. 96-97)

Singing psalms should have something of the essence of sapientia about it and in it. In order to plumb the enigmatic quality of this formulation we should ponder what is meant by sapientia: a behavior of humans that certainly has the brilliance of understanding about it but also denotes an integration of the entire human person who not only understands and is understandable from the perspective of pure thought, but with all the dimensions of his or her existence. In this respect there is an affinity between wisdom and music, since in it such an integration of humanness occurs and the entire person becomes a being in accordance with logos [with "reason"]. (pg. 98)

The analysis of the oft-repeated imperative psallite in the psalms thus calls us to draw a few concrete conclusions concerning our question about possible biblical directives for music in the Church:

1. This imperative runs through all of Scripture; it is the concrete version of the call to worship and glorify God which is revealed in the Bible as the most profound vocation of human beings. This means that musical expression is part of the proper human response to God's self-revelation, to his becoming open to a relationship with us. Mere speech, mere silence, mere action are not enough. (pg. 100)

The "new song" praises his death and resurrection and hence proclaims God's new deed to the whole world: that he himself has descended into the anguish of the human state and into the pit of death; that he embraces all of us on the cross with his stretched-out arms and, as the Risen One, takes us up to the Father across the abyss of the infinite divide separating creator and creature, which only crucified love can cross. Thus, the old song has become new and must be sung as such over and over again. In this process of renewal, however, the song has not done away with the basic cultural decision of faith nor with that which faith has culturally given as a directive but has opened them on the one hand even further while simultaneously defining them more clearly. (pg. 101)

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