8 July 2015

Pope Emeritus Benedict: The truth of Christianity...

...is demonstrated in our music

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. In 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. 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

A while ago I spoke with a cousin who is a permanent deacon on the subject of how we are often told how most of our sacred music was never meant for the church.  He recalled how Haydn's twenty five minute Magnificat for Vespers could not possibly have had any liturgical use, as it was far too long,  to which he replied that with only twenty five minutes the celebrants would be hard pressed to finish in time.  At the time it was composed, the Magnificat was sung during the incensing of the altars- note the plural.  If you have seen churches in the old style, that haven't been renovated badly, you will see that they often have many side altars, all of which would need to be incensed.  Furthermore, the action for incensing the old altars was thoroughly prescribed and not to be rushed.  Twenty five minutes was not overlong for this process.  

The modern critics must imagine a conversation like this happening when Haydn presented his new piece:

Haydn: Your Eminence, I have just completed the new Magnificat you requested. 

Cardinal:  That is an awful lot of pages you are holding there.  How long is this piece?

Haydn:  Twenty five minutes, your eminence.

Cardinal:  Twenty five minutes?  What are we supposed to do for the extra twenty four minutes and thirty seconds?

When the conversation probably went more like this:

Haydn: Your Eminence, I have just completed the new Magnificat you requested.

Cardinal:  Excellent.  How long is it?

Haydn:  Twenty five minutes, your Eminence.

Cardinal:  Only twenty five minutes?  We'll be a bit rushed with that, don't you think?  

 There may be arguments about not using such music today.  There aren't enough qualified musicians and singers.  It is not suitable to our rites as they exist now.  I disagree with these arguments, to be sure, but at least there is some honesty to them.  However, to say that this music was never intended for liturgical use in the first place is either ignorance, or a lie.  They are either deceived, or deceiving. 

The old composers had faith, knew the liturgy for which they were composing, and they knew what they were doing.  It's our generation that doesn't know any of those things, and I am grateful to Benedict for reminding us.

1 comment:

Bear said...

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