Says Tradition Rightly Lives Alongside Progress
MAY 31, 2011 Benedict XVI is underlining the continuity of sacred music that stretches back to the “authentic and glorious tradition” begun by St. Gregory the Great.
In a letter address to Cardinal Zenon Grocholewski, grand chancellor of the Pontifical Institute of Sacred Music, the Pope called the centenary of its foundation an “important event,” and a “reason for joy for all the cultivators of sacred music.”
Placing the foundation of the institute in context, the Pontiff recalled that Pius X founded the institute in 1911, eight years after publishing an instruction on sacred music issued “motu proprio,” titled “Tra le Sollcitudini” (Among the Cares).
With the instruction, Benedict XVI recalled, Pius X “carried out a profound reform in the field of sacred music, returning to the great tradition of the Church against the influences exercised by profane music, especially operatic.”
The German Pope continued: “This masterful intervention needed, for its realization in the universal Church, a center of study and teaching that could transmit, in a faithful and qualified way, the lines indicated by the Supreme Pontiff, in keeping with the authentic and glorious tradition that goes back to St. Gregory the Great.
“Hence, in the span of the last 100 years, this institution has assimilated, elaborated and transmitted the doctrinal and pastoral contents of the pontifical documents, as well as of Vatican Council II, concerning sacred music, so that they can illumine and guide the work of composers, of chapel maestros, of liturgists, of musicians and of all formators in this field.”
Benedict XVI then highlighted the “essential continuity of the teaching on sacred music in the liturgy.”
Even modern Popes, he continued, such as Paul VI and John Paul II, reaffirmed “in the light of the conciliar constitution ‘Sacrosanctum Concilium,’ […] the end of sacred music, namely, ‘the glory of God and the sanctification of the faithful,’ and the fundamental criteria of Tradition.”
He noted several elements of the Tradition of sacred music, such as “the sense of prayer, of dignity and of beauty,” “the primacy of Gregorian chant, as supreme model of sacred music,” and “the importance of the ‘schola cantorum.'”
Benedict XVI said the more traditional forms of sacred music have been “considered expressions of a conception that responded to a past to be overcome and neglected, because it limited the liberty and creativity of the individual and the communities.”
“However,” he countered, “we must always ask ourselves again: Who is the authentic subject of the liturgy?”
“The answer is simple, the Church” the Pope answered. “Not the individual or the group that celebrates the liturgy, it is first of all the action of God through the Church, which has her history, her rich tradition and her creativity.”
“The liturgy, and consequently sacred music,” the Pontiff explained, “lives from a correct and constant relation between healthy ‘traditio’ and legitimate ‘progressio.'”
Benedict XVI then urged the institute, “on the basis of these solid and sure elements, to which are added an age-old experience,” to continued “with renewed impetus and commitment your service in the professional formation of the students, so that they acquire a serious and profound competency in the different disciplines of sacred music.”
“Thus,” he concluded, “this Pontifical Institute will continue to offer a valid contribution for the formation, in this field, of the pastors and lay faithful in the different particular Churches, fostering also an adequate discernment of the quality of the musical compositions used in liturgical celebrations.”
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