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Musical Musings: Miscellaneous

Lift Up a New Song with Your Life

by Pope John Paul II

These excerpts are from a homily given by His Holiness, Pope John Paul II to Italian musicians in Saint Peter's Square in September 1983. Now that his illustrious pontificate has ended, it is perhaps especially appropriate to recall his words.

Just as the Holy Spirit is the one who gives our frail strength the capacity to open ourselves up in the invocation "Abba – Father!" (cf. Rm 8:15), this same Spirit also gives us the capacity to make our prayer complete, making it explode with holy joy, with the delight of song and music, following the exhortation of Saint Paul:
Be filled with the Spirit, addressing one another in psalms and hymns and inspired songs. Sing praise to the Lord with all your hearts. (Eph 6:18-19)
The results of this interior action of the Holy Spirit are: a new man, who must put on the image of the Creator and sing a "new song"; a new life of community and communion, in such a way that to instruct and admonish one another with wisdom, singing to God form the heart and with gratitude (cf. Col 3:16), appears as a Paschal gift, the fruit of Christ's Resurrection. Commenting on the words of Psalm 32 (v.3), "Sing to the Lord a new song," Saint Augustine thus exhorted his faithful and us too:
Take off what is now old; you have learned the new song. A new man, a New Testament, a new song. The new song does not suit old men. Only new men learn it, men who through grace have been restored from what was old; men belonging now to the New Testament, which is the kingdom of heaven. All our love sighs for it and sings a new song. But lift up a new song not with your tongue but with your life.
In the New Covenant, singing is typical of those who have been raised with Christ. In the Church, only whoever sings with this disposition of Paschal newness – that is, of an interoir renewal of life – is truly risen. Thus, while in the Old Testament music could perhaps have resounded with worship bound to material sacrifices, in the New Testament it becomes "spiritual," in keeping with the new worship and the new liturgy of which it is an integral part, and is welcomed on the condition that it inspire interior devotion and recollection.

Christ is the Hymn of the Father and, with the incarnation, he consigned to his Church this same Hymn, that is, himself, so that it might continue it until his return. Now, every Christian is called to participate in this Hymn, and to make himself a "new song" in Christ to the heavenly Father. On an even deeper level, he is called to participate in that Hymn, that is, in the mystery of Christ, the ministerial priesthood, of which the episcopate is the perfect fulfillment. As bishop and as Peter's Successor in the See of Rome, it is therefore natural for me to repeat to you today Saint Augustine's words:

O brothers, O children, O Christian people, O holy and heavenly offspring, O regenerated in Christ and reborn from on high, listen to me, or rather through me sing to the Lord a new song (Sermo XXXIV.III, 6: PL 38, 211).
Naturally, this new song, which resounds in me and in you as a continuation of the eternal Hymn which is Christ, must be in harmony with the absolute perfection with which the Word addresses the Father, so that in life, in the power of affection and in the beauty of art, unity is fully achieved among us, living members, with Christ, our Head: "When you praise God, praise him with all your beings; may your voice sing, may your heart sing, may your life sing, and may your deeds sing!" is again Saint Augustine's strong recommendation (Enarr. in Ps. CXLIII, 2: PL 37, 1938).

Such unity requires above all that sacred music be true art – as I emphasized to the members of your Association earlier, true art which is therefore able to transform man's sentiment into song, to adapt music to words, to achieve that perfect and fruitful harmony with the lofty aims and requirements of Catholic worship. At the same time this unity demands that this music be authentically sacred, that is, that it possess a predisposition suitable to its sacramental and liturgical end and that it therefore be alien to the characteristics of music destined for other purposes. This unity further demands that the achievement of a truly sacred music is reached through careful specific preparation, artistic, spiritual and liturgical. In this perspective it is necessary to insist on the preparation of composers, to whom adequate help, suggestions and instruments must be given; to insist on the training of the faithful and of the singers, members of the Scholae cantorum who are a fruitful example of organization directed to the dignity of liturgical celebrations, to insist on the study of the theory and practice of sacred music, following the examples proposed by the Holy See in all the seminaries and religious institutes; on the foundation and vitality of various institutes and schools of sacred music for the formation of teachers who add deep faith and a practical reflection of Christian life to competence in the art of music (cf. Insegnamenti di Giovanni Paolo II III, 6, 1980, 699 ff.)

See other writings of the Pope on music:
1. To Promote Real Sacred Music
2. Not Everything Lawful or Vaild
3. Liturgical Music
4. Need for Preparation
5. The Pope to PIMS 2001
6. Reflections on a Canticle

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