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Musical Musings: Miscellaneous

Liturgical Music

by Pope John Paul II

The following is an excerpt from a homily Pope John Paul II delivered to 20,000 musicians celebrating the first centenary of the Italian Saint Cecilia Association.

Music intended for the Liturgy must be "sacred" owing to special characteristics which allow it to be an integral and necessary part of the Liturgy itself. Just as the Church, with regard to places, objects and clothes, demands that they should have a fitness adapted to their sacramental purpose, all the more so for music, which is one of the highest visible signs of liturgical sacredness, she wishes it to possess a fitness in keeping with this sacred and sacramental purpose, by means of special characteristics which distinguish it from music intended, for example, for entertainment, diversion, or even piety understood in a wide and generic sense.

The Church has declared what are the musical types that possess par excellence the artistic and spiritual fitness in keeping with the divine mystery: they are Gregorian chant and polyphony. In a period in which appreciation and taste for Gregorian chant is widespread, and its excellence universally recognized, it is necessary that in the places for which it came into being, it should be brought back and put into practice, according to the degree of ability of the individual liturgical communities, in particular with the reintroduction of the most significant passages and of those which, owing to their facility and traditional practices, must become the common songs of the Church (cf. Intr. to Jubilate Deo). Today polyphony also has been given new value by the unexpected and happy development of the "scholæ Cantorum," composed even of young people, eager for true beauty and deep spirituality. Alongside these two types is popular sacred song, which must effectively involve the whole people and possess, therefore, choral elements of eloquent solemnity, such as a praying and worshipping assembly can and must express. Saint Ambrose happily compares the singing of the faithful with the sea: "Their psalmody -- he writes -- vies with the splash of the lapping waves ... What is the song of the sea, if not an echo of the songs of the Christian assembly?... When the people pray all together, there is a booming like the ebbing of frothy waves, when the singing of men, women, virgins, and children echoes the responses of the psalms like the harmonious roar of the waves."

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