Wednesday, September 26, 2012

The Liturgy is a dialogue with God; He has given us the right words to address Him

Pope Benedict XVI gave a catechesis on "The liturgy as a school of prayer" in his general audience today. While he didn't address sacred music directly, his theological reflection has immense and compelling implications for the nature of the music of the liturgy.

Here are a few highlights with added emphasis and commentary on the report from VIS:

Vatican City, 26 September 2012 (VIS) - The liturgy as a school of prayer, as a "special place in which God addresses each one of us ... and awaits our response", was the theme of Benedict XVI's catechesis during his general audience, held this morning in St. Peter's Square. 
Quoting again from the Catechism of the Catholic Church the Pope affirmed that "a sacramental celebration is a meeting of God's children with their Father, in Christ and the Holy Spirit; this meeting takes the form of a dialogue, through actions and words'. Thus", he explained, "the first requirement for a good liturgical celebration is that it be prayer and dialogue with God, first listening then responding. ... Sacred liturgy offers us the words, it is up to us to enter into their meaning, absorb them, harmonise ourselves with them. ... One fundamental and primordial element of dialogue with God in the liturgy is concordance between what we say with our mouths and what we carry in our hearts", he said. 
What the Holy Father describes here is perhaps one of the strongest theological arguments for Gregorian chant and authentic sacred music: The entire form of the liturgy is a dialogue; its form is antiphonal. As participants in the liturgy, our first task is to listen, and then to respond. The words that we use are not of our own creation or selection – they are offered to us by the sacred liturgy itself. Our participation in responding to God with the words of the liturgy is to enter deeply into them, harmonizing our minds, hearts and voices into one. 

Could there be a better description of what Gregorian chant DOES, and enables the Church to do in her celebration of the sacred liturgy?
Our hearts, the most intimate part of us, must open meekly to the Word of God and join the prayer of the Church, in order to be oriented towards God by the very words we hear and pronounce". 
"We celebrate and experience the liturgy well", the Pope concluded, "only if we maintain an attitude of prayer, uniting ourselves to the mystery of Christ and to His dialogue of a Son with His Father. God Himself teaches us to pray. ... He has given us the right words with which to address Him, words we find in the Psalter, in the great prayers of sacred liturgy and in the Eucharistic celebration itself.
Our proper disposition in the liturgy is one of openness and receptivity. We are not the creators of our liturgical prayer, or of our liturgical song. Our job is to open ourselves to the presence of God and enter into the prayer of the Church that is taking place in our midst. 

Note that the Holy Father does not list first the texts of the Order of the Mass, or even the Ordinary, but lists the Psalter – the primary source for the Proper of the Mass. These are the prayers that God through His Church has given us to pray. They are not of our own invention or inspiration. They have been given to us, and our role is to receive them, to make them our own, and to allow the Holy Spirit to teach us how to pray through them.

In conclusion, the Holy Father says:
Let us pray to the Lord that we may become increasingly aware of the fact that the liturgy is the action of God and of man; a prayer that arises from the Holy Spirit and from us; entirely addressed to the Father in union with the Son of God made man".
Amen. This is what active participation in the liturgy is. Thank you, Holy Father, for your clear and beautiful teaching on the sacred liturgy.

Please read the entire piece at VIS.