Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Benedict XVI Set Aside the Debates on Liturgical Music

Carolyn Pirtle, the Assistant Director at the Notre Dame Center for Liturgy, has written a wonderful piece entitled Benedict XVI and an Incarnational Theology of Liturgical Music.

In it, she identifies that Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI has effectively changed –– even set aside –– the debates of past decades surrounding the music of the liturgy with his incarnational theology of liturgical music.

Here are a few excerpts. Please read the rest there.

For many in parish music ministry today, the “style” question is a hot-button issue: Gregorian chant, Renaissance polyphony, hymnody, and praise and worship are not simply classifications based on empirical criteria of melody, harmony, rhythm, texture, or timbre. They have come to imply loyalty to a particular camp, an ethos of liturgical music that often extends into defining an ethos of the liturgy itself and even the Church in general. Those who favor chant or “traditional” hymnody are often viewed as conservative elitists striving to grasp onto an antiquated vision of the Church. Those who gravitate toward “contemporary” hymns or praise and worship music are conversely labeled free-spirited, progressive liberals struggling to cast off the oppressiveness of a previous era in order to usher the Church into the modern culture. In order to resolve these conflicts, a dialogue must take place that delves more deeply than the question of mere musical style and examines the issue at its root. Ratzinger provides a starting point to this dialogue by stating that “church music is faith that has become a form of culture” (A New Song to the Lord, 94). By adopting this mindset, it becomes clear that a discussion of music and its place in the Church must first begin with a discussion of culture and its relationship to the Church, and it is this relationship which is in need of healing.
For those who seek to sing God’s praises, the self must be set aside in order to create a space for the Other. This becomes very difficult in a culture which sets such a high value on creativity, individuality, and originality, particularly when it comes to music. Whenever liturgical music becomes an extension of the self (whether as an expression of taste or a demonstration of virtuosic talent), it has ceased to serve its higher purpose. In “rediscovering ourselves” and the relationship between faith, culture, and music, we must seek above all to rediscover Christ, who offered His life in self-emptying love as a song of praise to the Father. In seeking to imitate this act of self-gift, musicians and parishioners alike create an interior space for the One who invites them to join in His perfect song of praise.

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