Benedict’s musical legacy

An interesting article disucsses the musical legacy of Pope Benedict. The author writes that “One of the many lasting legacies of the papacy of Benedict XVI concerns liturgical music. Enormous progress has been made in his papacy. Incredibly this progress has happened without new legislation, new restrictions, new mandates, or firm-handed attempts to impose discipline on musicians and artists. The change has happened through the means that Benedict XVI has always preferred: he has led through example and through the inspiration provided by his homilies and writings”.

He goes on to note “Gregorian chant is back but not just as a style preferred to the pop music that still dominates parish liturgy. More importantly, chant is back in its rightful place as the sung prayer of the liturgy”. This is part of the “reform of the reform” or New Liturgical Movement that has been at the heart of his papacy since his inception with his December 2005 speech to the Roman Curia.

He goes on to explain, “Gregorian chant is that ideal because it grew up alongside the Roman Rite ritual. It uses the text of that ritual. Its musical structure is a reflection of the liturgical purpose of the music. That’s why the chant between the readings is long and contemplative whereas the music of the entrance is more syllabic, thematically evocative, and forward feeling”.

He continues given a history since the end of the Second Vatican Council/Vatican II “Popes since Vatican II have attempted to turn the tide. Paul VI saw what was happening and regretted it all greatly. His solution appeared in 1974. It was a book of Latin music that he sent to all Bishops in the world, giving them permission to freely copy and use it. It was a proposal for a new core music for liturgy. He wrote: please ‘decide on the best ways of teaching the faithful the Latin chants of Jubilate Deo and of having them sing them…. You will thus be performing a new service for the Church in the domain of liturgical renewal.’ This fell on deaf ears. The music ended up in the waste can. His successor John Paul II issued several very important statements that similarly urged a change. They were beautifully written and inspiring. But again, it had no effect”.

However he moves swiftly to Cardinal Ratzinger, “He never feared the subject and this is for two reasons: 1) he understood the goals of Vatican II and saw that they had been seriously distorted, and 2) he was a trained music of the highest calibre who understood the role of music in the Roman Rite. When he became Pope, the changes began and they were relentless. We started hearing chant in Papal liturgy, just a bit at first and then more as time went on. With Summorum Pontificum (2007) he took away the stigma that had been attached to traditional chant by granting full permission to the liturgical structure that had originally given rise to chant. This was deeply encouraging for a generation that was ready to move forward. We started seeing chant workshops fill up. Groups began to form at the parish level. New resources started to be published by independent publishers. A real fire had been lit in the Catholic music world. And it all happened without any impositions or legislation. The musical program of St. Peter’s Basilica began to attract the attention of serious musicians. A new standard came to be applied to visiting choirs: you must know the basics of Gregorian chant or you cannot sing at St. Peter’s”.

He rightly ends on a note of thanks and praise, “What I find most impressive is the method that the pope used to achieve this. It was through inspiration and not imposition. For this reason, this change is fundamental and lasting. Mark my words: chant will come to a parish near you. We can thank Benedict XVI for his wisdom and foresight in achieving what most people thought was impossible”.

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2 Responses to “Benedict’s musical legacy”

  1. Benedict’s liturgical legacy | Order and Tradition Says:

    […] on from the recent article on the legacy of Benedict musically, Dom Alcuin Reid has written an article on the legacy of Benedict with regard […]

  2. Complex legacy | Order and Tradition Says:

    […] on from the series of articles on the legacy of Pope Benedict, be it his foreign policy, musical, liturgical, and cultural challenge to society another article has emerged, this time by John […]

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