Friday, July 04, 2008

Interview with Abbot of Heiligenkreuz - "We do this in Benedictine serenity"

The most important German newspaper, the Frankfurter Allgemeine, has an interview with the Abbot of Heiligenkreuz, The Rt. Rev. Gregor Count Henckel von Donnersmarck, about the CD "Chant: Music for the Soul by Stift Heiligenkreuz" which we have heard about so much. Here it is in an NLM translation:

"We do this in Benedictine serenity"

2 July 2008. Monks of the Cistercian Monastery Stift Heiligenkreuz conquer the music charts with their album "Chant - Music for Paradise" [the title of the European release]. Because they seduce to Faith? Or because they cater for an esoteric trend?

Father Abbot, last September, Pope Benedict XVI during his pastoral visit to Austria has visited, under great media interest, Stift Heiligenkreuz, in the following month you have celebrated in the Stift, together with your nephew Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck, the Oscar for his film "The Lives of Others", and now a CD on which monks of the Stift offer Gregorian chant, storms the charts - do you not fear that this is a bit too much glamour for a monastery?

Yes, I try to put on the brakes and deliberately to preserve the monastic silence. As far as the chants recorded here at the Stift together with Universal Music are concerned: The Holy Father during his visit has not given us, to be sure, the assignment "you do a Gregorian chant CD with Universal Music now", but he has given us the charge to bear witness with our daily prayer in choir [Chorgebet, the German monastic term for the Divine Office] - and Gregorian chant really is sung prayer -, witness to people in the often desperate search for the meaning of life, for God. To bear witness so that their search does not end in the void. That then Universal Music came to us, was more of a coincidence. But I think that there is nothing objectionable to this way to proclaim the Faith. It is not after all about business, it is about being Apostolic, and nowhere is it written that for this purpose unusual forms of public visibility may not also be used sometimes. Of the media storm surrounding the CD, we notice a lot less here in the Stift anyway than you might think outside. Our daily rhythm is always the same since the year 1133 , including the seven times of prayer of the day. The CD is certainly not going to change this, the fuss we bear in Benedictine serenity. And, well, glamour! In a few weeks already the media attention will have subsided after all.

Aren't you concerned that this CD with chants which for most people of today are foreign, may encourage the general trend towards esotericism, especially since presumably only very few of the fans will be proficient in Latin?

No, in the CD booklet the texts have been translated into several languages. On the CD, and this already will check a possible slide into esotericism, the Requiem is focussed upon, a part of our funeral liturgy. The singers wanted this so, because shortly before three of our confrères had died. This is an impulse which the listeners have to accept: For us, death is precisely not the end, but the passage to God, to resurrection. This has nothing to do with esotericism.

But your singing confrères are not going on tour now with the CD?

No, no, this is not only the chant of seventeen more or less randomly selected confrères, this is the daily prayer of all of us, after all. Pope Benedict has said during his visit: "Monks pray first and foremost not for this or that, but they pray simply because God is worthy of being adored." This is bound to this place, to the Stift and its daily routine, you don't go on tour with this. But every year some 170,000 visitors come to Stift Heiligenkreuz, and who wants to can participate in our prayer.

Will there be a second CD to follow the success of this one?

In our agreement with Universal Music it says that for twelve months we may not enter into contracts with other enterprises. The 'risk' of a second CD is therefore probably low. And if Universal Music should once again come to us, then certainly much later.

What do you do with the revenue from the CD?

We do hope for a success, because we want to let the revenues accrue to the training of priests. Attached to the Stift is a philosophical-theological university, which since the visit of Benedict XVI may call itself Pontifical University. Sixteen confrères from Vietnam, Sri Lanka and Africa study at this university. So we could well use the money from the sale of the CD. In any case we certainly do not use it like pop stars!

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