Wednesday, November 05, 2008

The clearest musical expression

We often think of Pope Benedict XVI as having turned out attention to the primacy of chant in the liturgy, but in 2001, Pope John Paul II gave the following remarks to the International Congress of Sacred Music (reprinted in Sacred Music, Volume 128.1):

3. Sacred music is an integral part of the liturgy. Gregorian chant, recognized by the Church as being "specially suited to the Roman liturgy" (ibid., n. 116), is a unique and universal spiritual heritage which has been handed down to us as the clearest musical expression of sacred music at the service of God's word. It had a considerable influence on the development of music in Europe. The learned palaeographic work of the Abbey of Saint-Pierre de Solesmes and the publication of collections of Gregorian chant encouraged by Pope Paul VI, as well as the proliferation of Gregorian choirs, contributed to the renewal of the liturgy and of sacred music in particular.

Although the Church recognizes the pre-eminent place of Gregorian chant, she has welcomed other musical forms, especially polyphony. In any case, these various musical forms should accord "with the spirit of the liturgical action" (ibid.). From this standpoint, the work of Pierluigi da Palestrina, the master of classical polyphony, is particularly evocative. His inspiration makes him a model for the composers of sacred music, which he put at the service of the liturgy.

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