Monday, July 12, 2010

Fota III: Reports from the Third Liturgical Conference in Cork, Ireland on Benedict XVI and Sacred Music

July is often a time of conferences, and as we speak, the Fota III Liturgical Conference in Ireland is taking place, with today being the final day. The conference this year is on the theme of Benedict XVI and Sacred Music.

Some reports by attendees have started to come into the NLM, including a report by Dom Alban Nunn of Ealing Abbey. Dom Alban offers the following thoughts of Day 1 of the Conference [NLM emphases]:

The opening session of FOTA III started shortly after 11 am. Fr Vincent Twomey SVD, formerly professor of moral theology at Maynooth, commenced with an overview of the issues concerning Church Music in the writings of the current Holy Father. He observed a fundamental distinction between Joseph Ratzinger's initial approach to music as integral to the liturgy in comparison to the Rahnerian 'ornamental' approach. After tracing some of the philosophical reasoning behind the Pope's thinking Twomey concluded with five principles which would find resonance in the later speakers. (1) Liturgy is for all- truly catholic but not always uniform. (2) It may be simple but never cheap. (3) Participation goes beyond mere external manifestations of activity. (4) If liturgical music is purely utilitarian it's actually useless. (5) A 'purification process' needs to be applied to musical material drawn from other cultures.


Fr Sven Leo Conrad FSSP then spoke on the intellectual connection between the Pope and Johannes Overath (1915-2002) whose work and person strongly influenced the music paragraph of Sacrosanctum Concilium (1964) and it's consequent expansion/explanation Musicam Sacram (1967). The theological content of Fr Overath's [Correction: Fr. Conrad's this should read] paper was severely curtailed by time limits however Fr Conrad managed to emphasise Overath's concern about the tendency to over play the 'spirit' rather than the 'letter' of the conciliar documents. Overath laid great value on the original relationes of the conciliar debates in interpreting the final texts. This seems to have been an attitude shared and passed on to the current Holy Father through close professional and personal contact which included a shared residency in the early 1980s.

Fr [Uwe] Michael Lang CO... gave his paper an overview of papal pronouncements on music from Benedict XIV's Annus Qui (1749) to the current day via the writings of John XXII and material from the 22nd and 23rd sessions of the Council of Trent. Summarising across the centuries, between the two Benedicts, Fr Lang outlined five consistent concerns; (1) The actual use of the textual material proper to the Mass. (2) The problem of the theatrical pushing the text away from God centeredness (including the appropriate use of instruments in worship). (3) The continuing concern for intelligibility. (4) The length of individual pieces in relation to he liturgical action. (5) The revival of the chant repertoire.

The first session paused with a series of questions from the floor including an interesting comment from Stanford's Professor William Mahrt on the introduction of the organ into Western liturgy. Apparently a Byzantine imperial ornament the first instrument was sent as a present to the emperor of the West, at that time Charlemagne, from the Emperor of the East, and originally used to play Gregorian melodies. Finally Archbishop Burke closed the morning session with some general comments of the renewal of sacred music.

Fr Stephane Quessard spoke on the renewal of Sacred Music commencing with a potted history of the origin and use of the term itself from it's apparent coining by Michael Praetorius around 1614. Quessard observed three challenges to Sacred Music in the thought of Joseph Ratzinger (1) That sacred music must go beyond the limits of current European thinking avoiding triteness and commercialism. (2) That the Church has to restore the logos at the centre of sacred music. (3) That the chant repertoire must be emphasised as normative to the Rite.

In an addition to the advertised programme the Irish composer Philip Carty spoke with considerable conviction about how his growing religious convictions have influenced his musical language. Carty has an academic background in both theology and music and a continuing career as a composer including several film music credits. There were several wonderful thought provoking moments in this talk, illustrated with some of his own music, including the question 'Is no music better than bad music?' aimed directly at much of the pastoral repertoire. Carty's answer was a simple 'Yes- because of the silence.'


The afternoon session then moved into the launch of the FOTA I proceedings. Archbishop Burke gave a summary of the contents in some detail then the publishers responded briefly giving tribute to the work of the editors. At 7.30 pm Archbishop Burke celebrated Pontifical Vespers in the Church of Ss Peter and Paul, Cork City.

With regard to the aforementioned Pontifical Vespers celebrated by Archbishop Raymond Burke, Prefect of the Apostolic Signatura and newly appointed member of the Congregation for Divine Worship, courtesy of the Catholic Voice we have the following images from the Vespers celebrated at Saints Peter and Paul’s Church on Saturday July 10th.

Dom Alban Nunn continues today with an accounting of day 2 [NLM emphases]:

At around 2 hours and 25 minutes into the proceedings [the Solemn Pontifical Mass] James Macmillan's a capella motet Christus Vincit was heard during the communion. The expected Macmillan trademarks were very evident- an uncanny ability to make even the driest acoustic sound quite resonant together with decidedly 'celtic' decorative figuration in the upper voices. Given the nature of the text you would have expected something quite triumphalistic but Macmillan has chosen to underplay that aspect of the text in favour of a more reflective setting. The grandeur of the text was more expressed through the subtle use of harmonic shifts and ornamentation rather than through sudden changes in tempo and dynamic.

Thomas Lacote's improvisation before the final Te Deum took up some of the stylistic features of the Macmillan setting. The setting of the ordinary was Palestrina's Missa Papae Marcelli matching well the material discussed in yesterday's session. Within the context of this Pontifical High Mass it was a solid reminder of the essential sobriety of the Roman rite...

Dr Andreas Andreopoulos presented a paper in two parts. First he examined the theory of music in the Byzantine tradition, particularly the modal system and noted the differences between the sacred and secular musics dependant on the same system. He noted that in various orthodox communities, that had previously adopted more westernized forms of music, there was currently a revival in the traditional chant. The second part of Dr Andreopoulos' presentation was the performance of a selection of pieces from the sacred and secular repertoires illustrating the points from the first half of his talk.

The second paper came from Don Alberto Donini of the Diocese of Brescia. His paper, Gregorian Chant in the Liturgy according to Joseph Ratzinger/Benedict XVI, extracted from the considerable references to music those specific to the Gregorian repertoire. At the essence of the paper was the identification of spiritualization as being essential to the Holy Father's understanding of chant. This he sees not only in the varied origins of the chant genre being brought into a cohesive spiritual form but also in a Christological sense by the which the chant itself participates in the incarnation of the logos; 'Christ the Word of God, incarnate in sound.'


Finally James Macmillan spoke, or rather gave his manifesto for the future, in a talk entitled The Spirit of the Liturgy: Rejoice in Tradition and Embrace the Future. Macmillan obviously knew he was 'preaching to the choir' with much he said but seemed a little more circumspect than he has been elsewhere- probably considering the presence of three bishops in the room by this stage. He concentrated on the problem of the value of 'beauty' and it's general neglect, indeed deliberate exclusion of the concept, from much liturgical consideration in recent years. In the context of the general alienation that occurred between Church and professional musicians, in the 1960s, Macmillan touched on the misinterpretation of participatio actuoso that has prevailed and also noted the considerable pressure he had recently been subjected to from 'modernist liturgists' in relation to his own work for the forthcoming Papal Visit to Britain. The session concluded with a personal reflection from Archbishop Burke who, speaking of some of the Holy Week Chants he remembered as a child, noting how appropriate their style seemed to the occasion. 'We have been robbed of a gift given by God' he recalled.

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