Thursday, November 14, 2013

Cardinal Bartolucci Interviewed on the Liturgical Reform and Sacred Music - An NLM Exclusive

We were saddened to learn of the death on Monday of Domenico Cardinal Bartolucci, Director Emeritus of the Sistine Chapel Choir, who was for many years a strenuous defender of the great Catholic tradition of sacred music. Earlier this year, His Eminence granted a written interview to Mr. Wilfrid Jones, who is studying music at New College, Oxford. This interview was conducted as part of Mr. Jones’ research on a dissertation on the effects of the Second Vatican Council on music in St Peter’s Basilica. We are extremely grateful for his permission to publish this interview, and wish thereby also to honor Cardinal Bartolucci’s legacy. Although it is a bit long, we are certain that our readers will find it extremely interesting from beginning to end. The interview was conducted mostly in Italian, and the original version is published simultaneously on the Italian blog Messa in Latino.
His Eminence Domenico Card. Bartolucci conducts the singing of the Creed during a Solemn Pontifical Mass in the Extraordinary Form celebrated in St. Peter’s Basilica by H.E. Walter Card. Brandmüller on May 15, 2011. Photo courtesy of Orbis Catholicus Secundus.
A Research Interview with Domenico Cardinal Bartolucci from June 2013 - Conducted by Wilfrid Jones, Student reading music at New College, Oxford

What was the intention of the Fathers of the Second Vatican Council? How did they change liturgical music?

The Fathers of the Council had no intention of changing the liturgy, and therefore also (did not intend to change) sacred music in its relationship to it, and in its form, which indeed were both confirmed in the post-Conciliar period. Pope Pius XII had begun the reform of Holy Week, but in Mediator Dei had also expressed clear indications and laid out the principles for an authentic understanding of the liturgy, which were unfortunately disregarded later on. Also, knowing John XXIII, I am sure he would not have permitted all the changes which have extremely impoverished the liturgical life of the Church. I personally recall that the Sistine Choir sang very often during the assemblies of the Fathers, and the applause and approval which it received were the most profound testimony of how we were appreciated for our role in the liturgy.

Speaking of music, how was the Council’s request for “participatio actuosa” (active participation) put into practice?

“Participatio actuosa” was unfortunately misunderstood. The objective which they were trying to reach with this expression was authentic understanding (by the laity), an idea which moreover was not born at the Council. It was absolutely not the exterior objective of involving people in doing something within the celebration, and feeling themselves thereby to be more the protagonists, reading, singing, or doing who knows what. Unfortunately, however, this (latter) distorted, “pragmatic” understanding prevailed, supported also by many incompetent liturgists who were the first to misunderstand it, and in fact were the first to suggest it. Clear and definitive words in this regard are those set forth by then-Cardinal Ratzinger in his book Introduction to the Spirit of the Liturgy, which I fully agree with, and which recall us to the authentic sense of the participation of the faithful in the action of God, who makes Himself present in the liturgy by means of His word, and above all by means of His Body and Blood. This is the action in which the faithful are called to participate actively, uniting themselves to the celebration of the mystery.

According to you, it is correct to say that paragraph 121 (see below) of Sacrosanctum Concilium should be understood in the context of paragraph 14?

I would say that one is dealing with two different contexts. Paragraph 14 emphasizes the liturgical formation of the clergy and the faithful, which is necessary to participate in the liturgy and the Christian life with awareness, following the responsibilities taken on at baptism. The objective of this formation is essential above all for the clergy, but there are still many deficiencies (in it). It is well known that the documents of the Magisterium and not always absorbed and followed. For example, there are many problems with the education which candidates for the priesthood receive in the seminaries.

Paragraph 121 makes a specific exhortation to musicians, one which should be received and shared. In regard to the involvement of the whole assembly of the faithful, necessary clarifications must be made, and above all, it must not be understood as the criterion by which one chooses which music is suitable for the liturgy or not. There are indeed moments in which the whole people sings together, such as the Marian antiphons, and some well-known Gregorian chants. But on the other hand, there are moments in which the singing should be reserved for the Scholas, in order to reach a level of art, of solemnity and of beauty appropriate to the rite which is being celebrated. This is most certainly not to the detriment of the congregation, but rather helps it in its spiritual edification, and emphasizes the gift (of music) which the Lord has given to some, and which is used for the good of all. I myself have written many pieces of music in Italian for use in parishes, and I have always loved the singing of the people, but some contexts, like that of the Papal liturgy, where the Sistine Choir is present, should exalt and give glory to God by means of great art.

Can one understand paragraph 114 of Sacrosanctum Concilium in such a way as to not lose the sense of “participatio actuosa” ?

Paragraph 114 make a clear exhortation to increase the patrimony of sacred music, and promote the scholae cantorum, above all in the contexts to which I was referring earlier. In practice, however, after the Council there was revealed a certain disdain for the scholae cantorum, which the Council itself wished to maintain and promote. A consistent reading of the document on the liturgy makes it clear that in practice, what was done did not correspond to the Fathers’ wishes. There was a great banalization of our worship, which was encouraged by a pragmatic and incomplete manner of interpretation (of Sacrosanctum Concilium).

In the implementation of Sacrosanctum Concilium’s precepts on music, what went well, and what went badly?

[His Eminence declined to answer this question.]

Could you talk about the music at Papal liturgies in St Peter’s Basilica before the Second Vatican Council?

Before the Council, music had a fundamental role in the liturgical celebrations, and above all in the ceremonies where the Pope presided. The Sistine Choir performed the great repertoire of Gregorian chant and polyphony, handed down through the ages, with the masses of Palestrina at the center (of the repertoire). The place of music in the ancient liturgy was very great, and our role was not to amuse the faithful, but a true liturgical ministry. We were often accused of wanting to do concerts during the celebrations, but I do not believe that those who share this position have understood the role of sacred music in the liturgy.

What impact did the Council and the Constitution Sacrosanctum Consilium have on music at Papal liturgies?

In reality, neither the Council nor the Constitution on the liturgy had any practical effect on sacred music. If the ideas of the Fathers and of Sacrosanctum Concilium had really been followed, the results would have been very different, and very much in line with the tradition. In reality, I would say that all of the changes that were produced, and which in my judgment are negative, were determined by the work of application of the documents of the Council. This was done by a commission (the Consilium ad exsequendam Constitutionem de sacra Liturgia) which was not up to its role, and on which there worked people who wanted to impose their own ideas, distancing themselves from the official ideas of the documents. The way in which this commission worked has been analyzed in a very accurate study by Nicola Giampietro, O.F.M. Cap., based on the diaries of Cardinal Ferdinando Antonelli, which analyzed the developments of the liturgical reform from 1948 to 1970. This scholarly contribution has put a lot of light on the commissions actions, on the poor formation of its members, and the lack of professionalism with which they went about dismantling the liturgical patrimony which the Church had always jealously guarded in its liturgical life. As the cardinal observed in his personal notes: “liturgical law, which until the Council was sacred, for many no longer exists. Everyone considers himself authorized to do what he likes, and many of the young do exactly that. […] On the Consilium there are few bishops who have any particular competence in liturgy, very few who are real theologians. The most acute deficiency in the whole Consilium is that of the theologians. […] We are in the reign of confusion. I regret this, because the consequences will be sad.”

During the Council, was there any pressure to modify the Papal liturgies?

No, I would not say that during the Council’s work, there was any pressure to modify the Papal liturgies. Certainly, it would have been fine if certain aesthetic excesses had dropped out of use. This is part of the natural process of change that moves with the tastes and sensibilities of each era, but no one thought to change the liturgies, or banalize them, as was later imposed.

Once the Council was finished, what impact did the implementation of Sacrosanctum Consilium have on Papal liturgies from 1964 to 1997?

After the Council, and after the various experiments which unfortunately were permitted (as if the Church’s liturgy were something to experiment with, or make up on a drawing-board), a liturgy was produced which was substantially new. The consequences for sacred music were devastating. Sacrosanctum Concilium in paragraph 112 affirms that the musical tradition of the Church forms a patrimony of inestimable value, which exceeds all other expressions of art, especially because sacred music, united to the word, is a necessary and integral part of the solemn liturgy. Can you tell me where this “patrimony of inestimable value” is to be found today? The great polyphonic masses, the noble Gregorian chant: all put in the archives. Were these the intentions of the Council? Absolutely not. I myself had to struggle intensely to maintain something in the Papal liturgies, but with few results: an occasion motet, and every once in a while a gracious concession to do a Gloria in polyphony. I remember that one of the first requests made to me was to write music in Italian... Then, Monsignor (Virgilio) Noè (Papal master of ceremonies from 1970-1982) wanted the masses in alternating Gregorian chant, in place of those in polyphony. After a while, those were also gotten rid of, so that we could always sing the Missa de angelis in Gregorian chant, taking turns with a congregation which in reality was a group of nuns and priests… I was obliged to do this in my role as director of the Sistine Choir. I was able to save our great repertoire only in concert performances.

Did Pope Paul VI have anything to do with music?

Paul VI was tone-deaf, and not a great connoisseur of sacred music. One time, when he was still a cardinal, we sang the Missa Papae Marcelli in Saint Peter’s. After the celebration, at which he himself had presided, we met, and he complimented me heartily on the very beautiful performance which he had enjoyed so much. Then he said to me: “Maestro, why don’t you also give us some pastoral music!” I confess that I was quite chilled by what he said, and I replied: “Your Eminence, did you not just tell me that you enjoyed this very beautiful performance of one of Palestrina’s masterpieces?” Ideas of this sort about sacred music continued to be spread about, and Paul VI realized too late what had happened.

From 1969 to (early) 1976, Fr. (Annibale) Bugnini was the secretary of the congregation for Divine Worship. What impact did Fr. Bugnini have directly on your work as director of the Sistina?

Bugnini and I were on two different, and I would even say opposed, wavelengths, and we had a number of clashes. Much of the responsibility for what happened to the liturgy after the Council is his, and he often worked to promote his personal ideas. The great confidence the Pope placed in him certainly played to his favor, even though at the end Paul VI nominated him pro-nuncio to Iran….

Did this change under Mgr. Noé?

Mons. Noè was more of a moderate, but I remember that he also would accompany the Pope to the parishes, where he would celebrate Mass in Italian, singing the Gregorian melodies in the vernacular: a ridiculous and unworthy thing. As I said before, for the Papal liturgies, he asked me for Masses to be sung in alternation, (i.e., between the choir and the congregation) but even those did not last long. Once, he wanted us to sing Requiem aeternam, and I pointed out that even that had been abolished. You can imagine how badly things were compromised at that point.

Could you tell me about your interactions and involvement with the Consilium?

As Master of the Pontifical Choir, I was not included among the members of the Consilium; the same is true of Mons. Lavinio Virgili, who was director of the Choir of Saint John in the Lateran. We musicians were looked on with suspicion by the reformers. They thought us anchored in the past, and of course, if we had been present, they would not have had such an easy time of their work. My appointment was made when it was all already over, and at that point I wanted to refuse, but people convinced me to accept so as not to create any bad feelings. In the end, the few indications which I gave were not taken into consideration. For example, together with the head of the Pontifical Institute for Sacred Music, Mons. (Higini) Anglès, we tried to save at least the Sunday Mass in the basilicas, cathedrals and monasteries iuxta veterem consuetudinem. (“according to the ancient custom”). But this article, which seemed as if it had been accepted, (and indeed, Mons. Anglès wanted to thank the Pope for it), disappeared from the Instructio (de Musica Sacra, 5 March 1967).

(translation by Gregory DiPippo)

Sacrosanctum Concilium 121: Composers, filled with the Christian spirit, should feel that their vocation is to cultivate sacred music and increase its store of treasures. Let them produce compositions which have the qualities proper to genuine sacred music, not confining themselves to works which can be sung only by large choirs, but providing also for the needs of small choirs and for the active participation of the entire assembly of the faithful. The texts intended to be sung must always be in conformity with Catholic doctrine; indeed they should be drawn chiefly from holy scripture and from liturgical sources.

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