Beauty in the Sacred Liturgy, According to the Teaching of Pope Benedict XVI - Catholic Action For Faith and Family

Beauty in the Sacred Liturgy, According to the Teaching of Pope Benedict XVI

March 19, 2011 :: Cardinal Raymond Burke Leave a Comment




First of all, I wish to thank His Grace, Archbishop Willem Jacobus Eijk, and the Dutch Association for Latin Liturgy for the invitation to celebrate the Holy Mass and to speak at the Annual General Meeting of the Association. In a special way, I wish to commend the Association for all that it is doing to promote the celebration of the Sacred Liturgy in Latin, the mother tongue of the Church, in accord with the directives of the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council.[1] Your dedication in the promotion of the Sacred Liturgy is especially important in today’s culture which has grown so secular and, therefore, forgetful of God and of His living presence with us in the Church, especially through the celebration of the Sacred Liturgy. It is my hope that my words, today, will confirm the work of the Association and also offer some measure of inspiration to you in carrying forward the same work. Above all, I hope that my words will, in some manner, lead all of us to a more profound and grateful appreciation of our life in Christ in His Mystical Body, the Church. There is nothing more beautiful in the world than the life of Christ within us through the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, especially in the Sacraments. I hope that our time together today will lift up our minds to contemplate the extraordinary nature of our ordinary life in the Church, informed by sound doctrine, nourished through the Sacraments and their extension in our prayer and devotion, and lived in the practice of the virtues. Our Lord Jesus Christ is Truth, Beauty and Goodness Incarnate. Living completely and faithfully in Him, we encounter, especially through the sacred liturgy, the True, the Beautiful and the Good. Living in Christ, we live in communion with each member of the Church, in every part of the world and in every period of time. Indeed, we participate in the Communion of Saints. Like Mary of Bethany, we, encountering the Lord living for us in the Church, wish to offer to Him our worship; we wish to give glory to Him by the very best means at our disposition.[2] His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI who is an extraordinary teacher of the faith has devoted himself, both as a theologian and as a shepherd of the flock, to teaching about the sacred liturgy, as the highest and best expression of our life in Christ. His teaching is certainly a most fitting instrument for our reflection today. In my exposition of his liturgical theology, I wish, first, to present some philosophical principles on beauty and sacred art, and then reflect on beauty in the sacred liturgy according to his teaching, with special reference to sacred music.

Philosophical Principles

 In the Catholic tradition, beauty is a metaphysical and ultimately theological notion. The search of beauty has nothing to do with mere aesthetic sensibility or a flight from reason, because, from the divine perspective, beauty, together with truth and goodness, is a manifestation of being. God, the origin and sustainer of all being is truth, beauty and goodness itself. In the language of metaphysics, truth, beauty and goodness are the “transcendentals.” In other words, to the degree that any reality participates in being and ultimately in the being of God, that reality is true, beautiful and good. In the Compendium of the Catechism of the Catholic Church we find an extraordinary declaration which summarizes the theological notion of beauty. It is especially noteworthy that the text in question is found in the section of the Compendiumwhich treats the Eighth Commandment: “You Shall Not Bear False Witness Against Your Neighbor.” In response to question no. 526, “What relationship exists between truth, beauty and sacred art?,” the Compendium declares:

The truth is beautiful, carrying in itself the splendour of spiritual beauty. In addition to the expression of the truth in words there are other complementary expressions of the truth, most specifically in the beauty of artistic works. These are the fruit both of talents given by God and of human effort. Sacred art by being true and beautiful should evoke and glorify the mystery of God made visible in Christ, and lead to the adoration and love of God, the Creator and Savior, who is the surpassing, invisible Beauty of Truth and Love.[3]

The beauty of sacred art is always a fruit of a deeper knowledge and love of God in Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God, Who is all beautiful.[4] In the context of modern and contemporary western culture, it is precisely the transcendent dimension of beauty, as interchangeable with truth and goodness, which is contested. In the rationalist thinking which has exercised so strong an influence in contemporary western culture, beauty has been stripped of its metaphysical meaning; it has been “emancipated” from the order of being and reduced to an aesthetic experience or indeed to a matter of feeling. The disastrous consequences of this revolution are not limited to the world of art. Rather, along with the loss of beauty, we have also lost goodness and truth. The good is now determined by what pleases the individual or group in power, such that what I determine is good, according to my preference and convenience, can mean destruction for another or for the world around. At the same time, there is the pretense that the individual determines what is true for him, so that the individual determines when human life begins or what constitutes marriage and the family. One of the most painful results of the contemporary alienation of beauty from the good and the true is an aesthetics which rejects anything beautiful as a deception and holds that only the representation of what is crude, vulgar and low corresponds to the truth. A similar aesthetics has had an effect on the sacred liturgy, as well as on sacred art and architecture. The great tradition of Catholic art, architecture, language, music and gesture in which the Church’s forms of prayer and worship have been expressed, are now often met, even within the Church, with a similar distrust and suspicion. It has not been a rare thing to hear that beauty is not an appropriate category of the Church’s worship. In the false interpretation of the liturgical reform mandated by the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, the destruction of beautiful altar pieces and statuary, for example, in some parts of the Church was justified. I need not dwell on what happened to sacred music in the post-Conciliar period. The corrosion worked by such thinking in the Church seems to be a manifestation of the perennial temptation of iconoclasm, which has beset the Church repeatedly down the Christian centuries. According to such thinking, what is ugly appeals because of its honesty and simplicity. In an essay on beauty, written in 2002, the then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger reflected on Psalm 44[45], which “describes the wedding of the King, his beauty, his virtues, his mission, and then becomes an exaltation of his bride.”[5] He goes on to explain:

[T]he Church reads this psalm as a poetic-prophetic representation of Christ’s spousal relationship with his Church. She recognizes Christ as the fairest of men, the grace poured upon his lips points to the inner beauty of his words, the glory of his proclamation. So it is not merely the external beauty of the Redeemer’s appearance that is glorified: rather, the beauty of Truth appears in him, the beauty of God himself who draws us to himself and, at the same time, captures us with the wound of Love, the holy passion (eros), that enables us to go forth together, with and in the Church his Bride, to meet the Love who calls us.[6]

It is the same Christ to Whom the Church, remembering His Passion, applies the words of Isaiah 53:2: “He had neither beauty, nor majesty, nothing to attract our eyes, no grace to make us delight in him.” In the suffering Christ, we come to know that “the beauty of truth also embraces offence, pain, and even the dark mystery of death, and that this can only be found in accepting suffering, not in ignoring it.” Hence Pope Benedict XVI speaks of a “paradoxical beauty,” which implies not a contradiction but a contrast. The totality of Christ’s beauty is revealed to us when we contemplate the disfigured image of the crucified Saviour, which shows us his “love to the end.”[7] We, therefore, learn to contemplate the redemptive beauty of Christ, crucified and glorified, which shines forth with particular splendor in the saints and is also reflected in the works of art the faith has generated. The great masterpieces of sacred art and sacred music have the power to lift our hearts to higher things and lead us beyond ourselves to God, Who is Beauty itself. It is the Holy Father’s conviction that this encounter is “the true apology of the Christian faith.”[8] 

Sacred Art and the Sacred Liturgy

 For the Church, beauty is manifested most fully and perfectly in the sacred liturgy, in the sacramental encounter with the living Christ Who dwells within the Church through the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. Pope Benedict, during his visit to the Cistercian Abbey of Heiligenkreuz in Austria in September 2007, exhorted the priests and consecrated persons with these words:

I ask you to celebrate the sacred liturgy with your gaze fixed on God within the communion of saints, the living Church of every time and place, so that it will truly be an expression of the sublime beauty of the God who has called men and women to be his friends![9]

His words apply to all who have been brought to life in Christ and, therefore, worship God the Father “in spirit and truth.”[10] Pope Benedict XVI emphasized beauty in the sacred liturgy in his Post-synodal Apostolic Exhortation Sacramentum Caritatis of 2007. He wrote:

This relationship between creed and worship is evidenced in a particular way by the rich theological and liturgical category of beauty. Like the rest of Christian Revelation, the liturgy is inherently linked to beauty: it is veritatis splendor. The liturgy is a radiant expression of the paschal mystery, in which Christ draws us to himself and calls us to communion. As Saint Bonaventure would say, in Jesus we contemplate beauty and splendor at their source. This is no mere aestheticism, but the concrete way in which the truth of God’s love in Christ encounters us, attracts us and delights us, enabling us to emerge from ourselves and drawing us towards our true vocation, which is love. God allows himself to be glimpsed first in creation, in the beauty and harmony of the cosmos (cf. Wis13:5; Rom 1:19-20). In the Old Testament we see many signs of the grandeur of God’s power as he manifests his glory in his wondrous deeds among the Chosen People (Ex 14; 16:10; 24:12-18; Nm 14:20-23). In the New Testament this epiphany of beauty reaches definitive fulfillment in God’s revelation in Jesus Christ: Christ is the full manifestation of the glory of God. In the glorification of the Son, the Father’s glory shines forth and is communicated (cf. Jn 1:14; 8:54; 12:28; 17:1). Yet this beauty is not simply a harmony of proportion and form; “the fairest of the sons of men” (Ps 45[44]:3) is also, mysteriously, the one “who had no form or comeliness that we should look at him, and no beauty that we should desire him” (Is 53:2). Jesus Christ shows us how the truth of love can transform even the dark mystery of death into the radiant light of the resurrection. Here the splendor of God’s glory surpasses all worldly beauty. The truest beauty is the love of God, who definitively revealed himself to us in the paschal mystery.[11]

In his treatise on the Sacred Liturgy, The Spirit of the Liturgy, the then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger addressed the incongruity of any form of art which is “completely free expression,” that is, which is without reference to the objective order of things. He declares: “No sacred art can come from an isolated subjectivity.”[12] Sacred art at the service of the sacred liturgy is, therefore, fundamentally an expression of faith. I call to mind visiting, for the first time, a cathedral constructed during the last decade, whose architect was, in fact a non-believer. Concelebrating the Holy Mass within the cathedral, I was struck by the peculiarity of a number of the furnishings in the sanctuary. The ambo seemed especially peculiar to me. When I asked an Auxiliary Bishop from the diocese in question about the furnishings, he responded that I needed to understand that the principle of the architecture of the cathedral was asymmetry. He assured me that my reaction was justified because everything in the building is meant ultimately, in accord with the principle of asymmetry, “to throw me off.” I could only comment that it seemed strange to me to construct a temple to the God of order and harmony by employing an architecture of asymmetry. In truth, it seems fundamentally unjust to ask an architect or artist, who does not enjoy the gift of faith, to design a Catholic church or any of its furnishings. At best, he can mechanically imitate the work of another who has the faith; at worst, his art will express something other than faith and, even, perhaps contrary to the faith. The then Cardinal Ratzinger wrote:

Without faith there is no art commensurate with the liturgy. Sacred art stands beneath the imperative stated in the second epistle to the Corinthians. Gazing at the Lord, we are “changed into his likeness from one degree of glory to another; for this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit” (3:18).[13]

He then urges that the Church, recognizing that sacred art is a gift which is received and not manufactured by the artist, foster “a faith that sees.”[14] The beauty of the liturgy is manifested concretely through material objects and bodily gestures, which man – a unity of soul and body – needs to elevate himself toward the realities of faith that transcend the visible world. This means that sacred architecture and sacred art, including sacred furnishing, vestments, vessels and linens, must be of such quality that they can express and communicate the beauty and majesty of the liturgy as the action of Christ in our midst, uniting heaven to earth. The Venerable, soon to be Blessed, Pope John Paul II, in his last Encyclical Letter, Ecclesia de Eucharistia of 2003, recalled the biblical foundation of the Church’s concern for the beauty of her divine worship, namely, the account of the anointing of Jesus at Bethany:

A woman, whom John identifies as Mary the sister of Lazarus, pours a flask ofcostly ointment over Jesus’ head, which provokes from the disciples – and from Judas in particular (cf. Mt 26:8; Mk 14:4; Jn 12:4) – an indignant response, as if this act, in light of the needs of the poor, represented an intolerable “waste.” But Jesus’ own reaction is completely different. While in no way detracting from the duty of charity towards the needy, for whom the disciples must always show special care – “the poor you will always have with you” (Mt26:11; Mk 14:7; cf. Jn 12:8) – he looks towards his imminent death and burial, and sees this act of anointing as an anticipation of the honour which his body will continue to merit even after his death, indissolubly bound as it is to the mystery of his person.[15]

This story, above all, illustrates that care for the beauty of churches and for everything employed in the Sacred Liturgy is a connatural expression of love for God. Even in a place in which the Church does not have great material resources, this should be a priority. In this regard, I refer to Pope Benedict XIV (1740-1758), one of the great popes of the 18th century, who wrote these words in his Encylical Letter Annus Qui, dedicated to sacred music:

We do not intend, with these words, to insist on sumptuous or magnificent accoutrements for holy buildings, nor on rich or expensive furnishings. We are aware these are not everywhere possible. What we wish is decency and cleanliness. These can go hand in hand with poverty and can be adapted to it.[16]

The history of the Church is, in fact, rich with examples of great sacrifices made by persons of modest economic means, so that they could provide for the construction of truly beautiful churches, with sculptures in wood and marble, stained-glass windows, and vestments and linens of high quality. “Faith that sees” is critical to the appreciation of the immense treasure of beauty, which previous generations have left us in their remarkable works of sacred art and architecture. The great cathedrals and churches all around the world are not just cultural monuments. They are, first and foremost, testimonies of the Catholic faith. The then Cardinal Ratzinger, in his masterwork, The Spirit of the Liturgy, observed:

The great cultural tradition of the faith is home to a presence of immense power. What in museums is only a monument from the past, an occasion for mere nostalgic admiration, is constantly made present in the liturgy in all its freshness.[17]

During his apostolic visit to France, Pope Benedict was inspired to a similar reflection during his Homily for Vespers on September 12, 2008, in the magnificent Cathedral of Notre-Dame in Paris, which he described as “a living hymn of stone and light in praise of that act, unique in the annals of human history: the eternal Word of God entering our history in the fullness of time to redeem us by his self-offering in the sacrifice of the Cross.”[18] The Cathedral of Notre-Dame is truly an architectural hymn in praise of the mystery of the Redemptive Incarnation of the Son of God in the Blessed Virgin Mary. As Pope Benedict XVI recalled, it was in the same cathedral that the poet Paul Claudel (1868-1955) had a singular experience of the beauty of God, during the singing of the Magnificat of the Vespers of Christmas in 1886, which led to his conversion to the Catholic faith.[19] It must not escape us that the via pulchritudinis, the way of beauty, is a significant and irreplaceable way for the proclamation of God to a culture beset by secularism and materialism. Sacred Music and the Beauty of the Sacred Liturgy The then Cardinal Ratzinger places the discussion of sacred music in the Church in the context of the relationship between the Church and contemporary culture, on which we have already reflected in the consideration of philosophical principles. As I have noted in the discussion of the philosophical principles, the growing division between faith and culture, from the time of the Enlightenment, presents a particular challenge for sacred music. The then Cardinal Ratzinger notes that, notwithstanding the struggle with a growing secularism, especially “during the second half of the nineteenth century as well as at the beginning of the twentieth century,” “great things were accomplished that can be placed beside the main trend in culture at that time since they are of completely equal rank.”[20] Among those accomplishments, also reflective of the spirit of the time, was “the rediscovery and renewal of Gregorian chant and great polyphonic church music.”[21] He notes that art itself is destroyed in a culture which has become completely secularized, for art is detached from beauty and its source in God. He observes the phenomenon of music dividing itself “into two worlds that hardly have anything to do with each other any more”: 1) “the music of the masses, which, with the label ‘pop’ or popular music, would like to portray itself as the music of the people;” and 2) “a rationally construed, artificial music with the highest technical requirements which is hardly capable of reaching out beyond a small, elite circle.”[22] Noting that the Church must engage in a dialogue with the cultural situation, Pope Benedict XVI rightly observes that the dialogue must be true, that is, it must be two-way:

When people rightly call for a new dialogue between Church and culture today, they must not forget in the process that this dialogue must necessarily be bilateral. It cannot consist in the Church finally subjecting itself to modern culture, which has been caught up to a large extent in a process of self-doubt since it lost its religious base. Just as the Church must expose herself to the problems of our age in a radically new way, so too must culture be questioned anew about its groundlessness and its ground, and in the process be opened to a painful cure, that is, to a new reconciliation with religion since it can get is lifeblood only from there.[23]

It is evident that sacred music must play a central role in the questioning of the culture by faith, in the new evangelization of culture. The then Cardinal Ratzinger, in fact, sees sacred music as a part of the great challenge of the Church today. He declares:

For this reason the issue of church music is really a very vital piece of a comprehnesive task for our age which requires more than mere dialogue; it requires a process of rediscovering ourselves.[24]

It, in no way, seems to be an exaggeration to believe that the service of sacred music in the worship of God, in accord with the principles set forth perennially in the Church’s teaching and discipline, indeed helps our culture to rediscover itself. The Church, Mother and Teacher, witnesses, in our society, man’s profound hunger and thirst for God, his desire to know the ground of his being in the act of boundless and ceaseless love of God for him, the love which has reached its perfect and lasting expression in the Redemptive Incarnation of God the Son, Who is alive for us in His Mystical Body, the Church. The signs of the hunger and thirst are manifold and sometimes quite surprising. I think, for instance, of the great popularity of the compact disks of Gregorian Chant sung by the Benedictine monks of the Abbey at Silos in Spain. I recall reading how popular these CDs were among the motorcyclists of America. More than likely, these devotees of motorcycling knew little about the music to which they were listening, but it conveyed something to their souls which the rock or country music, to which they may have usually listened, did not and could not. 

The Biblical Norm for Sacred Music 

In addressing the important service of sacred music in worship, Pope Benedict XVI directs us to find the authoritative norm in the Sacred Scriptures, in particular, in the Book of Psalms. He observes:

A first approach to the topic [of music in worship] presents itself if we recall that the Bible contains its own hymnal: the Psalter, which was not only born from the practice of singing and playing musical instruments during worship but also contains by itself – in the practice, the live performance – essential elements of a theory of music in faith and for faith.[25]

Because of the unique function of the Psalter as a bridge between the Law and the Prophets, as well as a bridge between the Old and the New Testaments, the Psalms provide an authoritative key to an understanding of sacred music in our time. In fact, it is not by accident that the Psalms remain central to Christian worship, for Christ brings to the fullness of expression these divinely-inspired songs of King David. The Holy Father selects a verse of Psalm 47, which Saint Jerome translated, “psallite sapienter,”as the starting point for understanding the profound teaching on sacred music, which is inherent to the Psalms as a living music offered for the worship of God and the sanctification of the singers. After a thorough study of the verse and of the meaning of “psallite,” in general, he is able to draw the following conclusions. First, the imperative to “make a psalm wisely,” which is found throughout the Sacred Scriptures, “is the concrete version of the call to worship and glorify God which is revealed in the Bible as the most profound vocation of human beings.[26] “Making a psalm refers, first of all, to singing, but also to the use of instruments : in which, as it were, creation is made to sound.”[27] It is, in the words of the then Cardinal Ratzinger, “necessary for responding to God, who touches us precisely in the totality of our being.”[28] Secondly, “[t]he musical imperative of the Bible is therefore not entirely unspecified but refers to a form that biblical faith gradually created for itself as the appropriate mode of its expression.”[29] Here, one sees clearly the contribution which the development of sacred music, in every time, is called to make to the culture in which the Church finds itself. Since the Redemptive Incarnation, sacred music serves the worship of God, worship through, with and in God the Son Incarnate. Regarding his second conclusion, the then Cardinal Ratzinger notes the definitive transformation of the Biblical imperative, which makes it ever new in the Church:

But the truly new, which had hitherto been merely awaited, happened only now, in the mystery of Jesus Christ. The “new song” praises his death and resurrection and hence proclaims God’s new deed to the whole world: that he himself has descended into the anguish of the human state and into the pit of death; that he embraces all of us on the cross with his stretched-out arms and, as the Risen One, takes us up to the Father across the abyss of the infinite divide separating creator and creature, which only crucified love can cross. Thus, the old song has become new and must be sung as such over and over again.[30]

It is Christ Himself, by the mystery of the Redemptive Incarnation, Who makes possible the encounter of His Mystical Body with culture in such a way that a song ever new is sung to the Father in the Church. Thirdly, the qualifier, “sapienter,” that is wisely or with reason, means that sacred music expresses the Word spoken by God, both in creation and through the living Tradition of the Church. The form of sacred music, in other words, must be coherent with the Word of God. The then Cardinal Ratzinger observes:

There is an art form corresponding to God, who, from the beginning and in each life, is the creative Word which also gives meaning. This art form stands under the primacy of logos; that is, it integrates the diversity of the human being from the perspective of this being’s highest moral and spiritual powers, but in this way it also leads the spirit out of rationalistic and voluntaristic confinement into the symphony of creation.[31]

Put simply, sacred music must be coherent with the Word of God handed on to us in the Church. The word, “sapienter,” is also understood to mean “with art,” in other words, sacred music demands the exercise of man’s “highest abilities,” so that his art, “according to the extent of [his] ability,” corresponds with “the complete dignity of the beautiful, the height of true ‘art’.”[32] The biblical analogue of sacred music is found in the teaching on “the construction of the sacred tabernacle” in the Book of Exodus[33] Three elements are identified in the instruction. First of all, “[a]rtistic creation reproduces what God has shown as model,” or, in other words, it is not the invention of man. In the words of the then Cardinal Ratzinger, “artistic creativeness in the book of Exodus is seeing together with God, participating in his creativity; it is exposing the beauty that is already waiting and concealed in creation.”[34] Secondly, “artists are described as people to whom the Lord has given understanding and skill so that they can carry out what God has instructed them to do.”[35] The work of the artist is, therefore, a supreme act of obedience, conforming his gifts to the instruction given to him by God. Finally, the Book of Exodustells us that every sacred artist’s “heart was stirred.”[36] In other words, the Spirit of God is at work in the mind, heart and hand of the artist to give glory to God and to edify His sons and daughters. The then Cardinal Ratzinger concludes his analysis with these words:

For church music this means that everything the Old Testament has to say about art – its necessity, its essence, and its dignity – is concealed in the bene cantare of the psalms.[37]

Sacred music, that is, music written for the sacred work of giving worship to God and sanctifying the faithful, by definition, must be a work which begins in obedience to God’s Word and is brought to conclusion with the help of His grace. 

Conclusions for Sacred Music Today 

The then Cardinal Ratzinger draws, from his study of the relationship of the Church to culture in what pertains to sacred music, three practical conclusions for today. First of all, sacred music must avoid any form of aestheticism, that is, a notion of music which excludes service of the glory of God and the salvation of souls. Cardinal Ratzinger declares regarding aestheticism:

The philosophy at work here belies the creaturely determination of the human being; it would like to elevate the human person to the level of a pure creator. But in this way it leads the human person into untruth, into contradiction with his or her own nature; untruth, however, always drifts into the disintegration of what is creative.[38]

According to the Christian understanding, however, “it belongs to the essence of human beings that they come from God’s ‘art,’ that they themselves are a part of God’s art and as perceivers can think and view God’s creative ideas with him and translate them into the visible and the audible.”[39] The norms of sacred art and architecture, set forth in theBook of Exodus, therefore, always apply to any art at the service of the worship of God and the sanctification of the faithful. Music, for example, which does not serve the articulation of the texts of the sacred liturgy cannot be truly sacred music. Music which may have a certain integrity and beauty but which distracts from the inherently sacred action of the liturgy, drawing attention to itself alone or directing itself to human sentiments and emotions which distract from the worship of God cannot be sacred music. Secondly, “pastoral pragmatism, which is only looking for success, is also incompatible with the mission of Church music.”[40] The then Cardinal Ratzinger specifically mentions rock music which has been introduced into the sacred liturgy through a certain pragmatic approach, noting that its “radical anthropological opposition to both faith’s image of human beings and its cultural intent has been amply and competently elucidated by others.”[41] The then Cardinal Ratzinger concludes:

Is it a pastoral success when we are capable of following the trend of mass culture and thus share in the blame for its making people immature or irresponsible? The medium of communication and the communicated message must stand in a meaningful relationship with each other…. Trivializing faith is not a new inculturation, but the denial of its culture and prostitution with the nonculture. [42]

The then Cardinal Ratzinger distinguishes ‘pop’ music from folk music which is able to provide a service to the Sacred Liturgy, if it is purified and elevated, in accord with the essential qualities of sacred music, as set forth by Pope Saint Pius X, in accord with the constant tradition of the Church, that is, the qualities of holiness, beauty and universality.[43] Finally, the Church must embrace the challenge presented by contemporary culture with confidence and with a steadfast adherence to the faith and what it demands of us. The then Cardinal Ratzinger observed that, first of all, the conversation between the Church and the culture in the matter of sacred music will certainly be challenging, even as the dialogue with culture, in general, presents, in our time, many and difficult challenges. He reminds us, however, that we are not in the situation of the early Church which found it necessary to reduce “church music to the Psalms,” because in the intervening centuries “an infinitely larger trove of music that is really appropriate has become available.”[44] The fact of the trove of Gregorian Chant, Sacred Polyphony and worthy hymnody should give us courage in striving for the most worthy music possible in the service of the worship of God and the sanctification of the faithful. The then Cardinal Ratzinger reminds us that the courage to address the challenge of sacred music in our time must, however, be accompanied by an asceticism, by what he called “the courage to contradict.”[45] As he clearly observes, such steadfast asceticism is the condition of the possibility of a true creativity in authoring sacred music in our time. It is the asceticism, I suggest which keeps ever before our eyes the essential qualities of sacred music, that is, holiness, beauty and universality. The then Cardinal Ratzinger encouraged us with these words:

We are sure, however, that the creative potency of faith will suffice right up to the end of time: until all of the dimensions of the human state have been traversed.[46]


 I hope that this modest study of beauty in the sacred liturgy and specifically in sacred music, according to the teaching of His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI has made clear the connaturality of beauty with the sacred liturgy. Following the example of the first disciples who were attentive to the worthy celebration of the sacred liturgy, as Saint Paul, for example, gives witness in the First Letter to the Corinthians,[47] and also our ancestors in the faith, throughout the Christian centuries, who were dedicated to provide for the most worthy and most beautiful celebration of the sacred liturgy, also at the cost of great sacrifices, we must dedicate ourselves tirelessly to the reform of the reform of the sacred liturgy, in order that it may be always more perfectly the worship of God and procure always more surely the sanctification of the faithful. The constant effort to sing “with wisdom,” for example, is at the heart of the worship of God and leads to always greater holiness of life. As the then Cardinal Ratzinger teaches us, we must take up the way of the reform of the reform with steadfastness and confident joy. If we keep before our eyes the true nature of the sacred liturgy, as worship of God and sanctification of the faithful, and the essential qualities of the art which is at the service of the sacred liturgy, that is, holiness, beauty and universality, we will continue giving faithful and efficacious witness to the Mystery of Faith, to the mystery of the living presence of the Son of God Incarnate in our midst. The way will remain always demanding as it has been throughout the entire history of the Church, especially in times of iconoclasm. The education of children, young people and adults in the true nature of the sacred liturgy and the irreplaceable service of sacred art and specifically of sacred music in the celebration of the sacred liturgy is essential. Regarding sacred music, it is essential to cultivate the great patrimony of Gregorian Chant, of Sacred Polyphony and of worthy hymnody. The teaching of sacred music should be accompanied by the experience of its most outstanding manifestations. In a special way, the formation of priests should include an education in the arts which are always at the service of the sacred liturgy. Seminarians, for example, ought to be introduced to sacred music which is truly at the service of the sacred liturgy. As priests they will be critically involved with sacred music both through the involvement of their own voices and through the direction which they give to ecclesial musicians. Seminarians, when they are introduced to the rich patrimony of liturgical music, will, as priests, be duly attentive to the service of sacred music in the worthy celebration of the Mystery of Faith. Finally, I cannot conclude without noting the solemn responsibility of Bishops, as true shepherds of the flock, in communion with the Roman Pontiff, to give institutional support to the sacred arts in service of the sacred liturgy. Bishops ought to be certain that, in their jurisdiction, the norms of the Church which pertain to the sacred liturgy and the sacred arts are being followed with integrity. Moreover, it is essential that they promote the knowledge of such norms, also through institutions of education, and the respect for those who are dedicated to the service of the sacred liturgy, according to the same norms. I close with words of Pope Benedict XVI, at the conclusion of a concert offered during his visit to the Pontifical Institute for Sacred Music at Rome, on October 13, 2007. They are words regarding sacred music, which underline for us the beauty which is connatural with the sacred liturgy:

How rich is the biblical and patristic tradition in underlining the efficaciousness of chant and of sacred music for moving hearts and elevating them to enter into, so to speak, the very intimacy of the life of God! Well aware of this, John Paul II observed that, today as always, three characteristics distinguish sacred liutrigcal music: “holiness,” “true art,” “universality,” the possibility that is of being proposed to any people or type of assembly (cf. Chirograph “Mosso dal vivo desiderio” of November 22, 2003). Exactly in view of this, ecclesiastical authority must engage itself in directing wisely the development of such a demanding genre of music, not “freezing” its treasure, but searching to insert into the heritage of the past the valid new offerings of the present, in order to achieve a synthesis worthy of the high mission reserved for it in the divine service.[48]

Thank you! Raymond Leo Cardinale Burke Archbishop Emeritus of Saint Louis Prefect of the Supreme Tribunal of the Apostolic Signatura

[1] Cf. Sacrosanctum Concilium Oecumenicum Vaticanum II, Constitutio Sacrosanctum Concilium “De Sacra Liturgia”, 4 Decembris 1963, Acta Apostolicae Sedis 56 (1964), pp. 109-110, n. 36; pp. 114-115, n. 54; pp. 124-125, n.101; Decretum Optatam Totius “De Institutione Sacerdotali”, 28 Octobris 1965, Acta Apostolicae Sedis 58 (1966), p. 721, n. 13.

[2] Cf. Jn 12:1-8.

[3] Compendium: Catechism of the Catholic Church, Washington, D.C.: United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, 2006, no. 526, with reference to nos. 2500-2503, and 2513 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church.

[4] Cf. Uwe Michael Lang, “La liturgia e le sue espressioni. Bellezza materiale e concretissima,”L’Osservatore Romano, 8-9 giugno 2009, p. 5; Uwe Michael Lang, “The Crisis of Sacred Art and the Sources for Its Renewal in the Thought of Pope Benedict XVI,” in Benedict XVI and the Sacred Liturgy. Proceedings of the First Fota International Liturgy Conference 2008, ed. Neil J. Roy and Janet E. Rutherford, Dublin: Four Courts Press, 2010, pp. 98-115.

[5] Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, “The Beauty and the Truth of Christ,” L’Osservatore Romano Weekly Edition in English, 6 November 2002, p. 6; “Il Sentimento delle cose, la contemplazione della bellezza,” Messaggio per il Meeting di Rimini 2002,, p. 1.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Jn 13:1

[8] Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, “The Beauty and the Truth of Christ,” p. 6.

[9] Pope Benedict XVI, “Heiligenkreuz: Papal Address, Holy Cross Abbey, 9 September: Your primary service: prayer and the Divine Office,” 9 September 2007, L’Osservatore Romano Weekly Edition in English, 12 September 2007, p. 11.

[10] Jn 4:23-24.

[11] Benedict PP. XVI, Post-synodal Apostolic Exhortation Sacramentum Caritatis, 22 February 2007, Vatican City State: Libreria Editrice Vaticana, no. 35.

[12] Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, The Spirit of the Liturgy, tr. John Saward, San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2000, p. 134; Teologia della Liturgia. La fondazione sacramentale dell’esistenza cristiana (Opera omnia, vol. XI), tr. Ingrid Stampa, Città del Vaticano: Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 2010, p. 132.

[13] Ibid., pp. 134-135; Teologia della liturgia, p. 132.

[14] Ibid., p. 135; Teologia della liturgia, p. 132.

[15] Pope John Paul II, Encyclical Letter Ecclesia de Eucharistia “on the Eucharist in Its Relationship to the Church”, 17 Aprilis 2003, Vatican City State: Libreria Editrice Vaticana, n. 47.

[16] Pope Benedict XIV, Encyclical Letter Annus Qui, 19 February 1749, tr. F.F. Hayburn, in Papal Legislation on Sacred Music: 95 A.D. to 1977 A.D., Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 1979, p. 93.

[17] Joseph Ratzinger, The Spirit of the Liturgy, p. 155; Teologia della Liturgia, p. 151.

[18] Pope Benedict XVI, “The Holy Father’s Vespers Homily on the liturgical experience and the heavenly Jerusalem: ‘In the Church everyone has a place’,” L’Osservatore Romano Weekly Edition in English, 17 September 2008, p. 8.

[19] Cf. Ibid.

[20] Joseph Ratzinger, A New Song for the Lord: Faith in Christ and Liturgy Today, tr. Martha M. Matesich, New York: The Crossroad Publishing Company, 1996, p. 94; Teologia della Liturgia, p. 671.

[21] Ibid., p. 95; Teologia della Liturgia, p. 672.

[22] Ibid., p. 95; Teologia della Liturgia, pp. 672-673.

[23] Ibid., p. 95-96; Teologia della Liturgia, p. 673.

[24] Ibid., p. 96; Teologia della Liturgia, p. 673.

[25] Ibid., p. 96; Teologia della liturgia, p. 674.

[26] Ibid., p. 100; Teologia della liturgia, p. 679.

[27] Ibid., p. 100; Teologia della liturgia, p. 679.

[28] Ibid., p. 100; Teologia della liturgia, p. 679.

[29] Ibid., p. 100; Teologia della liturgia, pp. 679-680.

[30] Ibid., p. 101; Teologia della liturgia, p. 681.

[31] Ibid., p. 102; Teologia della liturgia, p. 682.

[32] Ibid., p. 102; Teologia della liturgia, p. 682.

[33] Ibid., p. 102; Teologia della liturgia, pp. 682-683.

[34] Ibid., p. 103; Teologia della liturgia, p. 683.

[35] Ibid., p. 103; Teologia della liturgia, p. 683.

[36] Ibid., p. 103; Teologia della liturgia, p. 683.

[37] Ibid., p. 103; Teologia della liturgia, p. 684.

[38] Ibid., p. 106; Teologia della liturgia, p. 687.

[39] Ibid., p. 106; Teologia della liturgia, p.688.

[40] Ibid., p. 107; Teologia della liturgia, pp. 688-689.

[41] Ibid., p. 107; Teologia della liturgia, p. 689.

[42] Ibid., pp. 108-109; Teologia della liturgia, p. 691.

[43] Cf. Pius PP. X, Motu proprio “Tra le sollecitudini”, 22 November 1903, Acta Sanctae Sedis, 36, p. 332, no. 2.

[44] Joseph Ratzinger, A New Song for the Lord, p. 109; Teologia della liturgia, p. 692.

[45] Ibid., p. 109; Teologia della liturgia, p. 692.

[46] Ibid., p. 109; Teologia della liturgia, p. 692.

[47] Cf. 1 Cor 11:17-34.

[48] Pope Benedict XVI, “Allocutio ad docentes et alumnos Pontificii Instituti de Musica Sacra,” 13 October 2007, Acta Apostolicae Sedis, 99 (2007), p. 927.


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