Vatican II: Sacrosanctum Concilium (Part 2)

10-22-2017Liturgy Corner

120. In the Latin Church the pipe organ is to be held in high esteem, for it is the traditional musical instrument which adds a wonderful splendor to the Church's ceremonies and powerfully lifts up man's mind to God and to higher things.

Why should we care?

A: Celebrating the liturgy involves the whole person: intellect and will, emotions and senses, imagination, aesthetic sensibilities, memory, physical gestures, and powers of expression. Appropriate feeling is necessary forthe communication and assimilation of religious truth. The Church’s insistence on music of a unique sort is intended not merely to stimulate feelings in a general way, but to exemplify Christian truth and convey transcendent mysteries using an appropriate form of expression. As Pope Benedict XVI has written, sacred music “elevates the spirit precisely by wedding it to the senses, and it elevates the senses by uniting them withthe spirit” (Cardinal Ratzinger, The Spirit of the Liturgy, 150).

Q. Isn’t this really just a matter of taste?

A: Nothing prevents us from preferring one form of music to another. What’s more, nothing prevents us frompreferring one form of popular religious song to another. But music that is suitable for sacred liturgy must be ofa special sort. No longer can personal preference be the sole criterion. “Not all musical forms can be consideredsuitable for liturgical celebrations,” says Pope John Paul II in his Chirograph on sacred music (2003). He quotesPope Paul VI: “If music — instrumental and vocal — does not possess at the same time the sense of prayer, dignity, and beauty, entry into the sphere of the sacred and the religious is [thereby] precluded.”

In his general audience of February 26, 2003, Pope John Paul called on musicians to “make an examination of conscience so that the beauty of music and hymnody will return once again to the liturgy. It is necessary to purify worship of ugliness of style, careless forms of expression, ill-prepared music and texts, which are notworthy of the great act that is being celebrated.”

In 2006, when he blessed the new instrument at the Alte Kapelle in Regensburg, Pope Benedict XVI remarked, “Theorgan has always been considered, and rightly so, the king of musical instruments, because it takes up all the sounds ofcreation… and gives resonance to the fullness of human sentiments, from joy to sadness, from praise to lamentation. Bytranscending the merely human sphere, as all music of quality does, it evokes the divine. The organ’s great range of timbre, from piano through to a thundering fortissimo, makes it an instrument superior to all others. It is capable of echoing and expressing all the experiences of human life. The manifold possibilities of the organ in some way remind usof the immensity and the magnificence of God.”