Thursday, October 16, 2008

Focus: Music and the Liturgy, by Cardinal Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict XVI


I posted an article a few months ago on how music effects the mind and how it can pose an influence on it. In the then Cardinal Ratzinger's book, the Spirit of the Liturgy he spoke of this very topic in relation to the Liturgy. I wanted to post a part of this writing pertaining to modern pop and rock music, which obviously does not belong within the Sacred Liturgy. I highly recommend buying this book, which expounds on the sacredness of the Divine Liturgy. It is published by Ignatius Press.



The Challenge of Popular Music

After the cultural revolution of recent decades, we are faced with a challenge no less great than that of the three moments of crisis that we have encountered in our historical sketch: the Gnostic temptation, the crisis at the end of the Middle Ages and the beginning of modernity, and the crisis at the beginning of the twentieth century, which formed the prelude to the still more radical questions of the present day. Three developments in recent music epitomize the problems that the Church has to face when she is considering liturgical music. First of all, there is the cultural universalization that the Church has to undertake if she wants to get beyond the boundaries of the European mind. This is the question of what inculturation should look like in the realm of sacred music if, on the one hand, the identity of Christianity is to be preserved and, on the other, its universality is to be expressed in local forms. Then there are two developments in music itself that have their origins primarily in the West but that for a long time have affected the whole of mankind in the world culture that is being formed. Modern so-called "classical" music has maneuvered itself, with some exceptions, into an elitist ghetto, which only specialists may enter--and even they do so with what may sometimes be mixed feelings. The music of the masses has broken loose from this and treads a very different path.

On the one hand, there is pop music, which is certainly no longer supported by the people in the ancient sense (populus). It is aimed at the phenomenon of the masses, is industrially produced, and ultimately has to be described as a cult of the banal. "Rock", on the other hand, is the expression of elemental passions, and at rock festivals it assumes a cultic character, a form of worship, in fact, in opposition to Christian worship. People are, so to speak, released from themselves by the experience of being part of a crowd and by the emotional shock of rhythm, noise, and special lighting effects. However, in the ecstasy of having all their defenses torn down, the participants sink, as it were, beneath the elemental force of the universe. The music of the Holy Spirit's sober inebriation seems to have little chance when self has become a prison, the mind is a shackle, and breaking out from both appears as a true promise of redemption that can be tasted at least for a few moments. (The Spirit of the Liturgy, pp 147-8)

Music and Logos

Not every kind of music can have a place in Christian worship. It has its standards, and that standard is the Logos. If we want to know whom we are dealing with, the Holy Spirit or the unholy spirit, we have to remember that it is the Holy Spirit who moves us to say, "Jesus is Lord" (1 Cor 12:3). The Holy Spirit leads us to the Logos, and he leads us to a music that serves the Logos as a sign of the sursum corda, the lifting up of the human heart. Does it integrate man by drawing him to what is above, or does it cause his disintegration into formless intoxication or mere sensuality? That is the criterion for a music in harmony with logos, a form of that logiké latreia (reason-able, logos-worthy worship) of which we spoke in the first part of this book." (The Spirit of the Liturgy, p 151)

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