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Online Edition - Vol. IX, No. 9: December 2003 - January 2004

Pope John Paul II: Apostolic Letter on Liturgy and Directives on Sacred Music released

Cardinal George addresses Vatican Conference observing 40th anniversary of Vatican II Constitution on the Liturgy

Observing two significant anniversaries concerning the Liturgy, Pope John Paul II issued two new documents on that topic a few days apart. The first, on sacred music, appropriately dated November 22, the Feast of Saint Cecilia, patroness of sacred music, and the centenary of Pope Saint Pius X's Tra le sollecitudini, a document encouraging revival of Gregorian chant, and increased participation by the faithful in the celebration of Mass.

Another document, an apostolic letter on the Liturgy, "The Spirit and the Bride say come", was released December 4, the fortieth anniversary of the Second Vatican Council's Constitution on the Liturgy, Sacrosanctum Concilium, dated December 4, 1963. The Liturgy Constitution was the first document issued by the Council (1962-65).

Both papal documents were released in Italian; English translations were unavailable at press time.

Music must be appropriate for Liturgical Celebration

The "chirography" (a papal document signed by the pope that provides instructions on an administrative order) on sacred music stressed that "music used for sacred rites must have sanctity as its point of reference", and that "not all musical forms are appropriate for liturgical celebrations".

The pope affirms that liturgical music "must respond to the legitimate requirements of adaptation and inculturation. It is clear, however, that every innovation in this delicate matter must respect specific criteria, like the search for musical expressions that respond to the necessary involvement of the entire congregation in the celebration, and at the same time avoid any concession to frivolity and superficiality".

"The sacred environment of liturgical celebration", the Holy Father said, "must never become a laboratory for experimentation or trial compositions and performances.

The pope emphasizes that "Gregorian chant occupies an important place" in the music for Catholic worship; furthermore, chant "should be preserved in the first place" for liturgical ceremonies celebrated in Latin with hymns. "Gregorian chant, therefore, continues today to be an element of unity in Roman Liturgy", he said.

Vatican Conference introduces new Apostolic Letter on Liturgy

Also in observance of the anniversary of Sacrosanctum Concilium, a day-long conference sponsored by the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments (CDW) was held at the Vatican on December 4.

The conference, which featured several speakers, opened with the reading of the new Apostolic Letter of Pope John Paul II, which begins with the phrase from the Book of Revelation, "The Spirit and the Bride say come..." The Letter, issued in Italian, calls for an "examination of conscience" concerning the reception of Sacrosanctum Concilium. He asks bishops and liturgists to build on the "riches" of the reform while also pruning "serious abuses" with "prudent firmness".

Cardinal Francis George of Chicago gave the initial address. (See excerpts from his October address to the Federation of Diocesan Liturgical Commissions, page 5.)

Cardinal George, who heads the US Bishops' Committee on the Liturgy, is a member of the Congregation for Divine Worship and US representative to the International Commission on English in the Liturgy, which provides English-language liturgical texts. His address focused on the philosophical background and foundation of the post-conciliar liturgical reform.

Cardinal George pointed out that "in the post-conciliar period, a limited understanding of the 'People of God' has often led to a limited, horizontal concept of the subject of the Liturgy" But the primary subjects of the Liturgy are the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, followed by "the heavenly powers, all creation, Biblical saints, the martyrs, the all-holy Mother of God and the great multitude of the elect". Only then, he observed, comes "the local celebrating assembly, ordered hierarchically in such a way that each person has his proper role".

The Church should reflect on the meaning of liturgical "participation", Cardinal George said. (The Constitution used the phrase "actuosa participatio", used by Pope Saint Pius X.) He noted that if "active participation" is thought to mean primarily speech and gestures, that would seem to eliminate silence, interior devotion, and attention to the Trinitarian dimension of worship.

The understanding of "participation" should be deepened, he believes. Otherwise, "the Eucharist can be imagined as a re-creation of the Last Supper", simply as a commemorative meal.

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