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Musical Musings: Liturgy

Cardinal Ratzinger (Benedict XVI) on Liturgical Music

by Michael J. Miller
Cardinal Ratzinger's (now Pope Benedict XVI) well-reasoned essays on sacred music bring to mind vividly the fact that the liturgy is, after all, divine.

In an article entitled Liturgie und Kirchenmusik published in 1986 in Communio, Cardinal Ratzinger referred to the incompatibility between rock music and the liturgy of the Church. A storm of progressive protest ensued, most of it aimed at the messenger instead of arguing to the contrary. How can a theologian judge modern music? What right does a Curia official have to say how today's young people should participate in the Liturgy? Implicit in the controversy was the hackneyed caricature of Ratzinger as the Teutonic-academician-turned-doctrinal-watchdog.

A revisionist view became necessary in 1996 with the publication of another book-length interview with the Cardinal (this time by German journalist Peter Seewald), because the second Ratzinger Report began with eighty pages of biographical information. His Eminence, we learn, is only human after all. Reminiscing about his childhood in Bavaria, Cardinal Ratzinger admits that music (especially Mozart) had a major role in his family life. "Music, after all, has the power to bring people together. . . . Yes, art is elemental. Reason alone as it's expressed in the sciences can't be man's complete answer to reality, and it can't express everything that man can, wants to, and has to express. I think God built this into man."1

Being an intellectual does not disqualify one from commenting upon either music or liturgy, provided one recognizes the limits of rational discourse. As Cardinal Ratzinger himself put it, theologians "cannot enter into musical discussions per se, but they can nonetheless ask where the seams are, so to speak, that link faith and art."2

What follows is a summary of three articles by Cardinal Ratzinger on liturgical music which appeared in German journals during the years 1986-1994 and were reprinted in English as part of the anthology, A New Song for the Lord: Faith in Christ and Liturgy Today.3 The essays were written for different occasions, but they follow the same pattern: the author contrasts a problematic theory or a pernicious trend with the true theology of the liturgy, and from that draws conclusions as to the proper place of music in the liturgy and suggests guidelines for practical applications.

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Part 2: The cultural challenge vs. Faith

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