Beauty & Liturgy

The implementation of the new translation of the Roman Missal is indeed a great gift from Holy Mother Church.  Yet, we may not see the fruit it has to offer for years to come.  I am convinced that it’s catechetical power will affect the Church within the next two to five years.  Within a few months, most Catholics should be at home with our new translation and at that point, the repetition will begin to form hearts and minds.  Catholic worship will not be the same because of it.

I also believe the new translation will reach out beyond the believing Roman Catholic community.  Pope Benedict XVI in his General Audience of 31 August 2011 spoke about the power of the beautiful and it’s effect on the soul.

“It may have happened on some occasion that you paused before a sculpture, a picture, a few verses of a poem or a piece of music that you found deeply moving, that gave you a sense of joy, a clear perception, that is, that what you beheld was not only matter, a piece of marble or bronze, a painted canvas, a collection of letters or an accumulation of sounds, but something greater, something that “speaks”, that can touch the heart, communicate a message, uplift the mind.”

We all know the feeling of seeing a beautiful sunrise or the great majesty of a mountain range.  The beauty of nature speaks to the depths of ones soul.  It becomes a “God experience.”  The beauty of creation tells the human soul that there is a God who created it all.  The Holy Father relates that “some artistic expressions are real highways to God, the supreme Beauty; indeed, they help us to grow in our relationship with him, in prayer.”

The beauty of the Church’s Liturgy speak volumes more than any one theologian can express in words.  For that reason, I believe the New Liturgical Movement is so important to the Church and the New Evangelization.  Since the Second Vatican Council, there has been a false “spirit” of the Council.  Pastors, Liturgists, and Religious Education Coordinators all felt that they had to create something “new and meaningful” for each Liturgy.  What the Church passed on to us, although created by the Concillium after the Council was even outdated for many.  The Liturgy became like a toy that we shape in our own image, rather than the Liturgy shaping us and our spiritual lives.

It appears that the days of “experimentation” are behind us now, except for only for a few remaining pockets here and there.  The next step needs to be Sacred Music.  We really need to banish these banal, fly by night songs that are more suited to a cocktail lounge.  In the beginning, all of that music had such an appeal, however after it’s honeymoon, that shine is gone and temporary magnetism has lost it’s hold.  It seems that the Vatican has also decided to clean the Liturgical closet.  In a recent announcement of the Sacred Congregation for Divine Worship is to form at commission for “Liturgical art and sacred music.”

In the same talk on beuty, Pope Benedict stated: “I remember a concert of music by Johann Sebastian Bach in Munich, conducted by Leonard Bernstein. At the end of the last passage, one of the Cantatas, I felt, not by reasoning but in the depths of my heart, that what I had heard had communicated truth to me, the truth of the supreme composer, and impelled me to thank God. The Lutheran bishop of Munich was next to me and I said to him spontaneously: “in hearing this one understands: it is true; such strong faith is true, as well as the beauty that irresistibly expresses the presence of God’s truth”.

Sacred Music has the power to move one’s heart to God.  In the biography of Steve Jobs, there are two instances of music moving Steve to belief in God.  The first happened when Waltar Isaacson was talking to Jobs about the selections on his iPod.  At one point, after going through his rock and roll favorites like Dylan and Beatles, he “tapped on a Gregorian chant, “Spiritus Domini,” performed by Benedictine monks.  For a minute or so he zoned out, almost in a trance. “That’s really beautiful,” he murmured.”  The second was after Yo Yo Ma played  some Bach for Steve.  Jobs was deeply moved and stated “You playing is the best argument I’ve ever heard for the existence of God, because I don’t really believe a human alone can do this.”

This is a compelling enough reason to  return to our tradition of Sacred Music and Chant.  When Liturgy is celebrated as given by the Church, man gets out of the way, and God can touch the human heart so that all people experience that Mass as did Fr. Faber, “The most beautiful thing this side of heaven.”

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About Fr. Jay Finelli

Father Jay Finelli is a priest of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Providence in the state of Rhode Island. He is a webmaster, podcaster, and blogger. In his free time, Father is an avid Live Steam enthusiast.

Comments

Beauty & Liturgy — 4 Comments

  1. Greetings & Blessings Father!

    Beautiful article, thank you for your post. In regards to the quotes below which I noted because they really stood out to me in this article: (Comment follows the “>>>>>”)

    >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>
    “It may have happened on some occasion that you paused before a sculpture, a picture, a few verses of a poem or a piece of music that you found deeply moving, that gave you a sense of joy, a clear perception, that is, that what you beheld was not only matter, a piece of marble or bronze, a painted canvas, a collection of letters or an accumulation of sounds, but something greater, something that “speaks”, that can touch the heart, communicate a message, uplift the mind.”

    “a God experience”

    “some artistic expressions are real highways to God, the supreme Beauty; indeed, they help us to grow in our relationship with him, in prayer.”

    “The Liturgy became like a toy that we shape in our own image, rather than the Liturgy shaping us and our spiritual lives.”

    “I remember a concert of music by Johann Sebastian Bach in Munich, conducted by Leonard Bernstein. At the end of the last passage, one of the Cantatas, I felt, not by reasoning but in the depths of my heart, that what I had heard had communicated truth to me, the truth of the supreme composer, and impelled me to thank God. The Lutheran bishop of Munich was next to me and I said to him spontaneously: “in hearing this one understands: it is true; such strong faith is true, as well as the beauty that irresistibly expresses the presence of God’s truth”
    <<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<

    I want to offer my experience & understanding of 'sacred music' within the Liturgy with the hopes that you may enlighten me and help me to grow in my understanding.

    As I've mentioned, my blog, "The Catholic Worship Blog" seeks to understand the concept of worship within the Church. Naturally, the majority of worship in the Church is liturgical and accompanied by "sacred music". In the post, “How to become a Catholic Worship-music Leader in 3 Steps” I quickly offer Sacrosanctum Concilium’s definition of scared music as that which, ““adds delight to prayer, fosters unity of minds, or confers greater solemnity upon the sacred rites.”SSC112 I also share 116’s designation of chant has having “principem locus” or “principle place” within the liturgy.

    As a Catholic musician who enjoys both Chant & modern praise & worship music as two forms of prayer, both of which enable me to grow in my relationship with God & prayer – I wonder though – is it possible to ascribe these principles to a SMALL percentage of modern praise & worship music so that they too may be appropriately used within the liturgy in order to do that which “sacred music” ought to do. (see SSC 112).

    I agree with you Father, that liturgy is NOT about preference. It’s not about the music that “suits me”, however, I truly believe that we as Catholic Musicians have not seriously taken to prayer & study the possibility of another form of ‘sacred music’ – modern praise & worship that is shaped by the Liturgy & its principles.

    Please do not misunderstand me. I do not want to introduce profane music into the solemn liturgy. I am familiar with what the Pope describes in his book Spirit of the Liturgy as, “rock [music]…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.” And I understand the feelings of others regarding contemporary praise & worship as emotive, individualistic, & banal. However, this quick dismissal of ALL forms of contemporary praise & worship that utilizes easy chord progressions, basic melody lines, and simple lyrics may be a disservice to the Church.

    Yes, chant ought to have principle place, and in most music ministry circles it does – however I believe there is still room in the liturgy for something as young (compared to how old chant is), unique, and organic as modern praise and worship music. We are JUST beginning to see the fruits of using this music in the liturgy and while there is definite need of reform & redirection, there is also much fruit that has been born that is good & I believe we should cling to in order to understand it better.

    Could it be the case, that p&w music – when discerned & scrutinized through the principles of sacred music of the Church & the notions of beauty you put forth here- be called ‘beautiful’ & ‘a real highway to God’, yes. I do believe so. Thank you and God bless!

  2. Pingback: Beauty & Liturgy – repost via iPadre & CWB response | Catholic Worship Online

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