Monday, September 15, 2008

Pope highlights liturgical excellence during recent trip to France

By John Thavis
Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- One of the subthemes of Pope Benedict XVI's recent visit to France was liturgical excellence, a lifelong concern of the German pontiff that has carried over into his papal agenda.

The pope didn't zero in on specific liturgical problems in France, but he repeatedly reminded his audiences in Paris and Lourdes why quality matters when it comes to worship.

Speaking Sept. 12 in Notre Dame Cathedral, which he called "a living hymn of stone and light," the pope used the setting to illustrate the Christian community's age-old effort to reach for splendor when praying to God.

"Certainly, the beauty of our celebrations can never be sufficiently cultivated, fostered and refined, for nothing can be too beautiful for God, who is himself infinite beauty," he said.

But he said church liturgies should be carried out in order to offer, as closely as possible, "a foretaste" of eternal salvation.

The same evening, speaking to academics about the contributions of monastic culture, he singled out singing and chant as outstanding forms of prayer, particularly for some books of Scripture like the Psalms.

"For prayer that issues from the word of God, speech is not enough: Music is required," he said. For the church, it's an opportunity to "sing with the angels" and lead the word to its highest destination, he said.

But liturgical singing, as the monks knew well, demands excellence, the pope said. Such song is measured according to the very highest standards because, in communal prayer, "one is singing in the presence of the entire heavenly court," he said.

The pope said the importance of monastic singing was illustrated by a remark St. Bernard made about the poor singing of monks: that a badly executed chant actually made the community more remote from God.

The pope went on to say that the idea of speaking with God through song is what gave rise to the great tradition of Western music.

"It was not a form of private 'creativity,' in which the individual leaves a memorial to himself and makes self-representation his essential criterion," he said.

"Rather it is about vigilantly recognizing with the 'ears of the heart' the inner laws of the music of creation, the archetypes of music that the Creator built into his world and into men," he said.

At Lourdes, the pope spoke in sermons about the importance of recognizing the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist and the effect that should have on liturgical practice.

When Catholics contemplate the sacred host, they meditate on Christ past, present and future, he said.

"We contemplate what we shall contemplate in eternity, where we shall discover that the whole world has been carried by its Creator during every second of its history," he said.

"That is why we receive him with infinite respect," he said.

Pope Benedict, who relaxed restrictions on the use of the Tridentine rite a year ago, told reporters on his way to France that the new Mass approved after the Second Vatican Council remains the "normal" liturgy for the church.

The pope's own liturgies in France, as in Rome, have followed the new rite, but they have also introduced traditional touches, such as placement of the cross in the center of the altar.

Another change in Roman liturgies also is being used on papal trips: In Paris and Lourdes, those receiving Communion from the pope received the host on the tongue while kneeling.

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