Sacred Song and the New Evangelization

The conciliar constitution on the liturgy recalls the importance of sacred music in the mission “ad gentes” and calls for an appreciation of the musical traditions of different peoples (cf. 119). But also precisely in countries, such as Italy, where evangelization occurred centuries ago, sacred music – with its own great tradition, which is our western culture – can and does have a relevant task of assisting in the rediscovery of God, a return to the Christian message and the mysteries of the faith. We think of the celebrated experience of Paul Claudel, the French poet, who converted listening to the Magnificat during the Christmas vespers at the Cathedral of Notre Dame in Paris: “At that moment,” he writes, “there occurred the event that dominated my entire life. In a twinkling my heart was touched and I believed. I believed with such a powerful adherence, with such an elevation of my whole being, with such a strong conviction, in a certainty that did not leave space for any sort of doubt that, after that moment, no reasoning, no circumstance of my troubled life, was able to shake or touch my faith.”

But we need not have recourse to illustrious persons to think of how many people have been touched in their depths of their soul listening to sacred music; and of how many more have felt themselves newly drawn to God by the beauty of liturgical music like Claudel. And, here dear friends, you have an important role: work to improve the quality of liturgical song without being afraid to recover and value the great musical tradition of the Church, which has in Gregorian Chant and polyphony 2 of its highest expressions, as Vatican II itself states (cf. “Sacrosanctum Concilium,” 116). And I would like to stress that the active participation of the whole people of God in the liturgy does not consist only in speaking, but in listening, in welcoming the Word with the senses and the spirit, and this holds also for sacred music. You, who have the gift of song can make the heart of many people sing in liturgical celebrations.

Pope Benedict XVI