Address to Congress of Church Choirs

Author: Pope Paul VI


Pope Paul VI

"Sacred song—a resounding profession of Faith"

On the morning of Monday April 14th the Holy Father received the participants in the IX Congress of Church Choirs, which concluded at Loreto on 13th April, and was attended by choirs from all over Europe and the International Federation of "Pueri Cantores". The participants sang a number of pieces for Pope Paul, who then delivered the following discourse.

Beloved Children,

The Ninth International Congress of Church Choirs has come to an end at Loreto, a place singularly rich in natural beauty and spiritual enchantment, which you have filled with your powerful polyphony. Now you have returned to the Pope, as you did last year, to show him once more your affection, your enthusiasm, and your attachment to the Church. Monsignor Aurelio Sabatini has been in excellent spokesman for your feelings, and We are grateful to him. We accordingly greet you with a sense of great benevolence, and We also greet your Presidents and the groups from Italy and other countries of the "Pueri Cantores", who have joined in the homage rendered by your group, which is so large.

We are very pleased to be here with you once again, and to have been able once again to hear your voices lifted up and blended in that common aspiration that makes prayer. While We were listening, We recalled the words of Saint Ambrose, Our predecessor in the see of Milan, who was a great patron of church music. While listening to the melodious voice of his people he likened it to the voice of the sea, the vast murmuring of which is like an echo of the songs of the Christian assembly, for when the faithful repeat the sacred chants they seem to re-echo the harmonious breaking of the waves (cf. Hexameron, III, 5, 23; P.L. 14, 178). You too have presented such a magnificent sight, in the last few days at Loreto, and now in the Pope's house. And the Pope loves you very much and desires to encourage you in the form of participation in worship that you have chosen. It is undoubtedly a difficult form, requiring devoted effort and will, but it is also a necessary and precious form for the Church's particular needs, and a very rewarding one, both for yourselves and for those who hear you.

Let me once more refer to the great bishop of Milan. St. Ambrose tells us that sacred song "is a blessing of the whole people, praise of God, honour of the holy people, universal consensus, a common conversation, the voice of the Church, a sonorous profession of faith, devotion full of dignity, the delight of free hearts, a cry of joy, a happy exultation. It restores us from harshness, makes us forget fatigue, and to forget sadness... The voice sings in order to enjoy, while the mind exercises itself in deepening its faith" (cf. Enarr. in Psalmum, 1, 9; P.L. 968).

A necessary service

So you will understand how great and true is the usefulness, indeed the necessity of the service that you render the Church, to the assembly of the faithful gathered around the altar of the Sacred Mystery. And this is why today, without going back to what We have had occasion to say to you before, We have been glad to receive you once more, with all the fullness of Our fatherly love, and with intense hope in Our heart. We desire to give you Our thanks, in the name of the whole Church also, for what you have done for sacred song, not only along the lines of the noblest and purest tradition, but also in response to the encouragement given to sacred Music by the Ecumenical Council Vatican II and the solicitude shown by the Apostolic See, through its Sacred Congregations.

As we pointed out in the Audience of a year ago, a vast field is now being opened up to your activities. On that occasion We said, " the Church, dear children, expects you to create new forms of artistic expression, to look for new Musical forms which shall not be unworthy of the past and which may ensure that special choirs will not have to take the place of the people in liturgical prayer, but will on the contrary help the people and support their effort at active participation... You have a big responsibility, one worthy of the noblest efforts" (cf. Osservatore Romano, May 2nd 1968).

In fact, as may be seen from the sixth chapter of the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, the Council was concerned with fostering sacred song in every way: by founding and developing scholae cantorum (n. 114), by recognizing Gregorian chant as the proper chant of the Roman liturgy, and giving it prime place (n. 116), without, however, excluding polyphony when it is in keeping with the spirit of the liturgical action (ib.), by making use of popular religious song, so that "the voices of the faithful may be heard" in the various rites (n. 118). Emphasis was placed above all on the fact that sacred music has its great value because it expresses prayer more gently and sweetly, nourishes unanimity and enriches the sacred rites by adding solemnity to them (n. 112).

A mystical reverberation

Beloved children! Important guidelines were therefore laid down, and We feel sure that the Church choirs here present and the numerous and joyous groups of "Pueri Cantores" are already and scrupulously respecting them and will continue to so, for the growth of liturgical life through sacred song as well as other means. But your so significant, promising and encouraging presence here does not make Us forget that the norms laid down by the Holy See and the Ecumenical Vatican Council II are not being observed always and everywhere. Too many mouths remain closed, and fail to open in song which is joyful confession of faith in Christ. Too many liturgical rites remain deprived of that mystical reverberation that genuinely religious music communicates to the open and sensitive souls of the faithful. Certain questionable and arbitrary initiatives have been intruded on occasions, but that sacred chant which the Church has made her own continues to possess that mysterious and virile power, with which the Liturgy, which is the visible manifestation of the invisible mysteries of the Redemption and Salvation, not only favours men's union with God but is also participation in the sole, great and eternal worship which the Spirit and the Spouse render to the Heavenly Father (cf. Apoc. 21, 2-3, 22, 17), offering up the sacrifice of the immolated Lamb, and uniting with the hymn of perpetual praise that joins earth to Heaven, and in Heaven will never come to an end.

The groups of "Pueri Cantores"

So let your voices rise, beloved members of the Church Choirs; let your silvery notes resound, dearly beloved young ones of the "Pueri Cantores" to praise God and make him be praised in the rites of the liturgy, and, by means of your attentive, well prepared, discreet pious and willing presence, inspire the spiritual and communitarian lives of your cathedrals and your parishes. You know how much We have liturgical chant at heart; in the squalid cold of this world that is freezing with egoism and the current myths of incommunicability and protest, your song, if given its proper place in the service of the liturgy, can cooperate effectively in causing the spark of enthusiasm, of joy, of fervour, to fly up, and burn as a more intense flame of brotherly love, founded on the harmony of hearts united in praising God, breaking down the barriers which make contemporary man indifferent to his brethren and making genuine ecclesial spirit better known to souls, for it is a spirit of community of purposes, intentions and work

As We once more express Our lively concern to you, We are certain that We are still sowing seed that will not fail to bear the happiest of fruit, and you are its springtime firstfruits. Therefore Our prayers go up for you, Our applause goes out to you, and We invite you to go forward generously in what you are doing. May Our Apostolic Blessing support you on the way you have chosen, and We extend it to your families, together with the assurance that We pray for you, for your choirs, and for all who give such loving care to your musical development and your Christian upbringing.

* * *

Dear French-speaking children, We wish to let you know in your own language of the joy We feel in opening Our paternal home to you. We are very pleased with the part which you all, young and old, take in the midst of your various, Christian communities, in the art of this beautiful sacred music, which helps to raise souls to God and to glorify the Lord. Not only by means of your limpid voices, but also by means of your ardent lives, be witnesses to him who told us to be "the light of the world" (Matth. 5, 14). In his name, and with all Our heart, We bless you.  

Taken from:
L'Osservatore Romano
Weekly Edition in English
24 April 1969, page 1

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