Apostolic Exhortation calls for better music and more Latin
BY FREDDY GRAY
POPE BENEDICT XVI this week issued one of the Church's most authoritative and masterful statements about the Eucharist in an attempt to restore the Sacrament to the centre of Catholic life.
The Pope, writing his first Apostolic Exhortation — one of the most important documents of his pontificate so far — explains clearly how the faithful should preserve the sanctity and dignity of the Eucharistic mystery.
The 131-page document, entitled Sacramentum Caritatis ("Sacrament of Love"), is a reflection on the Synod of Bishops on the Eucharist that took place last year. In the text, Benedict XVI dissects the intricacies of Catholic worship, discussing the profound cosmological and eschatological implications of the Sacrifice of the Mass.
He argues that "every great reform" in Church history has been linked to "the rediscovery of belief in the Lord's Eucharistic presence among his people".
Aside rrom the wide-ranging theological points, the Pontiff also puts forward a number of practical instructions to enhance the quality of worship across the world. Stressing that "the liturgy is inherently linked to beauty", he writes: "This is no mere aestheticism, but the concrete way in which God's love in Christ encounters us, attracts us and delights us."
Benedict XVI orders a dramatic improvement in the standard of liturgical music in the modern Church. He calls for an end to "musical genres which fail to respect the meaning of the liturgy".
"We cannot say that one song is as good as another," he writes. In the place of "generic improvisation", the Pope asks for a popular revival of Gregorian chant, asserting its superiority to other forms of worship.
"This heritage must not be lost," he writes. "While respecting various styles and different and highly praiseworthy traditions, I desire, in accordance with the request advanced by the Synod Fathers, that Gregorian chant be suitably esteemed and employed as the chant proper to the Roman liturgy."
In another appeal for more dignified liturgies, Benedict XVI demands wider use of Latin in Masses. Large-scale international celebrations of the Eucharist should use the language "to express more clearly the unity and universality of the Church".
The Pope also urges seminaries to train future priests properly in speaking and writing Latin and in chanting plainsong. "Nor should we forget," he adds, "that the faithful can be taught to recite the more common prayers in Latin and also to sing parts of the liturgy to Gregorian chant."
In Britain, traditionalists are delighted at the Pope's attempts to revive the beauty of the Mass.
On Tuesday John Medlin, general manager of the Latin Mass Society, said his group welcomed the document. "We hope that it will play an important part in stabilising and improving the standard of worship in the New Rite," he said.
He added, however, that the exhortation should be supplemented with the much-anticipated rnotu proprio to enable wider provision of the Tridentine Rite. He said: "Traditional worship, with its explicit emphasis on the supernatural and on the Mass, as a sacrifice and on the dignity of the Mass can operate as the gold standard against which celebrations of the New Rite can be held and improved."
In Sacrament= Caritatis Benedict XVI tempers his efforts to sweep away flaws in celebrations of the New Rite with praise for the liturgical reforms of the Second Vatican Council.
"The difficulties and even the occasional abuses cannot overshadow the benefits and the validity of the liturgical renewal, whose riches are yet to be fully explored," he writes in the introduction.
"Concretely, the changes which the Council called for need to be understood within the overall unity of the historical development of the Rite itself, without the introduction of artificial discontinuities."
In another part of the document Benedict XVI emphasises the need for Eucharistic adoration. "Great benefit would ensue from a suitable catechesis explaining the importance of this act of worship," he says. "Wherever possible, it would be appropriate, especially in densely populated areas, to set aside specific churches or oratories for perpetual adoration."
He encourages priests to make the tabernacle as visible as possible to those entering the church, urging them not to put the celebrant's chair in front of it.
The Pontiff rules out any change in the Church's position on priestly celibacy. "I reaffirm the beauty and the importance of a priestly life lived in celibacy as a sign expressing total and exclusive devotion to Christ, to the Church and to the Kingdom of God," he says. "I therefore confirm that it remains obligatory in the Latin tradition.
"Priestly celibacy lived with maturity, joy and dedication is an immense blessing for the Church and for society itself."
Benedict XVI also rejects the possibility, widely discussed during the Synod last year, of allowing divorced and remarried Catholics to receive Holy Communion. "This represents a complex and troubling pastoral problem," the Pontiff acknowledges, before adding: "The Synod of Bishops confirmed the Church's practice, based on Sacred Scripture, of not admitting the divorced and remarried to the sacraments. since their state and their condition of life objectively contradict the loving union of Christ and the Church."
Dr Alcuin Reid, a liturgical scholar, this week described Sacrament= Caritatis as "a sound tutorial for clergy and laity alike in Eucharistic theology and liturgical practice".
He said: "Pope Benedict is moving us away from a dated concept of liturgy whereby the community itself has sometimes been seen as both the author and the object of worship, to a renewed appreciation of Catholic worship as primarily the Church's worship of Almighty God in which we are called actively to participate."
As The Catholic Herald went to press, the Bishops' Conference of England and Wales had not issued a statement regarding the exhortation.
Extract: Page 5
Editorial Comment: Page 11