"When people rightly call for a new dialogue between Church and culture today, they must not forget in the process that this dialogue must necessarily be bilateral. It cannot consist in the Church finally subjecting herself to modern culture… Just as the Church must expose herself to the problems of our age in a radically new way, so too must culture be questioned anew about its groundlessness and its ground, and in the process be opened to a painful cure, that is, to a new reconciliation with religion since it can get its lifeblood only from there. For this reason church music is really a very vital piece of a comprehensive task for our age which requires more than mere dialogue; it requires a process of rediscovering ourselves." —Joseph Ratzinger, A New Song to the Lord (1995), 95–6For Ratzinger, this process of “rediscovering ourselves” necessitates a setting aside of the current debate surrounding liturgical music and the discussions it has generated (scholarly and otherwise). Doing so will facilitate a return to “the original source” in exploring connection between faith and music as well as the role of music in worship: the Bible. In turning to the Psalms in particular, Ratzinger establishes a theology of liturgical music in one verse: “Sing hymns of praise” (Ps 47:8, NRSV). True to his roots as a theologian who takes the biblical narrative seriously, Ratzinger engages this text in Hebrew, Greek, and Latin in order to arrive at a richer translation. Suffice it to say that singing hymns of praise well entails more than making pleasant-sounding music.
For the psalmist, offering sung praise to God implied singing with an understanding that surpasses mere rationality and transcends into the realm of sapientia, or wisdom, which “denotes an integration of the entire person who not only understands and is understandable from the perspective of pure thought, but with all the dimensions of his or her existence” (98). Ratzinger goes on to say that “there is an affinity between wisdom and music, since in it such an integration of humanness occurs and the entire person becomes a being in accordance with logos [with ‘reason’]” (98). It is in singing that the senses and the spirit are integrated into one being, and in singing to God that the being is incorporated into logos.
Christianity takes this understanding one step farther by understanding the Psalms not merely as hymns written by King David, but as hymns that “had risen from the heart of the real David, Christ” (97). Thus, singing “hymns of praise” not only harmonizes the senses with the spirit, but when Christians understand those hymns as having their source in Christ, they are also drawn out of themselves into harmony with the Logos, the Word-made-flesh, as they offer sung praise in and through Christ Himself. With this mindset, “Christ Himself becomes the choir director who teaches us the new song and gives the Church the tone and way in which she can praise God appropriately and blend into the heavenly liturgy” (97). In order to offer fitting praise, one must conform one’s song to that of Christ, “who did not regard equality with God as something to be grasped; rather, he emptied himself, taking the form of a slave” (Phil 2:6-7). [Read full article]
(HT: Adam Bartlett/ChantCafe.com)