Corrected June 7, 2011, 9:04 MDT. Corrects earlier version in which Pope was quoted as saying the individual or group is the focus of the liturgy. Change is in paragraph four.
Pope Benedict XVI has reminded church musicians of the primacy of Gregorian chant in the Mass, describing it “as the supreme model of sacred music.”
The Pope set out his views in a letter for the 100th anniversary of the Pontifical Institute of Sacred Music. The letter was read at the institute on May 26 and made public on May 31.
He praised Gregorian chant as being “of huge value to the great ecclesial heritage of universal sacred music.” But Pope Benedict also noted that sometimes it was erroneously “considered an expression of an idea corresponding to a past, gone and to be forgotten, because it limited the freedom and creativity of the individual and the community.” This was a view he wanted to counter.
“We always have to ask again: who is the true subject of the Liturgy? The answer is simple: the Church. It is not the individual or group that celebrates the liturgy, but it is primarily God's action through the Church, which has its own history, its rich tradition and creativity.”
Gregorian chant, often referred to as plainchant, is named after the 6th century Pope Gregory the Great. He both simplified and cataloged the sacred music of the Church used throughout the year. It’s been the normative music of sacred liturgy ever since.
The present Pope stressed that there’s no tension between tradition and genuine progress in the development of sacred music.
“The liturgy, and therefore sacred music, lives in a correct and consistent relationship between healthy traditio and rightful progressio, always keeping in mind that these two concepts - that the Council Fathers clearly emphasized - complement each other because the tradition is a living reality and, therefore, it includes in itself the principle of development and progress.”
Music is a topic of particular interest to the Pope. He’s a great lover of classical music in general with a special fondness for Mozart and Bach. He’s also an avid pianist who has an upright piano in his Vatican apartment.
Pope Benedict noted in his letter that all his musical conclusions are mandated by the Second Vatican Council’s constitution on the sacred liturgy, “Sacrosanctum Concillium.”