Today, March 4, 2017, Pope Francis addressed the participants of a congress on liturgical music on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of Paul VI’s instruction Musicam sacram (1967).
His (Italian) speech was immediately published on the Vatican website. Official translations into other languages do not yet exist, but Vatican Radio published a short report in English.
As a quick reaction I want to mention some observations I made when reading the address.
First of all: It is a typical short, solemn, and diplomatic speech, so maybe one should neither expect too much from it nor read too much into it.
Nevertheless there were three aspects that caught my eye:
Francis refers to Sacrosanctum Concilium 8 (not 5, as the Vatican website says) and 113 when he states that music makes the liturgy more “noble” (più nobile) and a more adequate expression and experience of the heavenly liturgy. While Francis praises the introduction of the vernacular languages into the liturgy, he also says that this development sometimes led into “banality” (banalità). Although not cited in the text, this reminds me of Sacrosanctum Concilium 34 where the Council declares “noble simplicity” as a principle for the renewal of the Roman liturgy. I cannot exactly define what noble simplicity is. But I think it is a very good verbal approach to a central aesthetic principle of Roman liturgy in contrast to Eastern liturgies. The latter can be described by principles like abundance, repetition, or redundancy (which I do not mean in a negative sense here). My conviction is that whenever you take the nobility out of the noble simplicity, you do not get simplicity, but banality. Maybe that is what Francis means as well, although I admit that nobility, simplicity, and banality are hard to define and to identify in an individual case.
Secondly, Francis demands good musical formation not only for composers, musicians, and singers, but also for priests. As far as I can see, musical formation for priests (and deacons and laypersons who are authorized to preside over public services) is not at all beyond questioning, not even when they work full-time in their ministries. How are bishops or heads of theological departments going to react when I base myself on papal authority in my request for more musical and aesthetic formation for students?
Finally, Francis expects an ecumenical attitude in all musical efforts. Does that mean that Catholics are supposed to introduce music from other denominations into their liturgy? Should musical formation happen ecumenically, with students from different churches brought together? Should new liturgical music be generated by groups of composers and writers from different churches? We all know that since Vatican II everything in the Catholic Church has to be done in an ecumenical attitude, but I am not sure what Francis has in mind in this very case – or is it just a diplomatic phrase with respect to Vatican II and probably non-Catholic participants at the congress?
Of course there are other interesting aspects in Francis’ address, but these three caught my eye the most.