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Renowned as composer, conductor, theorist, author, pedagogue, and organist, Aurelio Porfiri has served the Church on multiple continents at the highest levels. Born and raised in Italy, he currently serves as Director of Choral Activities and Composer in Residence for Santa Rosa de Lima School (Macao, China).
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Much of the beauty of the older forms was lost and the hymns did not really become classical. We have reason to hope that the present reform of the breviary will also give us back the old form of the hymns. But meanwhile it seems necessary to keep the later text. This is the one best known, it is given in all hymnbooks and is still the only authorized form. Only in one case have we printed the older text of a hymn, number 57, “Urbs Jerusalem.” The modern form of this begins: “Caelestis urbs Jerusalem.” But in this case the people who changed it in the seventeenth century did not even keep its metre; so the later version cannot be sung to the old, exceedingly beautiful tune.
— Fr. Adrian Fortescue (1913)

Music That Hurts
published 29 April 2015 by Aurelio Porfiri

854 Aurelio Porfiri ARTICLE MUSIC N RECENT YEARS, we have spoken—or bad mouthed—a lot of liturgical music. 1 In doing so, we have often cited documents everywhere to support opposing or irreconcilable theses. Less often, perhaps, have we spoken of liturgical music with regard to its aesthetic value; meaning morality of perception in beauty.

Liturgical music is called to represent the unrepresentable—the HOLY OF HOLIES, the MYSTERIUM—namely, God Who has chosen to become human flesh in order to get closer to men. This choice did not intend just a “lowering” of divinity to human level as such, but an “elevation” of the human to the divine. It was not simplification but exaltation. That’s why the effort of those who make music for the liturgy is an effort to go beyond, not to achieve. We need a liturgical music that hurts, that is able to make blood come out from the vein of the Word because it is IN-VITING. To “invite” is an interesting verb with numerous meanings, ranging from wanting to forcing. Trying to force the etymology of the word “invite,” we would say that the Word must become even more alive (the Latin “vita” means life) and vital to the roar of this blood from the aesthetic wound that music has caused.

That’s why liturgical music is THE OTHER, not the music of everyday life; because, as Pope Francis teaches, 2 we must search for a “syntony,” not an identity. It is very important to reflect on this difference in similarity: as in music harmony, C, E and G form a consonant chord, but are not identical. Liturgical music is in the limen, the threshold which leads into the other dimension and is a key that opens the door to what’s beyond, forcing us (and thus it hurts) to meet with the UNAPPROACHABLE that was not afraid to approach us.

(Ps 69: 9) “For zeal for your house consumes me, and the insults of those who insult you fall on me.”

The zeal for the house of God is a kind of devouring that makes us bleed, exposing us to the opposition of a world seeking the “Other” in others (having more and more); in the excess and not the access. Here is found the noble—the highest role of liturgical music—too often mortified in stupid formulas to please weary souls and protect them from the desire of a death that alone can give true life.

More articles by Aurelio Porfiri can be found on The Castaway.


1   Or “sacred music”; “church music”; “ritual music”; “music for worship”; whatever pleases you.

2   Cf. Anniversary of the First Mass in the Vernacular (7 March 2015).