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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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“One must pray to God not only with theologically precise formulas, but also in a beautiful and dignified way. The Christian community must make an examination of conscience so that the beauty of music and song will return increasingly to the liturgy.”
— Pope Saint John Paul II (26 February 2003)

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Understanding
published 27 January 2015 by Aurelio Porfiri

418 Traditional Latin Mass NE OF THE MORE SERIOUS problems for church musicians is dealing with those who demand that the liturgy be understood by everyone. Now, this is a tricky concept and must be handled with care.

Of course we want everyone to be able to participate in the liturgy in the most proper way, and so we aim for a spiritual understanding of the same liturgy. But the demands of these people are often of a different nature. They believe that participation means understanding word-for-word, and doing as much as possible. But by requiring this, they condemn the liturgy to a dramatic immanentism.

Immanentism means that there is no reality beyond what we know, so God and the world are the same thing. But if God is not outside the world how He can possibly save it?

Reducing the understanding of the liturgy to a pragmatic dimension avoids taking into account the biggest dimension of the liturgy: the invisible one. In the antiphon for the Epiphany—VENITE OMNES POPULI—we observe that we are asked to glorify the invisibile mysterium (“invisible mystery”). The spiritual and invisible dimension cannot be understood except through the eyes of faith, and calling for this sort of total understanding of everything happening in the liturgy would be a betrayal of what the liturgy is.

After the consecration the priest asks us to proclaim the mystery of faith. We have listened to the words of consecration, but the mystery happening there goes much beyond the simple understanding of the words said. Music—when it is good liturgical music—helps create a reverent atmosphere that allows us to penetrate, a little bit, this incomprehensible abyss.