ONSIGNOR Andrew Wadsworth, Executive Director of ICEL, recently alerted us (via Facebook) to an interesting presentation made by Pope Francis, given as part of an audience with the Italian Association of Saint Cecilia on 28 September 2019. It’s quite beautiful, and everyone should read it. Several websites immediately posted unofficial versions from the Italian. For example, the Church Music Association of America posted an English translation by Mr. Richard Chonak. Generally speaking, the alterations made by Mr. Chonak were insignificant—yet several of his changes are puzzling, and seem difficult to justify. 1
The CMAA translation has:
Sacred music also reveals another duty, that of joining Christian history together: in the Liturgy resound Gregorian chant, polyphony, congregational song, and music of the present day.
Mr. Chonak deleted “popular music,” replacing it with congregational song, as you can see:
La musica sacra svolge anche un altro compito, quello di saldare insieme la storia cristiana: nella Liturgia risuonano il canto gregoriano, la polifonia, la musica popolare e quella contemporanea.
A professor at the Pontifical Institute of Sacred Music (Rome)—who for many years did professional translation at the Vatican (Italian, German, and French)—wrote to us as follows:
In this particular case, I think their translation of “la musica popolare” is deliberate obfuscation. “Singing of the people” had a clear meaning in Cardinal Sarto’s time. “Popular” today means something else, with emphasis on the “genre”/style, not singers.
I would be interested to know the rationale behind this change by Mr. Chonak. 2
HE FOLLOWING TRANSLATION—based on Google Translate, with minor changes—seems accurate. I welcome corrections from anyone fluent in Italian.
You are part of the praiseworthy Italian Association of Saint Cecilia, an ancient foundation—140 years old—and still alive, active, and eager to serve the Church. The papacy’s regard for this Association is well known—in particular, that of Saint Pius X, who gave the people of God organic provisions on sacred music (cf. Motu Proprio “Tra Le Sollecitudini,” 22 November 1903). Pope Saint Paul VI wanted you renewed and active for the sake of music that is to be integrated with the Liturgy—music which derives its fundamental characteristics from that same Liturgy. Not just any music, but holy music (because the rites are holy); adorned with the nobility of art (because one must give the best to God); and universal (so everyone can understand and celebrate). Above all, very distinct and different from that used for other purposes. And he recommended that you cultivate the sensus ecclesiae: discernment of music for the Liturgy. He said: “Not everything is valid, not everything is lawful, not everything is good. Here the sacred music must be joined with the beautiful in a harmonious and devout synthesis.” (Address To Religious Women Dedicated To Liturgical Chant, 15 April 1971). Benedict XVI urged you not to forget the musical heritage of the past; to renew it and supplement it with new compositions.
Dear friends, I also encourage you to continue along this path. Being an Association is a resource: it helps you to generate movement, interest, commitment to better serve the Liturgy—an Association that is not the protagonist or owner of any music, but whose program is love and fidelity to the Church. Together, you can better take part in singing as an integral part of the Liturgy, inspired by the first model: Gregorian chant. Together, you undertake artistic and liturgical preparation, promoting the presence of the Schola Cantorum in every parish community. The choir in fact guides the assembly and—with its specific repertoires—is a qualified voice of spirituality, communion, tradition and liturgical culture. I recommend that you help the whole people of God sing, with conscious and active participation in the Liturgy. This is important: closeness to the people of God.
The fields of your apostolate are various: composing new melodies; promoting singing in seminaries and houses of religious formation; supporting parish choirs, organists, schools of sacred music, and young people. Singing, playing, composing, directing, and making music in the Church are among the most beautiful things for the glory of God. It is a privilege, a gift from God to express musical art and help participate in the divine mysteries. A beautiful and good music is a privileged instrument for the approach to the transcendent, and often it helps even those who are distracted to understand a message.
I realize your preparation involves sacrifices linked to the availability of time to devote to rehearsals, to the recruitment of singers, to participating in feast days, which means turning down invitations from your friends to spend time with them—and this quite frequently! Yet, your dedication to the Liturgy and to its music represents a way of evangelization at all levels, from children to adults. The Liturgy is, in fact, the first “teacher” of catechism. Never forget this: the Liturgy is the first “teacher” of catechism.
Sacred music also fulfills another task. It unites Christian history together: in the Liturgy we encounter Gregorian chant, Polyphony, popular forms, and music of the present day. It’s as if, at that moment, all past and present generations were praising God, each with their own sensitivity. Not only that, but sacred music—and music in general—creates bridges, brings people together, even the most distant. Such music knows no barriers of nationality, ethnicity, or skin color, but involves everyone in a superior language, and always manages to bring into harmony people and groups of very different backgrounds. Sacred music brings people together, even with those brothers to whom we (sometimes) do not feel particularly close. For this reason, in every parish the choir is a group wherein we discover an atmosphere of availability and mutual help.
For all this, dear brothers, I thank you and encourage you. May the Lord help you to be constant in your commitment. The Church values the service you provide for our communities: you help them feel the attraction of beauty, which detoxifies from mediocrity, elevates upward (toward God), and unites hearts in praise and tenderness. I bless you, along with all the members of the Association of Saint Cecilia. May our Lady protect you. And since the singer prays twice, I trust that you will also pray for me. Thank you!
You can also consult these translations, which are copyrighted by the Vatican:
NOTES FROM THIS ARTICLE:
1 |Correction on 8 October 2019| An earlier version of this article said “taken almost verbatim from Google Translate.” Needless to say, no malice was intended, and the Google version is almost identical to the version by Mr. Chonak. However, we received an email from Mr. Chonak on 7 October 2019 wherein he writes:
“While I’m not the greatest expert in the field, I don’t use Google these days as an aid in anything meant for publication—and certainly not without acknowledging it. […] The blog post says I did use it, so that’s the bit of incorrect information which I hope you can revise.”
It was my honor to share this information, and I thank Mr. Chonak for writing to me. Moreover, his desire to translate that message from Pope Francis is praiseworthy.
2 I have questions about several other changes made by CMAA; e.g. “promuovere il canto nei Seminari e nelle Case di formazione religiosa.”