Letter Jubilari feliciter (1980)


of His Holiness Pope John Paul II on the Solemnity of Pentecost, 
May 25, 1980, to Cardinal Joseph Höffner, Archbishop of Cologne

To our venerable Brother Joseph Hoeffner,
Cardinal of the Holy Roman Church, Archbishop of Cologne

As the jubilee year of the venerable Cologne cathedral continues its happy progress, that Archdiocese will warmly welcome the participants in the Seventh International Congress for Sacred Music, an event which will surely add new progress and riches to the musical treasury of the Church. The work which the moderators of the Consociatio Internationalis Musicae Sacrae have accomplished in past years on behalf of sacred music will indeed find strong confirmation at this Congress. Hence We desire that this Our message be not only a testimony of Our gratitude for the industrious efforts already made in this field, but also an incitement to continue these efforts in the future.

In a special Constitution “Sacrosanctum Concilium” the Second Vatican Council strongly emphasized the “ministerial” task ascribed to sacred music (cf. Sacrosanctum Concilium, art. 112). After all, the words, which are so important in a liturgical celebration, become even more so when sung, thus acquiring a special degree of solemnity, beauty and dignity which permits the participating congregation to feel itself closer to the sacredness of the mystery which is at work in the liturgy.

Precisely for this reason the Council judged it most appropriate to remind everyone that an extraordinarily rich treasury of musical tradition is to be found among the various liturgical families of both Orient and Occident, and that this treasury, acquired in the course of many centuries and reflecting the art and human culture of the various peoples, is still in use today. At the same time the Council urges upon all the high degree of vigour and effort to be expended in order to preserve these riches for the Church, a duty explicitly incumbent upon the custodians of these treasures and the active practitioners of sacred music (ibid., art. 114).

Worthy of special mention, however, is “cantus gregorianus”, which, corresponding to its great significance, is recognized both by the Church’s daily usage and by her Magisterium as the chant proper to the Roman liturgy, linked most intimately with the Latin language (ibid., art. 116/7). Similarly, polyphonic music is acknowledged to be an outstanding means of sacred and liturgical expression.

Enthusiasm for this task, which at stated intervals brings about the convocation and the holding of Congresses for Sacred Music, can be a very effective way of revealing the inner values of the above-mentioned musical tradition, as well as of defining its individual parts more clearly, so that it may be kept alive, worthily and with exactitude, in the Church’s liturgy.

But the Council does not rest content with recommending the values of the centuries-old musical tradition which is still valid today. The Council was also conscious of a necessity which the Church has always felt keenly, namely to discover and as it were to incorporate into herself appropriate elements in the human culture and art of the nations which come to believe in Jesus Christ. Hence the Council advises that for them in particular, “the treasury of sacred music is to be preserved and cultivated with great care” (ibid., art. 114).

But whenever such new forms must be judged, account should also be taken, in a non-partisan evaluation, of those elements which are proper to the traditional usages and indeed the very nature of the various nations themselves. On this point the Council taught that “In certain countries, especially in mission lands, there are peoples with their own musical tradition, and this plays a great part in their religious and social life. Hence their music should be held in proper esteem and a suitable place is to be given to it not only in forming their religious sense but also in adapting worship to their native genius” (ibid., art.119).

For after all every human culture has been able to find very noble forms of expression, even in music, and hence the goal of all our efforts, not only in the area of academic disciplines but also in the pastoral activity, must be the establishment of firm principles, which moreover correspond to the true values in the various musical traditions.

If such a study is to be accomplished in a truly scientific way, then it will also be appropriate to include the comparative investigation of both old and new forms of expression. However, to the extent that the new sacred music is to serve the liturgical celebration of the various churches, it can and must draw from the earlier forms – and especially from Gregorian chant – a higher inspiration, a uniquely sacred quality, a genuine sense of what is religious. It has quite correctly been said that Gregorian chant can be compared with other forms of song as a statue with a picture.

In conclusion, as We express the wish that the deliberations of the Seventh International Congress for Sacred Music, whose whole attention is focused upon Central and East Africa, may be a source of stimulation and impetus toward fruitful and excellent musical activity for the various ecclesiastical communities not only in the nations with an ancient Christian tradition, but also for those in which the Gospel has more recently been preached, We most gladly send to you, Venerable Brother, as well as to the leaders and participants at the Congress, the special Apostolic Blessing as a sign of Our unchanging affection and as a pledge of heavenly gifts.

From the Vatican, 25 May, on the feast of Pentecost in the year 1980, the second of Our pontificate. 

Johannes Paulus Pp. II