10 July 2015, The Tablet

Benedict XVI says Christian music tradition is a 'pathway to the divine'

In one of his rare speeches since he retired as pope two years ago, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI said that classical music for him can be an “encounter with the divine”.

Benedict XVI was speaking at the Castel Gandolfo papal summer retreat, where he first stayed after resigning in February 2013, citing the frailty of age.

The Pope Emeritus was receiving honorary doctorates from the Pontifical John Paul II University of Krakow and the Krakow Academy of Music for his promotion of respect for the sacred music traditions in the Church.

“It remains indelibly impressed in my memory how, for example, as soon as the first notes resounded from Mozart's 'Coronation Mass', the heavens practically opened and you experienced, very deeply, the Lord's presence," the 88-year-old Benedict said.

He recalled the “dramatic tension” after the Second Vatican Council between those who thought large choral works and orchestrated Masses no longer had a place in the liturgy and should only be performed in concert halls, and those who feared the cultural impoverishment that this would lead to.

“There is great literature, great architecture, great art and great sculpture in the diverse cultures and religious fields. And there is music everywhere. But you will not find music of the magnitude of that which the Christian world brought forth – the music of Palestrina, Bach, Handel, Mozart, Beethoven and Bruckner - in any other cultural region,” Benedict said. “This music is unique. There is nothing like it and that must be food for thought ... it must not disappear from the liturgy as its presence means partaking in the mystery of faith in a very special way.”

Benedict XVI told his audience music is born from the experiences of love, of “sadness, of being touched by death, by pain and by the abysses of existence” as well as from “the encounter with the divine”.

He called the honorary degrees "an essential contribution so that the great gift of music that comes from the tradition of the Christian faith stays strong".

Bestowing the honours was Krakow Archbishop Stanislaw Dziwisz, who served as St John Paul II's longtime aide and who was made cardinal by Benedict.

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