Music and Liturgy | Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger | Excerpts
from The Spirit of the Liturgy
The following excerpts are from The Spirit of the Liturgy by Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, former prefect of the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and now Pope Benedict XVI.
Music and the Bible
The importance of music in biblical religion is shown very simply by the fact that the verb "to sing" (with related words such as "song", and so forth) is one of the most commonly used words in the Bible. It occurs 309 times in the Old Testament and thirty-six in the New. When man comes into contact with God, mere speech is not enough. Areas of his existence are awakened that spontaneously turn into song. Indeed, man's own being is insufficient for what he has to express, and so he invites the whole of creation to become a song with him: "Awake, my soul! Awake, O harp and lyre! I will awake the dawn! I will give thanks to you, O Lord, among the peoples; I will sing praises to you among the nations. For your steadfast love is great to the heavens, your faithfulness to the clouds" (Ps 57:8f.). We find the first mention of singing in the Bible after the crossing of the Red Sea. Israel has now been definitively delivered from slavery. In a desperate situation, it has had an overwhelming experience of God's saving power. Just as Moses as a baby was taken from the Nile and only then really received the gift of life, so Israel now feels as if it has been, so to speak, taken out of the water: it is free, newly endowed with the gift of itself from God's own hands. In the biblical account, the people's reaction to the foundational event of salvation is described in this sentence: "[T]hey believed in the Lord and in his servant Moses" (Ex 14:31). But then follows a second reaction, which soars up from the first with elemental force: "Then Moses and the people of Israel sang this song to the Lord" (15:1). Year by year, at the Easter Vigil, Christians join in the singing of this song. They sing it in a new way as their song, because they know that they have been "taken out of the water" by God's power, set free by God for authentic life. (The Spirit of the Liturgy, pp 136-7)