San Francisco Project to Promote Beauty in Liturgy and Music

The Benedict XVI Institute was launched in part ‘to recover a sense of our sacred music,’ Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone said.

Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone celebrates vespers at St. Sebastian on Jan. 5.
Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone celebrates vespers at St. Sebastian on Jan. 5. (photo: CNA/Sancta Trinitas Unus Deus/Traditional Latin Mass Society of San Francisco)

SAN FRANCISCO — A recently launched initiative in San Francisco will educate Church musicians about sacred music and train lay ministers for their roles, according to Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone.

“To recover a sense of our sacred music” is among the top objectives of the Benedict XVI Institute for Sacred Music & Divine Worship, the archbishop of San Francisco told CNA Jan. 25.

“Beauty — as Pope Benedict has taught us — evangelizes, lifts us up to God, so we need to recover that sense of beauty in our liturgical music.”

The Benedict XVI Institute will be based at St. Patrick’s Seminary in Menlo Park, Calif., and will serve seminarians as well as laymen; according to its website, it “supports pastors in their efforts to form laypeople” for liturgical ministries and will offer courses both online and at parishes.

The new initiative is one among a number of acts Archbishop Cordileone has done in the 18 months he has served in San Francisco: He has also said a number of Masses in the extraordinary form, provided for regular celebration of the extraordinary form and provided for a new order, the Contemplatives of St. Joseph, to assist in liturgical reform and spiritual renewal in the archdiocese.

The institute was launched at a Jan. 5 vespers service for the Epiphany. Both the archbishop and the foundation's director, Benedictine Father Samuel Weber, spoke. Father Weber is the former director of the Institute of Sacred Music for the Archdiocese of St. Louis.

Father Weber taught the more than 200 attendants Gregorian chant, and in his interview, Archbishop Cordileone affirmed that such a recovery of sacred music “really is just trying to do what the Church has asked us to do, at Vatican II and ever since, in all the documents on music and the liturgy: that the people also be well formed in singing the sacred repertoire.”

He alluded to the Vatican II constitution on the liturgy, Sacrosanctum Concilium, which acknowledged Gregorian chant as “specially suited to the Roman liturgy,” thus forming the core of the “sacred repertoire.” The Church marked the 50th anniversary of the document last Oct. 4.

“It doesn’t exclude other forms of music, as the [Vatican's] instructions say, although it says it should be in keeping with the sacred nature of the liturgy,” Father Weber explained, adding that the Benedict XVI Institute’s purpose “would be to promote chant and perhaps to some extent polyphony.”

Contemporary music, too, will be included he said, saying, “This is perhaps a good idea: that musicians understand how to use contemporary music well, because it is very popular, and that will draw people, too.”

“This is all about evangelization. We have lots of tools in the kit: a lot of them we’re not using; others we’re not using as well as we could. So let's use them,” and “let's use them well.”

Archbishop Cordileone said it is important that “musicians doing contemporary-style Church music should understand what is good music — because not all of it is even good musically — but also to understand the theology underlying the lyrics.”

He cited some songs as having “watered-down” or “bad theology,” while holding up songs “straight from Scripture — especially the Psalms” as examples of what can be given as “good formation” in sacred music “which lifts the soul.”

Father Weber is well-versed in Gregorian chant but is also known for “updating” chant, producing English and Spanish language music in a chant style.

This reform in continuity — producing chant music in vernacular languages — is an example of neither breaking with the past, nor remaining completely in it.

“That’s really what we’ve been dealing with in the Church for the past 50 years,” reflected Archbishop Cordileone, “rupture vs. continuity and reform.”

He named the new liturgical institute for Benedict XVI, who identified this hermeneutic of continuity, saying that the emeritus pope was “calling us to see the [Second Vatican] Council in the context of a historical continuity … building upon what came before; so Benedict was calling us to build upon, not replace,” the Tradition of the Church.

“The Church builds on what it has received,” he said, and “Pope Benedict understood what was received.”

The second main purpose of the education institution, Archbishop Cordileone explained, is a more profound formation for laity who serve as lectors or extraordinary ministers of holy Communion.

He explained that good training for such lay ministers, while essential, “isn’t enough.”

“There has to be a deeper formation, so it’s coming out of their heart, out of their soul, so they understand the true spirit of the liturgy and they have a liturgical spirituality.”

He cited the importance of lectors appreciating the context of readings and biblical theology and said extraordinary ministers “need to understand truly who it is they are handling and to be formed in that deep respect for the Blessed Sacrament.”