Papal document on liturgical music
It must be reverent, accentuate the sacred
In a new document released on 4 December 2003, Pope John Paul II emphasises that liturgical music must convey a sense of reverence and appreciation for the sacred.
The new document was released for the 100th anniversary of Pope St Pius X's Tra le Sollectitudini on sacred music. It is dated 22 November, which is the feast of St Cecilia, the patroness of music.
The Pope emphasises that "music used for sacred rites must have sanctity as its point of reference" and that "not all musical forms are appropriate for liturgical celebrations."
While liturgical music "must respond to the legitimate requirements of adaptation and inculturation", it should "avoid, at the same time, any concession to frivolity and superficiality." This means that "the sacred environment of liturgical celebration must never become a laboratory for experimentation or trial compositions and performances, introduced without careful consideration."
The Pope notes especially the importance in liturgy of Gregorian chant, as underlined by Vatican II, and encourages the promotion of church choirs. These have a "role as guide and accompaniment of the assembly, and in certain moments, they have a very specific role in the liturgy É Therefore, the musical aspect of liturgical celebrations cannot be left to improvisation, or to the judgement of individual persons, but it must be entrusted to thoughtful direction in accordance with norms and regulations, as meaningful fruit of an appropriate liturgical formation."
John Paul II asks the Congregation for Divine Worship and Discipline of the Sacraments "to pay closer attention to the sector of sacred liturgical music" and urges episcopal conferences to examine the texts of liturgical hymns and to "pay close attention in evaluating and promoting songs that are truly appropriate for sacred use."
On the matter of musical instruments, he calls for care that "the instruments are appropriate for sacred use, for the dignity of a church, and that they are able to accompany singing by the faithful and edify it."
Vatican Information Service
Anglican 'gay' bishop crisis impedes ecumenism
Vatican puts ARCIC meeting on hold
Following the consecration in November 2003 of an openly homosexual Episcopalian bishop - Eugene Robinson - in the United States, a number of Anglican bishops in Africa announced that they would break off ties with the New Hampshire diocese.
Following this, the Holy See announced after a meeting of Catholic and Anglican representatives in December that "it was decided that the next plenary session of the International Anglican-Roman Catholic Commission for Unity and Mission and its work towards the publication and reception of a Common Statement of Faith" would be put on hold.
However, the Vatican representative Cardinal Kasper has accepted the request of Dr Rowan Williams, the Anglican Archbishop of Canterbury, to find "appropriate means" to "reflect jointly upon the ecclesiological issues raised by the recent developments within the Anglican Communion in the light of the relevant Agreed Statements" elaborated by the Anglican-Roman Catholic International Commission (ARCIC).
Prior to the installation of Bishop Robinson, Pope John Paul II had warned the Archbishop of Canterbury that the consecration would threaten ecumenical talks. Although clearly shaken by that warning, Archbishop Williams did not take a clear stand against the New Hampshire appointment.
ARCIC talks have been held since the 1960s, bringing Catholic and Anglican representatives together for regular discussions that were inaugurated after a meeting between Paul VI and the then-Archbishop of Canterbury Dr Michael Ramsey.
Zenit News Service
China maintains tight grip on Christianity
Economic openness not matched by religious freedom
The dynamism and increasing openness of China's economy is well known. Recognising that more freedom leads to greater economic growth, China's rulers have been loosening their controls on economic activity. But when it comes to other freedoms, particularly religious liberty, the rulers continue to take a hard-line approach.
According to the US-based Cardinal Kung Foundation, every one of the underground Catholic Church bishops is either in jail, under house arrest, under strict surveillance, or in hiding. Numerous priests and seminarians also continue to be arrested.
This repression by Chinese authorities has shown no signs of diminishing in recent months. On 7 July 2003, for example, Reuters reported that five priests of the underground Church had been arrested in northern China while trying to visit a fellow priest recently released from a labor camp.
A more widespread campaign was detailed in a 29 June 2003 article in the Spanish daily El Mundo. It reported that in Wenzhou, on China's eastern coast, authorities declared that they had identified 4,800 centres dedicated to promoting "feudal superstition." All the Christian churches were marked with signs in red paint, earmarking them for destruction. Authorities proclaimed that their campaign led to the destruction, often using dynamite, of more than 3,000 churches.
Hong Kong's Bishop Joseph Zen said during an interview with the Italian Catholic daily Avvenire published on 20 September that Westerners who do business in China should insist on greater religious freedom for the country's citizens.
Interviewed during a visit in Italy, Bishop Zen added that he feared China could someday impose on Hong Kong the same religious repression now being carried out on the mainland.
As the country remodels its capital Beijing to present a good image during the 2008 Olympic Games, China-observers can only hope that the world's largest nation gets its religious-rights record in order too.
Zenit News Service
Pope recalls Ukrainian famine of 1932-33
Young people invited to learn lesson of past events
In December John Paul II wrote a message to Ukrainian Cardinals Lubomyr Husar, Archbishop of Lviv of the Ukrainians, and Marian Jaworsky, Archbishop of Lviv of the Latins, for the 70th anniversary of the Great Famine of 1932-33, instigated by Joseph Stalin in the Ukraine.
The Soviet regime took control of all agricultural production and foodstuffs in order to impose forced collectivisation in the country. This method provoked the genocide of entire populations. Although the regime concealed information at the time, it is now known that millions of people died during the famine.
With his message, written in Ukrainian, the Pope wanted "to spiritually join everyone in Ukraine in recalling the victims of this tragedy and inviting young people to remember past events so that similar suffering is never repeated again."
He points out that "the awareness of past aberrations results in a constant stimulus to build a future more suitable to man, in contrast to all ideology that profanes life É and the just aspirations of man" and reminds Ukrainians of their responsibility to safeguard the "Western and Eastern Christian heritage" and to "turn it into the synthesis of culture and civilisation".
Vatican Information Service
The legal status of unborn
Question debated in several countries
Parliaments and courts in several countries continue to deliberate over what legal status unborn children may possess. The most recent case comes from France, where the lower house of Parliament approved an amendment to a bill that would make it a crime to cause a pregnant woman to miscarry against her will, the British daily Guardian reported 29 November.
The proposal is still to be considered by the Senate, where press reports say it faces an uphill battle. The proposal arose after a court case involving a woman who had lost her baby after being hit by a car. An attempt to convict the offending driver failed, with the court determining that the fetus was not recognised as a person under French law.
In the United States, legislators have also debated the introduction of laws giving some form of legal status to unborn children. Pennsylvania and Texas have considered the issue in past months. US Senator Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania wrote on the issue in an opinion article for the Philadelphia Inquirer on 8 June 2003. Commenting on the discovery in San Francisco Bay of the body of Laci Peterson, who was carrying her unborn child, Santorum noted that California law recognises that the homicide of an expectant mother has two victims.
With the approval in Pennsylvania of a similar law, there are now 26 states that consider the harming of an unborn child as a crime. Santorum lamented that this still leaves nearly half of the United States without such protection. Medical experts are also paying greater attention to the fetus. Earlier this year one of Britain's leading neurological scientists said that fetuses might develop consciousness long before the legal age limit for abortions. Baroness Greenfield, a professor of neurology at Oxford University and the director of the Royal Institution, said there was evidence to suggest the conscious mind could develop before 24 weeks, the upper age where abortions are permitted in Britain.
Zenit News Service
Lack of French priestly vocations
John Paul II calls on French bishops to confront problem
Meeting with a group of French bishops on 6 December 2003, Pope John Paul II raised the question of declining priestly vocations.
"For many years now, your country has seen a grave crisis of vocations: a sort of wandering in the desert that constitutes a real trial of faith for pastors and faithful alike," he noted. The decline in priestly vocations had continued in spite of "many initiatives that have been tried in the French dioceses." But he insisted that the bishops must not "give in to discouragement," but confront the problem with unwavering faith.
The Pope made his remarks during a meeting with bishops from the metropolitan regions of Rennes and Rouen, who were concluding their ad limina visit to Rome. He told them that young people might be dissuaded from priestly or religious vocations because of three factors: fear of long-term commitment, misconceptions about the nature of the priesthood, and a general secularising trend that weakens understanding of faith.
The Pope continued with a long and very concrete set of recommendations, urging the bishops to devote careful attention to seminary formation, selection of candidates for the priesthood, and a tight focus on the spiritual life of priests, seminary staff, and candidates for the priestly ministry.
Catholic World News
Sydney University society organises prayer for Australia's legal system
The Sydney University St Thomas More Society hosted 40 hours of Eucharistic Adoration from 14-16 December 2003 for the Australian legal system, with a Rosary recited every hour on the hour. The event was supported by the Society for Eucharistic Adoration.
The President of the Society, James Foster, stated that "this kind of prayer for our legal system has never taken place in recent memory. It is a first for the Archdiocese." The Secretary, third year student Elie Azzi noted that "this is particularly important in our current times. With security threats to our nation, along with an assault on the rights of the unborn, we must pray!"
Secularisation of European Union
France's stance criticised by "elder statesmen"
Twenty-two of Europe's most respected senior public figures, from ex-Prime Ministers to Nobel prizewinners, have denounced France's determination to secularise the European Union, establishing a strict separation between Church and state.
In an essay in the French newspaper Le Monde, the elder statesmen said that in Europe, Christianity was "at the root of the fundamental notion of the individual". And while it had had "a paradoxical history, as it both created the European conscience and caused wars" it had "ultimately always come down to a choice for individuals and their consciences".
The authors' remarks were directed both at the authors of the new EU constitution, which contains no reference to Christianity, and at France, where President Jacques Chirac is considering a new law to reinforce the secularism of national institutions.