Friday, August 15, 2008

The Ark and Sacred Music

This morning's sermon on the Assumption was thought-provoking. The priest developed the theme of 'completeness' of body and soul as a unity, and then mentioned that Mary, the Mother of God, is referred to as 'Ark of the Covenant.'

He developed that "Ark" concept a bit by stating that Mary was carrying the Word, as did the Ark of the Old Testament (which carried the Commandments)--and that the presence of the Ark signified "God-with-us" to the OT Jews.


Wiki tells us that the Ark was

...made of shittah-tree wood (acacia), known to the Egyptians as the Tree of Life and an important plant in traditional medicine...The Ark was covered all over with the purest gold. Its upper surface or lid, the mercy seat (Hebrew: כפורת, Kaporet), was surrounded with a rim of gold.

On each of the two sides were two gold rings, wherein were placed two wooden poles (with a decorative sheathing of gold), to allow the Ark to be carried (Num. 7:9; 10:21; 4:5,19, 20; 1 Kings 8:3, 6). Over the Ark, at the two extremities, were two cherubim, with their faces turned toward one another (Leviticus 16:2; Num. 7:89). Their outspread wings over the top of the Ark formed the throne of God, while the Ark itself was his footstool (Ex. 25:10-22; 37:1-9). The Ark was placed in the "Holy of Holies," so that one end of the carrying poles touched the veil separating the two compartments of the tabernacle (1 Kings 8:8).

Briefly, they made it out of really good stuff, fitting for the Word--for "God With Us," Immanuel.

That particular concept, 'carrying the Word,' reminded me of part of the lecture of Cdl. Jos. Ratzinger given to the VIII International Church Music Congress in November, 1985. The lecture, entitled "Liturgy and Church Music," is reprinted in Volume 3, P. 193, of Divini Cultus Studium, published by the Church Music Ass'n of America in 1990.

Bear in mind the unity of body and soul, 'carrying the Word,' and the Assumption's reality as you read this passage from Ratzinger:

When the Word becomes music, there is involved on the one hand perceptible illustration, incarnation or taking on flesh, attraction of pre-rational and suprarational powers, a drawing upon the hidden resonance of creation, a discovery of the song which lies at the basis of all things. And so this becoming music is itself the very turning point in the movement; it involves not only the Word becoming flesh, but simultaneously the flesh becoming spirit. ...What takes place is an embodiment of incarnation which is spiritualisation, and a spiritualisation which is incarnation or em-"gody"-ment. Chritian "incartaion" or "embodiment" is always simultaneously spiritualisation, and Chritian spiritualisation is em-"body"-ment into the body of the Logos became man.

So the music which "enfleshes" the Word is like the Ark--or like Mary Immaculate.

Thus the archetypical Ark carrying the Word was covered in gold--the finest material. Thus Mary, the Immaculate Conception, was the finest and purest of humankind.

How does the music stack up against these models, or types?

Let's go a bit further with Ratzinger (now Pope Benedict XVI). Last week, he expressed some thoughts about reason and beauty.

But this creating "Logos" is not a merely technical "logos." It is broader than this, it is a "logos" that is love, and therefore to be expressed in beauty and goodness.

...Christianity involves precisely this epiphany: that God has become a veiled Epiphany, he appears and shines. We have just listened to the sound of the organ in all its splendor, and I think that the great music born within the Church is an audible and perceptible rendering of the truth of our faith: from Gregorian chant to the music of the cathedrals to Palestrina and his era, to Bach and then to Mozart and Bruckner, and so on... Listening to all of these great works – the Passions by Bach, his Mass in B minor, and the great spiritual compositions of 16th century polyphony, of the Viennese school, of all of this music, even by minor composers – suddenly we feel: it is true! Wherever things like these are created, there is Truth.

...When, in our own time, we discuss the reasonableness of the faith, we are discussing precisely the fact that reason does not end where experimental discoveries end, it does not end in positivism; the theory of evolution sees the truth, but sees only half of it: it does not see that behind this is the Spirit of creation. We are fighting for the expansion of reason, and therefore for a form of reason that, exactly to the point, is open to beauty as well, and does not have to leave it aside as something completely different and irrational.

Christian art is a rational form of art – we think of Gothic art, great music, or the Baroque art right here – but this is the artistic expression of a much broader form of reason, in which the heart and reason come together. This is the point. This, I think, is in some way the proof of the truth of Christianity: the heart and reason come together, beauty and truth touch

So Mary and the Ark were not merely 'functional.' They were beautiful, as well. The Ark, however, was pre-Christian, pre- the eschatology of the Cross and Resurrection. Mary, the new Ark, was (and is) archetype of the reality following those events.

Immaculate. Gold.

So again, how does that music stack up?

1 comment:

Grim said...

That was a beautiful post. Thought-provoking, as well.