The Via Pulchritudinis, Faure's Requiem, and the Eucharist.
The beauty of the created world is a reflection of the beauty of the Creator; as one of the ways in which God reveals himself to humanity, it testifies to God's providential love as the source of all life. As the Catechism of the Catholic Church states, "Starting from movement, becoming, contingency, and the world's order and beauty, one can come to a knowledge of God as the origin and end of the universe." (2) Yet such is the "divine pedagogy [that] God communicates himself to [humanity] gradually." (3) Just as divine revelation occurs gradually, so too does one's immersion into beauty take place in stages on a trajectory, steps along a pathway. The more deeply one is immersed into beauty, the more fully one ascends into an awareness of God's love revealed in the world, a revelation reaching its fulfillment in the person of Jesus Christ. The purpose of this discussion, then, is to examine the stages or steps of this immersion into beauty in order to demonstrate the trajectory or pathway along which an aesthetic experience becomes a point of divine encounter and ultimately a catalyst for conversion. Step one on this pathway consists of establishing the parameters for exploring aesthetic experiences through a theological lens, discerning the ways in which beauty can point to God. Because beauty's manifestations are myriad, it becomes necessary following these general considerations to limit subsequent discussion to a specific form of beauty, in this case, music. Step two will engage the ways in which sacred music heard in a concert hall provides an inroad to divine encounter, and step three will examine the ways in which liturgical music heard during the Mass becomes a means by which one may encounter Jesus Christ, present in the Eucharist. This final step will also explore the ways in which an aesthetic experience contains within it a call to conversion.
To illustrate this ever-deepening trajectory of encounter requires an examination of a particular piece of sacred music that has resonated with listeners in both concert and liturgical settings. Gabriel Faure's Requiem, op. 48 provides such an example. Both its instant reception into the standard choral repertoire and its long performance history prove its artistic merit as a beautiful piece of sacred music. In concert hall and cathedral alike, Faure's Requiem has opened the hearts of listeners to the presence of God, yet it is only when the piece is heard within the celebration of the Mass that it reaches its full potential as an inroad of divine encounter. Because the eucharistic liturgy comprises the culminating step on the pathway of beauty, music heard within this context transcends itself and contains within it seeds for conversion and transformation that are nourished by the eucharistic presence of Christ. The beauty of the liturgy is the "beauty [that] will save the world," for liturgical beauty is the beauty of Christ himself.
Step One: Self-Forgetting Awareness of the Other
According to Alejandro Garcia-Rivera, aesthetics understood in the contemporary sense may be described as the science that asks and seeks to answer the question, "What moves the human heart?" (4) Framing the inquiry thus, Garcia-Rivera posits, "brings [one] closer to the mysterious experience of the truly beautiful ... [and] allows aesthetics a philosophical approach while leaving open the possibility of a theological contribution, i.e., a theological aesthetics." (5) In other words, asking the question "What moves the human heart?" opens the door to contemplating the aesthetic experience--the encounter with the "truly beautiful"--in light of its religious or theological implications. Yet before addressing the specific components of the aesthetic experience, one must first define the aesthetic experience itself. To borrow from Garcia-Rivera, one must establish the "is-ness" of the aesthetic experience before one can determine its "what-ness." (6) For the purposes of this discussion, aesthetic experiences are specific moments in one's journey of faith--milestones along the pathway of the via pulchritudinis, the way of beauty. In the words of the Pontifical Council for Culture, the via pulchritudinis encompasses "the beauty that favours the handing on of the faith by its capacity to touch people's hearts, to express the mystery of God and the human person, to be an authentic 'bridge,' an open space for a pathway for the men and women of our times who already know beauty, or who wish to learn to appreciate it, and help them meet the beauty of the Gospel of Christ." (7) The via pulchritudinis as a path to faith draws one first into an awareness of the other, then into a discovery of God, and finally, through the grace of the Spirit, into contemplation of Jesus Christ, the Incarnate Word of God. Thus, in theological aesthetics, one's experiences of the beautiful create a path by which faith seeks a deeper understanding of God as the source of all beauty.
The true aesthetic experience defies reduction into mere prettiness or sensory delight, for within the true aesthetic experience is a mystery that begs to be unpacked. It beckons the perceiver beyond itself. Simone Weil understood this well when she wrote:
We are drawn toward [beauty] without knowing what to ask of it. It offers us its own existence. We do not desire anything else, we possess it, and yet we still desire something. We do not in the least know what it is. We want to get behind the beauty, but it is only a surface. It is like a mirror that sends us back our own desire for goodness. It is a sphinx, an enigma, a mystery which is painfully tantalizing. (8)
Taking this idea further, C. S. Lewis acknowledges this mysterious facet of beauty and characterizes it as a visible manifestation of invisible realities.
The books or music in which we thought the beauty was located will betray us if we trust to them; it was not in them, it only came through them, and what came through them was longing. These things--the beauty, the memory of our own past--are good images of what we really desire; but if they are mistaken for the thing itself, they turn into dumb idols, breaking the hearts of their worshippers. For they are not the thing itself; they are only the scent of a flower we have not found, the echo of a tune we have not heard, news from a country we have never yet visited. (9)
In both of these instances, beauty is presented as that which draws the perceiver beyond the self as it points beyond itself, yet both Weil and Lewis only hint at a divine presence hidden within the aesthetic experience. The first step on the via pulchritudinis is this self- forgetting awareness of a mystery behind and beyond beauty's surface. Once the perceiver has forgotten the self, he or she is then capacitated to ponder the presence of an other. A sensory awakening takes place within this self-forgetting--a passing beyond the physical senses capable of discerning the merely pretty to the spiritual senses capable of plumbing the depths of the mystery that lies at the heart of the beautiful. (10) Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI describes such an experience of self-forgetting and awakening specifically in connection with beholding a work of art:
It may have happened on some occasion that you paused before a sculpture, a picture, a few verses of a poem or a piece of music that you found deeply moving, that gave you a sense of joy, a clear perception, that is, that what you beheld was not only matter, a piece of marble or bronze, a painted canvas, a collection of letters or an accumulation of sounds, but something greater, something that "speaks," that can touch the heart, communicate a message, uplift the mind.... [Art] is able to manifest and make visible the human need to surpass the visible, it expresses the thirst and the quest for the infinite. Indeed, it resembles a door open on to the infinite, on to a beauty and a truth that go beyond the daily routine. And a work of art can open the eyes of the mind and of the heart, impelling us upward. (11)
In an earlier address, Benedict draws an explicit connection between the experience of what he terms "authentic beauty" and the discovery of God: "Authentic beauty ... unlocks the yearning of the human heart, the profound desire to know, to love, to go towards the Other, to reach for the Beyond.... Precisely because [beauty] opens up and broadens the horizons of human awareness, pointing us beyond ourselves, bringing us face to face with the abyss of Infinity, [it] can become a path towards the transcendent, towards the ultimate Mystery, towards God." (12) These insights from the former pontiff provide a transition from the general "is-ness" of the aesthetic experience (that which draws the perceiver beyond the self) to its more concrete "what-ness" (an encounter with a material reality, i.e., art, that points to the immaterial, God). Returning to Garcia-Rivera's description of theological aesthetics, one discovers that an aesthetic experience comprises three elements: an artist, a work of art, and an audience. So intrinsically linked is each element to the other that Garcia-Rivera characterizes their symbiotic relationship as "triadic," a term that carries significant connotations within one particular area of the arts: music. Within the context of music theory, a triad is a three-note chord that forms the basis of tonal harmony; indeed, it is "the most common chord in Western music." (13) By couching his description of the elements of aesthetic experience using musical terminology, Garcia-Rivera implies that a harmony exists among artist, artwork, and audience. This connotation provides an apt point of departure for a specific examination of the way in which one can enter the via pulchritudinis through music.
Step Two: Sacred Music in the Concert Hall --The "Mouth of the Labyrinth"
The sensory harmony of music invites the listener into Garcia-Rivera's triadic relationship of aesthetic harmony with the music and the composer as it beckons the listener beyond mere perception of the beautiful into a reception of beauty. More specifically, the beauty of sacred music heard in the context of the concert hall has the capacity to inspire a listener to enter the "mouth of the labyrinth" (14) and set off on the via pulchritudinis in search of the source of its beauty, ultimately leading the seeker to God. It is worth noting that, within this context, it becomes possible to apply the descriptor "sacred" not only to choral and vocal concert works with religious texts (such as Johann Sebastian Bach's St. Matthew Passion or Franz Joseph Haydn's oratorio The Creation), but also in a broader sense to instrumental works inspired by religious subjects or Scripture (such as Olivier Messiaen's Quartet for the End of Time or the sacred keyboard music of Franz Liszt). Such beautiful music stirs the soul. Not only does it draw the listener out of the self into an awareness of an other, but more importantly, it creates a space within the heart wherein the listener may encounter the other, God. As a part of the via pulchritudinis, such music "[opens] infinite horizons, ... prompts the human person to push outside of himself, from the routine of the ephemeral passing instant, to the Transcendent and Mystery, and seek, as the final goal of the ultimate quest for well-being and total nostalgia, this original beauty which is God Himself, creator of all created beauty." (15) This idea of beauty enabling one to push past the ephemeral to the transcendent is particularly poignant in a discussion about music, the most ephemeral of all the arts in its emergence from and return to silence. Sacred music lingers in the soul long after the last note has decayed into nothingness. The strings of the heart, having been plucked by the beauty of a performance, continue to resonate within the listener's memory as a wellspring, a source of contemplation, containing within it the possibility of a continued encounter with God.
Benedict addresses this idea of continued encounter in the general audience of August 31, 2011 by recalling a profound aesthetic experience from his own life:
I remember a concert of music by Johann Sebastian Bach in Munich, conducted by Leonard Bernstein. At the end of the last passage, one of the Cantatas, I felt, not by reasoning but in the depths of my heart, that what I had heard had communicated truth to me, the truth of the supreme composer, and impelled me to thank God. The Lutheran bishop of Munich was next to me and I said to him spontaneously: "in hearing this one understands; it is true; such strong faith is true, as well as the beauty that irresistibly expresses the presence of God's truth." (16)
In this instance, Bach's music not only pointed beyond itself as the performance was taking place, but in the moments immediately following, it also "[opened] infinite horizons" to a kind of communion among concert-goers, in which the Bishop of Rome and the Lutheran Bishop of Munich were able to grow in love of God and neighbor through a shared experience of beauty. Not only that, but the fruits of attending the concert continued to nourish others long afterward, as Benedict used his experience to point his own listeners in the direction of the via pulchritudinis. Such a formative experience of beauty transcends the differences that divide persons from one another, opens hearts to the love of God that unites them to one another, and continues to do so long after the experience itself has ended.
Composer Gabriel Faure (1845-1924) testified to the mysterious, transcending power of beauty in general and music in particular in a letter to his son: "The work of the imagination consists in attempting to formulate all that one wants that is best, everything that goes beyond reality.... To my mind art, and above all music, consists in lifting us as far as possible above what is." (17) Indeed, in the composition of his Requiem, Faure sought to write music that would lift the soul "as far as possible" above the music so often heard in Masses for the Dead at that time. In an oft-quoted interview with Louis Aguettant from 1902, Faure famously remarked, "Perhaps instinctively I sought to break loose from convention. I've been accompanying burial services at the organ for so long now! I've had it up to here with all that. I wanted to do something [different]." (18) By this point in his life, Faure had been serving the Church as a musician for nearly forty years, and had grown tired of the liturgical music preferred by the clergy and congregation of his parish, La Madeleine in Paris. Writing a reply featured in Le Monde Musical to a questionnaire regarding the newly-issued motu proprio on sacred music from Pope St. Pius X (Tra le sollecitudini, 1903), Faure characterizes the clergy as having "the best will and worst taste in the world" regarding their musical preference, and states unequivocally that no amount of papal legislation can impact the dreadful musical practices in the churches of Paris. (19) Indeed, the wealthy congregation of La Madeleine expected to hear music on Sunday mornings reminiscent of what they had heard in the opera house on Saturday night, and the clergy sought to retain such parishioners by fulfilling these expectations. Faure, on the other hand, believed that Gregorian plainchant was the only form of truly liturgical music, and his unwillingness to acquiesce to musical tastes he viewed as banal often resulted in confrontation with his clerical supervisors.
Faced with such opposition, Faure's independent spirit nevertheless proved indefatigable: he was determined to write the liturgical music he wanted to write, regardless of how it would be received by the clergy and parishioners who expressed a preference for "confusing, vapid, simplistic, sentimental music with the expression of religious feeling." (20) The result was the Requiem, Opus 48, a work in which Faure eschewed musical traditions surrounding Masses for the Dead in his choices regarding text and compositional style. Thus far in Western music, Requiem Masses had typically foregrounded images of judgment and feelings of terror at the prospect of damnation; however, Faure chose to compose a work whose texts and music highlighted the tender compassion of a merciful God. His fondness for Gregorian chant shines through in the gentle contour of the melodies, while his harmonic language holds Renaissance modality and late-nineteenth-century chromaticism in a luminous tension.
Having initially scored the piece for small orchestral forces such as would have been available in La Madeleine, Faure later expanded the instrumentation at the request of his publisher in order to encourage performances of the Requiem outside of its original liturgical setting. Published in 1901, this "symphonic version" of the Requiem garnered instant success in the concert hall, which, according to Faure biographer Jean-Michel Nectoux, surprised even the composer himself. Indeed, "a century after its first performance, Faure's Requiem remains the most often played and recorded of his works the world over." (21) The enduring popularity of the Requiem as a concert work renders it well worth examining in the light of the via pulchritudinis. Thus, step two on the trajectory or pathway of beauty is to explore the ways in which the Requiem as a concert work cultivates an interior space wherein the listener might encounter God as other, as the beauty within the beautiful. Considerations of scope make it impossible to examine the Requiem in its entirety; thus, the current discussion will be limited to the fourth movement, the Pie Jesu.
Throughout his sporadic composition the Requiem, Faure expanded the number of movements from five to seven; however, in both versions, the Pie Jesu forms the centerpiece of the work. Though no manuscript of this movement survives, sketches of the Pie Jesu found in Faure's notebooks dating from autumn 1887 predate those of other movements, suggesting that it is perhaps this movement that came to the composer's imagination first. This hypothesis gains credibility in light of Nectoux's assertion that "the structure of the Requiem is organised around the central point of the soprano solo, the Pie Jesu (no. 4, B flat). Everything radiates from this, which is present in the earliest sketches and forms in some sense the nucleus for the development of the whole work." (22) Yet such is the case not because of any virtuosic writing employed in this movement. On the contrary, the music of the Pie Jesu is perhaps the simplest in the entire Requiem: there are no choral harmonies as it is sung by a soloist; the melodic range for the soprano voice barely surpasses that of an octave; there are no complicated rhythmic patterns; the harmonic language of the orchestra is, on the whole, simple and dignified. Even the text is the shortest of any movement: Pie Jesu, Domine, donaeis requiem, dona eis, Domine, dona eis requiem, sempiternam requiem (Merciful Jesus, Lord, grant them rest, grant them, Lord, grant them rest, eternal rest). Overall, Faure's Requiem lacks the fire and brimstone of other requiem settings both textually and musically; a character of gentle simplicity pervades throughout. As Faure wrote to conductor Eugene Ysaye, "It is as gentle as I am myself." (23) Thus, to have a pure, unadorned, simple hymn at the heart of a Requiem Mass already set apart because of its gentle compositional style only increases the impact the Pie Jesu must have had on its first audiences. Even today, a century after its composition and thousands of performances later, the effect of this movement is no less striking; the Pie Jesu continues to move listeners with its quiet tenderness.
In comparison to what has been heard thus far in the Requiem, the Pie Jesu is utterly different: the key of B-flat major has only been alluded to in the preceding Sanctus movement, yet here that tonality flowers forth as the soprano melody soars with a sweetness not yet heard in the Requiem. Melodically, "the vocal writing shows the discreet influence of Gregorian chant ... the curves of the vocal line are not far from those of the Gregorian archetypes taught by the monks of Solesmes in their simplicity and meandering expansiveness." (24) Harmonically, the majority of the movement utilizes a chord structure as simple as the melodic contour, with one notable exception in measures 18-28. From a music theory standpoint, one could call this the "development section," albeit a brief one. The harmony shifts from the tonic center (B-flat) to a dominant pedal point (F) for measures 18-22, and in measure 23 the sudden presence of a half-diminished chord built on B-natural startles the listener's ear, (25) ushering in three measures of intense chromaticism when compared to the rest of the movement. It is no accident that this chromatic tension and harmonic drama take place as the soprano sings words heard for the first time in the entire Requiem: Sempiternam requiem (Grant them eternal rest). It is as though the singer scarcely dares to voice such an audacious request.Yet this timidity gives way to hopefulness in measure 29 with the recapitulation of the theme from the beginning of the movement. Addressing Jesus for the second time, the soprano melody rings out with confidence in a merciful Savior, and as the movement concludes, the words Sempiternam requiem are repeated, this time accompanied by harmonies of profound serenity and trust.
Within a concert setting, this movement stands above the rest of the Requiem as a moment of sublime tranquility, almost suspended in time. Nectoux declares, "The Pie Jesu is a profoundly touching prayer ... its simplicity, gentleness, and candour transcend the 'odour of sanctity' to reach some kind of expressive truth." (26) Even without crossing the threshold into an explicit discussion of the piece's theological text, Nectoux acknowledges that the Pie Jesu somehow transcends the earthly to reveal the heavenly. Indeed, this movement in comparison with the rest of the Requiem is completely other, and in its other-ness, the Pie Jesu opens within the hearts of listeners a space for the Other as it "stirs a hidden nostalgia for God." (27) Yet to appreciate this work in a concert setting is to gain only a partial understanding of its true beauty, for "the longing to love the beauty of the world ... is essentially a longing for the Incarnation. ... The Incarnation alone can satisfy it." (28) In other words, in order to comprehend fully the way in which the Pie Jesu functions as a locus of divine encounter and a catalyst for conversion, one must place this piece back within the liturgical context for which it was written. As the Pontifical Council for Culture asserts:
To reread the works of Christian art, great or small, musical or artistic, and put them back in their context while deepening their vital links with the life of the Church, particularly the liturgy, is to let them speak again and help them transmit the message that inspired their creation. The via pulchritudinis, in setting out the pathway of the arts, leads to the veritas of the faith, Christ Himself become "by the Incarnation, the icon of the invisible God." (29)
Only within the eucharistic celebration will the beauty of Faure's Pie Jesu transcend even itself to become an aural icon, leading the listener not merely to a general awareness of divine presence, but to a contemplation of and an encounter with Jesus Christ himself, present in the Eucharist. Herein lies the final step along the pathway of beauty, the via pulchritudinis.
Step Three: Liturgical Music and the "Beauty That Saves"
Liturgical music, understood for the purposes of this discussion as sacred music heard within the context of the Mass, invites the listening worshiper into an encounter with God Incarnate: Jesus Christ, the definitive new song of the Father intoned from the dawn of creation by the grace of the Spirit, (30) made present in the Eucharist by the grace of that same Spirit to be offered back to the Father in love along with his Body, the Church. Indeed, it is only in the light of Christ that true, authentic beauty can be experienced and appreciated, for "the Incarnation is the focal center, the correct perspective in which beauty takes its ultimate meaning." (31) In the celebration of the Eucharist, one is capacitated to perceive beauty's meaning fully, for one receives Christ himself, Beauty Incarnate and the meaning behind all earthly beauty. Thus: "It is not enough to set up art galleries [or perform concerts of sacred music], rather the conditions must also be created to let [the Church's rich cultural and artistic patrimony] express the content of its message. An authentically beautiful liturgy helps enter into this particular language of the faith, made of symbols and evocations of the mystery being celebrated." (32) Outside of the Mass, the beauty of sacred music may function as a sign, pointing beyond itself to the mysteries of God. According to John Saward, such music can even be said to function as "a 'sacramental,' something that sanctifies ex opere operantis, through the intercession of the Church and the devotion of her members." (33) Within the Mass, however, that same piece of sacred music takes on a different function: by virtue of its contribution to the celebration of the liturgy, sacred music becomes liturgical, ordered to the glorification of God and the sanctification of his people, the Church. (34) Put another way, "the beauty of the liturgy ... expresses the beauty of communion with [Christ] and with our [brethren], the beauty of a harmony which translates into gestures, symbols, words, images, and melodies that touch the heart and the spirit and raise marvel and the desire to meet the resurrected Lord, He who is the Door of Beauty." (35) By clothing the eucharistic celebration in beauty, liturgical music helps to facilitate the encounter with Christ that is at the heart of every Mass. It is this facilitation of encounter, this creation of space within the heart of the worshiper wherein Christ can dwell, that constitutes "the loftiest service of music through which it does not deny its artistic grandeur but really discovers it to the full. [Liturgical] music uncovers the buried way to the heart, to the core of our being, where it touches the being of the Creator and the Redeemer. Wherever this is achieved, music becomes the road that leads to Jesus, the way [via] on which God shows his salvation." (36)
The labyrinth of beauty entered through the concert hall reaches its culmination in the church at the eucharistic celebration. At the center of this labyrinth, Christ himself awaits so that he might reveal his beauty to the seeker and share that transformative beauty in the grace of Communion. Sacred music, then, reaches its fullness, its telos, as liturgical music: heard within the celebration of the Eucharist, this music helps lead the faithful to an encounter with Christ.
One gains a clear sense of this reality by returning Faure's Requiem, and in particular the Pie Jesu, to the liturgical context for which it was written. What is received as a beautiful piece of music in a concert hall setting becomes within the celebration of the Mass a profound moment of contemplating the eucharistic Christ. Musicologist Carlo Caballero provides a key insight as to why this is the case in his analysis of Faure's somewhat unusual choice of texts in the Requiem, an insight worth quoting extensively. Caballero states,
Recent writers, comparing Faure's Requiem to other settings, have noted his omission of the Sequence ("Dies Irae") and the Benedictus and his inclusion of the texts "Pie Jesu," "Libera me," and "In Paradisum." ... In order to understand ... Faure's choices ... we must put them in the context of liturgical traditions in late nineteenth-century Paris.... In Paris, and at La Madeleine in particular, the "Pie Jesu" could stand in place of the Benedictus at a Requiem Mass. Thus, Faure's omission of the Benedictus was not a lapse [in liturgical judgment], and, in Parisian use, the "Pie Jesu" was in its proper place as a song for the Elevation. (37)
At this time in the Church's history and especially in France, it was a relatively common liturgical practice for either instrumental or vocal music to be performed during the elevation of the consecrated host. (38) Such music was intended to focus the attention of the congregation on the mystery of the Real Presence of Christ in the eucharistic species. Thus, placing Faure's Pie Jesu back in its liturgical context exponentially heightens its capacity to serve as a locus of encounter with God. Heard during the elevation, the Pie Jesu becomes more than just a beautiful hymn addressed to Jesus in the abstract sense; it is a heartfelt prayer offered to the Incarnate Word of God, truly present under veils of bread and wine. It is a supplication for mercy made on behalf of the faithful departed to the one who offered his life for the whole of humanity, and in so doing, conquered death and brought forth the gift of eternal life.
Heard in this light, Faure's Pie Jesu becomes all the more stunning. As previously stated, this movement forms the heart, the "nucleus" of Faure's entire Requiem. The fact that the Requiem is centered on this movement offers a musical analogy for the centrality of the Eucharist in the life of the Church: just as the Pie Jesu forms the center of the Requiem, so too does the Eucharist form "the center of the Church's life." (39) In addition, the compositional style of profound purity and simplicity in this movement draws attention to the purity, simplicity, and humility of the consecrated host itself. The music of the Pie Jesu, heard at the moment of elevation, echoes in the words of Simone Weil:
The purity of religious things is almost everywhere to be seen in the form of beauty, when faith and love do not fail. Thus the words of the liturgy are marvelously beautiful; and the words of the prayer issued for us from the very lips of Christ is perfect above all. In the same way Romanesque architecture and Gregorian plain chant are marvelously beautiful. At the very center, however, there is something utterly stripped of beauty, where there is no outward evidence of purity, something depending wholly on convention. It cannot be otherwise. Architecture, singing, language, even if the words are chosen by Christ himself, all those things are in a sense distinct from absolute purity. Absolute purity, present here below to our earthly senses, as a particular thing, such can only be a convention, which is a convention and nothing else. This convention, placed at the central point, is the Eucharist. (40)
Weil later comments, "At the center of the Catholic religion a little formless matter is found, a little piece of bread.... It is outwardly only a fragment of matter, yet it is at the center of the Catholic religion." (41) This simple host, this little piece of bread, stands at the heart of Catholicism, for within this little formless matter, the One through whom matter came to be is contained. In its beauty and its simplicity, Faure's Pie Jesu opens the heart to a deeper contemplation of the beauty and simplicity contained within the eucharistic mystery. Finally, the fact that this prayer for the dead is heard at the moment of elevation calls to mind the fact that the Eucharist itself is offered "for the faithful departed who 'have died in Christ but are not yet wholly purified,' so that they may be able to enter into the light and peace of Christ." (42) In the text of the Pie Jesu, the faithful participating in the eucharistic liturgy make their prayer to Jesus for mercy on behalf of all the dead, and the souls of the faithful departed are elevated along with the consecrated host as an offering to God the Father through Christ his Son in the unity of the Holy Spirit.
Indeed, it is within the context of the liturgical celebration that Faure's Requiem transcends even itself to become a sacramental of Christ and a catalyst of conversion for the listener. In this beautiful liturgical music, Christ himself, "the Beauty of Holiness Incarnate," (43) is made manifest to the listener. However, this presence is not intended to inspire adoration alone; it is also meant to inspire action. Put simply, "Christ is Beauty, and He becomes present to make us beautiful." (44) An encounter with Christ through aesthetic experience necessarily evokes a response; one cannot hear such music and remain unchanged, just as one cannot encounter Christ and remain unchanged. As Garcia-Rivera states, "The aesthetic sign 'calls' the heart to discern original Beauty so that it may orient itself towards a Beautiful end." (45) Saward illustrates this call of the aesthetic sign by insisting, "The holiness of beauty is ordered to the beauty of holiness." (46) In other words, to view the aesthetic experience as a vehicle of mere sensory delight, or even of contemplation of God, is to miss its deeper purpose. The aesthetic experience cannot remain simply a point of encounter, no matter how beautiful such an encounter may be. Rather, the aesthetic experience that leads to an encounter with God in Christ Jesus must become a catalyst for conversion and a call to action. As the beauty of Christ speaks to the heart through the beautiful, one must allow the heart to be transformed by and configured to that beauty so that one's heart, one's life, may become beautiful. In this regard, St. Augustine's eucharistic exhortation to "be what you see, and receive what you are" (47) can also be applied to one's participation in and reception of an aesthetic experience, albeit to a lesser degree. When an experience of the beautiful inspires a greater conformity to the beauty of Christ, the transfiguration of the heart that takes place through the aesthetic experience becomes a corollary of the transfiguration of the soul that takes place through one's reception of the Eucharist.
The lives of holy men and women witness to this call of the beautiful; indeed, the conversions of many began in earnest with an experience of liturgical music that led to a life-changing encounter with Christ. St. Augustine recalls the beauty of the music heard at his Baptism: "How copiously I wept at your hymns and canticles, how intensely was I moved by the lovely harmonies of your singing Church! These voices flooded my ears, and the truth was distilled into my heart until it overflowed in loving devotion; my tears ran down, and I was the better for them." (48) Even later on in his life, liturgical music continues to have a profound effect: "I remember the tears I shed at the Church's song in the early days of my newly-recovered faith, and how even today I am moved not by the singing as such but by the substance of what is sung, when it is rendered in a clear voice and in the most appropriate melodies." (49) As he matures in his faith, Augustine learns to see beyond the beautiful music to the mystery of the beauty contained within it--the beauty of Christ--and he is moved to a discipleship of greater fidelity. Centuries later, in Faure's own time and country, French poet and playwright Paul Claudel experienced a profound conversion during Vespers at Notre-Dame de Paris on Christmas Day in 1886:
There were children from the choir-school dressed in white, and some students from the Petit Seminaire of St. Nicholasdu -Chardonnet were helping them to sing what I later discovered to be the Magnificat.... It was then that the event took place which revolutionized my whole life. Suddenly my heart was touched and I BELIEVED. I believed with such power, with such force of my whole being, with a conviction that was so overwhelming and a certainty that shut out so completely any tiniest doubt--that nothing since, neither books nor reasoning nor the vicissitudes of an extremely varied life, has been able to shake or even to touch my faith. I was overcome with a sudden and overwhelming sense of the innocence and the eternal infancy of God--an inexpressible revelation. (50)
Like St. Augustine and countless others before him, Claudel continued to encounter God in the beauty of liturgical celebrations, and of liturgical music in particular, writing that "the reading of the offices of the dead and the offices of Christmas, the ceremonies of Holy Week, the sublime chant of the Exultet ... overcame me with a sense of awe, joy, gratitude, repentance, and adoration." (51) Even Simone Weil, though remaining outside of Catholicism throughout her life, nevertheless encountered the loving presence of God in the beauty of liturgical music:
In 1938 I spent ten days at Solesmes, from Palm Sunday to Easter Tuesday, following all the liturgical services. I was suffering from splitting headaches; each sound hurt like a blow; by an extreme effort of concentration I was able to rise above this wretched flesh, to leave it to suffer by itself, heaped up in a corner, and to find a pure and perfect joy in the unimaginable beauty of the chanting and the words. This experience enabled me by analogy to get a better understanding of the possibility of loving divine love in the midst of affliction. (52)
In each of these accounts the aesthetic experience came in the form of music heard within a liturgical celebration, and in their own way, Augustine, Paul Claudel, and Simone Weil were able to pierce through the beautiful to the heart of beauty. In so doing, they themselves were changed by the beauty into which they had been immersed, for they discovered that God was the source of that beauty, that God indeed was beauty, and that the only response was to live a life that reflected God's beauty to the world, to live a life become beautiful.
Having reached the conclusion of this brief discussion of the via pulchritudinis, it is worthwhile to consider the origins that instigated this journey into beauty by means of the beautiful. Garcia-Rivera's definition of the aesthetic experience as triadic prompted an examination of music as a point of entry into the via pulchritudinis, which led to a differentiation between sacred music heard in the concert hall and liturgical music heard in the celebration of the Mass, using the Pie Jesu of Gabriel Faure's Requiem as a case study. This work originated as liturgical music, and although it has since drawn a broader audience in its status as a frequently-performed concert work, the Requiem fulfills its "loftiest service" in its original context as a piece of liturgical music, inviting worshipers into contemplation of the eucharistic Christ and contributing to the glorification of God and the sanctification of his people. (53) Yet, as has been demonstrated through the conversion narratives of St. Augustine, Paul Claudel, and Simone Weil, the journey of faith does not end with an aesthetic experience. Rather, the aesthetic experience is merely the beginning, for the beautiful contains within it a call to become beautiful, to become a reflection of the beauty of God in the world.
In returning to his triadic analogy, Garcia-Rivera explores the "in trinsic teleology of the Beautiful" by describing the artist as origin and the artwork as end, with the audience, the beholders, as those who respond to the call inherent in the work of art: "Origins [artist] and Ends [art] together with the 'audience,' the creatures of the Beautiful, weave the fabric of reality that is True, Good, and Beautiful. Thus, Beauty's 'call' is revealed to be both a 'call' that originates and a 'call' that draws one to an intended end." (54) The aesthetic experience, the beautiful, reveals God the great artist as the source, the origin, the Alpha of all beauty, as well as the end, the telos, the Omega of all beauty. The perceivers of the beautiful--the recipients of the aesthetic experience--are called not only to perceive and to receive, but to respond and to become that which they behold by allowing themselves to be conformed to the beauty of God that shines through the aesthetic experience. In particular, liturgical music can become a locus of encounter and a catalyst for conversion as it draws souls closer to God in Christ Jesus. Most importantly, such music can become a form of eucharistic offering when it is received by the listener as a gift reflecting the boundless glory of God, and offered back to God in grateful praise, either as a sung response in the liturgy, or even as a sursum corda, a lifting up of the heart on the wings of melodies and harmonies sent heavenward. Such beauty attracts. Such beauty transforms. Such beauty "will save the world."
(1.) Fyodor Dostoyevsky, The Idiot, part III, ch. 5, as cited in John Paul II, Letter to Artists (1999), [section] 16, accessed February 28, 2013, http://www.vatican.va/holy _father/john_paul_ii/letters/documents/hf_jpii_let_23041999_artists_en.ht ml. See also Pontifical Council for Culture, Concluding Document for the Plenary Assembly: The Via Pulchritudinis [VP], Privileged Pathway for Evangelisation and Dialogue (March 28, 2006), Conclusion, accessed February 17, 2014, http://www.vatican.va/roman_curia /pontifical_councils/cultr/documents/rc_pc_cultr_doc_2 0060 3 2 7_plenary -assembly_final-document_en.html.
(2.) Catechism of the Catholic Church [CCC]: Modifications from the Editio Typica (New York: Doubleday, 1997), [section]32.
(4.) Alejandro Garcia-Rivera, The Community of the Beautiful: A Theological Aesthetics (Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 1999), 9. Emphasis original.
(6.) Ibid., 79-80.
(7.) VP, II. 1.
(8.) Simone Weil, "Forms Implicit in the Love of God" in Waiting for God, trans. Emma Craufurd (NewYork: Harper Colophon Books, 1973), 166.
(9.) Lewis, Clive Staples (C. S.), "The Weight of Glory" in The Weight of Glory and Other Addresses (New York: HarperOne, 2001), 30-31.
(10.) See Garcia-Rivera's treatment of Origen on the subject of the spiritual senses in The Community of the Beautiful, 171-72.
(11.) Benedict XVI, "General Audience, Castel Gandolfo" (August 31, 2011), accessed February 28, 2013, http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/benedict_xvi/audiences /2011/documents/hf_ben-xvi_aud_20110831_en.html.
(12.) Benedict XVI, "Meeting with Artists, Sistine Chapel" (November 21, 2009), accessed February 28, 2013, http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/benedict_xvi/speeches /2009/november/documents/hf_ben-xvi_spe_20091121_artisti_en.html.
(13.) Joseph Machlis and Kristine Forney, The Enjoyment of Music (Shorter Version), 8th ed. (New York: W. W. Norton, 1999), 14.
(14.) Weil, "Forms Implicit in the Love of God," 163.
(15.) VP, II. 3.
(16.) Benedict XVI, "General Audience, Castel Gandolfo" (August 3i, 20ii).
(17.) Gabriel Faure, "Letter to his son Philippe Faure-Fremiet, August 1908" in Jessica Duchen, Gabriel Faure (London: Phaidon Press, 2000), 79.
(18.) Carlo Caballero, Faure and French Musical Aesthetics (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001), 185. The author's endnote acknowledges the source of this quotation thus: "Faure quoted by Louis Aguettant, letter to Andre Lambinet, July 12, 1902, published by Jean-Michel Nectoux as 'Rencontres avec Gabriel Faure,' Etudes faureenes 19 (1982): 4."
(19.) Jean-Michel Nectoux, Faure: A Musical Life (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004), 110. The author cites Faure's letter to Le Monde musical from February 15, 1904. See also Carlo Caballero, Faure and French Musical Aesthetics, 181-82.
(21.) Ibid., 119.
(22.) Ibid., 120-21.
(23.) Duchen, Gabriel Faure, 81.
(24.) Nectoux, Faure: A Musical Life, 121.
(25.) This B-natural stands out for two reasons: first, it is a half-step above the tonic center, resulting in a sonority that would not normally be heard in a diatonic harmonic structure; second, it is a tritone above the dominant pedal point F just heard in the preceding four measures. This intervallic movement of a tritone, known in music theory as the "diabolus in musica" (literally "the devil in music"), is unusual in music written in this straightforward chorale style. Even as early as the Middle Ages, composers often avoided writing this interval because of its dissonance, and later, because of its theological connotation as "the devil's interval." Faure uses it here perhaps to inject a moment of darkness and uncertainty into this otherwise serene prayer for the dead, but most certainly to bring a moment of late-Romantic chromaticism into the Pie Jesu and further highlight the text Sempiternam requiem.
(26.) Nectoux, Faure: A Musical Life, 122.
(27.) John Paul II, Letter to Artists (1999), [section]16.
(28.) Weil, "Forms Implicit in the Love of God," 171.
(29.) VP, III.2.C.
(30.) Cf. Joseph Ratzinger, The Spirit of the Liturgy, trans. John Saward (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2000), 138.
(31.) Ibid., III. 1.B.
(32.) Ibid., III.2, Pastoral Proposals.
(33.) John Saward, The Beauty of Holiness and the Holiness of Beauty: Art, Sanctity, and the Truth of Catholicism (San Francisco: Ignatius, 1997), 85. The author speaks specifically about Christian visual art, but his assertion holds true for sacred music as well.
(34.) Cf. Second Vatican Council, Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy Sacrosanctum Concilium [SC], in Vatican Council II, vol. 2, The Conciliar and Post Conciliar Documents, ed. Austin Flannery (Northport, NY: Costello Publishing, 1996), [section]7, 112. See also John Saward's differentiation between liturgical and sacred art in The Beauty of Holiness, 79-80.
(35.) VP, III. 3 .C.
(36.) Joseph Ratzinger, A New Songfor the Lord: Faith in Christ and Liturgy Today, trans. Martha M. Matesich (NewYork: Crossroad, 1996), 110.
(37.) Caballero, Faure and French Musical Aesthetics, 186. Emphasis added.
(38.) Caballero states in an endnote that the French practice of using the Pie Jesu during the Elevation dates back to the 1690s. Composers explicitly indicated its liturgical context either by the title of the movement (i.e., "A l'Elevation" or "Elevation"), or by a rubric beneath the title Pie Jesu indicating that it was intended "Pour l'Elevation." He additionally points out that the practice of substituting the Pie Jesu for the Benedictus developed later in the nineteenth century in France, and was not condoned by everyone in the French Catholic Church. (See Faure and French Musical Aesthetics, 295-96, note 68.)
(39.) CCC, [section]1343. Through the lens of this liturgical context, Nectoux's earlier comment that "everything [in the Requiem] radiates from [the Pie Jesu]" finds a new resonance: the other movements of the Requiem seem to radiate outward from the Pie Jesu as golden rays of a monstrance radiate outward from the Blessed Sacrament.
(40.) Weil, "Forms Implicit in the Love of God," 187.
(41.) Ibid., 199-200.
(42.) CCC, [section]1371. Emphasis in the original text.
(43.) VP, II. 1.
(44.) Saward, The Beauty of Holiness, 93.
(45.) Garcia-Rivera, The Community of the Beautiful, 190.
(46.) Saward, The Beauty of Holiness, 84.
(47.) Augustine of Hippo, "Sermon 272: On the Day of Pentecost to the Infantes, On the Sacrament" in Essential Sermons, trans. Edmund Hill, OP (New York: New City Press, 2007), 318.
(48.) Augustine of Hippo, The Confessions, 2nd ed., trans. Maria Boulding (New York: New City Press, 2012), IX, 6, 14.
(49.) Ibid., X, 33, 50.
(50.) Paul Claudel, "My Conversion" in Pilgrim Souls: An Anthology of Spiritual Autobiographies, eds. Amy Mandelker and Elizabeth Powers (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1999), 454.
(51.) Ibid., 456.
(52.) Simone Weil, "Letter VI: Spiritual Autobiography" in Waiting for God, trans. Emma Craufurd (New York: Harper Colophon Books, 1973), 68.
(53.) SC, [section]7, 112.
(54.) Garcia-Rivera, The Community of the Beautiful, 184.
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|Title Annotation:||Gabriel Faure|
|Publication:||Logos: A Journal of Catholic Thought and Culture|
|Article Type:||Critical essay|
|Date:||Mar 22, 2016|
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