25th ANNIVERSARY OF THE PONTIFICATE OF JOHN PAUL II:
ADDRESS OF CARD. JOSEPH RATZINGER
Friday, 17 October 2003
Most Holy Father,
These days, as we commemorate the 25 years during which you have borne in the Church the burden and the grace of the pastoral office of the Successor of Peter, are marked first and foremost by sentiments of gratitude and joy. A highlight of this week of festivities is the concert with which the choir and orchestra of the "Mitteldeutscher Rundfunk" are now about to regale us. They will let us hear one of the great musical masterpieces, Beethoven's Ninth Symphony, that echoes the inner strife of the great maestro in the midst of the darkness of life, his passage, as it were, through dark nights in which none of the promised stars seemed any longer to shine in the heavens. But in the end, the clouds lift. The great drama of human existence that unfolds in the music is transformed into a hymn of joy for which Beethoven borrowed the words of Schiller, whose true greatness blossomed only through his music.
Since I am German, I am particularly pleased by the fact that the concert is offered by a German ensemble that is performing for the third time before you, Holy Father, and celebrating joy for us through this music. The choir and orchestra come from a part of Germany which, after the war and until the collapse of the [Berlin] Wall, experienced the wounds inflicted by the Communist dictatorship that are still being felt today. Perhaps the deepest wound is the fact that God seems to have become distant and in many hearts faith has been extinguished. But this is also the German region that gave us perhaps the greatest musical genius of all time, Johann Sebastian Bach. In the same year and in the same region Georg Friedrich Händel was also born. To him we are indebted for another incomparable hymn of joy: the great Alleluia, which is the crowning moment of his Messiah. In it he set to music promise and fulfilment, the prophecy of the Redeemer who was to come and the historical events of the life of Jesus to which it corresponds. The Alleluia is the song of praise of the redeemed who, through Christ's Resurrection, can still rejoice, even amid the sufferings of this world. This great musical tradition - as we will experience in these hours - has lived on through all the vicissitudes of history, and is a ray of light in which the star of faith, the presence of Jesus Christ, continues to shine.
Compared with the intact presence of the faith that transpires in Händel's Hymn to joy and which emerges in a very different way, that is, as a tranquil inner peace and the grace of reconciliation, in Bach's Christmas Oratorio or at the end of his Passions, the illuminating Ode by Schiller, so impressively set to music by Beethoven, is characterized by the humanism of that time, which places man at the centre and - where there is a reference to God - prefers the language of myth.
Nevertheless, we should not forget that Beethoven is also the composer of the Missa Solemnis. The good Father, of which the Ode speaks, is not so much a supposition, as Schiller's text might suggest, but rather, an ultimate certainty. Beethoven also knew that we can entrust ourselves to the Father because in the Son he made himself close to us. And thus, we can calmly see the divine spark, of whose joy the Ode speaks, as that spark of God which is communicated to us through the music and reassures us: yes, the good Father truly exists and is not utterly remote, far beyond the firmament, but thanks to the Son is here in our midst.
I greet with gratitude and joy those distinguished persons who have made this concert possible, and with you, the conductor of the ensemble, Mr Howard Arman, the soloists as well as the choir and orchestra. We thank you because you have given us this spark of God filled with joy, which God enables to be kindled in you and in us.