Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Papal Statements on Music

File:St cecilia guido reni.jpg
St. Cecilia by Guido Reni, 1606AD.  St. Cecilia is the patron saint of music.

Today, in the midst of Lent, I thought I might present a few excerpts from Papal Documents related to the matter of Sacred Music.  Certainly Lent presents a magnificent and empathetic selection of pieces.  It is also a season to recall the manner of restraint and sense of the sacred that should characterize sacred music throughout the year.  You might note these particular statements:

POPE ST. PIUS X – Tra le Sollecitudini (1903)

II.  5. …Still, since modern music has risen mainly to serve profane uses, greater care must be taken with regard to it, in order that the musical compositions of modern style which are admitted in the Church may contain nothing profane, be free from reminiscences of motifs adopted in the theaters, and be not fashioned even in their external forms after the manner of profane pieces.

VI.  19. The employment of the piano is forbidden in church, as is also that of noisy or frivolous instruments such as drums, cymbals, bells and the like.

20. It is strictly forbidden to have bands play in church, and only in special cases with the consent of the Ordinary will it be permissible to admit wind instruments, limited in number, judiciously used, and proportioned to the size of the place provided the composition and accompaniment be written in grave and suitable style, and conform in all respects to that proper to the organ


POPE PIUS XII – Musicae Sacrae (1955)

21. Certainly no one will be astonished that the Church is so vigilant and careful about sacred music. It is not a case of drawing up laws of aesthetics or technical rules that apply to the subject of music. It is the intention of the Church, however, to protect sacred music against anything that might lessen its dignity, since it is called upon to take part in something as important as divine worship.

42. It must be holy. It must not allow within itself anything that savors of the profane nor allow any such thing to slip into the melodies in which it is expressed.


Sacred Congregation for Rites, under Pius XII – De Musica Sacra (1958)

68. Other instruments besides the organ, especially the smaller bowed instruments, may be used during the liturgical functions… However, the following rules derived from the principles stated above (no.60) are to strictly observed:

a) the instruments are truly suitable for sacred use;
b) they are to be played with such seriousness, and religious devotion that every suggestion of raucous secular music is avoided, and the devotion of the faithful is fostered;


SECOND VATICAN COUNCIL – Sacrosanctum Concilium (1963)

120…The use of other instruments may also be admitted in divine worship, given the decision and consent of the competent territorial authority, provided that the instruments are suitable for sacred use, or can be adapted to it, that they are in keeping with the dignity of the temple, and truly contribute to the edification of the faithful


Sacred Congregation for Rites, under Paul VI – Musicam Sacram (1967)

63…Any musical instrument permitted in divine worship should be used in such a way that it meets the needs of the liturgical celebration, and is in the interests both of the beauty of worship and the edification of the faithful.


Congregation of Divine Worship, under Paul VI – Liturgicae Instaurationes (1970)

3…The Church does not bar any style of sacred music from the liturgy. Still, not every style or the sound of every song or instrument deserves equal status as an aid to prayer and an expression of the mystery of Christ. All musical elements have as their one purpose the celebration of divine worship. They must, then, possess sacredness and soundness of form, fit in with the spirit of the liturgical service and the nature of its particular parts; they must not be a hindrance to an intense participation of the assembly but must direct the mind's attention and the heart's sentiments toward the rites.


POPE JOHN PAUL II – Chirograph for the Centenary of Tra le (2003)

4…Today, moreover, the meaning of the category "sacred music" has been broadened to include repertoires that cannot be part of the celebration without violating the spirit and norms of the Liturgy itself…. Consequently, not all forms of music can be considered suitable for liturgical celebrations.

14…Nonetheless, it should be noted that contemporary compositions often use a diversity of musical forms that have a certain dignity of their own. To the extent that they are helpful to the prayer of the Church they can prove a precious enrichment. Care must be taken, however, to ensure that instruments are suitable for sacred use, that they are fitting for the dignity of the Church and can accompany the singing of the faithful and serve to edify them.

Live well!

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