Liturgical Music's Point of Reference, According to John Paul II

Writes on Centenary of Pius X’s Letter «Tra le Sollecitudini»

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VATICAN CITY, DEC. 5, 2003 ( Music used for sacred rites must have sanctity as its point of reference, John Paul II says in a statement on the centenary of St. Pius X’s document «Tra le Sollecitudini.»

In fact, music «will be more holy the more closely it is united to the liturgical action,» John Paul II explained in a document dated Nov. 23, feast of St. Cecilia, patroness of music.

In «Tra le Sollecitudini,» St. Pius X redefined pastorally the relations between sacred music, the liturgy and the duty to maintain and promote «the decorum of the House of God.»

A century later, John Paul II insists that «not all musical forms are appropriate for liturgical celebrations.»

Music that is heard in church must first be «true art,» and it must also respond «to its specific requirements: the full adherence to the text it presents, consonance with the time and liturgical moment for which it is destined, proper correspondence with the gestures the rite proposes,» the Pope said.

Moreover, songs and music «must respond to the legitimate requirements of adaptation and inculturation,» he continued.

«It is clear, however, that every innovation in this delicate material must respect specific criteria, like the search for musical expressions that respond to the necessary involvement of the entire assembly in the celebration and that avoid, at the same time, any concession to frivolity and superficiality,» John Paul II cautioned.

The Holy Father added that the «sacred environment of liturgical celebration must never become a laboratory for experimentation or trial compositions and performances, introduced without careful consideration.»

Among the musical expressions that «properly respond to the qualities required by the notion of sacred music, especially within liturgical music, Gregorian chant occupies an important place,» the Pope stated.

Recognized by the Second Vatican Council as the «music of the Roman liturgy,» and given that it continues to be an element of unity in the latter, Gregorian chant «should be preserved in the first place for liturgical ceremonies with hymns that are celebrated in Latin,» he explained.

«Since the Church has always recognized and promoted progress in the arts, it should not surprise anyone that, beyond Gregorian chant and choir music, modern music has been allowed in liturgical celebrations, as long as it is respectful of the liturgical spirit and the authentic value of art,» the Holy Father observed.

John Paul II requested in his document that the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Sacraments pay greater attention to liturgical sacred music.

«It is important that musical compositions used in liturgical celebrations respond to the criteria opportunely pronounced by St. Pius X and prudently developed by Vatican Council II and the magisterium of the Church,» John Paul II said.

In this connection, he exhorted bishops’ 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.»

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