Among the cares of the pastoral office, not
only of this Supreme Chair, which We, though unworthy, occupy through the
inscrutable dispositions of Providence, but of every local church, a leading one
is without question that of maintaining and promoting the decorum of the House
of God in which the august mysteries of religion are celebrated, and where the
Christian people assemble to receive the grace of the Sacraments, to assist at
the Holy Sacrifice of the Altar, to adore the most august Sacrament of the
Lord’s Body and to unite in the common prayer of the Church in the public and
solemn liturgical offices. Nothing should have place, therefore, in the temple
calculated to disturb or even merely to diminish the piety and devotion of the
faithful, nothing that may give reasonable cause for disgust or scandal,
nothing, above all, which directly offends the decorum and sanctity of the
sacred functions and is thus unworthy of the House of Prayer and of the Majesty
of God. We do not touch separately on the abuses in this matter which may arise.
Today Our attention is directed to one of the most common of them, one of the
most difficult to eradicate, and the existence of which is sometimes to be
deplored in places where everything else is deserving of the highest
praise—the beauty and sumptuousness of the temple, the splendor and the
accurate performance of the ceremonies, the attendance of the clergy, the
gravity and piety of the officiating ministers. Such is the abuse affecting
sacred chant and music. And indeed, whether it is owing to the very nature of
this art, fluctuating and variable as it is in itself, or to the succeeding
changes in tastes and habits with the course of time, or to the fatal influence
exercised on sacred art by profane and theatrical art, or to the pleasure that
music directly produces, and that is not always easily contained within the
right limits, or finally to the many prejudices on the matter, so lightly
introduced and so tenaciously maintained even among responsible and pious
persons, the fact remains that there is a general tendency to deviate from the
right rule, prescribed by the end for which art is admitted to the service of
public worship and which is set forth very clearly in the ecclesiastical Canons,
in the Ordinances of the General and Provincial Councils, in the prescriptions
which have at various times emanated from the Sacred Roman Congregations, and
from Our Predecessors the Sovereign Pontiffs.
It is with real satisfaction that We
acknowledge the large amount of good that has been effected in this respect
during the last decade in this Our fostering city of Rome, and in many churches
in Our country, but in a more especial way among some nations in which
illustrious men, full of zeal for the worship of God, have, with the approval of
the Holy See and under the direction of the Bishops, united in flourishing
Societies and restored sacred music to the fullest honor in all their churches
and chapels. Still the good work that has been done is very far indeed from
being common to all, and when We consult Our own personal experience and take
into account the great number of complaints that have reached Us during the
short time that has elapsed since it pleased the Lord to elevate Our humility to
the supreme summit of the Roman Pontificate, We consider it Our first duty,
without further delay, to raise Our voice at once in reproof and condemnation of
all that is seen to be out of harmony with the right rule above indicated, in
the functions of public worship and in the performance of the ecclesiastical
offices. Filled as We are with a most ardent desire to see the true Christian
spirit flourish in every respect and be preserved by all the faithful, We deem
it necessary to provide before anything else for the sanctity and dignity of the
temple, in which the faithful assemble for no other object than that of
acquiring this spirit from its foremost and indispensable font, which is the
active participation in the most holy mysteries and in the public and solemn
prayer of the Church. And it is vain to hope that the blessing of heaven will
descend abundantly upon us, when our homage to the Most High, instead of
ascending in the odor of sweetness, puts into the hand of the Lord the scourges
wherewith of old the Divine Redeemer drove the unworthy profaners from the
Hence, in order that no one for
the future may be able to plead in excuse that he did not clearly understand his
duty and that all vagueness may be eliminated from the interpretation of matters
which have already been commanded, We have deemed it expedient to point out
briefly the principles regulating sacred music in the functions of public
worship, and to gather together in a general survey the principal prescriptions
of the Church against the more common abuses in this subject. We do therefore
publish, motu proprio and with certain knowledge, Our present Instruction
to which, as to a juridical code of sacred music (quasi a codice giuridice
della musica sacra), We will with the fullness of Our Apostolic Authority
that the force of law be given, and We do by Our present handwriting impose its
scrupulous observance on all.
Instruction on Sacred Music
1. Sacred music, being a complementary part of
the solemn liturgy, participates in the general scope of the liturgy, which is
the glory of God and the sanctification and edification of the faithful. It
contributes to the decorum and the splendor of the ecclesiastical ceremonies,
and since its principal office is to clothe with suitable melody the liturgical
text proposed for the understanding of the faithful, its proper aim is to add
greater efficacy to the text, in order that through it the faithful may be the
more easily moved to devotion and better disposed for the reception of the
fruits of grace belonging to the celebration of the most holy mysteries.
2. Sacred music should consequently possess,
in the highest degree, the qualities proper to the liturgy, and in particular sanctity
and goodness of form, which will spontaneously produce the final
quality of universality.
It must be holy, and must, therefore, exclude all profanity not only in
itself, but in the manner in which it is presented by those who execute it.
It must be true art, for
otherwise it will be impossible for it to exercise on the minds of those who
listen to it that efficacy which the Church aims at obtaining in admitting into
her liturgy the art of musical sounds.
But it must, at the same time, be universal in the sense that while
every nation is permitted to admit into its ecclesiastical compositions those
special forms which may be said to constitute its native music, still these
forms must be subordinated in such a manner to the general characteristics of
sacred music that nobody of any nation may receive an impression other than good
on hearing them.
THE DIFFERENT KINDS OF SACRED MUSIC
3. These qualities are to be found, in the
highest degree, in Gregorian Chant, which is, consequently the Chant proper to
the Roman Church, the only chant she has inherited from the ancient fathers,
which she has jealously guarded for centuries in her liturgical codices, which
she directly proposes to the faithful as her own, which she prescribes
exclusively for some parts of the liturgy, and which the most recent studies
have so happily restored to their integrity and purity.
On these grounds Gregorian Chant has always
been regarded as the supreme model for sacred music, so that it is fully
legitimate to lay down the following rule: the more closely a composition
for church approaches in its movement, inspiration and savor the Gregorian form,
the more sacred and liturgical it becomes; and the more out of harmony it is
with that supreme model, the less worthy it is of the temple.
The ancient Traditional Latin Mass Parish Gregorian Chant must,
therefore, in a large measure be restored to the functions of public worship,
and the fact must be accepted by all that an ecclesiastical function loses none
of its solemnity when accompanied by this music alone.
Special efforts are to be made to restore the
use of the Gregorian Chant by the people, so that the faithful may again take a
more active part in the ecclesiastical offices, as was the case in ancient
4. The above-mentioned qualities are also
possessed in an excellent degree by Classic Polyphony, especially of the Roman
School, which reached its greatest perfection in the fifteenth century, owing to
the works of Pierluigi da Palestrina, and continued subsequently to produce
compositions of excellent quality from a liturgical and musical standpoint.
Classic Polyphony agrees admirably with Gregorian Chant, the supreme model of
all sacred music, and hence it has been found worthy of a place side by side
with Gregorian Chant, in the more solemn functions of the Church, such as those
of the Pontifical Chapel. This, too, must therefore be restored largely in
ecclesiastical functions, especially in the more important basilicas, in
cathedrals, and in the churches and chapels of seminaries and other
ecclesiastical institutions in which the necessary means are usually not
5. The Church has always recognized and
favored the progress of the arts, admitting to the service of religion
everything good and beautiful discovered by genius in the course of
ages—always, however, with due regard to the liturgical laws. Consequently
modern music is also admitted to the Church, since it, too, furnishes
compositions of such excellence, sobriety and gravity, that they are in no way
unworthy of the liturgical functions.
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
6. Among the different kinds of
modern music, that which appears less suitable for accompanying the functions of
public worship is the theatrical style, which was in the greatest vogue,
especially in Italy, during the last century. This of its very nature is
diametrically opposed to Gregorian Chant and classic polyphony, and therefore to
the most important law of all good sacred music. Besides the intrinsic
structure, the rhythm and what is known as the conventionalism of this
style adapt themselves but badly to the requirements of true liturgical music.
THE LITURGICAL TEXT
7. The language proper to the Roman Church is
Latin. Hence it is forbidden to sing anything whatever in the vernacular in
solemn liturgical functions—much more to sing in the vernacular the variable
or common parts of the Mass and Office.
8. As the texts that may be rendered in music,
and the order in which they are to be rendered, are determined for every
liturgical function, it is not lawful to confuse this order or to change the
prescribed texts for others selected at will, or to omit them either entirely or
even in part, unless when the rubrics allow that some versicles of the text be
supplied with the organ, while these versicles are simply recited in the choir.
However, it is permissible, according to the custom of the Roman Church, to sing
a motet to the Blessed Sacrament after the Benedictus in a solemn Mass.
It is also permitted, after the Offertory prescribed for the mass has been sung,
to execute during the time that remains a brief motet to words approved by the
9. The liturgical text must be
sung as it is in the books, without alteration or inversion of the words,
without undue repetition, without breaking syllables, and always in a manner
intelligible to the faithful who listen.
EXTERNAL FORM OF THE SACRED COMPOSITIONS
10. The different parts of the mass and the
Office must retain, even musically, that particular concept and form which
ecclesiastical tradition has assigned to them, and which is admirably brought
out by Gregorian Chant. The method of composing an introit, a gradual,
an antiphon, a psalm, a hymn, a Gloria in
excelsis, etc., must therefore be distinct from one another.
11. In particular the following rules are to
(a) The Kyrie, Gloria, Credo, etc., of the Mass must preserve the unity
of composition proper to the text. It is not lawful, therefore, to compose them
in separate movements, in such a way that each of these movements form a
complete composition in itself, and be capable of being detached from the rest
and substituted by another
(b) In the office of Vespers it should be the
rule to follow the Caeremoniale Episcoporum, which prescribes Gregorian
Chant for the psalmody and permits figured music for the versicles of the Gloria
Patri and the hymn.
It will nevertheless be lawful on greater solemnities to alternate the Gregorian
Chant of the choir with the so called falsi-bordoni or with verses
similarly composed in a proper manner.
It is also permissible occasionally to render
single psalms in their entirety in music, provided the form proper to psalmody
be preserved in such compositions; that is to say, provided the singers seem to
be psalmodising among themselves, either with new motifs or with those taken
from Gregorian Chant or based upon it.
The psalms known as di concerto are therefore forever excluded and
(c) In the hymns of the Church the Traditional Latin Mass Parish
form of the hymn is preserved. It is not lawful, therefore, to compose, for
instance, a Tantum ergo in such wise that the first strophe presents a
romanza, a cavatina, an adagio and the Genitori an allegro.
(d) The antiphons of the Vespers
must be as a rule rendered with the Gregorian melody proper to each. Should
they, however, in some special case be sung in figured music, they must never
have either the form of a concert melody or the fullness of a motet or a
12. With the exception of the melodies proper
to the celebrant at the altar and to the ministers, which must be always sung in
Gregorian Chant, and without accompaniment of the organ, all the rest of the
liturgical chant belongs to the choir of levites, and, therefore, singers in the
church, even when they are laymen, are really taking the place of the
ecclesiastical choir. Hence the music rendered by them must, at least for the
greater part, retain the character of choral music.
By this it is not to be understood that solos
are entirely excluded. But solo singing should never predominate to such an
extent as to have the greater part of the liturgical chant executed in that
manner; the solo phrase should have the character or hint of a melodic
projection (spunto), and be strictly bound up with the rest of the
13. On the same principle it follows that
singers in church have a real liturgical office, and that therefore women, being
incapable of exercising such office, cannot be admitted to form part of the
choir. Whenever, then, it is desired to employ the acute voices of sopranos and
contraltos, these parts must be taken by boys, according to the most ancient
usage of the Church.
14. Finally, only men of known
piety and probity of life are to be admitted to form part of the choir of a
church, and these men should by their modest and devout bearing during the
liturgical functions show that they are worthy of the holy office they exercise.
It will also be fitting that singers while singing in church wear the
ecclesiastical habit and surplice, and that they be hidden behind gratings when
the choir is excessively open to the public gaze.
ORGAN AND INSTRUMENTS
15. Although the music proper to the Church is
purely vocal music, music with the accompaniment of the organ is also permitted.
In some special cases, within due limits and with proper safeguards, other
instruments may be allowed, but never without the special permission of the
Ordinary, according to prescriptions of the Caeremoniale Episcoporum.
16. As the singing should always have the
principal place, the organ or other instruments should merely sustain and never
17. It is not permitted to have the chant
preceded by long preludes or to interrupt it with intermezzo pieces.
18. The sound of the organ as an accompaniment
to the chant in preludes, interludes, and the like must be not only governed by
the special nature of the instrument, but must participate in all the qualities
proper to sacred music as above enumerated.
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.
21. In processions outside the
church the Ordinary may give permission for a band, provided no profane pieces
be executed. It would be desirable in such cases that the band confine itself to
accompanying some spiritual canticle sung in Latin or in the vernacular by the
singers and the pious associations which take part in the procession.
THE LENGTH OF THE LITURGICAL CHANT
22. It is not lawful to keep the priest at the
altar waiting on account of the chant or the music for a length of time not
allowed by the liturgy. According to the ecclesiastical prescriptions the Sanctus
of the Mass should be over before the elevation, and therefore the priest must
here have regard for the singers. The Gloria and the Credo
ought, according to the Gregorian tradition, to be relatively short.
23. In general it must be
considered a very grave abuse when the liturgy in ecclesiastical functions is
made to appear secondary to and in a manner at the service of the music, for the
music is merely a part of the liturgy and its humble handmaid.
24. For the exact execution of what has been
herein laid down, the Bishops, if they have not already done so, are to
institute in their dioceses a special Commission composed of persons really
competent in sacred music, and to this Commission let them entrust in the manner
they find most suitable the task of watching over the music executed in their
churches. Nor are they to see merely that the music is good in itself, but also
that it is adapted to the powers of the singers and be always well executed.
25. In seminaries of clerics and in
ecclesiastical institutions let the above-mentioned Traditional Latin Mass Parish Gregorian Chant
be cultivated by all with diligence and love, according to the Tridentine
prescriptions, and let the superiors be liberal of encouragement and praise
toward their young subjects. In like manner let a Schola Cantorum be
established, whenever possible, among the clerics for the execution of sacred
polyphony and of good liturgical music.
26. In the ordinary lessons of Liturgy,
Morals, and Canon Law given to the students of theology, let care be taken to
touch on those points which regard more directly the principles and laws of
sacred music, and let an attempt be made to complete the doctrine with some
particular instruction in the aesthetic side of sacred art, so that the clerics
may not leave the seminary ignorant of all those subjects so necessary to a full
27. Let care be taken to restore,
at least in the principal churches, the ancient Scholae Cantorum, as
has been done with excellent fruit in a great many places. It is not difficult
for a zealous clergy to institute such Scholae even in smaller churches
and country parishes—nay, in these last the pastors will find a very easy
means of gathering around them both children and adults, to their own profit and
the edification of the people.
28. Let efforts be made to support and promote, in the best way possible, the
higher schools of sacred music where these already exist, and to help in
founding them where they do not. It is of the utmost importance that the Church
herself provide for the instruction of her choirmasters, organists, and singers,
according to the true principles of sacred art.
29. Finally, it is recommended to
choirmasters, singers, members of the clergy, superiors of seminaries,
ecclesiastical institutions, and religious communities, parish priests and
rectors of churches, canons of collegiate churches and cathedrals, and, above
all, to the diocesan ordinaries to favor with all zeal these prudent reforms,
long desired and demanded with united voice by all; so that the authority of the
Church, which herself has repeatedly proposed them, and now inculcates them, may
not fall into contempt.
Given from Our Apostolic Palace
at the Vatican, on the day of the Virgin and martyr, St. Cecilia, November 22,
1903, in the first year of Our Pontificate.
Pius X, Pope