Venerable Brethren, the Patriarchs, Primates, Archbishops, Bishops and other
Local Ordinaries in Peace and Communion with the Apostolic See: Health and
The subject of sacred music has always been very close to Our heart. Hence it
has seemed appropriate to us in this encyclical letter to give an orderly
explanation of the topic and also to answer somewhat more completely several
questions which have been raised and discussed during the past decades. We are
doing so in order that this noble and distinguished art may contribute more
every day to greater splendor in the celebration of divine worship and to the
more effective nourishment of spiritual life among the faithful.
2. At the same time We have desired to grant what many of you, venerable
brethren, have requested in our wisdom and also what has been asked by
outstanding masters of this liberal art and distinguished students of sacred
music at meetings devoted to the subject. The experience of pastoral life and
the advances being made in the study of this art have persuaded Us that this
step is timely.
3. We hope, therefore, that what St. Pius X rightly decreed in the document
which he accurately called the "legal code of sacred music may be
confirmed and inculcated anew, shown in a new light and strengthened by new
proofs. We hope that the noble art of sacred music--adapted to contemporary
conditions and in some way enriched--may ever more perfectly accomplish its
4. Music is among the many and great gifts of nature with which God, in Whom is
the harmony of the most perfect concord and the most perfect order, has enriched
men, whom He has created in His image and likeness. Together with the other
liberal arts, music contributes to spiritual joy and the delight of the soul.
5. On this subject St. Augustine has accurately written: "Music, that is
the science or the sense of proper modulation, is likewise given by God's
generosity to mortals having rational souls in order to lead them to higher
6. No one, therefore, will be astonished that always and everywhere, even among
pagan peoples, sacred song and the art of music have been used to ornament and
decorate religious ceremonies. This is proved by many documents, both ancient
and new. No one will be astonished that these arts have been used especially for
the worship of the true and sovereign God from the earliest times. Miraculously
preserved unharmed from the Red Sea by God's power, the people of God sang a
song of victory to the Lord, and Miriam, the sister of Moses, their leader,
endowed with prophetic inspiration, sang with the people while playing a
7. Later, when the ark of God was taken from the house of Abinadab to the city
of David, the king himself and "all Israel played before the Lord on all
manner of instruments made of wood, on harps and lutes and timbrels and cornets
and cymbals." King David himself established the order of the music and
singing used for sacred worship. This order was restored after the people's
return from exile and was observed faithfully until the Divine Redeemer's
8. St. Paul showed us clearly that sacred chant was used and held in honor from
the very beginning in the Church founded by the Divine Redeemer when he wrote to
the Ephesians: "Be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another in
psalms and hymns and spiritual songs." He indicates that this custom of
singing hymns was in force in the assemblies of Christians when he says:
"When you come together each of you has a hymn."
9. Pliny testifies that the same thing held true after apostolic times. He
writes that apostates from the Faith said that "this was their greatest
fault or error, that they were accustomed to gather before dawn on a certain day
and sing a hymn to Christ as if He were God." These words of the Roman
proconsul in Bithynia show very clearly that the sound of church singing was not
completely silenced even in times of persecution.
10. Tertullian confirms this when he says that in the assemblies of the
Christians "the Scriptures are read, the psalms are sung, sermons are
11. There are many statements of the fathers and ecclesiastical writers
testifying that after freedom and peace had been restored to the Church the
psalms and hymns of liturgical worship were in almost daily use. Moreover, new
forms of sacred chant were gradually created and new types of songs were
invented. These were developed more and more by the choir schools attached to
cathedrals and other important churches, especially by the School of Singers in
12. According to tradition, Our predecessor of happy memory, St. Gregory the
Great, carefully collected and wisely arranged all that had been handed down by
the elders and protected the purity and integrity of sacred chant with fitting
laws and regulations.
13. From Rome, the Roman mode of singing gradually spread to other parts of the
West. Not only was it enriched by new forms and modes, but a new kind of sacred
singing, the religious song, frequently sung in the vernacular, was also brought
14. The choral chant began to be called "Gregorian" after St. Gregory,
the man who revived it. It attained new beauty in almost all parts of Christian
Europe after the 8th or 9th century because of its accompaniment by a new
musical instrument called the "organ." Little by little, beginning in
the 9th century, polyphonic singing was added to this choral chant. The study
and use of polyphonic singing were developed more and more during the centuries
that followed and were raised to a marvelous perfection under the guidance of
magnificent composers during the 15th and 16th centuries.
15. Since the Church always held this polyphonic chant in the highest esteem, it
willingly admitted this type of music even in the Roman basilicas and in
pontifical ceremonies in order to increase the glory of the sacred rites. Its
power and splendor were increased when the sounds of the organ and other musical
instruments were joined with the voices of the singers.
16. Thus, with the favor and under the auspices of the Church the study of
sacred music has gone a long way over the course of the centuries. In this
journey, although sometimes slowly and laboriously, it has gradually progressed
from the simple and ingenuous Gregorian modes to great and magnificent works of
art. To these works not only the human voice, but also the organ and other
musical instruments, add dignity, majesty and a prodigious richness.
17. The progress of this musical art clearly shows how sincerely the Church has
desired to render divine worship ever more splendid and more pleasing to the
Christian people. It likewise shows why the Church must insist that this art
remain within its proper limits and must prevent anything profane and foreign to
divine worship from entering into sacred music along with genuine progress, and
18. The Sovereign Pontiffs have always diligently fulfilled their obligation to
be vigilant in this matter. The Council of Trent also forbids "those
musical works in which something lascivious or impure is mixed with organ music
or singing." In addition, not to mention numerous other Sovereign
Pontiffs, Our predecessor Benedict XIV of happy memory in an encyclical letter
dated February 19, 1749, which prepared for a Holy Year and was outstanding for
its great learning and abundance of proofs, particularly urged Bishops to firmly
forbid the illicit and immoderate elements which had arrogantly been inserted
into sacred music.
19. Our predecessors Leo XII, Pius VII, Gregory XVI, Pius IX, and Leo XIII
followed the same line.
20. Nevertheless it can rightly be said that Our predecessor of immortal memory,
St. Pius X, made as it were the highest contribution to the reform and renewal
of sacred music when he restated the principles and standards handed down from
the elders and wisely brought them together as the conditions of modern times
demanded. Finally, like Our immediate predecessor of happy memory, Pius XI,
in his Apostolic Constitution Divini cultus sanctitatem (The Holiness of Divine
Worship), issued December 20, 1929, We ourself in the encyclical Mediator
Dei (On the Sacred Liturgy), issued November 20, 1947, have enriched and
confirmed the orders of the older Pontiffs.
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
22. On this score sacred music obeys laws and rules which are no different from
those prescribed for all religious art and, indeed, for art in general. Now we
are aware of the fact that during recent years some artists, gravely offending
against Christian piety, have dared to bring into churches works devoid of any
religious inspiration and completely at variance with the right rules of art.
They try to justify this deplorable conduct by plausible-looking arguments which
they claim are based on the nature and character of art itself. They go on to
say that artistic inspiration is free and that it is wrong to impose upon it
laws and standards extraneous to art, whether they are religious or moral, since
such rules seriously hurt the dignity of art and place bonds and shackles on the
activity of an inspired artist.
23. Arguments of this kind raise a question which is certainly difficult and
serious, and which affects all art and every artist. It is a question which is
not to be answered by an appeal to the principles of art or of aesthetics, but
which must be decided in terms of the supreme principle of the final end, which
is the inviolate and sacred rule for every man and every human act.
24. The ordination and direction of man to his ultimate end--which is God--by
absolute and necessary law based on the nature and the infinite perfection of
God Himself is so solid that not even God could exempt anyone from it. This
eternal and unchangeable law commands that man himself and all his actions
should manifest and imitate, so far as possible, God's infinite perfection for
the praise and glory of the Creator. Since man is born tO attain this supreme
end, he ought to conform himself and through his actions direct all powers of
his body and his soul, rightly ordered among themselves and duly subjected to
the end they are meant to attain, to the divine Model. Therefore even art and
works of art must be judged in the light of their conformity and concord with
man's last end.
25. Art certainly must be listed among the noblest manifestations of human
genius. Its purpose is to express in human works the infinite divine beauty of
which it is, as it were, the reflection. Hence that outworn dictum "art for
art's sake" entirely neglects the end for which every creature is made.
Some people wrongly assert that art should be exempted entirely from every rule
which does not spring from art itself. Thus this dictum either has no worth at
all or is gravely offensive to God Himself, the Creator and Ultimate End.
26. Since the freedom of the artist is not a blind instinct to act in accordance
with his own whim or some desire for novelty, it is in no way restricted or
destroyed, but actually ennobled and perfected, when it is made subject to the
27. Since this is true of works of art in general, it obviously applies also to
religious and sacred art. Actually religious art is even more closely bound to
God and the promotion of His praise and glory, because its only purpose is to
give the faithful the greatest aid in turning their minds piously to God through
the works it directs to their senses of sight and hearing. Consequently the
artist who does not profess the truths of the faith or who strays far from God
in his attitude or conduct should never turn his hand to religious art. He
lacks, as it were, that inward eye with which he might see what God's majesty
and His worship demand. Nor can he hope that his works, devoid of religion as
they are, will ever really breathe the piety and faith that befit God's temple
and His holiness, even though they may show him to be an expert artist who is
endowed with visible talent. Thus he cannot hope that his works will be worthy
of admission into the sacred buildings of the Church, the guardian and arbiter
of religious life.
28. But the artist who is firm in his faith and leads a life worthy of a
Christian, who is motivated by the love of God and reverently uses the powers
the Creator has given him, expresses and manifests the truths he holds and the
piety he possesses so skillfully, beautifully and pleasingly in colors and lines
or sounds and harmonies that this sacred labor of art is an act of worship and
religion for him. It also effectively arouses and inspires people to profess the
faith and cultivate piety.
29. The Church has always honored and always will honor this kind of artist. It
opens wide the doors of its temples to them because what thse people contribute
through their art and industry is a welcome and important help to the Church in
carrying out its apostolic ministry more effectively.
30. These laws and standards for religious art apply in a stricter and holier
way to sacred music because sacred music enters more intimately into divine
worship than many other liberal arts, such as architecture, painting and
sculpture. These last serve to prepare a worthy setting for the sacred
ceremonies. Sacred music, however, has an important place in the actual
performance of the sacred ceremonies and rites themselves. Hence the Church must
take the greatest care to prevent whatever might be unbecoming to sacred worship
or anything that might distract the faithful in attendance from lifting their
minds up to God from entering into sacred music, which is the servant, as it
were, of the sacred liturgy.
31. The dignity and lofty purpose of sacred music consist in the fact that its
lovely melodies and splendor beautify and embellish the voices of the priest who
offers Mass and of the Christian people who praise the Sovereign God. Its
special power and excellence should lift up to God the minds of the faithful who
are present. It should make the liturgical prayers of the Christian community
more alive and fervent so that everyone can praise and beseech the Triune God
more powerfully, more intently and more effectively.
32. The power of sacred music increases the honor given to God by the Church in
union with Christ, its Head. Sacred music likewise helps to increase the fruits
which the faithful, moved by the sacred harmonies, derive from the holy liturgy.
These fruits, as daily experience and many ancient and modern literary sources
show, manifest themselves in a life and conduct worthy of a Christian.
33. St. Augustine, speaking of chants characterized by "beautiful voice and
most apt melody," says: "I feel that our souls are moved to the ardor
of piety by the sacred words more piously and powerfully when these words are
sung than when they are not sung, and that all the affections of our soul in
their variety have modes of their own in song and chant by which they are
stirred up by an indescribable and secret sympathy."
34. It is easy to infer from what has just been said that the dignity and force
of sacred music are greater the closer sacred music itself approaches to the
supreme act of Christian worship, the Eucharistic sacrifice of the altar. There
can be nothing more exalted or sublime than its function of accompanying with
beautiful sound the voice of the priest offering up the Divine Victim, answering
him joyfully with the people who are present and enhancing the whole liturgical
ceremony with its noble art.
35. To this highest function of sacred music We must add another which closely
resembles it, that is its function of accompanying and beautifying other
liturgical ceremonies, particularly the recitation of the Divine Office in
choir. Thus the highest honor and praise must be given to liturgical music.
36. We must also hold in honor that music which is not primarily a part of the
sacred liturgy, but which by its power and purpose greatly aids religion. This
music is therefore rightly called religious music. The Church has possessed such
music from the beginning and it has developed happily under the Church's
auspices. As experience shows, it can exercise great and salutary force and
power on the souls of the faithful, both when it is used in churches during
non-liturgical services and ceremonies, or when it is used outside churches at
various solemnities and celebrations.
37. The tunes of these hymns, which are often sung in the language of the
people, are memorized with almost no effort or labor. The mind grasps the words
and the music. They are frequently repeated and completely understood. Hence
even boys and girls, learning these sacred hymns at a tender age, are greatly
helped by them to know, appreciate and memorize the truths of the faith.
Therefore they also serve as a sort of catechism. These religious hymns bring
pure and chaste joy to young people and adults during times of recreation. They
give a kind of religious grandeur to their more solemn assemblies and
gatherings. They bring pious joy, sweet consolation and spiritual progress to
Christian families themselves. Hence these popular religious hymns are of great
help to the Catholic apostolate and should be carefully cultivated and promoted.
38. Therefore when We praised the manifold power and the apostolic effectiveness
of sacred music, We spoke of something that can be a source of great joy and
solace to all who have in any way dedicated themselves to its study and
practice. All who use the art they possess to compose such musical compositions,
to teach them or to perform them by singing or using musical instruments,
undoubtedly exercise in many ways a true and genuine apostolate. They will
receive from Christ the Lord the generous rewards and honors of apostles for the
work they have done so faithfully.
39. Consequently they should hold their work in high esteem, not only as artists
and teachers of art, but also as ministers of Christ the Lord and as His helpers
in the work of the apostolate. They should likewise show in their conduct and
their lives the dignity of their calling.
40. Since, as We have just shown, the dignity and effectiveness of sacred music
and religious chant are so great, it is very necessary that all of their parts
should be diligently and carefully arranged to produce their salutary results in
a fitting manner.
41. First of all the chants and sacred music which are immediately joined with
the Church's liturgical worship should be conducive to the lofty end for which
they are intended. This music--as our predecessor Pius X has already wisely
warned us--"must possess proper liturgical qualities, primarily holiness
and goodness of form; from which its other note, universality, is
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. The Gregorian chant which has been used in the Church over the course
of so many centuries, and which may be called, as it were, its patrimony, is
gloriously outstanding for this holiness.
43. This chant, because of the close adaptation of the melody to the sacred
text, is not only most intimately conformed to the words, but also in a way
interprets their force and efficacy and brings delight to the minds of the
hearers. It does this by the use of musical modes that are simple and plain, but
which are still composed with such sublime and holy art that they move everyone
to sincere admiration and constitute an almost inexhaustible source from which
musicians and composers draw new melodies.
44. It is the duty of all those to whom Christ the Lord has entrusted the task
of guarding and dispensing the Church's riches to preserve this precious
treasure of Gregorian chant diligently and to impart it generously to the
Christian people. Hence what Our predecessors, St. Pius X, who is rightly called
the renewer of Gregorian chant, and Pius XI have wisely ordained and
taught, We also, in view of the outstanding qualities which genuine Gregorian
chant possesses, will and prescribe that this be done. In the performance of the
sacred liturgical rites this same Gregorian chant should be most widely used and
great care should be taken that it should be performed properly, worthily and
reverently. And if, because of recently instituted feast days, new Gregorian
melodies must be composed, this should be done by true masters of the art. It
should be done in such a way that these new compositions obey the laws proper to
genuine Gregorian chant and are in worthy harmony with the older melodies in
their virtue and purity.
45. If these prescriptions are really observed in their entirety, the
requirements of the other property of sacred music--that property by virtue of
which it should be an example of true art--will be duly satisfied. And if in
Catholic churches throughout the entire world Gregorian chant sounds forth
without corruption or diminution, the chant itself, like the sacred Roman
liturgy, will have a characteristic of universality, so that the faithful,
wherever they may be, will hear music that is familiar to them and a part of
their own home. In this way they may experience, with much spiritual
consolation, the wonderful unity of the Church. This is one of the most
important reasons why the Church so greatly desires that the Gregorian chant
Traditional Latin Mass Parishly associated with the Latin words of the sacred liturgy be used.
46. We are not unaware that, for serious reasons, some quite definite exceptions
have been conceded by the Apostolic See. We do not want these exceptions
extended or propagated more widely, nor do We wish to have them transferred to
other places without due permission of the Holy See. Furthermore, even where it
is licit to use these exemptions, local Ordinaries and the other pastors should
take great care that the faithful from their earliest years should learn at
least the easier and more frequently used Gregorian melodies, and should know
how to employ them in the sacred liturgical rites, so that in this way also the
unity and the universality of the Church may shine forth more powerfully every