Vatican II: Sacrosanctum Concilium

10-15-2017Liturgy Corner

120. In the Latin Church the pipe organ is to be held in high esteem, for it is the traditional musical instrument which adds a wonderful splendor to the Church's ceremonies and powerfully lifts up man's mind to God and to higher things.

What is sacred music?

A: Sacred music is “that which, being created for the celebration of divine worship, is endowed with a certain holysincerity of form,” according to the Sacred Congregation of Rites in its Instruction on Music and the Liturgy, Musicam Sacram (1967, ¶4). As defined by the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, Sacrosanctum Concilium (1963), sacred music surpasses merely religious music when it is joined to the liturgical rite to become “anecessary and integral part of the solemn liturgy,” whose purpose is “the glory of God and the sanctification of the faithful” (¶112).

“As a manifestation of the human spirit,” said John Paul II in 1989, “music performs a function which is noble, unique, and irreplaceable. When it is truly beautiful and inspired, it speaks to us more than all the other arts ofgoodness, virtue, peace, of matters holy and divine. Not for nothing it has it always been, and will it always be, an essential part of the liturgy.”

What are the characteristics of sacred music?

A: On the centenary of its promulgation, John Paul II urged us to revisit and learn from St. Pius X’s letter motu proprio on Sacred Music, Tra le sollecitudini(1903). Pope Pius distinguished three characteristics of sacred music: “it must possess holiness and beauty of form: from these two qualities a third will spontaneously arise — universality”(§2). Concerning holiness, for music to be sacred means it is not the or dinar y, not the ever y-day. It is set aside for the purpose of glorifying God and edifying and sanctifying the faithful. It must therefore exclude all that is not suitable for the temple — all that is ordinary, every-day or profane, not only in itself, but also in the manner in whichit is performed. The sacred words of the Liturgy call for a sonic vesture that is equally sacred. Sacredness, then, ismore than individual piety; it is an objective reality.

Concerning beauty, the Latin speaks more precisely of bonitate formarum or “excellence of forms.” This refers to thetendency of sacred music to synthesize diverse ritual elements into a unity, to draw together a succession of liturgicalactions into a coherent whole, and to serve a range of sacred expressions. Excellence of forms also serves to differentiate those elements, to distinguish the various functions of liturgical chants by revealing their unique character. Each chant of the various Gregorian genres presents a masterly adaptation of the text to its specific liturgical purpose. No wonder the Church has consistently proposed chant as the paradigm of sacred music.Sacred music must be true art, says Pope Pius, “ otherwise it will be impossible for it to exercise on the minds ofthose who listen to it that efficacy which the Church aims at obtaining in admitting into her liturgy the art of musicalsounds.” Beauty is what holds truth and goodness to their task. To paraphrase Hans Urs von Balthasar, without beauty, the truth does not persuade, goodness does not compel (The Glory of the Lord: A Theological A esthetics, I: 19). Beauty, as expressed in the Church’s liturgy, synthesizes diverse elements into a unified whole: truth, goodness,and the human impulse to worship. Concerning universality, sacred music is supra-national, equally accessible topeople of diverse cultures. The Church does admit local indigenous forms into her worship, but these must be subordinated to the general characteristics of the received tradition. By insisting on the continuous use of her musicaltreasures, especially chant, the Church ensures her members grow up hearing this sacred musical language and receive it naturally as a part of the liturgy.

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