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The Beauty that Invites Prayer


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1. Where do I find the key Church documents on liturgical song?

  • On Sacred Music: John Paul II, Chirograph, on the centenary of the Motu Proprio "Tra Le Sollecitudini" (November 22, 2003). This is THE most recent Papal direction on sacred music and liturgical song.

  • To Artists: John Paul II, Letter (April 4, 1999). A critically important document in understanding the Church's call to musicians in service of the liturgy.

  • Lectionary for Mass: Introduction (2nd Edition): Instruction on how to conduct the Liturgy of the Word in the Mass (1981). THE foundational lectionary guide.

  • Directory for Masses with Children: Congregation for Divine Worship, Directory (November 1, 1973). This is THE foundational document for adaptions for children.

  • Musicam Sacram: Vatican II, Instruction on Music in the Liturgy (March 5, 1967). This is THE foundational document for music in post-Vatican II liturgy.

  • Sacrosanctum Concilium: Vatican II, Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy (December 4, 1963). This is THE foundational document for the reform of the liturgy.

2. Where do I find the papal, conciliar and curial documents on liturgical song?

The list below chronicles the key conciliar, papal and curial documents from Benedict XIV (1749) to Benedict XVI (2011) that have affected the development of liturgical song over the past 250 years. These include the relevant Documents of Vatican II, papal documents on inculturation, art, music, and the canonical establishment of organisations and authorities for promoting liturgical music.

  • Annus Qui: Benedict XIV, Encyclical on Sacred Music (Italian) (February 19, 1749).

  • Tra Le Sollecitudini: Pius X, Motu Proprio on Sacred Music (November 22, 1903).

  • Divini Cultus: Pius XI, Apostolic Constitution on Divine Worship (December 20, 1928).

  • Mediator Dei: Pius XII Encyclical on The Sacred Liturgy (November 20, 1947) .

  • Musicae Sacrae Disciplina: Pius XII, Encyclical on Sacred Music (December 25, 1955).

  • De Musica Sacra: Sacred Congregation of Rites, Instruction on Sacred Music (September 3, 1958).

  • Nobile subsidium: Paul VI, Chirograph establishing canonically the International Association of Sacred Music (November 22, 1963) .

  • Sacrosanctum Concilium: Vatican II, Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy (December 4, 1963).

  • Sacram Liturgiam: Paul VI, Motu Proprio, establishment of diocesan liturgical commissions and music commissions (January 25, 1964).

  • Inter Oecumenici - Instruction on the Liturgy: Sacred Congregation of Rites, First Instruction for the Right Implementation of the Constitution of the Sacred Liturgy of the Second Vatican Council (September 26, 1964).
    Note particularly par. 57, 59 on the use of Latin and the vernacular.

  • Lumen Gentium: Dogmatic Constitution on the Church (November 21, 1964).
    Note par. 28 re the role of liturgy, particularly Eucharist, as missionary activity in the building up of the Church.

  • Dei Verbum: Vatican II, Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation (November 18, 1965).
    Note particularly par. 21 where the liturgy is the firstmentioned place of Sacred Scripture in the life of the Church.

  • Ad Gentes: Vatican II, Decree on the Mission Activity of the Church (December 7, 1965).
    Of particular note regarding the presence and activity of the Holy Spirit and the consequent importance of inculturation of the liturgy, see par. 3, 11, 15.

  • Gaudium et Spes: Vatican II, Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World (December 7, 1965).
    Of particular note regarding the presence and activity of the Holy Spirit in every person, every time and every place, see par.10-11, 22, 26, 38, 41, 92-93.

  • Address to Artists: Pope Paul VI (December 8, 1965).

  • Tres Abhinc Annos: Sacred Congregation of Rites, Second Instruction for the Orderly Implementation of the Constitution of the Sacred Liturgy of the Second Vatican Council (May 4, 1967).

  • Musicam Sacram: Sacred Congregation of Rites, Instruction on Music in the Liturgy (March 5, 1967). This is THE foundational document for music in post-Vatican II liturgy.It has had a strong influence on the development of liturgical singing throughout the world, though somewhat overshadowed for many years in the United States and Australia by the US guideline "Music in Catholic Worship." It's major contribution is the establishment of new norms for the reformed liturgy regarding (a) full conscious and active participation by all (MS 13 - 26), (b) use of Latin and the vernacular, and the preservation of the heritage of sacred music (MS 47 - 53), (c) progressive solemnity from Masses where there is very little singing, to Masses where everything is sung (MS 16, 27 - 36), (d) singing and sacred music in other liturgical celebrations and in popular devotions (MS 37 - 46), (e) composing musical settings for vernacular texts (MS 54 - 61), (f) instrumental music (MS 62 - 67),
  • Address to the Participants in the Geeral Meeting of the Italian Association of St Cecilia: Paul VI (Italian) (September 18, 1968).
    "Vocal and instrumental music that is not at once marked by the spirit of prayer, dignity and beauty, is barred from entrance into the world of the sacred and religious. The assimilation and sanctification of the secular, which is today a distinguishing mark of the Church's mission in the world, clearly has limits; this is all the more the case when the issue is to invest the secular with the sacredness belonging to divine worship."

  • Address to the 10th International Congress of Church Choirs: Paul VI (Italian) (April 6, 1970).
    "(your musical repertoire) is a precious treasure of history, art and faith that the Church has always cherished as a cultural expression and as a component of the spiritual life. Today, however, not everything in this treasury may be put to use on a regular basis. The best in this heritage must remain in the repertoire of church choirs. To this end, the repertoire must be adapted to the new requirements of the liturgy, or, where this is not possible, used in paraliturgies .. or even in special, nonliturgical performances."

  • Liturgicae Instaurationes: Sacred Congregation for Divine Worship, Third Instruction for the Right Implementation of the Constitution of the Sacred Liturgy of the Second Vatican Council (September 5, 1970).
    Note par. 3 on singing.

  • Address to Women Religious Taking Part in the National Convention of the Italian Association of St Cecilia: Paul VI (Italian) (April 15, 1971).
    An important address that sets out the "Sensus Ecclesiae" necessary to make judicious choices, combining "the digintiy of art and the spirit of prayer" in liturgical song. An addendum to the formal address comprising informal words of the Pope, were published separately in Notitiae 9 (1973), 141-143. In his informal address Pope Paul VI spells out the three major issues of sacred music ministry - the liturgical issue, the musical Issue and the pastoral issue.

  • Address to the members of the International Association of Sacred Music: Paul VI (French) (October 12, 1973).
    " ... the Council made the pertinent reminder that 'the Church approves all forms of genuine art possessing the qualities required and admits them into divine worship' (SC 112). It is up to you, therefore, to put all your efforts at the service of music for the vernacular texts in order to ensure its worthiness and beauty and to enable all the people to take part effectively and beneficially in the Church's prayer."

  • Directory for Masses with Children: Congregation for Divine Worship, Directory (November 1, 1973). This is THE foundational document for adapting the Mass for assemblies where children are involved.

  • General Instruction of the Roman Missal (2nd Typical Edition): Congregation of Divine Worship, Instruction (March 27, 1975).

  • Evangelii Nuntiandi: Paul VI, Apostolic Exhortation (December 8, 1975).
    Note particularly par. 20 "The split between the Gospel and culture is without a doubt the drama of our time .. "

  • Dominicae Cenae: John Paul II, Letter on the Mystery and Worship of the Eucharist. (February 24, 1980).

  • Introduction to the Lectionary of the Mass (2nd Edition): Instruction on how to conduct the Liturgy of the Word in the Mass (1981). Note particularly par 17-23, 31, 56, 89-91.

  • Slavorum Apostoli: John Paul II, Encyclical Letter in Commemoration of the eleventh Centenary of the Evangelising Work of Ss Cyril and Methodius (June 2, 1985).
    A model of inculturation, particualrly the incarnation of the Gospel in native liturgical language. See particularly par 9-13, 21-22.

  • Pastor Bonus: John Paul II, Apostolic Constitution of the Roman Curia (June 28, 1988).

  • Vicesimus Quintus Annus: John Paul II, Apostolic Letter on the 25th Anniversary of the Constitution of the Sacred Liturgy (Latin) (December 4, 1988).

  • Redemptoris Missio: John Paul II, Encyclical Letter on the Permanent Validity of the Church's Missionary State (December 7, 1990).
    Issued on the 25h anniversary of Ad Gentium and Gaudium et Spes. Note the importance of inculturation viz. par. 28 - "The Spirit's presence and activity affect not only the individuals but also society and history, peoples, cultures and religions. .... Again, it is the Spirit who sows the "seeds of the Word" present in various customs and cultures, preparing them for full maturity in Christ." (Cf. LG 17; AG 3, 15.)

  • Varietates Legitimae - Inculturation and the Roman Liturgy: Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, Fourth Instruction for the Right Implementation of the Constitution of the Sacred Liturgy of the Second Vatican Council (March 24, 1994).
    Note particularly par. 39-42.

  • Orientale Lumen: John Paul II, Apostolic Letter to mark the centenary of Pope Leo XIII's Orientalium Dignitas (May 2, 1995).
    Develops the inculturation theme of Slavorum Apostoli. Note particularly par. 7: "revelation is proclaimed satisfactorily and becomes fully understandable when Christ speaks the tongues of the various peoples, and they can read scripture and sing the liturgy in their own language with their own expressions, as though repeating the marvels of Pentecost."

  • Ecclesia in Africa: John Paul II, Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation on the Church in Africa and its Evangelising Mission Towards the Year 200 (14 September, 1995).
    John Paul II's focus on inculturation is seen in his Post-Synodal Exhortations around the world (Cf par. 55-67). In par. 59 he notes that inculturation is "an urgent priority in the life of the particular Churches." In par. 62 he sets the criteria for inculturation: "Considering the rapid changes in the cultural, social, economic and political domains, our local Churches must be involved in the process of inculturation in an ongoing manner, respecting the two following criteria: compatibility with the Christian message and communion with the universal Church." In specifiying the areas of application of inculturation, liturgy is the first mentioned. In par. 64: 'In practice, and without any prejudice to the traditions proper to either the Latin or Eastern Church, "inculturation of the liturgy, provided it does not change the essential elements, should be carried out so that the faithful can better understand and live liturgical celebrations"'.

  • To the Bishops of France on their ‘Ad Limina Apostolorum’ Visit: John Paul II, Address (8 March, 1997).
    See par. 5 "See to it that beautiful hymns based on worthy texts and in harmony with a meaningful content are chosen and composed. Even more generally than the hymn properly so-called, liturgical music has the evocative capacity to interweave theological meaning and a sense of formal beauty and poetic insight."

  • To participants in the Plenary of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments: John Paul II, Address (May 2, 1996). Significant references to the importance of inculturation in the preparation of the 3rd typical edition of the Roman Missal. Refers to the need for a continuing deep liturgical renewal, assimilating the spirit of the liturgy into the human agents of the liturgy in exercising their baptismal priesthood. He refers to the inculturation models outlined in Orientale Lumen.

  • Dies Domini: John Paul II, Apostolic Letter on keeping the Lord's Day holy (May, 1998).
    Note particularly par. 50 on singing.

  • To the Bishops of the Episcopal Conference of the United States of America (Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Montana and Alaska): John Paul II, Address (October 9, 1998).
    Note particularly par. 3 on full, conscious active participation including listening at appropriate times, and the use of the vernacular does not mean that the Latin languag, particularly the chants, should be wholly abandoned.

  • To Artists: John Paul II, Letter (April 4, 1999).
    A critically important document in understanding the Church's call to musicians in service of the liturgy.
    The Church hopes for a renewed "epiphany' of beauty in our time and apt responses to the particular needs of the Christian community" (n. 10).

    "The Church .... needs musicians. How many sacred works have been composed through the centuries by people deeply imbued with the sense of the mystery! The faith of countless believers has been nourished by melodies flowing from the hearts of other believers, either introduced into the liturgy or used as an aid to dignified worship. In song, faith is experienced as vibrant joy, love, and confident expectation of the saving intervention of God" (n. 12).

  • Ecclesia in Asia: John Paul II, Post-Synodal Exhortation on Jesus Christ the Saviour and His Mission of Love and Service in Asia (November 6, 1999).
    Note references to inculturation (20-22, particularly in par. 22 "liturgical inculturation requires more than a focus upon traditional cultural values, symbols and rituals. There is also a need to take account of the shifts in consciousness and attitudes caused by the emerging secularist and consumer cultures which are affecting the Asian sense of worship and prayer. Nor can the specific needs of the poor, migrants, refugees, youth and women be overlooked in any genuine liturgical inculturation in Asia."

  • International Congress of Sacred Music - Tradition and Innovation in Sacred Music in the Christian Churches : This event was a collaboration of the Pontifical Council for Culture (Cardinal Paul Poupard) and the Pontifical Institute of Sacred Music (Mons. Valentino Miserachs). It features the incultration of music in the liturgy in various countries - African-American, Latin American, Chinese, Indian, Russian, Scandinavian, French, Italian, Middle Eastern, and African (The Solesmes Monks of Keur Moussa feature here).

  • To the Professors and Students of the Pontifical Institute of Sacred Music: John Paul II, Address (January 19, 2001) .

  • International Congress of Sacred Music - Tradition and Innovation in Sacred Music in the Christian Churches : This event was a collaboration of the Pontifical Council for Culture (Cardinal Paul Poupard) and the Pontifical Institute of Sacred Music (Mons. Valentino Miserachs). It features the incultration of music in the liturgy in various countries - African-American, Latin American, Chinese, Indian, Russian, Scandinavian, French, Italian, Middle Eastern, and African (The Solesmes Monks of Keur Moussa feature here).

  • To the Participants in the International Congress of Sacred Music: John Paul II, Address (January 27, 2001).

  • Liturgiam Authenticam: Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, fifth instruction on implementing the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy (March 28, 2001).

  • Ecclesia in Oceania: John Paul II, Post-Synodal Apostical Exhortation on Jesus Christ and the Peoples of Oceania, Walking His Way, Telling His Truth, Living His Life (November 22, 2001).
    Note particularly par. 16-17 on inculturation.

  • Music and Hymnody Should Be Worthy of the Greatness of the Liturgy: John Paul II, General Audience (February 27, 2003)

  • Ecclesia de Eucharistia: John Paul II, Encyclical on the Eucharist (April 17, 2003).
    See par. 49-52.

  • Ecclesia in Europa: John Paul II, Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation on Jesus Christ Alive in His Church: The Source of Hope for Europe (June 28, 2003).
    Note particularly par. 58-60, 69: Evangelising Culture and Inculturating the Gospel, the call for contemporary artistic and musical expressions of the faith, the further renewal of liturgy with a focus on liturgical formation.

  • On Sacred Music: John Paul II, Chirograph, on the centenary of the Motu Proprio "Tra Le Sollecitudini" (November 22, 2003).
    This apostolic letter provides a summary of the journey from Benedict XIV to 2003, with references to almost all the aformentioned papal and curial documents. It marks the point of reference for Sacred Music as "holiness." It focuses on the need for pastoral and cultural adaptation. It promotes the Gregorian melodic form as the model for new music, in its movement, inspiration and savour. It recognises the importance of popular religious song in the liturgy and stresses the need for new forms of musical expression composed with the spirit that gave birth to Gregorian Chant. It calls for increased attention by the Congregation of Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments to its duties to Sacred Music spelled out in its Apostolic Constitution Pastor Bonus. It also calls for particular attention by the bishops' conferences to evaluation and promotion of melodies for the liturgy that are truly suitable based on the criteria outlined.

  • Spiritus et Sponsa: John Paul II, Apostolic Letter on the 40th anniversary of Vatican II's Constitution on the Liturgy (December 4, 2003),
    See par. 4.

  • Liturgy and Beauty - Experiences of Renewal in Certain Papal Liturgical Celebrations: Office of the Liturgical Celebrations of the Supreme Pontiff, Document (February 2, 2004).

  • Redemptionis Sacramentum: Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments (prepared in collaboration with the Congregation of the Doctrine of Faith), Instruction on certain matters to be observed or to be avoided regarding the Most Holy Eucharist (March 25, 2004).
    See par. 21, 25, 53, 54, 57 and 58, which refer to the area of Sacred Music.

  • The Book "Spiritus et Sponsa": Congregation for Divine Worship and Discipline of the Sacraments, Collection of the Records of the Day Commemorating the 40th Anniversary of Sacrosanctum Concilium, including the publishing in multiple languages the Apostolic Letter Spiritus et Sponsa and the Chirograph On Sacred Music (April 2, 2004).
    This publication includes a number of important addresses by Church leaders on the Renewal of liturgy since Vatican II, the liturgy in the pontificate of Pope John Paul II and reflections on Sacred Music since Vatican II.

  • To the Participants in the Ninth Public Meeting of the Pontifical Academies: John Paul II, Address (November 9, 2004).
    Of special interest is the Pontifical Award to the Monks of Keur Moussa in Senegal for their achievements in developing a new chant culture for Senegal, based on the use of native instruments and musical styles, using the Gregorian melodic form as the model for development.
    "Would the people of today have been able to enjoy so vast an artistic patrimony if the Christian community had not encouraged and supported the creativity of numerous artists, offering them as a model and font of inspiration the beauty of Christ, Splendour of the Father?"

  • To the participants in the Annual International Congress "UNIV 2005": John Paul II, Address (March 19, 2005).
    The document reflects on the task of the students in renewing the language of music, art and culture to build a new culture.

  • 2005 Day of Study - Sacred Music:A Liturgical and Pastoral Challenge Address by Pope Benedict XVI (December 5, 2005).
    The address reinforces the key directive of John Paul II's chirograph - the need for the Congregation of Divine Worship to "reflect on the relationship between music and liturgy, while remaining attentive to practical applications and experimentation, and maintaining constant understanding and collaboration with national episcopal conferences."

  • On the Occasion of the Blessing of the New Organ at Regensberg Address by Pope Benedict XVI (September 13, 2006). Note in particular paragraph 42 on Liturgical Song.

  • Sacramentum Caritatis Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation by Pope Benedict XVI (February 22, 2007). Note in particular paragraph 42 and 72-74 on Liturgical Song.

  • General Instruction of the Roman Missal (3rd Typical Edition): Congregation of Divine Worship, Instruction (May, 2007). This is THE foundational document for the reformed liturgy of the Mass, recently updated and approved for use in Australia.

  • To the Pontifical Institute of Sacred Music: Benedict XVI, Address (October 13, 2007).
    Pope Benedict XVI reinforces John Paul II's Chirograph regarding the need for new musical expressions which respond to the necessary involvement of the entire assembly in the celebration.
    "John Paul II observed that today as always, three traits distinguish sacred music: "holiness", "true art" and "universality" or the possibility that it can be proposed to any people or type of assembly (cf. Chirograph Tra le Sollecitudini, 22 November 2003; ORE, 28 January 2004, p. 6). Precisely in view of this, the ecclesiastical Authority must work to guide wisely the development of such a demanding type of music, not "freezing" its treasure but by seeking to integrate the valid innovations of the present into the heritage of the past in order to achieve a synthesis worthy of the lofty mission reserved to it in divine service. I am certain that the Pontifical Institute for Sacred Music, in harmony with the Congregation for Divine Worship, will not fail to make its contribution to "updating" for our times the precious traditions that abound in sacred music.
    "

  • The Joy of the Gospel: Apostolic Exhortation by Pope Francis (November 24, 2013)

3. Where do I find the principle "non-Roman" documents on liturgical song?

The list below chronicles the key documents by bishops' conferences, lay groups and individuals who have tried to open up our understanding of liturgical music in today's world.

  • Music in Catholic Worship: Bishops' Committee on the Liturgy, National Conference of Catholic Bishops (U.S.), Statement on Music in Liturgical Celebrations, cited in the Appendix of the General Instruction of the Roman Missal for the Dioceses of the United States of America (Washington DC: United States Catholic Conference, July 1972).
    This document has had a strong influence on the development of liturgical singing in the United States and Australia. It's major contribution is its elaboration on the liturgical, musical and pastoral judgement to be made in sacred music ministry. The document had its genesis in a previous publication of the Music Advisory Board of the US Bishops' Committee on the Liturgy, entitled "The Place for Music in Eucharistic Celebrations" (1968).

  • Liturgical Music Today: Bishops' Committee on the Liturgy, National Conference of Catholic Bishops (U.S.), Statement on Music in Liturgical Celebratiions, Companion to Music in Catholic Worship. (Washington DC: United States Catholic Conference, January 1983).
    Some of its guidelines are no longer applicable, having been superceded by clarifications in the 2002 General Instruction. The publication is no longer available from the US bishops.

  • Milwaukee Symposia ten-year Report: Statement by composers on the development of liturgical music (July 9, 1992).

  • Snowbird Statement on Catholic Liturgical Music: Statement by musicians, academics and composers on the development of liturgical music (November 1, 1995).

  • "In the presence of the angels I will sing your praise": Address by Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger on the occasion of the retirement of his brother, the Regensberg Choir Director (Spring, 1995).

  • Music and Liturgy: Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, The Spirit of the Liturgy (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2000), 136-158 (excerpts).

  • The Church and Sacred Music - Past, Present and Future: Valentino Miserachs Grau, Dean of the Pontifical Institute of Sacred Music (Barcelona: Fundacio Joan Maragall, October 4 2002), excerpts.

  • Gregorian Chant: The Possibilities and Conditions for a Revival Address by Valentino Miserachs Grau, Dean of the Pontifical Institute of Sacred Music, on the 2005 Day of Study (December 5, 2005).

  • Sing to the Lord - Music in Divine Worship: United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, (November 14, 2007). This document is published as a guideline for the Church in the United States, replacing Music in Catholic Worship and Liturgical Music Today.

4. Where do I find useful websites on liturgical song?

  • Taize: The official site for Taize chant.