Tra le sollecitudini called for revival of Gregorian Chant
One hundred years ago, on the feast of Saint Cecilia, Pope Saint Pius X issued directives on sacred music that gave encouragement and direction to the reform of the Liturgy, in addressing the nature of sacred music appropriate for use at Mass.
In this directive, known by its Italian title, Tra le sollecitudini (“among the concerns”), the pope uses for the first time the expression actuosa participatio (active or actual participation) of the people in the celebration of Mass. This document, issued motu proprio (“under his own authority”), was important in promoting the restoration of Gregorian Chant, confirming work accomplished through the 19th century, particularly at the Benediction Abbey Solesmes, under Dom Guéranger.
In Tra le sollecitudini, Pope Saint Pius calls for “special efforts … to restore the use of 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 times”. He also addressed abuses in the Liturgy.
The recovery of this ancient chant of the Catholic Church had been advanced by Benedictine Dom Guéranger after he began the restoration of monastic life at Solesmes, France, in 1833, after the French Revolution. (In 1880 the monks would again be expelled for another fifteen years.) The monks built a new gothic-style monastery in 1896-98 (pictured at right) but only three years later, in 1901, the Solesmes monks went into a twenty-one year exile on the Isle of Wight. Since the monks’ return in 1922, the monastery Solesmes has continued as a center for research and promotion of Gregorian chant.
Following are excerpts from this landmark document that launched a major liturgical reform a century ago. Tra le sollecitudini is accessible in its entirety on the Adoremus web site – www.adoremus.org/MotuProprio.html. – Editor
Among the concerns of the pastoral office, not only of this Supreme Chair… 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…
Today Our attention is directed to one of the most common [of abuses], one of the most difficult to eradicate… 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 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…
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 fount, which is the active participation in the most holy mysteries and in the public and solemn prayer of the Church…
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…
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.
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…
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 the Church approaches the Gregorian form in its movement, inspiration and savor 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 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 times.
4. …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. 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.
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 profane pieces.
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 Church.
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. (a) The Kyrie, Gloria, Credo, etc., of the Mass must preserve the unity of composition proper to their text. (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. (c) In the hymns of the Church the traditional form of the hymn must be preserved.
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… Hence the music rendered by them must, at least for the greater part, retain the character of choral music.
ORGAN AND INSTRUMENTAL
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 instrument should merely sustain and never dominate it.
18. The sound of the organ as an accompaniment to the chant in preludes, interludes, and the like must not only be 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…
21. In processions outside the church the Ordinary may give permission for a band, provided no profane pieces be executed.
THE LENGTH OF THE LITURGICAL CHANT
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 sense subservient to 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…
25. In seminaries of clerics and in ecclesiastical institutions let the above-mentioned traditional Gregorian Chant be cultivated by all with diligence and love. 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.
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… even in smaller churches and country parishes [where] 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. …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.
To commemorate the centenary of Tra le sollecitudini, of his venerable predecessor, Pope John Paul II issued a document on music on November 22, 2003. The English text of this “chirograph” was unavailable at press time.