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50th Anniversary of De Musica Sacra

October 09, 2008 - 7:47 PDT


CHICAGO, IL (OCTOBER 9, 2008) - On Oct. 9th we observe the 50th anniversary of the death of Pope Pius XII. Just a month before his untimely death he issued "De Musica Sacra."


Sacred Music of the Liturgy from Pius XII to the Present Day

Fr. Scott Haynes, SJC
Canons Regular of St. John Cantius, Chicago, Illinois

Published in Challenge Magazine, September, 2008

In September 1958, at the close of his pontificate and with the history book of the Church about to turn to a new chapter entitled "Vatican II," Pope Pius XII issued "De Musica Sacra et Sacra Liturgia." Pius XII's instruction on sacred music and liturgy would consolidate the pastoral vision and liturgical teaching of Pius X's "Inter sollicitudines" (1903), Pius XI's "Divini cultus" (1928) and his own "Musicae sacrae disciplina" (1955). "De Musica Sacra" would canonize many important principles of the liturgical movement, and lay the groundwork for Vatican II's "Sacrosanctum Concillium."

In September 2008, as we celebrate its 50th Anniversary, it is useful to revisit "De Musica Sacra," due to the recent reintegration of the Classical form of the Roman Rite in the Church today achieved through Benedict XVI's "Summorum Pontificum," which took effect September 14, 2007.

Catholics have a special opportunity today to celebrate the Roman tradition of Liturgy in two forms. Both forms share elements that come from a common patrimony, yet each liturgical form expresses sacredness and beauty in different modalities. "Summorum Pontificum" desires that both the Ordinary and Extraordinary Forms of the Liturgy be celebrated with equal reverence, devotion and honor, so that the faithful will come to understand the inherent sacredness of Catholic Liturgy, in all her splendid variety.

As regards sacred music, "De Musica Sacra" establishes principles that are upheld in Vatican II's Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, and so Pius XII's document is a viable reference point for sacred music in the post-Vatican II liturgy. But with the reintroduction of the Classical Roman Rite, "De Musica Sacra" provides an invaluable synthesis of musical and liturgical customs, as well as rubrics, and shines forth as brilliant foundational liturgical document, relevant for our day.

Today Benedict XVI, like Pius XII, teaches us

" authentic updating of sacred music can take place only in the lineage of the great tradition of the past, of Gregorian chant and sacred polyphony."

The recent Synod of Bishops stated

"the faithful need to know the standard Gregorian chants, which have been composed to meet the needs of people of all times and places, in virtue of their simplicity, refinement and agility in form and rhythm."

In the celebration of the Roman Rite, the treasury of Gregorian Chant and sacred polyphony, thus, becomes a factor of unification between the Ordinary Form and Extraordinary Form.

Church Musicians, formed by the pastoral vision of "De Musica Sacra," must labor in seminaries, parishes, dioceses, and religious communities, to ensure that Catholics are not deprived of those parts of our musical and liturgical heritage that the Church treasures as a rightful inheritance.
In seeking to reintroduce sacred Catholic music into the Roman Liturgy, one must face the stark reality that the Roman heritage of Latin liturgical music has been jettisoned. Generations of Catholics have been robbed of any contact with the Roman musical tradition.

How many Easters have passed in this parish or that without the chanting of the "Exsultet" or the "Victimae Paschale Laudes"? If Catholics know any chant, it is only the simple "Salve Regina" or the "Sanctus" of the Requiem Mass. What was once common ground has now become foreign territory to most Roman Catholics.

In stark contrast, Catholics who primarily attend the Ordinary Form of the Mass have been schooled in popular contemporary religious songs. Pius XII recognizes the value of such religious music, which is usually set in the vernacular and composed according to a popular, contemporary style. But he insists that such religious music not be admitted to liturgical services, such as Mass or Vespers, but that it be fostered in devotional services, youth rallies, concerts and the like.

John Paul II, echoing Pius X, stated:

"A composition for the Church is all the more sacred and liturgical the more its development, inspiration, and flavor approaches the Gregorian melody, and the less worthy it is the more it distinguishes itself from that supreme model".

And thus, popular religious music, a supplement to liturgical music, will bear greater success when it flows from Gregorian Chant.

Today in our diverse culture, it is important to embrace the liturgical and musical principles that Pius XII presents, so that a universal expression of the Liturgy can be realized by embracing the sacred music tradition of the Latin Rite, which places Gregorian Chant and Polyphony at the center.

When popular religious songs dominate the Sacred Liturgy, the universality of liturgical music that is offered by Gregorian Chant, designed for people of all cultures and times, is sacrificed. Popular religious songs, by their very nature, tending towards the vernacular and composed with contemporary styles, cannot serve the needs of a universal liturgy.

In the recent past, a certain mindset prevailed that insisted the People of God could not appreciate Gregorian chant and sacred polyphony. "Sacrosanctum Concillium," building on "De Musica Sacra," in contrast, insists otherwise and, moreover, asserts that Catholics enjoy a right to sing the traditional liturgical chant in Latin for their spiritual and intellectual benefit.

In the pastoral implementation of these norms, seeking to form Catholics in the true spirit of worship, the clergy can help restore Catholic culture in liturgical practice, but will, in reality, face political opposition in the parish, religious house, diocese and seminary. Thus, formation is necessary on every level so Catholics can come to joyfully embrace the liturgical and musical treasury of the Roman Rite.

If the restoration of liturgical music is to be taken seriously, we must begin with formation of our future clergy in the seminary. "De Musica Sacra" insists that competent liturgical musicians are needed to instruct priesthood candidates in a program of courses that will invigorate them with a love for Catholic liturgical music. This education must employ these future Church leaders with the means to pastorally implement a real Catholic restoration of liturgical music, an investment of inestimable worth.

[1] "De Musica Sacra et Sacra Liturgia" was issued on September 3, 1958, the Feast of St. Pius X.
[2] Benedict XVI's comments in the Sistine Chapel, on Saturday, June 24, 2006.
[3] "Instrumentum Laboris," 61.
[4] "Gregorian chant, which the Roman Church considers her own as handed down from proposed to the faithful as belonging to them also [assisting] ... the faith and devotion of the congregation." --Pope Pius XII (1939-1958), Encyclical Letter Mediator Dei, Sec. 191, November 20, 1947.



Canons Regular of St John Cantius
IL, 60642 US
Fr Scott Haynes - webmaster, 312 243 7373


Pius XII



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