CCTLS 5: Musical and Liturgical Judgments

What’s CCTLS? Just John Paul II’s Chirograph on the Centenary of Tra Le Sollecitudini, issued one century after Pope Pius X released his motu proprio on sacred music.

Today, let’s look at a few qualities of sacred music. You may indeed recognize these as two of the famous three judgments. First the musical:

5. Another principle, affirmed by St Pius X in the Motu Proprio Tra le Sollecitudini and which is closely connected with the previous one, is that of sound form. There can be no music composed for the celebration of sacred rites which is not first of all “true art” or which does not have that efficacy “which the Church aims at obtaining in admitting into her Liturgy the art of musical sounds”[TlS 2].

Yet this quality alone does not suffice. Indeed, liturgical music must meet the specific prerequisites of the Liturgy: full adherence to the text it presents, synchronization with the time and moment in the Liturgy for which it is intended, appropriately reflecting the gestures proposed by the rite. The various moments in the Liturgy require a musical expression of their own. From time to time this must fittingly bring out the nature proper to a specific rite, now proclaiming God’s marvels, now expressing praise, supplication or even sorrow for the experience of human suffering which, however, faith opens to the prospect of Christian hope.


I once read a Michael Joncas commentary on Godspell, especially this song, which he felt didn’t quite match the nature of Psalm 137, either from a Scriptural or liturgical perspective. Great pop musical song, but not quite a match for the liturgy.

All CCTLS suggests in this section is that music must be of the highest quality. I would add not only in composition, but also in the actual execution of the music. 5b is a familiar principle to the pastoral musician: music always serves the liturgy. Great music doesn’t always serve worship, and that’s okay. That makes the music suitable for the concert hall. And for personal enjoyment. Those are not low ideals–not at all. But concertizing and enjoyment are not the primary aims of liturgy.


About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in the Pacific Northwest, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
This entry was posted in Chirograph for the Centenary of TLS, post-conciliar liturgy documents. Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to CCTLS 5: Musical and Liturgical Judgments

  1. Ken Macek says:

    Re: On the Willows…you’re probably remembering his remarks that this (as do most other Ps 137 musical settings, I might add!) portrays exile as wistful nostalgia on the banks of an idyllic stream when, in fact, the waters the tribes were most likely to be around were Babylon’s sewers they were slave labor for constructing/maintaining. This is an ANGRY text, even omitting the last line which has long been vetted-out of Lectionary use.

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