Tra Le Sollecitudini – “Among the cares”

In November 1903, Pope St. Pius X issued the Motu Proprio “Tra Le Sollecitudini” which is Italian for “Among the cares.” It is worth reexamining this excellent writing to glean from it the wisdom which endures. Of course, liturgical law has changed in many ways since 1903, but it is in the same vein of reform as was advanced by Pope. St. Pius X.

There were many cares that absorbed the holy and magnificent mind of Pope St. Pius X, but the subject of this motu proprio was Sacred Music. A motu proprio is a work of an individual Pope which changes the law of the whole Church or part of the Church. In this case, the topic is Sacred Music in the Roman Church. More specifically, Pope St. Pius X is reacting to liturgical abuses pertaining to music in the Liturgy.

All quotations below in this summary of Tra Le Sollecitudini are from the document itself which can be found here in English.

General Principles

Sacred Music, the Pope says, is a “complementary part of the solemn liturgy” and participates in the “general scope of the liturgy, which is the glory of God and the sanctification and edification of the faithful.” Sacred Music ought to add decorum and splendor to the celebrations of the Church. By singing the liturgical texts, we are elevating the text and moving the souls of the congregation to devotion and opening them to receive the fruits of grace.

So, the form that music in Church should take must be holy and good, which will lead it to being universal in quality. To be holy, it should not be secular; it must be religious and appropriate for the Church. It must be truly art, otherwise, it is a distraction, at best, and blasphemous, at worst. Native music was allowed in various nations, even in 1903, but this music was still to possess a universal quality.

As of 2021, and certainly, until Jesus Christ comes again, these qualities of holiness, goodness, artistry, and universality are still in full effect as it concerns Sacred Music.

Different Kinds of Sacred Music

The music in the Roman Church which most clearly communicates these qualities is Gregorian chant which Pope St. Pius X calls “the Chant proper to the Roman Church, the only chant she has inherited from the ancient fathers, which she has jealously guarded for centuries in her liturgical codices, which she directly proposes to the faithful as her own, which she prescribes exclusively for some parts of the liturgy, and which the most recent studies have so happily restored to their integrity and purity.” Without doubt, Gregorian Chant enjoys a pride of place in the Roman Church to this day, brought forth by the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy in the Second Vatican Council and reiterated in the General Instruction of the Roman Missal.

There is also Classic Polyphony which is commended by Pope St. Pius X. This style of music has many voices singing different parts, and it complements Gregorian Chant. The Pope mentions the great composer Palestrina as an example.

Modern music (remember the year is 1903) is also admitted to the Church if it “furnishes compositions of such excellence, sobriety and gravity, that they are in no way unworthy of the liturgical functions.” The Pope recognizes that modern music has risen mainly to serve profane (rather than secular) uses and thus must be approached with caution. To summarize the Pope’s thoughts on this: Sacred Music does not include Theatrical Music.

Care for the Liturgical Text

Even the chants of the liturgical texts: Kyrie, Gloria, Alleluia, Credo, Sanctus, Agnus Dei, and Pater Noster were to be sung in Latin (the Kyrie is Greek) and without alteration, inversion of words, without breaking syllables, and without undo repetition. Before 1903, there were many Mass settings which had a dozen notes or more for one syllable of a word. The result may have been beautiful, but it was unintelligible.

As of 1903, the vernacular was forbidden for the sung liturgical texts of the Mass. A vernacular hymn was permitted after the Offertory and after the Blessing in a solemn Mass, as long as the text was approved by the Church.

Though the liturgical laws have been relaxed significantly following the liturgical reform of the Second Vatican Council, this instruction should teach us caution. Music must be chosen which is intelligible and which does not deviate from what the Church desires.

Organ and Instruments

The Pope reminds the Roman Church that, just like the Eastern Rites, the “music proper to the Church is purely vocal music” however, “music with the accompaniment of the organ is also permitted.” Other instruments could be admitted, but it was up to the local Bishop.

The singing must have a principal place and the instruments are there only to “sustain and never oppress it.” Pope St. Pius X then writes this: “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.” Today, the piano is much more widely accepted in the Sacred Liturgy, but the organ enjoys the favor of the Church as the favored instrument.

If the instruments are used in the Sacred Liturgy to support the singing, and nothing more, then it would stand to reason that while the piano can be played appropriately (as a source of the melody of hymn rather than primarily as a percussive instrument). The drums, cymbals, bells, and other instruments like electric guitars and overly active acoustic guitars are out of place in the Sacred Liturgy, according to all prevailing liturgical laws. The voice is primary, the organ is preferred, and care should be taken.

The Length of the Liturgical Chant

The Pope takes care to explain how Tra Le Sollecitudini is to be studied and implemented by the Roman Church. However, the Pope offers one more instruction: “It is not lawful to keep the priest at the altar waiting on account of the chant or the music for a length of time not allowed by the liturgy.”

Have you ever been to a Mass where it seems like the music is being performed and is more important than the Holy Mass itself? Have you ever been to a Mass where the music chosen is not befitting the character of the Holy Sacrifice of Jesus Christ? This is not a new problem, but it is a seemingly ubiquitous problem today.

Strongly, the Pope admonishes those preparing music for the Sacred Liturgy, “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 manner at the service of the music, for the music is merely a part of the liturgy and its humble handmaid.”


We have a long way to go in the restoration of Sacred Music in the Roman Church. Unfortunately, there were many things taught and said after the Second Vatican Council that did not arise from the council itself. The result has been widespread liturgical abuse and overall banality in the Sacred Liturgy.

The Sacred Liturgy should be a joyful and somber celebration. It is the joyful celebration of the Sacred Mysteries of Jesus Christ. But it is also the somber re-presentation of the Holy Sacrifice of Calvary. Musicians would do well to review what the Church’s liturgical documents teach. I know that I was misled for many years by bad practices which I inherited. Thanks be to God, I discovered the great Treasure of the Sacred Music tradition of the Church. There is much to learn, but it is a great joy. Dive deep into the riches of our Catholic Tradition!

And, remember, the “general scope of the liturgy… is the glory of God and the sanctification and edification of the faithful.” If we keep that at the forefront of our minds, we will be more open to where God leads us.

Elevate the Liturgy || Source and Summit with Jethro Higgins

How do we elevate the liturgy in our parishes? Join Drew and Katie Taylor from Catholic-Link as they interview Jethro Higgins from Source & Summit about sacred music Learn more ➡️ Source and Summit has created a missal for local parishes to be able to sing the mass beautifully as it was intended. They are focused on being authentic and on what the church calls us to do within the liturgy.

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