An Integral Part: Music and the Mass

Foiled! I can’t find the official Latin edition of the principal text for anyone who wishes to understand the role of Sacred Music in the Liturgy.

You ask, “what is the fundamental text for those who wish to understand the role of Sacred Music in the Liturgy?”

That is an excellent question and very well phrased to boot. Here are three words which, by their mellifluous sound, indicate the musical nature of what they signify, to wit,

“Tra le Sollecitudine”

Try saying that 10 times fast.

One would think that the Vatican website would have it, but I checked and only found the English, Italian, Spanish and Portuguese translations.

Someone needs to alert Pope Francis about this. No wonder the music in our churches is so awful.

Here is a little taste of this important text in English

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. It contributes to the decorum and the splendor of the ecclesiastical ceremonies, and since its principal office is to clothe with suitable melody the liturgical text proposed for the understanding of the faithful, its proper aim is to add greater efficacy to the text, in order that through it the faithful may be the more easily moved to devotion and better disposed for the reception of the fruits of grace belonging to the celebration of the most holy mysteries. (Tra le Sollecitudine Pope Pius X Instruction on Sacred Music Motu Proprio promulgated on November 1903)

The immediate question that I have is “from what does the word complementary translate?”

Well- I happen to know. The question was purely rhetorical.

The Latin word is “integrans.” In other words the English translation should read,

“Sacred music, being an integral part of the solemn liturgy…” (parte integrans)

How do I know this? Well – just take a look at the Italian, Portuguese and Spanish texts

  1. “La musica sacra, come parte integrante della solenne liturgia, ne partecipa il fine generale…(Italian)
  2. “Como parte integrante de la liturgia solemne, la música sagrada tiende a su mismo fin,…” (Spanish)
  3. A música sacra, como parte integrante da Liturgia solene, participa do seu fim geral…(Portuguese)

I am not saying that I know any of these languages, but after staring at these sentences for about half an hour, I couldn’t help but to notice certain similarities.

But I also have an ace in my back pocket, because I happened to stumble across this:


and Blessed John Paul II quotes the very line that I am talking about!

…the special attention which sacred music rightly deserves stems from the fact that, “being an integral part of the solemn Liturgy, [it] participates in the general purpose of the Liturgy, which is the glory of God and the sanctification and edification of the faithful”[3]


But, why oh why does the English translation have to say complementary?!?

The problem with the word complementary is firstly, the word complementary sounds exactly like complimentary and is therefore often confused with it. If Sacred music is merely complimentary, then it is obvious that sacred music is something that we can all live without.

The word comlementary makes sacred music’s role something akin to the role that a cherry plays atop an ice cream sundae.

As we all know, one is able to have a perfectly acceptable ice cream sundae without a cherry. An ice cream sundae without a cherry is a perfectly acceptable ice cream sundae. Nothing is missing that belongs to its own definition qua ice cream sundae.

Hot Fudge Double-Chocolate Cherry Sundaes | The Splendid Table

Sundae with a Cherry

Sundae without Cherry

Secondly, even if we use the word complementary to mean “completing” which is what it means, we still tend to use the word in a weaker sense such as “enhancing.” Thus we might say that “bread is a good complement to the dinner” or “flowers complement the dinner table.”

If we were all to agree that “complementary” mean strictly “to complete” then I wouldn’t mind. Because then the phrase

“Sacred music, being a complementary part of the solemn liturgy…”

has more ‘bite’ to it. The phrase would indicate to us that Sacred music is something that is necessary- necessary that is to anyone who would like a complete liturgy.

Now I know exactly what you are thinking. You are thinking,

“Well certainly one is able to have Mass without music. Why…as a matter of fact all those Irish priests in 1709 had to say Mass in secret without music because of the British “penal act” which attempted to force priests to take an oath etc. etc.”

Well, before you go on and lecture me about Irish history and Queen Anne and penal acts and all sorts of things that will obscure the argument, allow me to say that you have succeeded in nothing but making my point even clearer!

An integral part is not the same thing as an essential part.

For example one is able to have a man without hair on his head. Hair is not an essential part of a man. But would we say that a hairless man has all the parts that make up a complete man? No, a man should have hair! Every man is supposed to have hair by nature! And furthermore, I don’t care about that recent article in the WSJ about how bald men make more money!


Ok, so now you are thinking “Yes maybe a bald man is in fact a complete man” and now after reading the article in the WSJ you are probably contemplating a trip to the barber.

Well what if a man was lacking an arm? Do we have a man? Yes we do, because an arm is not an essential part of a man.

But we would still admit, with regret, that an armless man appears to be lacking something which he should have. There is a deficiency that will no doubt have to be made up for in some other way. An armless man wants an arm, much more than, say, he wants a bow tie or a top-hat.

An integral part is the kind of part that allows us to have a complete thing, while noting that if something is missing its integral parts we might still have the thing- but not in its completeness.

On the other hand if a man lost his head, we would have to say that we really do not have the man anymore. The head is something more than an integral part. I might venture that the head would appear to be an essential part. A sine qua non for having the thing itself.

Image result for headless horseman irving

(In my humble opinion The “Headless Horseman” was not really a man at all in sofar as he was lacking an essential part!)

That probably goes for the torso as well.

I am not a doctor, but I bet a doctor would  be able to make a decent list of essential parts of the human body and another list of integral parts.

The point is that integral parts, while not being essential, are still necessary if one wishes to have the whole of what a thing is.

If you think there is no difficulty for a person to lack eyes, or arms, or legs, or even eyebrows, or fingernails or whatever…then go ahead. You will also claim that it is fine for a mass to lack sacred music.

But the truth is that something is missing which should be there.

As Pope St. Pius X taught, and was reaffirmed by the council fathers in Sacrosanctum Consilium, and his teaching was reiterated recently by Pope John Paul II…

sacred music is an integral part of the solemn liturgy.

About marklangley

Presently, the founding Headmaster of Our Lady of Walsingham Academy in Colorado Springs (see www., former headmaster and Academic Dean at The Lyceum (a school he founded in 2003, see Mark loves sacred music and Gregorian Chant and singing with his lovely wife, Stephanie, and their children.
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10 Responses to An Integral Part: Music and the Mass

  1. Helen Peyrebrune says:

    I really like this explanation of the word “integral.” I’d been wondering about that for a while. Maybe you could write another post stating some reasons why music is an integral part of the liturgy. I’d like to see that!

  2. Mark Langley says:

    Glad you liked it. And if you keep on looking at the documents you will find that word integral popping up more and more. But you are right- we need to discuss why sacred music is integral now.

  3. Paul Whiteman says:

    I would be willing to hazard a guess that there is no official Latin version of “Tra le sollicitudine” and that it was originally issued in Italian, since official Church documents are ordinarily referred to by the title or first words of the document in the language in which it was issued, which need not be Latin.
    On a different note, does a motu proprio have any sort of authority beyond a merely legislative one? If not then do any remarks made by Pius X in it have a binding force of teaching authority?
    One final note: “integrare” in Italian can mean in addition to “to complete” also “To supplement” or “to bring to full strength”. This seems to me to especially elucidate the idea that music is not essential to the Mass, but is an adornment which makes the action to be done in an even more fitting manner.

  4. Samster says:

    The idea that music is an integral part of the liturgy is made by Vatican II in Sacrosanctum Consilium: “112. The musical tradition of the universal Church is a treasure of inestimable value, greater even than that of any other art. The main reason for this pre-eminence is that, as sacred song united to the words, it forms a necessary or integral (necessariam vel integralem) part of the solemn liturgy.”

    I think the conjunction of “necessary” and “integral” makes it clear that the meaning intended by “integralem” is not simply “fitting” or “proper.”

    This same point has been repeated both prior to Vatican II (1958 Instruction on Sacred Music) and since: John Paul II points out the continuity in this teaching from Pius X to Vatican II in the opening paragraphs of the Chirograph from which Mr. Langley quotes, and Benedict XVI has underlined the concept as well.

  5. Paul Whiteman says:

    From the quote from Tra le Sollicitudine it seems clear that the addition of music to the Liturgy is an adornment which makes it to be more fittingly done. It is, however, a natural, that is, an integral, part of the liturgy, for, unlike other adornments which go along with the celebration of the liturgy and are part of the experience of the congregation despite not being part of the liturgy itself (e.g. the way the church building and altar look, the specific shade of the vestments, the lighting of the building, incense smoke hanging in the air and so forth), because it is united with the words of the liturgy and is thus actually a part of it.
    I take the Sacrosanctum Concilium quote you give to be saying that music is a “necessary” part of the Mass because it is united to the words, which are necessary, and that music is also distinct from more superficial adornments and is an integral part of the Mass because of its unity with the words.
    Music is, it seems from the documents, a non-essential but greatly preferred addition to the liturgy which is, when properly joined to the words, a natural and integral part of it.
    My earlier comment was in agreement with the original blog post, or was supposed to be; my apologies if it seemed contrary.

    • Mark Langley says:

      Great comments Paul, and no apologies needed. At first I hesitate to use the word ‘adornment’ to describe the role that sacred music plays in the Mass, only because I always think of adornments as things which are neither essential parts of a thing nor even parts which are necessary to make the thing ‘whole’ or ‘complete.’ Nonetheless you appear to be making it clear that Sacred music is not a “superficial adornment” – thus distinguishing the kind of part that music is from other things which might be considered as accidental parts (‘accidentals’ or ‘extras’).

  6. Paul Whiteman says:

    It seems that as you describe well with the example of a human body, there is an in-between sort of thing that is neither essential nor just a superficial accident (a really “accidental” accident) but is an inessential part of a thing which nevertheless ought to be there according to the nature of the thing. Music is this kind of an accident to the essence of the Mass it seems, but it is an integral part of it, that is, a part preferably, ordinarily, appropriately and naturally there, when it becomes one with the words. Meanwhile, clearly something like a French organ interlude or a toccata are not integral parts of a Mass and this is because they are not joined with the words.

  7. Samster says:

    Paul, that distinction between music that is one with the words and other kinds of music is a good one. Ideally, we ought to sing the chants proper to the Sunday and the parts of the Mass, with any other music a salutary and fitting adornment to our worship.

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