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 Prot. No. 1066/2006                         Pastoral Letter


VARKEY CARDINAL VITHAYATHIL, the Major Archbishop of Ernakulam-Angamaly, to the Archbishops, Bishops, priests, Men and Women Religious and Lay Faithful of the Syro-Malabar Church, blessings and peace in our Lord Jesus Christ.


Venerable Brothers and Beloved Children,


The Catholic Church has always considered its tradition regarding liturgical music as a priceless treasure. More than any other artistic expression, music is held in great esteem in the Church. The Constitution on Sacred Liturgy of the Second Vatican Council reminds us that music is given an exalted position in liturgy because sacred music forms an inseparable and indispensable part of the liturgy (SC 112). It is this awareness of the importance of music in liturgy that prompted Popes like Pius X, Pius XII, and John Paul II, to issue Apostolic Letters on liturgical music. Pope John Paul u had exhorted the Bishops to pay special attention to liturgical music. He reminded them that while encouraging church choirs, they should instruct them to make their singing attuned to the sacred character of the church. At the same time, the Pope once expressed his regret about the carelessness shown by many in this regard, in spite of the repeated exhortations by the Church-authorities. The Present Pope Benedict XVI also has indicated clearly the views of the Church in this regard.


During a seminar on liturgical music organized by the liturgical research center of our church at the Major Archiepiscopal Curia at Mount St. Thomas many defects of the present-day liturgical music were pointed out. The Syro-Malabar Bishops' Synod of the year 2006 also discussed this topic. Besides, many priests, religious and lay faithful also had made repeated requests for proper measures to be taken concerning this subject.


The Catechism of the Catholic Church lays down three criteria to be observed in liturgical music: 1. beauty expressive of prayer, 2. the participation of the whole assembly in singing at the designated moments, and, 3. the solemn character of the celebration (CCC No. 1157). In the general instructions given in the Taksa of the Syro-Malabar Qurbana, it is clearly stated that the purpose of the choir is to help the congregation to actively participate in the liturgy. It is also clearly instructed that only approved hymns and tunes should be used in the liturgy (General Instructions, n. 15).


The Church is not against adapting the liturgical music to the special characteristics of a place or culture. The same is her attitude towards modern music. But, they should be able to raise human hearts to God and to things Divine. This is applicable also to the use of musical Instruments during liturgical celebrations. If it does not contribute to the glory of the church or to the spiritual nourishment of the faithful, liturgical music does not attain its goal. In the words of St. Augustine, singing should help to pray with double efficacy. The Church desires that liturgical music be safeguarded and developed with the greatest care. A good way to attain this is to give proper training to the members of the church choir. At the same time, when singing is used in liturgical Services, the faithful should have their own share.


The church has also clear vision about the composition of the liturgical music, musical Instruments to be used in the Liturgy, the singers and their way of singing. The directives given by the Second Vatican Council in this regard are noteworthy. The Council insists that it should be with the active participation of the faithful that the liturgical celebrations are to be made attractive with music. The church is bound to encourage skilfully the practice of the faithful singing aloud religious songs in accordance with the liturgical rubrics (SC 113, 114, 118, 121). Those who compose liturgical hymns must be persons filled with the Christian spirit. Their compositions must abound in the distinctive qualities of liturgical music. Besides, they should be in conformity with catholic teaching and should draw principally on scripture and on sources from within the Liturgy (SC 121). According to Pope Benedict XVI, "Now music is not originating from prayer; moreover, with the new demand of artistic independence, it is going away from liturgy" (Spirit of Liturgy).


We should bear in mind that there is difference between liturgical music and an orchestra. Some noisy instruments used in orchestra are not at all suited to the atmosphere of a church nor does it help prayer. Such instruments drown the voice of the faithful, besides becoming a hindrance to prayer.  Pope Pius XII has said that those who compose liturgical music, those who sing and those who play musical instruments for liturgical Services were doing a very important ministry in the Church. Since they help the people of God to pray well, he said that God will bless them with appropriate reward. Therefore, nothing unsuited to the glory of the liturgy should be allowed in the compositions, in the way of singing and in the instruments used in liturgical celebrations. Those who are engaged in Church music are not merely artists; they are ministers in the Church. They are bound to live according to this call. Pope John Paul II has said that only those who, while being members of the Church, have also imbibed the spirit of the Church, can participate in liturgical music in the proper way.


It is necessary to make the required changes in the style of liturgical music in our church in the light of the teachings of the universal Church. I exhort everyone connected with liturgical music to work earnestly towards making liturgical music a real experience of prayer by co-operating fully with the suitable directives given in this regard.


Invoking God's blessing upon you, in the name of + the Father and of + the Son and of + the Holy Spirit.


+Varkey Cardinal Vithayathil

 Major Archbishop of the Syro-Malabar Church,    Mount St. Thomas on 4th December 2006


N.B: This pastoral letter is to be read out during the Holy Mass on Sunday, 14' January 2007 in all churches and chapels of the Syro-Malabar Church where there is Sunday Mass for the public.





1. A book on liturgical music of the Syro-Malabar Church is to be published by the Liturgical Research Centre.


2.   For this purpose, all dioceses are requested to send to the Commission for Liturgy those liturgical hymns they want to be included in this book. The dioceses should give the Commission the copy right of those hymns which the Commission examine and approve.


3.   Only approved hymns are to be used in liturgical celebrations.


4.  The method of singing to be used in liturgical celebrations is that of the entire community singing together. When new hymns are used, the choir should ensure that the community is given sufficient training.


5.   Special directives are to be given not to use for liturgical celebrations pre-recorded tapes or floppies hampering the community singing and to use only such musical instruments with such volume of sound those are compatible with the spirit of the liturgy.


6.   There should be some arrangement to make effective the activities of the choirs and to co-ordinate them at the diocesan level. The choirs should be given training in liturgical music at the diocesan level.


7.   In composing liturgical hymns, while preserving theological depth, care should also be given to include the aspect of poetic beauty. Traditional Syriac hymns should be preserved, at the same time Carnatic and Hindustani music also have to be employed.


8.  In the dioceses, model choirs should be formed.


9.   In seminaries and other religious formation houses, training in liturgical music should be included in the curriculum.


10. At the apex level of the Syro-Malabar Church, under the auspices of the Liturgical Research Centre, efforts should be made to make liturgical music vibrant. Besides, in order to help study and research, a collection of liturgical hymns are to be preserved at the Documentation Centre.


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