The History of Catholic Church Music


Catholic church music is circumscribed by its place in the divine service; the limits of its expression and its forms are clearly set by the shape of the liturgy. By this extramusical limitation it is distinguished, as practical art, from sacred music that is solely a free expression of religious feeling. This liturgical purpose also gives it its particular denominational character. In the Protestant service, church music adopted certain forms that made it fundamentally Protestant. In the Catholic service, church music is not merely an ornament, but a basic part of the liturgy. Changes in our way of thinking through the centuries have often made this relationship of music to the forms of divine service appear indistinct, but its purpose has always been definitely outlined. As a result there has at times been a cleavage or a tension between the aim of Catholic church music and its evaluation and production by men whose roots are deep in their own age and their own land. Wherever art has a well-defined purpose, this tension between the aim and the actualization of this aim is much to the fore, and it restricts and conditions the distinct development of that art.


A second basic purpose of Catholic church music is to be found in its distinctive artistic character. Music is an expression of artistic feelings.

Additional information

Publisher: Place of publication:
  • Baltimore, MD
Publication year:
  • 1961


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