Metropolitan Andrey Sheptytsky
Decree of the Lviv Archeparchial Council "Regarding Church Singing"
April 25, 1941.
English translation by Archpriest Peter Galadza from:
Peter Galadza, The Theology and Liturgical Work of Andrei Sheptytsky (1865–1944), Orientalia Christiana Analecta 272 (Rome–Ottawa: Pontificio Istituto Orientale/Metropolitan Andrey Sheptytsky Institute of Eastern Christian Studies, 2004), pp. 382–391.
In accordance with the prescriptions of Church law, and according to the practice maintained in our Church from antiquity, the divine office [tserkovne pravylo] is to be sung. In order that we might render the fullest possible and most devout honour to the Most High by this divine office, and in order in part to acquire for the faithful all the benefits derived from a splendid and beautiful celebration of divine services, it is necessary to cultivate church singing with great assiduousness, and to spare nothing to augment its artistic beauty. In order to raise the level of the artistic value of church singing in the Archeparchy, this Archeparchial Council reminds the clergy of the principles which they must meticulously adhere to in order to attain that goal.
The service which we render to the Most High should embrace everything that God has given us. People should pray not only in spirit, that is, with their mind and heart, but also in body and with everything that they assess both in their souls and bodies, with everything that they can use to praise the Most High . In song humans give their lungs, hands, knees, all their body, voice, tongue; their sense of beauty, of melody, rhythm and harmony, in short — their whole selves - in service to the Lord. Sung prayer corresponds to human nature and to the natural obligations of humankind towards the Most High.
In sung prayer, especially in the sung divine office, the holy Church provides people with a kind of augmentation of the gospel proclamation. The very appearance of people who are praying, as well as the very words, and even more so the style of their prayer, encourages others to imitate them; and [their appearance, the words and the style] also teach others how to pray. To perform the divine office, as well as all church singing, in a holy way is one of the many ways that we can cause "the name of our most high God, the heavenly Father, to be glorified" with our limited abilities.
Church singing focuses one's attention, turning it away from frivolous and vain images, from the world's luxuries. It raises the mind and heart to the kind of beauty which in a deeply aesthetic way is, as it were, an image of spiritual, supernatural, and eternal beauty. Church singing can and should strengthen, and in appropriate relief, present, the meaning of the words used in prayer. Frequently these are the words by which the Most High deigned to transmit pre-eternal truth to humanity through the teaching of Divine Revelation.
In addition, singing is a most wondrous symbol of prayer, for just as in singing one's voice rises to high tones, and then again falls to lower ones, so also in prayer, the soul, standing before the Most High, raises itself to heaven by acts of hope and love, then again lowers itself to a humble acknowledgement of sins and repentance for them. Just as in singing the melody spreads in all directions and aspires, as it were, to engulf the universe, so also in prayer the human soul extends itself over the whole world, in order to embrace all its brothers in the love of neighbour. Just as in song a melody raises the soul and leads it into infinite spaces, in which the soul is submerged, intuiting more than actually knowing various mysteries of beauty and harmony, so also in prayer, the soul rises to heaven, the eyes are turned to the Father in heaven, and in him and his service - in his gifts, his love - finds an infinite depth of thoughts, feelings and a yet unknown, but expected, future life. Just as in singing the soul and body and all the powers of the soul participate, along with all the nerves and muscles of the body, so also in proper prayer, a person commits himself entirely — prays with his whole life. And just as in singing a person, who in the whirl of life is broken and anguished by incessant chaos and disharmony, by internal struggle and external blows, finds life's ideal — that is, order and harmony - and at the sight and thought of these emerges from himself and extends his arms to embrace that which he must necessarily consider blessedness and happiness; so also in prayer, he raises his soul and hands to heaven, and in a global harmony of divine order and divine goodness comes to know the goal of life and, as it were, embraces that goal. To put it briefly: just as singing is an elevated artistic action of the spiritual essence of humans engaging the human body, so also prayer is the highest function of the mind to which it is raised along those gradations which are the most spiritual functions of the body.
But singing is this kind of symbol of prayer only when it is church singing in the true sense of the word. And singing is church singing when it is sung prayer. In that single word ["prayer"] are contained all the qualities of authentic church singing, and the profound, almost infinite, difference between church and secular singing.
Before all else, church singing must be distinguished by an ethical character. Already in ancient times, philosophers differentiated various kinds of music (Aristotle, Politics, Book 8, sec. 7), and among these, ethical music (ta ethika ton melon) on the one hand, and theatrical music on the other. The former speaks to feeling, the latter desires to please and speaks to sensual passions.
Second, just as prayer, so also church music must be sincere, that is, it must proceed from a simple and pure heart, and not be an expression of compositional or vocal showmanship achieved by contrived intricacy. Church singing should be the direct outpouring of a soul submissively saturated by prayer [vylyvom rozmolenoii dushi]. In certain respects sincerity is a characteristic of every art form and artistic work. But in church singing this is a pre-condition without which the latter becomes simply annoying. A true artist cannot pretend; he must be himself. But while an artist may be allowed to show off and vaunt his abilities, in a Christian such behaviour is always repulsive. Such behaviour, therefore, will also be repulsive in church singing.
The same must be said regarding self-control. Church singing must be controlled not only in the sense that it avoids expressing sensuality and passion, but in the sense — a sense even more profoundly Christian — that whether in composition or in performance, the church music retains proper measure; so that without undue effort, without bellowing, the church singer uses his art form in such a way that there remains a depth of strength, never entirely exhausted, as well as the depth of a hidden art. This is also a characteristic of every true and great artist, but in a Christian and in that prayer which church singing rightfully is, this takes on the form of the Christian virtue of modestyand humility, and in fact constitutes this virtue. While it is actually possible for compositions whose energy and power cannot be contained in the closed space of a small church to be pleasing — they will never touch the heart. Possiblythey would be suitable for a large space, or a grandiose church. However, up close they certainly create the impression of blustering.
Church singing must also faithfully preserve the heritage of the Fathers. Among Christians this kind of continuity is a true and great virtue. A composer must perceive as if by intuition, the actual spirit of his native Church (which does not prevent him from being himself), and not only imitate old patterns.
A Christian demands of church music that it elevate the soul into a kind of supersensual, supernatural world, so that even in this respect the singing should give him an example of that Christian life which, in the words of theApostle, is in heaven. Sung prayer must create the impression of a higher reality — superterrestrial, angelic. Church harmonies must possess something cherubically immaculate, something pure, uplifting, noble. Besides this, church singing must also be as it were a [suitable] background for our magnificent rites; that is, they must be attuned to their nobility, to the majesty of faith proclaimed by all the rites; they must be an echo of ancient times as it were, of the first centuries of Christianity with their primitive Christian mode of expression. The Rite coupled with appropriate church singing — this is something eternal, ancient, ancestral, like everything in our Church: persecuted from antiquity but still alive, developing, and sometimes even manifesting brilliant victories.
Finally, church singing must be a ministry, for in fact all of Christianity and every work of priests, the ministers of the altar, is first and foremost service to the Most High, as well as a service to neighbours, to brothers, to one's people as well. Just as Christ came to serve, so also everything within us must be a service to the Lord and to the people. For its part, church singing is primarily subservient to the idea expressed by the prayer's text. This singing must confine itself to an interpretation of that text. And since this singing is to be prayer as such, it is never to supplant, alter, or destroy the text, nor should it vie for pre-eminence.
The only reason we use singing in church is to inspire the faithful to godliness. Granted, the melody by itself could do this, but it will certainly not accomplish this if it conflicts with the words. This would be a form of disharmony. Singing which in its melody emphasizes and brings to the fore the words of the prayer, inspires the very singers themselves as well as the listening faithful, and ends up achieving its goal because as a result of this it becomes real prayer.
From antiquity it has been established by law in our Church that musical instruments are not used. In the Old Testament various instruments were employed, for example the zither, similar to our husly, and the ten-stringedharp, etc. (cf. Psalm 33, or 32). The Church of Christ accepted from the Jews almost the entire original [Jewish] liturgy, for example, the reading of Holy Scripture and the Psalter. Saint Paul commends church singing to the Ephesians and assigns this singing considerable significance when he says, “Be filled with the Spirit, conversing with one another in psalms, hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your hearts before the Lord” (Ephesians 5: 18, 19). Even though the Apostle is speaking of spiritual songs and commends singing in the heart, there can be no doubt that he is also speaking of vocalized singing, stipulating only that the songs be spiritual, and, of course, not only in content, but also in the manner of execution. In other words, he demands spiritual singing, or singing directed towards the awakening of a spiritual disposition within the listeners. He also demands such a disposition in the singers, for the words "Sing in your hearts" signify that the singing is not to be with the lips alone, but also with the heart. The phrase "making melody" [hraiuchy, a word which in Ukrainian literally means "playing"] could create the impression that a musical instrument, that is, a ten-stringed harp called a "psalter," was used in church at this time. However, this is not the case, for while the word psallere or psallein rendered by our hraiuchy does indeed mean to pluck the strings of an instrument (called a psalterion), it is possible that even in Saint Paul's day the meaning of that word had changed to that which it came to have: to sing psalms from the Psalter. In either case one must note that in repeating the same advice elsewhere, the holy apostle Paul does not mention "playing." He writes to the Colossians: “Let the word of Christ abide in you abundantly, so that you might mutually teach and admonish one another in all wisdom with psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs; that you might sing to the Lord in your hearts with thanksgiving" (Colossians 3: 16). It may be that these two texts bear witness to the evolution apparently taking place at the time when the apostle Paul began his preaching of the gospel in Judaean synagogues, and then started directing his attention more clearly to the pagans, leaving behind the Jews (Acts 13: 46).
In this evolution, Christians, while accepting from the synagogue the practice of singing, nonetheless rejected musical instruments . It is also possible that the text to the Ephesians presents a situation in which Christians who had not yet been separated from the synagogue were still using the psalter as a musical instrument. Saint Thomas [Aquinas] is of the opinion that the Church rejected musical instruments from the very beginning (II – 11, q. 91, 2). His arguments are the following: In the Old Testament instruments were used because the Jews were a coarse and sensual nation [sic]. Therefore it was necessary to speak to them with promises of temporal goods and with music, which exercise greater influence on the senses. And musical instruments stimulate pleasure more that they evoke a disposition to godliness. Precisely because of this the Christian Church did not accept instruments, but did accept singing, because the latter, in the words of Aristotle, "makes people good" (Politics, Book 8, 6).
The use of singing in church as well as its significance are illustrated by Saint Thomas using excerpts from Saint Augustine, who recounts (Confessions, Book 9, 7) how Saint Ambrose introduced singing throughout Milan. Saint Augustine himself describes the impression this singing made on him: "Moved to the depth of my soul, I cried, O God, hearing the hymns and songs sung in your Church" (ibid., chapter 6). In order to characterize that singing let us add also Augustine's phrase: "When it so happens that the singing itself moves me more than that which is being sung, I admit that I thereby sin, and would prefer not to hear the singing" (Confessions, Book 10, Chapter 23).
When exactly the organ was introduced into the Latin Church is something we do not know. It seems that even during the time of Saint Thomas, that is, as late as the thirteenth century, the Latin Church also did not permit musical instruments. Saint Thomas says, "ne iudaisare videamur" (cf. the "Tabula aurea" in the Vives edition of Saint Thomas, vol. 1, p. 682).
In our Church it is the character of our church music that also opposes the use of musical instruments. This Eparchial [sic] Council strongly encourages an exact adherence to our practice and law; no one should employ any musical instruments whatsoever to accompany church singing. Our Rite also requires that all the people sing, and in this way take part effectively in church services. This participation is a very important characteristic of our Rite; through it people learn the Christian life. After the sermon and catechization, church rites and divine services are the most important school of Christian life. In some respects they are even more important than the sermon and catechization, because they teach that which it is difficult for a sermon to teach: they teach prayer. And prayer is the first and most important facet of the Christian life. Divine services teach us how to pray precisely by including the people in the sacrifice and prayer of the priest. That participation is entirely lacking when congregational singing is not practiced. Therefore, congregational singing is a requirement of every divine service. This Council considers one of the most important obligations of the priest to be the introduction of congregational singing, and it also considers the first and most important obligation of cantors to be the instruction of the people in liturgical participation through common singing. Cantors, who after several years of work at a church have not managed to bring about total popular participation in the services should not be certified [systematyzovani].
For congregational singing one must choose appropriate melodies, that is, those that correspond to the traditions of our ecclesiastical music. And certainly one must absolutely avoid and forbid theatrical, vaulting melodies, and any others that are inappropriate and foreign to the Church’s spirit. However, even though we fervently commend samoilka [Galician congregational plain chant], we in no way want to displace choral ecclesiastical singing. The latter has an ancient and illustrious pedigree in our Church. Also, by stressing a thorough preservation of the link with tradition, we do not expect a slavish repetition of one and the same established models developed during the last several centuries. By faithfulness to tradition we understand instead a sensitivity to our Rite's spirit, and the transfusion of our ancient ecclesio-ritual mentality into forms, which although modem, are tied to antiquity by their ethos. Specialists in this area state that even though at first glance the choral works of Bortniansky and the entire golden age of Ukrainian choral singing seem to be grounded in principles that are diametrically opposed to our ecclesiastical monody [odnoholossia], or plain chant, in fact the bond between the two is discernable. It is precisely the spirit of our oldest melodic constructions that prevented the old classics of our ecclesiastical choral singing from falling prey to the tempting Italianate of the period.
Our divine services contain sections which, according to our Rite, should be sung by one or more lectors or singers alone. However, the boundary between the parts sung by all the people and those sung by a group of singers can be shifted so that certain things are sung by the whole congregation while others by the choir. It is important that at the Divine Liturgy the whole congregation recite or sing the Creed and the "Our Father." It is also possible to have a choir sing (and this probably should be standard practice) on greater feasts, while letting the entire assembly sing on other occasions. Occasionally it would be good for the choir to use simple two-part arrangements, thereby drawing all the people into the singing.
To the extent that our noble and truly aesthetic choral works inspire people to godly prayer and teach them to sing prayerfully, these will influence even congregational singing by ennobling it. The only crucial consideration is that the choral singing be authentic high art, flowing from a sincere ecclesial spirit grounded in tradition. It is forbidden for people who are poor conductors to direct choirs, and for choirs to perform when they have no aesthetic sense. And certainly under no circumstances is it permissible to tolerate works of a theatrical nature. These are foreign to, and contradict, the spirit of church singing and church aesthetics.