|ROME, 30 NOV. 2004 (ZENIT)
Answered by Father Edward McNamara,
professor of liturgy at the Regina Apostolorum Pontifical University.
Q: Is it still correct to use the organ only to accompany the singing
S.M., Lismore, Australia
A: There are several documents regarding this theme. The 1967
instruction on liturgical music, "Musicam Sacram," addresses the
question of the organ and other instruments in Nos. 62-67. To wit:
"62. Musical instruments either accompanying the singing or played alone
can add a great deal to liturgical celebrations.
"The pipe organ is to be held in high esteem, for it is the traditional
musical instrument that adds a wonderful splendor to the Church's
ceremonies and powerfully lifts up the spirit to God and to higher
"But other instruments also may be admitted for use in divine worship,
with the knowledge and consent of the competent territorial authority.
... This may be done, however, only on condition that the instruments
are suitable, or can be made suitable, for sacred use, are in accord
with the dignity of the place of worship, and truly contribute to the
uplifting of the faithful.
"63. One criterion for accepting and using musical instruments is the
genius and tradition of the particular peoples. At the same time,
however, instruments that are generally associated and used only with
worldly music are to be absolutely barred from liturgical services and
religious devotions. All musical instruments accepted for divine worship
must be played in such a way as to meet the requirements of a liturgical
service and to contribute to the beauty of worship and the building up
of the faithful.
"64. Musical instruments as the accompaniment for singing have the power
to support the voice, to facilitate participation, and to intensify the
unity of the worshipping assembly. But their playing is not to drown out
the voice so that the texts cannot be easily heard. Instruments are to
be silent during any part sung by the priest or ministers by reason of
"65. [...] Solo playing (of the organ or other approved instruments) is
allowed at the beginning of Mass, prior to the priest's reaching the
altar, at the presentation of the gifts, at the communion, and at the
end of Mass.
"66. Solo playing of musical instruments is forbidden during Advent,
Lent, the Easter triduum, and at services and Masses for the dead.
"67. It is, of course, imperative that organists and other musicians be
accomplished enough to play properly. But in addition they must have a
deep and thorough knowledge of the significance of the liturgy. That is
required in order that even their improvisations will truly enhance the
celebration in accord with the genuine character of each of its parts
and will assist the participation of the faithful."
According to this document, therefore, solo playing of the organ is
prohibited during Advent.
However, while the above criteria are substantially still valid, there
appears to be a small opening to solo playing during Advent in the new
General Instruction of the Roman Missal.
No. 313 says: "In Advent the organ and other musical instruments should
be used with a moderation that is consistent with the season's character
and does not anticipate the full joy of the Nativity of the Lord.
"In Lent the playing of the organ and musical instruments is allowed
only to support the singing. Exceptions are Laetare Sunday (Fourth
Sunday of Lent), Solemnities, and Feasts."
Thus the express prohibition to solo playing of the organ found in "Musicam
Sacram" is now limited to the Lenten season while during Advent it now
appears possible to do so albeit with moderation and selecting music
appropriate for a penitential season. ZE04113022
* * *
Follow-up: Use of the Church Organ During
Following our comment that the new General
Instruction of the Roman Missal allows for some solo organ playing
during Advent (Nov. 30) I received contrasting replies.
An Atlanta reader, supported by another from
Taiwan, faulted my reading of the two documents in play and denied that
GIRM, No. 313, loosened the prohibition on solo playing found in
“Musicam Sacram,” No. 66.
At the same time, another reader from Santa
Monica, California, pointed out that GIRM, No. 66, basically repeats
what was already said in the Ceremonial of Bishops in 1984, so that solo
playing of the organ has been permitted since that time.
They say that an Irishman is someone who can
argue both sides of a question—often at the same time—but I admit that
the contrast left me in something of a quandary.
Our first readers are correct in the sense that
GIRM, No. 66, does not explicitly derogate or abolish the earlier law.
But my line of thinking is more in accord with the second reader.
Church documents usually explicitly quote earlier
documents so small changes in emphasis are often quite significant and
reflect an evolution in the norms even when earlier laws are not
As we saw, “Musicam Sacram,” No. 66, specifically
forbade solo playing during Advent, Lent, the Easter triduum, and at
services and Masses for the dead.
The 1984 Ceremonial of Bishops eschews the phrase
“solo playing” but expresses the same idea, saying that playing the
organ “is allowed only to support the singing.”
Like “Musicam Sacram,” it uses this formula to
refer to Lent and Masses for the Dead (see Ceremonial, Nos. 41, 252,
300, 397, 824).
However when referring to Advent it no longer
uses this expression but states only that playing the organ should be
moderate and in line with the season (No. 41, 236).
I think therefore that this is a clear change of
emphasis with respect to the earlier document, for the omission of any
mention of using the organ only to support singing during Advent is
certainly not accidental.
The probable reason for this, as pointed out by
our Californian reader, and in contrast to what I affirmed in my earlier
column, is that Advent is no longer officially included among the
According to the Ceremonial, No. 41, the organ
and musical instruments should be used with a moderation that is
consistent with the season’s character of joyful expectancy but in a way
that does not anticipate the full joy of the Nativity of the Lord.
Certainly there are elements that resemble the
Lenten penitential season (violet vestments, omission of the Gloria,
etc.). These are justified by Advent’s focus on spiritual preparation
for Christ’s coming by recalling the mysteries of salvation history as
well as the liturgy’s frequent eschatological allusions to the “last
things”: death, judgment, heaven and hell.
According to No. 39 of the Introduction to the
Roman Calendar: “Advent has a twofold character: as a season to prepare
for Christmas when Christ’s first coming to us is remembered; as a
season when that remembrance directs the mind and heart to await
Christ’s Second Coming at the end of time. Advent is thus a period for
devout and joyful expectation.”
The Advent season developed in the Roman Rite
during the sixth century and always contained these two elements,
although sometimes one element was stressed more than the other until
the season reached more or less its present form.
It is true that a 1987 document, a circular
letter dealing with concerts in churches, repeats the norms of “Musicam
Sacram” with respect to use of the organ during Advent. But this later
document has far less legal weight then the Ceremonial of Bishops or the
GIRM and the lack of coherence might be considered an oversight, the
primary purpose of the document lying elsewhere.