Universalis

The Pipe Organ - the most fitting?

Should drums, pianos and guitars be allowed in mass worship, or should the pipe organ be the only one that is allowed? This question parallels very much the debate over whether some Latin should be reintroduced into mass. It puts into focus the two diverging sentiments of modern day worship: to freely express love and worship of God, or to seek the sacred, majestic and mysterious in tradition.

Br.Lawrence commented in another post the following:


You mentioned that the pipe organ is the "most perfect instrument". The Church recommends first and foremost that the voice is unaccompanied in liturgical music. The voice is the most perfect instrument because it is natural and created by God. To support the voice, the pipe organ is allowed and most fitting.

Why? Because it produces sound following the same principles as the human voice - the expansion of air that is pushed through pipes and expelled as a melodious sound. On this principle, the organ was felt to have the same natural tonality as the human voice and hence best suited to complementing the human voice.

Organ music in its own right is a later innovation and because it works like a human voice, it is tolerated in church. Otherwise, the Church still frowns on the use of all other musical instruments in church... This is because the human voice is the only fitting instrument used in praise of God and musical instruments can and often do drown out or obscure the human voice and the sacred texts which they sing in praise of God.

For the sake of clarity and understanding, I wish to put forward the following arguments one might have against the above.

The Church recommends first and foremost that the voice is unaccompanied in liturgical music.

1. If so, why has no liturgical committee or local church pushed for a completely unaccompanied celebration in Sunday worship?

Because it produces sound following the same principles as the human voice, the organ was felt to have the same natural tonality as the human voice and hence best suited to complementing the human voice.

2. Felt by whom? Isn't that subjective?
3. The violin also replicates and complements the human voice, some say better. Should that be allowed?
4. The flute as well as other wind instruments pushes air through pipes and expells melodious sound. What about these?
5. If a modern pipe organ were able to electronically reproduce the sound of the pipe organ perfectly, would it be allowed even though it does not 'push air through pipes'?

This is because the human voice is the only fitting instrument used in praise of God and musical instruments can and often do drown out or obscure the human voice and the sacred texts which they sing in praise of God.

5. Church choirs use perfect instruments but often drown and detract the congregation with complicated parts and their volume. Should all choirs that sing in parts therefore discouraged?
6. If a musical instrument were used in such a way that it truly complements and does not obscure the voice of worship, should this be allowed? Is this to you possible?

12 comments:

Br Lawrence, O.P. said...

1. I'm afraid this is plain error! The Second Vatican Council, in Sacrosanctum Concilium(SC) 116 says: "The Church acknowledges Gregorian chant as specially suited to the Roman liturgy: therefore, other things being equal, it should be given pride of place in liturgical services." By its very nature, this is unaccompanied music.

One can find many more such references in the Council document and in 'Musicam Sacram'(MS) at http://www.adoremus.org/MusicamSacram.html#anchor15524166
There are far too many individual citations for this comments box!

But as to your question as to why no 'liturgical committee or local church' has 'pushed for' an unaccompanied sung Mass, that is the Million Dollar Qn. Why indeed, does the local church and its agents not push for an authentic implementation of the liturgical reforms of Vatican II?!

2. Again, the Council Fathers held that "In the Latin Church the pipe organ is to be held in high esteem, for it is the traditional musical instrument which adds a wonderful splendor to the Church's ceremonies and powerfully lifts up man's mind to God and to higher things."

Yes, that is 'subjective' but it is the opinion of the bishops of the Universal Church gathered in Council.

I merely offer the rationale behind this which is that the organ mimics the physiology of the voice.

Note also this instruction from Pope Paul VI: "However, those instruments which are, by common opinion and use, suitable for secular music only, are to be altogether prohibited from every liturgical celebration and from popular devotions." (MS 63)

3. I'm afraid not. The violin does not in any way mimic the voice. Does a bow of horse hair run across your vocal cords?! Not mine!

4. The flute and other wind instruments are not integral in themselves. They require 'wind' aspirated by a human person in order for them to function at all. This would be considered extraneous as the human person has his or her own musical instrument - the voice.

5. The organ by comparison is an integral instrument with bellows that supply air to it and when these bellows 'breathe', air is expelled into the pipes causing the sounds. This mimics the integrity of the human voice.

As such, it is necessary that air is expelled... I used to sing in Leeds Cathedral which had a 'perfect' digitised organ, a unique instrument created for it by Huddersfield University. It sounded 'prefect' but you just did not feel the air move in the building. By comparison, a pipe organ pushed air out of its bellows and through the building and we felt that movement of air.

Therefore, that cathedral is now spending half a million Pounds Sterling to re-install a proper pipe organ - all so that air is expelled!

Yes, there is a difference and some people who appreciate this difference feel it's worth spending money on getting it right.

5. This debate was taken up at Trent... Yes, complicated polyphony is discouraged if they obscure the sacred text. Thus, Pius X: "The liturgical text must be sung as it is in the books, without alteration or inversion of the words, without undue repetition, without breaking syllables, and always in a manner intelligible to the faithful who listen." (Tra le sollecitudini, 9)

Moreover, "As the singing should always have the principal place, the organ or other instruments should merely sustain and never oppress it" (ibid., 16).

With regard to instruments: "The use of musical instruments to accompany the singing can act as a support to the voices, render participation easier, and achieve a deeper union in the assembly. However, their sound should not so overwhelm the voices that it is difficult to make out the text; and when some part is proclaimed aloud by the priest or a minister by virtue of his role, they should be silent" (MS 64).

As for choirs, the sooner they realize that their role is to facilitate active participation and support the singing of the lay faithful, the better! This is not to say there are not those parts which may be reserved to them as 'art' pieces. But they are not putting on a show but rendering worship to God and service to his Church. Again, see MS.

6. Clearly it is possible and the Church has seen this to be so in the pipe organ played by a liturgically trained organist.

May I stress that none of the above are my opinions per se, but those of Holy Mother Church and her bishops.

Br Lawrence, O.P. said...

Sorry to add yet more to the lengthy comment above.

You may want to read:
http://www.musicasacra.com/2006/02/liturgical-music-in-post-v_113977660312813486.html
from the Church Music Association of America

Daniel said...

In Singapore, Father Andre Christophe is a trained pipe organist. I believe he gives lessons to those interested in learning how to play this delicate instrument. One of my friends is his student.

Anonymous said...

We'recoming up into the holy Season of Lent, and the Church calls for minimal accompaniment (only to the extent necessary to support singing) for most liturgies in Lent. When I was in the States, my parish put that into practice, and it highlighted the solemn quality of the season. Would that our parish music leaders put that into practice here also, but I suspect it might be difficult to convice some enthusiastic guitar players, drummers and others to take a break and lend their voices instead.

Mary Jane said...

I often think that people's real objection to guitars, etc. is not the instrument per se but the very low level of competence that allowed. That crept in in the 60's and 70's when anyone who knew three guitar chords was perceived as a qualified musician. The perception is that you don't have incompetent organists. Actually I've heard a few - generally folks who should just keep their feet off the pedal board until they've practiced more or those who believe the only registration possible is all-stops-out or the ghastly tremulo of radio soap operas.

Todd said...

I'd like to add my objection to some elements of Br Lawrence's reply.

He's certainly right about the primacy of the human voice in liturgy, but his presumption that the Singapore's implementation of Vatican II is somehow inauthentic because people are asking very logical questions.

The pipe organ has many virtues, mainly being that one person can cover a lot of range on a single instrument. And while some stops on the organ are consonant with the human voice, two things:

Great music is not always about similar sounds. Contrast is also important. One hears it in the reed stops of the organ. And one hears the full range of western instrumentation in arguably the greatest of the western classical forms: the symphony.

And regarding number 6 as asked by the Singapore CAtholics above: absolutely.

Br Lawrence, O.P. said...

Todd: What you refer to as a 'presumption' on my part is predicate on the fact that the writer of this post asks why no local church or liturgical committee has promoted an unaccompanied sung Mass.

In asking such a question, I believe that he expected the apparent absence of any such encouragement from the local church to justify his argument that unaccompanied singing in the Liturgy was not a normative ideal. The line of reasoning in this, I suspect, is that since the local church did not promote this, it could not be the ideal proposed by the Church.

Sadly, this argument, which should hold water, is not borne out by our common experience. Many 'ideals' recommended by the Council Fathers and the Holy See since Vatican II have not been implemented. This does not mean that the norms indicated by the Council Fathers and the Popes are wrong. It only indicates that local churches do not always (and some might, say, often do not) implement the liturgical ideals of the Council.

The recommendations of the Council are a fact against which the balance of proof falls upon those who wish to validate and justify the current state of liturgy in our Church as normative and desirable.

I am very familiar with the Singaporean liturgical climate as my parents still live there and I visit them at least once a year. Thus, I am not presuming anything about the local church, I am stating what I have experienced to be the case.

Moreover, the issue is not what constitutes great music etc. This is not a music review, so none of that is under consideration! This is not about whether one prefers the guitar to the organ or the drums etc. The issue is what is most appropriate for liturgical music according to the mind of the Church.

As such, we ask what liturgical music is for - it raises our hearts and minds to God and leads us deeper into prayer and contemplation of Him.

It does so independent of our proclivities and tastes. This is because Liturgy has an objective nature that calls us beyond the self and the subjective; it calls for self-mortification and unites us to the Church Universal. All the counter-arguments so far are highly subjective and in this kind of evident individualism, they run counter to the very metaphysic and theology of Liturgy.

The only real purpose of the Liturgy is the glorification of God and the sanctification of His people and for this prime purpopse the Church has elected Gregorian chant as the form most suited. The form of such music is one that is vocal and unaccompanied, that accentuates the text but not without artistry. To support this, an organ is allowed because of its suitability in supporting the singing voice. Those are the basic principles behind church music.

Polyphony is encouraged only in so far as it is an art, a treasure of the Church's heritage and may be used by a trained choir, especially in certain well-resourced churches.

Instruments have at best been tolerated. The orchestra Masses of Mozart etc were seen to be less than ideal by Pope Pius X in his reform of church music. This not a denial that such music is beautiful and good, but it is just not suitable for the Liturgy.

The same can be said of a lot of music used in our parishes today.

Mary Jane: I could not count the number of well-meaning but insufficiently trained organists I have suffered under! It is true that competance is assumed on the part of the Church, and where this is not possible, unaccompanied singing. I really can't understand why we make such a fuss when the Eastern Churches have been singing unaccompanied in their liturgy for two millennia! On this Feast of Ss Cyril and Methodius, we can look to the East for inspiration and example.

Daniel said...

The explanation of the pipe organ being the most suited for liturgy is interesting. However, how many Catholics will understand and be able to draw the link on their own?

Would it not make better sense to use instruments that they find can produce better music, such that it provides a more prayerful atmosphere which allows them to draw closer to God?

Isn't that the main aim of liturgy? Hence I believe that, in terms of liturgy, the local church is doing what is necessary for its people to have a closer experience with God.

ChrisYeo said...

Dear Br.Lawrence,

Regrettably, your initial post on NewLiturgicalMovement came across as angry and unecessarily insulting, but I realise now that it was really just based on a misunderstanding.

First off, the posts here reflect only the personal opinions of the authors. We do not have a coherent voice; I do not know well some other writers and often disagree with them. Therefore, it would not be accurate to think of us as having an agenda, or that we are "running a series of posts". As it happens, a number of us are actively involved in trying to change the mindsets of the local church towards liturgy, and are thus actively asking questions. If you believe me to be un-young, un-Catholic or un-thinking, I pray that you do not extend this to the other writers of this blog, as they may not be necessarily so.

Next, I hope you realise that I sometimes play the devil's advocate, or am simply asking honest questions. Perhaps what riles you most if my willingness to look past the teachings of the council fathers to ask of their rationale, which I am sure is richly existent. You also misundertand my intent. I very much wish to promote the correct liturgy here; I just do not wish it to be forcefed but accepted with understanding. The arguments which I presented here are representive of what someone else would ask; I simply ask on 'their' behalf to seek understanding. For example, my asking 'why no local church or liturgical committee has promoted an unaccompanied sung Mass', was an instigation for others to realise that the local church is in need of change. I apologise that it has caused you much grief.

The two possible false dichotomies that you speak of - pipe organ vs. other instruments, and modern vs. traditional worship - are in fact deliberate on my part, but they do represent the thinking of some here. You are rightly angry, and I thank you for your conviction in correcting these mistakes. We need to learn from people like you so that true liturgical reform can take place here. What is lacking is proper understanding among the lay. What some of us are trying to do is simply seeking understanding.
The original text on http://thenewliturgicalmovement.blogspot.com/

"Sunday, February 12, 2006
Addressing Liturgical Issues on the Blogosphere a

A group of self-described "young thinking Catholics" in Singapore have recently run a series of posts on their blog, Threshold of Hope, about liturgical matters.

There was one about Latin in the Church's liturgy and another, now brewing, about sacred music and the pipe organ. In this latter post, the writer, rather misleadingly, asks: "Should drums, pianos and guitars be allowed in mass worship, or should the pipe organ be the only one that is allowed? This question parallels very much the debate over whether some Latin should be reintroduced into mass. It puts into focus the two diverging sentiments of modern day worship: to freely express love and worship of God, or to seek the sacred, majestic and mysterious in tradition."

The false dichotomy that is drawn is clearly felt to be true by many fellow Catholics! If the New Liturgical Movement is to affect the wider Church, I believe we can and ought to begin by addressing many common objections, misconceptions and errors - often the result of ignorance - on the part of 'young thinking Catholics', like these in Singapore, in the Church.

We can't expect them to come and read this blog, so I ask that interested parties read what they have to say and then comment in response as is appropriate."

ChrisYeo said...

To continue an element of the discussion,

I asked: "6. If a musical instrument were used in such a way that it truly complements and does not obscure the voice of worship, should this be allowed? Is this to you possible?"

Br.Lawrence said: "Clearly it is possible and the Church has seen this to be so in the pipe organ played by a liturgically trained organist."

and Todd said: "absolutely"

I had originally meant: If a musical instrument other than the pipe organ were used in such a way that it truly complements and does not obscure the voice of worship, should this be allowed? Is this to you possible?

What do Br.Lawrence and others think?

To state my position clearly this time, (to my current understanding), we should move away from all instruments other than the pipe organ, and towards chant. In place, the eucharistic celebration needs to be supplemented with 'ordinary' worship (think p&w), prayer services, cellgroups, etc.etc. as well.

Br Lawrence, O.P. said...

Chris Yeo: I do apologize if my post in the NLM was uncalled for or felt to be unjust. I am glad that you realised why I was riled by the discussion underway here and I sought to engage other voices from the NLM in the discussion; would make it more interesting than just mine!

With regard to other instruments, the Church rejects them because of their secularism. The piano was a music/variety hall or concert hall instrument. In the Church of the Holy Family (Katong), it is used far too much like a concert piano!

I hasten to add: I love Mozart, Beethoven, Haydn etc and all the orchestral Masses, but I admit they are over the top! The bare simplicity of a Gregorian chant Mass or a simple setting by Durufle is far more attuned to the needs of the Liturgy.

Music serves the Liturgy and not the other way around.

Daniel: Your arguments are very popular indeed but they militate against the very nature of Liturgy. Liturgy is the worship of the entire Church - militant and triumphant, of all ages - to the Father in the Son through the Holy Spirit.

Liturgy has an objective quality that transcends local cultures and customs, without destroying them.

In my opinion, issues of musical taste are too parochial and subjective. Similarly, the idea of creating an 'atmosphere', experiencing God etc makes Liturgy far too much about our subjective moods, proclivities and tastes!

Liturgy is not mood setting or mood music. It's not about the pious glow of candles and the whiff of incense to create a mood! I can get that in a spa! We can "experience closeness to God" if we went for a hike in the mountains, or whatever. That is not the objective of the Liturgy (unless one is a Protestant)! For a Catholic, Liturgy is about the glorification of God and the sanctification of His people.

We do not get into a mood to "feel" close to God. We either are close to Him or we aren't. Jesus on the Cross, the martyrs in their gruesome deaths, the saints in ascetical rigour are very close to God and there is nothing pleasant or sensually comforting about them in those situations.

Thus, closeness to God is not gauged by feeling and this is a terrible error of the modern Catholic and the post-Enlightenment society, which lives off flawed empiricism rather than metaphysics which reveal the reality, far and above how one subjectively 'feels'!

No. Liturgy transcends all that, precisely because we must learn to deny ourselves, take up our Cross and follow Him. An element of self-mortification is essential to the Christian life and growth in holiness. A Liturgy which panders to our whims and fancies does not aid us in this.

I have written in my blog that Liturgy is a School of Prayer:
http://contemplare.blogspot.com/2005/06/school-of-prayer.html
And reflected on the role of Beauty in the Liturgy (which touches on what you mean by music that moves us etc):
http://contemplare.blogspot.com/2005/08/beauty-vs-aestheticism-in-liturgy.html

I am not altogether unsympathetic to your need for the more emotive etc in prayer but that is what our private prayer life and devotions are for. We must not overload the Liturgy so that it collapses under a weight (or expectations) it was not meant to bear! I think this touches on Chris Yeo's final question.

However, I ought to stress, devotions etc can not and must not become a substitute for the Mass and Divine Office. The Liturgy is all important.

Maybe we ought to read carefully the Church's teaching in 'Sacrosanctum Concilium' of Vatican II, which has a rich exposition of liturgical theology.

Many of us, especially in Singapore, may not have had a chance to pray the Liturgy in the manner envisaged by the Council Fathers. Those who have will be hard-pressed to admit it is not superior and more prayerful than our current parish situations!

Thank you.

PS: If time permits, perhaps I shall post more on these issues on my blog someday, or here, if you'd like...

Norman said...

In place, the eucharistic celebration needs to be supplemented with 'ordinary' worship (think p&w), prayer services, cellgroups, etc.etc. as well.

Chris Yeo. A most interesting comment. Will you elaborate, in another post perhaps?