• Greetings,

    I am writing to ask for a bit of advice.

    We attend a Novus Ordo mass where a piano is on the left side of the sanctuary. The church architecture is proper but the piano, and the musical director/cantor like to come down from the choir and proclaim the responsorial from the ambo and the piano adjacent to it. This doesn't seem correct to me. It seems to propagate the "show mentality" and bring undue attention to the msucians.

    Our priest is young but very desirous to do the right thing with regard to liturgy and music, however he is at a stalemate here. I know that the piano in and of itself is not a foul, but the musical director and cantor in the sanctuary seem to be very distracting from the task at hand. Not to mention the musical settings he chooses. They are sacropop. Which we are working on as well. Our priest said if you can find me some document or proof that the piano should not be in the sanctuary, he will move it out himself....ASAP.

    You can see that he is trying his best. We are all doing our best to educate ourselves and return the liturgy to a sacrifice and not a show.

    My question is...Do you have any documents, knowledge, or information regarding the piano's placement, cantor placement during the responsorial etc.? There has to be a church document, or a air tight argument that I am missing. I have given Father "Tra Le Sollecitudini". I have given the Priest the Vatican II hymnal which he loves, but purchased the St. Augustine Hymnal prematurely. We are working on a fundraiser to purchase new hymnals from CC Watershed. However, it would all seem for naught if we had this musical invasion to contend with. The choice hymn selections and solemn responsorials seem to contradict the "piano in the sanctuary" mentality.

    I hope my email is clear and you understand our plight. I would appreciate any advice and knowledge you could impart. Thank you so very much!

    God Bless
  • It could be that other than the loft, the sanctuary is the only place the piano can be if it is to be on the church level. Some churches are like that. And it could be that if the cantor is to proclaim the psalm from the sanctuary, because of delay issues, etc. it is hard for them to accompany it on the organ from the loft - which brings me to my next point ...

    The only thing about this situation that I know for sure is this: the psalm is PROPERLY proclaimed FROM THE AMBO. This is in the documents. Someone else will be along and will probably point out that the documents say "Or another suitable place" - but - the documents are clear that the FIRST CHOICE is for the psalm to be proclaimed FROM THE AMBO.

    So I'm afraid that the battle that you are fighting may be misguided. The piano in the sanctuary is something I'd want to get rid of too; but if their reason for it, which could be entirely valid, is that the psalm should be proclaimed from the ambo and there is no where else downstairs that the piano can be placed, then I'm afraid that the current situation might be the best choice out of a number of non-ideal choices.
  • Adam WoodAdam Wood
    Posts: 6,270
    One document ("Tra Le Sollecitudini" ?) actually specifies you can't use piano at all, regardless of where you put it.

    But - you know... iron-clad documentary proof is unlikely to be...um... effective.
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  • chonakchonak
    Posts: 6,768
    Maybe it would be good to help the priest find out more about sacred music in general. If he gives the music director some guidance to choose more appropriate styles of music, and to use the organ, the seeming need to have a piano there will go away.
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  • Liam
    Posts: 2,998

    Whether TLS's ban has any current force is a rabbit-hole no music minister should attempt to portray as a silver bullet in this context.
  • canadashcanadash
    Posts: 1,198
    Here are great arguments against the sacropop psalms of which you speak. There is also a link to psalms set in the correct translation in a Gregorian Chant style which can be sung a cappella. I hope this helps.

    Thanked by 1MDrost1
  • Thank you for your quick responses.

    The funny thing is the musical director is quite good on the organ and prefers the organ. As a matter of fact, he plays the whole mass, with the exception of the responsorials, on the organ. The cantor and the organ are located in the loft until the responsorial at which time the make the trek down to the sanctuary and proclaim the Psalms from the ambo accompanied by the piano. There is another piano in the choir loft as well. Even if the MD stayed in the loft and the cantor came to the ambo, I can't see that "delay" would be a problem as the church has a monitor system...albeit and archaic one.

    I don't have an issue with the cantor per say. I understand that it is proper. But, the piano still doesn't seem correct and breaks up the continuity.

    TLS is a beautiful document and, I believe should be obeyed, but as Liam mentioned it will be a tough case...definitely not a silver bullet at this point.

    I will try to help Father and the MD along. I don't want to seem pushy. However, Father opened the door, and it would be a nice to have some consistency.

    Thanks! Your comments are very helpful.
  • Adam WoodAdam Wood
    Posts: 6,270
    Are you involved in the music or liturgical ministries at this parish?
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  • melofluentmelofluent
    Posts: 3,902
    The problem is about the repertoire decision making/maker, not the piano. Hearing that the DM is an accomplished organist makes that cognitive dissonance.
  • Father talks with me about musical related topics as I am a musician by trade and have studied a bit on the subject. I offer suggestions and let him bounce ideas off of me.

    I am in no way an expert. That is why I came here. I am only asking the question because our priest set the challenge. It is my thought that the communication and education is a positive endeavor for all of us. Ultimately, as you know, the priest will make the final decision.

    To answer your question, no, I am not directly involved in the music or liturgical ministries at the parish.
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  • Adam WoodAdam Wood
    Posts: 6,270
    The Cantor should do the Psalm from the Ambo.

    As melo points out- the problem is repertoire.

    Suggest unaccompanied Psalms.

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  • Thank you, Adam.

    I will suggest the unaccompanied Psalms. Have a wonderful week.

  • CharlesW
    Posts: 8,283
    I have chosen that "other suitable place," the loft and make no apologies for it. It works well for us, for a number of good reasons. Do you mean the piano is actually "in" the sanctuary? I find that a bit curious, although I know of no ban on instruments in the sanctuary. Usually they are placed outside in my experience.

    I might have liked that piano this past weekend - and I admit I am not totally serious. I have spent the weekend with an organ technician. He was Scottish and kept telling me he was trying to hold it together and the dilithium crystals were getting ready to blow. LOL, just kidding about that. But I will be sending a trumpet rank and a pedalboard back to Schantz very soon for rebuilding.

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  • I must apologize. I may have spoken incorrectly. The piano is next to the ambo, in front of the statue of Mary. A place where the side altar used to reside. My deepest apologies.
  • ronkrisman
    Posts: 1,144
    The problem is about the repertoire decision making/maker, not the piano.

    Indeed. And in the OP's first comment, he or she seems not to know that the ambo is, in accordance with liturgical norms, the most suitable place from which the psalmist chants the verses of the responsorial psalm. Following this norm, IMO, does not "seem to propagate" a "show mentality," as MDrost1 states. Further, he or she states, "I know that the piano in and of itself is not a foul." In other words, he or she knows that pianos are not outlawed from use in the liturgy.

    So that leaves the psalm settings which actually are being sung. MDrost 1 states: "They are sacropop." Before potentially incorrect advice is given to him/her to pass on to the pastor - which, in turn, may spawn a conflict between the pastor and the music director - I'd like to know more about the "sacropop" claim. If MDrost 1 were to list the responsorial psalm settings used at Sundays Masses the past 10 weeks in his or her parish, others on the Forum could assess the accuracy of that claim.

    Actually, if the pastor is seeking musico-liturgical advice from someone who claims no expertise in the subject instead of discussing the matter with the director of music, there may already be some conflict in their relationship. Best not to add to that, MDrost1. Bow out gracefully the next time the pastor asks you for advice and suggest that he take up the matter of his concern with the director of music.
  • Adam WoodAdam Wood
    Posts: 6,270
    Actually, if the pastor is seeking musico-liturgical advice from someone who claims no expertise in the subject instead of discussing the matter with the director of music, there may already be some conflict in their relationship.

    Yeah, that.
    But I didn't want to keep repeating myself.
  • Gentlemen,

    Humbly, I concede and will bow out. Thank you for your advice and knowledge.

  • Noone should ever try to portray a rabbit hole as a silver bullet.
  • melofluentmelofluent
    Posts: 3,902
    You have nothing to concede or retreat from (dangling prep!) You have as much interest in the propriety of the aspects that adorn and affect the Mass. I might suggest that you pass onto your pastor the conversation being had here, and then the "resolution" will belong in his hands and heart.
  • The only thing about this situation that I know for sure is this: the psalm is PROPERLY proclaimed FROM THE AMBO. This is in the documents.

    I'm sorry, however, this is untrue.
  • melofluentmelofluent
    Posts: 3,902
    Merry go round alert.
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  • CharlesW
    Posts: 8,283
    I don't always know what qualifies as sacropop, but my cantor for the last mass of the day was taken ill at the last minute by some respiratory bug. An earlier mass cantor and the choir struggled with an awkward alignment between verses and notation in a Janco psalm. When I asked the priest to have the psalm read at the last mass, I noted to another musician that the particular psalm didn't deserve to be sung again and the setting was better dropped. Sacropop? Maybe. Poorly set verses, yes.
  • Liam
    Posts: 2,998
    It's more like merry go irregular polygon....
  • francisfrancis
    Posts: 7,437
    I have been watching this merry go round... not getting on this time. You all seem to be getting a bit dizzy.
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  • It could also be something similar to our situation where I am the DM. Father likes the cantor and accompanist to be physically together when performing, so in this case for the RP, since it must be sung from the ambo, Fr. might want them to stick together regardless.
  • chonakchonak
    Posts: 6,768
    MDrost1, perhaps your pastor might be interested in attending our summer colloquium: it includes musical training for priests, and offers a way to experience fully sung Masses using plainchant and polyphony:

    This page
    describes the 2013 event in Salt Lake City; next year's is in Indianapolis.

    Also, that page has a beautiful hour-long TV documentary about the event, filmed when we were in Chicago a few years ago.
  • marajoymarajoy
    Posts: 773
    Yes, there will be sound delay that would make it difficult to play the organ with a cantor at an ambo; it's even difficult for a very good cantor and a very good organist to stay together (by both always feeling "ahead of" the other.) If that is the organist's (music director's?) complaint, then I think the suggestion of trying some of the acappella psalm settings is a good one, or, if the congregation isn't quite ready for that, then perhaps some of the simpler but accompanied ones from CCW? The simpler and more "psalm-tone-ish" they are, the easier for the organist and cantor to stay together.
  • Might I make the observation that , if we define "sanctuary" carefully -- in a Catholic way --, the piano doesn't belong in the sanctuary just on the principle of common sense.

    The music director want the accompanist to be near the singer for the logical reason that they should work better together if there isn't a time lag or a communication problem.

    HOWEVER, since there's no requirement that the psalm be accompanied, and further no requirement that it be responsorially sung (contrary to widely held opinion, description isn't prescription), why there would be an un-necessary piano (since there is already an organ) and said un-necessary instrument be obtrusively placed INSIDE the sanctuary shows either a lack of understanding of the nature of liturgy (in any of the twelve rites of the Church) or willful ignorance, what I have called elsewhere the desire to focus merely on practical details.

  • ryandryand
    Posts: 1,472

    I am curious about the exact definition of "sanctuary" in a "Catholic way." How do you understand it? I'm not asking to challenge or debate with you, I am genuinely curious as to what the exact definition is. My current understanding is that it is the area surrounding the altar itself ... usually the steps leading up (if the church has them), which would be marked by rails in the Western tradition (or would've been, back in the day), or by iconostasis in the Eastern tradition.

    Many churches have pianos (and oftentimes many more instruments) placed to the side of the "sanctuary" - not up the steps, but right next to them. Would that still qualify as being "in the sanctuary," or does that term apply only to what is up the steps and immediately surrounding the altar?
  • Adam WoodAdam Wood
    Posts: 6,270
    I'm curious as well, since "sanctuary" has, in theory, a very well-defined meaning, but in reality there is a sort of quantum cloud of sanctuary event-horizons (to mix scalar metaphors) that makes it difficult to know just what one means when someone says, "in the sanctuary.")
  • chonakchonak
    Posts: 6,768
    Some non-Catholics use "sanctuary" to refer to the whole "worship space", including the nave. That is presumably a version cgz is trying to exclude.
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  • Liam
    Posts: 2,998
    Well, there are many churches where the altar (and, typically but not invariably, ambo) rest on a predella - that would be the "sanctuary" - but there is no communion rail to otherwise define the space. These might be modern or older churches - in the latter case, typically where the altar has been moved from the apse to (or nearer to) the crossing. Then there are older churches where side altars used to exist, and the former sanctuary space associated with them no longer comprises a sanctuary in a meaningful sense.
  • Chonak,

    We'll get you a guest appearance on the Tonight Show with Johnny Carson!


    The "sanctuary", the "holy place" is sometimes seen as the space inside the altar rail.
    Where there is no altar rail, which would otherwise clearly mark the space, it is usually understood to be the area immediately around the altar and the steps up to said altar, except, of course, where there are no steps up to the altar. Rather than digress or rant, let me make the following observations.

    1) A Catholic sense of a sanctuary and a Protestant sense of a sanctuary, as Chonak points out, are different and incompatible with each other.
    2) A great many people who are Catholic use the word sanctuary in the Protestant sense, whether out of ignorance or crass disregard for the truth.

    When instruments and choirs take up space to the left, right or behind the sanctuary proper, there are several reasons for this -- coping only with the modern situation:

    1) Theologians using a misreading of the basic notion of liturgy propose that choirs should be "up front" so that they can sing to the people.
    2) Clueless or vicious liturgists insist that the building is about people, and since the Second Vatican Council (tune out rest of absurd comment).
    3) Witless, or merely uninformed, laity say that Protestant churches do these things, and so in this age of ecumenism.....
    4) Confused or mentally ill musicians allow, or insist upon the placement of the choir and visible modern instruments in such a place.

    Choirs for no good reason pertaining to the proper understanding of the liturgy, nor for sound acoustical cause should be placed "up front".


  • ronkrisman
    Posts: 1,144
    To add to what Liam wrote, every time "sanctuary" appears in the English-language GIRM, it is translating "presbyterium" in the Latin IGMR. No. 295 gives the closest thing to a definition of the term. Basically it's the area for the "presbyter," in which the altar and ambo are located. The entirety of GIRM 295 states:
    The sanctuary is the place where the altar stands, where the word of God is proclaimed, and where the priest, the deacon, and the other ministers exercise their offices. It should suitably be marked off from the body of the church either by its being somewhat elevated or by a particular structure and ornamentation. It should, however, be large enough to allow the Eucharist to be celebrated properly and easily seen.

    In some Catholic churches choir stalls and even the organ console have been and still are located in the presbyterium.

    I agree with Liam that in older churches where side altars and communion rails used to exist, one could hold that the side altars were within the sanctuary since they were behind the communion rail, one of the loci where the priest exercised his office. I don't think that reasoning holds true any more for the area in front of those former side altars, unless a communion rail is still present and is used in the liturgy.
  • Adam WoodAdam Wood
    Posts: 6,270
    I think the question is not "what's the formal definition of 'sanctuary'?", but rather, "Where's the piano in the situation currently being described?"
  • ronkrisman
    Posts: 1,144
    Adam, if some folks contend that a piano does not belong "in the sanctuary," then the meaning of "presbyterium" is most pertinent. As to the "the piano in the situation currently being described," is it in the presbyterium or not? And, according to current norms, does it make any difference whether it is in the presbyterium or outside it?
  • melofluentmelofluent
    Posts: 3,902
    I don't really want to wade back into these waters, but another pertinent question besides Adam's is: What need is there for the grand piano in the sanctuary/presbyterium if there's, IIRC, also a piano grand or otherwise in the loft with the choir/organ?
    1. IIRC again, the DM feels it necessary to chant the responsorial "in the sanctuary with the grand," but not at the ambo;
    2. If the grand is used for concertizing, it most certainly should not be in the sanctuary, save for whether the church hosts choral concerts from visiting academic/professional ensembles that will perform exclusively unabashed sacred musical selection clearly from Judeo/Christian texts, scripture or not.

    I freely admit that during a four year stint at Fresno's cathedral we housed the grand in the epistle side altar enclosure, in the late 80's, and the ensemble led music from that expansive-enough area, if during ordinations with lots of priests in choir. That was then...
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