Organ Accompaniment for pre-Lent, Extraordinary Form: definitive reference?
  • This morning we had a bit of last-minute confusion regarding the playing of the organ for Septuagesima Sunday. Not having a definitive reference, I ended up acquiescing in refraining from organ playing.

    I did a really quick search on the liceity of the practice, but didn't come up with anything definitive. Based on these two entries, organ may be played until Ash Wednesday. Neither provide references, but both corroborate with my own short experience with the old calendar before today.

    But because I hate prooftexting for its own sake, I'll share my own thoughts on the logic behind this (since I am working under the assumption that it is proper practice until I'm definitively told otherwise). I haven't lived with the old calendar for very long, but it seems like there is an implied allowance for a progressive liturgical asceticism to take place with Septuagesima, Sexagesima, and Quinquagesima (that in a way mirrors the progressive fasting from dairy, eggs and finally meat from of old). So on Septuagesima, we must shelve the Alleluia, but can still have a full organ; Sexagesima, organ softened (fewer stops); Quinquagesima, foundation stops only; and into Lent, push in all the stops (and then pull out some stops for the Laetare Sunday, Holy Thursday, and then finally pull them all out on Easter Sunday).

    Hope this makes sense; since I was operating under the logic described above, the sudden fast from the organ was a bit of a splash of cold water for me, musically speaking -- not that I'm a virtuoso by any means! (As an aside, I feel like I got a small taste of what people in my position were thinking on the First Sunday of Advent, 1969...)

    Because we quit the organ cold turkey today, it doesn't seem to make sense to return to the organ for Sexagesima or Quinquagesima this year.

    Can anyone point me to a definitive reference, yea or nay, regarding this? I'd rather not be caught not doing my homework next time, so if one of you can point me in the right direction I'd appreciate it very much. :o) And considering all of the bigger fish that people have to fry out there, I know that this little question pales in comparison to some others; we are blessed in our neck of the woods to have this be our "burning issue" as it were.
  • RagueneauRagueneau
    Posts: 2,592
    all I can say is that the Church utterly forbade organ at Requiem Masses in the old days, but this rule was universally ignored, and I always wondered about that --- if my memory serves me correctly, organ can be used to support the voices at any Mass
  • Thanks, Jeff. I would personally interpret that as no organ solos and little more than foundation stops to support singing throughout Lent. We're in a small chapel so I think we can get away with a silent organ; we kept the organ silent for Advent as well.
  • dad29
    Posts: 2,218
    So happens I just looked it up. The 1958 Instruction of Pius XII allows organ UP TO Lent (and with the Laetare/Holy Thurs exceptions you note.)
  • Thanks, dad29 -- I knew I read it somewhere, but I didn't memorize chapter and verse.

    Here's the passage to De Musica Sacra as found on

    If read in context (par. 80-85), this exception in 83c applies to the Masses and Vespers where all organ and instrumental playing is normally absolutely forbidden and hasn't been assigned a specific instrumental allowance. Here's how I read the passage:

    • Par. 81 applies a general instrument ban ("organ, and all other instruments") for Advent and Lent
    • Par. 82 applies a specific allowance ("only the organ" implying "no other instruments") for Pre-Lent (Sundays and weekdays)
    • Par. 83 applies allowances for
      • a) organ and other instruments on holydays, titular feast days, etc., in Advent, Pre-Lent, and Lent
      • b) organ only for Laetare and Gaudete Sundays (all liturgical and devotional functions, not just Mass), Chrism Mass (in toto), and Holy Thursday (Gloria only)
      • c) organ only on those days not mentioned specifically, but with a functional circumscription -- "only at Mass, and Vespers for the sole purpose of supporting the singing" -- that I do not believe applies to the aforementioned allowances, since they were given already without specific functional circumscription, or the extra instrument ban
      • Par. 84 applies a complete ban on organ and other instruments during the Triduum (except the Holy Thursday Gloria), which I take to understand that the organist cannot even provide a pitch for the celebrant or choir at Mass or private devotions.
      • Par. 85 exhorts pastors and those in charge (of liturgy and music, presumably) to explain the meaning of this silence -- not merely "because the norms say so," but the deeper underlying reasons why they do (which is why I provided a rationale behind progressing into a cappella)

    Let me know if this makes sense; if you see anything amiss with this reading, let me know.
    Thanked by 1moderntrad
  • dad29
    Posts: 2,218
    That lines up exactly with my read--except "pitch-giving" is not likely forbidden as it is less-than-incidental "use."

    The document specifically refers to the organ (inter alia) as "joyful" --and allows utilitarian (non-joyful) stuff like "support." I'll classify 'pitching' as utilitarian in the extreme...
  • Chrism
    Posts: 868
    C'mon people, use a pitch pipe or a tuning fork.
  • dad29
    Posts: 2,218
    Our celebrant asks for intonations; he's 300' away. Tuning fork? Pitchpipe? Please....
  • chonakchonak
    Posts: 9,167
    Well, you could always use modern means of communication:

    (ring, ring)

    (Server hands cell phone to priest.)


    Voice on phone:
    Hi, Father. Here it is. (long toot)

    Okay, thanks. (Hands phone to server.) Credo in unum Deum.
  • Chrism
    Posts: 868
    So he doesn't need a pitch, he needs a line. Does he realize how jarring the organ sounds after hearing clappers at the consecration on Holy Thursday?
  • priorstf
    Posts: 460
    Our DM handed me a book last night entitled "Simplified Modal Accompaniment to the Vatican Kyriale and the Requiem Mass" by Dr. Eugene LaPierre. Copyright 1946, and published by the Gregorian Institute of America. It's 160 pages of modern notation for keyboard.

    Included in the foreword is the following:

    "The problem to be solved by the Gregorian harmonist is always the same, namely, the preservation of the liturgical sense which inspired the melody. Modern ears, it ahs often been emphasized, no longer hear properly the homophony of Gregorian Chant. The characteristics of the single melodic line have been disregarded by the discoveries of modern harmony. As a consequence, these sacred songs have lost their ancient flavor and their modal influence has disappeared. This fact has led to the conviction that Gregorian music should be unaccompanied if its original concept is to be preserved. But this objection is no longer valid if the accompaniment of the chant can be achieved with its own elements."