Musicians in the priesthood
  • I have wondered how compatible being both a priest and an active church musician are today. It seems to me that it was more common in the past (pre-Vatican II). In fact, a music professor of mine, who is a Benedictine monk, told me he thinks that it's more commonplace in Europe to find clergy or religious who have advanced training in music (and are active in practicing the trade) than in America.

    Anyone: are you, or do you know, a priest or seminarian who is still active in sacred music? The two just seem so incompatible in the modern American church.

    P.S. I'm not actively discerning a priestly vocation; I thought this might spark some interesting discussion.
  • I know two (USA) priests who are highly accomplished musicians - but I don't think either of them is active in sacred music at this time. Too much to do... The harvest is great, but the laborers are few!
  • Kathy
    Posts: 5,500
    I would love it if more priests had advanced training in music, and istm that priests belonging to religious communities would have an opportunity there to be active in an intensive way.

    However, it seems unlikely to me that diocesan priests would be able to actively practice music fulltime, unless there were dioceses just loaded with priests.

    Even the Religious I know who are excellent musicians only do this part time.
  • CharlesW
    Posts: 11,955
    A now deceased priest told me some years ago, that when he was in seminary they had good music training. It was required. He sang well, read music well, and was a pretty decent organist. I don't know if the training they get now is up to that level. He was one of those priests who never needed a microphone. He told me that he was taught to project his voice like a stage actor while preaching. Don't know if they teach that today.
  • We have a seminarian from our Latin Mass Community who is quite an accomplished pianist (he has played Carnegie Hall) and plays the organ at the FSSP seminary. That being said, he doesn’t have a music degree or anything. I think it would be difficult to do both.

    It depends on how you define “active in sacred music”.
    Thanked by 1cesarfranck
  • dad29
    Posts: 2,225
    There was one here in Milwaukee during the '70's, active as a priest through the early '00's, but was not active as a parish musician after 1980 or so. Generally speaking, even if they were musicians, they were not parish musicians here. Not enough priests.....

    Of course, there was Mgr. Schuler in the Twin Cities and Mgr. Hellriegel in St Louis.
  • MarkB
    Posts: 1,039
    Fr. Jan Michael Joncas, Fr. Ricky Manalo, Fr. Rob Galea, the St. Louis Jesuits, Fr. Liam Lawton, Fr. John Schiavone, ex-Fr. Carey Landrey
    Thanked by 2CharlesW Choirparts
  • I'm a Seminarian in Third Theology. (Diaconate Ordination this Spring (please pray for me!)) I've been active in "Church music" since I was in College Seminary. I think it's incredibly necessary for priests today to have a good musical foundation. I think every priest should be an "active church musician" in some sense as they lead prayer and are responsible for the music in their parish. Maybe not as much as myself or some of my friends in seminary, but being able to sing in the proper key, chant the propers and orations, know the Church's documents on music and the tradition of Catholic Liturgical music is absolutely necessary.

    I sub as the organist regularly at our Cathedral and other parishes, direct our Seminary Community Choir/Chamber Orchestra Lessons and Carols & Lenten "Cantata/Oratorio," as well as the Byzantine Schola among other musical things. In college I took a number of Liturgical music classes, organ/voice lessons, internships, etc. But I never graduated with a musical degree. I do wish I had one though.

    For "fun" last year, a Hymn tune I wrote won a contest. I've also arranged/written other pieces for some of our seminary groups. Many of my classmates and seminary friends are accomplished pianists, organists, directors, composers, etc. I think a large part of my friends and my musical "gifts" is the emphasis our Seminary places on good, and beautiful Catholic Music. Every day we chant the Psalms to the beautiful Meinrad Psalm Tones. The grounding in chant that we receive thanks to our daily prayer helps us to chant the Mass and prayers post-ordination with care and love.

    When I was a child, the pastor who baptized me would have another priest cover one Mass a weekend so that he could play the organ for the Mass. I know many seminarians and priests that use their musical skills to help form and grow their parish music programs and help their choirs later on. I think it also helps them work towards just payment for musicians in their parishes. (Something which I think we are coming to a greater understanding of if we want good and beautiful music for our prayer.)

    Music and priesthood go hand in hand. That's a no-brainer.

  • Fr. Eduard Perrone. Of course, he's not active as a priest right now.:-( Fr. John Zuhlsdorf was musically trained before entering the priesthood. My pastor Fr. John Valencheck was in music and musical theatre, and can play an adequate organ and a mean button-box.

    I do a lot of music by priest-composers and, to be honest, the chief virtue of it is generally that it's easy and of appropriate style. Composer-priests tend to confirm the rule by not being very good priests (e.g., Vivaldi)
  • stulte
    Posts: 355
    Composer-priests tend to confirm the rule by not being very good priests (e.g., Vivaldi)

    That seems a tad unfair as a generalization. Victoria (and plenty others in Italy and Spain, and not just in the 1500s) were both skilled composers and dutiful priests.
  • tandrews
    Posts: 163
    We have a young priest at the Cathedral who is an accomplished singer and organist. He played the Bach B Minor P+F for our Halloween recital a couple of days ago! A couple of seminarians are also rather good at singing, and one of them (now a transitional deacon) helped out in a pinch to sing the Victoria reproaches and communion antiphons from Burgess and Palmer for the Good Friday liturgy this year.
    Thanked by 1Little_Durufle
  • ...reproaches...Burgess and Palmer...
    There are officially approved ritual texts for the reproaches. How did you get away with Palmer-Burgess for these - unless you are Ordinariate?
  • tandrews
    Posts: 163
    The chants used from Palmer-Burgess were from the communion section for Good Friday (Deus deus meus), to help fill time until the choir returned from communion. Rubrics say psalm 22 may be sung during distribution of communion. The reproaches from P-B were not used. Consider it a throwback to my time at St. Barnabas.
    Thanked by 1M. Jackson Osborn
  • Richard MixRichard Mix
    Posts: 2,777
    There are indeed official ritual translations for Good Friday, but I don't think they have equal status with the Ordinary texts and USCCB gives an escape clause:
    The Roman Missal gives specific directions as to the music used during the adoration. The antiphons We adore your Cross, O Lord, the reproaches, the hymns Faithful Cross, or other suitable songs are sung.
  • MarkB, add one more to your purple list: ex-Father Owen Alstott OSB.

    And I can think of one who deserves to not be in purple: Fr. Samuel Weber OSB. He has done wonders with Roman Missal chants.
  • That seems a tad unfair as a generalization.

    The Renaissance is a whole other matter, as I thought to make clear and didn't.Though there was the benefice system; being paid to be a priest somewhere and not actually being there seems to me to be the epitome of bad priesthood.
  • GambaGamba
    Posts: 542
    ...being paid to be a priest somewhere and not actually being there seems to me to be the epitome of bad priesthood.

    What if you’re incardinated in, say, Velletri-Segni, or assigned to Sant'Agata de' Goti?
    Thanked by 1Liam
  • ...epitome of bad...
    Not only priests, but abbots, bishops, and everyone else were often 'absentee prelates'. This was common, very common, in the Church for centuries and was one of the things addressed (rather ineffectively, I think) by Trent.
  • bhcordovabhcordova
    Posts: 1,155

    We still have the problem. Almost every cardinal is an 'absentee prelate'
  • chonakchonak
    Posts: 9,181
    Is the assignment of cardinals as nominal Roman clergy, with appointments to various parishes, really a problem to those parishes?
  • Surely, Chickson, you’re overlooking Robert Grossteste - an ENGLISHMAN! - who called out the Pope in the twelfth century for promoting the practice of “absentee bishops”?

    And as far as Trent is concerned - remember that Borromeo (whose feast is today, Ora pro nobis) one of the prime promoters of the council, actually sponsored a group of English seminarians of his own accord, with the hopes that they would return and re-evangelize their old country.

    Exceptions to the rule perhaps. But try and show a little deference?
    Thanked by 2tomjaw Incardination
  • ...(whose feast is today...
    Ahh, Borromeo!
    'Twas he who considered lace un-Roman and decadent (as did Fortescue).
    Both were possessed (obviously) of an extra-ordinary perspicacity and exquisite judgment.
  • Oddly enough, Fortescue vigorously enforced the Classical pronunciation of Latin at St Hugh.
  • BruceL
    Posts: 1,072
    We're fortunate to have one here in Birmingham (well, not resident yet) who is also a member of this forum and has been to colloquia: Fr. Justin Ward. He has two organ degrees from Samford U and was at two Louisiana cathedrals before discerning his vocation and being ordained this past Spring! Here is the order for his First Mass!
  • Richard MixRichard Mix
    Posts: 2,777
    Vivaldi's exemption from saying Mass came with a considerable pay cut, whether as sometimes rumored he was malingering or not. In a letter of 1737 he recalls:
    When I had barely been ordained as a priest I said Mass for a year or a little more. Then I discontinued it, having on three occasions had to leave the altar without completing it because of this ailment [asthma].
  • jcr
    Posts: 132
    We have worked with a couple of priests who were quite good singers and that didn't ever cause any problem in itself. They were very different kinds of men, but were supportive of our work, generally. I know of one situation where the priest in question had a graduate degree in organ and was a real pain for the resident organist. It all depends on the people involved.
    Thanked by 1PaxMelodious
  • If only Vivaldi had used EP2, he could've gotten out of Mass well before his asthma flared up.
  • Fr. Garrick Huang, FSSP, was a professional opera singer before entering the Fraternity.
  • I've always wondered about Vivaldi. If his health prevented him from saying Mass, how did he manage to compose, play, conduct and teach?

    Here's another recent story of a priest who is trained as a musician and is advocating for pipe organs:,2165
    Thanked by 1CHGiffen
  • Another priest from the Fraternity who started off his career in opera is the legendary Fr. Michael Mageira.

    There are quite a few musically inclined priests and seminarians in the order to which I aspire to join - the pastor at one of my old parishes was a former organist. An interesting caveat brought up by Kevin Allen to me - beware of priests who THINK they are musicians, as these are the ones who tend to micro-manage the music program. (Those priests who tend to be more musically astute usually follow a laissez-faire attitude to music programs at their parishes.) Your results may vary, of course!
  • ghmus7
    Posts: 1,473
    I know many priests, rectors and seminarians who are superb musicians. As Stimsoninrehab noted, I also know many mediocre priests who wish to run a music program. I generally steer as clear as possible...though in some cases, if you need to eat, compromise is a reality.
    Thanked by 1StimsonInRehab
  • Liam
    Posts: 5,003
    Consider the curé of L'église de la Madeleine in Paris, who rebuked Gabriel Fauré in the sacristy after the premiere of the latter's setting of the Requiem Mass in said church: "Voyons, monsieur Fauré, nous n'avons pas besoin de toutes ces nouveautés; le répertoire de la Madeleine est bien assez riche, contentez-vous-en!" ["Come, monsieur Fauré, we do not need all these novelties; the repertory of the Madeleine is rich enough - be satisfied!"]
  • ghmus7
    Posts: 1,473
    The best quote I recall is by one of the administrators of the Thomaskircke in Lepzig: they had tried to hire Telemann, but he was not avaliable so he said " well, since we could not get the best, we will have to settle for Bach".
    Thanked by 1francis
  • And they settled for Bach for 27 years!
    Thanked by 1francis
  • Nisi
    Posts: 149
    The priesthood didn't work out for Russell Woollen, a brilliant composer. Anyone know his Mass in the Major Modes? Very beautiful ...
    Thanked by 1Little_Durufle
  • Some additional priest-composers with music published since Vatican II:
    Fr. Joseph Gelineau. SJ; Fr. A. Gregory Murray, OSB; Fr. Lucien Deiss, CSSp; Fr. Joseph Roff; Fr. Ralph Verdi, CPPS; Fr. Angelo della Picca; Fr. Clarence Rivers; Fr. Timothy (Frank) Schoen, OSB; Fr. Willard Jabusch; Fr. Clifford Howell, SJ; Fr. Chrysogonus Waddell, OCSO; Fr. Gerard Farrell, OSB; Fr. Eugene Lindusky, OSC; Fr. Christopher Willcock, SJ; Fr. Peter Jones; Fr. Columba Kelly, OSB; Fr. Francis Patrick O’Brien; Fr. Anthony Ruff, OSB; Fr. Ronald Krisman; Fr. Harry Hagan, OSB; Fr. Gregory Polan, OSB.

    Although not a priest, Br. Howard Hughes, SM has many published compositions.
  • If we're just looking at names:
    Here's a list of pre-V2 composers in Holy Orders.It's not filtered beyond that, but the sisters are easy enough to identify, and the vast majority of the rest were priests.
  • We have a number of priest-musicians in the ordinariate. Some, such as the ordinariate's vicar general, have degrees in music. All our numerous seminarians sing. We do not, like the orthodox, refuse to ordain a man who cannot sing, but of our priests any who don't sing are definitely in a very small minority.
    The most insidious disease in the church, which should have been stanched mercilessly at its beginning, is the widespread (universal?) notion (only in the west) that singing liturgy is optional.
  • The most insidious disease in the church, which should have been stanched mercilessly at its beginning, is the widespread (universal?) notion that singing liturgy is optional.

    I'm with you on that 100%.
  • a_f_hawkins
    Posts: 3,409
    Chantry priests muttering away in various corners of a cathedral at the same time makes suppression of singing inevitable.
    Thanked by 1Liam
  • Your chantry priests, and the mediaeval proliferation of monk priests, all of whom needed to 'say' their daily mass. is exactly where it all started. And, what a sorry day that was. The orthodox reflect what was once universal in the Church, i.e. regarding spoken worship as the bizarre novelty that it is.
    Thanked by 1hilluminar
  • Fr. James J. Chepponis! Fr. Carlo Rossini!
  • ghmus7
    Posts: 1,473
    Fr. Chepponis: it's good to hear from you on this forum!