Can I play the organ during Lent?
  • Neil Weston makes a case for the role of the organ in Lent.


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  • If you have hands (or feet!), you probably can.



    Jokes aside though, it is allowed to support the singing. I have seen some translations that read "if necessary" to support the singing. I would argue that it's not necessary, and if your singers are so dependent on the organ that in order to sing chant year round they need to be accompanied, you have a serious problem.

    As the article says well, the organ has the ability to define different moods in a profoundly affecting way. But if the default for the rest of the year is use of the organ, the organ's complete silence during Lent would have a very profound effect. Ideally, I would want to do "Lenty" sounding organ music in Septuagesima season, and then drop the organ completely on Ash Wednesday (without doing any damage to the instrument, haha). The letter of the law allows the organ to still accompany though, so just use good tastes whatever you decide.
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  • MatthewRoth
    Posts: 1,821
    For those using the TLM, it’s worth spelling out that Benediction even after Mass or Vespers is not a function of the temporale, so organ is allowed; ditto the First –day votive Masses or feasts or communion outside of the Mass.

    I am of the French maximalist school, so not everyone can or will do that. But I find that the Triduum is most dramatic when we have organ as much as is possible according to the rubrics, before dropping it after the Gloria of Holy Thursday.
  • I accompany hymns on 8' and 4' stops during Lent to give the congregation a little support. Nothing else gets accompanied and prelude/interludes/postlude get dropped (except on Laetare of course, when all bets are off). I find that it's a good balance and it still respects the rubrics.
  • We’ll be having a bongo drum, two guitars lightly strumming, and a clarinet on each Sunday of Lent, following the octavos we recently bought from a major publisher that advised us our celebrations would be incomplete without them.
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  • FSSPmusic
    Posts: 185
    ditto the First –day votive Masses or feasts or communion outside of the Mass
    The rules are spelled out in the 1958 instruction:
    on holy days of obligation, and holidays (except Sundays), on the feasts of the principal local patron saint, the titular day, and the dedication anniversary of the local church, the titular or founder’s day of a religious congregation, and on the occasion of some extraordinary solemnity
    In Matters Liturgical, Wuest interprets the restriction as applying equally when the Office is not de tempore. The Ceremoniale enumerates the feasts of Ss. Mathias, Thomas Aquinas, Gregory the Great, Joseph, and the Annunciation "et similibus" as days celebrated with solemnity during Advent and Lent. The organ may be played and the altar decorated with flowers on the occasion of a First Communion of children even during Lent (S.R.C. 3448). If nuptial Masses are permitted during Advent and Lent, that also constitutes an occasion of (extraordinary?) solemnity. But third-class votive Masses for monthly devotions? Probably not!

    As for organ playing during the distribution of Communion outside of Mass, is that an actual thing anywhere these days? Since it is a liturgical function, it would seem to be forbidden to play the organ then except on days when organ playing is permitted at Mass.
  • Liam
    Posts: 4,901
    What's necessary for choristers may differ from what's necessary for a congregation that is presumably also singing parts of the Mass.
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  • Liam, I suppose, but if the congregation is just singing simple chants, I think they could follow the choir if the choir is singing strongly and confidently enough.

    Perhaps certain congregations are conditioned to only sing with the organ, and it is more of a phycological issue than a question of actual need. I could be wrong though.

    But if the congregation was expected to sing without having much of a choir to lead/support them, I can certainly imagine the organ being needed then.
  • MatthewRoth
    Posts: 1,821
    The 1958 instruction trips over itself and is far too restrictive, without any actual pastoral reference point, to be of any value for people actually trying to use the Roman rite. You can argue from the assumption that pastors and musicians were all grumbly but ultimately obedient in public, but does anyone seriously think that all of a sudden they stopped accompanying the Mass and Office of the Dead? After all, virtually all of the accompaniment books have accompaniment for the Requiem Mass, yet this prohibition long predates De Musica sacra. Indeed, only Leo XIII's revision of the ceremonial finally permitted figured music at the Requiem Mass — as if that had stopped anyone before.

    Did anyone bother to ask Rome about the extent of the prohibition in a definitive way? Or to ask why they had abolished the previous understanding (in penitential seasons, no Te Deum —> no Gloria —> folded chasubles —> no solo organ and no flowers on the altar; by instruction of the SRC, the vigils of saints got the same treatment, but they at least bothered to spell this out).

    The instruction does not explicitly abrogate the previous permissions and tries to (badly) harmonizing the previous legislation with the new stuff, which is patently ridiculous. And why follow 1962 strictly when the church would abandon that in less than a decade when you could follow the much more sensible (and generous) custom that existed at the very least from 1903 until 1958 if not longer? I would just not want to hitch my wagon to "it's bad to play the organ at First Friday Mass, but it's perfectly OK on Good Friday, because the NO allows that explicitly, despite the immemorial custom of the Roman rite."

    We find the following in De concentibus in ecclesiis (Instruction on Concerts in Churches, published by the Congregation for Divine Worship in 1987:

    In accordance with tradition, the organ should remain silent during penitential seasons (Lent and Holy Week), during Advent and Liturgy for the dead. When, however, there is real pastoral need, the organ can be used to support the singing.


    That is a far more generous permission; even if solo organ is not allowed on Good Friday, it completely rejects everything which came before on this point.

    As to nuptial Masses, the bishop had to grant permission for those, and he could place limitations on the solemnity, particularly in Lent. So they don't really count as a way to measure the exceptions, because, while they're not celebrations of the temporal cycle, they're just not supposed to happen at all.

    Anyway, the SRC did not expressly abrogate the permission to play the organ (for a just cause, for a serious cause, whatever…) on the feast of saints, on other solemn functions, or when the function is totally independent of the office of time.

    Also, if you follow the logic to its conclusion, then there was a three-year period where Gaudete Sunday and Laetare Sunday did not get an exception after Musicam Sacram was issued, and then the NO by way of the GIRM sort of makes sense of things again by confirming the exception and allowing the organ on feasts (in the sense of the rank) as well as on solemnities.

    But I suppose this is the trap of insisting on 1962.
  • davido
    Posts: 848
    Noel, I like how Mr Weston’s article assumes that if I do not play preludes and postludes in Lent, there will be silence in my church.
    When in reality it just means parishioners won’t have to talk over the organ…
  • FSSPmusic
    Posts: 185
    MatthewRoth, the 1958 instruction explicitly permits accompaniment at Mass and Vespers year-round, even at times when solo organ is prohibited, except during the Triduum. There is no prohibition against accompanying the Requiem Mass! As for a pastoral reference point, it also includes the provision that
    Local Ordinaries may determine more precisely the application of these prohibitions, and permissions according to the approved local or regional customs.
    What do you mean by "insisting on 1962"? You either follow the rubrics and legislation that pertain to your rite or you don't.
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  • LarsLars
    Posts: 113
    do organists get paid during Lent?
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  • MatthewRoth
    Posts: 1,821
    The problem with the Office of the Dead is that the accompaniment was not allowed, ever, and the Caeremoniale says as much. So now we have a situation where it’s kind of allowed at Mass or Vespers, but the actual book was never amended to fix this — but in any case, this was a custom equally as longstanding as playing the organ as usual on feasts falling in Lent, and it’s the (only) office of the day on Nov. 2. So you have at least one day a year where the organ is not used but isn’t the Triduum, apparently by rubric and not by custom (nothing prohibits the organ at the minor hours and at Compline — except apparently on Sundays — it just was very rare).

    And again, I note that it took centuries to actually reflect not just abuse but reality, things which we automatically accept as good.

    Why insist on an ambiguous provision of 1962 when Rome would rather that we not even have even that? This is all very foreign to me.

    I should mention too that, particularly after 1960’s severing of Lauds from Matins, Lauds is a mirror of Vespers; even if you think that Lauds shrinks after being reflected, such that you strictly observe the Roman custom and only incense the choir altar (so that Vespers is always grander), I don’t see why that you should exclude the organ. But that’s what the instruction does. This is nonsensical and basically kills the possibility of ever having Lauds — now more or less academic, but you’d have thought that this wasn’t so in the 1950s and early 1960s where Lauds was still done in cathedrals.
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  • tomjaw
    Posts: 2,676
    As for insisting on 1962, it is no more. The rubrics and calendar have been altered by Cum Sanctissma and Quo magis
  • FSSPmusic
    Posts: 185
    In 1886 the Ceremoniale (I.XXVIII.13) was amended with the "silent organa, cum silet cantus" rubric for Mass of the dead (but not Vespers), which goes on to say that silence of the organ is also fitting for ferias of Advent and Lent. Changes in 1958 are that accompaniment is allowed for Vespers of the dead but solo organ playing is no long tolerated for the penitential ferias. What is the "ambiguous provision of 1962" that you mention?
  • CharlesW
    Posts: 11,927
    I always used it to accompany singing, but that is all. Except for "Pink Sunday" when I used it like any other Sunday. I don't see the point in dragging up these old documents that have been superseded by more current regulations. However, in practice from what I have observed, it seems everyone is doing as they please.
  • FSSPmusic
    Posts: 185
    CharlesW, I was mainly responding to MatthewRoth's "For those using the TLM" bit. I don't think there's been anything that's superseded the 1958 instruction for us. The GIRM's prohibition is so widely disregarded that it might as well be a dead letter.
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  • davido
    Posts: 848
    Much like the GIRM’s prohibition of eulogies at funerals.
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  • LarsLars
    Posts: 113
    The church says no profane music, and yet there is nothing but profane music.
    The church says no secular instruments - yet its all steel-string strummed guitars, keyboards, fiddles and everything else except organ.
    The church tells us to sing the Mass, to preserve gregorian chant, and yet 99% of the parishes i've been theres none of that.
    I once asked a priest what he though about not playing the organ during lent, he told me the rules are meant to be broken.. This is the kind of revolutionary spirit we are dealing with.
    Some rogue organist playing "O Mensch, bewein' dein' Sünde groß" during lent would be the least of my worries. In fact I wish that was the case instead of all this other madness.
  • Organ is allowed only to support the singing where the singers need the assistance. The only exception is Lætare Sunday and Solemnities, and the Gloria on Holy Thursday (which isn’t Lent), after which no bells or instruments are permitted. We even used to get so legalistic as to not allow a pitch pipe.


    We’ll be having a bongo drum, two guitars lightly strumming, and a clarinet on each Sunday of Lent, following the octavos we recently bought from a major publisher that advised us our celebrations would be incomplete without them.


    Will the clarinet be played by a beginner who hasn’t figured out how to not have reed squeaks and squawks?

    This sounds absolutely dreadful.
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  • ServiamScores
    Posts: 2,697
    We even used to get so legalistic as to not allow a pitch pipe.
    Oh dear. Talk about getting lost in the minutia.
  • CHGiffenCHGiffen
    Posts: 5,137
    What about a tuning fork?
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  • FSSPmusic
    Posts: 185
    I don't think giving pitches on the organ constitutes sonus or pulsare, but if it does, I don't see how the use of pitch pipe, tuning fork, or a smartphone app wouldn't also constitute playing a musical instrument. A little common sense goes a long way here. The pertinent legislation frames the playing of instruments in the context of "embellishment of the sacred liturgy," and giving starting pitches is hardly that.
  • We’ll be having a bongo drum, two guitars lightly strumming, and a clarinet on each Sunday of Lent, following the octavos we recently bought from a major publisher that advised us our celebrations would be incomplete without them.

    Talk about a penance…
  • Padster
    Posts: 40
    A good rule would be to have no organ at all during Lent. This would be unequivocal, and would give the poor, overworked organist a six week break. That would be a good rule.
    But this current rule is a ridiculous, unworkable rule, because it is regularly flouted. It is also rather an insult. Not to a chord bashing amateur who barely practices, I might add, but to a serious musician who puts his/her heart and soul into the music. In the past my parish usually ignored this stupid rule, but now they have gone and printed it in the newsletter, which means I have to stick to it, something I will make them suffer for. Because they will soon realise it is thoroughly unworkable, for we have no choir as such to sing during communion or reception of ashes, and I'll have to sit on my hands.
    I hope we dont get any funerals during Lent.
  • MatthewRoth
    Posts: 1,821
    My point is that the rule does not actually abrogate the permission to play at the offices and Mass of the saints or at other non-temporal functions (which I already mentioned). My guess as to why Benediction is excluded is that it follows an office of the temporal cycle directly.

    DMS implies the abrogation, one might say. But in the absence of a clarification, the old provisions are still there to be used — and all sorts of good things were done that defied previous legislation. I don’t really care about the silly stuff. I care about whether using the Victoria Requiem was licit before Leo XIII. It wasn’t, not according to the letter. But it is good, and rejecting it is silly.

    And if you really think that this is the case, then it’s only right to admit that they “messed up” explicitly banned solo organ on Sundays where rose was permitted by omitting the exception in 1967, only to reinstitute the express permission in the GIRM…

    But I don’t think that it’d be reasonable to do that.
  • I hope we dont get any funerals during Lent.


    Well, regardless of whether or not they're during Lent, solo organ music is prohibited at them either way...
  • Padster
    Posts: 40
    Yes, I know. I was being ironic.
  • davido
    Posts: 848
    Since the use of organ during penitential seasons causes such dispute, I often wonder why? Is it because people are too Protestant, and won’t follow the rules? Is it because a one size fits all approach to liturgical traditions is ill advised? Why must the liturgy be a cappella, but paraliturgies can have organ music? (rather arbitrary)

    I sometimes wonder what liturgical traditions were like when there were local liturgical uses? before everyone adopted the Roman use in order to fight Protestantism? or before every liturgical question was appealed to Roman bureaucracy for solution?
    The greatest genius of the Italians is not organ building. Maybe this was always the case, and a reason why organ playing is limited in Rome?
    Maybe in places where the native musical genius and taste of the people inclined more toward organ music (Germany, France, England) Rome should have allowed more leeway in developing appropriate sacred music traditions?
    Is there not a hint of politics or local chauvinism in saying that the music must be just like the music of the (Italian/latin) Romans, and if not you might be a bad Catholic?
    At what point is a local church old enough to grow into some traditions of its own?
  • Liam
    Posts: 4,901
    FWIW: One might argue Protestants (at least many denominations until the uniquely American ones hatched) are more about following rules than Roman Catholics, esp of the non-Northern European kind. If anything, Italian and other many other Catholics have long been famed for honoring rules in the breach; it's a different cultural relationship with law and rules.
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  • ServiamScores
    Posts: 2,697
    Since the use of organ during penitential seasons causes such dispute, I often wonder why?
    I will hazard the following thoughts:
    1.) we abhor silence (culturally speaking). It makes many people very uncomfortable. (Ironically, it is very good for us.)
    2a.) people think the liturgy is about what they want, and not about what GOD wants. That’s why if they don’t like it, they leave.
    2b.) the notion of sacrificing and “nothing is too good for God” has largely been lost. This has untold implications. Part of that is fostering good choirs, and the effort and sacrifice it takes to sing in them. Iffy choirs means a real difficulty in pulling off nice masses without (or with very little) organ.
    3.) there is VERY limited understanding of living out liturgical seasons. People think mass should broadly be the same, but only which hymns we sing should change. The concept that the Lenten and Easter seasons should be RADICALLY different from a liturgical perspective is lost on many people. Most people don’t order their lives around the liturgical year. They aren’t living it, and they don’t understand it, hence there is friction to the idea of changing their experience of mass in what seems (to them) an “arbitrary” way.
    4.) not that many places are actually well-primed to appropriately accommodate the rubrics in an ideal form. Poorly catechized congregations led by part-time musicians who have no formal musical training (and almost universally no LITURGICAL training) makes for a perfect storm. Then the rubrics are perceived as onerous or unrealistic. Given the fact that so many people are not genuinely serious about the faith, it makes it easy to justify bending them.
    5.) the last few generations of Catholics have lived through crap liturgies (writ large) and have no firmly ensconced model to live up to. Everything is in flux, and every parish is different. It makes it hard to know what you’re missing, and it also makes it hard to be the only parish in the area doing the right thing. The weight of (misinformed) cultural expectation becomes sisypherian in proportion (or so it feels at times).
    6.)the phrases “ alius cantus aptus” and “for pastoral reasons” will work their magic until the end of time. The number of liturgical and musical atrocities justified by these phrases are in the untold millions. As long as there are loopholes, people will make very good use of them to suit their own ends.
  • Padster
    Posts: 40
    If there are loopholes, the Church put them there. How about an unequivocal 'no organ AT ALL during Lent'? I would wholeheartedly support that, because everyone would know where they stand. This current rule is half-baked, and indeed the opportunity to flout it is baked in.
  • ServiamScores
    Posts: 2,697
    I’m not entirely certain that the issue is the fact that holy mother church allows exceptions in cases of need; I think the bigger issue is the fact that almost every modern church chooses to live squarely in exception land, rather than live according to the rule, unless there’s a legitimate reason not to.

    I can very easily see a case being made for permitting musical exceptions in mission territories that are literally in third-world countries were literacy rates are low and they don’t know how to sing from the chant books. But first-world churches with professional musicians and fully literate congregations? Living solely in exception land is much harder to justify.
  • a_f_hawkins
    Posts: 3,339
    Fully literate?
    Half of U.S. adults can’t read a book written at the 8th-grade level.
    — Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development
  • davido
    Posts: 848
    1. I think the discussion here about organ restrictions is really in the context of people who know and care about what the church teaches on music, not in the context of most parishes which use pop music/piano/guitar all the time. So putting aside the fact that pop style music holds sway in most Catholic churches,

    2. if we followed church instruction and publications on sacred music, we would have something like this:

    Cathedral/big parishes: SATB choirs, a cappella rep from
    - Graduale Romanum
    - Palestrina & co, Byrd & co. (Tudors), Bruckner & co., Biebl & co., etc

    Small parishes: unison choirs, a cappella rep from
    - Graduale Simplex
    - Jubilate Deo booklet
    - maybe SAB motets (Jesu Rex admirabilis of Palestrina)

    I think that humans are too creative to be content with the conservative nature of those offerings. The creative spirit that manifests through the ages (sequences, tropes, polyphony, organ schools, orchestral masses, etc) is constantly in a sort of conflict with the old Roman severity. It seems to me that there is a real human impulse here that should be formally embraced.
  • francis
    Posts: 10,639
    I have always felt bad that I cannot play the organ during Lent or the Requiem. There is so much music that evokes the proper ethos to those occasions, that it is hard to reckon the rule of law with the desire to express a musical pathos which is so agreeable to the subject of penitence, agony, suffering and death.
  • ServiamScores
    Posts: 2,697
    It seems to me that there is a real human impulse here that should be formally embraced.
    V2 did I struct composers to expand the treasury of sacred music. It is natural for each generation to want to leave its mark.

    I have always felt bad that I cannot play the organ during Lent or the Requiem.
    The requiem is one area where I bend the rules, because it can be deeply uncomfortable for people who are really grieving hard, to have to sit and listen to someone sobbing. So I will lightly cover that up. I will also take the opportunity to play those chant melodies which, for whatever reason, cannot be sung. That way there is an echo of the proper music, even if it is not fully manifest.
  • Ariasita
    Posts: 30
    Yes.