The Application of Tra le Sollecitudini on OF and EF
  • Isaac
    Posts: 16
    Dear all,

    While keeping this email anonymous, this is a reply by a priest regarding my proposal for the invitation of a guest amateur choir, which I sing in (which comprises Catholics and non Catholics and women) to merely sing O Magnum Mysterium by Lauridsen at Midnight Mass this year.

    In response to my proposal which is a result of my choir mistress who would like to edify the worship at a Catholic Mass (no concert here, just her gift offering), the priest replies:

    Tra le Sollecitudini
    Instruction on Sacred Music
    Pope Pius X

    V. The singers

    13. On the same principle it follows that singers in church have a real liturgical office, and that therefore women, being incapable of exercising such office, cannot be admitted to form part of the choir. Whenever, then, it is desired to employ the acute voices of sopranos and contraltos, these parts must be taken by boys, according to the most ancient usage of the Church.

    VII. The length of the liturgical chant
    22. It is not lawful to keep the priest at the altar waiting on account of the chant or the music for a length of time not allowed by the liturgy… In general it must be considered a very grave abuse when the liturgy in ecclesiastical functions is made to appear secondary to and in a manner at the service of the music, for the music is merely a part of the liturgy and its humble handmaid.

    Prummer's Moral Theology: "The Holy Office on 1 May 1889 declared that the custom of using non-Catholic singers for liturgical singing is an abuse that ought to be eliminated." (Vol. 1, n. 525).

    Dear XXX,

    Above are some references that I have found that I think will give a good answer to your questions. Non-Catholics should not be in a Catholic choir since the choir takes a real part in the liturgy. Communicatio in sacris (participation of Catholics and non-Catholics in the same worship) has been forbidden by the old Code of Canon Law. Likewise women should not sing in the choir, especially the liturgical chant. I know this is not always followed but when possible the correct manner of acting ought to be followed. The church has enough men to sing. (my-comments: the Church choir is a group of men struggling to perform difficult works)

    Regarding the length, the singing ought to accompany the ceremonies. It ought not to interfere with then, for example by delaying them. At Christmas there is often a tendency to use churches as concert halls before the midnight Mass. Others will have a different opinion, but I remember St. Augustine saying that he felt guilty if he admired the singing more than what was sung. The frame of a picture ought not to distract from the picture but rather to enhance it subtly in the background.

    I am pleased that the choir is enthusiastic, but be careful not to confuse the means with the end. Singing is just a means and our focus must be on the end of uniting our hearts to our Lord. The two are compatible in theory, but in practice the polish attracts more than the wood.

    Sorry to be the wet blanket, but I trust you will understand.

    May God bless you and your good efforts to enhance the divine worship.

    Thus, what i'd like to discuss is how relevant are these norms for the today of liturgical music 'performance' assisting Holy Mass. I cannot elaborate in microscopic details but I have to ask most of you to respond based on the arguments put forth by the priest, assuming that everything else is good and well (that there is no hidden agenda of making it into a performance).

    What thinkest thou?

  • This comment to you confirms what I've begun to suspect, that that whole issue of women singing liturgical chant is still alive at some level. The SSPX even reaffirms this in its FAQ: singing chant is a liturgical office which women cannot fulfill and therefore they may not sing in the choir. But then the exceptions begin: it's fine when women are singing the chant in their own communities and also even it parishes when "it is necessary for solemnity." The SSPX doesn't quote Pius XII, who undid these restrictions by legislation cited in De Musica Sacra, paragraph 100 (1956).

    It's sad to me to see how often the opponents of sacred music quote PX on these matters as a way of discrediting the whole of Tra le. The goal here is to identify sacred music with a reactionary agenda that conforms to all the paranoias of a certain breed of political thinking. It's probably about time that this whole issue be confronted directly.

    For my part, I can't understand the defunct PX rule, which already builds in too many exceptions to make sense of the principle. If women can't fulfill the liturgical office, how is it that they suddenly can under certain conditions such a convents or when solemnity requires it? There is also a matter of history here: women sang in William Byrd's choirs for Catholic Masses, a fact which is part of the record. It is utterly ridiculous these days too to imagine that boys could fulfill this role (Peter Phillips points out to that boys choir were far more rare than we might think). In the 16th century, boys' voices changed much later, at the age of 19 or 20. Then there is the really odd history of the castrati that further complicates the history here. In any case, conditions today make boys choirs so highly specialized as to be impractical in all but the most rarified conditions.

    There seems to be some underlying problem with the way PX imagined the role of the choir as quasi-clerical -- and hence non-Catholics can't sing, women can't sing, and perhaps people in a state of mortal sin can't sing. A friend wrote me just last week and said "I think a far more useful -- and more ancient -- concept is that of the choir singing in the place of, and indeed alongside of, the chorus angelorum."
  • Jeffrey said "There is also a matter of history here: women sang in William Byrd's choirs for Catholic Masses, a fact which is part of the record."

    Hi Jeffrey, can you point me to the record you mention? As a music historian, I was surprised to learn this. I don't however, specialize in English music, so this could just have slipped through the cracks. I do, however, want to get up to speed on this.

  • (Perhaps this comment should become a new thread; that's the moderator's discretion).

    The whole issue of women in liturgical roles has many interesting facets. One little wrinkle I never thought of, which was brought to my attention by the woman who is responsible for the training of the altar BOYS at St. Agnes in St. Paul, MN (Fr. Z's "home" for many years, and also home of +Msr. Schuller) said that when she's consulted to assist with training of "servers" in other parishes her first question is if there are both boys and girls serving. If the answer is yes, she charitably explains that the presence of girls amid the boys actually dramatically decreases the number of boys who would otherwise want to serve, but choose not to. She and the whole formation staff at St. Agnes believe that the servers should be boys exclusively for many reasons, not the least of which is it serves as early formation for boys who later may wish to become priests. (I won't go into the curiosity that a woman, albeit one of great faith and dedication to her work, is responsible for the training of a ministry in her church that doesn't permit women to serve at the altar. I understand it. . . I just find it a curious dichodomy).

    It should be no great surprise that St. Agnes sends more young men to seminary than any other parish in the diocese.

    While I can't say that there would be a connection between the presence of women in the choir and serving as cantor/psalmists (I have no male cantor/psalmists at this time, save for one who is a member of the choir, and only chants the psalm at that Mass) and the priesthood, I do wonder what effect it would have on the attitude of the congregation and on the Mass itself if we had a men's choir exclusively for singing the Mass.
  • RobertRobert
    Posts: 343
    When interpreting this section of Tra le one has to distinguish between (a) the choir in a solemn liturgy at a large oratory who would be located in the sanctuary and (b) the parish schola ordinarily located in a choir loft. Only the former is a "choir" in the strict sense, being the "choir of levites" made up of clerics (or "straw" replacements). Hence the term "choir dress" to designate what a cleric wears when he attends a liturgy without fulfilling a role at the altar.

    Just as it was permissable in a parish for a religious sister to make the responses at Mass in the absence of a server, but only from outside the sanctuary (i.e. from a pew), so it was permissable in a parish for women to sing the schola's parts, but only from outside the sanctuary (i.e. from the choir loft).

    None of these considerations apply to the OF as non-clerics are no longer verboten in the sanctuary.
  • rich_enough
    Posts: 1,038
    I believe I heard somewhere that the Vatican gave indults to the men-only rule for choirs to most of the diocese in the US, so this rule would be, for all intents and purposes, not applicable. Perhaps someone knows more about this.

    Sam Schmitt
  • The SSPX does not apply what Tra le sollicitudine specified everywhere. It depends on the local situation, and in most, if not all places does not have the ideal situation. I've seen a fully female choir singing in an SSPX church in the Philippines, and they sing everything both propers and motets...I suppose due to the lack of men able to sing or volunteering their voices.

    Therefore I cannot agree with the position of the priest above given the situation in most locations today.
  • The details on Byrd are cited at wikipedia. I email Peter Phillips about it and he confirmed.
  • Fortescue-O'Connell puts the schola in the sanctuary along with the clerical choir and states that they should be in cassock and surplice. This is for the Office, but I haven't gotten into the Mass section yet.

  • Thank you Jeffery and congrats on your cameo on EWTN,

    The passage "The three Masses and the two books of Gradualia, published over fifteen years, were Byrd's major contribution to the Roman rite. These were written for the intimate, even secretive, atmosphere of domestic worship, to be performed for a small group of skilled amateurs (which included women, according to contemporary accounts) and heard by a small congregation." indicates that this was a very special situation. Naturally secret Catholic Masses would not be bringing in 6 boys (a common number for polyphonic boy singers) for many practical reasons. Also, as I read this, the Masses were performed in a private chapel. Had Queen Mary still been on the throne, I doubt that any women would have sung Byrd's Masses in the churches of England. Now, this is historically interesting, but Jeffrey is correct about applying Pius X's proscriptions. There is no reason that a fine women's schola or mixed polyphonic group could not serve at a modern rendering of the EF or Divine Office. Vestments will be an issue, however. I don't think the Church yet favors women in cassock and surplice. Some guidance from Rome on this issue would be helpful.

This discussion has been closed.
All Discussions