Percussion Instruments in my Diocese
  • JohnPaul
    Posts: 14
    Hi everyone,
    Hopefully I can get some clarity on this. Some of the music ministers at my parish use percussion. Now, since they are instruments, that means that they must be approved by the local ordinary. As far as I know, our bishop has neglected to issue such approval (or disapproval) in my diocese. Although I am aware of nothing in writing, some music ministers at my parish claim that the bishop has, during private conversations, made statements that in some way approve or at least allow percussion instruments. Since these statements are not official, what weight do they have in supporting percussion in my diocese? Also, if someone could quote canon law or some official document regarding these informal oral statements and their weight and relation to official written documents, that would be wonderful.
    Thanks!
  • What kind of percussion instruments? There is a lot of difference between kettle drums and tambourines. Of course, you know that, but the point is that appropriate percussion along with a small orchestra or a consort of brass instruments on a great feast is quite a distance from the disgrace of tambourines and snare drums accompanying happy-clappy music on average Sundays.
  • Liam
    Posts: 4,050
    Are you the pastor, director of music, a music minister, or a congregant?
    Thanked by 2Adam Wood Gavin
  • Scott_WScott_W
    Posts: 456
    I'm sure someone here has the documentation and answers you are seeking (I haven't needed it since, thankfully, I only encounter those odious djembe and rainsticks in Mass when on vacation), but in the meantime, I echo the request for more context.
  • fcbfcb
    Posts: 273
    @MJO:
    Tambourines and snare drums have been incorporated into orchestral music for some time now. Isn't the issue really style of music rather than particular instruments?
    Thanked by 2Gavin mburrier
  • rogue63
    Posts: 410
    As a percussion major in my undergrad, I am amused every time I see anyone playing any percussion instrument during Mass. I spent hundreds of hours on tambourine, trying to get it right for all those difficult licks in Slavonic Dances, Pini di Roma, Carmen, Scheherezade---and it all gets reduced to backbeat banging in some places. Not to mention the hundreds of hours alone for the cymbal crashes in the Rachmaninov Piano Concerto #2; takes tremendous strength to play so softly. Too bad!
  • melofluentmelofluent
    Posts: 4,160
    Tambourines and snare drums have been incorporated into orchestral music for some time now. Isn't the issue really style of music rather than particular instruments?

    Fritz, I fear this thread will become another one that resembles the fable wherein three blind sages are tasked with describing the physical totality of an elephant.
    Some will quote 1903 TLS with S.PioX's banishment of percussion and "band" instrument as fundamental gospel. Others will make distinctions between types of instruments for types of music, citing certain Psalms, reminding all that dance was part and parcel to ancient worship. Some will not be able to distinguish between a snare drum and cymbals used for marching cadences, and either justify or reject other drums such as Scott's dred (see what I did there?) djembe, or cajon or timbales. Is a zimbelstern essentially any different than a rainstick or bell tree in effect? Wax on I could (Yoda.) What for? (Yogi Berra.)
    We often argue these sorts of issues with "proof texts" bolstering our preferences. But commenter Jim McCrea (@Catholic Sensibility) quite rightly observes that proof texts excised from context are de facto insufficient. Tambourines/Tympanies? Depends.
    Thanked by 1noel jones, aago
  • JohnPaul
    Posts: 14
    Here is the clarification:
    Percussion is not used at my parish in an orchestral context, unless you consider two guitars, a lady who can't carry a tune, and a few assorted singers to be an "orchestra". Lol. They mostly use tambourines, rainsticks, triangles, bongo drums, and assorted related percussion to "accompany" songs such as "Fly like a bird" and similar pieces from OCP.

    Although that clarifies the circumstances, I am more concerned at this point with determining the actual weight of the bishop's informal oral statements with regards to this discussion, as they are the only grounds for allowing such instruments in our diocese that I know of. If someone is familiar with a section from canon law or an official document of the church which would apply in this case, I would love to know about it.
  • rogue63
    Posts: 410
    The parish priest is the boss. That is the only canon law that matters to 99% of everyone involved. Go over his head and get yourself in trouble; very few care about documents. This is merely practical advice.
  • melofluentmelofluent
    Posts: 4,160
    Mike Joncas' little tome, FROM SACRED MUSIC TO LITURGICAL SONG, is a handy little digest of both legislative and advisory documents. Anthony Ruff's SACRED MUSIC AND LITURGICAL REFORM also deals with issues of what supersedes or abrogates what within these concerns. And as per usual, there is little consensus in their conclusions, no doubt due to purposeful ambiguity and translation issues. rogue63's advice wise is.
  • Liam
    Posts: 4,050
    JohnPaul

    It makes a huge practical difference *who* you are in the scheme of things. Are you the pastor, director of music, a music minister, or a congregant? Because on that question hinges whether you'd have a credible case for determining yourself the resolution of this question. We're a hierarchical church, and this is one of those things where that dimension of the church matters considerably..... If you're just a congregant or musician, you're generally out of luck on these things: a complaint, no matter how well argued, will simply go into the circular file, as it were.

    The nub of your problem, if you decide to pursue (PLAY theme of "Mission Impossible") is that the law does not specify the *form* in which a bishop's approval must be had and how much he may delegate to pastors (as in: I permit pastors to approve the use of this. Begin recursive loop of tape*). I would love for the office of worship for each diocese to be required to post all of its current local liturgical laws on the diocesan website. Won't happen. Why? Because it would require someone to comb records for generations, unless a bishop does a cleansing event and wipes the slate clean, which Catholic bishops are not wont to do because as a class they are taken from the pool of careful, prudent, un-rash people (there are exceptions, but that's a class description), so as a group the bishops would inveigh mightily against such a requirement....

    * Then burn the tape.
    Thanked by 1Gavin
  • JohnPaul
    Posts: 14
    More clarification: I am a music minister at my parish. We do not currently have a paid music director on the staff, so the pastor is the only one who can decide these things right now.
    Thankfully, my parish is a step ahead of some, in that if I can quote a document showing the official position of the church, the pastor is willing to listen and even act.
    In light of this, do any of you know of specific supporting quotes that might be useful in this discussion?
  • Liam
    Posts: 4,050
    Assuming you are in the USA, section 393 of the General Instruction of the Roman Missal (GIRM) (the second paragraph is specific to the USA):

    393. Bearing in mind the important place that singing has in a celebration as a necessary or integral part of the Liturgy, all musical settings for the texts of the Ordinary of Mass, for the people’s responses and acclamations, and for the special rites that occur in the course of the liturgical year must be submitted to the Secretariat of Divine Worship of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops for review and approval prior to publication.

    While the organ is to be accorded pride of place, other wind, stringed, or percussion instruments may be admitted into divine worship in the Dioceses of the United States of America, according to longstanding local usage, in so far as these are truly suitable for sacred use, or can be made suitable.

    * * *

    The pertinent question for your diocesan office for worship is if the bishop, current or past, of the diocese has made any determination about what "other wind, stringed, or percussion instruments" are NOT truly suitable for sacred use, or can NOT be made suitable. (A strict reading would invite a question that an affirmative determination be made rather than a negative one, but the position you're in means you're more likely to be ignored if you put it that way.)
  • ',,,according to longstanding local usage, insofar as these are truly suitable for sacred use, or can be made suitable.'

    This is an opening large enough to drive that truck through, isn't it. Like most such pronouncements, it sounds good but means nothing, nothing at all, except what any given person wishes it to mean.

    It is significant, though, that the single instrument mentioned in the documents of Vatican II is the organ. One would never know it in the majority of churches that use everything but the organ.
  • MatthewRoth
    Posts: 1,224
    MJO: the Missa Luba is a fine example of using percussion according to the GIRM’s norms. I cannot see, however, any way their use in these USA meets those high standards.
    Thanked by 1M. Jackson Osborn
  • Adam WoodAdam Wood
    Posts: 6,350
    More clarification: I am a music minister at my parish.

    One of many, or the music director?
    Thanked by 1Gavin
  • Liam
    Posts: 4,050
    Adam

    He explained there is no music director right now so the pastor is making decisions.
    Thanked by 2Adam Wood Gavin
  • ghmus7
    Posts: 1,221
    I can't imagine: 1. Any bishop having the time to answer a question like this and 2. any ruling that would make any difference in a local parish.
    Thanked by 1Gavin
  • melofluentmelofluent
    Posts: 4,160
    Concur. The only thing bishops seem to ever be mindful of should be filed under the "Congregational singing, Sacred Cow" thread.
  • CharlesW
    Posts: 10,510
    The only percussion in my loft on Sunday mornings may be me banging the head of a hippie musician against the console case - in time and observing all dynamic markings, of course. :-)
    Thanked by 1kenstb
  • melofluentmelofluent
    Posts: 4,160
    CDubya, might yours be that very hippie's head?
  • CharlesW
    Posts: 10,510
    No hippie, even vote Republican. It's those liberal guitar hippies that want to express themselves in the liturgy that earn my ire. LOL.

    In all seriousness, getting across the idea that the liturgy is not about individual likes and dislikes, nor about how one "feels" is one of the more difficult aspects of this job.
    Thanked by 2ClergetKubisz Gavin
  • While organ should be pride of place, I have watched videos with a tympani played during the Mass, along with some orchestral instruments such as a violin. Our Parish uses organ primarily, along with some piano, occasional violin/cello, and there is talk about potentially "classical guitar" to show, if a guitar is to be used, how it SHOULD be played during Mass. The more I have melted down by the beauty of the cello vibrating through the church, alongside the beauty of the choir, the more I realize that other instruments... if played correctly, could provide pure beauty to the Lord.
  • ClergetKubiszClergetKubisz
    Posts: 1,895
    Number 1: your priest is the boss; do what he asks you to do. Number 2: informal oral statements made by any person of authority are not official, and are therefore not able to be considered as granting nor denial of permission, especially in this case as you cannot verify the validity of said statements. Long story short: private, unofficial statements made by a person of authority do not constitute an official ruling: they carry no weight. Number 3: consider also that options 3, and 4 of the GIRM require permission from the local Ordinary, yet many of us cannot find any record of such permission being granted, although option 4 is the most frequently used, seemingly without permission.

    My suggestion: write a letter to the bishop asking for clarification on the matter. Make sure that you cite any references from Church documents that you feel are relevant. (BTW: This is a safe recommendation because you're not pushing for any specific result, per se, you are asking the bishop to clarify his position on the issue so that his order can be followed more effectively). If it is indeed true that the bishop granted permission for instruments such as the ones you named to be used in the manner they are being used, then you must accept that answer. However, especially if this specific group is trying to state that the bishop specifically granted them special permission (i.e. the bishop privately told them that at their specific church, they can use percussion), it seems highly implausible, and I would be suspicious of the validity of such statements.
    Thanked by 1JohnPaul
  • JohnPaul
    Posts: 14
    Thank you very much for your ideas, Clerget.
    I think your suggestion to write a letter to the bishop is a good one.
    Can you quote any official documents that support your position on oral statements which you described your first paragraph?
  • Adam WoodAdam Wood
    Posts: 6,350
    This letter will either go completely unanswered or will get a rather patronizing response. I am willing to bet money that your bishop doesn't see any specific problem with percussion of any kind (or any style of music) being used in liturgy, and that he thinks the requirement for specific approval is a silly anachronism --- if he even knows about the rule at all.

    I imagine the original referenced conversation went something like:
    "Bishop! You should check out what we're doing at 6pm over at St. Claptrap. Guitars and drums and tambourines. Very active. So participate. Many vibrant."
    "That sounds great! Keep up the good work!"

    I further imagine the following response.
    "Bishop! You got this letter from some guy who wants to know if you have given specific permission to use percussion instruments in liturgy. Should I just ignore it?"
    "No. Write him back and say I did that. Something something enculturation, something something Vatican II."
    "Ok."
    "And put him on the list, will ya."
    Thanked by 1Gavin
  • CharlesW
    Posts: 10,510
    Ah, St. Claptrap. I know it well. ;-)
  • Contacting a chancery about anything is the kiss of death in that diocese.

    Maybe because it's a small group of people, but the gossip level can be very, very high unless you have people running it with great integrity. Little happens that is not spread.