Tra Le Sollectiudini and Women in the Choir
  • Dear All,

    I was recently alerted by a friend to the aforementioned document by Pius X. How does one justify having women in a choir with regards to the document?

    "only men of known piety and probity of life are to be admitted to form part of the choir of a church, and these men should by their modest and devout bearing during the liturgical functions show that they are worthy of the holy office they exercise. It will also be fitting that singers while singing in church wear the ecclesiastical habit and surplice, and that they be hidden behind gratings when the choir is excessively open to the public gaze."

    "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."
    Thanked by 1ServiamScores
  • Elmar
    Posts: 371
    You will find a lot of relevant stuff in this discussion:
    women singing the propers - arguments and documents supporting the practice
    Thanked by 1tomjaw
  • ServiamScores
    Posts: 994
    Sacristanus, I confess this alarmed me just a bit when I first read it too. Couple in the fact that I've been reading through a tome entitled "Papal Legislation on Sacred Music" which pointed me to Pius XII who then reaffirmed what Pius X wrote and referred to it as the new and definitive legislation. There really is a bit of a conundrum here if these two popes are to be followed to the letter of the law.
  • CharlesW
    Posts: 11,278
    Those two popes reflected a different time. There is no current legislation I know of that forbids women singers. Every now and then, someone drags up those old superseded and outdated documents and tries to make a case of them. The issue I see is that when new legislation and practices were allowed, the old legislation wasn't suppressed. We currently have a hodgepodge of old and new rules that are not compatible.

    Although I no longer direct a choir, women were always welcome when I did.
  • But CharlesW, has there been any decree or document that has reversed what was said in the documents by Pius X and Pius XII?
  • a_f_hawkins
    Posts: 2,728
    There is a confusion over what "choir" means. Clerics, or monks, or nuns, "in choir" have a formal liturgical role. Other groups of singers may substitute for their voices where neccessary.
    De musica sacra et sacra liturgia
    Instruction on Sacred Music and Sacred Liturgy
    Sacred Congregation for Rites — 3 September, 1958
    ... it seems opportune that the principal sections on sacred liturgy and sacred music and their pastoral efficacy be taken from these aforementioned documents and set down concisely in one special Instruction, so that their content may be more easily and surely put into practice. ...

    100. If in some place, such a musical choir cannot be organized, the institution of a choir of the faithful is permitted, whether "mixed" or entirely of women or of girls only. ...
    This Instruction on sacred music and the sacred liturgy was submitted to His Holiness Pope Pius XII by the undersigned Cardinal. His Holiness deigned to approve in a special way the whole and the single parts and ordered that it be promulgated and, that it be exactly observed by all to whom it applies.
    Notwithstanding anything else to the contrary.
    Given at Rome, from the Office of the Sacred Congregation of Rites, on the feastday of St. Pius X, Sept. 3, 1958.
    GAETANO CARDINAL CICOGNANI, Prefect,
    Thanked by 2CharlesW Elmar
  • CatherineS
    Posts: 640
    Can we change the title to call us 'women' instead of 'females'? Females sounds like livestock or something.
  • stulte
    Posts: 309
    As someone who was once a male-only hardliner who has (somewhat) softened his approach over the years, I think people on both sides of this debate get different things wrong. The male-only crowd isn't properly distinguishing between the liturgical choir (which MUST be male-only) and the lay singers (what most people think of when they hear 'choir') who do most of the singing in most churches and can contain both men and women. However, the "mixed-choirs-are-fine" crowd seems to think, because it's permissible to have a lay choir of men and women, that this is something to be perfectly content with when it's not.

    @sacristanus (sacristane?) - churches should use the singers they have, both male and female, while always working to establish a proper male-only liturgical choir which is vested and singing in the sanctuary.
  • stulte
    Posts: 309
    Can we change the title to call us 'women' instead of 'females'? Females sounds like livestock or something.


    We need a term which will encompass both girls and women along with boys and men.
  • MatthewRoth
    Posts: 1,382
    ^This ain't it.
  • stulte
    Posts: 309
    ^This ain't it


    I'm not sure what you're referring to. Could you clarify please?
  • Man
    Human
    Humankind
    Hupersonkind
    Huperchildindifferent
    Phylperchildindifferent

    Our choir is made up of phylperchildindifferents
  • CharlesW
    Posts: 11,278
    As a_f_hawkins wisely points out, the term "choir" doesn't mean the same thing to all people these days. The distinctions he points out are largely lost to English speakers now. There is more than one type of singers grouped under the term, "choir."
    Thanked by 1stulte
  • MatthewRoth
    Posts: 1,382
    I mean exactly what I said. A woman (!) asked us to use "women" instead of "females," for what are legitimately good reasons, and using "females" because it encompasses women and girls is not good. Now, it could be that you want another term, and you yourself wouldn't use "females," but you didn't say that you agreed with the request, and I took your post to be a defense of the original title.
  • stulte
    Posts: 309
    using "females" because it encompasses women and girls is not good.

    How so?
  • a_f_hawkins
    Posts: 2,728
    Umm - how about the term used in the 1958 legislation "the faithful".
  • Settefrati93
    Posts: 193
    Back to the OP's question....

    I believe it's been hashed out time and again that "choir" in this instance refers to the 'liturgical choir' as would have been situated in the sanctuary. Tra le Sollecitudini still applies when speaking about the choir in this manner.

    "Choir" as we generally refer to it today refers to the 'choir up in the loft' (or elsewhere in the church but NOT in the sanctuary) to which this restriction on women does not apply.
  • NihilNominisNihilNominis
    Posts: 671
    Tra le Sollecitudini still applies when speaking about the choir in this manner.


    Would TLS still apply to a liturgical choir in the sanctuary in the light of the permission for women to function as formally instituted lectors and acolytes? The category of "minor cleric" has been replaced by the category of "lay minister," which has now been opened to women.

    Outside the EF, where would the exclusion of women from the sanctuary enter in?
  • chonakchonak
    Posts: 8,712
    It was asked above whether this provision of TLS had ever been reversed.

    In the Church laws sometimes lose their effect because of non-enforcement. Practices outside the law may be carried on for a long time with the approval of the pastors of the Church and eventually be considered customs that are lawful unless they are expressly excluded in some later law.

    Also, there were express rulings from the Sacred Congregation of Rites allowing women to sing from places outside the sanctuary. These were requested soon after TLS by American bishops who reminded Rome that in this mission country churches were not equipped with choir schools and not built with spacious sanctuaries, and that the custom of mixed-sex choirs was long established here. The permissions from Rome came with strict cautions to the bishop to ensure the physical separation of the sexes. If I remember right, that would even include a barrier, but I don't know of any lofts where that was implemented. Nowadays, fire safety would exclude it.

    Questions about how to observe TLS in this matter arise understandably when people are trying to follow the practices of an old liturgical life and they are depending on written descriptions, since they don't have direct experience; and often don't even have collaborators with direct experience.

    Moreover, the approach to law in the English-speaking world, with its legal positivism and strict interpretation sometimes leads people to take laws more literally than the authority of the Church does.




  • MatthewRoth
    Posts: 1,382
    Stulte, the reason given by Catherine ought to suffice.
    Thanked by 1a_f_hawkins
  • stulte
    Posts: 309
    MatthewRoth wrote:
    Stulte, the reason given by Catherine ought to suffice.


    If you want to use another term that you think is more accurate and fitting, be my guest.

    Chonak wrote:
    Also, there were express rulings from the Sacred Congregation of Rites allowing women to sing from places outside the sanctuary. These were requested soon after TLS by American bishops who reminded Rome that in this mission country churches were not equipped with choir schools and not built with spacious sanctuaries, and that the custom of mixed-sex choirs was long established here.


    And they had no intention of doing things otherwise it seems. The more I read about the history of the Catholic Church in the USA, the more I come up with the sense that many of the Bishops were, whether wittingly or unwittingly, some of the worst destroyers of Catholic culture during the 20th century.
  • MatthewRoth
    Posts: 1,382
    I'm not even the one who complained at first, so the dismissive attitude is more than a tad obnoxious, though I observe that while not all women will complain, it's mostly men who use "females"… You could just say "women," because we're talking about "men," and "boys" would be implied if necessary, or you could use "female" as an adjective.
  • francisfrancis
    Posts: 9,575
    And they had no intention of doing things otherwise it seems. The more I read about the history of the Catholic Church in the USA, the more I come up with the sense that many of the Bishops were, whether wittingly or unwittingly, some of the worst destroyers of Catholic culture during the 20th century.
    Yes, unfortunately true, and wittingly, as they continue to prove.

    https://www.papalencyclicals.net/Leo13/l13teste.htm

    Excerpt... sound familiar?

    The underlying principle of these new opinions is that, in order to more easily attract those who differ from her, the Church should shape her teachings more in accord with the spirit of the age and relax some of her ancient severity and make some concessions to new opinions. Many think that these concessions should be made not only in regard to ways of living, but even in regard to doctrines which belong to the deposit of the faith. They contend that it would be opportune, in order to gain those who differ from us, to omit certain points of her teaching which are of lesser importance, and to tone down the meaning which the Church has always attached to them. It does not need many words, beloved son, to prove the falsity of these ideas if the nature and origin of the doctrine which the Church proposes are recalled to mind.


    Also unfortunate is that the Vatican has succumbed to the very error itself.
  • Andrew_Malton
    Posts: 953
    Is there today any Latin rite place, not a monastery, where the schola cantorum normally sings within the presbyterium? Just asking.
  • Settefrati93
    Posts: 193
    To clarify, I was talking about only the EF in my post above.
    Thanked by 1NihilNominis
  • Settefrati93
    Posts: 193
    @Andrew_Malton - I have sung vespers quite a number of times in choir, in the Sanctuary, with men only. In a diocesan parish, I might add.
  • francisfrancis
    Posts: 9,575
    I sing in a men's schola weekly, which is a subset of those who sing in a polyphonic mixed choir, but all in choir loft at rear of church. (sometimes I get to sing Alto, and rarely Soprano (countertenor, of course)... we haven't had a discussion about men singing S and A, so I thought I might throw that into the mix!)
  • Chrism
    Posts: 809
    Yes, we've sung for Mass and Office in the Sanctuary whenever there has been sufficient room.
  • dad29
    Posts: 2,079
    the more I come up with the sense that many of the Bishops were, whether wittingly or unwittingly, some of the worst destroyers of Catholic culture during the 20th century.


    And then Francis beat me to the NINETEENTH-Century termite-ism of the US Bishops, too!
  • chonakchonak
    Posts: 8,712
    Does anyone know whether the lack of sanctuary choirs in the US circa 1900 was related to the Irish heritage of most of the bishops at the time?
    Thanked by 1tomjaw
  • stulte
    Posts: 309
    Chonak, very good question. That seems like something someone could do a large research project on. Though, if one reads Pugin's treatise on screens, there were already issues with church architecture not reflecting traditional Catholic thinking by the 1850s.
    Thanked by 1tomjaw
  • chonakchonak
    Posts: 8,712
    Did Catholic churches in Europe have screens at the time?
  • tomjaw
    Posts: 2,154
    Pugin's churches would have a choir (part of a church not a group of singers) and some sort of Rood screen... Other people had other ideas about how a church should be arranged, although all larger churches seem to have had space for a choir and choir stalls on the sanctuary. Most but not all of the larger churches also had an organ loft with room for a choir.
    The above is from my travels around England and Switzerland.
    Thanked by 1stulte
  • MatthewRoth
    Posts: 1,382
    Choirs of European churches would have had grills, but probably not full screens as those were largely removed over the course of the eighteenth century. That is, if they had anything at all. It's a subject on which I need to do more research. I like screens, beams, pillars, and grills, and there is no one-size-fits-all solution.
  • dad29
    Posts: 2,079
    Milwaukee's cathedral had a screened choir area on the second floor in the apse on the Epistle side. That disappeared when the place was ruined under the hand of +Weakland. IIRC there was another parish church with a similar arrangement (screened)...but the details escape me now.

    An older German church on the North side of town had its choir on the second floor, also in the apse on the Epistle side; it was not screened because that parish had men and boys' choir (until 1940-'50 or so). That church has been demolished.
  • CatherineS
    Posts: 640
    I've seen some in Spain, such as the massive cathedral in Seville, where the choir (area) is a large enclosed wooden space at the foot of the sanctuary, forming a massive screen with it's farther end (the end closest to the public doors of the church). Here's a photo of what the congregation would see (in the old usage): https://www.alamy.com/view-of-the-interior-of-seville-cathedral-seville-spain-image222387237.html

    But there are large openings on the altar end of the choir area which allow a view of the altar. The two (if I recall) organs are positioned so that the organists are nearest the opening and can see what's going on at the altar. The choir seats fill the perimeter of the area behind them. Here's what it looks like if you stand with your back to the altar looking into the choir area: https://theculturetrip.com/europe/spain/articles/how-to-spend-a-rainy-day-in-seville/

    In modern use they put seating to the sides of the sanctuary so the congregation can see into the choir (where a small schola stands by the organ) and watch the action at the altar at the same time (though from a sort of 3/4 side view, which is a bit odd). It must have been interesting to experience in its original usage. Here's the high altar: http://justfunfacts.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/09/seville-cathedral-altar.jpg

    Sorry if that's tangential to the topic. I was there for Christmas Mass one time. The schola was a half dozen men and an organist. The Mass, celebrated by a bishop, seemed much less grand than the overwhelming space called for, but it was appreciated nonetheless.

    Thanked by 2CHGiffen CharlesW
  • GambaGamba
    Posts: 350
    At Our Lady of Sorrows Basilica in Chicago, one can see such an arrangement (organ went in in 1902): https://images.app.goo.gl/q872RS5Ez8S8Qf9V8

    The console and the choir sit high up in the clerestory level, in a gallery on the north/Gospel side. The pipes of the organ are divided; some here, some in a facing chamber on the south side. The choir sits/sat in theatre-style chairs, sharply raked so that all can look straight down to the console and the altar.

    As you can see, there is wooden grillwork on the nave side of this loft, partially in front, and also around where the pipes are. Thus the choir is invisible except from the high altar. I was only there once, 6 years ago, to play for a visiting choir, so I can’t remember if there was a sliding panel or some other device to completely close off the front, but nevertheless it seems to be in accord with the thinking of TLS....

    I am not sure when the last time was that the space had been used by singers. There was thick dust on every surface but the console, some very old Latin octavos in the seats, and several cabinets filled with preconciliar music (Rossini propers, Top 500 Forgettable Motets for Benediction, and so on). If I remember correctly, there may be a shot or two of this area in use in +Sheen’s Pray the Mass film from the 40s.