Bach allowed to be played for the Mass?

I overheard a local catholic priest stating that the music of Johann Sebastian Bach is prohibited from being played at Mass. He was commenting about the Kennedy Funeral actually.

Is it true that Bach is prohibited from being played during Mass? If so why? I’ve read that Bach was a lutheran. Is that why?
Thank you.

[quote="Happy2bcatholic, post:1, topic:177395"]
I overheard a local catholic priest stating that the music of Johann Sebastian Bach is prohibited from being played at Mass. He was commenting about the Kennedy Funeral actually.

Is it true that Bach is prohibited from being played during Mass? If so why? I've read that Bach was a lutheran. Is that why?
Thank you.

[/quote]

Is this about Kennedy or is this about Bach, I would ask that priest.

J.S. Bach, though Lutheran, was hired by a Catholic prince to write music for the Church. The Mass in B minor is one of the most beautiful pieces of music ever written. I don't think there is anything non-Catholic about it. Many of the other pieces he wrote are instrumental in nature and provide an excellent source of background, prelude, and postlude music that can be played in ALL Christian Churches.

Perhaps we should start a thread on Handel's music, which was more secular in nature, and Mozart, who was a FreeMason.

By the way, J.S. Bach had 20 children, of which some also wrote music. I don't think the Church has anything against that. :)

There used to be a rule [mid-20th century] against using secular music, which included concert piece masses, in the mass. By the 60's it was pretty much universally ignored. I don't think it is even on the books now.

[quote="Joe_Kelley, post:3, topic:177395"]
There used to be a rule [mid-20th century] against using secular music, which included concert piece masses, in the mass. By the 60's it was pretty much universally ignored. I don't think it is even on the books now.

[/quote]

The 60's sounds about right. I know our parish (maybe this was a whole Catholic Church thing) couldn't even play Wagner's or Mendelsohn's Wedding Marches in the 50's.

[quote="Happy2bcatholic, post:1, topic:177395"]
I overheard a local catholic priest stating that the music of Johann Sebastian Bach is prohibited from being played at Mass. He was commenting about the Kennedy Funeral actually.

Is it true that Bach is prohibited from being played during Mass? If so why? I've read that Bach was a lutheran. Is that why?
Thank you.

[/quote]

No, Bach is not prohibited from being played during Mass. Do you have any idea how many hymns and other traditional music used in Catholic Churches (in some pretty traditional circles, I might add) would not be allowed if that were the case?

[quote="ProVobis, post:4, topic:177395"]
The 60's sounds about right. I know our parish (maybe this was a whole Catholic Church thing) couldn't even play Wagner's or Mendelsohn's Wedding Marches in the 50's.

[/quote]

Those pieces are still not permitted in many Catholic parishes where I have been hired as a freelance musician and are often written in the parish wedding guidelines as no-way pieces. The main reason why Wagner "Bridal Chorus" or Mendelssohn's "Wedding March" are not permitted is because they are both secular works coming from an opera and ballet respectively. It has nothing to do with anything else. (Wagner was a Catholic and Mendelssohn was a Lutheran.)

In regards to the OP: Most of Bach's music is either sacred/religious or absolute music (ie having no secular or sacred connotation - such as most organ music or other music of various instrumentation written by composers of various denominations ). He does have some actual secular works like a couple secular cantatas - "Sheep May Safely Graze" is one of them and thus really shouldn't be used at mass. But on the whole, many of his works were directly composed for sacred or religious use because he was often in the employment of churches. So, I don't know where the priest is coming from, unless the music used for Kennedy's funeral was one of Bach's secular works.

Point is, if the music is appropriate for liturgy as well as does not go against Church teaching, then there shouldn't be a problem with using it since no composer on this earth is without some sort of flaw/sin.

Thanks so much for your responses. It was very helpful.

[quote="ProVobis, post:4, topic:177395"]
The 60's sounds about right. I know our parish (maybe this was a whole Catholic Church thing) couldn't even play Wagner's or Mendelsohn's Wedding Marches in the 50's.

[/quote]

Wagner's wedding march is not allowed in the church because he wrote it for his mistress and is definitely not appropriate at a wedding.

If we banned every piece of music written by sinners we would have silent Masses.

I personally think the whole debate in nonsense. I see nothing wrong with having beautiful music in Catholic Churches.

[quote="puppypatrol, post:8, topic:177395"]
Wagner's wedding march is not allowed in the church because he wrote it for his mistress and is definitely not appropriate at a wedding.

[/quote]

That is exactly what I told my cousin. This effectively talked her out of using it. We used Jesu, Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring instead.

[quote="puppypatrol, post:8, topic:177395"]
Wagner's wedding march is not allowed in the church because he wrote it for his mistress and is definitely not appropriate at a wedding.

[/quote]

Please see my earlier post regarding the Wagner and Mendelssohn "traditional" wedding marches. I’m NOT picking on you, please know that, but I just want to make this clear because I’ve seen so many different reasons for it and most are not correct. Basically, if Wagner’s work was banned because of his moral character, then most works by almost every composer who ever wrote music, let alone specifically for liturgy, would be banned, including those who mostly composed polyphony as well as some of those religious men who created different chant modes. No one is without sin. The Church is smart enough to not follow that line of thinking.

Again, the MAIN reason why the Wagner is not permitted or should not be permitted (if some parishes still incorporate it, which I know that is the case for some) is because it is from a SECULAR piece of work - not because of anything else. As I believe everyone in this thread knows knows, the Church does not permit secular pieces to be used at mass. Sacred music is best, religious music can be used depending on the style and absolute music can also be used (such as organ works or other instrumental works which has no secular or sacred connotations).

Wagner did not compose it for a mistress – at least from anything I ever read about him by those who did study on his life. Although, even if he did, it would not have been banned just based on that conjecture or truth. The actual piece “Bridal Chorus” – AKA “Here Comes the Bride” by those who are not opera aficionados, came from his opera “Lohengrin”. Although some brides do not care if it is from a secular work even if you tell them it can’t be done in a Catholic nuptial mass, most of the time, when I explain the story of Lohengrin, that is when most of them understand and don’t want it for the wedding because the story of the opera has a very unhappy ending. In short, Elsa and Lohengrin are married, but never consummate the marriage due to Elsa breaking her promise to Lohengrin about never asking about his true identity and place of origin. He abandons her, she dies of a broken heart. Definitely not something most brides want to use once they hear that story.

If an individual person doesn’t want to use a piece of music due to the composer’s character or other reasons, that’s fine, but the Church doesn’t usually base banning of music because of those things. She usually bases it on whether or not the work is sacred-sounding or too secular-sounding in nature, if the work came from a larger secular work such as a secular cantata, secular oratorio, opera, ballet, etc. There have been other reasons, too, which I won’t go into.

This is why many of Bach’s works have been incorporated for use at mass – particularly his organ works. They are either sacred/religious in nature or absolute music. His harmonization of “O Sacred Head Surrounded” for instance, is absolutely beautiful. One of my favorites.

My wife procesed in with Shubert's Ave Maria. It was very beautiful. If im not mistaken, the melody is secular. Its the words not the melody that matters. though its a very beautiful melody....

As an organist, and a lover of Baroque era music, I am divided on this issue. Definitely, none of Bach's cantatas should be used in church -- whether saecular or sacred. All of his sacred music, besides his Mass in B minor and a few other settings of the Latin Mass, are overtly Lutheran (one of his cantatas even asks God for protection against the "Turks and the Pope"!).

His non-vocal organ music could be played though.

I played Pachelbel's Chaconne in F minor for my sister's funeral.

[quote="joshua1, post:12, topic:177395"]
My wife procesed in with Shubert's Ave Maria. It was very beautiful. If im not mistaken, the melody is secular. Its the words not the melody that matters. though its a very beautiful melody....

[/quote]

The original title to the Schubert was the third song of his "Ellens Gesang". It was originally composed as a lied (song) set to a German translation by Sir Walter Scott's work, the Lady of the Lake. Thus is part of the lieder repertoire and has been performed in lieder recitals. The German text, though, is a prayer to the Blessed Mother, although it is not the "Hail Mary". The religious setting below, however, has become synonomous with the "Hail Mary" in Latin to the point that often people do not realize that it was originally not written to the Latin prayer. Almost everyone, with the exception of musicians and especially classical singers, does not think of it as a piece of lied. Sort of like how many of our old and newer traditional hymn melodies have become.

The English translation to the original is below in case anyone is interested:

Ave Maria! Ave Maria! maiden mild!
Listen to a maiden's prayer!
Thou canst hear though from the wild,
Thou canst save amid despair.
Safe may we sleep beneath thy care,
Though banish'd, outcast and reviled -
Maiden! hear a maiden's prayer;
Mother, hear a suppliant child!
Ave Maria!

The flinty couch we now must share
Shall seem this down of eider piled,
If thy protection hover there.
The murky cavern's heavy air
Shall breathe of balm if thou hast smiled;
Then, Maiden! hear a maiden's prayer;
Mother, list a suppliant child!
Ave Maria!

I was under the impression that several pieces, while not "banned" persay are simply avoided because they are more performance pieces than worship pieces and therefore not necessarily appropriate for use during the mass.

Yes, there are some incredibly gorgeous sacred and secular works written by a great variety of composers (of an equally great variety of moral fortitude ;)) that can call undue attention to the choir/cantor as "star of the show". These would obviously be better relegated to the concert hall. I think that we music people try to be hyper aware of our role during mass so as not to even toe the line on that one--nothing bothers me quite as much as when a musician oversteps the boundary from "using gifts humbly to worship" to "Look at ME! I'll jazz this up a bit...Check out this high note! Woo-hoo I'm a STAR!!!"

That's not to say that you can't be incredibly inspired by listening to these works (sacred and secular) and enjoy the gifts that these people shared with the world. It may just not be the proper venue as they say...

[quote="ShinyGirl, post:15, topic:177395"]
I was under the impression that several pieces, while not "banned" persay are simply avoided because they are more performance pieces than worship pieces and therefore not necessarily appropriate for use during the mass.

[/quote]

Yes, that is true. Music directors and musicians for liturgies always have to be aware of particular works and/or the styles of how a piece of music is rendered. To me, there is also a difference between sacred music AND religious music. With sacred music such as chant and sacred polyphony which is refined as compared to some secular polyphony -especially early secular polyphony - it's "difficult" to make it sound secular. Then there is sacred liturgical music written specifically for mass, but can span from being refined enough to be appropriate at mass, whether in the "performance" of the instrumentation or the way it is sung, OR sounds too secular in how it is composed or performed.

It is the same with religious music which would encompass worship music, classical religious music (ie. Gounod's "O Divine Redeemer"), hymns, certain kinds of choral music, etc.

Although the style of the music does make a difference in the appropriateness for liturgy, (for instance, you can have totally appropriate liturgical music, but then it is changed stylistically to mimic a more pop/jazz/rock/operatic/symphonic etc. sound, thus turning it into sounding too secular) it also depends on the way the musician (instrumentalist or singer) views himself/herself as a church musician. But unless you know the musician personally, you usually can't tell whether or not that musician is making it about them or truly doing it for God and using his/her talents to the best that God gave them. For instance, with very old polyphonic works to newer works that were always "performed" at mass, the treble line for the sopranos will always have the so-called high notes. If a person makes that assumption whether thinking that the musician must be too into himself from singing something that they believe is too reverent and holier-than-thou to being a show-off because he can play an organ work by Couperin, Bach or Buxtehude with perfection or sing too well, then that is the problem with that particular person - not the musician, unless that musician is full of himself. Then he has to examine his own motivations.

In all, it comes down to just examining every piece of music which could possibly used for liturgy - not by composer or writer, but by each individual work. Just because it's in a hymnal or a collection of sacred or religious works, may not necessarily mean it is appropriate. Then you have to see how it can be rendered without it sounding too secular.

[quote="PhanxicoXavier, post:13, topic:177395"]

His non-vocal organ music could be played though.

[/quote]

For a while Jeremiah Clarke's, Henry Purcell's, and Stanley's Trumpet Voluntaries were very popular pieces played in weddings. Especially in churches with pipe organs.

[quote="ProVobis, post:17, topic:177395"]
For a while Jeremiah Clarke's, Henry Purcell's, and Stanley's Trumpet Voluntaries were very popular pieces played in weddings. Especially in churches with pipe organs.

[/quote]

And actually, it's still very popular choices - at least where I'm from. (Stanley not as popular.) I do weddings almost every weekend across four states depending on the time of the year, and the Clark and Purcell are both the most commonly chosen works in almost every church (especially Catholic church) in all of those various dioceses.

[quote="Happy2bcatholic, post:1, topic:177395"]
I overheard a local catholic priest stating that the music of Johann Sebastian Bach is prohibited from being played at Mass. He was commenting about the Kennedy Funeral actually.

Is it true that Bach is prohibited from being played during Mass? If so why? I've read that Bach was a lutheran. Is that why?
Thank you.

[/quote]

No, the music of Bach is not prohibited from being played at Mass. :shrug:

I found this interesting article in the November Issue of First Things. In Sacred Music, Sacred Time, the author notes that:

There is music, though, that seems inherently sacred in character. “Whether it is Bach or Mozart that we hear in church, we have a sense in either case of what Gloria Dei, the glory of God, means. The mystery of infinite beauty is there and enables us to experience the presence of God more truly and vividly than in many sermons,” wrote Benedict XVI in his book The Spirit of the Liturgy (2000). Simpler music can foster camaraderie among worshipers and even communal joy. Authentically sacred music does more: It inspires awe, even fear.

So, if the Holy Father is supportive of Bach (although he is very much a Mozart man) in the liturgy, then, so be it.

Here is the link to the article:

firstthings.com/article/2009/10/sacred-music-sacred-time

It is a very good read.

DISCLAIMER: The views and opinions expressed in these forums do not necessarily reflect those of Catholic Answers. For official apologetics resources please visit www.catholic.com.