Classical Music Masses

I have read that Pope Pius X opposed the classical music Masses composed by people like Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert et al, and as a result they pretty much went away for 70 years.

What happened at the end of the 70 years to bring them back? I know Vatican II happened, but given that the liturgy switched to OF and I presume that the classical music Masses were composed for EF, which wasn’t being said much between Vatican II and Summorum Pontificorum, I’m confused. Or did they start to come back when the EF started to come back?

So-called Masses and Requiems were concert pieces based upon the prayers of the Mass. They were never intended to be performed during a real Mass. The Requiems were a setting of the funeral Mass and music is not supposed to be used at EF funerals. The same composers often produced shorter settings of the Gloria and other prayers that could be used during Mass. Pope Pius X was concerned that Masses were becoming concerts for choirs and musicians and directed that plainsong should be used during Mass. Rules were later relaxed and more elaborate settings were used in both EF and OF.

In my parish, we have a number of Masses with different styles of music. All are OF including a monthly Mass in Latin. At one Mass we have a traditional choir and often use some of the shorter “classical” settings for the Kyrie and Gloria.

J.S. Bach was Lutheran but was quite prepared to write music for his Catholic patrons. His B minor Mass goes on for over 3 hours. None of it could possibly be used during a real Mass, but I found it very useful for passing the time when flying from London to the Canary Islands.


Yes, thank you but that’s not really answering my question.

Can someone address the question?

A shorter answer: you question is mistaken. Polyphony was not banned outright although Pius X expressed his preference for plainchant. After his death in 1914, polyphony gradually returned. It was certainly used in the church I attended in the 1950s.


I appreciate you’re trying to answer my question, but how does polyphony relate to what I asked?

I just read a statement in another article on this that the classical music Masses disappeared for “70 years”. I asked a specific question about “why 70 years” and what happened to bring them back.

Are you saying the statement on the web source is wrong?

Would like to hear other people’s answers too.

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It’s possible that it was just because the Pope died and the new pope didn’t oppose them?

Polyphonic Masses never went completely away. Chanted settings simply made a comeback, and again became the predominant model, but trained choirs did not completely give up chant, especially on major feast days.

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@Tis_Bearself, I freely confess I don’t know the answer to your question but I suspect the answer may have more to do with changing cultural tastes than with theological objections to polyphony. When Beethoven wrote his Masses, they were commissioned by wealthy aristocratic patrons of the arts, not by churches or cathedrals. His Mass in C major, op. 86, first performed in 1807, was commissioned by the same Hungarian prince who had been Haydn’s patron, and his Missa Solemnis, Op. 123, was commissioned by a Russian prince and first performed in St . Petersburg, in 1824. Later in the same century César Franck composed his Messe à trois voix, Op. 12, which as far as I can make out is remembered today only for its fifth movement, a setting of St. Thomas Aquinas’ hymn Panis Angelicus. Who commissioned this Mass, and where it was first performed, whether in a church or a concert hall, I haven’t discovered. But for many years now, I think, all music of this kind has been regarded primarily as a subset within the choral music genre, rather than as a form of Christian worship.

A better expert of music can correct me if I am wrong, but I think I can get the gist of it. The classical music that you refer to would be one style of polyphony. It was the predominant style of polyphonic music until the 20th century, when all various pop genres followed suit. So at the time of Pius X, polyphony and what you call “classical music” would have been synonymous to most liturgical musicians. Polyphony certainly became more and more used prior to Vatican II, it was never banned. Vatican II then explicitly stated that plain chant should have a place of preference in the West, polyphony was also allowed.

Anyway, @jimXroberts answered your question precisely, there is just a confusion of terms.

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OK, thanks for the clarification. It seems that the website I read the statement on may have been overexaggerating then when it claimed that the Masses by Mozart etc disappeared for 70 years.

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I just can’t stand things like this. Feels more like concert music than music for Mass.
Sometimes just the Kyrie is sung in this way (so not the whole sung parts).
It sounds more like the choir is doing a performance rather than singing at Mass.
Is this why it is seldom used?
I also guess the music is to “violent” for Mass. It is how I experience it anyway.
Isn’t music a way for us to express some words. If people sing like this how are we to focus on the words!?!

Which is to say: they were never intended to be used at actual funeral Masses. They were art based on a commonly-held experience of grieving and contemplation of the Last Things.

I don’t really see how there can be a discussion of particular instruments without including recognition of their more recent past. They installed a pipe organ at Wrigley Field in 1941. The Rudolph Wurlitzer Co. filled movie theatres with pipe organs starting in the 1910s or so. The pipe organ has been a secular instrument ever since. As for the electronic organ, just use a search engine and look for the top ten or twenty organ solos of all time. Organs and drum sets are firmly allied by now.

As for why classical music isn’t used more often at Mass, I would say that it takes a high level of professional training to do it well; excepting organ music, it takes a lot of musicians, too! It also presents the problem that the ornamentation can distract from a prayerful attitude; the genre is too much associated with music played for pleasure only.

While St. Pius X would have wholeheartedly agreed with you, many others think it’s beautiful music, and a situation of composers using their gifts in the best manner, to honor God.

I wouldn’t want to hear it every single Mass I go to, and you need a high level of musical skill to play and sing this music, but once in a while it’s very nice.


There is a difference between words and Word. Mass for me isn’t necessarily exclusively about the words said, or the music heard. Words are a vehicle of God’s Truth, but the Mass itself is the fullest expression we have as humanity. This Mass accompanied by Mozart may not be to your taste, but as @Tis_Bearself said it is nice once in a while.

For me, I find Berlioz’s (a likely non-believer) expression of the Kyrie in his Messe Solennelle to be extremely moving and likely one of the reasons I came into the Church.

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Could you link to the article/site in question?

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This one. It talks about Pope Pius X’s dislike of “orchestral Masses”.

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It is either too beautiful to focus on the words or ugly enough that it detracts from what is said. I’d prefer not sing at all and pray by myself since it is easier to focus and set the pace, but there are differnet methods that work for others.

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Thanks! Yes, having the whole thing made a lot more sense. Some of the comments too. And of course, Pope St. Pius’ papacy was 1903-1914, only 11 years. It is certainly possible that there were things he might have done --regarding confirmation, for example, that he just never got the time to do.

One of the comments spoke about the length of orchestral Masses. Today when a lot of parishes have only one Sunday Mass and perhaps a Saturday vigil it might not be a bad thing for a 3 hour Sunday service, but back in the day when even the little rural churches, not to mention the big city churches where you would have the population to play the instruments, would have had 4, 5, or 6 Masses on Sundays; you just wouldn’t have TIME, even for the ‘12:30 late Mass’ Sunday to have a potentially 3 + hour Mass. What is more surprising is that there seemed to be about 60 years before we saw ‘more’ (although some of what we see in modern settings I’m not so thrilled with as Schumann, Mozart, et. al.), but then again, we had WW1, then the Jazz Age, then the depression, then WW2, then the rebuilding of Europe along with communism and the Cold War–so there was a lot of stuff going on in the world !)

I did find the idea about the ‘removing with the stroke of a pen’ and the decisions taken by later Popes to be quite enlightening!

Thanks for sharing. I can see that’s another blog I will have to add to my reading list!


It’s quite interesting that he had such a short papacy. It seems like the two Popes prior to him were in there for very long time periods by comparison.

If I heard this at mass I would probably cry. A very gifted young woman sang Ave Maria one time at a mass I attended in Texas many years ago, and it just hit me, the tears, was hard to hide.

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