Is it appropriate to play a guitar or banjo with the hymns instead of an organ or similar instrument?

Hey everyone. Is it inappropriate to use a guitar or a banjo to accompany the hymns at Mass? What does the Church have to say about this officially?

One of the few things i dont understand about our church is how solemn the hymns +music can be,surely being a Catholic Christian is something to be celebrated.
I couldnt count the number of times during mass i wanted to shout hallelugha.
and raise my arms up to god in praise,but alas we all know this wont happen.sad 2 say.

Well, on New Year’s Eve, I was at a Mass where the prime accompaniment was an acoustic guitar.

This Mass was celebrated by 2 Bishop (Archbishop Prendergast of Ottawa was the primary celebrant), ~20 priests (including the Rector of the Basilica we were in), and a Deacon.

You can draw your own conclusion from that.

Its a stylistic thing. My parish uses guitar, piano, violin, & flute (and here I am contemplating going into the FSSP! :)). Gregorian chant should be given the pride of place from what I’ve read, however. A requiem Mass? Guitar would be highly inappropriate, I think. Parishes that use guitars and are orthodox in theology, I think just get Easter and Christmas. Replace the guitar with a violin and Lent is beautifully sombre. I love the traditional aspects of the Church, but I also think that the more modern forms of worship during Mass are important in order to help spread the Gospel. My parish is full of young families and college students precisely because the liturgy maintains the children’s attention. They tend to go to other parishes when the students graduate or the children grow older.

I will say that at the change of liturgical seasons, I become confused because the music director tends to like to change the tone of the Mass (he also makes the Ordinary time between Epiphany and Ash Wednesday very energetic and happy, and then suddenly repentant and solemn during Lent, which is something I think only parishes that use guitars can do).

Ah okay. So using a guitar or a banjo is not a liturgical abuse for an English Novus Ordo Mass?

My understanding is so long as it is acoustic it is not technically an abuse. Tastefulness is something else entirely. Using a guitar would not be tasteful in a beautiful Gothic cathedral, for instance.

From the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy from the Second Vatican Council: “In the Latin Church the pipe organ is to be held in high esteem, for it is the traditional musical instrument which adds a wonderful splendor to the Church’s ceremonies and powerfully lifts up man’s mind to God and to higher things.

“But other instruments also may be admitted for use in divine worship, with the knowledge and consent of the competent territorial authority, as laid down in Art. 22, 52, 37, and 40. This may be done, however, only on condition that the instruments are suitable, or can be made suitable, for sacred use, accord with the dignity of the temple, and truly contribute to the edification of the faithful.”

In my opinion, guitars, bongos, drums, flutes, pianos, et cetera are secular instruments which predominate in, and are reminiscent of, secular music, and cannot be “made suitable for sacred use,” regardless of the emotions they may invoke. A brass ensemble, on the other hand, has historic roots in liturgical music. What is more important than the instruments is the style of music that is used, and again in my opinion, very little of contemporary hymnody fits that bill.

Ah okay. Thanks! I am actually feeling quite conflicted right now. I went to Mass today at the parish in my town where I am a member. Well, they were playing what sounded like either an acoustic guitar or a banjo. It sounded like folk music to be quite honest with you. At the time, I was quite honestly very much turned off by it. But then again, it is possible that everyone else loved it. I almost want to bring this up to the pastor or someone but I am afraid that if I do, I am going to offend someone. I am almost tempted to just switch my membership to a more traditional parish. :frowning:

Our 5pm sunday mass is supposed to be aimed at the college students on campus. I went today and we had a piano, guitar, violin, flute, and very obnoxious drum set. And if that wasn’t bad enough, the music was also mic’d up and was loud enough so that you couldn’t hear the people actually signing. It was horrible. I grimaced through every song.

I came across this rather interesting article in the journal Antiphon. Here is a link to is:

liturgysociety.org/JOURNAL/Volume13/13.3Smith.pdf

The author makes some very good points about instruments, quoting the writings of the Pontiffs and the authoritative documents:

De musica sacra of 1958 gives specific regulations on the use of these various instruments, noting that:

account must also be taken of the difference between sacred and profane music. There are some instruments, such as the classical organ, which by their nature and origin are directly ordained for sacred music; others, such as certain stringed instruments played
with a bow, are easily adapted to liturgical use; while, on the contrary, there are other instruments which, in common estimation, are considered so associated with profane music that they are entirely unfit for sacred use. (DMS 60b)

In order to use instruments in the liturgy or at pious devotions, it is necessary that these instruments can “really be adapted to sacred use” (DMS 68a) and that “the playing of these instruments must be done in such a matter, with gravity, and, as it were, with a religious purity, that the strident sounds of profane music are avoided and the piety of the people fostered” (DMS 68b). The document clarifies that when sacred music with instrumental accompaniment “is composed specifically for liturgical use it must be animated by a spirit of devotion, and piety; only on this condition can it be admitted as suitable accompaniment for these services” (DMS 7). It is with these regulations in mind that one must read article 120 of Sacrosanctum concilium, which after praising the pipe organ states that “other instruments also may be admitted for use in divine worship,
with the knowledge and consent of the competent territorial authority…. on condition that the instruments are suitable, or can be made suitable, for sacred use, are in accord with the dignity of the place of worship, and truly contribute to the uplifting of the faithful.” In
interpreting this clause, Musicam sacram cites De musica sacra after the following statement: “Instruments that are generally associated and used only with worldly music are to be absolutely barred from liturgical services and religious devotions” (MS 63). Neither Sacrosanctum concilium nor Musicam sacram overturns any of the earlier instrumental regulations of Pius X that were not directly relaxed by Pius XII. The
common opinion of the Church has thus been clearly demonstrated: certain instruments such as the piano, which Pius X explicitly forbade (see TS 19), are suitable in the secular sphere only.

While some may not agree with the premise of the article, the author does do his homework and cites the authoritative documents of the Church in order to make his point.

This is what venerable Pius XII said in 1947

  1. It cannot be said that modem music and singing should be entirely excluded from Catholic worship. For, if they are not profane nor unbecoming to the sacredness of the place and function, and do not spring from a desire of achieving extraordinary and unusual effects, then our churches must admit them since they can contribute in no small way to the splendor of the sacred ceremonies, can lift the mind to higher things and foster true devotion of soul.

vatican.va/holy_father/pius_xii/encyclicals/documents/hf_p-xii_enc_20111947_mediator-dei_en.html

I attended first a guitar mass in 1958. I personally never liked it, but I never considered myself standard for anything.

There’s guitar and then there’s guitar.

The 3 chord strum is what I usually hear and often by players who are less than proficient – otherwise they could actually pick the melody. OTOH, a classical guitar accompaniment in a small space can work quite well.

I’d rather hear the community sing a cappella than have to endure third rate strumming.

I’ve been a church musician since I was 12. I’ve experienced the gamut of worship music. At one church where I was the “worship leader” (shudder) we had a rock band. It was kind of fun, I was only 30, and we actually produced some excellent contemporary Christian rock. However, looking back on that, I realize that while we may have been useful in getting some young folks to come to church who otherwise would not have, there was more emphasis placed on the worshippers to “feel” something rather than what a worshipper’s primary purpose is: to worship.
These days I am much more traditional; I play the pipe organ at a nearby cathedral and try to tailor the music to give dignity and meaning to the Mass. My job is to facilitate the Mass by choosing music that accompanies the Scriptural readings of the Mass and the season. I also prefer our precious hymnody over contemporary stuff any day. Not saying that we all shouldn’t try to continue writing suitable music for the Mass, but to emphasize worship over emotion.

Give me a break. It is not an abuse. It is a specific taste of music.

I personally do not like the guitar being played at Church, and perfer the organ. However, that is my personal opinion, and others feel that the guitar can be very uplifting. No where has the Church made an ex cathdra statement saying the piano and organ may only be used. All it has said is that in the opinion of the Church, the Organ can be uplifting. If you do not find the guitar uplifting, do as I do, and go to a different time of Mass.

Of course stringed instruments are appropriate for music during Mass.

Organs and piano’s did not exist 500 years ago. Prior to the 20th century, many churches did not have organs (they were very expensive, and not widely available). Outside of major churches, they were never popular in any Spanish (or culture derived from the Spanish) church.

Stringed instruments, such as lutes, etc. have been available, and have been used in religious worship, since before written history began. Guitars have been used in religious worship for several hundred years. So have drums, flutes, horns and just about any instrument that existed before the electronic age.

Keep in mind that one of the most revered Christmas songs, Silent Night, was WRITTEN FOR THE GUITAR.

The question is NOT which instruments are used, it is what the intentions are of the people DURING the playing of the music. If the person is getting all out of shape because he/she doesn’t like a guitar, it is that person that is at fault, not the musician or the priest.

I think it’s the feelings different instruments evoke. The pipe organ, in the West, now has the connotation of sacred music. The guitar and drums don’t. They remind us of folk songs and rock music.

I think it was Steve Martin, the comedian, who said you can’t play a sad tune on a banjo. It was funny to see him try.

Give it another 200 years. In the meantime, I don’t want to be a guinea pig. I’d much rather a Missa Cantata with a pipe organ, thanks very much :smiley:

For those that prefer a pipe organ, I would suggest that they purchase one for their church. Very few churches could afford a Pipe Organ (they start at several hundred thousand dollars), plus they require a significant amount of expensive maintenance. In todays world, very few churches could afford one, unless they have either a wealthy, or very large middle class congregation. The vast majority of pipe organs that exist in churches ar ein Cathedrals, or very large older churches.

There is a HUGE difference between a pipe organ and an electronic organ. Even those, that are properly made for a church of any significant size, are VERY expensive. Personally, I’d a LOT rather see money used to provide programs, to help the poor, for youth, etc., than spend it on a totally unnecessary instrument.

Unless the complainers are willing to fork over their money to purchase what they perceive to be a “appropriate” instrument, they should not carp. Let them come up with the $30,000-1,000,000 to provide an electronic organ, up to a full pipe organ. $30,000 will but a small electronic organ, suitable for a church that holds a couple of hundred people. The prices go up very rapidly after that.

So, you want it, pay for it!

Hmmm… interesting discussion re. the use of guitars a Mass. I’m a classical guitarist (acoustic, and definitely a well-trained amateur), and I believe that guitars can be used in that style. Think of Liona Boyd playing “Jesu Joy of Man’s Desiring”. Now, if someone throws in heavy-metal licks or something like that… well, that’s out of character with the reverent tone of Mass. But if the player plays reverently and in a “classical style” suitable to inspire a prayerful frame of mind, then why not allow it? Especially if it’s strictly instrumental, or played with other classical instruments, or to back up a solo vocalist.

Not only that, we have a very LARGE Hispanic congregation at our parish and here in Texas in general, for whom the guitar is culturally significant. For them, guitar at Mass is accepted without question. To an Italian-Catholic (for instance), the guitar may seem totally out of place, but for a Hispanic person, it fits right in. Many Spanish language hymns just sound more appropriate with a guitar. I love the hymn “Pescador de Hombres” (“Lord, When You Come to the Seashore”) in Spanish, with a guitar more than with an organ.

It’s all in how the instruments are played, and the overall style and reverence of the music, IMO. Even a pipe organ would be out of place if someone began playing Black Sabbath music during Communion, or “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” at the end of Mass! :stuck_out_tongue:

I can understand your point about how a musical insturment is played. However, as someone from the South Texas hinterland, and part Hispanic, I do not necessarily find the guitar as culturally significant (perhaps that is the Italian-German in me). Our Cathedral has an excellent organist, but, the administrator decided to replace him with a Mariachi band for one of the Masses. In my opinion, this was a huge mistake. The Mariachi music just do not have the degree of solemnity and dignity for the Mass. During Advent, when the Church calls for instruments to be used only to sustain the singing, the Mariachis went full blast. The faithful will listen to them, but, they will not necessarily sing. The guitars and the horns are better suited for a fiesta than the Holy Sacrifice.

Furthermore, the guitar down here is played along the style of “ranchera/Tejano” music that it really does not fit the sacral nature of the Mass at all. It sounds like something that is more appropriate to a Tejano music station than the Mass. Believe me, I have been to most of the parishes in my area. In fact, one of the priests complained to me about the lack of quality music in our diocese. Another one said that he would rather have acapella singing than guitar accompanyment.

As for Pescador de Hombres, it is sung ad naseum down here (one parish sings it every day for daily Mass during Holy Communion) so I hope you can understand the intense dislike that I have for the song.

Incidentally, when music is requested for weddings, 99.9% of the time, an organist and a cantor are hired, especially at the Cathedral. Only a scant have requested a guitar and a Mariachi band. Funerals also hold the same trend, minus the Mariachi band. The Mariachi band only shows up to serenade the deceased at the grave, immediately after the concluding rites.

Actually, there are parishes down here that do have an organ, some of them are very good. Sadly, they are rarely in use.

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