MERGED: Music in Mass/Sacred Music

  1. Will there be a restriction on the instruments and music played in Mass in teh future?

  2. How long has the Catholic church sung “Amazing Grace” in Mass?

  3. Is there a list of “approved” songs for Mass, or on the flip-side certain Protestant songs that can’t be sung?

There actually is, in a sense. Musicam Sacram, the Holy See’s authoritative document on Sacred Music, states the following:

  1. In permitting and using musical instruments, the culture and traditions of individual peoples must be taken into account. However, those instruments which are, by common opinion and use, suitable for secular music only, are to be altogether prohibited from every liturgical celebration and from popular devotions.44

This would include drums, bongos, electric guitars and the like. Contrary to what some have stated in previous posts, this decision does not fall to the local ordinary. According to a 2001 letter issued by the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments:

Certain other provisions seem to require further study and specification before being introduced as adapting legislation. What is said here may be understood to apply to nn. 301, 304, 326, 329, 339, 343, and the portion of n. 393 referring to approved musical instruments. In cases where the Conference of Bishops is to legislate, such legislation should be truly specific, and the law intends precisely that any particular episcopal legislation on these matters be enacted in common by the Bishops of the Conference rather than being left to be determined variously in different dioceses. In the absence of any particular legislation on such a matter, specifications contained in the universal law maintain their full force. In other words, the Conference of Bishops may name specific materials or instruments as suitable in addition to those universally deemed so, but in the absence of such specification, only the “traditional” materials or those otherwise specified in the Institutio Generalis Missalis Romani are to be regarded as approved.

Thus, there are some regulations, perhaps little known or ignored, that are there.

Now, regarding the content of the music, Pope Benedict had this to say in Sacramentum Caritatis:

Liturgical song

  1. In the ars celebrandi, liturgical song has a pre-eminent place. (126) Saint Augustine rightly says in a famous sermon that “the new man sings a new song. Singing is an expression of joy and, if we consider the matter, an expression of love” (127). The People of God assembled for the liturgy sings the praises of God. In the course of her two-thousand-year history, the Church has created, and still creates, music and songs which represent a rich patrimony of faith and love. This heritage must not be lost. **Certainly as far as the liturgy is concerned, we cannot say that one song is as good as another. Generic improvisation or the introduction of musical genres which fail to respect the meaning of the liturgy should be avoided. As an element of the liturgy, song should be well integrated into the overall celebration (128). Consequently everything – texts, music, execution – ought to correspond to the meaning of the mystery being celebrated, the structure of the rite and the liturgical seasons (129). **Finally, while respecting various styles and different and highly praiseworthy traditions, I desire, in accordance with the request advanced by the Synod Fathers, that Gregorian chant be suitably esteemed and employed (130) as the chant proper to the Roman liturgy (131).

In response to a directive from Liturgiam Authenticam, the USCCB sent to the Holy See a directory of songs to be used across the board for Masses in the United States. However, as of today, the document remains under review at the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments. As far as I can tell, given what the Holy Father was exposed to when he was in Washington, DC, I would venture to say that the Holy See is paying careful and close attention to the directory’s content.

When I met Archbishop Malcolm Ranjinth, the previous secretary to the CDWDS, he told me that a document on music was forthcoming from the Congregation. But, that was back in November 2008. My guess is that a couple of things factored into this delay. There was a change in prefects and secretaries at the CDWDS and, they were also working out the details for the new translations.

Privately, I did share with Archbishop Ranjinth my concerns about the content of the music we are currently using. He told me that there were concerns in Rome as well. Perhaps that is why the review is also taking longer than expected.

From where are you getting the little list of instruments that you tagged into your post that I assume were not specifically mentioned in the quoted document since they were not part of the quote?

For #1 and #3, there is no universal restriction, but your Bishop (the local Ordinary) has the authority to specify what he sees proper and necessary for the liturgy in his diocese.

However, as the CDWDS noted, the bishop does not have the competency to rule on musical instruments. That belongs to the particular national episcopal conference.

Please re-read what I posted. Electric guitars, drum kits and the like are primarily associated with secular music, not sacred. Just because it does not specifically name an instrument, that does not mean that there is carte blanche out there to use it.

  1. I believe it has been rare that the Church specifically restricted or banned certain instruments. She has banned certain styles of music in the past until composers/musicians could develop the style in such a way that it would be appropriate for liturgy - i.e. very early polyphony.

What the Church has done, though, is state that instruments commonly thought to be more suitable for secular music would not be allowed. I don’t know why the Church was not more specific. To me, I think the ambiguity has caused the confusion and the division that is currently being experienced. Perhaps she left it open because of the Church’s history of allowing styles and instruments to be developed, refined and adapted for liturgy. Unfortunately, some musicians or composers today don’t refine their music or style of playing. So, what is heard at Mass may also be something similar to what you hear at a musical, opera, rock/pop concert, or an easy listening radio station. Perhaps she also felt it was pretty self-explanatory, but it seems that what appears to be self-explanatory to some is not the same to others, thus leaving it open for interpretation which is sometimes not a good thing.

  1. I don’t know when Catholics started singing “Amazing Grace”, but I do know that it was at least done in the early part of the 20th century prior to Vatican II. It’s my grandmother’s favorite hymn from childhood and she’s 90.

  2. There is no official list of approved or banned hymns that I know of. But around the 1920s or 1930s the Society of St. Gregory put out a “Black List” and “White List” of what they thought was appropriate and not appropriate for mass. Today, it’s supposed to be left to the head of the diocese to decide. The Director of Worship of each diocese can put out directives about certain music (I know ours does). Now, whether or not each parish will comply is another story. I’ve freelanced in enough parishes in my diocese alone to see that although it may look great on paper and would work well if implemented correctly, if the pastor or the music director aren’t on board, it won’t be implemented or a half-hearted attempt will be made, thus setting it up for failure from the beginning.

Excuse me but since the Church has left the choice of appropriate instruments up to the local congregation, the diocese at best, anything can be argued as culturally acceptable. As for the music itself, our choir director takes her selections from a publication that is available through the diocese and it includes traditional Catholic as well as other selections normally considered to be of the Christian “gospel” genre rather than Catholic including Amazing Grace, How Great Thou Art, etc…

This continuous second guessing the rules due to a lack of concrete instruction from the Vatican is not doing us a bit of good.

I think the problem stems to the Church not being definitive enough on this, because it is human nature to take advantage of loopholes or ambiguities. (I’m sure, or at least hope, she thought she was being definitive at the time.) The only pseudo-concrete thing is that the instruments should not be used if “by common opinion or use” they are deemed “suitable for secular use only”. But even this can be taken advantage of. It gives people a chance to be “litigious” in terms of saying, “Well, since the Church never specifically says which kinds of instruments, then we can technically use ‘x’ instrument because it is by our common opinion that it can be used for sacred music.”

What can be helpful is to look at the Church’s history in regards to liturgical music and how she handled it. Throughout much of the history, people were always trying to bring in new kinds of music and even instruments into liturgy. It would sometimes go unchecked for a while, but when the Church would see that the instrument or the music itself was “too secular”, she’d say and do something about it. Sometimes, that would mean banning. Many times, that would mean to adapt or refine the music or the execution of playing the instrument to make it appropriate for Mass. She hasn’t really changed or wavered with this position, much like with almost everything else the Church has stood for. So, I ask myself these questions, “Why would the Church suddenly give us carte blanche on whatever we want to do musically during the liturgy?” “Does it hold the same reverence as long-standing music used at Mass?” “If I played/sung this music outside of mass and took out all words which would indicate religious text, would I actually hear it as a secular piece of music?” If I can’t adapt my instrument or the style so that it sounds more “liturgical” then perhaps it’s not appropriate.

But then, there’s the same problem… too many people are making these decisions, and because of the ambiguous wording there will be people who will err more on the conservative side and people who err more on the liberal side of things.

I personally think it is self-explanatory based on Church history with music, and that most people are intelligent enough to know what constitutes secular musical styles and instruments. But as I’ve said before in other threads, this is nothing new. Everything will eventually make itself right again.

No. Again, please read what the CDWDS stated as late as 2001 when it wrote to the USCCB about American adaptations to the GIRM:

Certain other provisions seem to require further study and specification before being introduced as adapting legislation. What is said here may be understood to apply to nn. 301, 304, 326, 329, 339, 343, and the portion of n. 393 referring to approved musical instruments. In cases where the Conference of Bishops is to legislate, such legislation should be truly specific, and the law intends precisely that any particular episcopal legislation on these matters be enacted in common by the Bishops of the Conference rather than being left to be determined variously in different dioceses. In the absence of any particular legislation on such a matter, specifications contained in the universal law maintain their full force. In other words, the Conference of Bishops may name specific materials or instruments as suitable in addition to those universally deemed so, but in the absence of such specification, only the “traditional” materials or those otherwise specified in the Institutio Generalis Missalis Romani are to be regarded as approved.

Again, the directory of music that the USCCB submitted to the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments remains under review. Furthermore, even the USCCB noted that there were problematic songs. Here is a list of criteria used:

      Is there an obscured presentation of the centrality of Christ in salvation history and an insufficient emphasis on the divinity of Christ? Do our liturgical songs present Jesus as the culmination of the Old Testament and the fulfillment of God’s plan for our salvation?  Is the indispensable place of the incarnation in the plan of salvation sufficiently presented?  Is Jesus the Savior often overshadowed by Jesus the teacher, model, friend, and brother?  Is there an appropriate balance?  Is there an imbalance in our emphasis on the humanity or divinity of Jesus Christ?  At times, can we detect a negative undertone in speaking of the divine nature of Christ, as if divinity is equated with being “distant and unreal.”

An indistinct treatment of the ecclesial context of Catholic beliefs and magisterial teachings?

Do the texts give insufficient emphasis to God’s initiative in the world with a corresponding overemphasis on human action?

Is there a sufficient recognition of the transforming effects of grace?

Here were their findings:

Names for God: The first question asked in examining the songs was what names they used to refer to God. Here a full range of biblical titles were used, though “Father” was used only 10% of the time.

Trinitarian structure? None of the songs referred to the three persons of the Blessed Trinity or utilized a “Trinitarian structure.”

Christological? Only 35% of the songs referred to Christ.

Emphasizes Individual or Larger Church? 55% of the songs emphasized the individual believer, 35% emphasized concerns of the larger Church, while 10% were centered exclusively on praise of God.

The Day of Pentecost Arrives
Verse 3: Our inhibitions make us die to you and to our friends.
Aren’t some inhibitions actually good, enabling us to live for God and our friends?

Let all Mortal Flesh
The first and third verses of this hymn have been altered to eliminate apparently archaic language and in inclusive the text. The original text said: Christ our God to earth decsendeth and As the Light of light descendeth—present tenses. These, however, have been changed to past tenses[descended] to eliminate the archaic language, causing the loss of the critically important notion of Christ’s continuous coming among us, especially in the Holy Eucharist.

Sing Praise to Our Creator
The original text spoke of being “baptized into his grace,” but was changed for the sake of vertical inclusively to: “baptized in living grace.” What does this mean?

The last set speaks to revisions that the publishers themselves made to songs that had already been theologically correct. While the Diocesan Bishop does have the competency to regualte the kind of music used, he does not have the competency to regulate the instruments employed. The CDWDS already addressed that. Such competency falls to the particular national episcopal conferences. If they do not have regulations, then, they must follow the universal law.

Just because a song is included in the OCP and/or GIA song books, that does not necessarily render the piece suitable for use in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.

I went to the USCCB instruction regarding the Institution Generalis Missalis Romani and found this under the musical instrument section:

“While the organ is to be accorded pride of place, other wind, stringed, or percussion instruments may be used in liturgical services in the dioceses of the United States of America, according to longstanding local usage, provided they are truly apt for sacred use or can be rendered apt.”

Now please tell me again why virtually any instrument could not be argued to fulfill these requirements based on the native culture of any individual parish. No two lay people or clergy are going to agree on each and every possible music selection or instrument. I hate drums, cymbals and brass at Mass and yet they are exactly the instruments that date to the time of Christ and are mentioned in the Bible so they must be OK, right?!

Again, if certain musical selections or instruments are specifically inappropriate the Church needs to tell us, specifically. Enough of the hedging already; as long as there are those on both extremes of interpretation of the rules there will be confusion.

By their very nature of common associaton with secular music, drums, electric guitars, bongos, electric bass guitars and the like are not suitable for sacred music. The bottome line is this, what you see being used at a concert featuring Miley Cyrus, Green Day, REM, Duran Duran, Van Halen, Taylor Swift, Carrie Underwood and the like is not suitable for the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.

Just because an instrument was mentioned in the psalms, or was in use at the time of Christ, that does not necessarily make it fit for liturgical use. Remember that the directives were very specific for what could and could not be done during Ancient Israel’s cultic sacrificial worship. Furthermore, whatever King David was doing in front of the Ark was not a part of Ancient Israel’s cultic sacrificial worship. The cultic sacrificial form of worship used by Ancient Israel was dictated directly by God, Himself, because it pointed to the supreme Sacrifice of Jesus on Calvary. The Holy Sacrifice of the Mass makes us present at Calvary. It is the Church’s supreme form of prayer. It should be treated with the dignity, solemnity and majesty it deserves. The Venerable Pope John Paul II rightly obseved this in his Chirograph on Sacred Music:

. In continuity with the teachings of St Pius X and the Second Vatican Council, it is necessary first of all to emphasize that music destined for sacred rites must have holiness as its reference point: ** indeed, “sacred music increases in holiness to the degree that it is intimately linked with liturgical action”[11]. For this very reason, “not all without distinction that is outside the temple (profanum) is fit to cross its threshold”, my venerable Predecessor Paul VI wisely said, commenting on a Decree of the Council of Trent[12]. And he explained that “if music - instrumental and vocal - does not possess at the same time the sense of prayer, dignity and beauty, it precludes the entry into the sphere of the sacred and the religious”[13]. Today, moreover, the meaning of the category “sacred music” has been broadened to include repertoires that cannot be part of the celebration without violating the spirit and norms of the Liturgy itself.**

St Pius X’s reform aimed specifically at purifying Church music from the contamination of profane theatrical music that in many countries had polluted the repertoire and musical praxis of the Liturgy. In our day too, careful thought, as I emphasized in the Encyclical Ecclesia de Eucharistia, should be given to the fact that not all the expressions of figurative art or of music are able “to express adequately the mystery grasped in the fullness of the Church’s faith”[14]. Consequently, not all forms of music can be considered suitable for liturgical celebrations.

Unfortunately, as I have experienced it, publishing houses seem to think that they have carte blanche to do whatever they see fit with regards to the music that is used at the Mass. What really saddened me was when I had to leaf through Spirit and Song. The last song that OCP has in that book (which is supposed to be meant for use for the Mass) is “Lean on Me”. Yes, that “Lean on Me.” That is a secular song, covered by both R&B and Reggae bands. Can you honestly say with a straight face that this song is suitable for the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass? If you say yes, then, I will make a case that we could very well use U2’s Gloria, since that song at least has Latin in the refrain.

Where is that? I didn’t realize the U.S. Conference of Bishops had authority over a Bishop regarding musical instruments. Where does the USCCB teach that? Thanks for the help.

Where is an explicit prohibition on such instruments? I didn’t think there was one, but if there is, I would appreciate the reference. Thanks.

Actually, the answer is in that letter that I quoted from the CDWDS in my initial post. So, it’s not the USCCB saying this; rather, it comes from the highest authority, the Holy See, in the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments. Remember, ultimately, the buck stops with the CDWDS.

Pope St. Pius X’s instruction on sacred music, Tra le Sollecitudini of 1903, lists piano, drums, cymbals and bells among the forbidden instruments.

Again, the fact that these instruments are commonly used and associated with secular music should give you a big clue that, according to Musicam Sacram, they should not be used during the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.

Are you saying Musicam Sacram prohibits specific instruments? Where?

Also, just for clairty, the CDWDS is not the highest authority. The highest authority is the Magisterium, which the CDWDS serves. The buck stops with the Magisterium, according to Catholic teaching, not the Curia.

Where does Muicam Sacram prohibit instruments that may also be associated with secular music?

Read my initial post, diggerdomer.

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