Music Before Mass

It appears that at my church the oprganist is really a bit of an ***. He insists on warming up or putting on show before mass times and that is destroying the personal time of reflection or devotionals that the parishioners want to do before mass. When told of the complaints and that he should warm up in another place he just scoffs it off, the pastor is worried he will walk out and leave him high and dry if he says anything more.

I am positive I read that the organist should accommodate those who want to pray and not the other way around. Can anyone name the document or quote it for me.

God Bless

there is a big difference between being an organist who plays music before Mass, either at the wish of the pastor, personal preference, this is the only time he can practice, to familiarize parishioners with the music, or whatever reason, to “he is a certain beast of burden”. Some people have a personal preference for silent prayer and recollection before Mass. Some have preference for music. Some have preference for learning the songs and service music before Mass. Those with differing preferences do not need to cast nasturtiums before each other.

I am a pianist, and I say give the organist some slack.

When you say, “put on a show,” do you mean that he plays a prelude that is above and beyond the usual simple hymn, or do you mean that he does scales and arpeggios?

If he is doing a fancy prelude, sit back and enjoy and count yourself privileged! Most keyboardists just don’t have the technical ability to play such marvelous pieces, and we end up playing rather simple arrangements of works by Bach, or we play simple arrangements of hymns and choruses. One in a while, I work up a fantastic prelude for my parishes, but it takes weeks and weeks of practice, and I am usually very nervous about it because at 50, I just don’t play as well as I did when I was 15.

My daughter attends a parish where a music professor is the organist, and lucky her–she gets to listen to some of the best organ music ever written before every Mass!

If he’s doing scales and arpeggios, well–as an experienced pianist, I would say that no professional keyboardist warms up these exercises in front of the audience. He could do this in the car on the dashboard, like all the rest of us do!

But…some people have colder or stiffer fingers, even young people and truly need to get the fingers warmed up to be able to play even hymns. So that’s why I say, cut him some slack. He might even have a physical condition (e.g. mild arthritis) that forces him to do a little extra warmup that the rest of us don’t have to do.)

An organ also involves the feet (pedals), changing stops, and turning pages. Sometimes an organist just wants to run through everything to make sure that everything is smooth and that the stops actually produce the sound that he/she expects.

I don’t have any problems with stiff fingers, but out of years of habit, I like to warm up before I play a Mass by running through the hymns (usually at a much faster tempo) just to make sure I know where the verses start and whether I need to transpose a piece down.

As an organist, I am in favour of organ-music before, during and after Mass! However, I don’t believe music played as a prelude should be too ‘showy’ - I don’t think too many people would argue that a quiet improvisation on the entrance hymn is distracting them from prayer (it most likely does the opposite). If the organist is playing something before Mass, such as a big Prelude by Bach which uses the full resources of the organ, I would say that this is probably a step too far - I believe such music is more suited to a postlude after Mass.

If by ‘warming up’ you mean scales and arpeggios as Cat has said, this should (and can) be done elsewhere. In fact the organist could warm up with scales etc. at the organ but just not draw any stops!

Sorry I don’t know off hand of a document that states that the organist shoud accommodate those who are praying, but any reasonable organist should be automatically sensitive to this anyway. In the cathedral church where I play and practice, there is Adoration during the day in a side chapel - and you just know that you have to keep things quiet! I don’t think the parish priest should have any fear in setting the organist straight - yes, maybe the organist would walk out (unlikely, though, especially if they are employed by the Church) but if the organist keeps disturbing parishioners then they (the parishioners) will certainly leave and find another suitable church. Without the parishioners, the organist will certainly be out of a job; maybe they should bear that in mind! :slight_smile:


Your thoughts in practical application are similar to mine. The problem is the organist will do the scales and standard warming up and he also do the flourishing pieces that in our culture would normally lead those who hear such a work to applause. To do otherwise would be rude in the face of his skill.

The problem is that applause at church is the sure norm that we are no longer worshipping but instead we are engaged in a more profane pleasure of this world. Our Holy Father uses this test when he evaluates the appropriateness of innovations forced into the liturgy such as dance or contemporary music styles.Before mass their is no contest that the profane is left behind in favour of the scared.

I have heard whole concerts played at church when the church has been booked for such a worldly event but that is not what should happen at or before mass. I will keep looking through the documents that spell out the purpose and scope of scared music but as you pointed out if the organist would be more prudent in his desires to dazzle, issues like this would not occur.

God Bless

As a deacon, the priest and you can’t instruct the congregation that it is rude to applaud in church? it truly is (ask Miss Manners). Perhaps a bulletin announcement along the lines of, “Our organist plays for the glory of God. Please do not applaud before, during or after Mass.” The fact of whether or not the organist is also paid has nothing to do with the matter, and should not be mentioned as part of the bulletin announcement.

How about this:

  1. Sacred silence also, as part of the celebration, is to be observed at the designated times.54 Its purpose, however, depends on the time it occurs in each part of the celebration. Thus within the Act of Penitence and again after the invitation to pray, all recollect themselves; but at the conclusion of a reading or the homily, all meditate briefly on what they have heard; then after Communion, they praise and pray to God in their hearts.

** Even before the celebration itself**, it is commendable that silence to be observed in the church, in the sacristy, in the vesting room, and in adjacent areas, so that all may dispose themselves to carry out the sacred action in a devout and fitting manner.

General Instruction of the Roman Missal (2002)

I agree with much of what Cat and NPC said. You can cut him some slack, but I do think that if he’s just doing scales and other warm-up exercises, he can do them somewhere else or on the organ without pulling out any of the stops.

Our organist is one of the most talented in the city and is literally a brilliant musician. He truly does play for the “glory of God” and to his best ability. If he does warm up, it’s on the organ without any of the stops, so you can’t hear a thing.

All of his preludes are incredibly beautiful and some very complex, but always meditative. He saves the joyous, forte pieces for the postludes. But one thing he always follows is that he will time the prelude to end a little early so that people in the congregation and in the choir can have some quiet, meditative time right before the mass. If for some reason he is late getting a prelude out, he just won’t play it, because he does respect the congregation’s prayer time. I have a lot of respect for him and have learned a lot from him in terms of “performing” (for lack of a better word) sacred music during mass.

I have played some quite complex pieces by the great composers and never had anyone feel the need to applaud.

Music should help center us to the celebration.

I don’t know your parish, but I can’t imagine how this is an issue.

So there are really two issues here - or two practices - which can be distracting to parishioners before Mass, that of the organist playing music which may be ‘over the top’ and the applause of certain people in the congregation.

It is obvious that certain pieces of music will attract applause, and it must be made clear to the organist that such music is not suitable before Mass. Some people mistakenly believe that ‘good’ organ music is loud music. While loud organ music tends to be more ‘showy’, there can be much beauty and emotion in simple, quiet and reflective music. In my opinion this is the type of music which should be played as a prelude, as soft, meditative music can greatly aid one’s prayer and contemplation.

Tedster rightly included the point from the Instruction of the Roman Missal which says that silence is desirable before the Mass. However, I don’t believe anyone would object to a reflective improvisation on the entrance hymn, for example. I also play at a local parish church on Saturday evenings and the reverend curate encourages me to play before the celebration as it ‘sets the mood’. If the organist at your church was to improvise on the entrance hymn they could play right up until the bell rings and this would prevent applause from people who would ordinarily be so inclined - obviously this would not work with a standard, written piece unless the organist’s timing is impeccable!

At any rate, it is completely out of place to warm up with scales etc. on the organ before Mass. I’m sure if I was a parishioner at your church I would be more irritated by this than loud preludes! The parish priest must put his foot down on this issue at least - either he does exercises elsewhere or on the organ without stops drawn, or he settles for some sort of prelude only (which I think should be adequate to loosen the joints!).

Perhaps if the organist craves applause so much, he could be encouraged to start a regular recital series?! Whatever happens on this issue, it must be approached delicately, since the parish risks losing parishioners if the organist continues his present way. On the other hand, the organist is providing a very valuable Church ministry - and thanks be to God your parish is lucky enough to have an organ which is played, and an organist to go with it!!

In the organist’s defense, you cannot practice most organ literature on a piano, and most churches do not have a second organ lying around for practice in another place. Most organists don’t own an organ!

Sometimes the pastor will ask the choir or organist to end their practice time 10-15 minutes before the start of Mass, to allow for a prayerful silence.

Is the organist even Catholic? Many are not. He might not be aware.

I’ve been to some Masses at the Newman Center at the U of Arizona where they begin the music early. But usually it only happens when the music leader wants to go over a new Responsorial song and/or the refrain of a new song that will be sung–to get the congregation familiarized with the song/melody.


I love it when our wonderful organist plays before Mass. He drowns out the talkers:rolleyes:

I normally stay in the adoration chapel till just before the Mass, the chatterers have gotten so bad. I try to be charitable, but lately I have taken to kneeling with my elbows on the pew and my hands over my ears.

When I was part of the music ministry at my parish, we would get together one half hour before Mass, to warm up and go over the songs. We have jobs that we work at, during the week.

Sorry, but if you want music, you’ll just have to learn to live with it, for this is necessary for most of us non-professional type musicians.


It happened to me today.

I impulsively changed my weekend plans and drove to another state on Saturday to see my daughter’s play premiere, and then drove back home late that same night, figuring that I would get home at around 2 in the morning, enough to catch around five hours of sleep.

Got caught in WORST traffic jam ever in Chicago! Two hours to travel less than a mile. Three cars overheated. Everyone was partying. I actually read thirty pages of a novel while I was inching along on I-90.

Got home at 4 in the morning. Went to bed, three hours later got up in a daze, showered, tried to eat, but felt ill. Drove to church with my notebook full of music.

Forgot the paper with the hymns, so had to call my husband (who had attended Sat Vigil Mass). He read it to me over the phone. By now, it was 25 minutes to Mass time. I had never heard of three of the hymns! The cantor dashed in at around quarter to Mass, and we ran through all the hymns–they were kind of dicey. Ran through the Psalm, which was also kind of dicey. I quickly thumbed through my solo book and selected a prelude and postlude.

Both Masses I played for went very well. At one point, I totally had a brain-melt and even though I could see plainly that the piece was in the Key of D major, I simply couldn’t figure out how to play the tonic chord at the end of my introduction. The poor cantor! The poor congregation! But they got the pitch eventually.

And one of the cantors, a young boy, sang Schubert’s Ave Maria, two verses, in perfect Latin, and I didn’t mess up at all for him. The congregation applauded like crazy when he finished–I’m glad!

So it all worked out. But boy, am I tired right now, and watching the Bears lose so miserably didn’t help me wake up!

Anyway, the point is, I was “practicing” right up until the last minute before Mass. I’m sorry, but that’s real life for you. Doesn’t happen very often, but it did this weekend.

Let’s all give each other a break, OK? Kindness is part of the fruit of the Spirit.

I begin playing about ten minutes before Mass begins, but I only choose quiet, meditative pieces. This helps to quiet the talkers somewhat, although some people can only be silenced with duct tape! It also sets a better mood for prayer than sitting in silence while one’s neighbor is yakking about her recent operation. I do not, however, rehearse before Mass unless it is a piece completely unfamiliar to the people. It is simply unprofessional and distracting to prayer. This is particularly true of the responsorial Psalm, which is already played through and sung through at the proper time in the Mass. Neither do I pull out grandiose pieces that I might reserve for a postlude or a wedding. The primary purpose of a postlude for me is in driving into the narthex those who want to talk instead of pray. It accomplishes two goals: glorifying God for what has just taken place, and purging the church of those who don’t seem to realize what has just taken place.


What is a ‘nasturtium’? And can I get it on me?

Which is why it is, it’s such a problem!

One would think ‘of course no one would play distracting music right before mass’, but in some cases, that’s exactly what happens.

When it does, those that aren’t there think ‘you must be kidding’, while those that are there are thinking ‘he must be kidding’

Personally, I think that the musicians and choirs have a rehearsal time away from mass just so this doesn’t happen. You can do your flourishes and such when it’s not going to affect any one’s participation in mass.

To do otherwise, IMO, is rude.

From the original post, I gathered that the organist is playing good literature. In the poster’s opinion, it is “too flashy”. No one was talking about practicing.

Music played as preludes should reflect the spirit of the celebration. On Easter, trumpet tunes are appropriate. On a Sunday in ordinary time, it might be a chorale prelude on the opening hymn. During lent, it may be a softer piece designed to stimulate contemplation. It need not always be soft.

On behalf of Sunday morning Rosary devotees everywhere, let me just say…

You’re our hero!!!


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