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CNP Feedback - Recorded Music — A "CD" Practice?

Q. Dear CNP:

Thank you for your incredible resource on the website. Your guidance has played a key role in forming my ministry during my first year of service as a Director of Music.

I have been particularly interested in your commentary about the use of organ music during Lent. I have successfully prepared my cantors to lead the assembly, and have been able to pare my organ registrations to a few soft 8' stops. We also do away with an "Entrance Hymn" and chant from the Graduale simplex during the procession. My question is regarding choral music during Lent.

Naturally, the rubrics prohibit the use of an instrumental prelude (and postlude) during Lent, but what of a choral prelude? Our church is still working on building a strong choir and I, at the request of the pastor, have pulled together a collection of Gregorian chants around Lenten Scripture that we now play before Mass. It is all unaccompanied and seems to me to be an acceptable "prelude" for Lenten liturgy as all the chants are from the Graduale Romanum or Graduale simplex and, if we had the vocal forces to do so, I would probably initiate something of this with live vocalists during Lent. Is there anything that specifically prohibits preludes as opposed to simply instrumental music?

Chant Spinner

A. Dear Spinner:

Thank you for your very kind words about the CanticaNOVA Publications website. We're glad you find it useful in your ministry.

You're to be congratulated for the steps you've taken to make music during Lent sound different from the rest of the year. The move away from an "Entrance Hymn" to a chant from the Graduale simplex is particularly admirable! Who does this chanting, by the way?

I assume when you say that the collection of Gregorian chants you assembled is "played" before Mass, that you mean they are burned to a disk and played over a sound system. Certainly, if these were sung live there would be no question whatsoever about their legitimacy — sing all you want before and during and after Mass.

Assuming that these chants in question are pre-recorded, there are more issues involved.

Because many of our directives and rubrics for music at Mass stem from the early and mid 20th century, the concept of "burning to disk" and generating mp3s didn't even exist. It's impossible to find clear direction on this topic from those documents of the universal Church.

The U.S. bishops, however, more recently have addressed the issue, in Sing to the Lord: Music in Divine Worship (2007). Clearly the practice of substituting a recording for live performance (either on the part of the organist or the congregation) is disallowed. Singing in worship, and the accompaniment to that congregational song, must be authentic (i.e. a live performance).

Recorded music lacks the authenticity provided by a living liturgical assembly gathered for the Sacred Liturgy. While recorded music might be used advantageously outside the Liturgy as an aid in the teaching of new music, it should not, as a general norm, be used within the Liturgy [#93].

Some exceptions to this principle should be noted. Recorded music may be used to accompany the community's song during a procession outside and, when used carefully, in Masses with children. Occasionally, it might be used as an aid to prayer, for example, during long periods of silence in a communal celebration of reconciliation. However, recorded music should never become a substitute for the community's singing [#94].

Here are some online comments on the use of pre-recorded singing/accompaniment:

All of this helps put into perspective the Church's thinking on pre-recorded music at Mass. It seems obvious that your goal is not to replace either congregational singing or the accompaniment thereof, but simply to offer a meditation prior to Lenten Masses, as a replacement for the organ prelude, which is excluded during Lent.

The question becomes: Is it better to have silence before Mass during Lent or to use chant meditations over a sound system? I, personally, would highly favor the former. Part of the purpose of the rubric prohibiting solo organ music during Lent is to void the Liturgy of that normal "aural experience." It is meant to be noticed — that our Liturgy is now different, quieter, more introspective. The notion of substituting one "sound" with another "sound" seems contrary to the spirit of the rubric. If we normally play an organ prelude, substituting harpsichord or piano wouldn't seem to match the intent.

My guess is that there may be some clerical "pressure" in your case to have something before Mass. Pastors have an aversion (and rightly so) for talking and conversation in church before Mass. Organ music generally precludes this (or at least covers it up), and perhaps recorded chants, which invite meditation, may have the same effect. There may be better ways to "teach" the congregation to be quiet before Mass: words from the pulpit about the importance of such behavior, a gentle yet firm reminder when things get too loud, praying a Rosary or Divine Mercy Chaplet. Using music (organ or CD) as a Band-aid to quiet the errant talking may not be the best long-term solution.

Having said all that, I realize that the U.S. bishops' recommendations do allow some leeway, particularly during long Reconciliation Services, where quiet recorded music is often played during individual confessions. If in your case, because the pastor insists on some kind of music before Mass, a choice must be made between continuing the practice of an organ prelude or using recorded a cappella Gregorian chants, I might opt for the chants.

You mentioned in your question that the parish is using chants from the Graduale simplex at the Entrance. At Masses where this is done, there must be singers (or a cantor) available to do this. Couldn't these musicians be invited to learn a few Lenten chant hymns (Parce Domine, Attende Domine, Ave verum, Crux fidelis) to be sung prior to the Masses they're attending. It doesn't take a large group to sing chant very effectively — where "two or three are gathered," there is a fine schola! Chants can even be sung by a soloist.

From my perspective, the goal would be to have a singer or two before each Lenten Mass (except on Laetare Sunday when the organ can be used) to sing some live meditative music for the congregation. This has the added advantage of showing them that chant is certainly easily accomplished in their parish, and they may well pick up on some of these chant hymns and be ready to sing them themselves next Lent.

Gary Penkala
CanticaNOVA Publications

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