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CNP Feedback - Organ Preludes: Yes or No?

The "Feedback Box" on the CanticaNOVA Publications website has proven quite effective in promoting communications on a variety of subjects, and expressing concerns of liturgists and musicians. From time to time, we'll compile a few of these questions or comments and put them in public view, with the hope that others with similar concerns may benefit from their content.

Q. Dear CNP:

Am I correct when I read in the GIRM that we are not to play the organ or any music/singing as a prelude to Mass? Should this time be reserved for silent prayer?

"Unemployed" Organist

A. Dear Unemployed:

That's an interesting question ... an affirmative answer would certainly change the habits of a number of Catholic churches in this country and abroad.

Here's the passage from the new GIRM that is causing concern:
#45. Even before the celebration itself, it is commendable that silence 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. [See the USCCB version of new GIRM for the full text.]
There certainly could be more silence in church ... that's one way of marking it as "sacred space." However, I don't think the document intends to outlaw preludes (instrumental or sung) in favor of total silence before Mass. The text above seems to be a reaction to a flurry of all-too-common "noisy activity" which would preclude a congregant's entering into a prayerful state prior to Mass. This unnecessary activity could include rehearsing with a cantor, rehearsing with the congregation (!), practicing a reading, announcing the need for another altar server, making other announcements before Mass, laughing in the sacristy, talking among the congregation, eating donuts in the vestibule (from the Mass before, of course). All of these are not conducive to prayer. A well-planned and well-executed prelude can have a very positive effect on the congregation, setting the mood for the celebration even before the Entrance Chant. The "commendable silence" of the GIRM does not preclude an organ prelude (otherwise, why would the document mention the vesting room and adjacent areas -- certainly the organ is not played in the sacristy!).

The GIRM further states in #313:

In Advent the organ and other musical instruments should be used with a moderation that is consistent with the season's character and does not anticipate the full joy of the Nativity of the Lord.

In Lent the playing of the organ and musical instruments is allowed only to support the singing. Exceptions are Laetare Sunday (Fourth Sunday of Lent), Solemnities, and Feasts.
These injunctions would have no effect, indeed they would make no sense, if the organ were not intended to play alone. I would certainly not give up playing preludes (outside Lent).

Gary Penkala
CanticaNOVA Publications

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