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CNP Feedback - Optional Organ?

Q. Dear CNP:

Concerning the use of the organ during Lent, my pastor insists on a prelude and postlude. A prior pastor simply didn't care one way or another. So my question, where in the rubrics is this stated? And secondly, does this rubric have the force of law in that the "the organ will not play," or are there loopholes such as "should not," or "it is recommended that." Please clarify.

I also discovered the other day, and I did not know this, that Sing To The Lord, is advisory only. Interesting.

Torn on the Bench

A. Dear Torn:

The Lenten rubric of using the organ and other musical instruments only to support singing (i.e. no solo organ music: preludes, offertories, communions, postludes) has compelling documentary foundation. It's not a "maybe" issue — there's really no option to play solo organ music during Lent (except on Laetare Sunday and for feasts and solemnities).

This practice was well established since prior to Vatican II in what is now called the Extraordinary Form of the Mass. The "new" rubric comes first from the Ceremonial of Bishops (1985) [which is not just for cathedrals, but applies to the liturgy as celebrated everywhere].

See this CNP article: Organ Music during Lent

It is also found in a Vatican Circular Letter (1988) dealing with Lent and the Triduum.

17. In Lent, the altar should not be decorated with flowers, and musical instruments may be played only to give necessary support to the singing. This is in order that the penitential character of the season be preserved.

See also #50, which extends the rubric for Lent into the Paschal Triduum. Many parishes go even further and use no organ whatsoever during the time mentioned, from Holy Thursday (Gloria) to the Easter Vigil (Gloria), exclusive. Thus singing during this time is entirely a cappella, a very good experience for the congregation.

Perhaps most importantly, this rubric that limits organ music is found in the new GIRM (2011):

313. ... In Lent the playing of the organ and musical instruments is allowed only to support the singing. Exceptions, however, are Laetare Sunday (Fourth Sunday of Lent), Solemnities, and Feasts.

Realize, though, that there may be pastoral issues that could have bearing here. If for grave reasons the pastor feels it necessary for the good of the people to have preludes and postludes, he could ask for them. He must have huge issues, which would lead him to defy clear mandates from Rome — personally, I can't think of a single worthy example. They certainly should not be flippant, arbitrary or personal reasons like, "We need to cover congregational noise," or "We've always done this," or "Mrs. Mary Organist needs a chance to play for her granddaughter," or "There's so much Lenten organ music to use," or "The parish paid $500,000 for this pipe organ and we're going to hear it every Sunday!"

If you would rather not play a prelude and postlude, ask the pastor if the two of you can talk. Very kindly present the documentation, remembering that many pastors are "allergic" to Vatican documents and may have a negative reaction. Explain that you would prefer to follow the thinking of the Church on this matter. If he persists, ask for his own reasoning and have him explain to you why it is important to the parish (not just to him). If he persists further, you have a choice to make. You owe obedience to the Church and you owe obedience to your pastor and boss. Should you decide to accede to the pastor's wishes, the length and type of preludes and postludes is up to you. In any case, they should be quiet, and could be as simple as playing through a Lenten hymn once on a soft flute stop. This rubric does not apply on Laetare Sunday, when flowers and solo organ music can be used. It makes logical sense that the organ music chosen for Laetare Sunday still be within the mood of Lent — don't go playing Easter toccatas and fanfares just because you can play organ music. The mere fact that organ music is used will make this Sunday different.

It is true that the US bishops' document, Sing to the Lord, as well as its predecessor documents which it entirely replaced (Music in Catholic Worship and Liturgical Music Today) does not hold the weight of official documents and rubrics from Rome. It may be viewed as advisory, and, if the authors were faithful and conscientious, should not conflict with Vatican norms.

Gary Penkala
CanticaNOVA Publications

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