Tuesday, 5 July 2011

It's a definite 'No' to guitars, Tibetan nose flutes and tambourines

I have touched a few times recently on the abomination of folk Masses, the use of guitars and extraneous musical instruments that have crawled into our liturgy over the past 50 years. It has drawn a few comments, some in support of "the music of the street".
The guitar - in its right environment!

My first point has to be; why, oh why, when we have the plaintive Gregorian chant that is so hauntingly beautiful and reverent with its roots in the sung prayer of  Jewish priests at the time of Christ and long before - why do we need guitars, electric or otherwise?

Fans of folk music will say "But it is all a question of taste and we are just as within our rights to choose as you are"
Not so.

What folk (and folk musicians) tend to ignore are the various comments from Rome on the matter.
Here are a few extracts from the Fisheaters site:-

Folk music and pop music are not appropriate for the liturgy, as the Vat. II document on Divine Service makes clear:
The Church acknowledges Gregorian chant as specially suited to the Roman liturgy: therefore, other things being equal, it should be given pride of place in liturgical services. But other kinds of sacred music, especially polyphony, are by no means excluded from liturgical celebrations, so long as they accord with the spirit of the liturgical action, as laid down in Art. 30. (Sacrosanctum Concilium, nr. 116)

Before you strummers get too excited by the words "...other kinds of sacred music....are by no means excluded" - let me pour some cold water over your electric guitars.
The music that is produced from guitars, recorders, tambourines and so on is definitely not classified as holy and sacred - read on -

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.” 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. 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.” 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. (Chirograph of the Supreme Pontiff John Paul II for the Centenary of the Motu Propio, 4)

Do guitar recitals and modern, happy clappy hymns possess a sense of prayer, dignity and beauty?

'Fraid not - it's back to the Gregorian from now on - you see,
 The times they are a changing!

.....and even more on the subject.....

Posted on 26 June 2006
Vatican City, 26 June (AKI) - Pope Benedict XVI has called for traditional sacred music to be played during mass, condemning the ongoing custom of contemporary music at religious celebrations. "Updating sacred music is possible, but this cannot happen unless it follows the tradition of Gregorian chants or sacred polyphony," the pontiff said on Sunday on the sidelines of a concert in the Sistine Chapel. A skilled pianist with a predilection for Bach and Mozart, Benedict XVI spoke against a custom reportedly appreciated by his more informal predecessor John Paul II, who worked very hard throughout his papacy to make the Church more appealing to the younger generations.
In an interview published in Turin-daily La Stampa on Monday, the former Archbishop of Ravenna, veteran Cardinal Ersilio Tonini also condemned the practice saying that "Benedict XVI is right, mass is a meeting with God and to meet God sacred music is better than the turmoil of electric guitars, hand clapping and the hustle and bustle of disorderly sounds."
Tonini said that 40 years ago after the Second Vatican Council "making Mass more popular and inviting could be understood." However, the cardinal added, "we exaggerated and now I believe it is legitimate to consider as over this season of breaks with tradition."

Need I say More?


  1. From Left-footer.blogspot (Chris Wright)

    Agree absolutely, as usual. After all, Mozart's Coronation Mass was banned in the eraly 20th century as too ornate.

    In my Parish Church, at the Family Mass, there is the usual cacophony of strumming guitars.

    One of their favourite hymns goes to the tune of "King Richard II Calypso", banned at Cambridge 50 years ago for obscenity. I can't imagine how the tune reached Poland.

    Keep up the good work! Your blog is an oasis of sanity.

  2. Yes, but the comments above do not outlaw the use of guitars and other instruments, except when the music is inappropriate etc. I have heard many good choirs and musicians using good arrangements, and in my own parish I have had some excellent young musicians. The comments above point us in the direction of good liturgical music, but it is a mistake to see this as a definite prohibition from the Sacred Congregation for the Liturgy - no such prohibition exists. I therefore urge caution in this discussion otherwise you will be accuse of encouraging further polarization and some people - some younger people perhaps - will not understand the point. What we want is good quality liturgical music, and this can be provided with other instruments other than the organ (which is often played too loud or badly). No one would object to a symphony orchestra in a Cathedral with Placido Domingo singing part of Mozart's Coronation Mass - yet this would include instruments of different kinds. Some "modern" music is also good and there is nothing wrong with flutes, and even guitars, if they are played well and the music is good.

  3. Further to my comment above, I have been doing some checking for Church documents "forbidding" guitars. It is true that they were banned under Pope St. Pius X, but the piano was also banned at one time. In recent times both of these instruments have been allowed by local bishops and the Vatican has not issued a rebuke of any kind or repeated the prohibition. On the Adoremus web site there is an article suggesting that guitars are not illegal in church although they should certainly not be preferred over the organ (this is in line with Church Documents).
    My own personal preference is for chant, not hymns, but I do like and see a place for some hymns. As I said above, the organ is often played badly. In such cases I would avoid it. The correct principle in Church music is to sing those parts of the Mass that are meant to be sung - Sanctus and acclamations take pride of place, followed by the Gloria and the Kyrie and Agnus Dei. For too long we have done things the wrong way round in Britain and maybe we have been too influenced by our non-catholic environment.
    There is much work to be done, but it cannot be done by invoking "law" - we have to educate people and encourage them to experiment with chants. Pastorally, invoking the law at a time like this with regard to church music is counterproductive, and we must be careful not to invoke "law" where there either is no law or where it has not been enforced or fallen into abeyance for many years. The present Pope has not enforced a ban on guitars and neither has the Congregation for the Liturgy. This is not to say that we should not seek to follow sound and venerable advice and leadership, but we should be careful how we do it.

  4. This is the problem with the conciliar document on the liturgy. In every line, the traditional stance is praised and said to be promoted and yet follows innovation afterwards in the same sentence. Truly the writers of the document had a schizophrenic mentality

  5. Please do not call it 'folk' music, I am a massive (real) folk music fan (you know, Fairport Convention Rachel Unthank & the Winterset etc) and I can assure you that it has nothing to do with real folk music either. It is an insult to folk music ;-)

  6. i totally agree. traditional gregorian music is best fitting for mass

  7. The fitting place for the guitar.


  8. You may be interested to know that as early as 1303, Francesco, Bishop of Gubbio, explicitly forbade his clergy from possessing or playing a guitar, and apparently this has never been repealed!

    There really is nothing new under the sun.

    Info from "Vita Commmunis" by Fr Jerome Bertram (pub. Gracewing)

  9. I'd say "no" to harmonicas and banjos, too. :^)=)

    Fr. Abberton's point is very well taken. It's not that the guitar is such a clamorous instrument but that it's often badly played to accompany music almost devoid of aesthetic sense, written by composers who have no grasp of the awesome majesty of the Mass implied by the Real Presence. Metal strings don't help, either; go nylon or go home. :^)=)

    And Gadfly is right, too; it's not real folk music but rather the pop corruption of it that became popular in the 1960s. Not surprising, then, that it remains popular with the "spirit of Vatican II" crowd, many of whom are still stuck in the Age of Aquarius/Woodstock mindset.

    If I were the musical liturgist of a parish, I'd push for chant and sacred polyphony as much as possible, with a 65/35 mix of old hymns to new for the congregation.

  10. Thank you all and I take your point Anthony & Gadfly, I like real folk music also. I shall refer to the church version as hoot 'n' annie from now on.
    Excellent points from Rita and Mundabor (I do like that form of guitar recital).
    Fr John, good points as always but I am even anti piano on the sanctuary......I am beyond hope!

  11. As neither a musician nor a chorist, I have little to offer on the matter except that the music played at liturgy must positively contribute to the prayer of the people to our God. I also would remind all that Stille Nacht was written for use at Mass at Christmas for 2 voices and guitar. It is, in my mind, most appropriate for Mass and the guitar is still very appropriate.

  12. Most people can't sing or learn to sing gregorean chant. Polyphony music isn't writen for people in the pews to sing. People don't like guitar at mass becaause guitar is an instrument used in rock'n roll and popualar music that some people don't like. Guitar is a good instrument and sounds good at mass. Piano sounds good at mass. Organ is the standard instrument at mass. The hymns at mass are ok and there are hymns for the particlar gospel message for a given sunday. Only thing I don't like about the hymns is the double notes to a syllable or word that I can read but can't make my voice sing follow along with the notes written.

  13. Gary - I am sorry but you just could not be more wrong. 50 years ago it was commonplace for most Catholics to learn to sing plainchant. I attended a very ordinary school yet it had an outstanding choir whose main repertoire was plainchant.
    I do not like a guitar at Mass because the sound it produces is not conducive to reverent worship; fine for rock 'n' roll concerts but not for church.

  14. Mundabor, thank you for the link.

    As a former guitarist in a mega-church / convert to the Catholic church, I have to agree with this article completely. I'm 29, so no old fuddy duddy here either. Let's don't assume that young people are so obsessed with fads that they will require of their ancient religion to act like a child.