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CNP Feedback - The Organ in Advent

by Gary D. Penkala

Q. Dear CNP:

I greatly appreciate your website and find it a very useful resource, among others, to consult when planning music for the liturgy each week. It is good to see reminders, such as the use of violet and not blue for Advent, that help us stay aware of the desires of the Church in regard to the liturgy. The listing of choral and organ suggestions are truly worthwhile and I am glad that they are included.

I would like to suggest that you consult Musicam sacram, section VI, nos.65 and 66. I know of no other instance where these directives have been altered. It is #66 that concerns me. It may cause you to reconsider the listing of organ music for this time of the liturgical year.

Thanks and please keep up the good work.

-- Michigan Music Director

A. Dear Michigan Music Director:

Thank you for your kind words about the usefulness of our website.

You raised a question about solo organ music during Advent. Here are the two paragraphs you mentioned from Musicam sacram, issued by the Sacred Congregation of Rites in March 1967:

65. In sung or said Masses, the organ, or other instrument legitimately admitted, can be used to accompany the singing of the choir and the people; it can also be played solo at the beginning before the priest reaches the altar, at the Offertory, at the Communion, and at the end of Mass. The same rule, with the necessary adaptations, can be applied to other sacred celebrations.

66. The playing of these same instruments as solos is not permitted in Advent, Lent, during the Sacred Triduum and in the Offices and Masses of the Dead.

The text of #66 does seem very clear - no solo organ music at funerals, during Advent or Lent, or during the Sacred (Paschal) Triduum. I can understand the first three occasions (funerals, Advent & Lent), but something seems quite strange about including the Sacred Triduum here. According to current practice, the Paschal Triduum begins with the Mass of the Lord's Supper on Holy Thursday evening and closes with Evening Prayer on Easter Sunday. Surely Musicam sacram does not intend to bar solo organ music at the end of the Great Easter Vigil and on Easter Sunday itself! But, technically, this is exactly how #66 reads.

I agree and wholeheartedly support the tradition of using absolutely no solo organ music from after the Gloria on Holy Thursday until the same at the Easter Vigil. In fact, in my parish we used no organ whatsoever (not even to accompany singing) during this time. This is likely what the document above intended [although it states things poorly].

I don't mean at all to disagree with the noble and worthy sentiments contained in the document -- just to point out that we must understand the intention behind the rule, for cases where the rule is not written (or translated) clearly.

So I could agree with Musicam sacram on not using solo organ during Advent, Lent, funerals and from Gloria to Gloria of the Triduum... were it not for one more Vatican document of later release. The Ceremonial of Bishops (1989) sets out norms for the liturgy... norms not solely restricted to Pontifical Masses, but norms that touch on the current Church thinking on many liturgical issues.

Paragraph #236 reads:

During Advent, the playing of the organ and other musical instruments as well as the floral decoration of the altar should be marked by a moderation that reflects the character of this season, but does not anticipate the full joy of Christmas itself.

Paragraph #252 comparatively reads,

During Lent the altar is not to be decorated with flowers, and the use of musical instruments is allowed only to support the singing. The Fourth Sunday of Lent, called Laetare Sunday, solemnities, and feasts are exceptions to this rule.

Obviously a distinction is to be drawn between the two penitential seasons. Advent, a season of hopeful anticipation and preparation, stills retains the "Alleluia" in the Liturgy (Mass & Hours) and includes the "Te Deum" every Sunday, and on solemnities and feasts. Lent, a season of repentance, conversion, almsgiving, sacrifice, metanoia and baptismal preparation bars the joyful "Alleluia" from all Liturgy, and eliminates the "Te Deum" except for a few solemnities and feasts. The "Gloria" is not sung on Sundays of either Lent or Advent, the former for penitential reasons, the latter perhaps to allow it to ring out clearer as the "Song of the Angels" on Christmas.

Our CNP Liturgical Planning pages try to follow the most recent directives as contained in the Ceremonial of Bishops. While Advent and Lent are both penitential ("violet") seasons, they are not identical in mood or intent. Advent organ music, though, should be subdued, and there are certainly ways to accomplish this in the parish, even in a rather overt way. For example, one could eliminate a postlude (or play a quiet postlude) on the Sundays of Advent -- except, perhaps, Gaudete Sunday. One could play free-style fantasies (or maybe even improvisations) using the wonderful Gregorian chants of Advent.

While we may be "hungry" for a definitive document that will settle all liturgical questions once and for all, we are almost always living in "time between documents," when everything that has come before must be evaluated and interpreted. As you mentioned in your email comments, though, one thing does seem very clear: blue is not a liturgical color in the United States!

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