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Use of the Church Organ During Advent

The pipe organ is to be held in high esteem, for it is the traditional musical instrument that adds a wonderful splendor to the Church's ceremonies and powerfully lifts up the spirit to God and to higher things.
by Father Edward McNamara | Source:
And More on Liturgical Veneration of Non-Catholics

Answered by Father Edward McNamara, professor of liturgy at the Regina Apostolorum Pontifical University.

Q: Is it still correct to use the organ only to accompany the singing during Advent? -- S.M., Lismore, Australia

A: There are several documents regarding this theme. The 1967 instruction on liturgical music, "Musicam Sacram," addresses the question of the organ and other instruments in Nos. 62-67. To wit:

"62. Musical instruments either accompanying the singing or played alone can add a great deal to liturgical celebrations.

"The pipe organ is to be held in high esteem, for it is the traditional musical instrument that adds a wonderful splendor to the Church's ceremonies and powerfully lifts up the spirit to God and to higher things.

"But other instruments also may be admitted for use in divine worship, with the knowledge and consent of the competent territorial authority. This may be done, however, only on condition that the instruments are suitable, or can be made suitable, for sacred use, are in accord with the dignity of the place of worship, and truly contribute to the uplifting of the faithful.

"63. One criterion for accepting and using musical instruments is the genius and tradition of the particular peoples. At the same time, however, instruments that are generally associated and used only with worldly music are to be absolutely barred from liturgical services and religious devotions. All musical instruments accepted for divine worship must be played in such a way as to meet the requirements of a liturgical service and to contribute to the beauty of worship and the building up of the faithful.

"64. Musical instruments as the accompaniment for singing have the power to support the voice, to facilitate participation, and to intensify the unity of the worshipping assembly. But their playing is not to drown out the voice so that the texts cannot be easily heard. Instruments are to be silent during any part sung by the priest or ministers by reason of their function.

"65. [...] Solo playing (of the organ or other approved instruments) is allowed at the beginning of Mass, prior to the priest's reaching the altar, at the presentation of the gifts, at the communion, and at the end of Mass.

"66. Solo playing of musical instruments is forbidden during Advent, Lent, the Easter triduum, and at services and Masses for the dead.

"67. It is, of course, imperative that organists and other musicians be accomplished enough to play properly. But in addition they must have a deep and thorough knowledge of the significance of the liturgy. That is required in order that even their improvisations will truly enhance the celebration in accord with the genuine character of each of its parts and will assist the participation of the faithful."

According to this document, therefore, solo playing of the organ is prohibited during Advent.

However, while the above criteria are substantially still valid, there appears to be a small opening to solo playing during Advent in the new General Instruction of the Roman Missal.

No. 313 says: "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."

Thus the express prohibition to solo playing of the organ found in "Musicam Sacram" is now limited to the Lenten season while during Advent it now appears possible to do so albeit with moderation and selecting music appropriate for a penitential season.

* * *

Follow-up: Picture of Martin Luther King Jr.

Pursuant on our reply about the liturgical veneration of non-Catholics (Nov. 16) a reader from Lexington, Massachusetts, asked a further question:

"In regard to your response to the issue of the picture of Martin Luther King Jr. in a Church, I seem to recall reading that Pope John Paul II officially recognized Dr. King as a martyr of the faith a few years ago, which was very unusual given that Dr. King was not Catholic. If my recollection is correct, does that recognition by the Holy Father alter your analysis at all? And is that recognition more than the 'commonly esteemed' recognition of the Anglican companions of St. Charles Lwanga as martyrs? If it is, then it seems to me that while it would clearly remain inappropriate to publicly pray to Dr. King for purposes of intercession, such papal recognition might imply the appropriateness of publicly honoring him with a properly restrained display (perhaps a photograph or painting without candles located some distance from the sanctuary and tabernacle), for limited periods, in a Catholic Church."

I have been unable to find anything that could amount to an "official recognition" of Dr. King as a martyr of the faith. A search of the Vatican Web site produced just two mentions, neither of them by the Holy Father.

The only significant mention was in a 1998 letter of the Ecumenical Commission of the Central Committee of the Great Jubilee of the Year 2000 to the corresponding national commissions. Among other things this letter proposed the formation of an ecumenical martyrology.

It stated: "The witness of faith given by Christians, even to the shedding of their blood, deserves particular attention in view of the Jubilee. This testimony has become the common inheritance of Catholics, Orthodox, Anglicans and Protestants (cf. TMA, 37). The Christian community cannot allow the memory of these witnesses to Christ to perish, for they demonstrate the presence and efficacy of the Holy Spirit in the different Churches and ecclesial Communities. This voice from the 'communio sanctorum' is louder and more convincing than the elements of division (cf. TMA, 37). The memory of their testimony and faith is a pledge of hope for the future. To this end, it could be useful to compile a 'common calendar' or an 'ecumenical martyrology,' a compendium of Christians -- Catholic, Orthodox, Anglican, Protestant -- who have rendered testimony to Christ our Savior, sometimes even by shedding their blood."

Among the practical suggestions of this letter was this one:

"In many places Christians have acknowledged in their midst martyrs and exemplary confessors of faith, hope and charity -- both men and women. Some of these, such as Francis of Assisi, Roublev, Johann Sebastian Bach, Monsignor Romero, Elizabeth Seton, the martyr Anuarite of Zaire, and Martin Luther King, have been for various reasons recognized beyond confessional boundaries. Ecumenical groups could look at the example of some of these witnesses with a view to identifying how the work of the Holy Spirit can be distinguished in them and what their role might be in the promotion of full communion."

The suggestion of preparing a common martyrology did not fully prosper. But the idea of honoring non-Catholic martyrs and witnesses to the faith in some way was taken up in an ecumenical service held at the Roman Colosseum on the Third Sunday of Easter, May 7, 2000.

For this event, another group, the "New Martyrs" Commission within the Committee for the Great Jubilee, issued an invitation not to forget and to "update the Church's memory with the witness of all those people, even those who are unknown, who 'risked their lives for the sake of our Lord Jesus Christ' (Acts 15:26)."

They therefore provided a list of martyrs and witnesses to the faith with representatives of many Christian denominations.

Dr. King's name was, I believe, included in this list. But he was not explicitly mentioned at the event attended by the Holy Father. Nor is the full list available among the documents published on the Holy See's Web site.

In the press conference presenting the ecumenical service, the organizers went to pains to explain that this was not a canonization but a duty of recognition and remembrance of the heroic sacrifice of many non-Catholics.

In his homily on this occasion, the Holy Father further explored the meaning of this event. We offer some excerpts:

"The experience of the martyrs and the witnesses to the faith is not a characteristic only of the Church's beginnings but marks every epoch of her history. In the 20th century, and maybe even more than in the first period of Christianity, there have been a vast number of men and women who bore witness to the faith through sufferings that were often heroic.

"How many Christians in the course of the 20th century, on every continent, showed their love of Christ by the shedding of blood! They underwent forms of persecution both old and new; they experienced hatred and exclusion, violence and murder. Many countries of ancient Christian tradition once more became lands where fidelity to the Gospel demanded a very high price. In our century 'the witness to Christ borne even to the shedding of blood has become a common inheritance of Catholics, Orthodox, Anglicans and Protestants' ('Tertio Millennio Adveniente,' 37).

"And there are so many of them! They must not be forgotten, rather they must be remembered and their lives documented.

"The presence of representatives of other Churches and Ecclesial Communities gives todays celebration particular significance and eloquence in this Jubilee Year 2000. It shows that the example of the heroic witnesses to the faith is truly precious for all Christians. In the 20th century, almost all the Churches and Ecclesial Communities have known persecution, uniting Christians in their places of suffering and making their shared sacrifice a sign of hope for times still to come.

"These brothers and sisters of ours in faith, to whom we turn today in gratitude and veneration, stand as a vast panorama of Christian humanity in the 20th century, a panorama of the Gospel of the Beatitudes, lived even to the shedding of blood.

"'Whoever loves his life loses it and whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life' (John 12:25). A few minutes ago we listened to these words of Christ. They contain a truth which today's world often scorns and rejects, making love of self the supreme criterion of life. But the witnesses to the faith, who also this evening speak to us by their example, did not consider their own advantage, their own well-being, their own survival as greater values than fidelity to the Gospel. Despite all their weakness, they vigorously resisted evil. In their fragility there shone forth the power of faith and of the Lord's grace.

"Dear Brothers and Sisters, the precious heritage which these courageous witnesses have passed down to us is a patrimony shared by all the Churches and Ecclesial Communities. It is a heritage which speaks more powerfully than all the causes of division. The ecumenism of the martyrs and the witnesses to the faith is the most convincing of all; to the Christians of the 21st century it shows the path to unity. It is the heritage of the Cross lived in the light of Easter: a heritage which enriches and sustains Christians as they go forward into the new millennium."

Therefore, given the particular context of this event, it is perhaps something of a stretch to say that the Holy Father has "officially" recognized Dr. King as a martyr of the faith.

However I suppose that Dr. King's image could well be included, among others, as part of an ecumenical exposition of witnesses to the faith placed in a Church vestibule or in a parish hall. But it does not seem justifiable, from religious motives alone, to single him out for special recognition within the body of the Church.

* * *

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