Catholic Culture Resources
Catholic Culture Resources

Instrumental Music and the Liturgy

by Robert Novotny


This article examines the tradition of instrumental usage in the history of church music. It covers the period of time from the first century until the Pontificate of Pius XII.

Larger Work

The American Ecclesiastical Review



Publisher & Date

The Catholic University of America Press, February 1962

The music, which accompanies the worship of the Church, has been the subject of great concern since the turn of the century and somewhat before that time. This concern has been expressed not only by church musicians who, either as composers or directors, have endeavored to provide music fitting for the liturgy, but also by the popes who have written frequently about the type of music which the Church expects in her liturgy.

The first reaction to the excesses of the Baroque, Classical and Romantic periods was to provide an extremely simple and plain sort of music which was surely not offensive to nor distracting from the offering of the Sacred Liturgy.1 The Caecilian School provided an abundance of this type of music both in Europe and in the United States. But, it was soon apparent that this music was not of an enduring quality, and before long it became tiresome to the ear of the musician as well as that of the congregation.

From the extreme of conservatism in church music, the pendulum has swung again to the middle path. There are those who consider that it has swung to the opposite extreme, but an examination of the music itself as well as the attitude of the Church as expressed in her most recent documents shows that this is not the case.

A most gratifying trend is found in the return of master composers to the Mass as a medium for the expression of their genius. In so doing they have provided some of the finest examples of church music since the time of Palestrina and Lassus.2

In providing art music for the Church the composer of today often employs resources other than the human voice and the "traditional" organ. We find a frequent use of brass instruments as well as woodwinds, strings and even complete orchestras. Because of the prevalence of orchestras in the churches of the Baroque, Classical, and Romantic traditions, their use in present-day liturgy is sometimes questioned by clergy and faithful alike. We immediately tend to associate them with the type of music found in the excessively emotional tradition. When such a comparison is made it must be remembered that the music of these eras was unfit for the liturgy not because of the instruments involved, but because of the style of the music itself. Some have proposed that it is merely the length of these compositions which makes them unfit for the liturgy, but such a notion is the result of a misunderstanding of the musical style or of the liturgy itself.

Historical Background

It will be of interest to examine the tradition of instrumental usage in the history of church music. We shall see that this tradition has continued from very early times. It was sometimes opposed by ecclesiastical authority, but more often the Church was silent or tolerantly approving of the tradition. In more recent times, that approval has been far more than mere tolerance.

Little information can be gleaned about the performance practice of church music in the Patristic Age. Realizing that this practice varied considerably from place to place, we cannot determine an over-all attitude toward the use of musical instruments. Two of the principal references found come from the East. Clement of Alexandria (c. 150--c. 215) tolerated the lyra and the kithara because King David allegedly used some such instrument, but he disapproved of other instruments because of pagan associations.3 We find Eusebios, bishop of Caesarea in Palestine (c. 260--c. 340), disapproving even of the kithara.4

Among the Western Fathers, Saint Jerome speaks out against all instruments because of pagan associations. Advising Laeta on the rearing of her daughter he writes: "Let her be deaf to the sound of the organ, and not know even the use of the pipe, the lyre and the kithara."5 Had these instruments not been associated with pagan rites, there may well have been no opposition from the Fathers. Far from concluding that since instruments were so violently opposed in some places they were not used at all, we might, on the other hand, conclude that such violent opposition was prompted by a rather wide spread use, and that in places where this opposition was not met, the use of instruments to accompany the chant was quite common. The presence of all sorts of instruments in some of the Eastern Rites even today seems to have its origin in very ancient times and may well be taken as an indication of what the instrumental practice was in a place in which it was not severely opposed.6

It is unknown how long the practice of accompanying the chant with instruments persisted, but most scholars agree that it ceased by the fifth century. Very likely, the tradition continued unbroken in some places. Even before the beginning of embryonic polyphony, however, there was a return of instruments in the liturgy. This return was, no doubt, connected with the practice of troping. Dom Anselm Hughes pictures an instrumentalist with the singers during the singing of the sequence.7 Odo, Abbot of Cluny (d. 942), describes the making of the hurdy-gurdy to be used in supporting the singing of the monks.8

The medieval sacred drama had great influence on the liturgy itself. In these plays, a variety of instruments was used, and the solemn Te Deum closing the drama was usually accompanied by the organ and by bells and cymbals.9

There is little question but that instruments besides the organ were commonly used from the rise of polyphony. The symbolic use of musical instruments during the middle ages tends to becloud the issue, and direct conclusions to performance practice cannot be validly made from art-representations of angels holding instruments. Yet, many of these symbolic references may also have a real association.

The presence of instruments in the church during the 12th century is attested to by Bishop Ethelred:

Whence hath the Church so many organs and musical instruments? To what purpose, I pray you, is that terrible blowing of belloes, expressing rather the crakes of thunder than the sweetness of a voyce? … In the meantime, the common people standing by, trembling and astonished, admire the sound of organs, the noyse of the cymbals and the musical instruments, the harmony of the pipes and cornets.10

It is difficult for us to imagine the raucous and undisciplined celebrations, which accompanied much medieval prayer. When we consider, however, the fact of an untrained clergy and a faithful whose ignorance attracted superstition and sensationalism we are not surprised at the results. It was these excesses of noisy and purely secular goings-on in church, which prompted severe censure on the part of the educated hierarchy, for what was occurring could be sanctioned neither in the name of religion nor that of art.

Further Development

By the beginning of the thirteenth century, a far more musical use of instruments is apparent in the clausulae and the Paris Motet. These clausulae were sections of polyphony (organum) in which the lowest voice, taken from the chant, moved more quickly and all parts were in measured rhythm. In the clausulae, instruments were often used in place of voices or to accompany them.11 As was the practice until the end of the sixteenth century, however, the same composition might be performed in many ways (with voices alone, with instruments alone, or with both voices and instruments in any number of combinations) according to the resources at hand.

As to the type of instruments used in the liturgical service of the Middle Ages, there is some disagreement among scholars. A number of documents refer to the use of the viol in church. In 1316, Abbot Alvery de Peyrac of Moissac observed that the charm of plainchant lost almost none of its sweetness when played on a viol.12 As was the case in general medieval practice, the type of instrument used was often determined by the degree of celebration proposed for a particular feast. Haut (loud) instruments (trumpets, bombards, and shawms) were frequently added for greater solemnity on important occasions. Trumpets and clarions were played in church at Ghent in 1386 after a sermon by Philip the Bold of Burgundy; organs and trumpets played at the processional in Notre Dame, Paris, when the English king was received in 1424; shawms and a sackbut took the place of the choir at the marriage of Charles the Bold and Margaret of York.13 The wide-spread practice of playing the trumpet at the elevation comes from the twelfth century. Bas (soft) instruments were in greater favor with the churchmen of the Middle Ages and would be used more generally. Another consideration was that of the contrasting sonorities of haut and bas instruments. This contrast was exploited for artistic reasons.14

The music of Guillaume de Machaut at Notre Dame, Paris, in the 14th century and that of the other great French Cathedrals is generally thought to have been performed with instruments. It seems that instruments at this time often played a somewhat ornamented version of the vocal parts, or that the voices sang a simplified instrumental part.15

The indication, ad modum tubae, found in many compositions of the late fourteenth century and the early fifteenth century (such as the famous Gloria ad Modum Tubae of Dufay) does not necessarily mean that the part was played on a trumpet. It may rather refer to a style of singing "after the manner of the trumpet." Paul Paulirinus of Prague, writing in the mid-fifteenth century, says: "Trumpetum is a kind of measured music for four voices. All voices except the fourth proceed normally, but this latter is sung after the manner of the French trumpet (ad modum tubae gallicalis)."16

The organ played only a small part in the liturgical service of the early Middle Ages. Its tone was far too loud for accompanimental purposes. In pre-keyboard times (before the thirteenth century) it was capable of only one melodic line, this produced by means of slides pulled and pushed by the full hand. The smaller organs, (portative, positive and regal), which appeared between the twelfth and fifteenth centuries were used principally for secular music, although they are sometimes found accompanying singers in representations of church music. By the fifteenth century the larger churches had two organs, one for solo performance and the other, a smaller instrument, for the accompaniment of the choir.

Renaissance Era

During the Renaissance, while instruments continued to be used almost universally, an a-cappella tradition began to be formed at Rome. Although Palestrina employed instruments in his performances at the Villa d'Este, it is generally conceded that his church music remained to the end unaccompanied.17

It is unfortunate, however, that in the minds of many the Renaissance is considered to be an "a-cappella period." This is far from the truth and is based on the "stile antico" mistake of the Baroque period, which considered it to be the case. That is not to say that no Renaissance church music was sung a-cappella. Three possibilities of performance continued to exist: performance by voices alone, by instruments alone, and what was most common, by a combination of the two. Otto Gombosi points out that "Richness and freedom were the qualities of liturgical music-making in the Renaissance."18

While instruments were being emancipated more and more from an accompanimental role during the Renaissance, they still retained that position in church music. A greater interest in instruments in general brought the development of many new forms, and collections of instruments began to be made by the nobility. Courts of various countries would vie with each other for the best musicians. The same musicians who played for court dances and entertainment would be found with their instruments in the court chapel. There was a special taste for wind instruments during the late Renaissance. The collection of Henry VIII in 1547 contained 272 wind instruments and only 109 stringed instruments.19 The same was true in Germany and Austria. The Italian taste, however, remained predominantly for strings and in the late sixteenth century this taste seems to have influenced the German courts as well.20

By the mid-sixteenth century we find many references to instrumental usage in the performance of particular compositions.21 Royal marriages were the scenes of magnificent musical performances with many instrumentalists participating.

As was true in earlier times, local legislation and tradition accounted for different manners of performance in different places. At Baden-Baden and Kremsmunster there is no record of instrumentalists other than the organist being employed for playing in church, while at nearby Munich there was a brilliant court music, using instruments in chapel.22

At the Church of Saint Anthony at Padua, in 1594, the Council decided that "the body of musicians in ordinary should not exceed 16 voices, 4 for each part, and to the bass part there is to be added a trombone, and to the soprano a cornett…and the musicians extraordinary should not exceed 5, i.e., 4 trombones and a violin; and when there are sufficient sopranos, the afore-mentioned cornett will be added to the musicians extra-ordinary, thus making 6 and no more."23 In Bergamo the Commune maintained a band of seven. They had to play "in choir" with their instruments every Sunday and on special occasions. Entries also appear in the account books of the Cathedrals at Umbiro and Treviso, indicating payment for instrumentalists. San Petronio in Bologna became famous for its instrumentalists; by the end of the sixteenth century it had some 34 singers and 7 instrumentalists in its employ.24

The Baroque Spirit

The music of the Gabrilis at San Marco, Venice, already looks to the spirit of the Baroque. There was wide use of brass instruments in the great ceremonies of this Cathedral. However, it might be noted that the sound was probably quite different from that heard in most reproductions of this music today because of the difference in the instruments themselves. The Renaissance had brought a refinement to the tone of nearly all instruments. It was with the coming of the Baroque and its desire for an "affective representation" (stile rappresentativo) in music that instrumental timbre became more expressive and correspondingly less reserved. The reserved sound of the viols was replaced by the powerful tone of the "sharp violins," which, as Dryden writes, "proclaim their jealous pangs, and desperation, fury, frantic indignation, depth of pains, and height of passion."

The idea of the Stile rappresentativo of the Camerata25 was to have no greater effect on any phase of music (apart from the opera) than it had on church music. According to the philosophy of the Camerata, the text was to be supreme. But, unfortunately, in the field of church music the greatest stress was laid on the affective representation of individual words or phrases of the text, with the composer giving full reign to his personal emotions and the liturgical text being little more than an excuse for the expression of these feelings. The totality of the text, its place in the liturgy, its basically communal spirit were all lost sight of.

In their efforts to express the text in music, composers called upon all the resources available in the way of soloists and instrumentalists. For the next three hundred years, full orchestras were to be the rule for the accompaniment of Masses throughout Europe. But it was not the use of instruments which made this music unfit for the Liturgical Service; it was the basically theatrical spirit of the music and the philosophy from which it sprang.

Even in the Caecilian reform, church music continued to be written in the spirit of the Camerata, but in a less ornate (as well as less musical) manner. Nearly all of the larger works of the Caecilian School supply full orchestral accompaniments.

Perhaps much of the development of attitude expressed in Papal pronouncements regarding musical instruments is due to the particular situation prevalent at the time of writing. Thus, Pope St. Pius X wrote at a time when instruments were called upon to give expression to a type of music which in itself was unfit, while Pius XII expressed his more developed view at a time when it had been shown that such instruments can serve the needs of the Sacred Liturgy in a becoming manner.26

The present-day trend in composition has seen a return of interest in polyphonic writing. This tendency has contributed well to the role of instruments in liturgical music. In a polyphonic texture, where the musical lines intertwine, the instruments are far better able to complement the voices than in a homophonic texture in which the accompaniment is generally chordal and can easily overpower both singers and text. The departure from tonal harmony, which was closely linked with the affective style has also contributed well to the acceptability of contemporary liturgical music.

Ecclesiastical Legislation

The necessarily negative expression of the Church's law tends at times to give the impression that the Church is not friendly to the arts. Unfortunately, many artists have taken this impression and, as a result, have been reluctant to create art for the Church. This attitude, however, is not borne out in the history of the Church either remote or recent. While some local legislation has been quite restricting, that of the Universal Church is generally much more liberal, allowing the artist to express his talent freely within the structure of the liturgy which he is adorning.

The attitude of the Church in matters of art and music has been clearly expressed in recent pronouncements, notably in the Christmas Encyclical of Pope Pius XII issued in 1955. In this letter he writes: "Art certainly must be listed among the noblest manifestations of human genius. Its purpose is to express in human works the infinite divine beauty of which it is, as it were, the reflection."27 He further explains that the purpose of sacred art is "to give the faithful the greatest aid in turning their minds piously to God through the works it directs to their senses of sight and hearing."28 Whereas other arts supply the setting for the liturgy, music enters into the very act of worship itself, clothing the sacred text.29

The Church must, necessarily, guard against anything, which would distort the order of Divine Worship by calling attention to itself or distracting in any way from the act of worship. In the words of Pius X, "The Church unceasingly encourages and favors the progress of the arts, admitting for religious use all the good and the beautiful that the mind of man has discovered over the course of the centuries, but always respecting the liturgical laws."30

Although local legislation is often rather severe, it is to be remembered that it is the expression of the particular needs of a specific place rather than that of the Universal Church. To understand this distinction one need only compare the general statements of the Council of Trent regarding music in the liturgy with the very stringent application on the part of local synods. A lack of advertence to this distinction, however, has led certain writers to false conclusions regarding the mind of the Church and the arts.

Pre-Tridentine Times

As we have seen, certain of the Fathers of the Church spoke out against the use of some or all musical instruments by associating them with pagan rites. Some of them spoke as shepherds of dioceses, as Clement of Alexandria, who allowed the use of the lyre and kithara on the grounds that they were similar to the harp of King David and were apparently not associated with pagan ritual.31 He did, however, disapprove of the use of the psaltery, the trumpet, the timbrel and aulos, "which those expert in war and contemners of the fear of God were wont to make use of also in the choruses at their festive assemblies."32

The early General Councils of the Church, concerned as they were with far more weighty problems of dogma, did not treat of music in the liturgy. The fear of secular infiltration into the ceremonies of the Church was expressed by the Councils of Lyons in 127433 and Vienne in 131134 without definite reference to musical instruments.

Immediately preceding the Council of Trent, local legislation appears in which definite prohibitions are set forth regarding the use of musical instruments. The Council of Siena, in 1528, proclaims that, "no immodest or lascivious melody produced by musical instruments should resound in the church."35 The same Council states that, "No actors or mimes may enter the church for playing on the tympanum, lyre, or other musical instruments; they should play their instruments neither in nor near the church."36

The Council Of Trent

Nearly all present-day legislation regarding music harks back to the decree of the Council of Trent. This decree, however, is couched in such general terms as to cover almost any abuse in the music of the Sacred Liturgy. The text, in full, from the twenty-second session of September 17, 1562, is as follows:

Let them keep from the churches those forms of music in which there is mingled, either by the organ or by singing, anything frivolous or shameful; also all worldly actions (saeculares actiones), as well as vain and profane conversations (profana colloquia), strollings, noise (strepitus), shouting (clamores), so that the House of God may both seem and be called a house of prayer.37

It might appear that the terms strepitus and clamores refer to noisy musical instruments, but such is not the case. In the preparatory canon, number eight, of September 10, 1562, which referred to the celebration of Mass in general, and from which the material of canon nine was eventually derived, we find these words used to refer not to the musicians but to the celebrant:

When priests offer the Sacrifice of the Mass . . . let them also take care that they do not pronounce the words with so low a voice that they may not be easily understood by others, nor, on the other hand, in such fashion that they destroy the fervor of those who listen, by the noisy rumbling of their voices (clamorose vocis strepitu).38

In the light of this testimony it would seem that the last part of the canon has nothing whatever to do with music. Nor does the sense of the text itself in this part indicate any direct reference to music. Thus it seems plain that the Council of Trent made neither reference nor inference to the use or abuse of musical instruments in the liturgy. We might rather say that, since their use was prominent at this point in history, the silence of the Council argues well for their acceptance.

It is indeed strange that the effect of the Council's decree was to exclude all instruments other than the organ from the liturgy in certain dioceses. In 1565, the Council of Milan decreed: "The organ alone has a place in the church; flutes, horns and other instruments are to be excluded."39 This was one of the rather sweeping reforms of the young Cardinal Borromeo. In 1568, the Council of Ravenna was less strict in stating: "Instruments other than the organ are forbidden, unless another for some reason should seem good to the bishop, who may judge it to be in keeping with religion according to circumstances of time and place and so decide in accordance with his prudence."40

The reforms of Pius V did not concern themselves with the use of musical instruments. Nor do we find any reference to their use in the Constitution, Piae Sollicitudinis Studio, of Alexander VII, nor in the pronouncements of Innocent XII concerning music. In considering these documents it is important to point out that the use of the word, symphonia, does not imply musical instruments. It was a more general term used to refer to a group of singers, and when employed to include instruments a more specific reference would be made.

It is not until the Annus Qui of Pope Benedict XIV, published in 1749, that we find specific reference to musical instruments in the liturgy in a document of the Universal Church.41 Here for the first time is a listing of approved instruments and one of those forbidden by the Church. Among those, which found acceptance, are principally stringed instruments: barbiton, tetracordon maius, tetracordon minus, monaulon pneumaticum, fidiculae, lirae tetracordes. Since terms, which originally referred to ancient Greek instruments are used it is often difficult to determine exactly what instruments Pope Benedict had in mind. The barbiton is an instrument of seven strings and probably refers to the viola da gamba. Tetracordon maius and tetracordon minus are merely members of the violin family, large and small. The monaulon pneumaticum is a flute. The term fidicula was used to refer to the lute. Lirae tetracordes apparently refers to fiddles or viols.

Instruments forbidden are: cornua venatoria (hunting horns), tubae cecumanae (trumpets which bend down, possibly a predecessor of our French horn), fistulae and fistulae parvae (recorders), psalteria synfonica (harpsichord?), and cheles (harp). Pope Benedict forbids also drums and other types of instruments, which give a theatrical effect. He cautions that the instruments which are allowed are used, "only for adding some support to the singing, so that the meaning of the prayers is more clearly brought to the minds of the listeners and the souls of the faithful are moved to a contemplation of spiritual things, and are aroused to a love of God and of things divine."42 He adds that care must be taken lest the instruments, "oppress and bury the voices of the singers and the sound of the words."43

The Ceremoniale Episcoporum demands that where instruments other than the organ are to be used permission must be sought from the bishop.44 This liturgical book was first published as binding for the Universal Church by Pope Clement VIII, in 1600, and has passed through many editions to the present day.

The Sacred Congregation of Rites published an Ordinatio de Music a Sacra, in 1894, which refers in a very general manner to the proper use of musical instruments. This decree was interpreted by some as allowing any kind of instrument.45

Recent Legislation

Our present era has seen the door of the Church open even wider to the arts employed in worship and the resources used by them. Saint Pius X, in his historic Motu Proprio of 1903, considered in detail the use of musical instruments in the liturgy. After reiterating the necessity for obtaining permission from the local bishop, and remarking that the music proper to the Church is purely vocal, he lists instruments, which are forbidden (pianoforte, snare drums, bass drums, cymbals, bells, and other "frivolous" instruments). 46 Wind instruments may be used, "provided the composition and accompaniment to be executed be written in a grave, fitting style, and entirely similar to that proper to the organ."47 Stringed instruments and brasses are not specifically mentioned, but the absence of mention seems to indicate acceptability.

In response to a question from Cardinal Joseph M. de Herrara y de la Iglesia, Archbishop of Compostella, Spain, the Sacred Congregation of Rites declared that, with permission of the bishop, the violin, viola, cello, double-bass, flute, clarinet, oboe and trumpet may be used in the Liturgical Service.48

An interesting side-light on the legislation of this period is seen in the statement contained in the Regulations for Rome of 1912:

Failing special permission, to be applied for on each separate occasion from the Apostolic Vicar, no instrument except the organ or harmonium is to be played in the church, and notice is hereby given that it is not our intention to grant such permission except in altogether exceptional and peculiar circumstances.49

The statements of Pope Pius XI appear only after twenty-five years of effort to apply the reform of Pius X had failed to dispel from certain areas the splendor and theatrical spirit of the affective style. His statements might well be read in this context. In his Divini Cultus of 1929 he disapproved of an "immoderate use of instruments," and pointed out the fact that "the Church does not look upon singing which is supported by an orchestra as a more perfect form of music and more suited to the sacred actions."50 He makes it clear that the Church is not opposing the progress of music in preferring the human voice to any instrument, "for no instrument can surpass the human voice in expressing emotion."51

The late Pope Pius XII devoted much effort to the progress of the arts in the liturgy. The subject of musical instruments drew his special attention. It is in his Christmas Message of 1955 that we find his ideas expressed in clear detail. His is no mere attitude of tolerance. The Pontiff applies to the use of musical instruments the words of Pius X, "[The Church] unceasingly encourages and favors the progress of the arts, admitting for religious use all the good and the beautiful that the mind of man has discovered over the course of the centuries, but always respecting the liturgical laws."52

After stating that the organ holds the first place, he says that "other instruments can be called upon to give great help in attaining the lofty purpose of sacred music, so long as they plan nothing profane, nothing clamorous or strident and nothing at variance with sacred services or the dignity of the place."53 He points out that stringed instruments played with the bow are very fitting since "they express the joyous and sad sentiments of the soul with an indescribable power."54 He closes his treatment of musical instruments with a warning that they should not be used unless the resources available be equal to the task of performance.

By far the most complete treatment of this subject to date is contained in the Instruction of the Sacred Congregation of Rites, published on September 3, 1958 shortly before the death of Pope Pius XII. 55 Musical instruments are no longer spoken of in terms of toleration. On the contrary,, their use is presumed by the Instruction, and almost every reference to the organ includes a reference to "other musical instruments."

After stating a few general principles (that no instrument is to be used to accompany the celebrant and the times when all instruments are to remain silent), the Instruction lays down three principles for the use of musical instruments in the Sacred Liturgy:

    1. The use of any instrument should in itself be perfect: "It is better to do something well on a small scale than to attempt something elaborate without sufficient resources to do it properly."56
    2. The difference between sacred and profane music is to be preserved: "Some musical instruments by origin and nature-- such as the classical organ--are directly fitted for sacred music; or others, as certain string and bow instruments, are more easily adapted to liturgical use; while others, instead, are by common opinion proper to profane music and entirely unfit for sacred use."57
    3. "Only those musical instruments which are played by the personal action of the artist may be admitted to the sacred liturgy, and not those which are operated automatically or mechanically."58

Paragraph 68 is devoted entirely to musical instruments other than the organ:

During liturgical functions, especially on the more solemn days, musical instruments other than the organ may be used--especially those with strings that are played with a small bow--either with the organ or without it, in musical performances or in accompaniment to song, strictly observing, however, those laws which derive from the principle enunciated above in number 60, which are: a. That musical instruments be used which are in accord with sacred usage; b. That the sound of these instruments be produced in such manner and with such gravity (with a sort of religious chastity) as to avoid the clangor of profane music and to foster the devotion of the faithful; c. That the choir director, the organist, and the artists be skilled in the use of the instruments and familiar with the laws of sacred music.59

The reference to "musical performances," as distinguished from the accompaniment to song, is something new in ecclesiastical pronouncements concerning musical instruments. It indicates that instruments may be used to play interludes or "background music" (barring the times of silence mentioned in paragraph 29). This would also include incidental passages of instrumental music, which are a part of a principally choral section of the Mass.

The Instruction does not refer to the necessity of obtaining permission from the bishop for the use of instruments other than the organ (as does the Ceremoniale Episcoporum and the Motu Proprio). In so important a pronouncement as this it would seem that if such permission were still necessary, the Sacred Congregation would have mentioned the fact. This opinion is further corroborated by a final statement in this section of the Instruction in which bishops are cautioned to "carefully watch, above all with the assistance of the Diocesan Commission for Sacred Music, so that these prescriptions pertaining to the use of instruments in the Sacred Liturgy be strictly observed."60 No mention is made in this connection of the necessity of seeking the permission of the bishop for the use of instruments.61

Instruments In Church

In reviewing the Church's law regarding the use of instruments in the liturgy, it is apparent that the official attitude toward them has become more and more favorable. The fears of the early Fathers are no longer valid in our day. The more recent pronouncements show that the Church has come to a realization that it is not generally the instruments themselves which are unfit for liturgy but, rather, the theatrical or profane use of them.

The statements of the universal law have been very general. The Church must consider the variety of cultures present throughout the Christian world, that what may have a secular connotation for one territory has no such meaning in another, and many of these matters must be left to local legislation.

It is important to note here that the pronouncements of private organizations and societies have no legal standing in the Church unless given such by a particular bishop. Thus, a listing of "approved music" published by such an organization is to be looked upon as a private interpretation and application of the law of the Church.

Musical instruments other than the organ can and should be called upon "to give great help in attaining the lofty purpose of sacred music."62 Their use will be most fitting on occasions of great celebration, but in cathedrals and larger churches these occasions need not be rare. It must only be kept in mind that, lest we descend to the condition of art and liturgy prevalent at the time of Bishop Ethelred, the resources at hand must always be equal to the task of performance. Legally, as we have seen, the Universal Church is generally far more liberal than she is given credit for being. It is her sacred trust to guard those things, which have to do with the salvation and sanctification of the faithful. Music has no small part in this great work.

Robert J. Novotny


1 These excesses took the form of an ever-increasing emotional expressiveness in church music. The text was often disregarded or fragmentized in its treatment by soloists, quartets, duets, etc. The text was merely the springboard from which the composer jumped in all directions as he gave vent to his personal emotions. The music became increasingly grandiose both in its equipment (Benevoli's Mass for the dedication of the Cathedral of Salzburg in 1628 has fifty-three parts with any number of singers or instrumentalists on each part) and in its length. It was music to be heard (as the people went to "hear Mass") but not music for worship.

2 Among such composers who have contributed to the form of the Mass are Britten, Kodaly, Krenek, Poulenc, Stravinsky and Vaughn-Williams.

3 Migne, Patrologia Graeca, VIII, 443.

4 Ibid., XXIII, 1171.

5 Migne, Patrologia Latina, XXII, 871. Cf. also St. Ambrose, ibid., XIV, 751.

6 In the Ethiopian Rite the chant is often accompanied by drums, cymbals, and rattles or bells. Cf. Donald Attwater, The Christian Churches of the East (Milwaukee: Bruce, 1946), I, 149.

7 Cf. Early Medieval Music up to 1300, ed. Dom Anselm Hughes, Vol. II of New Oxford History of Music (London: Oxford University Press, 1954), pp. 354-55.

8 Cf. Curt Sachs, The History of Musical Instruments (New York: W. W. Norton & Co., 1940), p. 271.

9 Cf. Edmund A. Bowles, "Instruments in Middle Ages Sacred Drama," Musical Quarterly, XLI (January, 1959), 67.

10 From Prynne, Histriomastix (London: 1633), quoted by Robert Donington in letter to editor, Galpin Society Journal, XI (May 1958), 85.

11 Cf. Rudolph Ficker, "Music in the Gothic Period," Musical Quarterly, XV (October, 1929), 494.

12 Cf. Andre Pirro, Histoire de la Musique de la Fin de XIVe Siecle a la Fin de XVIe Siecle (Paris: Librairie Renouard, 1940), p. 20.

13 Edmund A. Bowles, "Haut and Bas; The Grouping of Musical Instruments in the Middle Ages," Musica Disciplina, VIII (1954), 115,

14 Cf. Gustave Reese, Music in the Middle Ages (New York: W. W. Norton & Co., 1940), p. 124.

15 Cf, G. Reaney, "Voices and Instruments in the Music of Guillaume de Machaut," Revue Belge de Musicologie, X (1956), 3.

16 Ibid., p. 8.

17 Frederick Dorian, History of Music in Performance (New York: W. W. Norton & Co., 1942), p. 38.

18 Otto Gombosi, "About Organ Playing in the Divine Service, Circa 1500," Essays on Music (Cambridge: Department of Music, Harvard University, 1957), p. 66.

19 Curt Sachs, op. cit., p. 303.

20 Cf. Gustave Reese, Music in the Renaissance (New York: W. W. Norton & Co., 1954), p. 690.

21 Cf. Gustave Reese, ibid., pp. 487-88.

22 Cf. D. Arnold, "Brass Instruments in Italian Church Music of the 16th and 17th Centuries," Brass Quarterly (December, 1957), p. 81.

23 Ibid., p. 83.

24 Ibid.

25 The Camerata was a group of men interested in music who met at Florence and proposed that music be made more expressive of the words which it accompanied. This idea led to the creation of a new form, the opera, in which the expressive qualities of music could most readily be displayed.

26 Cf. A. G. Martimort & F. Picard, Liturgie et Musique (Paris: Cerf, 1959), p. 155.

27 Pope Pius XII, Musicae Sacrae Disciplina, trans., National Catholic Welfare Conference (Washington: N.C.W.C., 1956), par. 25.

28 Ibid., par 27.

29 Ibid., par. 30.

30 Saint Pius X, Motu Proprio, quoted by Pope Pius XII, ibid., par. 57.

31 Migne, Patrologia Graeca, IX, 439.

32 lbid., VIII, 443.

33 Mansi, Sacrorum Concilliorum nova et amplissima collectio (Paris: Hubert Welter, 1902), XXIV, 130.

34 Quoted by Florentius Romita in Jus Musicae Liturgicae (Rome: Edizioni Liturgiche, 1947), p. 46.

35 Mansi, XXXII, 1190.

36 Ibid., XXXII, 1184.

37 Concilii Tridentini Acta, ed. Stephanus Ehses (Friburgi Brisgoniae: B. Herder, 1904-1922), V, 963: "Ab ecclesiis vero musicas eas, ubi sive organo sive cantu lascivum aut impurum aliquid miscetur, item saeculares omnes actiones, vana atque adeo profana colloquia, deambulationes, strepitus, clamores arceant, ut Domus Dei vere domus orationis esse videatur ac dici possit."

38 Ibid., 927: "Sacerdotes, dum missarum sollemnia agunt . . . caveant etiam, ne ita submissa voce verba proferant, ut non commode ab aliis intelligantur, sic tamen, ne clamoroso vocis strepitu audientium fervorem frangant."

39 Mansi, XXXIV, 57.

40 Ibid., XXXV, 631-32.

41 Quoted by Florentius Romita, op. cit., p. 95.

42 lbid.

43 lbid.

44 Ceremoniale Episcoporum (Ratisbon: Pustet, 1902), Lib. 1, Cap. XXVIII, No.11.

45 Cf. Florentius Romita, op. cit., p. 102.

46 It is to be noted that this document was a disciplinary decree, not an infallible statement of what is essentially related to faith and Christian Worship. It should, therefore, be viewed with a certain aspect of relativity dependent on time and place.

47 Saint Pius X, Motu Proprio of Church Music, trans., C. J. McNaspy, S.J. (Toledo: Gregorian Institute of America, 1950), p. 12. This document is sometimes referred to by its Italian title: Tra le Sollecitudini.

48 Ephemerides Liturgicae (Rome: Desclee, Lefebvre et Socii, from 1887), XIX (1905), 324.

49 Regulations for Sacred Music in Rome, February 2, 1912, quoted by Gregory Sunol, Text Book of Gregorian Chant (Tournai: Desclee & Co., 1930), p. 186.

50 Pope Pius XI. Divini Cultus. (translation, Conception: Altar & Home, 1945), p. 26.

51 Ibid.

52 Pope Pius XII, Musicae Sacrae Disciplina, par. 56.

53 Ibid., par. 59.

54 Ibid.

55 Sacred Music and Sacred Liturgy: Instruction of the Sacred Congregation of Rites, September 3, 1958, trans., National Catholic Welfare Conference (Washington: N.C.W.C., 1958).

56 Ibid., par. 60.

57 Ibid.

58 Ibid.

59 Ibid., par. 68.

60 Ibid., par. 69.

61 Two recent commentators on this Instruction agree that permission is no longer necessary. Cf. A. G. Martimort & Francois Picard, op. cit., p. 155, and J. B. O'Connell, Sacred Music & Sacred Liturgy: A Translation and Commentary (London: Burns & Oates, 1959), p. 71.

62 Pope Pius XII, Musicae Sacrae Disciplina, par 59.

This item 2980 digitally provided courtesy of