Sacred music during the epidemic

Our desire to render honour to God, and to be united with others in our efforts to celebrate the Sacred Liturgy with greater solemnity and befitting ornament, during this current epidemic, must be tempered according to the laws governing Sacred Liturgy and Sacred Music. By virtue of its character of special law, Summorum Pontificum, as clarified by norm 28 of Universæ Ecclesiæ, instituted a tempus ad quod for the Extraordinary Form, in that Summorum Pontificum “derogates from those provisions of law, connected with the sacred Rites, promulgated from 1962 onwards and incompatible with the rubrics of the liturgical books in effect in 1962”. That means that the last major Roman legislation on sacred music applicable to the Extraordinary Form is Pius XII’s De musica sacra of 3 September 1958.

Norm 74 establishes that:

74. For any radio or television broadcast of liturgical functions or private devotions, the local Ordinary must give his express permission; this is required whether they are being held inside or outside the church. Before granting permission, the Ordinary must be sure that: a) the singing and music fully comply with the laws of the liturgy, and sacred music; b) in the case of a television broadcast, all those taking part in the ceremonies are so well instructed that the ceremonies may be carried out in full conformity with the rubrics, and with fitting dignity.

74. Ad actiones liturgicas vel pia exercitia, quæ cum intra tum extra ecclesiam peraguntur, ope radiophoniæ vel televisionis diffundenda, expressa requiritur Ordinarii loci licentia ; quam ipse ne concedat, nisi prius sibi constet : a) Cantum et Musicam sacram, legibus sive liturgicis sive Musicæ sacræ apprime respondere ; b) Insuper, si agatur de diffusione televisifica, omnes, qui in functione sacra partem habent, ita bene instructos ess, ut celebration rubricis plane conformis et omnino digna evadat.

The permission from the Ordinary is now de facto on account of the current epidemic. It is now our duty to exercise this permission compliant “with the laws of the liturgy, and sacred music”. And so, we draw our attention again to norm 71.

71. The use of automatic instruments and machines, such as the automatic organ, phonograph, radio, tape or wire recorders, and other similar machines, is absolutely forbidden in liturgical functions and private devotions, whether they are held inside or outside the church, even if these machines be used only to transmit sermons or sacred music, or to substitute for the singing of the choir or faithful, or even just to support it.

71. Usus instrumentorum et machinarum « automaticarum », uti sunt : autoorganum, grammophonium, radiophonium, dictaphonium seu magnetophonium, et alia eiusdem generis, in actionibus liturgicis et piis exercitiis, sive intra sive extra ecclesiam peragendis, absolute vetatur, etsi agatur tantum de sacris sermonibus vel Musica sacra transmittenda, vel de cantoribus aut fidelibus in cantu substituendis aut etiam sustentandis.

There are several notions that demand highlighting. First, “other similar machines”, by the qualifier similar, are machines and devices that can function like an automatic organ, phonograph, radio, and tape or wire recorders. Without going into electronic details, the modern smartphone, being enabled by applications and built-in functions, falls within the ambit of these similar machines. Second, the prohibition covers purposes of “[transmitting] sermons or sacred music”, “[substituting] for the singing of the choir or the faithful”, and “even just [supporting the singing]”. This gamut embraces all praiseworthy activities that livestreaming from handheld devices are capable of remotely transmitting. As for broadcasting vis-à-vis livestreaming, skip to the penultimate full paragraph.

But what does choir mean? Does it have to be physically present? The laws governing sacred music have always made it clear that the choir is located within the consecrated edifice. If we cast our glance to the wealth of guidance that our patrimony provides, we will discover that the word choir signifies three elements. First, in a strictly historical sense, the choir is that group of clerics who, since the early days of the Church, sang and chanted praises in the form of a crown standing around the altar [1]. Second, in a strictly architectural sense, the quire is that place inside the consecrated church or that part of the sacred edifice set off on four sides, and surrounded by choir stalls for cantors and clerics, and separated in front of the altar by latticework or by walls decorated with art, in which layfolk ought not presume to enter [2]. Third, having attained in the Church the custom of admitting laymen or persons without holy orders into the choir to perform chant, in a broadly choral sense, the choir also signifies that assembly which laymen constitute, singing for the celebration of the Liturgy, but assisting outside the quire, in another designated place separated from the rest of those attending Mass [3].

And here we must realise, as the various canons of past Councils in the footnotes have disposed—Tours II (567), Toledo IV (633), Milan I (1565), Manila I (1907)—that when Holy Church speaks of the choir, She always treats it as if it were present in the celebration of the Liturgy. (And this parallels the way Holy Mother Church speaks of contraception only within the context of the marital act.) It is fitting that just as the Lord is really present at Mass, all who serve and assist at the Sacrifice must be really present as well. The minimum condition therefore for a choir of laypersons, be it of one cantor or more, is that it must be within the church (or any place where the Liturgy is being celebrated) but situated separate from the sanctuary (or away from the space where the Mysteries are confected), at the very moment the Liturgy is being celebrated.

Note as well that Pius XII enjoined organisers in norm 79 “to remind the radio and television audiences before the program that listening to the broadcast does not fulfill their obligation to attend Mass.” We might nitpick on terms, livestreaming vis-à-vis broadcasting, because livestream has not yet been coined back in 1958, but the entire section E of De musica sacra’s Chapter III.2 encompasses the “transmission of sacred functions by means of radiophony and television”. And livestreaming is transmission, and smartphones utilise radio technology and television signal to transmit. But we must not worry about this, since our Ordinaries have already dispensed us from the spiritual obligation to attend Mass on Sunday.

The temptation to be creative haunts us and taunts us, when resources are meagre, and we are overwhelmed with a sincere desire to adorn the Liturgy with music. We advise others to fast and abstain, and our superiors advise us likewise in order to live the true spirit of Lent. More than any other season, this is the time to fast and abstain from creativity. For creativity itself was one of the viruses that infected the prime movers of modern liturgical upheaval, one of whose victims is Holy Week. And so, mindful of the unique purpose to which we have devoted our lives, every time we sense the temptation rising, we must confront it, and perish it forthwith. For in this case, as in the case we have tackled before, the via pastoralis is to celebrate Low Mass without musical ornament.

Ut in omnibus laudetur Dominus.

[1] Honorius of Autun, Sacramentary, ch. 33: PL 172 (Paris 1874) 764: “The Choir is the coherence of those who are singing: it is said that they are called a Choir because in the beginning they would stand and chant in the form of a crown around the altar. The Cantors are singers of God’s praises, and the ones who encourage others unto praise. The vestments of Cantors are made of linen, white, and long: made of linen, that they may be refined in ability; white, that they may be clean and chaste; long, that they may be persevering in goodness unto the end. The slack of the copes is the breadth of charity; the tassels, good works.”
Cf.: Idem, The gem of the soul, bk. 1, ch. 143: op. cit., 588: “The Choir is named after the harmony of those who are singing, or the coherence of those who are standing around. For indeed, those who sing once stood in the form of a crown around the altar; but the Bishops Flavian and Diodorus instructed the Choirs to chant alternately. The two Choirs of Cantors represent the angels and the spirits of the just, as though praising the Lord with an interchanging voice. The stalls in which they stand represent the many mansions in the house of the Father (Jn. 14). That sometimes they go from the Choir in procession into some altar, and thither in attention sing, signifies that souls departing from this life come to Christ and in the company of angels sing together unto God.”
[2] Charles du Fresne, Glossarium (Frankfurt am Main 1681) 972: “The part of the Church in which the Choir gathers and sings.”
Cf.: Second Council of Tours, can. 4: Sacrorum Conciliorum 9 (Florence 1763) 793: “Let the layfolk absolutely not presume to stand before the altar, where the Holy Mysteries are celebrated, amongst Clerics both during Vigils and during Masses: but let that part, which is separated by latticework facing the altar, be only visible to the Choir of Clerics who are chanting. But during prayer and Communion, as is the custom, let the Holy of holies by shewn to laymen and laywomen.”
Cf.: Fourth Council of Toledo, can. 18: Sacrorum Conciliorum 10 (Florence 1764) 624: “Some Priests, after the Lord’s prayer is said, immediately receive Communion, and afterwards, give the blessing upon the people; which henceforth we forbid: but after the Lord’s prayer, and the mixing together of the Bread and the Chalice, let the blessing upon the people follow, and then finally, let the Sacrament of the Body and Blood of the Lord be consumed; in such order, of course, that the Priest and the Deacon receive Communion at the altar, the Clergy in the quire, and the people outside the quire.”
[3] First Provincial Council of Milan, part 1: Acta Ecclesiæ Mediolanensis (Lyon 1599) 31: “Let the Cantors, where it is possible, be Clerics: but absolutely let them make use of clerical vestments and the surplice in Choir. But in processions, let neither Cantors nor musicians proceed together with the Choir in clerical vestments.”
Cf.: First Provincial Council of Manila, tit. 4, ch. 10, no. 521: Acta et Decreta Concilii Provincialis Manilani I (Rome 1907) 213: “Let lay Cantors be religious and commendable in the integrity of their ways: but by no means let the irreligious and the scandalous be admitted.”
Cf.: Pius XII, Encyclical Letter Musicæ sacræ (25 December 1955) 74.

One thought on “Sacred music during the epidemic

  1. Pingback: Sacred music in the extraordinary Urbi et Orbi – Cappella Gregoriana Sanctæ Cæciliæ olim Xicatunensis

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