Will you direct me to a source that will substantiate the Church’s preference given to the organ for Mass? Our music director has arranged to have our organ removed from the church; with Father’s blessing, the director hardly used it any way. I need to present authoritative Church teachings to make the case to restore the organ. Getting them to play Catholic songs and music will be another challenge.
The first place to start is the General Instruction for the Roman Missal (GIRM), so frequently cited in this column. While there is no mandate that a Catholic church must have an organ, the fact that the organ is referenced in at least five paragraphs in the instruction (nos. 32, 103, 142, 313, and 393), while no other instrument is named, suggests that the organ has pride of place among musical instruments for liturgical music. In fact, there is a special prayer for the “Blessing of an Organ” (cf. The Roman Ritual, Book of Blessings, “editio typica,” 1984, Order for the Blessing of an Organ, nos. 1052-1067.) I am not aware of special blessings for any other musical instrument, although other instruments are allowed. Specifically, the GIRM (no. 393) states: “While the organ is to be accorded pride of place, other wind, stringed, or percussion instruments may be used in liturgical services in the dioceses of the United States of America, according to longstanding local usage, provided they are truly apt for sacred use or can be rendered apt.”
Perhaps the organ was removed because it was out of tune or in bad repair? No matter the reason, there is a seriousness of purpose for the Church’s vision of the place of an organ in the Liturgy, although to actually hazard an apologetic why the organ might be preferable to a piano, or guitar, or synthesizer, could be a dangerous excursion into the forest of artistic relativism. But let me suggest that the pipe organ situated in the back of the Church, and therefore out of sight, seems to lend itself to fostering meditation and contemplation.
Yet at the same time, a 16 foot Steinway Grand piano in the hands of a passionate musician playing “Amazing Grace” with tenths in the bass for the recessional, can be a powerful catalyst for a moving spiritual musical experience. Or the haunting melody of Morricone’s “Gabriel’s Oboe” in a phyrgian mode can transport you, ever so briefly, to more serene circumstances and leave you with sentiments of gratitude in your heart for the beauty of God’s creation.
Rev. Francis J. Hoffman, JCD (Fr. Rocky) is Executive Director of Relevant Radio. Ordained as a priest for Opus Dei in 1992 by Blessed John Paul II, he holds a doctorate in Canon Law from the Pontifical University of the Holy Cross, an MBA from the University of Notre Dame, and a BA in History from Northwestern University. His Question and Answer column appears in several Catholic newspapers and magazines across the country.