Saturday, November 24, 2018


Pope to Choirs: ‘Help community sing, don't replace its voice'

Pope Francis invites choirs and singers around the world to promote the Church community’s participation and prayer during liturgical celebrations, rather than replacing its voice.

By Devin Watkins

“You have awoken the Vatican!”

With those joyful words, Pope Francis expressed his appreciation for the musical art shown by participants in the 3rd International Meeting of Choirs, during a Saturday audience in the Paul VI Hall.

“Your music and song are truly an instrument of evangelization to the extent that you bear witness to the depth of the Word of God, which touches people’s hearts, and to the extent that you assist in the celebration of the Sacraments, in particular the Holy Eucharist, allowing us to perceive the beauty of Paradise.”

Some 7,000 musicians and singers are participating in the Meeting of Choirs, a three-day event organized by the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of the New Evangelization.

Liturgical animators

The Pope encouraged the choristers to continue giving voice to the emotions that lie at the heart of the Church community.

“Music and song can often make certain moments unique in a person’s life, because they become a precious memory that has marked their lives.”

Pope Francis warned choirs against the temptation of letting their talent outshine the Church community, discouraging the people in the pews from actively participating during Mass.

“You are the musical animators of the whole congregation. Don’t take its place, depriving the people of God of the chance to sing with you and bear witness to the Church’s communal prayer.”

The Holy Father commended the choral singers for studying ways to “promote prayer in liturgical celebrations.”

Popular piety

Pope Francis also invited them to give space to more popular forms of religious expression. “Feasts of patron saints, processions, dances, and the religious songs of our peoples are themselves a real heritage of religiosity that is worth appreciating and supporting, because they are nonetheless an action of the Holy Spirit at the heart of the Church.”


Finally, Pope Francis said music should act as an instrument for promoting unity. He said music can help “make the Gospel efficacious in today’s world, through a beauty that still captivates and makes it possible to believe, entrusting ourselves to the love of the Father.”


John Nolan said...

Don't those tasked with rendering the Bergoglian oracles into English realize that the primary meaning of 'religiosity' is pejorative: 'sentimental and/or spurious religious expression'?

Church choirs specialize in a repertory which is essentially polyphonic, typically in four parts (SATB). This excludes congregational participation. On the other hand a chant schola can lead the congregation in those fixed parts of the Ordinary (Kyrie, Gloria, Credo, Sanctus/Benedictus, Agnus Dei) where the melodies are simple enough to be learnt by repetition, even by the majority who can't read music. The sung Propers are another matter, since they are changeable and melodically more complex; here the schola comes into its own.

Over at ccwatershed they have unearthed two booklets, published in 1906 and 1910, of hymns to be sung at Low Mass on Sundays. They effectively give a commentary on what is happening at the altar and are relentless, not even pausing during the Gospel reading. After the announcements and sermon, they resume at the Credo and continue throughout, the only moment of silence being for the elevations.

One has to wonder how those who value the quietness of a Low Mass would react to this if it were foisted upon them now. Before bilingual hand missals people would read to themselves devotional commentaries and paraphrases in the vernacular, but this multi-hymn service is presumably how church musicians interpreted Pius X's call for 'participatio actuosa'. Ironically, those who did know Latin would not have heard a word of it, unless of course they were acting as server.

I have heard on good authority that the 'Viennese' orchestral Masses of Haydn, Hummel et al. would have been performed in the Esterhazy chapel against the background of a Low Mass but would not have been integrated with it.

The Liturgical Movement's identification of a 'Low Mass' problem is understandable.

Anonymous said...

Bee here:

John Nolan said: 'One has to wonder how those who value the quietness of a Low Mass would react to this if it were foisted upon them now."

This is very interesting. A couple of times at St. John Cantius during a Low Mass the organist played throughout the entire Mass, but there was no choir. One of the times was during the special events of Mass on the 13th of the summer months in honor of Our Lady of Fatima, which was followed by an outdoor procession. The church was filled with many people from around the Archdiocese, many who had never been to a Latin Mass.

I found the music distracting and wondered why it was done. Your comment may explain it.

God bless.

Anonymous said...


strong religious feeling or belief.
"a resurgence of religiosity among younger voters"


1. the quality of being religious; piety; devoutness.
2. affected or excessive devotion to religion.


extreme interest and belief in religion

It can be used in both a positive and a negative way. Hence, "Feasts of patron saints, processions, dances, and the religious songs of our peoples are themselves a real heritage of religiosity that is worth appreciating and supporting, because they are nonetheless an action of the Holy Spirit at the heart of the Church.” is a perfectly acceptable positive use.

Context, context, context.

John Nolan said...

Semantic nitpicking as usual, Anonymous. Since PF was not using English, the translator need not have used a word whose primary meaning according to Chambers (and in general parlance) was as I defined it. 'Piety' or 'religious feeling' better conveys the intent.

Whatever name you choose to post under, you obviously consider yourself an expert on the English language. Like your other conceits it is without foundation.

The topic under consideration was actually church music. Apparently you consider yourself to be musical, yet you seem to have no opinion on the matter.

John Nolan said...


St John Cantius has published guidelines on music at Low Mass, which are based on rules laid down in 1958. Singing in Latin or the vernacular is allowed, but not while the priest is praying audibly. At a Mass with a congregation, bishops were instructed to ensure that quite a lot of the Mass should be said 'clara voce' - in a Low Mass this included the prayers at the foot of the altar.

By 1958 it was permissible for the congregation to recite everything that the server did, and everything that would be sung at a High Mass, including the Propers; in addition they could recite the Pater Noster with the priest. All in Latin, of course. This was subject to episcopal approval.

Alternatively they could sing suitable hymns or songs either in Latin or the vernacular, but they could not be taken from the Ordinary or the Proper. Nor could the priest chant anything in a Low Mass, despite evidence that in the late Middle Ages, and in some cases well afterwards, he would chant the audible parts in a monotone. Cathedral chapels for private Masses were called 'chantries'.

Organ music throughout the Mass appears to be stretching things a bit, and if it obscures what the priest is saying it would appear to constitute an abuse.

Anonymous said...

You huff and puff about what you consider- note that other, authoritative sources do not agree with you - to be the "primary" meaning of religiosity.

Then, when I comment on the meaning of the same word, you whine that I am nitpicking.


TJM said...

John Nolan,

Yes, the Missa Dialoga rules. My parish followed them, which was why I was so suprised by the "reforms" ( in my opinion, deforms) emanating from Vatican Disaster II. The nuns who taught us managed to teach us no less than 5 Latin ordinaries, and the eldest of us were trained to sing the Propers. Because we were also properly trained on the theological underpinnings of the Mass (albeit in fairly simplistic terms) we didn't feel the need for any of the changes. It seemed it was the older crowd that found them necessary.

Anonymous said...

You huff and puff about what you consider- note that other, authoritative sources do not agree with you - to be the "primary" meaning of religiosity.

Then, when I comment on the meaning of the same word, you whine that I am nitpicking.


Anonymous said...

I have not seen a choir in a choir loft in many decades. With the modern choirs that I see today, I envision this pontifical statement "Help community sing, don't replace its voice" being interpreted as mariachi

Gerry Davila said...

Ok. Let’s train all Catholics to chant the Propers, then no one is replacing anything.

John Nolan said...

Anonymous, you are quite literally beyond belief. I mentioned the translation issue as an aside. I did not 'huff and puff' about it it, since it is a minor issue.

You, on the other hand, have nothing to say and compensate for it by latching on to a minor issue rather than engaging with the substance of the argument. And even so, you make a fool of yourself by parading your ignorance.

I have never met you, and don't ever wish to. From what you have written it would appear that you are a sanctimonious ignoramus of a kind I have too often met with and have a cordial dislike for.

Caritas non conturbat me. Those who post under their real names or an identifiable pseudonym are worthy of consideration on account of their arguments. You are not.

rcg said...

Pope Francis does make a good point. The choir should be both supplement and complement the participants in the Mass, whether the Priest or the congregation. We have a couple or organists that play for Low and High Masses respectively. The low Mass organists is a young woman, a girl, really, who is precocious and serious about her work. She is marvelously restrained for such a young and talented person, so that the music is primarily for entrance and exit.

I do not feel compelled to sing along with everything the choir sings. In fact, I sometimes take it as my cue to not sing when the piece is complex, or for the ordinary parts since that is not practiced and even after all of these years the tune can vary even if I know the words by heart. So I let them sing in the background of my prayers and let their words play among my intentions, helping me form my own prayers more effectively. This is another reason that I am not a fan of the conventional definition of 'participation' that requires more of an external performance on my part and distracts from my communion.

FWIW, I too cringed a little at the use of the word 'religiosity'. Pope Francis is not proficient enough in the use of English to use a word like to contract for effect, and since he did not use an Italian word in a contrasting way, I think it is an unsophisticated translation if not out right bad and confusing.

Victor said...

Mr Nolan:
One of the peculiarities about St. Pius X's call for 'participatio actuosa' is that it does not exist. The official Latin version (Inter plurimas) only has 'participatio'. The original version written in Italian (Tra le solicitinni)and other vulgar tongue translations) do have 'actual/active', and that is where Dom Beaudoin the founder of the modern liturgical movement took it from. The official Latin version for some reason took a few years to be made available, but by then everyone was into the 'active' part. Correct me, but it seems the entire edifice of the liturgical movement founded on 'participatio actuosa' is on shaky ground as is Sacrosanctum Concilium which uses the phrase. I suspect the phrase was kept in the non-Latin and thus unofficial versions because of the popularity in the academe of the idea behind active participation.

Anonymous said...

"I mentioned the translation issue as an aside."

And I responded to your "aside."

What is beyond belief is that you think that YOU get to pick nits about a translation issue, but when someone takes issue with your nitpicking, you complain that HE is the one nitpicking.

Now complain that we anonymi are not worthy of your consideration. Yet, that is precisely what you have done.


TJM said...

Anonymous Kavanaugh always has to have the last word - Clericalism on steroids!

Dan said...

I sense that anonymous is a bitter old queen.

Anonymous said...

Bee here:

Thank you, John Nolan, for that information on the guidelines St. John Cantius Church published on Mass in Latin, especially about the permissibility of the congregation responding in the same way as the servers do at a Low Mass. I have noticed our priests will say the prayers at the Low Mass so that they are audible, although not as loudly as they would at a Novus Ordo Mass. And I have noticed people in the pews responding in a low voice speaking along with the servers.

God bless.

Православный физик said...

There's kind of a point to this. At least in the Eastern tradition we tend to sing all the things. The ideal cantor does not exalt themselves, but rather leads, so that all may come together. In the Russian tradition, there's more of a western polyphonic influence. (I enjoy singing, and usually catch melodies pretty quickly, so I'm able to sing complex pieces quickly)

I agree though, the propers should be sung.....even if in simple chant....

Anonymous said...

"A bitter old queen."?

Gracious! Now John Nolan might jump on you for "latching on to a minor issue rather than engaging with the substance of the argument." (Harumphs added for cinematic effect.)

In reality, since you are defending his unworthy consideration of a "fool," he will either A) remain silent, stewing in the juices of his decomposing "I won't respond to you but I am going to respond to you because you are not worthy of my responding to you," or 2) he will break into a rousing rendition of "Rule Britania." (Alveolar trill that initial "R" everyone!")

Only time will tell.

Either way, it's no skin off my nose.


TJM said...

Speaking of choirs, will the evil, pro-abortion media report this story?

"The White House has invited a renowned group of Catholic nuns to sing at this year’s National Christmas Tree Lighting Ceremony along with other performers. The Dominican Sisters of Mary Mother of the Eucharist have released three Billboard and Amazon number-one, classical chart-topping recordings, including a holiday album titled Jesu Joy of Man’s Desiring: Christmas with The Dominican Sisters of Mary. (Snip) although the sisters just celebrated their 20th anniversary, they have already grown to over 130 members with an average age of only 28."

I am not holding my breath.

CharlesG said...

Oh, brother! It is this narrow spirit of Vatican II attitude that has destroyed choral singing in the Catholic Church. Why does it have to be either/or, why not a Catholic both/and? There can be congregational singing as well as one or motets or anthems (or perhaps even the odd Gregorian propers) that a choir can sing professionally to aid the congregation with its worship! So much of what this Pope says just fries my nose (as the late Mayor Mumbles Menino of Boston would say)!

John Nolan said...


That's an interesting point concerning 'paticipatio actuosa'. I allowed myself to be diverted by swatting a troll who considers himself to be conversant with English but thinks that the adjective 'anonymous' has a plural 'anonymi' and can't spell 'Britannia'. One hopes he will stay swatted, but I suspect that like an annoying insect 'whose buzz the witty and the fair annoys, yet wit ne'er tastes and beauty ne'er enjoys' he will continue to pester.

I think Evelyn Waugh got it right when he blamed the Germans for equating participation with making a row. He preferred the Low Mass since he wasn't particularly musical. The key to musical participation is attentive listening; I know the late Hans Keller maintained that one cannot fully appreciate a string quartet unless one is performing it, but the ability to do so is not given to most of us, and the same criterion cannot apply to a symphony or an opera.

In medieval times the laity were encouraged to sing the responses and the Credo. Since all plainsong settings of the latter were variants of Credo I, this was quite feasible. Since 1965 the congregation have been enjoined to sing the whole of the Pater Noster. However, this is one of the most ancient chants in the entire liturgy and it is obvious from the music that 'sed libera nos a malo' acts as a response to 'et ne nos inducas in tentationem'.

Anonymous said...

John - Long before I posted "anonymi" it was used by others here in jest. You know, being silly. Well, maybe you don't know "being silly" and that is probably your tragedy.

Oddly, when others posted about "anonymi" there was no blast from BritanNia.

Curious. No, not curious. Telling.

TJM said...


You should cede the field. You've lost

David Burkovich said...

As a child serving daily low Mass in the 1950's & early 1960's there was never any singing. Most of the people attending would recite the Rosary. Sunday High Mass was usually sung with Croatian songs being this was a Croatian Church. Moving on to the 2000's at St. Joseph's in Macon we had the High Mass one Sunday a month and a Low Mass every Tuesday. When I attended on Tuesdays I followed my 1956 St. Joseph Missal and prayed along with the priest. No music. I found this to be, for me, to be the highest form of prayer as if I was actually talking to God. The High Mass with the singing, even though most beautiful, was sort of a distraction for me as I prayed following the priest saying the Mass. In my humble opinion, I prefer the low Mass even though the High Mass is most lofty and beautiful. I guess its a matter of taste for me. I love the oneness of being with God and talking to Him without the "distractions".

John Nolan said...


See what I mean? Buzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz Swat! Buzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz Perhaps DDT might work ... Buzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz ...

Drat! The pesky thing is as immune to poison as it is to rational argument.

Anonymouse 2 said...

Perhaps we could all agree on “Anonymice” as the appropriate plural form.

John Nolan said...

There was an old troll called Anonymous
Who claimed certain terms were synonymous;
But in view of his rant
And his nit-picking cant,
He might well have stayed as eponymous.