Vatican City — Following his first anniversary last month as leader of the world’s 1.2 billion Catholics, Pope Francis stunned papal watchers yet again this morning during mass at the Domus Sanctae Marthae, by breaking Church protocol and declaring new norms for the celebration of sacred liturgy when accompanied by music.
“The voices of the faithful are multiplied when joined in prayerful celebration with musical accompaniment,” said the Holy Father, but he alluded that oftentimes a certain preference “for outdated notions of musical presentation,” which are “tied with a particular focus on one form of the celebration” creates “liturgical situations where the voices are discordant, sharp — out of context with the shared cultural understanding of those gathered together.”
The pontiff developed this theme during his morning fevorino, saying “Indeed, when the Bishop of Rome addressed the gathering of young Catholics at the last World Youth Day in Rio de Janeiro, he called them to make noise, but this noise that they make should better resonate throughout the Church, like a swell of air that carries song to Heaven.”
“This noise that they make should better resonate throughout the Church, like a swell of air that carries song to Heaven.”
He continued, “Certainly there are some voices in the Church that are consonant” with the “standard — but antiquated — use of pipe organ and polyphony in the Roman rite,” but that “these voices should not comprise the whole of liturgical musical practice,” and they no longer “represent the majority that is present in the New Church.”
“For centuries, musical theologians have likened the organ to a ‘great voice’, like the wind that passes through nature and evokes the breath that carries the Holy Spirit,” the Holy Father continued, “but in recent times we’ve found many more ways of passing that wind. When it comes to making noise — beautiful noise — there is more than just one organ. Wind can be drawn into many different chambers and expelled in just as many ways, and variety can be very pleasing to God.”
“…in recent times we’ve found many more ways of passing that wind.”
The Holy Father evoked another of his oft-quoted phrases in discussing musical preferences: “If a music director wishes to use a calliope, or accordion, or perhaps a musical instrument from his or her own cultural tradition, so long as it draws air in and passes it through something that makes a beautiful sound, who am I to judge?”
And, the pope remarked, “dismantling pipe organ infrastructure in churches” may also “reduce cost to struggling churches,” permitting them to “better take their surplus into the streets where it belongs, with the poor.”
While a number of Catholic groups hailed the change as a sign of Pope Francis’ love for inclusion and manifold voices of expression within the Church, other groups were far less supportive.
“I’m hoping that there will be no mandate across the board,” said Clifton Nompierre, President of Project Gregory, a group devoted to “preservation of Catholic Tradition in Musical Form,” who said that “pipe organ and polyphony is the mainstay of Catholic worship. It’s saddening that the Holy Father would sweep it all aside in such a casual and caustic way.”
But defenders of the Holy Father’s reform of music in the liturgy had words for the preservationists: “There have been five primary families in Europe and three in North America that have controlled all the contracts for pipe organ installation and maintenance. They’ve tightly held to their monopolies, withheld information to outsiders on organ mechanisms and methods of manufacture, and lobbied strongly against all changes to musical liturgy, citing the passage of centuries as proof that the pipe organ is the musical instrument favored by the Divine,” said Dale Earnestfuse, who runs a non-profit called “Fipple Church” and has lobbied Catholic authorities to permit the use of the “fipple flute” in liturgical celebrations for the past two years.
“This is just the Holy Father evolving in response to the changing times,” said Mr. Earnestfuse, “which is what everyone in the Church wants, except those with a vested interest in the status quo.”