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Liturgy: Pre-recorded Music at Mass

11/24/2004 - 6:00 AM PST

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And More on Communion Services

ROME, NOV. 24, 2004 (Zenit) - Answered by Father Edward McNamara, professor of liturgy at the Regina Apostolorum Pontifical University.

Q: What is the official teaching of the Church on using taped music at Mass? We just attended a funeral today and two songs were played over the loud speaker that were professional recordings. Each of these had a Christian message. Another song was pre-recorded onto a tape and was sung by a relative. Is there any official document that has guidelines that would help with this situation? -- C.Y., Murdock, Minnesota

A: There are few universal norms which explicitly forbid the using of recorded music during the liturgy. But this should not be surprising as it is impossible to foresee everything that the human imagination can conjure up.

The principal documents that deal with music in Church always emphasize the importance of singing and presume the presence of live musicians who are considered as being part of the assembly.

Thus the General Instruction of the Roman Missal states in Nos. 39-40: "The Christian faithful who gather together as one to await the Lord's coming are instructed by the Apostle Paul to sing together psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs (cf. Col 3:16). Singing is the sign of the heart's joy (cf. Acts 2:46). Thus Saint Augustine says rightly, 'Singing is for one who loves.' There is also the ancient proverb: 'One who sings well prays twice.'

"Great importance should therefore be attached to the use of singing in the celebration of the Mass, with due consideration for the culture of the people and abilities of each liturgical assembly. Although it is not always necessary (e.g., in weekday Masses) to sing all the texts that are of themselves meant to be sung, every care should be taken that singing by the ministers and the people is not absent in celebrations that occur on Sundays and on holy days of obligation."

Later the same document (in No. 312) states: "The choir should be positioned with respect to the design of each church so as to make clearly evident its character as a part of the gathered community of the faithful fulfilling a specific function. The location should also assist the choir to exercise its function more easily and conveniently allow each choir member full, sacramental participation in the Mass."

The same principles are also valid for organists and other musicians.

The reason for this is that the use of music in the liturgy is always to enhance the quality of liturgical prayer and can never be considered as entertainment.

It is practically impossible for recorded music to serve the same function.

All the same, there is one circumstance where recorded music has been permitted, if somewhat timidly, in the Directory for Children's Masses. No. 32 of this document states:

"Care should always be taken, however, that the musical accompaniment does not overpower the singing or become a distraction rather than a help to the children. Music should correspond to the purpose intended for the different periods at which it is played during the Mass.

"With these precautions and with due and special discretion, recorded music may also be used in Masses with children, in accord with norms established by the conferences of bishops."

Among the various episcopal conferences, one that has explicitly forbidden the use of recorded music in the liturgy is the Italian. The Italian bishops have even extended this prohibition to cover children's Masses by calling attention to the need for the "veracity" of important liturgical signs such as singing, and furthermore "stresses the duty of educating in song the assembly of little ones that participates in the Sacred Celebration."

For this reason the conference states: "It is good to use recorded music to teach the songs outside of the sacred celebration but it is not permitted to use it during Mass."

* * *

Follow-up: Communion Services Before Daily Mass

Several readers asked for clarifications on our Nov. 9 column regarding holding a Communion service before Mass.

First, the column addressed the specific situation of holding a Communion service guided by a layperson in a parish situation where Mass was readily available.

Thus what I had to say in no way affected other legitimate situations where a layperson acts as an extraordinary minister of Communion, such as bringing Communion to the sick, the elderly and to those in prison.

Related to this, some readers tied this question to a previous answer in which I stated that an extraordinary minister of holy Communion should not self-communicate.

Once more, this reply was related to serving at Mass. Both the deacon and the lay extraordinary minister of ...

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