Skip to comments.Catholic Answers: Location and Procession of Choir (and more on indulgences)
Posted on 08/24/2006 5:17:21 PM PDT by NYer
ROME, AUG. 22, 2006 (Zenit.org).- Answered by Father Edward McNamara, professor of liturgy at the Regina Apostolorum university.
Q: It is my understanding that the choir should be located where visible to the congregation, but not so as to distract from the Mass itself. In our church the organ, organist (and music director) along with the entire choir are up in the sanctuary with the main altar at which Mass is celebrated. They are at the same level and above the altar just slightly to the left as the congregation faces the altar. The choir dresses in white-cassock style robes with a cloth accessory which is similar to the stole a priest wears when celebrating the liturgy. This often results in the congregation getting distracted from the Mass especially when the choir changes position and moves around during the singing of the responses for and with the congregation. Is this an appropriate or proper position and manner of dress for a choir in the church during Mass? Second question: What is the proper position for the choir in the entrance procession for Mass, especially on solemn feast days such as Easter and Christmas? Our choir processes in, leading the procession ahead of even the cross bearer, thurifer, acolytes, lectors and celebrants/concelebrants. Is this correct? My understanding from the GIRM is that the only choir included in leading processions is choirs of religious, not a lay music choir. -- M.Y., Rochester, New York
A: There are relatively few detailed norms regarding the position and dress of the choir. The General Instruction of the Roman Missal (GIRM) has the following indications:
"The Place for the Choir and the Musical Instruments
"312. 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.
"313. The organ and other lawfully approved musical instruments are to be placed in an appropriate place so that they can sustain the singing of both the choir and the congregation and be heard with ease by all if they are played alone. It is appropriate that, before being put into liturgical use, the organ be blessed according to the rite described in the Roman Ritual."
The bishops in the United States have also published guidelines in "Built of Living Stones" under the heading "The Place for the Pastoral Musicians":
"§ 88 Music is integral to the liturgy. It unifies those gathered to worship, supports the song of the congregation, highlights significant parts of the liturgical action, and helps to set the tone for each celebration.
"§ 89 It is important to recognize that the building must support the music and song of the entire worshiping assembly. In addition, 'some members of the community [have] special gifts [for] leading the [assembly in] musical praise and thanksgiving.' The skills and talents of these pastoral musicians, choirs, and instrumentalists are especially valued by the Church. Because the roles of the choirs and cantors are exercised within the liturgical community, the space chosen for the musicians should clearly express that they are part of the assembly of worshipers. In addition, cantors and song leaders need visual contact with the music director while they themselves are visible to the rest of the congregation. Apart from the singing of the Responsorial Psalm, which normally occurs at the ambo, the stand for the cantor or song leader is distinct from the ambo, which is reserved for the proclamation of the word of God.
"§ 90 The directives concerning music found in the General Instruction of the Roman Missal and the guidance offered by Music in Catholic Worship and Liturgical Music Today can assist the parish in planning appropriate space for musicians. The placement and prayerful decorum of the choir members can help the rest of the community to focus on the liturgical action taking place at the ambo, the altar, and the chair. The ministers of music are most appropriately located in a place where they can be part of the assembly and have the ability to be heard. Occasions or physical situations may necessitate that the choir be placed in or near the sanctuary. In such circumstances, the placement of the choir should never crowd or overshadow the other ministers in the sanctuary nor should it distract from the liturgical action."
These documents necessarily limit themselves to enunciating basic principles as it would be impossible to give detailed norms for every possible situation. The rest is left to the good taste and common sense of pastors as to what is most appropriate.
All the same, the documents do present the location of the choir within the sanctuary as a last-resort situation and not a first choice.
There are no official indications as to the proper dress for choir members and, where the custom exists, singers may wear some form of choir robe or formal dress.
With respect to the entrance procession, the function of the choir, or "pastoral musicians," is different from that foreseen in the liturgical books regarding the participation in the entrance procession of clergy in choir at some solemn, and especially episcopal, Masses (see Ceremonial of Bishops, No. 128).
This refers above all to some members of the clergy, such as canons, who do not concelebrate but who participate at Mass wearing formal choir robes from a reserved place within or near the sanctuary. The concept is sometimes broadened to embrace seminarians, either diocesan or religious, who participate in the entrance procession in cassock and surplice or their respective choir habits.
The pastoral musicians should not normally enter in procession but should already be in their places and exercising their ministry by singing while the ministers approach the altar.
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Follow-up: Indulgences on Sold Items
After our piece on indulgences (July 18), a reader from Dunedin, New Zealand, asked: "I am very confused as to the exact nature of indulgences in our faith. When engaged in interdenominational dialogue they are often raised as a sign of the corruption of Catholicism! How do indulgences differ today from the pre-Reformation era? How do we justify the authority of their dispensation? And who benefits from the indulgence? Do we need to offer them for others?"
We dealt with the general theme of indulgences in Church doctrine in our columns of Feb. 15 and March 1, 2005. I hope that what was written there will render the doctrine of indulgences a little less alarming to our reader.
There is no essential doctrinal difference regarding indulgences today with respect to the pre-Reformation era. The so-called sale of indulgences that served as tinder for the Protestant Reformation was due more to an incorrect presentation of the doctrine concerning them by certain overzealous preachers.
This led some to understand indulgences as a sort of permission to commit sin with no consequent fault or loss of grace, an idea totally foreign to the general doctrine which requires the state of grace in order to obtain an indulgence.