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St. Mary Basilica Pipe Organ

A History about the Importance of Music and Silence in the Liturgy

Music becomes such a major part in liturgy of the Mass that it takes a significant role as to how we celebrate and participate in Mass. There are folks who choose what Mass to attend based on the kind of music they listen to. Recognizing the importance of music in the liturgy, there is a pastoral letter which was published by the Archbishop of Portland, Archbishop Sample, called Sing to the Lord a New Song. This letter is a lengthy look at sacred music. There are the formal music books of the church such as the Graduale Romanum and the Graduale Simplex. Our bishops can agree that those collected hymns and collections of hymns and music books for us at Mass are satisfactory. The church provides clear guidelines for what music ought to be in the Mass and why. We need to be cautious on what music we select. Consequently, it is our responsibility as humble servants of the Lord to implement that plan correctly.

If we turn to the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy from the Vatican II Council, we find just how crucial music is!

“The musical tradition of the universal church is a treasure of inestimable value, greater even than any other art. The main reason for this pre-eminence is that, as sacred song united to the words, it forms a necessary or integral part of the solemn liturgy; we cannot do without it” (Sacrosanctum Concilium, p. 112).

As Pope Benedict XVI wrote so powerfully in The Spirit of the Liturgy, “When human beings come into contact with God, mere speech is not enough. We have to sing it; we sing at the liturgy because we can’t not sing. And when we sing, not only do we join in the song of the angels and saints, but we also encounter Jesus Christ himself, for he is present in the liturgy in numerous ways, the final of which is when the church prays and sings”.

In the article Guidelines: Music within the Mass, liturgist Paul Mason intends to give continuity with previous guidance. The intent of these guidelines is to give support to parish and school music leaders. The document recalls the focus of the Eucharist to our Catholic way of living, helps in identifying the role that music plays within the Mass, recognizes the assembly as the primary music minister, identifies the various forms of liturgical song within the Mass, gives guidance to the selection of the parts of the Mass to be sung, explains the choices and provides guidance in the selection of music for the different parts of the Mass, and identifies other crucial concerns for Parish and School music ministry. Recognizing the congregation as the primary music minister falls with one of the main thrusts of the Second Vatican Council, which changed the role of the congregation from a listening one to a participatory one.

The significance of music in the bible is supported by the fact that the verb “to sing” (or related words such as “song”) is one of the most used words in the Bible: It occurs 309 times in the Old Testament and 36 in the New Testament. “Awake, my soul! Awake, harp and lyre! I will awake the dawn! I will praise you, Lord, among the nations; I will sing of you among the peoples”. (Psalm 57: vs. 8-9). In the bible, we find the first mention of singing in after the crossing of the Red Sea. In the biblical account, the people’s reaction to the foundational event of salvation is described in this sentence: “They believed in the Lord and in his servant Moses” (Exodus 14:31). Then follows a second reaction, which soars up from the first: “Then Moses and the people of Israel sang this song to the Lord” (Exodus 15:1).

In the West, in the form of Gregorian chant, the inherited practice of psalm-singing emerged to a new sublimity and purity, which set an enduring standard for sacred music of the Church. As time continued, church music and secular music were now influenced by each other. This is specifically clear in the case of the so-called “Parody Masses”, in which the text of the Mass was set to a theme or melody that came from secular music. The adoption of secular tunes brought peril with them because music was no longer developing out of prayer, but with the new demand for creative autonomy, was now heading away from the liturgy. In his book The Spirit of the Liturgy, Pope Benedict XVI writes that at this time, the Council of Trent intervened in the cultural war that had broken out. It was made a norm that liturgical music ought to be at the service of the Word; The use of instruments was significantly reduced; and the difference between the secular and sacred music was distinctly affirmed. (The Spirit of the Liturgy, pp. 145-6). During the nineteenth century, the sacred was obscured by the operatic. The dangers that had required the Council of Trent to intercede were back again. Pope Pius X tried to take away the operatic element from the liturgy and proclaimed that Gregorian chant and the great polyphony of the age of the Catholic Reformation (of which Palestrina was the outstanding representative) to be the standard for liturgical music.

We are becoming fully aware that silence is part of the liturgy. We respond, by singing and praying, but the greater enigma, surpassing all words, summons us to silence. Obviously, it must be a silence with content, not just the lack of speech and action. For silence to be fruitful, it must not be just a pause in the action of the liturgy. It must be an integral part of the liturgical event. (The Spirit of the Liturgy, p 209).

On January 10, 2018, Pope Francis said to an audience of 7,000 people gathered in Paul VI Hall, (which is used by the Pope as an alternative to Saint Peter’s Square in the Vatican), that “silence is not limited to the absence of words; rather, we open ourselves to hearing other voices: that of our heart, and above all, that of the Holy Spirit”. He reiterated that “when the priest invites the faithful to pray during the Eucharist, we are to renew our awareness of being in God’s presence and offer to Him our personal intentions from the depths of our hearts, participating actively in the Mass”. Thus, the Pope insisted on the importance of silence, which helps us to pray. He also welcomed the faithful to meditate on the Biblical texts and the homily before the Mass is even finished. When the priest says, “Let us pray”, he invites the people to “recollect themselves in a moment of silence, so that each one can become aware of being in God’s presence, and can formulate their desires in their spirit”, the Pope added. If we are talking or singing all the time, we surely cannot hear God speak to us! Silence draws our attention to God rather than to itself.

In past general audiences, Pope Francis has emphasized that “keeping silent means opening ourselves up to listen to the voice of our heart and, above all, the voice of the Holy Spirit. After Communion, silence favors interior prayers of praise and supplication”. If we continue to sing after everyone is finished taking the Eucharist, we deprive ourselves of having a most intimate moment of reflection and prayer which is of utmost importance in our dialogue with God.

In a book titled Liturgical Reflections of a Papal Master of Ceremonies, Monsignor Guido Marini, the Master of Pontifical Liturgical Celebrations, offers various meaningful thoughts regarding silence throughout this work. He speaks on page 31 about silence as it is called for by the General Instruction of the Roman Missal and by The Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy: “The silence requested… is not to be considered along the lines of a mere pause between one moment of celebration and another that follows. Rather, it is to be considered a true and proper ritual moment, complementary to the proclamation of the Word, to vocal prayer, to song, and so on.” For Monsignor Marini, silence is paramount for all who engage fruitfully in divine worship. Moments of silence”, he remarks on page 87, “are as much an integral part of the art of celebrating of the ministers as in active participation on the part of the faithful”.

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Pipe Organ Information

Original organ is H. Pilcher and Sons dating to 1882. 2 Manuals, 12 stops.
The organ was modified/updated by M.P. Möller in 1958 under Möller Opus 9160.
With this upgrade, it is 2 manuals and 33 registers.

Music Director

Dr. Franco Gurman
105 South Union Street
Natchez, MS 39120-3354
Telephone: 813.846.0896
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