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Liturgy & Liturgical Law Forum: Musical instruments in liturgy

by Catherine Frakas 10 Apr 2001

Musical instruments in liturgy QUESTION from Adrian G. Bruley June 26, 2001
In a question from Mr. Antonio Basto dated June 14, 2001 you addressed the use of musical instruments in liturgy, principally the piano and you referred to a church document Tra Le Sollicitudini and paragraph 19 of that document. My questions is: While this document clearly prohibits the use of a piano, another document Musicam Sacram in Part VI. Sacred Musical Instruments in Paragraph 62, paragraph 3 seems to leave open or at least provides an escape from the prohibition of Tra Le Sollicitudini, paragraph 19. If the competent territorial authority in Pargaraph 62, can affirm the use of the piano or any other instrument that negates the prohibition of the 1903 document. How then can a layman address this concern when the church as effectively blurred this issue? From my readig of Church documents this blurring also seems to occur in other documents where a prohibition is made and then in another document a territorial or local authority is given the permission to change to minimize or eliminate. It seems that a later document is in conflict with an earlier document and when theses documents are written it doesn't seems that anyone checks for inconsistencies. The way church documents are written in some instances and they may conflict with other documents giving an out to do something contrary. I hope all of this makes sense.
Thank you and peace...........
ANSWER by Mr. Jacob Slavek on July 2, 2001
Before I answer this question, I think it is a good idea to remind my readers that this is not a debate forum. We are getting into an area that is BIG among debaters. This is a question and answer forum, and Mr. Bruley has submitted a follow up question, which I am pleased to answer. If anyone has another follow up QUESTION, please feel welcome to submit it, but please make the question clear.
Dear Mr. Bruley,
Your question is, how can a laymen address the issue when it is blurred, the documents seem to contradict each other regarding the use of the piano.
My answer is, the documents do not contradict each other. You are quoting from Musicam Sacram, which is quoting from Vatican II.

But other musical instruments may be admitted for use in divine worship, with the knowledge and consent of the competent territorial authority. Notice that so far no specific instrument or set of instruments is named. The documents continue:

This applies, however, only on condition that the instruments are suitable, or can be made suitable, for sacred use, are in accord with the dignity of the place of worship, and truly contribute to the uplifting of the faithful. So what makes an instrument suitable? The answer comes from Tra Le Sollicitudini.
Now, that section has eliminated the secular instruments. The document Tra Le Sollicitudini mentions several specific examples of instruments that are not suitable. Those include the piano and drum and others.

The use of the piano is forbidden in churches, as also that of all noisy or irreverent instruments, such as drums, kettledrums, cymbals, triangles, and so on. Vatican II does allow bishops to allow various instruments IF they can be made suitable for sacred use. We must remember that the issue is not the beauty of the instrument. The issue is whether the instrument is of a character that is specifically oriented to the sacred.
Some will be quick to point out a document entitled Liturgical Music Today, published in 1982 by the Bishops' Committee on the Liturgy of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops, USA, in which the United States bishops explicitly permit the use of the piano and guitar.
I do not believe the bishops have the authority to do so. Regulation of the Divine Liturgy belongs to the Holy See ALONE (Canon Law, 1983) and with the exception of WHEN THE LAW DETERMINES, the bishops.

The regulation of the sacred liturgy depends solely on the authority of the Church which resides in the Apostolic See and, according to the norm of law, the diocesan bishop. (n. 838 §1) Tra Le Sollicitudini is issued Motu proprio et ex certa scientia, which means it IS liturgically binding on the universal church.
The Conference of Bishops may propose, but Rome must ratify is how it works to my understanding. Thus until the Vatican documents such as Tra Le Sollicitudini are superceded by updated Vatican documents, they still remain in force and instruments like the piano may not be used.
Times change and if the piano can not be considered suitable for sacred music, fine; but this must be heard from Rome.
Mr. Slavek
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