Musical Instruments

Q. I grew up with the music at Mass always accompanied by an organ. Now it seems like all kinds of instruments are used. Are there any regulations on this issue?

A. Here’s a reply from Father Reginald Martin:

Music has always been part of our prayer and liturgical tradition. In the Old Testament, Samuel tells King Saul he will recognize a group of prophets by the “lyres, tambourines, flutes, and harps” (1 Sm 10:5) they carry with them. The Book of Psalms makes a dozen references to harps (and other instruments) that accompany prayer, commanding the faithful, “Sing joyfully to God our strength; / raise loud shouts to the God of Jacob! / Take up a melody, sound the timbrel, / the pleasant lyre with a harp” (81:1).

The instrument we know as the organ was developed around 250 B.C. in Alexandria. In the Church’s early days, organs had such secular associations they found no place in Christian worship. This changed by the ninth century, and by the 16th century the organ was the Church’s accepted musical accompaniment.

After the Second Vatican Council the organ’s popularity was somewhat eclipsed as other, less formal instruments were introduced into the Church’s liturgy. The General Instruction of the Roman Missal (GIRM) observes, “While the organ is to be accorded pride of place, other wind, stringed, or percussion instruments may be used in liturgical services … provided they are truly apt for sacred use” (No. 393).