Opinion & Features

Catholic dilemmas

I recently enjoyed an excellent concert of sacred music in one of our major churches. Afterwards it struck me that the same music could have been executed within the liturgical celebration for which it was composed. Should these works be performed as concerts in our churches?

In 1987, the Congregation for Divine Worship (CDW) issued an Instruction concerning concerts in churches which discussed some of the advantages and problems of such events and set out various norms to be followed. One of the most important of these was based on canon 1210, which rules that in churches “only those things are to be permitted which serve to exercise or promote worship, piety and religion”. From this, the CDW determined that only music of religious inspiration may be performed in church.

A further directive was that “entrance to the church must be without payment and open to all”. Given these two constraints, it does seem more appropriate for such music to be executed within the sacred liturgy for which it was composed, rather than as a concert.

At the time the Instruction was published, the CDW was conscious that changes in the liturgy and in the physical ordering of churches, together with an emphasis on active participation, might exclude some works from the liturgy itself. This problem would seem to be overcome by the norms of Summorum Pontificum, and the subsequent revival of the classical Roman Liturgy.