Pre-recorded Music at Mass

And More on Communion Services

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ROME, NOV. 23, 2004 ( Answered by Father Edward McNamara, professor of liturgy at the Regina Apostolorum Pontifical University.

Q: What is the official teaching of the Church on using taped music at Mass? We just attended a funeral today and two songs were played over the loud speaker that were professional recordings. Each of these had a Christian message. Another song was pre-recorded onto a tape and was sung by a relative. Is there any official document that has guidelines that would help with this situation? — C.Y., Murdock, Minnesota

A: There are few universal norms which explicitly forbid the using of recorded music during the liturgy. But this should not be surprising as it is impossible to foresee everything that the human imagination can conjure up.

The principal documents that deal with music in Church always emphasize the importance of singing and presume the presence of live musicians who are considered as being part of the assembly.

Thus the General Instruction of the Roman Missal states in Nos. 39-40: “The Christian faithful who gather together as one to await the Lord’s coming are instructed by the Apostle Paul to sing together psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs (cf. Col 3:16). Singing is the sign of the heart’s joy (cf. Acts 2:46). Thus Saint Augustine says rightly, ‘Singing is for one who loves.’ There is also the ancient proverb: ‘One who sings well prays twice.’

“Great importance should therefore be attached to the use of singing in the celebration of the Mass, with due consideration for the culture of the people and abilities of each liturgical assembly. Although it is not always necessary (e.g., in weekday Masses) to sing all the texts that are of themselves meant to be sung, every care should be taken that singing by the ministers and the people is not absent in celebrations that occur on Sundays and on holy days of obligation.”

Later the same document (in No. 312) states: “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.”

The same principles are also valid for organists and other musicians.

The reason for this is that the use of music in the liturgy is always to enhance the quality of liturgical prayer and can never be considered as entertainment.

It is practically impossible for recorded music to serve the same function.

All the same, there is one circumstance where recorded music has been permitted, if somewhat timidly, in the Directory for Children’s Masses. No. 32 of this document states:

“Care should always be taken, however, that the musical accompaniment does not overpower the singing or become a distraction rather than a help to the children. Music should correspond to the purpose intended for the different periods at which it is played during the Mass.

“With these precautions and with due and special discretion, recorded music may also be used in Masses with children, in accord with norms established by the conferences of bishops.”

Among the various episcopal conferences, one that has explicitly forbidden the use of recorded music in the liturgy is the Italian. The Italian bishops have even extended this prohibition to cover children’s Masses by calling attention to the need for the “veracity” of important liturgical signs such as singing, and furthermore “stresses the duty of educating in song the assembly of little ones that participates in the Sacred Celebration.”

For this reason the conference states: “It is good to use recorded music to teach the songs outside of the sacred celebration but it is not permitted to use it during Mass.”

* * *

Follow-up: Communion Services Before Daily Mass

Several readers asked for clarifications on our Nov. 9 column regarding holding a Communion service before Mass.

First, the column addressed the specific situation of holding a Communion service guided by a layperson in a parish situation where Mass was readily available.

Thus what I had to say in no way affected other legitimate situations where a layperson acts as an extraordinary minister of Communion, such as bringing Communion to the sick, the elderly and to those in prison.

Related to this, some readers tied this question to a previous answer in which I stated that an extraordinary minister of holy Communion should not self-communicate.

Once more, this reply was related to serving at Mass. Both the deacon and the lay extraordinary minister of Communion may communicate themselves if called upon to distribute Communion outside of Mass and if they have no other opportunity to receive Communion at Mass during the day.

This is because of the norm that Communion may be received a second time only within Mass.

A reader from the state of New York asked if it were correct that a deacon sit in the pew while his wife directed a service and distributed Communion.

This is incorrect. The deacon has the obligation to preside, for he truly presides in virtue of his order and does not simply lead in substitution of an ordained minister as does the extraordinary minister of Communion.

Unless justly impeded, the deacon fails in his duty by remaining in the pew and deprives the community of a celebration of the Word with distribution of Communion that is more liturgically correct and a fuller, albeit still incomplete, participation in the prayer of the Church.

The same reader asks if anyone may bring Communion to the sick, such as a relative or friend.

Under normal circumstances the person who brings Communion to the sick should be a priest, deacon or a properly designated extraordinary minister of Communion.

In some special cases a relative may be designated, providing he or she fulfills the necessary moral and spiritual conditions to be able to act as an extraordinary minister.

Such cases could be, for example, the relative of a sick daily Mass attendant who ardently yearns to continue receiving quotidian Communion but whose desire cannot be acquitted by the priest or the habitual extraordinary ministers.

Other situations may involve locations with difficult access, or people who, having gained immunity by recovering from a contagious illness, are attending those still afflicted with the ailment.

Finally, a reader from Kansas writes about a particular pastoral situation:

“At my parish we have a regularly scheduled daily Mass. On days when there is a funeral Mass, the priest cancels the daily Mass. He says the bishop and the Pope have stated they can only say one Mass a day and that it is to encourage everyone to attend the funeral Mass (whether you know the person or not). However, on days when there is a wedding with a Mass, the daily Mass is not canceled. What is the Church’s stand on this? Many of us work our work schedule around being able to attend daily Mass, so we cannot attend the funeral Masses, so we are then without Mass on those days. We live in a small community and nearest Mass is 30 miles away.”

The priest is probably referring to Canon 905 of the Code of Canon Law. It states:

“Canon 905 §1. A priest is not permitted to celebrate the Eucharist more than once a day except in cases where the law permits him to celebrate or concelebrate more than once on the same day.

“§2. If there is a shortage of priests, the local ordinary can allow priests to celebrate twice a day for a just cause, or if pastoral necessity requires it, even three times on Sundays and holy days of obligation.”

Therefore the bishop may authorize the priest to habitually cele
brate two daily Masses. This is quite common in some places where there are few priests.

Even more common, indeed practically universal, is the habitual authorization for the priest to celebrate a second Mass when occasional needs arise, such as a funeral or a wedding.

I would say that unless the local bishop has given express and explicit indications to the contrary, the priest may usually presume that he may celebrate the second Mass in such situations.

In order to give a correct interpretation to the second part of canon 905, it is necessary to understand that “shortage of priests” is usually not interpreted strictly in this case but can mean that there are no other priests available at the moment that the second Mass is required.

Likewise the canon describes the need for a “just cause” that is not a grave or serious cause, and the celebration of a funeral or wedding is well within the range of a just cause.

I therefore consider that your priest is giving an excessively rigid interpretation of the norm and that he should be willing to celebrate both the scheduled Mass and the funeral.

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Readers may send questions to Please put the word “Liturgy” in the subject field. The text should include your initials, your city and your state, province or country.

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