From a reader:
Our priest wanted to move the choir loft into the open attic space at the back of our church (over the narthex), [the logical place for a choir loft] but he said the bishop would not let him “because Vatican II said the choir should be in a place where it can lead the congregation.”
(Our priest was successful in moving it from the sanctuary – opposite the altar – to a place down the steps in the front corner of the church.)
I have searched Sacrosanctum Concillium, but have not found anything pertaining to the placement of the choir.
Did I miss it, or what?
If His Excellency is really interested in following the Church’s documents about liturgical participation and sacred music, I would imagine that he is vigorously promoting the use of the pipe organ and Gregorian chant, which have the very first places in all the Church’s sacred music. If His Excellency is so interested in the proper application of liturgical norms, I am sure he has followed Sacrosanctum Concilium 54 ("… steps should be taken so that the faithful may also be able to say or to sing together in Latin those parts of the Ordinary of the Mass which pertain to them."). If he was the local ordinary before 2007, how did he apply Ecclesia Dei adflicta? How about Ecclesia de mysterio? Are there any parishes in the diocese which do not celebrate the sacred rites in conformity with the rubrics? Are they any points of Redemptionis Sacramentum which might need to be reviewed?
Okay… now that I have that out of my system….
I am guessing that the bishop, who is probably of a certain age, is thinking of a 1964 document called Inter Oecumenici in which we read the silly statement:
The choir and organ shall occupy a place clearly showing that the singers and the organist form a part of the united community of the faithful and allowing them best to fulfill their part in the liturgy.
I use the strong word "silly", because I can’t fathom how a person would get the idea that people in a choir loft weren’t participating in the liturgical action. Inter Oecumenici was written back in the day by the liturgical experts who were in the throes of making everything "meaningful". Everyone had to see everything in order to "participate". I think we have grown out of that limited and limiting notion. Furthermore, the place where they are best allowed to fulfill their role would be a place where the acoustics are best and where they are not a distraction to others and to themselves. More on that below.
I think there is also something about this in Musicam sacram of 1967. The 2000 GIRM says in "The Place for the Choir and the Musical Instruments":
312. 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. [I don’t see why coming down from the choir loft, or having a priest/deacon go to the loft with Holy Communion is so very haaard. And if a choir is singing, will anyone be confused about their presence? "GaaaWLEE!? Where’s da sound cumin’ frum??"]
The problem with putting a choir in front of everyone’s eyes (let’s not even contemplate putting them in the sanctuary where the clerical choir belongs) is that it gives the impression that the choir is performing. It gives also the wrong sense to the musicians (if they can be so called) as well.
It seems to me that making the choir too easily visible in the church places too much emphasis on their physical presence and appearance rather than on the prayer they contribute in the form of sacred music. Having the choir up front is just another distraction. Even for the members of the choir it is a distraction.
Moreover, in most older churches, the building’s acoustics will favor the positioning of the organ and choir in the choir loft. A choir can usually sing without amplification when they are in a choir loft, thus avoiding yet another layer of artificiality in the sacred action.
I think the bishop should let the church building be the church building it was designed to be and let the priest in this case make the good choice to put the choir in the loft.
There is after all a fairly good track record for choirs in lofts. That has been successful for centuries.
I think it could be successful now, too.