QUAERITUR: Mozart’s Requiem too distracting from prayer?

From a reader:

Just an interesting link that highlights a requiem mass presided by
three FSSP priests set to Mozart’s Requiem…if I only could be so
lucky to have it like this for my funeral!! Even though I must
ask…is this performance of the piece too distracting during Mass?


Well… decidedly yes, if it’s poorly performed.

Some people will prefer Gregorian chant or unaccompanied polyphony.  Some prefer the orchestral Mass.  Some like silence.  It’s all one.

You cannot be distracted from prayer by prayer.

[Note that I do not include above any mention of the usual music people hear in parishes.]

Music for Mass must be sacred in its texts and its idiom and it must be art, in its composition and its performance.   An idiom can shift over generations, but generally people who know music recognize when something is suited for divine worship or not.  When people who do not know what the terms “sacred”, and “art” imply, then they should not be making choices about the use of music in churches.

Alas, the barbarians took over.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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  1. Jack Hughes says:

    For rememberance Sunday we had a Missa Sollemnis Requim Mass in the Extraordianary Form , with a full choir – it was spellbinding !!

  2. david andrew says:

    The only reason why I would find it distracting is because upon hearing parts of it, images of the movie Amadeus would flash through my head.

    I think there’s something to be said for keeping that which is sacred, sacred. Amadeus, a work of fiction for the most part, incorporates his sacred music as a character in and of itself. The sections of the Requiem Mass used in the soundtrack serve as a type of musical narrator as well as an unwitting victim of Salieri’s manipulation and attempted usurpation of Mozart’s fame. Although the story is apocryphal, it nevertheless casts (for those who saw the movie) an unfortunate pall of dark associations between the legitimate musical work and an otherwise brilliant, rich and entertaining work of fiction, tied to the music used for the purpose.

    To illustrate the point of the usurpation and now unfortunate pop culture associations connected with the Requiem, there is an episode of Family Guy that makes a direct reference to Amadeus, lampooning a scene between the aged Salieri and the priest/confessor, ending with the opening measures of the Dies Irae. Regardless your opinion of the series, adult programs that deftly incorporate these types of cultural references heighten the awareness of the referenced subject. People watching Family Guy who are familiar with the reference, in this case to the movie Amadeus, will get the joke and find the oblique reference humorous. In this same way, folk who are familiar with Amadeus will not help but hear the portions of the Requiem used in the soundtrack and involuntarily recall the reference in the movie, even though they’re hearing it within the context of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.

  3. Titus says:

    An idiom can shift over generations

    I think this point is important in assessing the appropriateness of Mozart and other orchestral pieces for Mass. When these pieces were written, they very much resembled secular entertainment music (they were not indistinguishable, but they were closer to symphonies than to chant). Today, Mozart’s requiem is quite unlike anything an ordinary person listens to for entertainment. Thus, it seems some of the concerns that motivated St. Pius X to pen On Sacred Music (reprobating much orchestral music in the liturgy)—and that rightfully motivate conscientious pastors today to banish guitars—no longer militate against Mozart in the same way they once did.

  4. Jerry says:

    A poster at Fisheaters claims this type of setting for requiem Masses is prohibited by the rubrics:

    Because I must be a party-pooper: On a liturgical note, this is absolutely forbidden, even by the rubrics of the Novus Ordo Missæ.

    Instrumental music is absolutely prohibited at any Mass or Office of the Dead. The only exception is that the organ may be played when necessary to support the singers. This means that the chants or polyphony may be accompanied to help the singers, but the organ may not play any solo selection, nor may the organ play any kind of introduction, prelude, processional, or recessional.

    This is in the GIRM for the Novus Ordo Missæ and the 1967 S.R.C. document on music in the Liturgy. In the traditional Liturgy this point is found in many rubrical books, but is based on the instructions of the Pontificale Romanum.

    It would be interesting if someone could adapt Mozart’s Requiem as an a capella choral symphonic work. That would make it rubrically acceptable (save the Dies Iræ, since it is set in different movements, which is prohibited by Pius X’s Motu Proprio).


  5. traditionalorganist says:


    I read Pius X’s Motu Proprio years ago and remember thinking (in the way back of my mind) that it seemed rather restrictive. At the same time, liturgical music nowadays is at the point where one would never know Pius X had written it, or that any sort of rules ever existed, for that matter.

    However, I would hope never to year any adaptation of Mozart’s Requiem. It’s perfect as it is. Changing it would destroy it. Rather, creativity, true artistic creativity, in accordance with the rules in place, is what is needed. We need musicians and composers who know how to work with what they are given (ie, stay within the rubrics) to produce beautiful music for the liturgy.

  6. Mike Morrow says:

    All of these “classical” requiems are entertainment above anything else. The most beautiful of them all, Brahm’s “Ein Deutsches Requiem”, is by composer’s intent non-liturgical, which at least makes it resistant to being inappropriately applied at Mass even by today’s artsy anything-goes crowd. Plainly, these performances are extremely offensive when applied to an actual Mass unless one is admitting that the main purpose of such a Mass is to entertain.

    Jerry (above) quotes:
    “Instrumental music is absolutely prohibited at any Mass or Office of the Dead. The only exception is that the organ may be played when necessary to support the singers. This means that the chants or polyphony may be accompanied to help the singers, but the organ may not play any solo selection, nor may the organ play any kind of introduction, prelude, processional, or recessional.

    “This is in the GIRM for the Novus Ordo Missæ and the 1967 S.R.C. document on music in the Liturgy. In the traditional Liturgy this point is found in many rubrical books, but is based on the instructions of the Pontificale Romanum.”

    That precisely summarizes the usage of instrumental music for Requiems in the traditional (say 1,500 year) period before Vatican II. Apparently, not even the Novus Ordo invalidated that tradition.

    All Requiem Masses celebrated in my pre-Vatican II parish follewed this rule. The “Liber Usualis” seems to discourage any instruments at all, but a very light organ often played in the background precisely to assist the grade 6 to 8 parocial school kids who formed the choir that sang the Gregorian chant for the Requiem.

    Here is my question for those favoring the illegitimate application of entertainment music to Requiem Mass liturgy: What is so wrong and unpleasing about the traditional Gregorican chant?

  7. traditionalorganist says:

    Mike Morrow:

    Nothing wrong or unpleaseing about the chant. It’s Gorgeous. But I disagree that Mozart’s Requiem is entertainment. Sure, one might listen to it as such, but it is highly prayerful for those who approach it as such. Further, as Fr. Z said, “Music for Mass must be sacred in its texts and its idiom and it must be art, in its composition and its performance. ” The intent of the composer does not change the facts of the music: (1) use of sacred texts, (2) artful composition and skilled performance.

  8. AnAmericanMother says:


    What is so wrong and unpleasing about the traditional Gregorian chant?

    Nothing, if properly done. And that can be a big “if”.

    Unaccompanied chant can sound awful if the choir doesn’t know what it’s doing. Using the organ in support (as you note above) helps, but the melody line is still awfully exposed and a couple of wandering voices (or heavy vibrato, or forced tone) will be unpleasantly obvious.

    Before using chant in a requiem Mass, the choir would have to be properly rehearsed. And too many choir singers (and directors) seem to think that winging it on Sunday is AOK.

    There are good keyboard reductions for most orchestral Masses. . . we’ve sung the Faure’ that way for years, although we’re blessed with a music director who can handle both the organ part and filling in the missing instruments where it seems appropriate to him.

  9. priests wife says:

    In St Stephen’s Cathedral in Budapest, the great classical Masses are played/sung. A priest does preside, but as a bit player. These masses are done for entertainment. Most lay people would not ‘sit through’ an hour long Mass (hence, getting rid of the I confess and Creed at the most recent ‘good’ Sunday Roman-rite mass I attended)- but almost 2 hours is no problem with Mozart. In Budapest, this is something you do to cap off your tour.

    still beautiful, though- and still sacred if you close your eyes

  10. 1. When Mozart wrote his Mass, he was within the rubrics.

    2. It’s not in the GIRM that organs can’t do that at funerals, or in general, so I’m not sure where he’s getting that. There is a specific notation in the GIRM that instrumental music, particularly organ music, is particularly appropriate at the Offertory in a funeral Mass. The only time when you’re not allowed to be playing music and/or singing is during the Eucharistic Prayer (except to support the priest singing? Can’t remember), and that’s at Masses in general.

  11. Supertradmum says:

    As long as the music is not being performed during the Eucharistic Prayer, I am fine. I would love to have the Mozart Requiem at my funeral.

  12. Tina in Ashburn says:

    Frankly, it doesn’t matter how we feel about good music or what we think…its all subjective opinion. It really isn’t up to us and how it all makes us feel. What matters is what the Church teaches us to do with music at Mass. God tells us how He wants to be worshiped – and God speaks through His Church.

    I’ve spent years on this subject. I too was lost without real authoritative direction on the matter. If I could convince a pastor not to allow “Amazing Grace” and maybe sing ‘traditional hymns’ or good old Mozart, I thought I was spreading the Church’s teaching. After enduring so many music arguments that were so subjective [what exactly is wrong with Amazing Grace? was Mozart Catholic? isn’t Palestrina the only approved polyphonic author? isn’t Gregorian boring and out of reach? why doesn’t the Catholic Church have an official hymnal?], I was driven to read all Church music-related documents myself. After reading books, talking to older relatives, attending talks and workshops…it has become clearer.

    What we think is allowable music at Mass – isn’t.

    You really have to read the Church directives on this. We lost quite a bit of ground with the ambivalent language of the Vatican II Council and our GIRM. If you read all documentation before that time period, the context becomes more clear:

    Lose the instruments, forget the stagey productions, sing the parts of the Mass – echoing the priest’s words and the prayers. Simple. That’s what the Church teaches is the IDEAL.

  13. Phil_NL says:

    People who believe all Requiem settings are entertainment, check out Michael Hadyn’s (brother to…) Requiem pro defuncto Archiepiscopo Sigismundo, which was exactly what the name says, as well as an expression of the double bereavement the composer faced that year (not just his beloved bishop and patron, but also his daughter died). It also the most beautiful requiem around, IMHO, but it is definately not intended as entertainment nor is its substance entertainment.

    I must say that we should guard against a creeping calvism whereby all things that by their beauty give honor and glory to God during Mass – and contribute to that ultimate honor and glory, the Mass itself, are frowned upon as ‘distractions’ or ‘entertainment’. That some people prefer silence for their prayers is fine, but that does not make it binding for the entire Church.

    In fact, when the Vatican is done clarifying various documents, a new one on church music might not go amiss. The call for just chant is not particularly in continuity with much of the history of church music, especially in Europe.

    And I hope that when the time comes, M. Haydn’s requiem will be part of my funeral Mass too.

  14. Joshua08 says:

    At least according to the various organizations promoting sacred music after the motu proprio, Mozart’s Requiem is not allowed (nor for instance Schubert’s Ave Maria), as they are too operatic and not within the form of sacred music. E.g. http://musicasacra.com/pdf/blacklist.pdf

    Now I am not trained enough to say with absolute certitude one way or the other. My impression concurs though that it is too operatic. And it is almost nonsensical to say, as a poster has above, that it was written within the “rubrics”, when there were not “rubrics” as such to speak about. Not everything is governed by a rubric. Trent came close to banning polyphony outright and allowed it with restriction. Through Pius X, XII and Paul VI (and John Paul II) we can try to get ad mentem Ecclesiæ on this. Chant is upheld as the ideal and polyphony is acceptable insofar as it approaches chant.

    We also have to keep in mind due length and proportion. Mozart’s Masses were not all suitable liturgically. The Archbishop of Salzburg wrangled with him over this. And the motu proprio gives clear directions about the length of pieces

  15. Charles E Flynn says:

    Thanks for mentioning the “Requiem pro defuncto Archiepiscopo Sigismundo”.


  16. Lirioroja says:

    To go back to the original question, I have this anecdote to offer. A visiting organist I work with from time to time at the church I sing at told me of an Easter Vigil (1970 Missal) he did at a church where he was the music director at the time. He picked out some of the best Gregorian chant and Renaissance polyphony and hired competent musicians to ensure he had the forces to pull it off well. The church building was one of those large, unwreckovated structures where those kind of musical forces would not be out of place. Easter Vigil came and everything went off without a hitch. The music was glorious and fitting. After Mass he went out and greeted the pastor and the parishioners. The feedback he got was the same over and over again: the music was beautiful but it was too distracting. They couldn’t pray. It was too overwhelming for them. They wanted their Haugen/Haas, OCP, guitar music instead. He was so disappointed and demoralized.

    Many Catholics today in the western world don’t have the musical vocabulary to equate chant and polyphony with prayer. It is utterly foreign to them. They don’t even hear it in a secular context so of course they don’t even know what to do with it in it’s proper, sacred context. We who want to instill the right praxis into the Mass have our work cut out for us. It begins with proper catechesis and, IMO, liturgical reform begins with music. In my experience praxis is consistent with the music chosen for Mass. I think the Church ought to be clear which music is and is not appropriate for Mass since judging from the comments above not even those with more traditional leanings can agree. It’s a subject the Church needs to revisit every so often because the culture and the Catholics within it are not the same 20, 40, 50, or 100 years on.

  17. Henry Edwards says:

    At least according to the various organizations promoting sacred music after the motu proprio, Mozart’s Requiem is not allowed (nor for instance Schubert’s Ave Maria), as they are too operatic and not within the form of sacred music. E.g. http://musicasacra.com/pdf/blacklist.pdf

    I doubt this “blacklist of disapproved music” had any official standing when it was constructed at the May 4-6, 1922 convention in Rochester, NY of the Society of St. Gregory of America. I’d guess it has still less now.

    I do not know personally of anything that is officially proscribed at the present time, though I know of a lot that ought to be.

  18. wolfeken says:

    Mozart’s Requiem works if it is a very, very grand Mass for the Dead. The only one I can recall for a specific deceased man was the January 19, 1964 pontifical High Mass for JFK at the cathedral in Boston two months after his death:


    Mrs. Kennedy (who attended the High Mass) chose a Low Requiem Mass for the actual funeral at Saint Matthew’s cathedral in D.C. in 1963 (although there was music, including illicit selections, within the Low Mass).

    Either Gregorian chant or another setting would need to be used for the Gradual and Tract, missing from Mozart’s composition. And I can’t imagine a 2010 Catholic being able to sit still and shut up for the entire Mozart Sequence!

  19. robtbrown says:

    I don’t consider Mozart’s Requiem entertainment but rather a work of art. On the other hand, it was written to be performed in the concert hall, not at mass.

  20. MJ says:

    I do believe that this type of setting for a Requiem Mass is not permitted. Piux X’s Motu Proprio on Sacred Music outlines the reasons why.

    I’ve love to have Beethoven’s Missa Solemnis at a Nuptial Mass too, but I’m pretty sure that wouldn’t be allowed either. ;-)

  21. Jordanes says:

    Last Sunday (within the octave of All Souls) at our cathedral, Mass was celebrated with the cathedral schola chanting all of the propers of the Requiem Mass (including the Dies Irae sequence). At Communion, however, was an unexpected blessing — the schola sang Mozart’s Lacrimosa. It was perfect and an ideal Communion meditation for that Mass.

  22. Henry Edwards says:

    All Soul’s Day 2010 at St. John Cantius
    On November 2, 2010, the annual All Soul’s Solemn High Mass was offered by Bishop Joseph N. Perry, Auxilary Bishop of Chicago. The Requiem Mass in D minor (K. 626) by W.A. Mozart was done by the St. Cecilia Choir and Orchestra.

  23. The orchestral Masses that I’ve heard at Mass were definitely not “entertainment”. A great deal of the logic of their sound is only evident when you are actually going to Mass during them; they respond worshipfully to what is going on and make the mystical meaning plain to hear, aiding in worship. It’s very hard to describe, honestly, because it’s not something that we’re used to; and they are plugged into the logic of the High Mass of the Extraordinary Form, which is also a stranger to most of us.

    It’s a lot like paintings and stained glass pictures and carvings. One guy gets all upset because the Gothic is too brutal or the baroque is too gingerbready. Most people don’t have an opinion; they just know they’re in church. When I go to an orchestral Mass, or sing for one, I know I’ve been to Mass.

  24. Rob Cartusciello says:

    I’m surprised at the responses here. I would never have guessed there would be opposition to the use of Mozart’s Requiem.

    I attended the All Soul’s Mass at St. John Cantius with Mozart’s Requiem for several years. It was beautiful and awe inspiring. One student friend of my even called it “the closest I have ever been to sitting at the throne of God.”

    From a historical perspective, Mozart’s Requiem was used in the American Civil War by New York’s Irish Brigade during their Requiem Mass for those soldiers killed at Fredericksburg. (On December 13, 1862, the Irish Brigade took severe losses attacking uphill across a half mile of open fields against Confederate troops taking shelter behind a stone wall.)

    Mozart’s Requiem is music for Mass, not a concert. Indeed, I believe the only place it should be performed is during the EF.

  25. MJ says:

    I’m not sure that orchestral Mass settings are tied into the EF. Perhaps what you mean by “orchestral Mass” is different that what I am assuming it to be.

    A Gregorian Chant Mass with organ accompaniment, for example, is not an orchestral Mass. Neither would a Polyphonic Mass with organ accompaniment.

  26. patrick_f says:

    It all comes down to intent, both the intent of the piece, and the musician doing it. Is he making music, or is he enhancing the liturgy ? Does the music draw us away from God, into our own emotions…or does it lift our spirits in prayer to the Almighty?

    I quit an archdiocesan choir, because it became more about the performance..then the liturgy. Some of the music written is amazingly beautiful, that does not mean its appropriate – Some of the most modern music, can be as equally appropriate as the most time honored Sequences, Motets, and Simple Chants – Again its all in the projected intent of the piece, as well as the body of it

    Something like, Ave Verum, the text, gorgeous ..very appropriate, because of the mood it induces. Something like Schubert’s Ave Maria – where the text is the Hail Mary, I dont think is appropriate, as people tend to 1)request it (In other words…this is their own personal mass….) 2) (and I am probably guilty on this one, being he who sings at marriages, funerals..etc) can sometimes be done “showy” (which is why I go out of my way, not to do it, if I have the say/choice) – I dont think for the average parishioner – it invokes prayer, as the average parishioner frankly, has no clue about the text. Then you have lost that person , to the moment, rather then to the liturgy

    Likewise, I think the average parishioner has no clue about the Mozart Requiem . Granted exposure is a chance to learn, let them learn at a concert though. If our hearts, and minds should be directed to almighty God, then the music should contribute as such. A musician’s two cents.

  27. robtbrown says:

    Suburbanbanshee says:

    It’s a lot like paintings and stained glass pictures and carvings. One guy gets all upset because the Gothic is too brutal or the baroque is too gingerbready.

    Not the same thing. The mass is primarily the spoken or sung word, only secondarily is it visual.

    Most people don’t have an opinion; they just know they’re in church. When I go to an orchestral Mass, or sing for one, I know I’ve been to Mass.

    If you hear–or perform–the same music at a concert hall, do you also know you have been to mass? Just because music is beautiful doesn’t mean that it is appropriate for mass, but I do think it fine preparation for mass. I love Bach’s The Art of Fugue (esp the Fine Arts Quartet/Woodwind Quintet recording), but I don’t want to hear it at mass. IMHO, the relationship of AoF to mass is like that of Metaphysics to Theology.

  28. Henry Edwards says:

    An orchestral Mass typical includes musical settings (for choir and orchestra) of the Ordinary of the Mass–the Kyrie, Gloria, Credo, Sanctus-Benedictus, and Agnus Dei–and thus can be used for either a TLM (for which most were composed) or a Novus Ordo Mass.

    Pope Benedict apparently is fond of orchestral Masses and Mozart in particular. On May 31, 2009—which was the 200th anniversary of the death of Franz Joseph Haydn—he celebrated the Mass of Pentecost in St. Peter’s Basilica with a Haydn orchestral Mass setting performed by the Cologne Cathedral Choir and Cologne Chamber Orchestra.

  29. Supertradmum says:

    There is a very short leap from a truly sublime aesthetic experience and the Presence of God. If music is done in an excellent manner, it is giving glory to God. Unless it is done badly, I cannot see why such a piece would be a distraction.

  30. FranzJosf says:

    Concerning the original topic and some points raised here, some observations:

    1. “What was sacred then is sacred now.”

    2. Instruments other than the organ have not been reprobated, rather, how they are used.

    3. Within the Western Cultural Tradition, one might say there is the sub-set of the English-speaking peoples, through which, because of historical events, runs a puritanical streak that comes from outside of Catholic Culture, but which often gets applied within it (wrongly, in my view). Hence, the anglophone world is often overly censorious and iconoclastic about ‘worldly influence,’ to the impoverishment of things that are actually Catholic in style or idiom.

    4. In the sacred music, as opposed to merely religious, of Haydn and Mozart, the style is markedly different from their profane music. If it be true that virtually all great music illicits some sort of emotional response from the listener, then the kind and the how matter. So, compare the operatic music of that period with any mass (or Requiem) setting of the two men. Any of the relatively dramatic or serene sections are always connected to an act of God, and always more restrained than the musical intensities of human folly and self-centeredness found in the operas. (cf. any Et incarnatus est or Crucifixus or Et resurrexit) In the masses, the sections for individual soloists or quartets, always serve the text, not the singer; the same can’t be said of the operas. (The spiritual ecstacy of the Et incarnatus est, in Mozart’s unfinished C minor mass, is restrained in comparison to Bernini’s St. Theresa in Ecstacy.)

    5. The sections that some might consider opulent are in no way as exuberant as the baroque churches in which they were often sung, and in no way reach the extravagance of the Romantic masses by second rate composers against whom St. Pius X was fulminating.

    6. These setting work especially well in the TLM, for which they were intended. In the new rite the beginning of the Canon must wait until the Sanctus is finished. In Vienna, I have seen that the Benedictus is accomodated after the Elevation, as it often was in the old rite, but in the new the continuation of the Canon waits.

  31. digdigby says:

    I find that newfangled Gregorian chant a little too modern. Sample this:

  32. Prof. Basto says:

    1. Mozart’s Requiem is surely not distracting.

    2. It is sacred music, and is a masterpiece in terms of poliphonic liturgical music;

    3. It is my favorite musical setting for Requiem Mass, and I would love to have it sung for my own funeral.

    4. I often hear Mozart’s Requiem just for the purpose of contemplation of the lyrics, that is, of the text of the Requiem liturgy.

    5. Supertradmum,

    Mozart’s requiem was composed for the TLM; Mozart had the structure of the TLM in mind.

    It was and is permissible to have sung parts of the Mass sung during the Canon. That’s precisely why composers wrote long arrangements for the “Sanctus” and the “Benedictus”.

    While the Priest recites the Canon in silence (and so the Canon is silent), and the people are kneeling, the orchestra and choir play/sing the Sanctus and the Benedictus. That is also why composers wrote two separate sets, one for the “Sanctus” and another for the “Benedictus”

    Remember that in the TLM the priest is obliged to recite even the parts that are being sung and that are going to be sung. So, while the priest at the Altar recites the Sanctus, including the Benedictus, and, when finished, at once goes on to pray the Canon (the Te igitur, etc), the orchestra and chorus play and sing the Sanctus in their own time.

    If the priest is about to reach the actual consecration and the Sanctus hasn’t finished being sung, he can wait for the orchestra to finish the Sanctus. Then, when the Sanctus is finished, the priest goes on to recite the Consecration. After the elevations, etc, when it is clear that the priest has started the Unde et memores, the orchestra resumes singing and sings the Benedictus.

    If necessary, the priest can wait so that the Nobis quoque is recited only when the Benedictus is finished.

  33. Tina in Ashburn says:

    Ack! There are a lot of wrong conclusions being expressed here.

  34. danphunter1 says:

    I too always found it amazing that Mozart, as a Freemason, who wrote a cantata to celebrate Freemasonry called “Masons Joy”, was never anathemized by the Church, since as far as I have read he never rejected Masonry.
    I would assume it was extremely difficult for an Requiem Mass to be arranged, for him, considering he died a Freemason, albeit the worlds most talented one.

  35. MJ says:

    Prof. Basto,

    You said, “If the priest is about to reach the actual consecration and the Sanctus hasn’t finished being sung, he can wait for the orchestra to finish the Sanctus.” What if the Sanctus takes 10 minutes to sing? :) Likewise, “If necessary, the priest can wait so that the Nobis quoque is recited only when the Benedictus is finished.” — what if the Benedictus takes 10 minutes to sing?

    Pius X said, in his Moto Proprio on Sacred Music, “It is not lawful, because of the singing or the instrumental music, to keep the priest at the altar waiting, for a length of time not allowed by the liturgy. According to church rules, the Sanctus of the Mass should be over before the elevation; and therefore at this point the priest must take the singers into consideration. Also, according to the Gregorian tradition, the Gloria and the Credo should be relatively short.”

    Mozart’s Requiem was composed with the EF in mind, however, whether it is proper to actually sing it at a Requiem Mass is another matter. Mozart’s Requiem is well over an hour long, even if the chorus/soloists sing it quickly and the orchestra flies through the sequences. It is not distracting of course, but it would be distracting in the wrong setting. Just as if I wore a (modest) wedding dress to Mass each Sunday — is it immodest? No. Is it improper for the setting? Yes. Would it be a distraction? Yes. Is it typically a distraction (from the Mass) at a Nuptial Mass? No.

    Mozart’s Requiem is not polyphonic in the sense of what the Church refers to as Classical Polyphony. (ie, the works of Vittoria, Palestrina, etc). Again from Pius X, “Gregorian Chant has always been regarded as the supreme model for sacred music, so that it is fully legitimate to lay down the following rule: the more closely a composition for church approaches in its movement, inspiration and savor the Gregorian form, the more sacred and liturgical it becomes; and the more out of harmony it is with that supreme model, the less worthy it is of the temple…the above-mentioned qualities are also possessed in an excellent degree by Classic Polyphony, especially of the Roman School, which reached its greatest perfection in the fifteenth century, owing to the works of Pierluigi da Palestrina, and continued subsequently to produce compositions of excellent quality from a liturgical and musical standpoint. Classic Polyphony agrees admirably with Gregorian Chant, the supreme model of all sacred music…”

  36. traditionalorganist says:


    While not an excuse for Mozart’s membership in the Masons, excommunication was not imposed upon Catholic freemasons until 1821 by Pius VII (http://www.io.com/~janebm/churchlaw.html). Mozart died in 1791.
    On a completely different note, I find it rather ironic that I have a recording (conducted by Philippe Herreweghe) of Mozart’s Mass in C Minor preceded by “Meistermusik,” one of Mozart’s Masonic works. While I enjoy both pieces immensely, the Mass being one of his most beautiful, I can’t help but wonder who organized that playlist.

  37. Henry Edwards says:

    Those (if any) who aren’t sure what’s being discussed here might sample Mozart’s requiem Santus, Kyrie, and the famous Dies Irae (“Days of Wrath”, the sequence preceding the Gospel) at


    As has been mentioned, the difference in the TLM is that the priest continues with the silent Canon while orchestra and choir are playing and singing the Sanctus, which can last up till just before the Consecration. After the Consecration (in silence, of course) the orchestra and choir resume with the Benedictus while the priest continues with the Canon. You can perhaps imagine this as you listen to these two tracts.

    Whereas the priest, after saying his own Kyrie, would sit down until after the choir and orchestra finish it. And similarly with the Gloria and Credo.

    As a postscript, regarding quotes of the recommendations of Pope Pius X as though they were gospel–which is how I myself (preferring pure Gregorian chant Masses for most occasions) tend to regard them–it must be admitted that his opinions on sacred music have not prevailed universally, any more than the opinions of previous or subsequent popes in this perennially contentious area.

  38. Re: knowing it’s Mass —

    No, it’s not the same to hear a Mass played in a concert hall, without Mass actually being said. It’s not even the same to hear a Mass played in a church, or a Catholic church, without Mass actually being said.

    Listening to chant, polyphonic, or orchestral Masses in a concert setting is not really hearing them. It’s a nice little pretend version that gives you sort of an idea of how it really is, like hitting out the notes on a toy piano or going to a dress rehearsal that stops and starts. It’s like looking at all the parts of a machine at rest, without actually powering that sucker up. It’s like reading all of Shakespeare’s plays in a book, and never going to see one in a theater. It’s not alive. God’s presence and liturgical action is what makes a Mass setting more than just notes.

  39. catholicmidwest says:

    Funny. Nobody seems up in arms about the fact that no human being on earth could avoid being distracted by the catfight-sounds of contemporary liturgical music. Yet, we’re subjected to that noise pollution every single week.

  40. chloesmom says:

    If only we COULD hear Mozart in my parish. The organist at the Saturday vigil Mass regularly plays “Climb Every Mountain” or Chopin’s E-Flat Nocturne (very badly – and I know, I’m a musician!) at Communion time. And the “cantor” doing the Gospel Acclamation does a very bad wobbly, off-key Irish tenor version of the chant at a funereal pace …. So Mozart, or anything well performed and appropriate, would be a definite change for the better! Yet most of the congregation laps this dreck up — their idea of “High Art” is Celine Dion (I live in Quebec) … To top it all off, I heard from someone who actually attended that, at a recent funeral, the congregation joined in James Taylor’s “You’ve Got a Friend” at the close of Mass – the deceased had chosen it herself.
    So, Mozart, Haydn, Beethoven? In Dubya’s immortal words, “Bring ’em on!”

  41. tpkiser says:

    *unrelated comment*

    I am a member of a parish that has Austrian/German composed masses every Sunday during the season (take a wild guess!). Sometimes I am admittedly distracted, despite the sacredness of these compositions, just because of the sheer blast from the choir loft every Sunday morning. So at times I take advantage of the opportunity to attend low TLM in the neighboring town. Not that I don’t like 19th c. compositions, they are soul stirring.

  42. Prof. Basto says:


    Youtube has a series of videos of a TLM offered by an FSSP priest for the repose of Mozart’s soul. Mozart’s Requiem was sung. The Benedictus was accomodated after the Consecration. I don’t think the priest had to wait for any long period that would render the Mass setting innapropriate. At least not during the Canon

    Well, he had to wait a while for the orchestra to complete the Dies irae sequence, but then he sat.

    I don’t think people in the old days regarded Mozart’s Requiem, or Beethoven’s Requiem, or other Masses innapropriate. Of course poliphony will always take a little bit longer than Gregorian chant to complete. But I think it is us with a mentality changed by the post Vatican II liturgy that consider any delay of any kind innapropriate. If it wasn’t regarded as innapropriate for the TLM then, why would the setting need to be placed out of liturgical use now?

    Canon – Requiem Mass for Wolfgang A. Mozart: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kLSV426jJcM

  43. MJ says:

    Prof. Basto, thank you for sharing the YouTube link. I have not watched it, but I find it very hard to see how the priest would not have had to wait an extraordinary amount of time to proceed with the Mass while Mozart’s Requiem was being performed (I specifically chose the word ‘performed’).

    Mozart, Haydn, and Beethoven’s masses are pretty much unsuitable for liturgical purposes because of the musical interpretation of the text and their operatic form. This unsuitability was freely acknowledged by Mendelssohn, Liszt, and Wagner. There is an undue elaboration of form in these Mass settings which interferes with the devotion of the faithful. A few compositions by these masters (such as Mozart’s Ave verum) do not fall into this category (we sing this at our own parish quite often). A Gloria or Credo by Haydn delays the progress of the Mass for twenty minutes, while the other parts of these masses are of equally excessive length — this alone is sufficient to render them unsuitable for liturgical use. Mozart said “that he would gladly exchange all his music for the fame of having composed the Gregorian Preface”. Berlioz, who wrote a grand Requiem himself, said “nothing in music could be compared with the effect of the Gregorian Dies Iræ”.

    “But I think it is us with a mentality changed by the post Vatican II liturgy that consider any delay of any kind innapropriate.”

    I don’t consider a delay inappropriate — our choir sings polyphonic Mass settings quite often, and the priest is usually waiting for us to finish for a minute or two before he can proceed — but I do consider an unusually long delay inappropriate. As a side note, my mentality hasn’t been changed by the post Vatican II liturgy — I never saw an OF Mass until I was I think 24 years of age, and I’ve only been to I think three OF Masses in my whole life.

  44. GregH says:

    Mozart’s requiem is inferior to Cherubini’s requiem

  45. MJ says:

    GregH, there ya go! ;) I often wonder what would have happened if Beethoven hadn’t been so proud of himself and decided he didn’t need to write a Requiem because he had already achieved the height of musical perfection with Missa Solemnis…

    Alas, the danger of pride… ;)

  46. Prof. Basto says:

    On the specific point of the choir fractioning the Sanctus so that the “Sanctus itself” is sung before the Consecration (while the priest recites the whole Sanctus and Benedictus and also the initial paragraphs of the Canon proper, such as the Te igitur, Communicantes, etc) and the “Benedictus” is sung after (while the priest recites the Unde et memores, and subequent paragraphs of the Canon), that is an approved praxis (and that is why composers often wrote separate pieces for the Benedictus, distinct from the Sanctus). For an example of that fraction, see how the Sanctus and Benedictus were sung during the Coronation Mass of Pope John XXIII in 1958: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r0IUN-Qwe7I. Future Card. Dante was prefect of pontifical ceremonies and soon to be Card. Bartolucci was maestro of the Sistine choir.

    Here you have the pinnacle of liturgical example (a Papal Mass), that serves as an interpretative key in distinguishing what is approved praxis and what is not, and you see the fractioning of the singing of the Sanctus so as to accomodate the length of the musical piece.

  47. Joe in Canada says:

    I was at a OF ordination a few years ago where the friends of the ordinandi, which friends were music students at the University, had decided to sing Haydn’s Missa Brevis. This was not a tradition with the parish or with the circles of the ordinandi, who were members of a religious order. About halfway through the organ interlude I noticed the poor Bishop had started leafing through the program. When the quartet finally started the Benedictus he went and sat down. It was beautiful enough music but detracted from the Mass. Most people who commented on it afterwards said “See what happens when you use Latin? The Mass becomes a show” which was very unfortunate.

  48. wolfeken says:

    In fact, up until Bugnini/Pius XII in the 1950s, the Sanctus and Benedictus music would always be separated — even with Gregorian chant. Look at the rubrics section of any Liber Usualis (except the 1961/2 version) for this instruction.

  49. MJ says:

    Our choir separates the Sanctus and Benedictus whenever we sing a polyphonic Mass setting. No problem there. :)

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