QUAERITUR: Recorded music during Mass

From a reader:

Father, is it possible to play recorded mp3s of Gregorian chants during Mass? This scenario is based on the following assumptions:
there is no choir available, the existing choir was newly formed and had little time to practice, and/or they are not willing to chant.

No, this isn’t permitted.

As far back as 1958 in the important Congregation of Rites’ instruction De Musica Sacra we find at 60 c:

Finally, only those musical instruments which are played by the personal action of the artist may be admitted to the sacred liturgy, and not those which are operated automatically or mechanically.

If memory serves, there is another more recent document which repeats this prohibition.  However, there is a discrepancy. I believe more recent legislation in Masses for Children it is possible to use some recorded music. I think it is a bad idea to allow for that. Someone out there will claim, “there is a child at this Mass, therefore it is a Mass for children, therefore I can use recorded music”.

Recorded music does not substitute for a living human choir or singer. The artificiality introduced is contrary to the concept of our active participation in the sacred mysteries and the action of the true Actor at Mass, who is Christ the High Priest.

That said, recorded music can be played in church for the purpose of instruction in singing. I also recall that it can be used outside church for the sake of processions.

It may be tempting, from the desire to have excellent music, to use a recording. But that’s a no-no, I’m afraid.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. I wish people would want recorded music because it was excellent. Instead, I usually hear from the families at funerals, “But this (popular secular song) was his/her favorite song. It would mean so much to the family and friends if it were played at the funeral Mass.” Of course, it’s almost always something that’s not appropriate for Mass.

  2. Darren says:

    I am reminded of a time, some years ago, at a funeral where Frank Sinatra’s “My Way” was played off of a tape on a portable radio in a pew, because the man loved Sinatra (I am Italian and I do not), and because he lived “his way”. I believe the song inappropriate for numerous reasons other than that it is not permitted. (since when does that stop many people from doing things at masses anyway?)

  3. mamajen says:

    I used to attend a church where the priest did confessions before mass, and he would play recorded Gregorian chant during this time. It made for a really nice atmosphere if you arrived to church early. All of the hymns during mass, however, were led by the priest himself–there was no choir and usually no organist (very small parish in the middle of nowhere).

  4. acardnal says:

    De Musica Sacra speaks for itself. I think the document which Fr. Z alludes to from the USCCB is “Sing to the Lord: Music in Divine Worship”, published in 2007. Paragraphs 93 and 94 pertain. I was unable to locate it at the USCCB website, but I located a copy here:


  5. Random Friar says:

    Yes, recorded music during Confession, esp. with regards to Penance Services, where so many are outside the confessionals, is an excellent use. Even if no one could really hear them, it adds great peace of mind.

    With respect to Mass, etc, we have to remember that we are not a radio station: “dead air,” i.e., silence, is not the worst thing. We don’t need to fill every moment with something.

  6. Fr AJ says:

    I know of several small parishes in our diocese that regularly use recorded music at Mass. It’s that or no music whatsoever as they have no organist or choir. I believe the bishop either gave permission or at least knows about it.

  7. jmvbxx says:

    Our parish often uses recorded music for weekday masses. Can someone please reference the section of canon law. Many thanks!

  8. RuralVirologist says:

    1. Once we got to hear Vangelis’ “Conquest of Paradise” as we went up for Communion. The priest made sure it was never played again. Very orthodox priests at the time; they were probably ignorant of the ruling and we got to hear some pretty good stuff. “Pie Iesu” – the Andrew LLoyd Webber rendition – as well.

    2. The Irish bishops have decided that “Danny Boy” may not be sung at funeral Masses. Does that mean that, when that awful “You raise me up” is sung, we can’t try to drown it out by singing “But come ye back when summer’s on the meadow”?

  9. VexillaRegis says:

    @RuralVirologist: This reminds me of a singer I used to accompany on the organ at funerals in the lutheran church here. She was often asked to sing a popular lovesong, but she (rightly) thought that a certain passus was too “close to the bedroom”, so she changed the words and elegantly sailed on. Nobody ever noticed anything, they even commented, that she sang the song better then the original artist! I hated playing these songs, with and without changed wording. But if I didn’t do it, they would bring a CD to the service. The ministers would allow just about everything to be played or sung, no support for good taste and fine art there.

  10. pelerin says:

    ‘We don’t need to fill every moment with something’ writes Random Friar. How right he is – sound seems to be the curse of the age. You can no longer read a newspaper in peace on a train (unless you are on a TGV train in France where mobiles are thankfully forbidden) and so called music blares forth from cars on the road.

    I have encountered ‘mechanical’ music being played inside churches in tourist areas destroying the silence which visitors may have sought for quiet contemplation. Of course we should be grateful to find churches open out of Mass hours – where I live they were all open fifty years ago during the day unlike today – but please give us back our silence.

  11. Tradster says:

    I have to disagree with earlier comments that music during Confession serves a good. I have twice respectfully requested of the pastor that the music cease and, to no surprise, have been ignored. Perhaps it’s just me but I find the music and the overall lack of silence distracting during the examination of conscience before Confession, and praying the penance after it. To say nothing about the slacks-wearing, grey-haired woman bouncing around the altar prepping for vigil Mass but that’s another matter.

  12. catholicmidwest says:

    It’s not that difficult to come up with good parish music. A small choir, well-trained and practiced can do it. I put the emphasis on practice. Practice of at least one evening per week is absolutely necessary. You can build up a repertoire that you use on a rotating basis. It works very well.

  13. catholicmidwest says:

    PS. You don’t need “stars” either. People who are willing to work, with average voices, who can carry a tune and listen to each other, suffice. But you have to give them direction and lots of clearly defined practice. And then you will make progress very quickly.

  14. EXCHIEF says:

    The Rector of our Cathedral Parish uses a tacky cassette recorder, which he places on the altar. At Communion he pushes the button to start it playing music before going down to distribute Communion. You could never tell him he is wrong. He’s never wrong.

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  16. Norah says:

    Here in Australia “You Are the Wind Beneath My Wings” is the number 1 for funerals, along with the eulogies which aren’t supposed to be said but when well known people are buried from the cathedral the archbishop permits eulogies so everyone follows suit. The releasing of white doves at the graveside is becoming quite popular also. As the knowledge of real Catholicism has drained away from the people lots of dreck filled the vacum.

  17. Random Friar says:

    @Tradster: I would not do it in every occasion, but for those relatively few where privacy concerns are legitimate. E.g., penance services with people confessing everywhere. I can also recall the Cathedral of Light in Oakland. The confessionals are more echo tunnels than sound-proof booths. People usually stand way back of the entrance.

  18. RuralVirologist says:

    I downloaded this some time ago off YouTube to listen to regularly … one of my favourite hymns. I’ll sing a hymn to Mary – St Francis Catholic Church, Cardiff, Wales.


    Lovely to hear a congregation singing this; lovely church. Some Latin too amongst their YouTube videos. I’ll probably never get to Wales to visit. http://stfrancisandstclares.org.uk/

    Just had to share this … it brings me strength.

  19. Charlotte Allen says:

    Recorded music during Mass seems to be popular in Europe. I’ve heard it at several churches I’ve attended there. It’s pretty creepy, though, and it’s even creepier when the celebrant interrupts the Mass to turn off or on some recording.

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