Join our e-mail list

Catholic FAQs
Dz: Denzinger, The Sources of Catholic Dogma [available from Angelus Press] ST:  Summa Theologica

Is it permissible to sing English hymns during Mass, or can this only be done after Mass?

The most complete pre-Vatican II answer to this question is the instruction of September 3, 1958, issued by the Congregation of Rites concerning the practical application to the Liturgy of the Church’s laws relative to sacred music. It is quoted at length in Matters Liturgical. The text concerning vernacular hymns can be found on pp. 47, 48 of the 1959 edition.

First of all, such popular religious hymns are greatly to be commended and esteemed, since they constitute a most effective means in directing the minds of the faithful to heavenly things and in imbuing the Christian life with a genuine religious spirit.

Strongly to be encouraged for pious exercises, they can only be sung at liturgical functions "when this is expressly permitted."

English hymns are expressly permitted during a Low Mass, but in general expressly forbidden during a High Mass:

Hymns in the vernacular are permitted at a Low Mass, on condition that their theme corresponds to the part of the Mass at which they are sung.

This means that a theme of sacrifice or offering is retained at the Offertory, of thanksgiving, love of God or any similar theme at Communion time. However, the singing of vernacular hymns at a sung Mass or missa cantata is manifestly an abuse that can only be tolerated when backed up by a long standing custom that has lasted for over a century:

They [hymns in the vernacular] are permitted at a Mass in chant only in the case of a centenary or immemorial custom which in the judgment of the local Ordinary cannot prudently be suppressed….

Needless to say, this condition is not generally fulfilled in the Society’s chapels, which is why only Latin hymns are sung during a sung or High Mass, English hymns being reserved for the processional and recessional. This stands to reason, since Latin is the liturgical language in the Roman Rite, and since these chants are inserted into the liturgy itself, thereby honoring, adoring and praising God according to their place in the liturgy. The Low Mass differs from the High Mass in that the chants are not a part of the liturgical action, there being no ceremony. Such hymns can consequently be permitted as devotional exercises, for the sake of the faithful. Needless to say, it is very commendable to sing Latin hymns during a Low Mass, especially when the faithful are familiar with them. Hymns and chants in this sacred language are particularly effective at elevating souls to God.  [Answered by Fr. Peter R. Scott]

The Filioque was recently removed from the Nicene Creed in the Eastern Rite church where I attend Mass. Can I still continue to go there?

The expression Filioque refers to the Catholic doctrine that the Holy Ghost proceeds from the Son as well as from the Father, and not just from the Father alone, as the schismatic Orthodox teach. It is true that this expression was not in the original Nicene Creed (325) and was added into the Creed in the Western Church progressively, starting in Spain at the third Council of Toledo in 589, and then in the Frankish kingdom of Charlemagne at the beginning of the ninth century, and finally in Rome by Pope Benedict VIII in 1014. The Roman Church has never insisted that this phrase be added to the Creed in the Eastern rite liturgies. However, it has encouraged it, and it has obliged all Catholics to accept the truth of this doctrine. Cf. Benedict XIV Etsi Pastoralis, May 26, 1742: "The Greeks are bound to believe that the Holy Ghost proceeds from the Son, but they are not bound to proclaim it in the Creed."

The doctrine of the procession of the Holy Ghost from the Father and the Son was infallibly defined by the two Ecumenical Councils which brought about temporary union of the Eastern rite churches with the Roman Catholic Church. It was also defined that this has always been the unchangeable teaching of the Fathers and Doctors of both the Latin and Greek churches.

Second Council of Lyons (1274), Dz, 460:

We, in our desire to close the way to errors of this kind, with the approval of the Sacred Council, condemn and reject those who presume to deny that the Holy Spirit proceeds eternally from the Father and the Son...

    Council of Florence (1439), Dz, 691:

We define that this truth of Faith be believed and accepted by all Christians, and that all likewise profess that the Holy Spirit is eternally from the Father and the Son and has His essence and His subsistent being both from the Father and the Son, and proceeds from both eternally as from one principle and one spiration ...We define in addition that the explanation of the words Filioque for the sake of declaring the truth and also because of imminent necessity has been lawfully and reasonably added to the Creed.

The addition of the Filioque to the Creed consequently represents a development of Catholic doctrine, brought about by an "imminent necessity." This imminent necessity was the development of the heresy of Priscillianism, an heir to Arianism, which denied the divinity of the Holy Ghost, and attempted to maintain that He was a creature. It was consequently an explicitation of the Catholic doctrine taught by the Councils of Nicea (325) and Constantinople (381), and in no way a departure from them.

It only became an issue when Photius used it as a pretense in 863 to separate the Church of Constantinople from the Roman Catholic Church, by calling it a "perverse dogma," and by refusing to accept it. Since the Eastern schism of 1054 the Eastern Orthodox have consistently refused this dogma (except at the Councils of Lyons II and Florence), which so precisely describes the procession of the Holy Ghost. It is this circumstance which has given this dogma particular importance.

Although the Roman Church never obliged them to say it in their Creed, the Uniate Churches were all obliged to accept the Filioque as Catholic doctrine, in virtue of the Councils of Lyons II and Florence. This they did. The desire to clearly profess this healthy development of doctrine inspired them also to insert this phrase into the liturgy, thus making a clear separation from the schismatic and heretical Eastern Orthodox, and demonstrating in a real, tangible way their attachment to the one true Church of Christ, of which the pope of Rome is the visible head.

Why, then, would many of the the Uniate Churches have decided in 1990 to now eliminate the Filioque from the Creed at Mass? Why eliminate such a clear profession of Catholicity and of union with the one, true Church?

The answer is: Ecumenism with the Orthodox. Pope John Paul II himself gave the example, alas, in 1981, on the occasion of the 1600 years anniversary celebration of the First Council of Constantinople. For the benefit of the schismatic and heretical Orthodox he recited the Creed without the Filioque. The impression given by this act is that this phrase is a later addition and is of little importance. But is not this the false distinction of the Modernists condemned by St. Pius X in Pascendi (no. 13), that is between the primitive formulas, and the secondary formulas which evolve (e.g., Filioque), as if a Catholic were not obliged to accept equally every single defined doctrine of Faith?

This attitude of "peace at all costs" with heretics and schismatics, regardless of the points of doctrine which separate us, was condemned by Pope Pius XII in 1950 under the name of eirenism.

These advocate an "eirenism" according to which, by setting aside the questions which divide men, they aim not only at joining forces to repel the attacks of atheism, but also at reconciling things opposed to one another in the field of dogma (Humani Generis, no. 11).

The unequivocal condemnation of this attitude was the final conclusion of his magnificent encyclical against the modern errors:

Finally, let them not think, indulging in a false "eirenism," that the dissident and erring can happily be brought back to the bosom of the Church, if the whole truth found in the Church is not sincerely taught to all without corruption or diminution (Ibid. no. 43).

What must be our attitude, then, towards the Uniate Byzantine churches which have fallen into this grave danger of eirenism? Surely we ought to find out if the Filioque is included in their Creed or not. If it once was, and it now is not, they have compromised with the heretics and schismatics, and they give the false impression that it really does not matter if one is Orthodox or Eastern Catholic. They favor the heresy of Photius, who denied the Filioque. They favor the opinion that the Roman Church deviated for 14 centuries by its insertion of the Filioque. They become a part of the grinding wheel of ecumenism which is rapidly striving to reduce the Catholic Faith to a lowest common denominator, acceptable not only to the Orthodox, but also to Protestants, Muslims and Jews. They fail to clearly profess the Faith and add further to the confusion which exists in the Church.

If the Council of Florence could say in 1439 that there is an "imminent necessity" of professing this doctrine, how much more is it the case now that the doctrine of the Filioque is so much more bitterly attacked than ever. Let the faithful who attend the Eastern Rite Liturgy combat for the maintaining of the Filioque.  [Answered by Fr. Peter R. Scott]

Does the statement of Quo Primum, that "none of it be changed under penalty of our indignation" mean that Masses celebrated with the name of St. Joseph in the Canon are not Tridentine Masses?

The interdiction of adding or changing refers to the act of any prelate of any rank, by his private preference or authority. It does not forbid a subsequent pope, as supreme legislator, from making changes. In fact, many popes made minor changes, either to the text or to the rubrics, amongst which Clement VIII and Urban VIII (whose encyclicals explaining their changes are in the front of the Tridentine Missal), Leo XIII, St. Pius X, Pius XII and John XXIII, whose Apostolic Letter Rubricarum instructum is also at the front of the "Missale Romanum ex decreto sacrosancti concilii tridentini restitutum summorum pontificum cura recognitum," as it is officially titled; i.e., the Roman Missal restored by decree of the most holy Council of Trent and reviewed by the care of the Sovereign Pontiffs.

The Mass remains the Tridentine Mass for as long as these changes are not substantial, that is for as long as it remains essentially the Mass restored by decree of the Council of Trent. This was the case until Pope Paul's New Mass came out in 1969.

One example of a change which is not substantial and which the pope, and only he, as supreme legislator for the liturgy (as was St. Pius V), could make was the insertion of the name of St. Joseph in the Canon. Already before he was pope, St. Pius X was one of many bishops who petitioned (in 1897 [as Cardinal Sarto]) that this take place [the first petition was actually made to the Sacred Congregation of Rites in 1815. Webmaster]. It took a long time to come about, and it just happened to be done in 1962, after the promulgation of the 1960 rubrical reform by Pope John XXIII.  In fact, it has nothing to do with the new theology, or the new Mass or Vatican II.  [Answered by Fr. Peter R. Scott]

What was the reasoning behind the suppression of many vigils and octaves under Pope Pius XII?

It is indeed true that Pope Pius XII abolished several of the Church’s vigils and octaves that had been observed for many centuries before. The reason given by the Sacred Congregation of Rites in its decree of March 23, 1955, to be effective as of January 1, 1956, was the simplification of the rubrics of the Roman Breviary and Missal.

It is certainly true that the rubrics prior to that time were quite complicated, especially when it became a question of overlapping octaves, and that it was a legitimate aspiration of the liturgical movement to simplify these rubrics in such a way that the ordinary faithful could follow, understand and participate. Furthermore, periodic elimination of added feasts, octaves and other liturgical days are not unusual in the history of the Church. Consequently, it is certainly excessive to call this elimination of octaves and vigils a "modernist innovation."

In fact the three most important octaves are the ones that were retained in 1955, namely those of Christmas, Easter and Pentecost. Thus the octaves retain their original meaning as a celebration of the major mysteries of our Faith, the Incarnation (Christmas), the Redemption (Easter), and the Descent of the Holy Ghost (Pentecost). One day alone does not suffice to contemplate these momentous events. The octave corresponds to the observation of octaves in the Old Law by the Jews for the feasts of the Paschal Lamb (Passover) and the feast of Tabernacles. Thus it is understandable that such octaves as those of the Feasts of St. John the Baptist, Ss. Peter and Paul, St. Stephen, and St. John the Evangelist would have been abolished. However, we can personally regret that some of the other octaves were not retained, especially the octaves of the Ascension and Corpus Christi, and perhaps also those of the Epiphany and the Sacred Heart.

The celebration of vigils dates back to the early Church, at which time the early Christians prayed all night, until the celebration of Mass at the dawn of the feast day. The remaining example of this is the Easter Vigil of Holy Week, restored in 1951 to its ancient time and form of celebration. These vigils were very important then and should be important for us now. They were times of watching, as indicated by the Latin word vigiliae, and also of praying and fasting, in expectation of the solemnity of the morrow. It is certainly true that the sacrifice of fast and abstinence in the expectation of a great feast, and the preparation involved, greatly helps us to profit from the special graces of the feast.

It is true that some less important vigils were abolished in 1955. Nevertheless, all the important vigils were retained, such as those of Easter and Pentecost, the Ascension, the Assumption, St. John the Baptist, Ss. Peter and Paul, and St. Lawrence. However, we can still personally regret also that certain other vigils were not retained, which vigils highlight the special importance of the corresponding feast days, in particular those of the Immaculate Conception, of All Saints and of the Epiphany. The Church has compassion on the weakness of this non-penitential age in which we live. This does not prevent us from making the effort to observe the spirit of the Church by preparing the major feast days by recollection, sacrifice, spiritual reading and fasting.  [Answered by Fr. Peter R. Scott]

Who has the right to touch the chalice and sacred linens, namely the corporal, pall and purificator?

According to the traditional law of the Church it is normally only clerics who have received the tonsure who can touch the chalice, and the sacred linens before they are purified. This is explained in canon 1306, para. 1. However, an exception is given. As well as clerics, these items can also be handled by those who are assigned care of them, that is by the sacristan.

According to the interpretation given in Woywood and Smith, A Practical Commentary on the Code of Canon Law, Volume II, pp.93-94, the authorized sacristan who can touch these objects can be a religious brother or sister or a lay person.

Writing before the promulgation of the 1917 Code of Canon Law, Wernz says that in the course of time the ancient rigor in the matter of touching the sacred vessels was relaxed, so that lay brothers and religious, sisters and laymen acting as sacristans were permitted to touch the sacred vessels.

However, it is not because a person is authorized to touch these items that he should necessarily do so. This is what Matters Liturgical no. 96 (p.152) has to say:

If the custodian is a lay person (i.e., not a tonsured cleric) it is at least becoming that, when possible and convenient, a veil should be used in handling it (i.e., the chalice and associated linens).

In practice it is much easier to use gloves, and that is what I recommend for my sacristans and altar boys.

Quite different is the practice of the post-Conciliar Church, which has abandoned all sense of the sacred. Note that in the 1983 Code of Canon Law there are no canons at all which correspond to the canons 1296-1306 in the 1917 Code concerning the sacred objects in the Church. This silent omission of all the Church's provisions concerning the blessing and consecration of sacred objects and the care to be taken in their use, is one further sign of the desacralization of the post-Conciliar Church.  [Answered by Fr. Peter R. Scott]

PART I.  Can women be permitted to sing in the choir in church?

The principles are given by Pope St. Pius X in his motu proprio on the restoration of Sacred Music, and in particular of the ancient Gregorian Chant. This document of November 22, 1903, is entitled Tra le sollecitudine and is published in its entirety in the March 1995 issue of The Angelus (pp.36-40).

The pope states repeatedly that the Sacred Chant is an integral part of the liturgy, directed to the glory of God and the sanctification and edification of the faithful. (§1) It is consequently not a performance, but a part of the act of divine worship. His conclusion follows:

Except the chant of the celebrant and the sacred ministers at the altar, which must always be sung in plainchant without any accompaniment, the rest of the liturgical singing belongs properly to the choir of clerics ...It follows from the same principle that the singers in church have a real liturgical office, and that women therefore, being incapable of such an office, cannot be admitted to the choir (§§12, 13).

[Answered by Fr. Peter R. Scott]

PART II.  Does this mean that women should not sing in church at all?

The fact that women cannot perform the liturgical office of singing does not mean that they should not sing in church at all. To the contrary, they should participate in the congregational singing. That such congregational singing is indeed the mind of the Church is indicated by Pope Pius XI in his Apostolic Constitution of Dec. 20, 1928, on the Liturgy, Gregorian Chant and Sacred Music:

In order that the faithful may more actively participate in divine worship, let them be made once more to sing the Gregorian Chant, so far as it belongs to them to take part in it. It is most important that when the faithful assist at the sacred ceremonies... they should not be merely detached and silent spectators, but, filled with a deep sense of the beauty of the liturgy, they should sing alternately with the clergy or the choir, as it is prescribed (§IX).

There are some exceptions to the rule forbidding women from singing in choirs. One such exception is religious women in their own community. Canon Law permits them to sing the chants of Mass, if permitted by their constitutions, but providing that they are in a place where they cannot be seen by the faithful (1917 Code of Canon Law, canon 1264), since they are not a choir in the liturgical sense.

Another exceptional case (and it is important that it remains exceptional) is when there is a dearth of male singers, and when it is necessary for the solemnity of the service that men and women join in the singing. (Predmore, Rev. George, Sacred Music and the Catholic Church, 1936, p.117). However,

...we are to make every possible and fair effort to introduce either congregational singing of the liturgy, or to have male choirs. But the service is not to be made unbecoming, distracting, or ridiculous by literal adherence to the law, where the conditions really hinder its decorous observance (ibid. p.118). 

[Answered by Fr. Peter R. Scott]

The month of May is dedicated to our Blessed Lady. Do the other months of the liturgical year have a particular significance?

Not only the months of the year but also the days of the week:

  • January is devoted to the Holy Name of Jesus,

  • February to the Holy Family,

  • March to St. Joseph,

  • April to the Blessed Sacrament;

  • May to the Blessed Virgin,

  • June to the Sacred Heart,

  • July to the Precious Blood,

  • August to the Immaculate Heart of Mary,

  • September to Our Lady of Sorrows,

  • October to the Holy Rosary,

  • November to the Holy Souls in Purgatory and

  • December to the Immaculate Conception.

As regards the days of the week:

  • Sunday is consecrated to the Holy and Undivided Trinity,

  • Monday to the Holy Ghost,

  • Tuesday to the Holy Angels,

  • Wednesday to St. Joseph,

  • Thursday to the Blessed Eucharist,

  • Friday to the Sacred Passion of Our Lord,

  • and Saturday to the Blessed Virgin Mary.

[Article by Fr. Leo Boyle] © 2013                    home                    contact