The pipe organ and Catholic liturgy: an expression of Church teaching

The pipe organ and Catholic liturgy: an expression of Church teaching

Jeremy Fletcher

The historic Nicholson pipe organ, which has been recently installed in St Patrick's Church, Mentone (in the Melbourne Archdiocese), will be the core of a whole range of musical activities centred around the liturgy: the training of children's voices for the future of our Church music heritage; the training of young organists; and the performance of works for solo organ, choir and organ - part of our "treasury of Sacred Music," as defined by Church documents.

The historic nature of the Nicholson organ was recognised by the National Trust of Australia (Vic) in 1981, when it was classified. A National Trust appeal has been set up for the restoration and installation, which has so far raised $65,560. Another $96,000 still needs to be raised (and all donations are tax deductible).

Largest in Australia

In July 1861, permission was given for the "singing committee" of the Independent Congregational Chapel, Malvern Road, Prahran, to order an organ. The Nicholson organ, one of the largest in Australia at the time, was installed in the church during 1862 and opened on 19 February 1863 by the Melbourne city organist, Charles E. Horsley, W. Clarke, and a chorus of fifty voices. The cost of the instrument was £650. A plaque will be placed on the organ noting the instrument's original history and location.

The music program of St Patrick's, Mentone, has evolved to become an integral part of the celebration of the sacred liturgy in the parish. Not merely an 'added extra,' the music adds solemnity and holiness to the texts and allows the expression of joy, sorrow or awe as the liturgy requires.

This fine pipe organ will inspire a sense of prayer and worship of God through music. The Second Vatican Council affirmed the use of the pipe organ in the Church: "In the Latin Church the pipe organ is to be held in high esteem, for it is the traditional musical instrument, and one that adds a wonderful splendour to the Church's ceremonies and powerfully lifts up man's mind to God and to heavenly things" (Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, n 120).

The use of the organ is also affirmed in the definition of Sacred Music given in the document Musicam Sacram (1967): "The term 'sacred music' here includes: Gregorian chant, the several styles of polyphony, both ancient and modern; sacred music for organ and for other permitted instruments and the sacred, i.e. liturgical, music of the people" (MS 4a).

Further on the purpose for using instruments, and particularly the organ, is given in more detail: "Musical instruments either accompanying the singing or played alone can add a great deal to liturgical celebrations" (MS 62). They "have the power to support the voice, to facilitate participation, and to intensify the unity of the worshipping assembly."

Special mention is made of the art of improvisation in the liturgy, a significant and valuable art form for all liturgical organists: "It is, of course, imperative that organists ... be accomplished enough to play properly ... That is required in order that even their improvisations will truly enhance the celebration in accord with the genuine character of each of its parts and will assist the participation of the faithful" (MS 67).

It could be said that the role of the organ within the Sacred Liturgy is two-fold: firstly, it is to accompany the singing. lt has the power to inspire lively participation and accompany in a variety of different ways depending on the requirements of the liturgy. Secondly, it is to play solo instrumental music. In no way is this to be an exposé of the organist's talents, but a musical offering to God and a suitable contribution to the liturgy, to facilitate prayer.

Sometimes arguments against the use of the organ within the Church centre around it being an old, outdated relic of the past. I hasten to add that the organ is no more old or outdated than the violin or piano: it is exactly that, an instrument and its uses are only restricted by the imagination of the organists who play it. It follows, therefore, that an organ may be used to render traditional or contemporary styles of church music as they may be required.

The task of "lifting man's mind to God" is an outcome often sought by architects in the building of churches. This is certainly the case at St Patrick's Mentone, when in 1957 the foundation stone of one of "the last great churches in Melbourne" was laid.

Symbol of faith

A modern expression of classic church design, St Patrick's Church stands as a lasting symbol of faith. In this tradition, the Nicholson organ is to be installed as the very finest musical instrument for St Patrick's, and one that provides a long-term solution to the parish's musical needs.

The organ is to be named the Bishop John A. Kelly memorial organ in memory of the first episcopal parish priest of Mentone. He was born in Melbourne on 27 October 1915, ordained Priest on 28 July 1940, then consecrated an auxiliary Bishop of Melbourne at the 40th lnternational Eucharistic Congress on 21 February 1973. Bishop Kelly was appointed parish priest of Mentone by Archbishop Little, with care of the Southern Region of the Archdiocese. He died at Mentone on 24 July 1987.

Archbishop Pell blessed the organ on 23 July, while an opening concert will be held on 13 August and given by Professor Ian Tracey, Organist of Liverpool Anglican Cathedral and Liverpool Town Hall, UK. He will play in conjunction with the Australian Army Band, Melbourne. Tickets may be purchased from St Patrick's Mentone (tel (03) 9583 2103).

Jeremy Fletcher is the Director of Music at St Patrick's Church, Mentone.

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