Today is World Organ Day, celebrating what Pope Benedict called “the king of musical instruments”, and to which the Second Vatican Council gave pride of place for the Latin/Roman liturgy (the one almost all Catholics in the west attend, usually Ordinary Form).
The organ has always been considered, and rightly so, the king of musical instruments, because it takes up all the sounds of creation…and gives resonance to the fullness of human sentiments, from joy to sadness, from praise to lamentation. By transcending the merely human sphere, as all music of quality does, it evokes the divine. The organ’s great range of timbre, from piano through to a thundering fortissimo, makes it an instrument superior to all others. It is capable of echoing and expressing all the experiences of human life. The manifold possibilities of the organ in some way remind us of the immensity and the magnificence of God. (Pope Benedict XVI, Blessing of the new organ of Alte Kapelle, Regensburg, Germany, Wednesday, 13 September 2006)
In the Latin Church the pipe organ is to be held in high esteem, for it is the traditional musical instrument which adds a wonderful splendor to the Church’s ceremonies and powerfully lifts up man’s mind to God and to higher things. (Sacrosanctum Concilium 120)
The quick lesson here learned is that music in liturgy, here instrumentation, is not a mere matter of taste, nor a matter of using whatever the culture of the moment approves. Rather, there are principles for thinking about music and instrumentation, principles which we ought consider and to which we must defer, for the cultus of the Latin/Roman rite has created and continues to create its own culture.