ECENTLY, a generous family donated their late mother’s house organ to our parish and last Saturday, my assistant (who works for an organ building company), one of my recently graduated choristers, and I took the newly-acquired 3 ranks of lead (plus wind chests) to the organ shop for repair and maintenance. We hope to install the organ in our parish’s office chapel by the end of next month. As I pounded dents out of several pipes, it occurred to me that it might be useful to post on what I call the theology of the organ.
Most readers of Views from the Choir Loft believe in the primacy of the organ among instruments in the Roman Rite, but if asked to give reasons for why the organ should have such a primacy, I fear many could do little more than quote documents or defer to tradition—and we know how well that works. Unfortunately, most Catholics in the US today believe that tradition is a bad thing (at least in the Church). Morevoer, if the organ became a tradition in the the Roman Rite, why couldn’t the guitar follow the same process of inculturation? Recourse to quoting ecclesiastical documents falls on deaf ears of Catholics, who view obedience as something medieval. Like high school teenagers, too many of our congregations are only pleased with the latest fads. Fortunately, there are good theological reasons and arguments for why the organ once again should enjoy pride of place in our worship. I don’t pretend that these reasons will convert your died-in-the-wool, anti-treasury-of-sacred-music types, but I have found that they open a door for dialogue with fellow Catholics who bear genuine goodwill. Thankfully, Dr. Kevin Vogt the Director of Music at St. Michael the Archangel Catholic Church in Leawood, KS, has written beautifully on the matter.
Dr. Vogt is the man primarily responsible for bringing to fruition the magnificent Pasi, dual-temperament organ at the Cathedral of St. Cecilia in Omaha, NE, and he is truly one of the great minds of the age. He wrote his doctoral thesis on the organ project at St. Cecilia’s, but the document also contains a section on what I would describe as the Theology of the Organ, found here (specifically see chapter 2, pages 150-172). Some of it might be a little dense for the faint of heart, but it is ENTIRELY worth the read. He presents his insights (peppered liberally with Ratzinger quotes) within the context of Msgr. Francis Mannion’s call for a “renewal of the sacramental, heavenly, cosmic, glorious, catholic, paschal and traditional dimensions of the Roman Catholic liturgy.” Dr. Vogt proposes “that the organ could play an important role in this renewal, and [he constructs] a symbolic theology of the organ in terms of:
(1) COSMOLOGY—concerning music and the created universe;
(2) CHRISTOLOGY—concerning the doctrine of Jesus Christ as the incarnate Logos;
(3) PNEUMATOLOGY—concerning the agency of the Holy Spirit; and
(4) ESCHATOLOGY—concerning the heavenly liturgy of the New Jerusalem.
It really is beautiful stuff and I encourage everyone to study it, take it to heart, memorize it and then begin to share it. Let’s put the organ back on the pedestal it rightfully deserves.