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Why An Organ?

At Christ King we utilize many tools to help us recognize God in our midst, sacred vessels, vestments, flowers, etc. Additionally, musical instruments inspire our song and aid us in reflection. We have a beautiful piano, timpani, guitars, recorder, violins, all of which bring a variety of music to life. Of all the instruments heard in our worship the organ is the largest and most versatile.

Because of its aural and visual presence during Mass an organ often draws strong opinions from those who like it, and those who don’t. Often opinions are not so much about the organ but about how it is played (too loud, too fast, too slow) and the type of music being played (old fashioned hymns, dissonant instrumental interludes etc.).  Some liturgical repertoire sounds great on a piano or guitar but not so great on an organ.  Other repertoire is more successful when offered by an organ.  To offer a worship experience that all our parishioners find aesthetically pleasing it is necessary to provide a wide range of liturgical music.  The issue isn’t “Holy God We Praise Thy Name” played on the organ or “I will Choose Christ” played on the piano.  The issue is being able to offer many types of music in a liturgically, pastorally and artistically appropriate style.   

In 2007 the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops issued a document entitled, “Sing to the Lord: Music in Divine Worship”. This important statement addresses many aspects of Catholic Church Music.  It has this to say about organs in churches: 

87. Among all other instruments which are suitable for divine worship, the organ is “accorded pride of place” because of its capacity to sustain the singing of a large gathered assembly, due to both its size and its ability to give “resonance to the fullness of human sentiments, from joy to sadness, from praise to lamentation.”  Likewise, “the manifold possibilities of the organ in some way remind us of the immensity and the magnificence of God.” 

88. In addition to its ability to lead and sustain congregational singing, the sound of the pipe organ is most suited for solo playing of sacred music in the Liturgy at appropriate moments.  Pipe organs also play an important evangelical role in the church’s outreach to the wider community in sacred concerts, music series and other musical and cultural programs.  For all of these reasons, the place of the organ should be taken into account from the outset in planning process for the building or renovation of churches.     

The United States Catholic Bishops makes several important observations in this statement.  Perhaps the most important is the reference to the organ’s ability to lead congregational singing.  This is the organ’s primary role in the liturgy.  It is the most effective instrument for this purpose.  Organ pipes are designed to mimic many sounds. “Trumpets”, “oboes”, “strings”, and “flutes” are all literally at one person’s finger tips, but it is the “principle” sounds of the organ that are designed to support the human voice.  What better way to lead people in song than with pipes designed to support and blend with their voices?  It is the clarity and intensity (not necessarily volume) of the principle chorus sound generated without electronic amplification that effectively inspires song. Rather than amplified sound coming at the congregation through speakers, the organ provides ample surround sound via air moving through pipes, just like the human voice.   Praise Bands and amplified liturgical music have their place in worship, but our Church stresses the importance of congregational participation.  When we gather on Sunday we don’t only listen to songs as prayer, we generate the prayer with the songs we sing.  Given our large congregation and immense worship space the organ is an invaluable tool needed to support and inspire our prayer.