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Cecilia's mirror: the role of the pipe organ in the Catholic Church of the United States in the aftermath of Vatican II

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The organ in the Catholic Church of the United States is a mirror of its time, reflecting the various challenges facing Catholic liturgy today. In some cases, it reflects the rich patrimony of European immigrants, anxious to replicate the liturgical

The organ in the Catholic Church of the United States is a mirror of its time, reflecting the various challenges facing Catholic liturgy today. In some cases, it reflects the rich patrimony of European immigrants, anxious to replicate the liturgical conditions they left behind. In others, it reflects the efforts of liturgical reformers to "update" the liturgy, creating more opportunities for what they understand to be active participation of the faithful. The absence of the organ in some American Catholic churches, particularly, in the time following the liturgical reforms of Vatican II, raises questions on the direction of sacred music in these churches as well as the survival and viability of the organ as the principal musical instrument of the Catholic liturgy. In all, the organ in American Catholic churches serves as a gauge of the current liturgical climate, and, in a broader sense, the direction and viability of the Catholic Church in America. In this paper, I argue that the survival of the organ in American Catholic churches depends largely on the number of Catholics who continue to remain active in the Church, as well as their views on liturgy, and their musical formation. While recent figures indicate a gradual decline in membership in the Catholic Church among younger generations, interest in organ and traditional Catholic sacred music by some Catholics may ensure the organ's continued presence. The extent to which some groups implement liturgical directives of Pope Benedict XVI, and the activities of groups that support traditional Roman Catholic liturgy, play a role in the organ's continued survival. Also crucial are those who support the organ for its own artistic and musical merit, including contemporary composers of liturgical organ music, organ students in Catholic higher education programs, and organ builders. As opposed to total extinction, the use of the organ in American Catholic churches may take on a new shape, surrounded by a church that struggles to reconcile modern culture with the transcendent.

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2010