First Friday, bagpipes in church

Q: In order to receive the promise of the grace of final penitence, my understanding is that one must attend Mass on the first Friday for nine consecutive months. Recently I was attempting to complete that devotion, but on the ninth first Friday, our parish had a Communion service. Is that considered a Mass, and would the promise be granted? (Hydesville, Calif.)

A: First Friday devotion dates back to the last decades of the 17th century, when Jesus appeared to St. Margaret Mary Alacoque in France. In a series of conversations, Jesus urged her to make known the deep love symbolized by His Sacred Heart.

Among the promises made to her by Christ was that "my all-powerful love will grant to all those who will receive Communion on the first Fridays for nine consecutive months the grace of final repentance; they will not die in my displeasure, nor without receiving the sacraments; and my heart will be their secure refuge in the last hour."

It is important that this devotion not be viewed mechanically, as though in some magical way people could simply "catch Mass" on those nine days and otherwise conduct themselves in utter selfishness and still be guaranteed salvation.

Instead, the presumption is that someone devoted to the frequent Eucharist would try to match that devotion with a virtuous life and that the power of the Eucharist would help them do that.

As to your question, a Communion service is not a Mass; a Mass is a full eucharistic celebration in which the bread and wine are consecrated, offered to God in union with the sacrifice of Jesus and then received.

Did the Communion service "count" as your ninth first Friday? Of course it did. God is not a giant referee in the sky with a whistle in his mouth looking for fouls to call. He is a loving Father seeking to give us the benefit of every doubt.

You wanted to go to Mass on the ninth first Friday and tried to. You did your best and - in my mind and, I think, in God's - that's enough.

Q: For many years, my son has played the bagpipes for Catholic weddings and funerals. Recently, he was hired to play for a Catholic wedding where the bride wanted bagpipes as she processed up the aisle with her father.

The priest celebrating would not allow the bagpipes in church. He said, "Bagpipes are an instrument of war" and could not be played inside a church. My question is this: Was that a diocesan or a personal stance? What, if any, guidelines are there regarding the use of bagpipes in a Catholic church? (Williamstown, N.J.)

A: The priest was most likely expressing a personal preference rather than a diocesan rule. Some dioceses have guidelines regarding music at liturgies, such as, that the music be dignified and of a religious nature.

For the most part, the choice of instrumentation is left to the discretion of the local pastor. (I had never heard, by the way, of disallowing bagpipes because they are instrument of war. For that matter, trumpets were, too.)

Recently, a New York City police officer was killed responding to a robbery. At his funeral, held at a Catholic parish on Long Island, the casket was led into church with a processional of bagpipes and drums playing "Amazing Grace."

The media commented on the power and dignity of the ceremony.

Recently, I officiated at a wedding where, after the final blessing, the newly married couple was led down the aisle by a bagpiper. It took place in a large Gothic church, and the acoustics allowed for a bagpipe's volume and pitch.

In a smaller structure, where the sound inside could be overwhelming, I have recommended at a funeral that bagpipes be used only outside the church or in the vestibule. Always, the goal of music at any liturgy is simply to help the congregation reflect and pray.

Questions may be sent to Father Kenneth Doyle at askfatherdoyle@gmail.com and 40 Hopewell St., Albany, NY 12208.

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2012