Women and girls were not allowed to be singers in Church

Women and girls were not allowed
to be singers in Church

Early History

The synod which condemned Paul of Samosata, in 265 A.D., stated as one of the charges against him, that he employed women as singers (Eusebius, History of the Church VII.30).

Western Europe

The Second Synod of Troyes, A.D 551, , forbade lay persons (including women) within the chancel (Can. 4).

The Synod of Auxerre, in its session of A.D. 578, prohibited girls to sing in Church (573-603, MG. Conc. I, 179ffCan. 9,). See more prohibitions of the Synod here.

The synodal statutes of St Boniface (d. 754) forbade women to sing in church.

Pope Leo IV (847 - 855) forbade choirs of women to sing in the churches.

In the Eastern and the Gallican Church, singers continued as an order distinct from that of readers, their duties being to sing the canticles, processional anthem, offertory anthem, and the responses. Singers were, however, not ordained by a bishop, but only admitted to office by a presbyter without any solemn investiture, and their office was not included among the probationary degrees for the presbyterate, doubtless because they were chosen for their voices rather than their merits. On this ground they were forbidden at Rome to discharge any of the deacon’s duties. The school of singers, which is often mentioned at Rome after the seventh century, is really the school of readers, who combined the singer’s duty of singing parts of the service with the reader’s surviving duty of singing the Psalms.

Castrated boys

In the past, castrated men choristers took the place of women.

‘ The castration of boys in order to preserve their soprano or alto voices was practised in Italy, in particular, from the 16th to the 18th centuries. There, in contrast to Germany and France, the earliest castrati quickly gained admission to church choirs; under Clement VIII (1592-1605) they took the place of falsetto sopranos in the Sistine Chapel, though they failed to establish themselves as altos. They disappeared from secular music at the beginning of the 19th century, but castrati were still singing in the Sistine Chapel at the beginning of the 20th.’

Lexikon fur Theologie und Kirche, VI, 1961, p. 16.

Twentieth Century

Girls or women could not be members of any church choir (Sacred Congregation for Liturgy, decree 17 Sept. 1897).

Pius X re-emphasised this prohibition on the ground that women were not permitted to fulfil any liturgical function (Motu proprio ‘De musica sacra’, 1903).

“Women should not be part of a choir; they belong to the ranks of the laity. Separate women's choirs too are totally forbidden, except for serious reasons and with permission of the bishop”
(Sacred Congregation for Liturgy, decree 22 Nov. 1907).

“Any mixed choir of men and women, even if they stand far from the sanctuary, is totally forbidden”
(Sacred Congregation for Liturgy, decree 18 Dec. 1908).

Gradual Change

Ph. Hartman, ‘Repertorium Rituum’ [= Handbook on the Rites], 1912, p. 360.

Johannes Kley’s edition of the ‘Repertorium Rituum’, 1940, p. 403.

‘Only men of known piety and probity, who show themselves worthy of that sacred office, shall be admitted to membership of a church choir. Since singers in church occupy a liturgical office, women’s voices may not be employed in church singing. Thus, if it is required to employ high soprano and alto voices, boys must be enlisted.’

“Only men of known piety and probity, who show themselves worthy of that sacred office, shall be admitted to membership of a church choir. Since singers in church occupy a liturgical office, women’s voices may not be employed in church singing. Thus, if it is required to employ high soprano and alto voices, boys must be enlisted’ though women, too, are now generally admitted

Pius XII cautiously sanctioned female choristers, though only ‘outside the presbytery or the altar precincts’ (‘Instructio de musica sacra’, AAS 48 [1958] 658).

“Lay persons can fulfill the function of lector during liturgical actions by temporary deputation; likewise all lay persons can fulfill the functions of commentator or singer or other functions, in accord with the norm of law” (Codex of Church Law, 1983, Canon 230, §2.)

Read also: The crumbling of the institutional Church prejudice against women

John Wijngaards



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