The first question in the introduction to this Post, “Has the organ has helped in your faith?” prompts me to make a comment.
The answer is certainly, Yes. When we are either the channel of or listeners to composers of great gifts and great faith we are fed by their exceptional vision of God and the love of Christ. Bach, it seems to me, expresses his personality without being auto-biographical; we don’t know if he was “a nice man”, but somehow his absolute conviction seems to come through the music. One is healed and strengthened, especially when one considers that Bach suffered in many ways that would dent many people’s faith.
Messiaen also appears to have this total conviction, though he himself said he wanted to “overwhelm” the listener (and the player)? Maybe one is slightly more aware (I don’t know why) of Messiaen as a personality, but certainly I have found my faith encouraged by his music.
Some composers appear more biographical (whether intentionally or not). I’m thinking of Vierne, whose character I would sum up in the Final of the 5th Symphony. Here, at the outset, you have something of the joy of praise (albeit with a Wagnerian flavour), followed by a sense of all the pain that blighted Vierne’s existence. The two moods alternate, both becoming progressively more extreme, with the joy and indeed transcendence overcoming all the suffering at the end. With the realization that Vierne, like so many other organ composers, was steeped in the faith, I feel tremendously encouraged by such music as this. It makes me hope that I may be brave, whatever the odds.
In Priere, I greatly admire Franck’s honesty, as this is a movement with a lot of pain and doubt involved (so it seems to me). It is a movement which affirms one in trust and hope, yet it is not about blind obedience. Knowing this movement by a composer who was so idolized by some of his pupils increases one’s confidence in the absolute sincereity of more affirmative works such as the Chorales.