The Choir at Holy Mass

APRIL 2011/OCTOBER 2012/JULY 2013

The Choir at Holy Mass


“Not to oppose error is to approve it, and not to defend the truth is to suppress it” – Pope St. Felix III


Note: In this report I may occasionally use bold print, Italics, or word underlining for emphasis. This will be my personal emphasis and not that of the source that I am quoting. Any footnote preceded by a number in (parenthesis) is my personal library numbering system.



What is the true role of the choir at Mass? The better the choir, the less the participation of the congregation, it seems to be*. Michael Prabhu, Chennai, India *SEE ALSO PAGES 26 FF.



“Choir: A body of singers entrusted with the musical parts of the Church service, and organized and instructed for that purpose.”

“The Christian faithful who gather together as one to await the Lord’s coming are instructed by Apostle Paul to sing together psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs. Singing is the sign of the heart’s joy. Thus St. Augustine says rightly, ‘Singing is for one who loves’. There is also the ancient proverb: ‘One who sings well prays twice’. Great importance should therefore be attached to the use of singing in the celebration of Mass, with due consideration for the culture of the people and abilities of each liturgical assembly.”

“The congregation and the choir should have a place that facilitates their active participation.”

“In relation to the design of each Church the schola cantorum should be so placed that its character as a part of the assembly of the faithful that has a special function stands out clearly. The location should also assist the choir’s liturgical ministry and readily allow each member complete, that is, sacramental participation in the Mass.”

“The norms laid down in their proper places are to be observed for the choice of chants between the readings and the songs for the processions at the entrance, presentation of the gifts, and communion.” “There are thus four options for the entrance song: (1) the entrance antiphon and psalm of the Roman Gradual; (2) the entrance antiphon and psalm of the Simple Gradual; (3) song from other collections of psalms and antiphons; (4) other sacred song chosen in accord with the above criterion. The same options exist for the sacred song at the offertory and Communion, but not for the chants between readings.” “During Lent the alleluia is not sung with the verse before the Gospel. If the psalm after the reading is not sung, it is recited. The people stand for the singing of the alleluia before the Gospel.”

“The proper function of the offertory song is rather to accompany and celebrate the communal aspects of the procession. The text, therefore, may be appropriate song of praise or rejoicing in keeping with the season. Those texts are not acceptable that speak of the offering completely apart from the action of Christ.”

“The choice of texts for the Communion song is governed by the same rule as the entrance song. The communion song should foster a sense of unity.”

“The singing at the entrance is done either alternately by the choir and the people or in a similar way by the cantor and the people, or entirely by the people, or by the choir alone.”

“After the Act of Penitence, the Kyrie is always begun, unless it has already been included as part of the Act of Penitence. It is ordinarily done by all, that is, by the people and the choir or cantor having a part in it.”
“The Gloria is intoned by the priest or, if appropriate, by a cantor or by the choir; but it is sung by everyone together, or by the people alternately with the choir, or by the choir alone.”

“If it (the Creed) is sung, it is begun by the priest or, if this is appropriate, by a cantor or by the choir. It is sung, however, either by all together or by the people alternating with the choir.”

During the breaking of the bread “the supplication Agnus Dei is, as a rule, sung by the choir or cantor with the congregation responding to it.”

“Among the faithful, the choir exercises its own liturgical function, ensuring that parts proper to it, in keeping with the different types of chants, are properly carried out and fostering active participation of the faithful through the singing.”


Remember that there can be slight variations on rubrics in The Sacramentary from country-to-country. I would recommend that you have a cleric in your own country review this report to check for any variations. I do not have access to The Sacramentary used in India. If I can be of further assistance, please ask.


This report prepared on January 12, 2011 by Ronald Smith, 11701 Maplewood Road, Chardon, Ohio 44024-8482, E-mail: <>. Readers may copy and distribute this report as desired to anyone as long as the content is not altered and it is copied in its entirety. In this little ministry I do free Catholic and occult related research and answer your questions. Questions are answered in this format with detailed footnotes on all quotes. If you have a question(s), please submit it to this landmail or e-mail address. Answers are usually forthcoming within one week. PLEASE NOTIFY ME OF ANY ERRORS THAT YOU MAY OBSERVE!




IV. Music in the Eucharistic celebration
We take active part in the celebration also by means of singing. Music is one of the important means used by the Church in order to celebrate her faith. So the sacred hymns form a necessary and integral part of the Liturgy. St. Augustine affirms that a Christian who sings well prays twice.
Music conveys a feeling of unity to the congregation, and – if the songs are properly chosen – it introduces the faithful into the right spirit of the particular feast that is celebrated. Music possesses a rich variety of forms and expressions, and many of these are introduced in the liturgy to enrich the celebration. I give here the list of them:
a) There
are two processional songs: the first at the entrance, the second at the time of the Holy Communion. They are called “processional” because they are sung when the priest, ministers of the Eucharist, lectors and servants enter in a processional way to the church or when the faithful move to receive the body of the Lord. The entrance song is meant to create an atmosphere of “celebration and worship” in the assembly. We come to the church and our hearts are heavy with the problems that we face. The entrance song should help us to leave for a moment our difficulties in order to be able to hear attentively the Word of God and to celebrate the Eucharist with a personal participation. The communion song fosters a sense of unity among us who are aware of becoming “the Body of Christ” when we are nourished with his body.
b) The responsorial Psalm is like
the answer given to God by us after the reading of his Word and his message.
c) The acclamation and the ordinary chants introduce the music throughout the whole Rite of the Mass. They are: Lord have mercy, Glory to God, Amen at the end of the Eucharistic prayer, the Lord’s Prayer, the “Lamb of God”.
d) The Offertory Song may accompany the offering of the gifts.
Well trained choirs add beauty, solemnity and joy to the liturgy and also assist and encourage the singing of the congregation. They must be more promoted in our three churches and must be trained by frequent “choir practice” of the members.
Our choirs must know that their purpose is not to execute difficult songs but only to help the congregation to sing. I noticed in the Cathedral that many times some our choirs sing more like in a “concerto”, for themselves. In this way they reduce the participation of the faithful to a mere passive listening of their songs.

Yours in Jesus Christ
+ Camillo Ballin, mccj
Vicar Apostolic of Kuwait website: www.vicariatekuwait.or

14 September 2007, Feast of the Triumph of the Cross


The Place for the Choir and the Musical Instruments
312. The choir should be positioned with respect to the design of each church so as to make clearly evident its character as a part of the gathered community of the faithful fulfilling a specific function. The location should also assist the choir to exercise its function more easily and conveniently allow each choir member full, sacramental participation in the Mass.
313. The organ and other lawfully approved musical instruments are to be placed in an appropriate place so that they can sustain the singing of both the choir and the congregation and be heard with ease by all if they are played alone. It is appropriate that, before being put into liturgical use, the organ be blessed according to the rite described in the Roman Ritual.124


Location of the Choir during Mass

Catholics United For the Faith – Faith Facts – The Answers You Need December 10, 2005

Issue: What is the proper location of the choir during the Mass?

Response: The choir should be placed where it is part of the assembly, where it allows each member to fully participate in the Mass, and where it has the ability to be heard.

The Vatican II Instruction on Implementing the Constitution on Sacred Liturgy (Inter Oecumenici) states: “The choir and organ shall occupy a place clearly showing that the singers and the organist form part of the united community of the faithful and allowing them best to fulfill their part in the liturgy” (no. 97).

Discussion: The choir aids the community in prayer and worship. It helps focus the community’s attention on the liturgical action taking place at the ambo, the altar, and the chair.

In accordance with Inter Oecumenici, the General Instruction to the Roman Missal states that the position of the choir should show that it is part of the assembly—but a part that has a special function. The location should help the choir to exercise its duties and allow each member to fully participate in the Mass (GIRM no. 294).

Music in Catholic Worship (1972, 1982), issued by the United States Bishops’ Committee on the Liturgy, affirms these principles: The “proper placing of the organ and choir according to the arrangement of the church will facilitate celebration. . . . Visually it is desirable that the choir appear to be part of the worshipping community, yet a part which serves in a unique way” (no. 38).

The document Built of Living Stones, issued by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops in November of 2000, also provides guidelines regarding the choir’s placement. The stated preference is for the choir to be in a position where it is part of the assembly, and not to be in or near the sanctuary. At the same time, occasions or physical situations (such as lack of space) may necessitate that the choir be placed in or near the sanctuary. In such cases, the choir must not be a distraction from the liturgy or overshadow the priest (no. 90).

With the aid of music, the congregation is drawn into the beauty of the liturgy. Having the choir in an appropriate location to perform its proper function enhances the community’s ability to worship.


The role of the choir in the Catholic Church
[64-page booklet]

By Kakule Siriwayo Claude, AA [Religious of the Assumption] Nairobi, August 2008 EXTRACT

Responsorial Psalm

Proclaiming the Psalm is clearly the work of the cantor, not the lector, and the refrain is sung by the assembly after being sung, taught or introduced by the cantor.

“It is appropriate that the responsorial Psalm be sung, at least as far as the people’s response is concerned” (GIRM 61). So that the people can learn the refrain and sing it, it is important that the refrain be simple.

The focus should be on the words of the Scriptures and not on some overly complex melody that the people have difficulty in singing and remembering.

However, in many places, the choir master replaces the responsorial Psalm with a hymn which is not taken from the Scriptures and has nothing to do with the readings at all. This is a bad practice and has to be avoided.

The chosen song should be in harmony with the First Reading and the Gospel.

Note that the melody itself or a gesture with the hands can help the assembly respond with the sung refrain at the proper time. Note too during the Easter season and with some of the Psalms throughout the year, the refrain can more simply be a sung Alleluia rather than a full verse or refrain.


Alleluia or Acclamation

The Acclamation signifies a shout of joy from the whole assembly. It is always sung on Sunday. The people assent or say a strong ‘yes’ to God’s word and action. The melody should be strong, appealing, affirmative, and so simple and easy that the congregation knows it by heart.

“The Alleluia is sung by all standing. The verse is sung either by the choir or the cantor” (GIRM 62).

The Alleluia is not a response to the Second Reading but the beginning of the movement to proclaim the Gospel… The Alleluia is sung in all seasons except Lent.

During Lent, a Psalm or else the verse before the Gospel is sung.


The Great Amen

At this moment, all the faithful unite themselves to the Lord in Paschal sacrifice.

The final doxology is sung BY THE PRIEST and ends with the great Amen.

The whole assembly can sing or say the Great Amen.

Writing over 1500 years ago, St. Jerome said that this Great Amen should “sound like thunder in the city of Rome, shaking all the pagan temples.”


Our Father – The Lord’s Prayer

This is a communal payer, the prayer of the community. Thus, it should be said or sung by all (and not the choir alone). It should not be overly complex or long.


Communion processional song

First of all, I would like to mention that it is important to pray silently before going for Communion.

It seems that very few people keep the tradition of praying at this particular moment. The choirs should be taught how to respect this silence before and after Communion. That is to say, choir members are not there to … sing without respecting some rules.

…From the choir … those who do not take Communion should respect this silence… Sometimes choir members are doing their own things while the priests are doing other things at the altar. This is clear when you see some choir members rushing for their books of songs, the organist setting the beats and tempo, or playing, even. Those responsible for the ministry of the choir, according to me, should train choir members to be really good and careful, who participate fully in the liturgy. […]

The Communion song continues while the Sacrament is being administered to the faithful. But it should be ended in good time…

The hymn should begin quickly rather than wait for choir members to receive. Its function is to unite the people in procession as they come forward for Communion. One good song with several verses that the people know and can sing easily is ideal. They should be able to sing the hymn or the refrain even without books in their hands as they proceed for Communion…

According to the Instruction on the Mass, after Communion the priest and the people may spend some time praying silently. This silence is important, and in some places, as the priest takes the Holy Sacrament to the Tabernacle, all the congregation turns to the Tabernacle and bows when the Holy Sacrament is put in it. After that, if desired, either a Psalm or a canticle of praise or hymn may be sung by the entire congregation.

When feasible, there should be a pause before and after the distribution of Communion. During this period, the priest and the people pray for a while in silence.

This is not a moment for the choir to relax because they are tired of singing, but a time for prayer.

Likewise during the homily the choir members should not use this time for personal conversation; nor is it a time for the organist to set the tones or exercise himself preparing songs.


Moments of silence

…In many places, there seems to be a great fear of silence. If the priest pauses for a moment, then the choir master immediately starts a hymn to fill up that moment of silence…

In some places, the choirs “heap non-stop song upon song which would necessarily choke the dynamic encounter between God and His people. To foster a meaningful dialogue, let us also set aside holy silence to give God a chance to speak to us and to enable ourselves to meditate on what we have sung and heard” (On Music and Singing in Our Liturgical Celebrations, 3).

It is worth mentioning that Music Sacram inserted “silence” as part of the long presentation on “active participation”.


The ministerial role of the choir

The choir plays a ministerial role within the celebration of the liturgy. Its main function is that of leading and helping the assembly to sing. It animates and encourages the praise of God and assists the faithful to pray with joy, harmony and beauty.

The choir should not seek to entertain but rather make it possible for the whole assembly to sing praise to God. The choir plays an important role in promoting dialogical or responsorial singing when the assembly takes up the refrain and the choir sings the verses of a song… The choir is not there to entertain or to show off
but rather to enable the whole assembly to sing the praises of God.

The choir is not a place to go when you have nothing to do, it is not a place to look for husband or wife, it is not a refuge to hide ourselves, etc. Being a choir member is rather a call, a vocation that one has to discover, to nourish by purifying his intention to be a choir member.

…At times the choir is “isolated” from the main body of the faithful since it is placed either in the balcony at the back of the church or in a corner near the sanctuary or in the sanctuary itself. This physical position of the choir communicates the message that the choir acts by itself.


The choir master

The choir master must always remember that he is also in charge of the whole assembly and when everyone is called to sing, then the choir master should conduct the whole assembly, which includes the choir, not just his or her choir (cf. GIRM 104)…

The main role of the cantor or conductor could be described as that of an “animator”. The cantor is not a soloist who sings for the people or on their behalf. He or she assists the assembly to sing by drawing everyone to take part in the sung prayer. Hence a cantor needs not only vocal skills but also the skills of knowing how to encourage people to participate.

This can be done also by the choirmaster who faces the whole assembly and directs it when all the faithful are singing.

The physical positions of the choir, musicians and the choir master are intimately related to their ministry and the way in which this ministry is understood.


Spiritual formation

In many parishes, the choirs engage in long singing sessions and often they gather together for singing practice several times during the week. This is commendable since the “technical” side of their ministry is very important. At the same time, all the Church documents on liturgical music insist on the spiritual formation that must be offered to all choir members… Spiritual formation must be given to all choir members in such a way that the proper performance of their liturgical role will not only enhance the beauty of the celebration and be an excellent example for the faithful, but will bring spiritual benefit to the choir members themselves. It is fundamental … for all choir members to nourish themselves spiritually through prayer, sacraments and catechesis. This will give them the necessary strength to look at their ministry in an evangelical manner and to live it with dedication and perseverance. Well-planned days of recollection, catechesis and the celebration of the Sacrament of Reconciliation will lead the choir members to a deeper understanding of their ministry and to a better service for the growth of the whole Christian community.


Role of Organists, Choirs, and Cantors

QUESTION: I attend a large cathedral church that has an excellent music ministry and a nationally known Director of Music. Although I enjoy the music very much, the organ in my church (a Rosales with 3 manuals, 48 ranks) is played much too loudly, and the cantors, and choir are usually invisible to most of the congregation during Mass. Worship, it seems, should never be used as a showcase for the organ or any musical ensemble, no matter how good they are. Shouldn’t the organ be used to accompany the cantor, the cantor employed to lead the congregation, and the choir serve to support the people during Mass? Have others experienced this? Are there any guidelines? Dan Webster, August 27, 2004


I don’t know about guidelines, but speaking as a former song leader (I dislike the terms “Music Minister” and Cantor), the purpose is to get EVERYONE to sing. I hated Masses where it was all choir-oriented, or there was a lot of “call and response” from the Cantor, instead of just general singing.

I think it actually discourages participation from the congregation when you have some opera-trained (not necessarily well-trained, mind you) person in the role of song leader and they warble and vibrato all over the place. I was not classically trained (although I can sing in tune if I start off on the correct note), but it made me sad when I asked why a person didn’t sing and they’d say, “but I like hearing your voice”. That is not what the song leader is there for. I want to hear everybody, in tune or not! The only person who should be in tune is the song leader–and unfortunately that is not always the case, either….

Yes, I think there is a time and place for well-trained soloists, choirs, and huge organs, especially when you have those Cathedrals with their really wonderful acoustics, but in my honest opinion, they should be separate musical events, not during the regular Mass… I think when you have the “show” Masses you run the risk of people going back to the old ways of kneeling in private prayer and attending Mass, but not participating in it at all, even in the non-musical parts. I remember in the late ’60s early ’70’s people doing this, usually they were praying a rosary. GT


The Role of the Choir in the Celebration of the Liturgy

Notes on the experience at Westminster Cathedral

In the earthly liturgy we share in a foretaste of that heavenly liturgy which is celebrated in the Holy City of Jerusalem toward which we journey as pilgrims… With all the warriors of the heavenly army we sing a hymn of glory to the Lord. Catechism of the Catholic Church 1090

The treasure of sacred music is to be preserved and fostered with great care. Choirs must be diligently promoted, especially in cathedral churches, but bishops and other pastors of souls must be at pains to ensure that, whenever the sacred action is to be celebrated with song, the whole body of the faithful may be able to contribute that [actual]1 participation which is rightly theirs… Sacrosanctum Concilium 114

Where an exaggerated and … completely unrealistic concept of congregation prevails, only the priest and congregation can be acknowledged as the legitimate singers of liturgical hymns. The primitive actionism and prosaic pedagogical rationalism of such a position have generally been seen through today and are therefore only rarely maintained. That a schola and choir can also contribute to the whole is seldom challenged, not even where one falsely interprets the conciliar phrase ‘active participation’ in the sense of an external actionism. Pope Benedict XVI, formerly Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger2


The place and importance of sacred music has often been reflected upon throughout the twentieth century, from the Motu proprio3 of Pope Saint Pius X, through the liturgical reforms of the Second Vatican Council, featuring in letters by the late Pope John Paul II as well as in sermons and writings by the current Pope Benedict XVI. This, of course, is in the context of several great movements seeking purification of music in the liturgy, both before and during the twentieth century. Sacrosanctum Concilium4 provides the directive to foster and promote both the Church’s treasury of sacred music and the choirs that sing it. Despite this, looking at the choral establishments in Cathedral churches around the world, one might wonder to what extent ‘pastors of souls’5 have responded to this challenge. Perhaps a degree of confusion surrounds the question of how to preserve and foster the treasury of sacred music whilst ensuring ‘actual’ congregational participation. Of course, the call to actual participation is a reiteration of an essential aspect of the church’s liturgy, which is itself ‘service in the name of, and on behalf of the people.’6


The Liturgy – an encounter with divinity

At Westminster Cathedral the treasury of sacred music is preserved and fostered through the professional choir of men and boys which sings daily Vespers and Solemn Mass – we understand we are the only Cathedral choir in the world to do so. The choir is an ever-present, essential element of the Cathedral liturgy that we believe enables an interior, as well as exterior and actual, participation from the congregation. I am going to describe the way in which the choir achieves this at Westminster but, in order to explain the role of our Cathedral choir, it is, no doubt, valuable to place this in the context of church teaching. In fact, observations made by the then Cardinal Ratzinger about the nature of the liturgy, the meaning of actual participation, and the part to be played by the choir, help to elucidate the intentions of the authors of the various church documents, taking into account the development of the Roman Rite.

The Pope points out that the aim of Liturgy is to assist the Word of God to effect greater understanding of the mysteries of our faith.7 Participation in this liturgy therefore entails joining in the much greater cosmic liturgy; if it did not, the earthly liturgy would reach finality, amounting to a pointless role-play.

The cosmos is praying with us. It, too, is waiting for redemption. It is precisely this cosmic dimension that is essential to Christian liturgy. It is never performed solely in the self-made world of man. It is always a cosmic liturgy.8

He explains that when the logos (word) of God is necessarily communicated by the imperfect medium of human language, the essential message of the mysterium must remain unutterable and uninterpretable. Two media that can help bridge this gap between humanity and divinity are silence and music. Music, in particular, can illuminate the essential elements of the text to aid understanding. Sacred music therefore makes the logos accessible to the congregation while at the same time leading them onwards to “lift up their hearts”.9

So, using sacred liturgical art-music as a medium for the word of God, a fuller expression of the truths encapsulated in the text can be communicated, assisting:

-the fullest possible understanding

-real interior participation

-actual participation in the sacred liturgy.


Bound on earth, bound in heaven – liturgy and music at Westminster Cathedral

From the foundation of Westminster Cathedral in 1903, liturgy and music have been deliberately fostered and maintained in practice to the highest possible standards. Indeed, rather than viewing these as separate entities, the music is an integral part of the liturgy.

But beyond an acceptance of the mutually beneficial relationship between the two lie examples of how the music of the choir is able to express more fully the meaning, sentiments and intent of sacred texts.

Take, for example, the Kyrie during the Penitential Rite at Mass. Encapsulated in the phrase ‘Lord, have mercy’ is an acceptance that we are all suppliant sinners in need of divine mercy, confident that our prayers will be heard. The implication and meaning of the words of the Kyrie is profound and not readily grasped by those present if spoken.

These intricacies are all the more difficult to comprehend whilst trying to remember a sung response, endeavouring to sing accurately and read from an order of service.

Furthermore, a simple recitation of the text, whether spoken or sung, allows little or no scope for interior contemplation of the mystery and is effective only on the level of ‘external activism’10. Any attempt to connect with the celestial liturgy is abandoned. And so, the tradition of singing a polyphonic Kyrie expounds the sentiments of the text whilst allowing the time necessary for full absorption of its implications by the faithful.

Whilst the Ordinary texts remain the same, the musical settings can be very different from one another, evoking nuances appropriate to various liturgical occasions and bringing relevant meaning to the familiar texts. One could contrast, for example, the Missa pro defunctis by Victoria with Missa Dum complerentur by Palestrina. The former sets a solemn, intimate tone whilst the latter exhibits a freshness and openness appropriate to the feast of Pentecost. In accord with the special status afforded Gregorian chant and renaissance polyphony by the Church, these two musical forms make up the largest part of our choral repertoire. This music reflects the same relevance to the text today as it did when it was composed and to this treasury we add appropriate music from the baroque, classical and romantic eras, whilst continuing to commission new works from the best composers of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries.

We make a deliberate effort to ensure that the choir is seen to be integral to the liturgy.

Great emphasis is placed on the entrance procession at Mass: the choir and ministers together process from the sacristy whilst the choir sings the plainsong Introit of the day. There are two important elements here: firstly, the members of the choir are seen to come through the congregation to the sanctuary and choir stalls beyond, where they carry out their liturgical function. Secondly, through the singing in procession of the Introit proper to the day, the word itself is illuminated by music and action.

The choir sings from a retro-choir at the east end of the Cathedral, raised and behind the High Altar. It is from this position that it is able to support the sacred actions of the Priest. The music connecting logos and mysterium comes literally from on high, a reminder perhaps of the celestial liturgy. Coming from behind the sacred action in the sanctuary, the music provides illumination and assists communication between human and divine, since humans approach the divine through beauty.11

Another important point is that the Cathedral choir does not merely sing to cover action or fill gaps in the liturgy; it highlights the most important parts of the Mass, joining the cosmic liturgy and singing the Ordinary texts “in the presence of the angels”. But beyond these essential parts we also sing the plainsong Propers of the Mass, again, giving musical expression to the Word of God.

These texts given at the Gradual, Gospel Acclamation, Offertory and Communion support the overall structure of the Mass whilst emphasising topical strands within the liturgy. One could say that a choir whose only function is to provide incidental music at the Offertory and Communion is not singing the

Mass at all.

In this respect the Cathedral choir could not have a more different role from that of a concert choir. Although it is seen taking its position it is not entirely visible during the Mass and so is not a distraction to the faithful. The conductor is hidden behind a marble screen which stands between him and the High Altar crucifix. But most importantly, the music it sings, although of great artistic merit, is offered in the service of the liturgy, enabling the understanding that breeds actual participation in the congregation.

…the omnipotent Lord finds a way through this singing into the heart that he might pour the mysteries of prophecy or the grace of remorse into this attentively listening organ. Hence in the song of praise we gain access to where Jesus can reveal himself, … a way to the heart emerges in us at the end of which we reach


However, in order that we assist the faithful in their participation, and the liturgy becomes a successful vehicle for the Word, the celebrant must share these aims and, where possible, sing the Mass texts so as to create a unity within the celebration itself. Of course, many celebrations claiming to be ‘Sung Masses’ are not. Even involving the congregation, let alone the choir, in singing extraneous texts does not equate to anything more than a superficial participation, adding nothing to the Mass itself. Focusing on the Mass texts as the prime concern for musical treatment confirms the essential nature of music in the liturgy. Is this why so many hymn books remain closed when congregations are asked to sing whilst, on the other hand, one tends to experience a more collective and unified response when the Priest or the choir enters into a musical dialogue with the congregation?

That the choir is part of a unified presentation of the liturgy is not only in evidence during Mass itself; at Westminster Cathedral the choir is an integral part of the wider life of worship. The daily cycle of sung celebrations of the Divine Office and Mass has always been part of our tradition, and so the Solemn High Mass on Sunday morning is experienced in the context of the preceding week of ferias, memorias and feasts.

Instilling understanding – providing context for the choir However, the problem remains that the widespread practice of choral services, which historically was a major part of the Roman liturgical tradition, has almost entirely disappeared, both in the United Kingdom and throughout the world. In England this is, in part, an effect of Reformation disestablishment but also, as in other parts of the world, reflects the changing fashion towards choirs drawn from contemporary culture. I am not alone in believing that the Church needs to rediscover this tradition, both in the repertoire of sacred music and the role and level of excellence of its choirs. We see the artistic musical life of liturgy as being incarnational, but whilst people are becoming better and better at understanding the call to bring something to the liturgy by their outward and visible participation, having the grace to take something from it is, for some, a challenge.13 While we are in very real danger of losing the church’s immensely valuable choral tradition, very little is being done to educate people in it, to explain how to draw on it and, most importantly, how it can help bring them to actual participation.

Furthermore, from a cultural perspective, the ability to sit in silence is less and less in evidence. On top of this, there is a belief held in many parts of the Church that taking part in the liturgy must mean doing, saying or singing something – which is obviously true to an extent, but not to the exclusion of choral music.

As people develop their liturgical expectations from an early age, early education is important, along with striving for high standards in the parishes. Sacrosanctum Concilium14 mentions the desire that seminaries instill in priests an understanding of the aims of sacred music. Without this education, the Church risks either losing the choral tradition altogether or turning its people into dumbstruck auditors. Pope Benedict acknowledges this danger, pointing out that if all those not singing a part of the Mass simply await its conclusion, or merely listen to a religious concert piece, then the choir’s performance is hard to justify.15

Chorus angelorum – in defence of artistic merit

Through the choir a greater transparency to the praise of the angels and therefore a more profound, interior joining in with their singing are bestowed than a congregation’s own acclamation and song would be capable of doing in many places.16

Although the Cathedral choir is not a concert choir, its members are professional musicians. The boys live in and are trained at the Cathedral’s choir school, where they receive a formative education from ages 8-13. The tenors and basses are professional singers and come from a variety of backgrounds. The reasons for this are fairly clear – in order to do justice to the extraordinary music of Palestrina, for example, singers of professional standard are required. Furthermore, such potentially transcendent music could suffer from a less than professional performance and part of its effect could be lost.

A choir staffed solely from the faith community is simply not likely to be capable of rendering this music in a manner appropriate to the Cathedral, which, as the liturgical seat of the Diocese, is rightly seen as a benchmark of excellence. In practical terms, sustaining, as we do, a daily schedule of choral Vespers and Mass, would be impossible if one had to rely on volunteers. Indeed this aspect of the Cathedral’s liturgical life is only made possible by the professional nature of the choir which ensures that services will always be sung by the required number of competent singers. Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, our efforts to bring the earthly liturgy to meet the divine surely demand the highest possible standards.

In spite of this goal, it is true that only a very few churches are in a position to, or would feel it appropriate, to provide for a professional choir. There are, of course, other kinds of choirs of varying membership and standard that provide excellent services in parishes throughout the world. These too are able to illuminate the Word in some of the same ways as I have described, but it is important that Cathedrals promote music at the highest artistic level so that the admirable work done by parish choirs can be nourished and supported by the Cathedral tradition. This hierarchy exists and is needed throughout all human institutions – the church is obviously no exception to this and neither is its field of artistic endeavour. Even within the Cathedral itself a support system exists. Choirs from outside are regularly invited to sing at Mass at the Cathedral and, when its schedule permits, the Cathedral choir makes visits to other churches in England and abroad. We run a choir of volunteers from throughout the diocese who meet once a month to sing Mass at the Cathedral and to heighten their experience of the repertoire. A recent development has been the establishment of a volunteer Schola Gregoriana of female voices. In these ways the Cathedral choir exists as a pre-eminent example, both within our own parish and for interested parties further afield. Nunc et semper?

Using the Westminster Cathedral experience I have tried to show that choirs are essential to the liturgy as presented in Cathedral churches and in setting a structure for the Diocese. We feel that the pattern which exists at Westminster could be well used to help recovery of the Church’s choral tradition elsewhere. However, we cannot work in a vacuum, or without support of these aims from the highest level. At the moment, whilst pockets of excellence in church music do exist, they seem to exist in isolation. Clearer guidance from Church hierarchy would encourage and support many musical establishments and could facilitate a renewal of all that is good in the Church’s musical tradition. Whilst being grateful for the statements on sacred music in Sacrosanctum Concilium, it is worth acknowledging that we currently have to look beyond, to the writings of theologians such as Pope Benedict XVI, to elicit a degree of clarification. Especially given the direction the liturgy has taken in the years since Vatican II, a clear case can be made for the need to re-evaluate and expound upon these directives in the light of forty years of experimentation, even floundering in some quarters. In conclusion, I would like to suggest that the time has come for some explicit guidelines as to the role of the Cathedral choir. We, at Westminster Cathedral, believe that our musical tradition provides something of a golden standard and I hope that I have been able to offer a perspective on the value of our experience with you today.

Martin Baker, Master of Music, Westminster Cathedral, November 2005



1 The Latin phrase ‘actuosa participatio’ is perhaps better translated as ‘actual participation’. The term ‘actuosa’ incorporates both the contemplative (internal) and active (aspects) of participation. The term ‘activa’ could have been used, but this term normally excludes the contemplative aspect.

2 Pope Benedict XVI, formerly Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, A New Song for the Lord (Germany, 1995) p. 177

3 Pope Pius X, Tra le Sollecitudini: Instruction on Sacred Music (1903)

4 Second Vatican Council, Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy (1963)

5 A phrase used repeatedly throughout Sacrosanctum Concilium.

6 Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1069

7 Consider also this quote from Romano Guardini: “In 1513 Michelangelo Buonarroti completed the frescoes that still grace the Sistine Chapel four and three-quarter centuries later. In the magnificent creation scene, the life-giving finger of God stretches out and almost – but not quite – touches the outstretched finger of the reclining Adam. Liturgy fills the gap between those two fingers.” Guardini, ‘The Playfulness of the Liturgy’, The Spirit of the Liturgy (London, 1930)

8 Pope Benedict XVI, The Spirit of the Liturgy (San Francisco, 2000) p. 70

9 Pope Benedict XVI, A New Song for the Lord (Germany, 1995) p. 169

10 See the header quote from the then Cardinal Ratzinger on page one.

11 “We have to find an aesthetic which makes beauty speak today. Beauty is not the icing on the liturgical cake, it is the essence.” Fr Timothy Radcliffe OP, from a lecture given at Westminster Cathedral, 27 April, 2005.

12 Pope Gregory the Great, Homiliae in Ezechielem I. Quoted by Pope Benedict XVI in A New Song for the Lord (Germany, 1995) p. 137.

13 “Less and less is God in the picture. More and more important is what is done by the human beings who meet here and do not like to subject themselves to a ‘pre-determined pattern’.” Pope Benedict XVI, The Spirit of the Liturgy p. 80

14 Second Vatican Council, Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, Chapter VI (1963)

15 Pope Benedict XVI, A New Song for the Lord p. 181

16 Pope Benedict XVI, A New Song for the Lord p. 180


Musicians in Catholic Worship – Part I Banish the Soloists Let the People Sing

By Lucy Carroll Adoremus Bulletin
Online Edition – Vol. IX, No. 5: July-August 2003

On a recent business trip, I attended Mass in a neighboring diocese. A few wrong turns made me just a little late, and I had to park at the extreme end of the lot, a distance of what seemed miles. It was the middle of the first verse of the entrance hymn. I knew this because the voice of the cantor carried, via outdoor speaker, all the way to my car. Inside, it was just as bad: the microphone was turned so high that the sound of the cantor’s untrained voice obliterated the organ, the congregation — and any hope of meaningful participation.

This appears to be the rule today. While we often don’t find organists, we always find a cantor (in many places now re-labeled “song leader” as if it were a campfire event), usually a loud, untrained soloist. Congregations sit quietly while they are sung at. As a priest friend lamented, “when the cantors came in, the congregation went mute”. So prevalent is this that GIA (Gregorian Institute of America Publications) sells a button that pictures a microphone and the legend “Back off and let the people sing!”

Musicians fulfill an important and necessary function in the sacred liturgy. But whether fully trained professionals or ardent amateurs (amateur: translation: one who does it for love), all must remember that the purpose of the music is to implement the liturgy, not to entertain the faithful or glorify themselves.
The motto of all ought to be: Non nobis Domine, sed nomini tuo da gloriam! (Not to us, Lord, but to your Name be all glory!)

As with so much that is out of sync in today’s Church, the position of soloist was not advocated by the Second Vatican Council. The word cantor does not even appear in Chapter VI of Sacrosanctum Concilium, the Vatican II document on the liturgy. The choir was re-affirmed as being an integral part of the liturgical team of priest, deacon and reader.

The Council mandated that the choir be an integral part of the liturgy team: “Choirs must be diligently promoted” (Constitution on the Liturgy, Sacrosanctum Concilium, §114). Further explaining this, the Holy See’s Instruction on Music, Musicam Sacram (March 5, 1967) said:

The conciliar norms regarding reform of the liturgy have given the choir’s function greater prominence and importance. The choir is responsible for the correct performance of the parts that belong to it and for helping the faithful to take an active part in the singing. (MS 19).

Like many things in the wake of the Council, the choirs, instead of proliferating, virtually disappeared. In many parishes today the choir sings only for special events: Christmas, Easter, Holy Week. The choir, however, should lead the congregation at Mass, every Sunday.

When choirs disappeared, the cantors took over. But the cantor as soloist raises many problems that militate against the cultivation of good congregational singing.

When the cantor is soloist, then as soloist, the cantor will insist on singing in a key that is personally comfortable. We have all suffered along with bass cantors singing in keys that make the rest of us wallow in the nether regions, and (more often) with high soprano cantors who leave us far behind as they ascend to notes the average person cannot reach.

If the cantor is soloist, then the music will be treated as a solo, as it is in much music for liturgy that is published today.

Last month I attended a funeral. When it came time for the Offertory hymn, the organ played an interesting introduction that had nothing to do with the hymn. In between verses there was more interesting interlude. Since the congregation had no way of knowing what that was, no one except the cantor knew when to begin each verse. The organ accompanied the soloist; the congregation was lost.

The time-honored way of introducing a hymn is to play it, or part of it, in the tempo in which the hymn will be sung. This prepares the congregation. Anything else will confuse them or alienate them. Who wants to make a mistake coming in wrong? Better to keep quiet and just let the soloist take over.

Too many of today’s pop-style hymns are now appearing in their true format: solo songs with back-up group accompaniment. That is, the keyboard — and the intended instrument is the electric keyboard, not pipe organ — is given an accompaniment that has nothing to do with the melody.

The part fits in nicely with strummed guitar, drums, etc. The part, however, can not lead a congregation; it is a back-up part for a soloist, the style in pop or commercial music.

Here we discover the true nature of the musical accompaniment: it is suited for back-up groups behind crooning solo singers in supper clubs and lounges, and not for congregations at the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. This further allows the soloist up front to, well, to be a soloist. Slurring and scooping, ornamenting and excessive stylings are common. In our area, many soloist cantors sing in that throaty style that is just under the pitch, sliding into notes and taking liberties that absolutely mitigate against the congregation being able to keep up. And of course the microphone is turned up almost to feedback level.

And what if you want to, say, sing the alto part of a more traditional hymn? (Martin Luther, for one, knew the benefit of offering the congregation higher and lower harmony to a given melody.) First of all, few Catholic liturgy aids have anything but the melody printed. Secondly, with the soloist up front taking flights of fancy, and the organist following quietly along, harmonizing becomes impossible.


The Hazzan and the Antiphoner
Cantors come to us from Judaism, where the hazzan sings the traditional intricate Hebraic cantillations and leads the congregation in song. In biblical times, the Jewish people did not attend temple every Sabbath, but only a few times a year for special events and feasts. Music in the temple was reserved for the special groups of priests and musicians. It was after the destruction of the temple, when only the synagogues remained, that regular congregational singing came into being, and that singing consisted of simple Hebrew chants.

Exactly where and when the office of hazzan (cantor) originated, history does not tell us. However, it is a position of long standing and of great importance. A hazzan must study music, singing, Hebrew, and the art of cantillation. The hazzan may also hold the office of music instructor. He must have an excellent, trained singing voice, be able to lead the choir, write and arrange music, train youngsters for bat– and bar mitzvah, and oversee music at services.

In Christian monastic houses, where the Divine Office (Liturgy of the Hours) was the primary task of the day, the office of antiphoner evolved, taking the place of the hazzan. The antiphoner intoned the antiphon or introductory phrase for each Psalm, and began the antiphonal singing of each Psalm. (Antiphonal singing means that one half the group chants one verse of the Psalm, the other half the next.) The antiphon, or introductory phrase, is sung only at the beginning and end of the Psalm. This antiphonal method of chanting is still done in monastic houses and anywhere the Liturgy of the Hours is chanted.


The Responsorial Psalm
In responsorial singing, all the verses of the Psalm (or hymn) are sung or chanted by the cantor (or choir), while only a response line (antiphon) is repeated after each verse by the congregation.

With the introduction of the responsorial Psalm the antiphoner emerged as “cantor of the Psalm”. In the new (2002) General Instruction of the Roman Missal (GIRM), we read in Chapter II that “The Psalmist’s role is to sing the Psalm between the readings”. This is the old office of monastic antiphoner. Again, we do not read that there are to be soloists throughout the Mass.

Too often in the responsorial Psalm the cantor, as soloist, sings a complex, song-like extravaganza. This piece may become the centerpiece of the day’s music, a tour-de-force for the soloist; however, the words of the Psalm may not be clearly understood by the congregation.

At that aforementioned funeral Mass, the music of the responsorial Psalm (to a paraphrased text) sounded like a waltz from a romantic movie. I felt like getting up and dancing around to the strong 3/4 meter. The verses were equally waltz-y, and the biblical text nearly obliterated. Indeed, the music seemed to be derived from a “golden oldie” — a far cry from the beautiful Gregorian Psalm-tones of the antiphoner, or the cantillations of the hazzan.


Changing the Psalm Texts
An even more serious concern is that in many parishes, paraphrases are used in place of the actual Psalm texts — making them songs instead of Psalms. The music employed for these songs is often second-rate, as well, and can be a trial to the congregation. The Psalm, however, should remain as it is. The texts of the Mass should not be changed. In the 2002 GIRM it is firmly stated that “songs or hymns may not be used in place of the responsorial Psalm” (§62).


The Cantor
One searches Sacrosanctum Concilium’s chapter on sacred music in vain for “office of cantor”. It simply was not envisioned. It is the choir that is mentioned again and again. Skip ahead to the 1975 General Instruction of the Roman Missal.

Here we read “The cantor of the Psalm is to sing the Psalm or other biblical song that comes between the readings. To fulfill their function correctly, these cantors should possess singing talent and an aptitude for correct pronunciation and diction” (GIRM 1975, §67).

The cantor then, was taking the monastic position of antiphoner, adapted to responsorial, rather than antiphonal, Psalm-singing. And as a singer, had to have training.

It is obvious, however, that cantors — or leaders of song — in most parishes have little or no musical training. They do not have the rigorous training of hazzans. (Also note: the GIRM’s phrase was “the cantor of the Psalm”, not “the soloist throughout the entire Mass”.)

Visit a Protestant congregation that holds a traditional service, and you will search in vain for a cantor. The organist and choir lead the singing, and most of these congregations can put our own to shame when it comes to congregational singing! Many Protestant churches have multiple choirs: children’s choirs, teen choirs, traditional choirs, bell choirs, but always a choir.

In the 17th century, Presbyterians and Independents removed organs and choirs from churches, as they removed sacred art and iconography, altars, vestments, etc., as too “Catholic in nature”. Organs and choirs returned to the Presbyterian Church two centuries later. When Methodism broke from the Anglican tradition, choirs were abolished as “too Roman” and too much a part of “formalized liturgy”. The best singers in the congregation sang up front to lead the singing, and eventually, choirs returned. Today only a few Protestant groups hold services sans choir: Amish, Old Order Mennonite, River Brethren, and the like.


The Soloist — or the Choir
So ingrained has the role of soloist performer become in today’s Catholic churches that even when there is a choir, a soloist/cantor may be at a front microphone, with that microphone turned up to a volume that overshadows the full choir.

In stressing the importance of singing at Mass, the GIRM (2002) tells us that “When there is no choir, it is up to the cantor to lead the different chants in which the people take part” (GIRM 2002, III §104). Ah, the chants! The chanted responses.

At the monastery where I am now organist and music director, we do not have a cantor unless the choir is absent, and that is rare. A choir member announces the numbers of the pieces. The choir chants the Psalm and gospel acclamation, and, with the pipe organ, leads all congregational music. Because we have a balcony, we are unseen by the congregation. No matter: I play the pipe organ loud and strong, the choir sings with vigor, the nuns behind their grille sing out, and the congregation, seated between a balcony choir and a choir of nuns, can easily chime in knowing that their own individual voices will not “stick out”. The singing is definitely a communal effort!

For certain special occasions, such as Christmas Eve and the annual Novena and the Triduum, we do use a cantor, even if the choir is present. This is necessary because the congregation attending these services is much larger than our ordinary weekly group, unaccustomed to our procedures, and cannot see me. We are blessed with a wonderful cantor, musically trained. He leads with his arms, bringing in the congregation on sung responses, etc. However, I do not “accompany” him (unless the choir is absent and the cantor is singing the Psalm alone). I open the organ up fully, for it is the people we want to open up! And so we do not have a soloist, we have truly communal music for worship.


Quo vadis?
Music in most Catholic parishes today has strayed from the original intent of the Council Fathers, who stressed “active participation” of all the faithful. If the goal of music at Mass were to have a soloist or an entertainment group, we have succeeded rather well. If, however, the goal is the participation of the people in the pew in authentic worship through sacred music, we are failing.

Part of the problem stems from the fact that music in Catholic parishes is seldom in the hands of well-trained liturgical musicians. Committees, liturgy directors, or priests usually select music for the Mass according to their own taste, or worse still, following recommendations of “liturgy aid” publishers on “what is popular” (i.e., their own stable of composers and performers). The result has been banal music. And this has led many professional musicians with expertise in sacred music to seek employment elsewhere.

The situation has no easy cure-all. There is a time for soloists, but not during the congregation’s parts. Congregations need to be led, not sung at. Soloists need to recede into the woodwork and let the congregation sing. The organ needs to be restored to its rightful prominence (cf. Sacrosanctum Concilium 102; Musicam Sacram 62), and good organists need to be trained and hired, for the organ should lead the entire congregation, not serve as a quiet accompaniment to a soloist.

The cantor can fulfill a very important role in chanting the Psalm. For other music of the Mass and for hymns, the cantor should simply announce the hymn (if there is a visible number board, then no one need announce numbers at all), then step away from the microphone, and let the organ lead the congregation: let the people sing!

I know of several places where the sacristan turns down the volume of the cantor’s microphone once the hymn or Psalm has begun (another possibility when the cantor seems to have delusions of solo stardom!) Or the organist can simply introduce the piece, thus allowing the congregation to sing and the liturgy to proceed gracefully, uninterrupted.

So, let us have soloists only for appropriate occasions when soloists are true soloists — not during the parts of the sung liturgy that belong to the people and the choir.

Lucy E. Carroll, D.M.A., is organist and music director at the public chapel of the Carmelite monastery in Philadelphia. She is also adjunct associate professor at Westminster Choir College, Princeton. She has taught high school through graduate school, and worked in Lutheran, Episcopal and Catholic churches and a Reform Synagogue. Her Churchmouse Squeaks cartoons now appear regularly in the Adoremus Bulletin.

Musicians in Catholic Worship: Part II Where Have All the Organists Gone?

by Lucy E. Carroll [September 2003]

Musicians in Catholic Worship: Part III
Bells and Whistles, Guitars and Tambourines

By Lucy E. Carroll [October 2003]


Choir, Proper Placement

We have formed a choir at a small rural church. Because there is not enough room at the front of the church or in the sanctuary, we perform from the choir loft. Is this acceptable as far as Vatican II?

There are four main documents that mention the proper location of the choir, none of which say that the choir should be at the front of the church or in the sanctuary.

First, “The choir and organ shall occupy a place clearly showing that the singers and the organist form a part of the united community of the faithful and allowing them best to fulfill their part in the liturgy.” (Inter Oecumenici, n. 97) — 1964

Second, “According to the design of the particular church, the place for the choir is to be such that:

-its status as a part of the community with a special function is clearly evident;

-the performance of its liturgical ministry is facilitated.

-full, that is, sacramental, participation in the Mass remains convenient for each of the members.”

(Musicam Sacram, n. 23) — 1967

Third, “The congregation and the choir should have a place that facilitates their active participation.” (General Instruction of the Roman Missal, n.257) — 1974

Fourth, the Ceremonial of Bishops and 2000 years of Church tradition reserve the sanctuary for the ministers of the Mass: “The sanctuary or chancel, that is, the place where the bishop, presbyters, and ministers carry out their ministries, should be set apart from the body of the church in some way.”

These statements make four requirements concerning the placement of the choir.

The choir is supposed to be part of the worshipping community. Is there anybody who thought that because the choir was in a choir loft the members weren’t really at Mass? Choir lofts do not violate this requirement, in fact, choir lofts support the next requirement that the choir’s location shows that it has a special liturgical purpose.

The choir is also supposed to be placed in a location where its participation is facilitated. Choir lofts are built in the best part of a church for this. The choir is elevated, giving it a clear view of everything happening at Mass and the sound (if the church has been constructed properly) carries much better from the loft than some other portion of the church.

The choir is also supposed to be able to participate sacramentally in Mass, i.e., receive Holy Communion. As long as someone can bring Holy Communion to the choir or the choir can get down from the loft there isn’t any problem with the choir being in the loft.

The sanctuary is reserved for the ministers of the Mass. Ministers here refers to bishops, priests, deacons, acolytes, readers and cantors, not to the congregation or the choir.

The reality of the choir is that if it can be seen, it serves as a distraction to the faithful at Mass. The choir is constantly busy, switching pages, taking cues, changing positions and occasionally dropping music. Placing the choir in plain view of everyone is not only a distraction to the faithful, it is a distraction to the choir members who may get flustered when in plain view.

If churches are designed with acoustics in mind, a choir loft is the ideal location for the choir. In many churches, the choir has abandoned the loft to its own detriment.

Once the choir is on the floor or in an acoustically unfriendly church or in a place in the church not originally intended for the choir, they are forced to use microphones to avoid being lost. The use of microphones frequently has the effect of drowning out the congregation which already has a difficult enough time being coaxed into singing.

In 1903 Pope Saint Pius X ordered that choirs should be hidden behind screens if they were too noticeable in church. His reasoning is still sound today.

Another consideration to note when placing the choir is that when a choir is in front of the congregation and facing the congregation, it appears that the choir is giving a concert instead of fulfilling its proper role at Mass. Also, if the choir is facing the congregation, it isn’t directing its music towards the proper focal point. In fact, it will have its back to what is most important, namely, the Eucharist.



Second Vatican Ecumenical Council

Congregation for Divine Worship – Sacred Congregation of Rites – March 5, 1967
1. Sacred music, in those aspects which concern the liturgical renewal, was carefully considered by the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council. It explained its role in divine services, issued a number of principles and laws on this subject in the Constitution on the Liturgy
*, and devoted to it an entire chapter of the same Constitution*.
2. The decisions of the Council have already begun to be put into effect in the recently undertaken liturgical renewal. But the new norms concerning the arrangement of the sacred rites and the active participation of the faithful have given rise to several problems regarding sacred music and its ministerial role. These problems appear to be able to be solved by expounding more fully certain relevant principles of the Constitution on the Liturgy
*. *Sacrosanctum Concilium, December 4, 1963
3. Therefore the Consilium set up to implement the Constitution on the Liturgy, on the instructions of the Holy Father, has carefully considered these questions and prepared the present Instruction. This does not, however, gather together all the legislation on sacred music; it only establishes the principal norms which seem to be more necessary for our own day. It is, as it were, a continuation and complement of the preceding Instruction of this Sacred Congregation, prepared by this same Consilium on 26th September 1964, for the correct implementation of the Liturgy Constitution.
4. It is to be hoped that pastors of souls, musicians and the faithful will gladly accept these norms and put them into practice, uniting their efforts to attain the true purpose of sacred music, “which is the glory of God and the sanctification of the faithful.”[1]
(a) By sacred music is understood that which, being created for the celebration of divine worship, is endowed with a certain holy sincerity of form.[2]
(b) The following come under the title of sacred music here: Gregorian chant, sacred polyphony in its various forms both ancient and modern, sacred music for the organ and other approved instruments, and sacred popular music, be it liturgical or simply religious.[3]


I. Some General Norms

5. Liturgical worship is given a more noble form when it is celebrated in song, with the ministers of each degree fulfilling their ministry and the people participating in it. [4]
Indeed, through this form, prayer is expressed in a more attractive way, the mystery of the liturgy, with its hierarchical and community nature, is more openly shown, the unity of hearts is more profoundly achieved by the union of voices, minds are more easily raised to heavenly things by the beauty of the sacred rites, and the whole celebration more clearly prefigures that heavenly liturgy which is enacted in the holy city of Jerusalem.
Pastors of souls will therefore do all they can to achieve this form of celebration.
They will try to work out how that assignment of different parts to be performed and duties to be fulfilled, which characterizes sung celebrations, may be transferred even to celebrations which are not sung, but at which the people are present. Above all one must take particular care that the necessary ministers are obtained and that these are suitable, and that the active participation of the people is encouraged.
The practical preparation for each liturgical celebration should be done in a spirit of cooperation by all parties concerned, under the guidance of the rector of the church, whether it be in ritual, pastoral or musical maters.
6. The proper arrangement of a liturgical celebration requires the due assignment and performance of certain functions, by which “each person, minister or layman, should carry out all and only those parts which pertain to his office by the nature of the rite and the norms of the liturgy.” [5]
This also demands that the meaning and proper nature of each part and of each song be carefully observed. To attain this, those parts especially should be sung which by their very nature require to be sung, using the kind and form of music which is proper to their character.

7. Between the solemn, fuller form of liturgical celebration, in which everything that demands singing is in fact sung, and the simplest form, in which singing is not used, there can be various degrees according to the greater or lesser place allotted to singing. However, in selecting the parts which are to be sung, one should start with those that are by their nature of greater importance, and especially those which are to be sung by the priest or by the ministers, with the people replying, or those which are to be sung by the priest and people together. The other parts may be gradually added according as they are proper to the people alone or to the choir alone.
8. Whenever, for a liturgical service which is to be celebrated in sung form, one can make a choice between various people, it is desirable that those who are known to be more proficient in singing be given preference; this is especially the case in more solemn liturgical celebrations and in those which either require more difficult singing, or are transmitted by radio or television.[6]
If, however, a choice of this kind cannot be made, and the priest or minister does not possess a voice suitable for the proper execution of the singing, he can render without singing one or more of the more difficult parts which concern him, reciting them in a loud and distinct voice. However, this must not be done merely for the convenience of the priest or minister.
9. In selecting the kind of sacred music to be used, whether it be for the choir or for the people, the capacities of those who are to sing the music must be taken into account. No kind of sacred music is prohibited from liturgical actions by the Church as long as it corresponds to the spirit of the liturgical celebration itself and the nature of its individual parts, [7] and does not hinder the active participation of the people. [8]
10. In order that the faithful may actively participate more willingly and with greater benefit, it is fitting that the format of the celebration and the degree of participation in it should be varied as much as possible, according to the solemnity of the day and the nature of the congregation present.
11. It should be borne in mind that the true solemnity of liturgical worship depends less on a more ornate form of singing and a more magnificent ceremonial than on its worthy and religious celebration, which takes into account the integrity of the liturgical celebration itself, and the performance of each of its parts according to their own particular nature. To have a more ornate form of singing and a more magnificent ceremonial is at times desirable when there are the resources available to carry them out properly; on the other hand it would be contrary to the true solemnity of the liturgy if this were to lead to a part of the action being omitted, changed, or improperly performed.
12. It is for the Holy See alone to determine the more important general principles which are, as it were, the basis of sacred music, according to the norms handed down, but especially according to the Constitution on the Liturgy. Direction in this matter, within the limits laid down, also belongs to the competent territorial Episcopal Conferences of various kinds, which have been legitimately constituted, and to the individual bishop. [9]
13. Liturgical services are celebrations of the Church, that is, of the holy people, united under and directed by the bishop or priest. [10]
The priest and his ministers, because of the sacred order they have received, hold a special place in these celebrations, as do also – by reason of the ministry they perform – the servers, readers, commentators and those in the choir. [11]
14. The priest, acting in the person of Christ, presides over the gathered assembly. Since the prayers which are said or sung by him aloud are proclaimed in the name of the entire holy people and of all present, [12] they should be devoutly listened to by all.
15. The faithful fulfil their liturgical role by making that full, conscious and active participation which is demanded by the nature of the liturgy itself and which is, by reason of baptism, the right and duty of the Christian people. [13]
This participation
(a) Should be above all internal, in the sense that by it the faithful join their mind to what they pronounce or hear, and cooperate with heavenly grace; [14]
(b) Must be, on the other hand, external also, that is, such as to show the internal participation by gestures and bodily attitudes, by the acclamations, responses and singing. [15]
The faithful should also be taught to unite themselves interiorly to what the ministers or choir sing, so that by listening to them they may raise their minds to God.
16. One cannot find anything more religious and more joyful in sacred celebrations than a whole congregation expressing its faith and devotion in song. Therefore the active participation of the whole people, which is shown in singing, is to be carefully promoted as follows:
(a) It should first of all include acclamations, responses to the greetings of the priest and ministers and to the prayers of litany form, and also antiphons and psalms, refrains or repeated responses, hymns and canticles. [16]
(b) Through suitable instruction and practices, the people should be gradually led to a fuller – indeed, to a complete – participation in those parts of the singing which pertain to them.
(c) Some of the people’s song, however, especially if the faithful have not yet been sufficiently instructed, or if musical settings for several voices are used, can be handed over to the choir alone, provided that the people are not excluded from those parts that concern them. But the usage of entrusting to the choir alone the entire singing of the whole Proper and of the whole Ordinary, to the complete exclusion of the people’s participation in the singing, is to be deprecated.

17. At the proper times, all should observe a reverent silence. [17] Through it the faithful are not only not considered as extraneous or dumb spectators at the liturgical service, but are associated more intimately in the mystery that is being celebrated, thanks to that interior disposition which derives from the word of God that they have heard, from the songs and prayers that have been uttered, and from spiritual union with the priest in the parts that he says or sings himself.
18. Among the faithful, special attention must be given to the instruction in sacred singing of members of lay religious societies, so that they may support and promote the participation of the people more effectively. [18] The formation of the whole people in singing, should be seriously and patiently undertaken together with liturgical instruction, according to the age, status and way of life of the faithful and the degree of their religious culture; this should be done even from the first years of education in elementary schools. [19]
19. Because of the liturgical ministry it performs, the choir — or the Capella musica, or schola cantorum — deserves particular mention. Its role has become something of yet greater importance and weight by reason of the norms of the Council concerning the liturgical renewal. Its duty is, in effect, to ensure the proper performance of the parts which belong to it, according to the different kinds of music sung, and to encourage the active participation of the faithful in the singing. Therefore:
(a) There should be choirs, or Capellae, or scholae cantorum, especially in cathedrals and other major churches, in seminaries and religious houses of studies, and they should be carefully encouraged.
(b) It would also be desirable for similar choirs to be set up in smaller churches.
20. Large choirs (Capellae musicae) existing in basilicas, cathedrals, monasteries and other major churches, which have in the course of centuries earned for themselves high renown by preserving and developing a musical heritage of inestimable value, should be retained for sacred celebrations of a more elaborate kind, according to their own traditional norms, recognized and approved by the Ordinary.
However, the directors of these choirs and the rectors of the churches should take care that the people always associate themselves with the singing by performing at least the easier sections of those parts which belong to them.
21. Provision should be made for at least one or two properly trained singers, especially where there is no possibility of setting up even a small choir. The singer will present some simpler musical settings, with the people taking part, and can lead and support the faithful as far as is needed. The presence of such a singer is desirable even in churches which have a choir, for those celebrations in which the choir cannot take part but which may fittingly be performed with some solemnity and therefore with singing.
22. The choir can consist, according to the customs of each country and other circumstances, of either men and boys, or men and boys only, or men and women, or even, where there is a genuine case for it, of women only.
23. Taking into account the layout of each church, the choir should be placed in such a way:
(a) That its nature should be clearly apparent — namely, that it is a part of the whole congregation, and that it fulfills a special role;
(b) That it is easier for it to fulfil its liturgical function; [20]
(c) That each of its members may be able to participate easily in the Mass, that is to say by sacramental participation.
Whenever the choir also includes women, it should be placed outside the sanctuary (presbyterium).
24. Besides musical formation, suitable liturgical and spiritual formation must also be given to the members of the choir, in such a way that the proper performance of their liturgical role will not only enhance the beauty of the celebration and be an excellent example for the faithful, but will bring spiritual benefit to the choir-members themselves.
25. In order that this technical and spiritual formation may more easily be obtained, the diocesan, national and international associations of sacred music should offer their services, especially those that have been approved and several times commended by the Holy See.
26. The priest, the sacred ministers and the servers, the reader and those in the choir, and also the commentator, should perform the parts assigned to them in a way which is comprehensible to the people, in order that the responses of the people, when the rite requires it, may be made easy and spontaneous. It is desirable that the priest, and the ministers of every degree, should join their voices to the voice of the whole faithful in those parts which concern the people. [21]
27. For the celebration of the Eucharist with the people, especially on Sundays and feast days, a form of sung Mass (Missa in cantu) is to be preferred as much as possible, even several times on the same day.
28. The distinction between solemn, sung and read Mass, sanctioned by the Instruction of 1958 (n. 3), is retained, according to the traditional liturgical laws at present in force. However, for the sung Mass (Missa cantata), different degrees of participation are put forward here for reasons of pastoral usefulness, so that it may become easier to make the celebration of Mass more beautiful by singing, according to the capabilities of each congregation.
These degrees are so arranged that the first may be used even by itself, but the second and third, wholly or partially, may never be used without the first. In this way the faithful will be continually led towards an ever greater participation in the singing.
29. The following belong to the first degree:
(a) In the entrance rites: the greeting of the priest together with the reply of the people; the prayer.
(b) In the Liturgy of the Word: the acclamations at the Gospel.
(c) In the Eucharistic Liturgy: the prayer over the offerings; the preface with its dialogue and the Sanctus; the final doxology of the Canon, the Lord’s prayer with its introduction and embolism; the Pax Domini; the prayer after the Communion; the formulas of dismissal.
30. The following belong to the second degree:
(a) the Kyrie, Gloria and Agnus Dei;
(b) the Creed;
(c) the prayer of the faithful.

31. The following belong to the third degree:
(a) the songs at the Entrance and Communion processions;
(b) the songs after the Lesson or Epistle;
(c) the Alleluia before the Gospel;
(d) the song at the Offertory;
(e) the readings of Sacred Scripture, unless it seems more suitable to proclaim them without singing.
32. The custom legitimately in use in certain places and widely confirmed by indults, of substituting other songs for the songs given in the Graduale for the Entrance, Offertory and Communion, can be retained according to the judgment of the competent territorial authority, as long as songs of this sort are in keeping with the parts of the Mass, with the feast or with the liturgical season. It is for the same territorial authority to approve the texts of these songs.

33. It is desirable that the assembly of the faithful should participate in the songs of the Proper as much as possible, especially through simple responses and other suitable settings.
The song after the lessons, be it in the form of gradual or responsorial psalm, has a special importance among the songs of the Proper. By its very nature, it forms part of the Liturgy, of the Word. It should be performed with all seated and listening to it — and, what is more, participating in it as far as possible.
34. The songs which are called the “Ordinary of the Mass,” if they are sung by musical settings written for several voices may be performed by the choir according to the customary norms, either a capella, or with instrumental accompaniment, as long as the people are not completely excluded from taking part in the singing.
In other cases, the parts of the Ordinary of the Mass can be divided between the choir and the people or even between two sections of the people themselves: one can alternate by verses, or one can follow other suitable divisions which divide the text into larger sections. In these cases, the following points are to be noted: it is preferable that the Creed, since it is a formula of profession of faith, should be sung by all, or in such a way as to permit a fitting participation by the faithful; it is preferable that the Sanctus, as the concluding acclamation of the Preface, should normally be sung by the whole congregation together with the priest; the Agnus Dei may be repeated as often as necessary, especially in concelebrations, where it accompanies the Fraction; it is desirable that the people should participate in this song, as least by the final invocation.
35. The Lord’s Prayer is best performed by the people together with the priest. [22]
If it is sung in Latin, the melodies already legitimately existing should be used; if, however, it is sung in the vernacular, the settings are to be approved by the competent territorial authority.
36. There is no reason why some of the Proper or Ordinary should not be sung in said Masses. Moreover, some other song can also, on occasions, be sung at the beginning, at the Offertory, at the Communion and at the end of Mass. It is not sufficient, however, that these songs be merely “Eucharistic” — they must be in keeping with the parts of the Mass, with the feast, or with the liturgical season.


II. The Singing Of The Divine Office

37. The sung celebration of the Divine Office is the form which best accords with the nature of this prayer. It expresses its solemnity in a fuller way and expresses a deeper union of hearts in performing the praises of God. That is why, in accordance with the wish of the Constitution on the Liturgy, [23] this sung form is strongly recommended to those who celebrate the Office in choir or in common.
For it is desirable that at least some part of the Divine Office, especially the principal Hours, namely Lauds and Vespers, should be performed in sung form by these people, at least on Sundays and feast days.
Other clerics also, who live in common for the purpose of studies, or who meet for retreats or other purposes, will sanctify their meetings in a very fitting way if they celebrate some parts of the Divine Office in sung form.
38. When the Divine Office is to be celebrated in sung form, a principle of “progressive” solemnity can be used, inasmuch as those parts which lend themselves more directly to a sung form, e.g. dialogues, hymns, verses and canticles, may be sung, and the rest recited. This does not change the rules at present in force for those obliged to choir, nor does it change particular indults.
39. One will invite the faithful, ensuring that they receive the requisite instruction, to celebrate in common on Sundays and feast days certain parts of the Divine Office, especially Vesper, or, according to the customs of the particular area and assembly, other Hours. In general, the faithful, particularly the more educated, should be led by suitable teaching, to understand the psalms in a Christian sense and use them in their own prayers, so that they may gradually acquire a stronger taste for the use of the public prayer of the Church.
40. The members of Institutes professing the evangelical virtues should be given special instruction of this type, so that they may draw from it more abundant riches for the development of their spiritual life. It is desirable also that they should participate more fully in the public prayer of the Church by performing the principal Hours of the Office in sung form, as far as possible.
41. In accordance with the norm of the Constitution on the Liturgy and the centuries-old tradition of the Latin rite, the Latin language is to be retained for clerics celebrating the Divine Office in choir. [24] Since however the same Liturgy Constitution [25] concedes the use of the vernacular in the Divine Office both by the faithful and by nuns and other members of Institutes professing the evangelical virtues, who are not clerics, due care should be taken that melodies are prepared which may be used in the singing of the Divine Office in the vernacular.
III. Sacred Music in the Celebration of the Sacraments and Sacramentals, in Special Functions of the Liturgical Year, in Celebrations of the Word of God, and in Popular Devotions

42. The Council laid down in principle that whenever a rite, in keeping with its character, allows a celebration in common with the attendance and active participation of the faithful, this is to be preferred to an individual and quasi-private celebration of the rite. [28] It follows logically from this that singing is of great importance since it more clearly demonstrates the ‘ecclesial’ aspect of the celebration.
43. Certain celebrations of the Sacraments and Sacramentals, which have a special importance in the life of the whole parish community, such as confirmation, sacred ordinations, matrimony, the consecration of a church or altar funerals, etc., should be performed in sung form as far as possible, so that even the solemnity of the rite will contribute to its greater pastoral effectiveness. Nevertheless, the introduction into the celebration of anything which is merely secular, or which is hardly compatible with divine worship, under the guise of solemnity should be carefully avoided: this applies particularly to the celebration of marriages.
44. Similarly, celebrations which are singled out by the liturgy in the course of the liturgical year as being of special importance, may be solemnized by singing. In a very special way, the sacred rites of Holy Week should be given due solemnity, since these lead the faithful to the center of the liturgical year and of the liturgy itself through the celebration of the Paschal Mystery.
45. For the liturgy of the Sacraments and Sacramentals, and for other special celebrations of the liturgical year, suitable melodies should be provided, which can encourage a celebration in a more solemn form, even in the vernacular, depending on the capabilities of individual congregations and in accordance with the norms of the competent authority.
46. Sacred music is also very effective in fostering the devotion of the faithful in celebrations of the Word of God, and in popular devotions.
In the celebrations of the Word of God, [27] let the Liturgy of the Word in the Mass [28] be taken as a model. In all popular devotions the psalms will be especially useful, and also works of sacred music drawn from both the old and the more recent heritage of sacred music, popular religious songs, and the playing of the organ, or of other instruments characteristic of a particular people.
Moreover, in these same popular devotions, and especially in celebrations of the Word of God, it is excellent to include as well some of those musical works which, although they no longer have a place in the liturgy, can nevertheless foster a religious spirit and encourage meditation on the sacred mystery. [29]

IV. The Language To Be Used in Sung Liturgical Celebrations, and on Preserving the Heritage of Sacred Music
47. According to the Constitution on the Liturgy, “the use of the Latin language, with due respect to particular law, is to be preserved in the Latin rites.” [30]
However, since “the use of the vernacular may frequently be of great advantage to the people” [31] “it is for the competent territorial ecclesiastical authority to decide whether, and to what extent, the vernacular language is to be used. Its decrees have to be approved, that is, confirmed by the Apostolic See.” [32]
In observing these norms exactly, one will therefore employ that form of participation which best matches the capabilities of each congregation.
Pastors of souls should take care that besides the vernacular “the faithful may also be able to say or sing together in Latin those parts of the Ordinary of the Mass which pertain to them.” [33]
48. Where the vernacular has been introduced into the celebration of Mass, the local Ordinaries will judge whether it may be opportune to preserve one or more Masses celebrated in Latin — especially sung Masses (Missae in cantu) — in certain churches, above all in large cities, where many come together with faithful of different languages.
49. As regards the use of Latin or the mother tongue in the sacred celebrations carried out in seminaries, the norms of the Sacred Congregation of Seminaries and Universities concerning the liturgical formation of the students should be observed.
The members of Institutes professing the evangelical virtues should observe, in this matter, the norms contained in the Apostolic Letter Sacrificium Laudis of 15th August 1966 besides the Instruction on the language to be used by religious in celebrating the Divine Office and conventual or community Mass, given by this Sacred Congregation of Rites on 23rd November 1965.
50. In sung liturgical services celebrated in Latin:
(a) Gregorian chant, as proper to the Roman liturgy, should be given pride of place, other things being equal. [34] Its melodies, contained in the “typical” editions, should be used, to the extent that this is possible.
(b) “It is also desirable that an edition be prepared containing simpler melodies, for use in smaller churches.” [36]
(c) Other musical settings, written for one or more voices, be they taken from the traditional heritage or from new works, should be held in honour, encouraged and used as the occasion demands. [36]
51. Pastors of souls, having taken into consideration pastoral usefulness and the character of their own language, should see whether parts of the heritage of sacred music, written in previous centuries for Latin texts, could also be conveniently used, not only in liturgical celebrations in Latin but also in those performed in the vernacular.

There is nothing to prevent different parts in one and the same celebration being sung in different languages.
52. In order to preserve the heritage of sacred music and genuinely promote the new forms of sacred singing, “great importance is to be attached to the teaching and practice of music in seminaries, in the novitiates and houses of study of religious of both sexes, and also in other Catholic institutes and schools,” especially in those higher institutes intended specially for this. [37] Above all, the study and practice of Gregorian chant is to be promoted, because, with its special characteristics, it is a basis of great importance for the development of sacred music.
53. New works of sacred music should conform faithfully to the principles and norms set out above. In this way they will have “the qualities proper to genuine sacred music, being within the capacities not merely of large choirs but of smaller choirs, facilitating the participation of all the faithful.” [38]
As regards the heritage that has been handed down, those parts which correspond to the needs of the renewed liturgy should first be brought to light. Competent experts in this field must then carefully consider whether other parts can be adapted to the same needs. As for those pieces which do not correspond to the nature of the liturgy or cannot be harmonized with the pastoral celebration of the liturgy — they may be profitably transferred to popular devotions, especially to celebrations of the Word of God. [39]

V. Preparing Melodies For Vernacular Texts

54. In preparing popular versions of those parts which will be set to melodies, and especially of the Psalter, experts should take care that fidelity to the Latin text is suitably harmonized with applicability of the vernacular text to musical settings. The nature and laws of each language must be respected, and the features and special characteristics of each people must be taken into consideration: all this, together with the laws of sacred music, should be carefully considered by musicians in the preparation of the new melodies.
The competent territorial authority will therefore ensure that in the commission entrusted with the composition of versions for the people, there are experts in the subjects already mentioned as well as in Latin and the vernacular; from the outset of the work, they must combine their efforts.
55. It will be for the competent territorial authority to decide whether certain vernacular texts set to music which have been handed down from former times, can in fact be used, even though they may not conform in all details with the legitimately approved versions of the liturgical texts.
56. Among the melodies to be composed for the people’s texts, those which belong to the priest and ministers are particularly important, whether they sing them alone, or whether they sing them together with the people, or whether they sing them in “dialogue” with the people. In composing these, musicians will consider whether the traditional melodies of the Latin liturgy, which are used for this purpose, can inspire the melody to be used for the same texts in the vernacular.
57. New melodies to be used by the priests and ministers must be approved by the competent territorial authority. [40]
58. Those Episcopal Conferences whom it may concern will ensure that for one and the same language, used in different regions, there will be a single translation. It is also desirable that as far as possible, there should be one or more common melodies for the parts which concern the priest and ministers, and for the responses and acclamations of the people, so that the common participation of those who use the same language may be encouraged.
59. Musicians will enter on this new work with the desire to continue that tradition which has furnished the Church, in her divine worship, with a truly abundant heritage. Let them examine the works of the past, their types and characteristics, but let them also pay careful attention to the new laws and requirements of the liturgy, so that “new forms may in some way grow organically from forms that already exist,” [41] and the new work will form a new part in the musical heritage of the Church, not unworthy of its past.
60. The new melodies for the vernacular texts certainly need to undergo a period of experimentation in order that they may attain a sufficient maturity and perfection. However, anything done in churches, even if only for experimental purposes, which is unbecoming to the holiness of the place, the dignity of the liturgy and the devotion of the faithful, must be avoided.
61. Adapting sacred music for those regions which possess a musical tradition of their own, especially mission areas, [42] will require a very specialized preparation by the experts. It will be a question in fact of how to harmonize the sense of the sacred with the spirit, traditions and characteristic expressions proper to each of these peoples. Those who work in this field should have a sufficient knowledge both of the liturgy and musical tradition of the Church, and of the language, popular songs and other characteristic expressions of the people for whose benefit they are working.


VI. Sacred Instrumental Music

62. Musical instruments can be very useful in sacred celebrations, whether they accompany the singing or whether they are played as solo instruments.
“The pipe organ is to be held in high esteem in the Latin Church, since it is its traditional instrument, the sound of which can add a wonderful splendor to the Church’s ceremonies and powerfully lift up men’s minds to God and higher things.
“The use of other instruments may also be admitted in divine worship, given the decision and consent of the competent territorial authority, provided that the instruments are suitable for sacred use, or can be adapted to it, that they are in keeping with the dignity of the temple, and truly contribute to the edification of the faithful.” [43]
63. In permitting and using musical instruments, the culture and traditions of individual peoples must be taken into account. However, those instruments which are, by common opinion and use, suitable for secular music only, are to be altogether prohibited from every liturgical celebration and from popular devotions. [44]
Any musical instrument permitted in divine worship should be used in such a way that it meets the needs of the liturgical celebration, and is in the interests both of the beauty of worship and the edification of the faithful.
64. The use of musical instruments to accompany the singing can act as a support to the voices, render participation easier, and achieve a deeper union in the assembly. However, their sound should not so overwhelm the voices that it is difficult to make out the text; and when some part is proclaimed aloud by the priest or a minister by virtue of his role, they should be silent.
65. In sung or said Masses, the organ, or other instrument legitimately admitted, can be used to accompany the singing of the choir and the people; it can also be played solo at the beginning before the priest reaches the altar, at the Offertory, at the Communion, and at the end of Mass.
The same rule, with the necessary adaptations, can be applied to other sacred celebrations.
66. The playing of these same instruments as solos is not permitted in Advent, Lent, during the Sacred Triduum and in the Offices and Masses of the Dead.
67. It is highly desirable that organists and other musicians should not only possess the skill to play properly the instrument entrusted to them: they should also enter into and be thoroughly aware of the spirit of the liturgy, so that even when playing ex tempore, they will enrich the sacred celebration according to the true nature of each of its parts, and encourage the participation of the faithful. [46]

VII. The Commissions Set Up for the Promotion of Sacred Music
68. The diocesan Commissions for sacred music are of most valuable assistance in promoting sacred music together with pastoral liturgical action in the diocese.
Therefore they should exist as far as possible in each diocese, and should unite their efforts with those of the liturgical Commission.
It will often be commendable for the two Commissions to be combined into one, and consist of persons who are expert in both subjects. In this way progress will be easier.
It is highly recommended that, where it appears to be more effective, several dioceses of the same region should set up a single Commission, which will establish a common plan of action and gather together their forces more fruitfully.
69. The Liturgical Commission, to be set up by the Episcopal Conference as judged opportune, [46] should also be responsible for sacred music; it should therefore also consist of experts in this field. It is useful, however, for such a Commission to confer not only with the diocesan Commissions, but also with other societies which may be involved in musical matters in the same region. This also applies to the pastoral liturgical Institute mentioned in art. 44 of the Constitution.
In the audience granted on 9th February, 1967 to His Eminence Arcadio M. Cardinal Larraona, Prefect of the Sacred Congregation of Rites, His Holiness Pope Paul VI approved and confirmed the present Instruction by his authority, ordered it to be published and at the same time established that it should come into force on Pentecost Sunday, 14th May 1967.



1. Constitution on the Liturgy, Art. 112.
2. Cf. St. Pius X, Motu Proprio ‘Tra le sollecitudini,’ n. 2.
3. Cf. Instruction of the S.C.R., 3 September 1958, n. 4.

4. Cf. Constitution on the Liturgy, Art. 113.
5. Constitution on the Liturgy, Art. 28.
6. Instruction of the S.C.R., 3 September 1958, n. 95.
7. Cf. Constitution on the Liturgy, Art. 116.
8. Cf. Constitution on the Liturgy, Art. 28.
9. Cf. Constitution on the Liturgy, Art. 22.
10. Cf. Constitution on the Liturgy, Art. 26 and 41-32; Constitution on the Church, Art. 28.
11. Cf. Constitution on the Liturgy, Art. 29.
12. Cf. Constitution on the Liturgy, Art. 33.
13. Cf. Constitution on the Liturgy, Art. 14.
14. Cf. Constitution on the Liturgy, Art. 11.
15. Cf. Constitution on the Liturgy, Art. 30.
16. Cf. Constitution on the Liturgy, Art. 30.

17. Cf. Constitution on the Liturgy, Art. 30.
18. Cf. Instruction of the S.C.R., 26 September 1964, (D.3), nn. 19 and 59.
19. Cf. Constitution on the Liturgy, Art. 19; Instruction of the S.C.R., 3 September 1958, nn. 106-8.
20. Cf. Inter Oecumenici, (D.3).
21. Cf. Inter Oecumenici.
22. Cf. Inter Oecumenici, n. 48.

23. Cf. Constitution on the Liturgy, Art. 99.
24. Cf. Constitution on the Liturgy, Art. 101:1.
25. Cf. Constitution on the Liturgy, Art. 101:2, 3.
26. Constitution on the Liturgy, Art. 27
27. Cf. Inter Oecumenici, nn. 37-9.
28. Cf. Inter Oecumenici, n. 37.
29. Cf. below, n. 53.

30. Constitution on the Liturgy, Art. 36-1.
31. Constitution on the Liturgy, Art. 36:2.
32. Constitution on the Liturgy, Art. 36:3.
33. Constitution on the Liturgy, Art, 54; Inter Oecumenici, 59.
34. Cf. Constitution on the Liturgy, Art. 116.
35. Constitution on the Liturgy, Art 117.
36. Cf. Constitution on the Liturgy, Art. 116.
37. Constitution on the Liturgy Art. 115
38. Constitution on the Liturgy Art. 121
39. Cf. above, n. 46.
40. Cf. Inter Oecumenici, n. 42.
41. Constitution on the Liturgy, Art 23
42. Cf. Constitution on the Liturgy, Art 119.

43. Constitution on the Liturgy, Art. 120.
44. a. Instruction of the S.C.R., 3 September 1958, n. 70.
45. Cf. above, n. 24.
46. Cf. Constitution on the Liturgy, Art. 44.



by Arlene Oost-Zinner and Jeffrey Tucker August 18, 2009 EXTRACT

It’s hard to imagine this today, but Christian liturgy thrived for 1,950 years without microphones, electronic keyboards, amplifiers, mixers, sound technicians, and surround-sound speakers. These days, conventional guidebooks on liturgy emphasize “proclaiming” and broadcasting one’s voice. Cantors use microphones as if they’re music-video performers.
Beyond just being heard, the goal of all these contraptions and behaviors is to make the liturgy ever louder. The results are more often than not earsplitting, creating a sort of stupor. People feel that they’re being imposed upon. Most of this, of course, comes about in reaction against the traditional use of the sotto voce — the under voice — which has been derided by modern liturgists as silence or whispering so that the people couldn’t hear what was going on. Ironically, experts in the advertising world have found that the low voice actually draws out the attention of the listener.
The virtue of silence has been rediscovered in recent years, with numerous statements by the late Pope John Paul II and Vatican officials praising its ability to convey meaning in a noisy world. The musical counterpart to silence is not in-your-face pop but distant sounds of contemplation. Turn down the mikes and sing as if the human voice alone is responsible for filling the space. This will diminish the electronic presence in the liturgy and increase the God-given one as a means through which we are worshiping Him.

If you’ve ever been to an evangelical service, you know that the ten minutes prior to the service are social time. For Catholics, on the other hand, it’s a time for prayer and preparation. Keyboard music is common during this time, but imagine something different: simple Latin chant, sung calmly, without affectation, with silence between verses. The simple sounds inspire prayer. A common objection is that people can’t understand the words. Yet this isn’t the time for pedagogy. It is a time for reflection, to begin to hear the voice of angels who speak in an unfamiliar tongue. The meaning is conveyed in the line of notes. The holy sounds remind people entering the church that they’re in a holy place.

The first Christian hymns were Psalms, the text of which was already 500 years old when first used, and the melodies handed down from Jewish and Greek traditions. The principle then is the same today: Hymns should bespeak the long tradition of the faith, whether in Latin or in English, in form or in style. Liturgical music that mimics the sound of secular music should be left outside the church.
Singable hymns with familiar meters and cadences will tie members of the congregation together in adoration and prayer and to the experience of the whole body of Christ, in all times and all places. Liturgical music exclusively tied to current times and styles cannot accomplish this. More importantly, the sights and sounds of the Mass, although communal in one sense, must ultimately point the individual conscience to the mystery unfolding on the altar.
Processional music can also employ the choir alone, a stately piece of polyphony that lets people put down their hymnbooks and watch as the celebrant and altar servers walk forward carrying the crucifix. People should not be so busy with their hands and eyes that they don’t notice this beautiful sight. In any case, liturgists make a great mistake in believing that people come to Mass only because they want to sing or that active participation can only take one form.

One of the earliest and most recognizable parts of the Mass is not in Latin but Greek: the Kyrie. It has long been a living symbol of the unity of Eastern and Western Christendom. And yet for all the bits of music in the Roman Rite, the “Lord, Have Mercy” is most often said, not sung, by the priest and answered by the people. This beautiful passage of the penitential rite begins and is over in less than a few seconds.
The Kyrie seems to have taken on a diminished role in the liturgy, but is it too much to ask that a bit more time be taken in this beautiful expression of penance? If active participation in singing is what we desire, the Kyrie can be easily sung by even the least-musical priest or cantor and answered by the faithful. It can be sung in the original Greek. Everyone knows the words. By introducing new music settings according to the liturgical season, variation can be brought to the Mass. It serves at the outset as a reminder of why we have gathered at Mass as a community.

So many thousands of settings of the Gloria are available today that it’s a wonder that most parishes use pop versions filled with frippery and faux exuberance. An about-face is in order toward the simpler settings that can be easily learned and sung by all. A simple, English version can tap into traditional, chant-like sensibilities and do much to restore dignity and beauty to this song of praise.
A timeless Latin Gloria remains unmatched for the purpose of praising God in the liturgy. If your parish is one where a Latin ordinary is feared, as is the case in many parishes across the country, there’s still something that can be done. Attempting the Gloria in Latin can be part of your reformist plan, but it’s best to start on a small scale. Congregations can be easily overwhelmed when faced with something the length of the Gloria. The Latin will come in time, should you choose to keep working toward it.
An English Gloria may well fit the needs of the congregation on most occasions. Not to be forgotten, however, is that the General Instruction does permit a Gloria sung by the choir alone. You might want to exercise this option and do a plain Latin Gloria on certain feast days only, or perhaps even pull out all of the stops and do a polyphonic version, if rehearsal time and resources permit.

St. John Chrysostom reports that the Christians sang the Psalms unceasingly, and it was the earliest part of Scripture translated into Latin. Their centrality in Christian worship cannot be overestimated. The development of the sung Psalter is central to the development of all Christian music and music itself. What has happened to the Psalms today? Many settings published today sound like miniature versions of jazz ballads, and they’re preprinted in the missalettes, giving the impression that these are an ecclesiastical requirement (they’re not).
The goal might be the restoration of the Latin Psalter (via the Graduale or the Simplex), but that simply isn’t viable at most parishes today, nor is any English rendering of the elaborate Gregorian chant readily available. What is possible is that they be done in radically reduced melodic form, without strange intervals or leaps. A simple line consisting of just a few notes is a fitting transition to using psalm tones or something more elaborate. At first, it might seem intimidating, even downright frightening, to abandon the printed line of music. The method is to sense the need for solemnity, and let the ear guide you.
The Psalm should begin not with an instrument but a confident single voice. His or her line of notes should be simple enough to be repeated by the people.

The verses themselves should not be sung by the entire choir (which makes them sound muddy) but, again, by a single voice, who should think of it as a sung text. That means the singer must enunciate clearly and modulate the voice in a way that uses the space well.

During the offertory, the bread and wine are brought forward to prepare us for the Eucharistic Prayer and the Consecration. The music therefore should not overshadow what follows but rather point to the coming sacrifice and prepare us mentally and spiritually.
Something quiet and beautiful (again, employing the human voice) is the way. Have the congregation sing a simple hymn, beginning with accompaniment if necessary, allowing the final verse or two to be sung a capella. The keyboard might be of assistance in getting people to sing, but in the long run, the congregation will become more confident if allowed to experience the beauty and mystery of their own voices joining together in preparation for the feast.
The offertory is also a good time to familiarize people with the great Latin hymns of the faith. Over the course of a year, the goal can be to cover only a modest number: Ave Maria, Jesu Dulcis, Ave Maris Stella, Ubi Caritas, Attende Domine, Ave Verum, and seasonal chants like Veni Creator and Regina Caeli. With enough repetition, these can be learned by anyone. They really should become part of the life of faith again.

The settings of these used in parishes are most commonly those put out by the big publishing houses. They tend to have Broadway-type orchestration, to be overdrawn, and to appear suddenly and without warning. Jarring at best, their drama, distilled into five seconds, can compete with the mystery of the Consecration itself. Simple chants sung by the people in a manner that extends from silent prayer are more appropriate.
The “Mystery of Faith” was never separate from the Consecration in the “old” Mass, so there is no authentic precedent to light our way. What can be done, however, is to reduce the “Mystery of Faith” to a single, un-repeated line without accompaniment. For that matter, the Amen need not be “great” but rather just two notes.


What to do while waiting for Communion? In parishes, there is no choice: watch in silence as the celebrant gives Communion to the elite laypeople who have been selected as official “eucharistic ministers.” That is just not a pleasant sight, so it’s best to introduce some music as a way of diverting attention and turning toward inward prayer. The General Instruction recommends that the communion song begin when the priest receives. So it should. And by the choir alone.

Various attempts have been made over the years to get people to sing while they’re standing in line or receiving. But these have been a failure. It is a simple fact that people don’t want to sing during communion. Here’s the archetype when active participation means something other than singing a song. It means receiving the Body of Christ. This is the perfect time for the choir to develop a sense of singing in a sacred manner, quietly and beautifully. Again, chant and polyphony are best, but don’t overlook the possibility of a quiet organ piece as well. It should be prayerful, not boisterous. Mostly, people will be glad just to be left alone.

One of the remarkable aesthetic aspects of the Roman rite is how quickly and suddenly it ends. Only a few minutes pass between the reception of Communion and the time of departure. This is a wonderful time for silence: no music, announcements, children’s blessings, or anything. Just prayer.

Mass ends with the words “The Mass is ended,” so nothing that happens after that should upstage what came before. The recessional, which is not mandatory, can be exuberant, of course. But many parishes have the problem of a great deal of talking and saying hello taking place after Mass, and upbeat recessionals can only make the problem worse. If the goal is to send people out into the world with a sense of what just took place, a recessional that recalls the quiet power of the whole liturgy is best.

Arlene Oost-Zinner is president of the St. Cecilia Schola in Auburn, Alabama. Jeffrey Tucker is managing editor of Sacred Music magazine. This article originally appeared in the May 2004 issue of Crisis Magazine.



The Christian faithful who gather together as one to await the Lord’s coming are instructed by the Apostle Paul to sing together Psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs (cf. Col 3:16). Singing is the sign of the heart’s joy (cf. Acts 2:46). Thus Saint Augustine says rightly, “Singing is for one who loves.” There is also the ancient proverb: “One who sings well prays twice.”
[All elements of the Mass] should form a complete and organic unity, clearly expressive of the unity of the entire holy people. The character and beauty of the place and all its appointments should foster devotion and show the holiness of the mysteries celebrated there.
All other things being equal, Gregorian chant holds pride of place because it is proper to the Roman liturgy. Other types of sacred music, in particular polyphony, are in no way excluded, provided that they correspond to the spirit of the liturgical action and that they foster the participation of all the faithful.
Since the faithful from different countries come together ever more frequently, it is fitting that they know how to sing together at least some parts of the Ordinary of the Mass in Latin…
Among the faithful, the schola cantorum or choir exercises its own liturgical function, ensuring that the parts proper to it, in keeping with the different types of chants, are properly carried out and fostering the active participation of the faithful through the singing. It is fitting that there be a cantor or a choir director to lead and sustain the people’s singing. When in fact there is no choir, it is up to the cantor to lead the different chants, with the people taking part.
Mass Parts
The singing at the entrance is done either alternately by the choir and the people or in a similar way by the cantor and the people, or entirely by the people, or by the choir alone. Since the Kyrie is a chant by which the faithful acclaim the Lord and implore his mercy, it is ordinarily done by all, that is, by the people and with the choir or cantor having a part in it.

The Gloria is intoned by the priest or, if appropriate, by a cantor or by the choir; but it is sung either by everyone together, or by the people alternately with the choir, or by the choir alone. It is preferable that the responsorial Psalm be sung, at least as far as the people’s response is concerned. The Alleluia constitutes a rite or act in itself. It is sung by all while standing, and led by the choir or cantor. The supplication Agnus Dei is, as a rule, sung by the choir or cantor with the congregation responding. While the priest is receiving the Sacrament, the Communion chant is begun. The singing is continued for as long as the Sacrament is being administered to the faithful. This is sung either by the choir alone or by the choir or cantor with the people.


By Fatima M Noronha December 12, 2010, The Times of India
“Why can’t Catholics sing any more?” musicologists ask, recalling the Gregorian chant and grand polyphony they used to hear at Mass, when the people in the pews could handle world-class music. Fine liturgical music is an heirloom for all humanity, and everyone has a stake in encouraging church musicians to keep it alive.
In the language of the Second Vatican Council: “The musical tradition of the universal Church is a treasure of inestimable value.” Funnily enough, many blame that very Council (1962-1965) for the low-grade music currently sung at Mass in a majority of churches.
This is unfair. Although the Council opened the doors to the world’s cultural variety, the relevant document-the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy-clearly affirmed the primacy of the Gregorian chant and the necessity of high artistic standards in new compositions.
Catholic liturgists ask a different question: “Why have we all but stopped singing the Mass?” The singing we usually hear in church can at best be described as hymns, not the words of the Mass itself. The biblical readings and prayers are carefully selected for each action of the Mass.
The purpose of the singing is to extend the dimensions of solemnity, beauty and fervour of those same actions, not some other. This is what liturgical music means. It is different from devotional music-hymns sung in other contexts. And it is very different from profane music-all the stuff from ‘Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star’ to ‘From this Moment’.
While parishes around the globe face these challenges, my comments are chiefly about what we suffer at Mass in English in Goa. As one involved in church choirs here and elsewhere for the last forty years, I must say I too believed we were spreading “the spirit of Vatican II” when we introduced catchy innovations during Mass.
I was told “the people’s participation” was all-important.

We choir types were pleased when members of the congregation came up after Mass and said, “Oh, we really enjoyed it!” as though it were a show. We concentrated on four hymns, thinking that was our bit. No one ever told us in 1970 to sing the Mass, to aim at inner participation, helping people enter more fully into the meaning of each liturgical action.
In the last few years, especially at weddings and funerals, I have often heard choirs do devotional and profane music at various parts of the ceremony, even interrupting the liturgy with so-and-so’s favourite song.
Almost invariably, some schmaltzy number replaces the precious Psalm chosen from the hymnal Jesus himself used. Then again, there is a habit of singing prayerful words to plagiarised pop tunes. When a choir of seminarians erupted into an Alleluia to the tune of ‘Oo Oo Ah Ah Sexy Eyes’, I was surprised the congregation remained solemn. Alas, we have stuffed our ears with cotton wool. Now is the favourable time to change all that.
Starting this Advent season, we have a year to settle choral scores. On November 27, 2011, Catholics in India, together with those in most parts of the English-speaking world, are scheduled to begin using the scholarly translation of the third edition of the Roman Missal.
There are a few changes in some of the Mass prayers and responses. The choir needs to learn its part much before the congregation. Besides, the New Mass implies new musical settings. Composers and publishers got busy years ago, using the so-called grey book of semi-final texts, and the final arrangements will be out very soon.
While learning the new music, why not learn the rules? Every time I mention the GIRM, my folks grin. But, how about it, the 2002 General Instruction of the Roman Missal?
Additionally, our archdiocese has its own 1995 booklet, also up on the website of the Diocesan Centre for Liturgy. There are finer points as well, such as the 2008 instruction not to pronounce the holy name YHWH, out of interfaith sensitivity; new editions of hymns say “the Lord” instead.
As to what must be sung at Mass, there is this classic 1969 answer from the group of bishops and experts set up by Pope Paul VI to implement the Constitution on the Liturgy: Texts must be those of the Mass, not others, and singing means singing the Mass not just singing during Mass.
Fatima M Noronha is a writer and editor by profession and takes a keen interest in church music.


By Bishop Bosco Penha, President, Commission for Word & Worship. Archdiocese of Bombay

The Examiner weeklies of December 5, 2009, December 12, 2009 and January 2nd, 2010

7. The role of the choir is to facilitate the congregation’s participation. Please avoid commercial or professional choirs that tend to “perform” on these occasions. A song leader is often much more effective in leading the congregation’s singing. The musicians and choristers should have .received some Liturgical training. The hymns should be chosen from a good liturgical hymnal (such as With Joyful Lips, Celebration or the SNS music sheets). They should reflect the Church’s understanding of the sacrament, and not be merely sentimental, or resemble pop songs. The hymns must be approved before hand by the Parish Priest /Parish Liturgy Team. The text of the parts of the Mass (Gloria, Holy, holy, Memorial acclamation, Lamb of God etc.) should correspond with what is found in the Missal (no interpolations are to be made). If the nuptials take place during a scheduled Mass or during the Great Seasons (Advent, Lent, Christmastide, Eastertide), the hymns should be in keeping with the liturgy of the day, and not merely reflect the marriage theme. The use of secular songs is totally prohibited at the Nuptial Mass. The musical instruments used are to accompany the singing, and should therefore not be loud, rhythmic or overpowering. They should be played in a style that is in keeping with the nature of the liturgy.


Postures at Adoration and After Communion

ROME, November 4, 2008 ( Answered by Legionary of Christ Father Edward McNamara, professor of liturgy at the Regina Apostolorum university. EXTRACT

Q: At the end of Mass, when all are kneeling while the sacred vessels are purified, etc., when is it appropriate to sit down? I thought it was when the principal celebrant sits, but I find myself sitting down alone, when all others are waiting for a deacon or someone to finish at the altar. P.G., Baltimore, Maryland

A: No. 43 of the General Instruction of the Roman Missal (GIRM) says: “The faithful should stand from the invitation, Orate, fraters (Pray, brethren), before the prayer over the offerings until the end of Mass, except at the places indicated below. [A]s circumstances allow, they may sit or kneel while the period of sacred silence after Communion is observed. With a view to a uniformity in gestures and postures during one and the same celebration, the faithful should follow the directions which the deacon, lay minister, or priest gives according to whatever is indicated in the Missal.”

These indications would appear to allow some degree of flexibility in the posture during the sacred silence
after Communion, and the choice as to kneel or sit at this moment seems to fall upon the individual.
The norms do indicate that singing of the Communion chant should continue while the sacrament is distributed (GIRM, No. 86). This would suggest that those who have already received would do better to remain either standing or sitting so as to accompany the assembly in song. If, however, there is no song or the song is executed by the choir alone (GIRM, No. 87), then the faithful could also sit or kneel on returning to their pew.
The period of sacred silence (or a song after Communion) begins after Communion has been distributed to all. There is no need to wait until the purification of the vessels is completed. If, however, the ablutions by the priest take very little time, then it is customary in many places for the Communion chant to continue until the priest returns to the chair. Initiating the silence on the priest’s returning to the chair would be the common practice when a deacon or instituted acolyte purifies the vessels…


The Role of the Church Choir


“Not to oppose error is to approve it, and not to defend the truth is to suppress it” – Pope St. Felix III


Note: In this report I may occasionally use bold print, Italics, or word underlining for emphasis. This will be my personal emphasis and not that of the source that I am quoting.



Dear Ron, Most English choirs do the singing while the congregation remains passive. It is not that way in the vernacular language Masses. The congregations are given hymn sheets or hymnals but respond feebly or not at all. The choir does most of the singing, meaning that it’s only their voices that one can hear. One choir sings so well, that people flock to their Mass just to hear the choir sing; at least that’s what they tell others.

At the parish I attend, some of the choirs (across both languages) have ‘conductors’ who make a big show of ‘conducting’ the choir. They do this with their backs to the altar at all times. The excellent choir that I referred to earlier makes the Mass into an entertainment. Many members preen and chat between hymns almost all through Mass, even during the readings, but excepting the homily when they take their places in the pews. To even the casual observer, the choir is not participating sacramentally in the Sunday Mass.

The ‘Lord, Have Mercy…’ English versions are so jolly that there is simply no element of repentance present in them, and one may even note people in the congregation tapping their feet or drumming on the pew tops to the lively beat.

I have yet to attend a Mass where, at Communion, the choir has allowed silent time with the Lord while or after the faithful receive Holy Communion. It is almost as if they feel compelled to sing — one song after the other — till the last communicant returns, immediately, after which the priest announces the weekly notices.

I would also like to know if there is anything in the rubrics about the singing of solos at Mass. My wife and I were in the choir in New Delhi till about 20 years ago, but we have not joined the choir in the city where we now live.

In your response of January 12, 2011, to my earlier question, you had written “If the psalm after the reading is not sung, it is recited”. I presume that you are talking about the Responsorial Psalm. Ron, I am quite certain that I have read somewhere (in the Western media of course) that the Psalm after the First Reading is strictly NOT to be sung but is to be recited with the congregation responding, for the simple reason — they said — that Catholics get to read so little of the Bible in their daily lives.

I sincerely trust that you will be able to give me guidance so that I can talk with the priests here.

Michael Prabhu, Chennai, India. [See the earlier question from me on page 1. This question is an elaboration on that.]



“Choir: A body of singers entrusted with the musical parts of the Church service, and organized and instructed for that purpose. The Talmud witnesses to the careful organization of the Temple Choir, and as the first Christians worshipped with the Jews, we find them from the first using the psalmodic solo with congregational refrain, and from the fourth century, psalmody in alternating chorus, both possibly based on Jewish practice. Thus early, and all through the plain-chant period, the choir seems to have been influenced by the liturgical division of the music into solo and chorus chants.”


Choir: A group of singers at liturgical services that either leads the congregation in singing or sings music to which the congregation listens.”

“Choir: A group of singers which assists with the singing during liturgical services. The choir, at times, leads the congregation in singing, or it may sing alone.
With the liturgical renewal taking place during this century, a greater emphasis has been placed upon the task of the choir in assisting the congregation to have a fuller participation in singing during the liturgy.”

“Congregational Singing: Participating at a sacred function by virtue of the singing of the congregation. Each musical work must be a combination of the ‘artistic’ and the ‘sacred’. The Second Vatican Council encouraged the use of sacred music that is simple enough for the congregation to sing, yet dignified and appropriate for use in the sacred setting.”


“1156 ‘The musical tradition of the universal Church is a treasure of inestimable value, greater even than that of any other art. The main reason for this pre-eminence is that, as a combination of sacred music and words, it forms a necessary or integral part of solemn liturgy.’ The composition and singing of inspired psalms, often accompanied by musical instruments, were already closely linked to the liturgical celebrations of the Old Covenant. The Church continues and develops this tradition: ‘Address . . . one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with all your heart.’ ‘He who sings prays twice.’
1157 Song and music fulfill their function as signs in a manner all the more significant when they are ‘more closely connected . . . with the liturgical action,’ according to three principal criteria: beauty expressive of prayer, the UNANIMOUS
MOMENTS, and the solemn character of the celebration
. In this way they participate in the purpose of the liturgical words and actions: the glory of God and the sanctification of the faithful. 1158 The harmony of signs (song, music, words, and actions) is all the more expressive and fruitful when expressed in the cultural richness of the People of God who celebrate. Hence ‘religious singing by the faithful is to be intelligently fostered so that in devotions and sacred exercises as well as in liturgical services,’ in conformity with the Church’s norms, ‘the voices of the faithful may be heard.’ But ‘the texts intended to be sung must always be in conformity with Catholic doctrine. Indeed they should be drawn chiefly from the Sacred Scripture and from liturgical sources’.”


“The singing at this time (entrance to Mass) is done either alternately by the choir and the people or in a similar way by the cantor and the people, or entirely by the people, or by the choir alone.”

“After the Act of Penitence, the Kyrie is always begun, unless it has already been included as part of the Act of Penitence. Since it is a chant by which the faithful acclaim the Lord and implore His mercy, it is ordinarily done by all the people and the choir or cantor having a part in it.”

“The Gloria is intoned by the priest or, if appropriate, by a cantor or by the choir; but it is sung either by everyone together or by the people alternately with the choir or by the choir alone. If not sung it is to be recited either by all together or by two parts of the congregation responding to one another.”

“After the reading that immediately precedes the Gospel, the Alleluia or another chant indicated by the rubrics is sung, as required by the liturgical season. An acclamation of this kind constitutes a rite or act in itself, by which the assembly of the faithful welcomes and greets the Lord who is about to speak to it in the Gospel and profess its faith by means of the chant. It is sung by all while standing and is led by the choir or a cantor, being repeated if this is appropriate. The verse, however, is sung either by the choir or by the cantor.”

“The Creed is to be sung or said by the priest together with the people on Sundays and solemnities. If it is sung, it is begun by the priest or, if this is appropriate, by a cantor or by the choir. It is sung, however, either by all together or by the people alternating with the choir.”

“The supplication Agnus Dei is, as a rule, sung by the choir or cantor with the congregation responding; or it is, at least, recited aloud. This invocation accompanies the fraction, and for this reason, may be repeated as many times as necessary until the rite has reached its conclusion, the last time ending with the words dona nobis pacem (grant us peace).”

“At communion a suitable liturgical song is chosen in accordance with no. 86. This is sung either by the choir alone or by the choir or cantor with the people.”

“Among the faithful, the schola cantorum or choir exercises its own liturgical function, ensuring that the parts proper to it, in keeping with the different types of chants, are properly carried out and fostering the active participation of the faithful through the singing.”

“It is fitting that there be a cantor or choir director to lead and sustain the people’s singing. When in fact there is no choir, it is up to the cantor to lead the different chants, with the people taking part.”

“As the priest does the fractioning rite over the paten, the Agnus Dei is sung or said by the choir and congregation.”


When you read all of the rubrics quoted above, it is quite obvious that they call for the active participation of either, or, or both the choir and the congregation. I often see various Catholic writers referring to people attending Holy Mass as ‘assisting at Holy Mass‘. What they mean here is not people just sitting in the pews ‘observing’ the Mass’ but ‘actively participating wherever the rubrics call for their participation. I have been in many churches in the USA where the congregation participates in singing weakly at best. When the congregation does not ‘pull their own weight’ the choir tends to sing ‘more strongly’ to fill that ‘vocal void’. If this is what you are referring to, it would be my recommendation that some catechesis be employed to teach the congregation the importance and even requirement of their singing participation.

Lastly, no one, including the choir, should ever be in the ‘entertainment mode’ during Holy Mass or when celebrating any sacrament. We are all there with ONE SINGLE PURPOSE which is to WORSHIP GOD!

If I can assist you further, please ask.


This report prepared on May 5, 2011 by Ronald Smith, 11701 Maplewood Road, Chardon, Ohio 44024-8482, E-mail: <>. Readers may copy and distribute this report as desired to anyone as long as the content is not altered and it is copied in its entirety. In this little ministry I do free Catholic and occult related research and answer your questions. Questions are answered in this format with detailed footnotes on all quotes. If you have a question(s), please submit it to this landmail or e-mail address. Answers are usually forthcoming within one week. PLEASE NOTIFY ME OF ANY DOCTRINAL ERRORS THAT YOU MAY OBSERVE!


Let us recover by penance what we have lost by sin


The Sixteen Documents of Vatican II, (1967), Daughters of St. Paul, Boston, MA, Section 29, page 25:

“Servers, lectors, commentators, and members of the choir also exercise a genuine liturgical function. They ought, therefore, to discharge their office with the sincere piety
and decorum demanded by so exalted a ministry and rightly expected of them by God’s people




When the Mass Officially Begins
ROME, September 1, 2009 ( Answered by Legionary of Christ Father Edward McNamara, professor of liturgy at the Regina Apostolorum university.
Q: What is the official beginning of the Mass? Is it the introit, or is it the sign of the cross, as it is in the celebration of a Mass without a congregation? In the case of retired priests, it is understood that when the priest celebrates Mass alone, he starts with the sign of the cross, then reads the introit antiphon. Also, the reason to ask the question is that all Masses need to begin with music, albeit, when there is no music, the introit antiphon is to be said, but not the entire psalm. The problem also arises when the choir is singing either the introit with all of the psalm verses, or a hymn that uses many verses and the celebrant is left standing at the chair waiting for this music to finish. Please quote Church documents or give references to them, to satisfy those who will not merely go on opinion. F.G., Denver, Colorado
A: According to the GIRM, Nos. 47-50, the Mass can begin in any of several ways:
“47. After the people have gathered, the Entrance chant begins as the priest enters with the deacon and ministers. The purpose of this chant is to open the celebration, foster the unity of those who have been gathered, introduce their thoughts to the mystery of the liturgical season or festivity, and accompany the procession of the priest and ministers.
“48. The singing at this time is done either alternately by the choir and the people or in a similar way by the cantor and the people, or entirely by the people, or by the choir alone. In the dioceses of the United States of America there are four options for the Entrance Chant: (1) the antiphon from the Roman Missal or the Psalm from the Roman Gradual as set to music there or in another musical setting; (2) the seasonal antiphon and Psalm of the Simple Gradual; (3) a song from another collection of psalms and antiphons, approved by the Conference of Bishops or the Diocesan Bishop, including psalms arranged in responsorial or metrical forms; (4) a suitable liturgical song similarly approved by the Conference of Bishops or the Diocesan Bishop. If there is no singing at the entrance, the antiphon in the Missal is recited either by the faithful, or by some of them, or by a lector; otherwise, it is recited by the priest himself, who may even adapt it as an introductory explanation [].
“50. When the Entrance chant is concluded, the priest stands at the chair and, together with the whole gathering, makes the Sign of the Cross. Then he signifies the presence of the Lord to the community gathered there by means of the Greeting. By this Greeting and the people’s response, the mystery of the Church gathered together is made manifest. After the greeting of the people, the priest, the deacon, or a lay minister may very briefly introduce the faithful to the Mass of the day.”
Therefore, if there is no music, the entrance antiphon is recited before making the sign of the cross. In this case no psalm is used.
As seen above, in the United States four options are offered. This is a slight variation on the universal norms which logically does not include the possibility of metrical psalms since these are not found in Latin but are quite common in English.
The introit or entrance chant is sung to a prescribed text that is thematically linked to the liturgical season. The earliest evidence we have of the introit is from the “Ordo Romanus Primus,” a directory that describes the ceremonies of papal Masses. It was written between the years 692 and 731 but probably reflects traditions already established beforehand.
It would appear that originally the psalms attached to the antiphons were sung in their entirety. Over time, however, the Gregorian chant settings became ever more musically elaborate and it became common to sing only one verse of the psalm, along with the Glory be to the Father, and then repeat the antiphon.
Taking these diverse traditions into account, I would say that although GIRM No. 50 says that the priest begins Mass when “the entrance chant has finished,” I do not believe that this requires that all verses of a psalm must necessarily be sung. It would require, however, a certain internal coherence; the psalm should reach a logical conclusion and not be truncated in its meaning. This opinion is corroborated by the guidelines on liturgical music published by the U.S. bishops, “Sing to the Lord.”

Regarding the entrance chant or song, this document says:
“142. After the entire liturgical assembly has been gathered, an Entrance chant or song is sung as the procession with the priest, deacon, and ministers enters the church. ‘The purpose of this chant is to open the celebration, foster the unity of those who have been gathered, introduce their thoughts to the mystery of the liturgical season or festivity, and accompany the procession of the priest and ministers.’
“143. Care must be taken in the treatment of the texts of psalms, hymns, and songs in the Liturgy. Verses and stanzas should not be omitted arbitrarily in ways that risk distorting their content. While not all musical pieces require that all verses or stanzas be sung, verses should be omitted only if the text to be sung forms a coherent whole.”
Therefore a balance must be struck between allowing the entrance chant to fulfill its proper liturgical purpose while not causing excessive delay to the initial rites. In such cases musical directors and priests must cooperate. One should be willing to take the initiative in making coherent cuts if necessary, the other should be willing to participate in singing the entrance chant even after arriving at the chair. In this way the exercise of patience and charity will contribute overall to a better celebration.


At the Mass I attend, soft music is played in the background when the priest is praying the eucharistic prayers. Is this permitted?

No. The General Instruction of the Roman Missal says the following:

The nature of the presidential texts demands that they be spoken in a loud and clear voice and that everyone present listen with attention. While the priest is speaking these texts, there should be no other prayer or liturgical song, and the organ or other instruments should not be played. (GIRM 32)- Peggy Frye


One of my friends suggests that we should not applaud the choir after the closing hymn. He says that the song should direct souls to the Lord. I find it unnatural if we don’t applaud.

The church is not a concert hall and the liturgy is not a performance. We are there to direct our attention to God—not to each other. There is a time and place for everything. The church is for prayer—not performances. If you want to convey your appreciation for the music, compliment the director after Mass.-Fr Vincent Serpa


Can the Sunday responsorial Psalms be changed at the discretion of the cantor or priest? Sometimes the Psalms we sing are actually hymns. My priest said he has the authority to make this call. Is this true?

No one has the authority to make unapproved changes in the liturgy. Nor can a hymn be substituted for a responsorial Psalm. The General Instruction of the Roman Missal clearly states that “Songs or hymns may not be used in place of the responsorial Psalm” (GIRM 61).
The Code of Canon Law says:

In celebrating the sacraments the liturgical books approved by competent authority are to be observed faithfully; accordingly, no one is to add, omit, or alter anything in them on one’s own authority. The minister is to celebrate the sacraments according to the minister’s own rite. (CIC 846 §1-2)

According to the GIRM:

After the first reading comes the responsorial Psalm, which is an integral part of the Liturgy of the Word and holds great liturgical and pastoral importance, because it fosters meditation on the word of God. The responsorial Psalm should correspond to each reading and should, as a rule, be taken from the Lectionary. It is preferable that the responsorial Psalm be sung, at least as far as the people’s response is concerned. Hence, the psalmist, or the cantor of the Psalm, sings the verses of the Psalm from the ambo or another suitable place. The entire congregation remains seated and listens but, as a rule, takes part by singing the response, except when the Psalm is sung straight through without a response. In order, however, that the people may be able to sing the Psalm response more readily, texts of some responses and Psalms have been chosen for the various seasons of the year or for the various categories of Saints. These may be used in place of the text corresponding to the reading whenever the Psalm is sung. If the Psalm cannot be sung, then it should be recited in such a way that it is particularly suited to fostering meditation on the word of God. In the dioceses of the United States of America, the following may also be sung in place of the Psalm assigned in the Lectionary for Mass: either the proper or seasonal antiphon and Psalm from the Lectionary, as found either in the Roman Gradual or Simple Gradual or in another musical setting; or an antiphon and Psalm from another collection of the psalms and antiphons, including psalms arranged in metrical form, providing that they have been approved by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops or the diocesan bishop. Songs or hymns may not be used in place of the responsorial Psalm. (61)- Peggy Frye


Church draws up sacred music guidelines

Experts say there should be a time, place and way for hymns and dances to be performed in Church

UCAN reporter, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam May 4, 2011

Church people from across the country have drafted instructions on how to use sacred music in liturgical services at a special workshop. Some 86 priests, Religious and laypeople attended the workshop yesterday at the Pastoral Center in Ho Chi Minh City. It was run by the Episcopal Commission for Sacred Music of the Vietnam Bishops’ Conference.

“Participants discussed general instructions on how to use hymns and musical instruments in liturgical services, train heads of choirs and perform dances during services,” said Father Roco Nguyen Kim Duy, secretary-general of the commission.

“These instructions aim to help Catholics sing hymns well according to Church teaching and get closer to God,” the 57-year-old priest added.

He said the local Church has had no national guidelines on religious music, noting that many heads of choirs use hymns without imprimatur, or not according to liturgical intentions. Some participants said many Catholics change hymn lyrics, others even use recorded music in services or use secular music at funeral rites.

Father Peter Nguyen Kim Long, a commission deputy, said heads of choirs should choose from 500 hymns from the Collection of Vietnamese Hymns which the commission published in 2009.

Bishop Vincent Nguyen Van Ban, head of the commission, said the Church disapproves of dancing and recorded music during the liturgy.

Bishop Ban said the draft regulations will be revised and finalized at their next workshop scheduled for October 11.


Top choral director calls modern Church music ‘ecclesiastical karaoke’

By David Kerr, London, England, Apr 14, 2011 (CNA) A Grammy winning music director has delivered a stinging attack upon modern Church music. Joseph Cullen, choral director at the London Symphony Orchestra, says that since the 1960s there has been a “glaring lack of sympathy” for “worthy sacred music.”

Writing in the April 9 edition of the English weekly The Tablet, he praised the music used during last year’s papal visit to the United Kingdom. But he added: “Sadly such excellence is untypical of the vast majority of our Catholic churches. There is a glaring lack of sympathy for the heritage which should be the bedrock of worthy sacred music in today’s Church.”

In recent years Joseph Cullen has risen to prominence due to his close collaboration with some of the world’s leading conductors including Sir Simon Rattle, Valery Gergiev and Sir Colin Davies, with whom he won a Grammy Award in 2006 for their recording of Verdi’s “Falstaff.”

In his analysis, Cullen says the rush to find new musical settings for the Novus Ordo mass in the 1960s led to little artistic scrutiny being applied to the process. As a result, he says, most parish Masses now have poorly composed hymns being used inappropriately as mere “filler” throughout the sacred liturgy.
He writes, “Low-quality material in both inspiration and facility is commonplace. Hymns are set to popular music (for example, “My God Loves Me” to the tune of “Plaisir d’amour”) with little regard to the inappropriateness of the original and well-known words.”
He also criticized the practice of a lone cantor leading the singing in parishes. “The misuse of one booming voice behind a microphone, an ecclesiastical karaoke, seems to have killed off unified congregational singing.”

Perhaps his most stinging attack, though, is aimed at official diocesan musicians who both commission and promote their own music. “The elected church music committees of the bishops’ conferences cannot have vested interests in promoting their own music, or type of music. This would be regarded as corrupt in any other field.”

Cullen is now calling for a greater adherence to the Church’s documents on sacred music and increased training for parishes by those schooled in the choral traditions of the Church.


I am 49 yrs old and in the last few years there has been a decline in being able to sing along with church music because of lone singers and the high opera strung voices they have that one is unable to keep up with. There is so much unfamiliarity with today’s lyrics and notes. Gone are the familiar sacred Gloria and mass responses that were sung traditionally by all that one’s heart sang along. It is now a show put on by one opera singer. Some churches even have loud booming drums or others pushing one to almost cover ears. SS

As an Eastern Rite Catholic who occasionally attends the Latin Rite Mass, I am appalled at what passes for ‘sacred music’ in the Latin Rite. I once attended a Mass in which the music came straight out of Dixieland jazz. JD

What really floors me is lack of theology priests have in permitting these songs. How can a layman worship god by assuming god’s identity. ‘Come follow me’, ‘I will raise you up’ and so on.
And who let the strumming guitar, the piano, the drums and the folk song singers in? FRL
I thank God that this truth has finally been stated. Today’s choral chaos is such a detraction that I scarcely wonder why so many people have become disenchanted with the church. This article says it so well that I can hardly add to it. “Poorly composed hymns being used inappropriately as mere “filler” throughout the sacred liturgy.” So very well put. Please, this is what is lacking in our church. What are we to do when no more youth recall the inspiration of truly spiritually inspired music? Doug
In the Calgary Catholic Diocese, the state of liturgical music is wretched and deplorable.
Getting absolutely everybody to participate in the singing, no matter what, has become the sole undisputable goal. Thus good music (like Gregorian chant and sacred choral music written centuries ago and cheaply available) and good musical practices are ridiculed and trashed. Good musicians are accused of “putting on a show”, and dismissed.
Then, melodies written over the past twenty years are purchased at great expense for Liturgical use by the Calgary diocese from outlets such as OCP and GIA, which are beneath elevator music, and totally unworthy of the holy words of the Bible and of the Liturgy which they are supposed to convey.
Then these productions are pounded out at Liturgy by wannabe rockers with out-of-tune guitars and drums aided by synthesizers, producing what amounts to mindless, banal, rhythmic pounding noise, rather than music, that is intended to stimulate reactive physical motion, rather than conscious worship. Even where liturgical musicians make good efforts to rely on the human voice for their music, as it should be, their efforts are defeated by banal and lifeless tunes which do not hold a candle even to radio jingles selling pizza or cars. This is a strange way to encourage full active and “conscious” participation in Liturgy.
The right thing to do is to make the investment of teaching ordinary people to sing classical sacred choral music, which (a) can be done, given skilled leadership working with love and patience, and (b) results in true conscious participation in the Liturgy, whether you sing it or hear it. The beauty and power of classical sacred music are intrinsic, do not rely on the antics of a “performer” to inspire, provide a much worthier vessel for the words of God, and manifest themselves when sung by any group of people certain minimum skill level which is teachable to all.
Not to mention that this liberates the beauty and power of the human voice out from under the out-of-tune synthesized guitar and drum. I pray for the day when this debate is constructively re-opened. Dan

Thank you for hitting the nail on the head Mr. Cullen! A renewal of traditional church music and composition is seriously needed (and wanted) by many Catholics dismayed by what so-called ‘liturgists’ and ‘music ministers’ forcibly impose on us in the Mass. Secondly, there is NEVER any point in the Mass where using a protestant hymn is ever appropriate – Period. AS

There is no easy solution to all of this. If the people would come to mass prepared to give glory and thanks to God and cut out all the idle chit-chat, we would be in great shape.
Too many people clock in, clock out and the rest of the week have nothing to do with being Catholic.
A lot is about having and keeping a Catholic outlook on life– 24/7. S

Church music has been seriously “dumbed down” over the last few decades. This seems to be the case across many denominations, such as the Anglicans. And you’ve only got to watch Hillsong once to realise that the service can be in danger of moving from an act of devotion to a performance which is watched by the audience – er, congregation. E

Thank you! Praise God for you Joseph Cullen! We have a rock band in our church and it’s very disturbing when I walk into church and feel like I’m at a wedding reception or a night club. I’d like to sing “Sometimes I Feel like a Motherless Child” since I never hear the sacred music Holy Mother Church used to play nor do I hear sermons encouraging us to live according to Church Teaching! Peggy

One of the worst things to happen since Vatican II is the deliberate abolishing of church choirs, which USED to sing in the choir loft at the back of the church. Now we have “celeb” cantors and singers and “celeb” organists who have never heard of playing a real accompaniment, but insist on using the loudest and most bombastic stops to accompany the choir and the cantor at the front of the church, to say nothing of the abominable show tunes that have been popularized by the publishing companies who encourage more of the same year after year. Cullen is right on! Bring back the sung introit, gradual, offertory and communion antiphons. Chants in either Latin or English. Only hymns that are reverent and inspiring. Get rid of the performers in the front of the church. Having the celebrant face the altar would go a long way toward bringing back reverence and dignity to the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass R

Thank you, thank you, thank you! I pray for the day when “hymns” return, drums, electric guitars, xylophones, trombones, etc, are out for good! We are not there to be “entertained”, teens either, but to be “raised up to heaven”. Christ’s peace. Judy


I agree absolutely. The Church that produced and valued the Ambrosian hymns, Palestrina, Victoria, Monteverdi, Haydn, Mozart and so many others now contents itself with Marty Haugen and his ilk. We have been culturally infantilized. The spirit of McDonalds and Burger King has triumphed in the Church! DD

This is one area I believe is causing so many problems. In our Parish, we have had certain people push a hymn book on us that is filled with Southern Baptist style music. Pretty much all Protestant music and not very nice to sing or listen to. This is why they have one person singing to lead the crowd, because no one else can sing this rubbish music. What happened to the beautiful Hymns of my youth where we sung about Sweet Sacrament Divine, the beautiful Hymns of our Blessed Mother? I’ll tell you what happened.
This is all part of the liberalisation of our Church, by making it more favourable to Protestants and Liberal Catholics. Too many Catholics don’t believe in many of the Dogmas of the Church, so they try to water down our Faith to suit themselves.
And worst of all, is the introduction of and the subsequent empowering of feminism in our Faith. Feminism has almost destroyed the nuclear family in our country, and feminism is rife through our Catholic Faith like a cancer. We need to bring back many of the practices of The Mass we had a long time ago and start singing Hymns that the whole congregation can get involved in. These older Hymns were so melodious and had great rhythm and were very easy to sing to. There is nothing like the sound of a hundred people singing the Lord’s praises in a beautiful Hymn. 

Karen, if you find that the theology of “old” Catholic hymns is “way off beat”, I suggest you need to check that your own theology is “on beat” with the teaching of the Church. The only theologically off-beat hymns I hear are the “new” protestant especially Hillsong style ones with their false claims such as that everyone who believes and accepts Jesus is permanently and irrevocably “saved”.

I’m glad to find someone clearly qualified who agrees with my amateur view. For years I’ve found the ‘music’ at Mass to be bland, boring, even hideous, as well as (in my limited experience) usually poorly performed. I also often find it to be intrusive and irritating. I don’t mean that it interferes with my ‘private prayers’, as I strongly believe the Mass is a community prayer. But I have many times noted that while the choir is belting it out over a too-loud sound system, the congregation is just not participating. Yet they participate with gusto when they’re allowed to respond without music. That is, in the usual dialogue manner.
I wonder why the choir doesn’t notice that the congregation is not with them…is not singing. Could it be that the congregation hates it as much as I do? I sometimes think that the singing actually gets in the way of our participation in the Mass.
Les Walters

…And why do we have sacred time filled up with noise when one longs for silence, especially after Communion. Kevin

I am with you, Kevin, with regard singing after receiving Communion. I would like to have only Hymns sung before and after Mass. Leave the Liturgy of the Word free of singing, because it is often not a nice distraction when you are trying to actually spend some time talking to Our Lord or in contemplation. Singing should be banned after Communion! Peter

As someone who is part of music ministry, I have to agree that the current situation regarding music is not very appealing. I personally would prefer to have one hymn at the start of mass and one at the end and focus on perfecting the parts of the mass that are sung, even having several versions that could be used in different seasons. I think that the hymns during the presentation of the gifts and after communion are not necessary and I would prefer silence at these times. I would also prefer it if we did not use microphones. AD


Amazing grace

Mr. Keating, In your reply to Bob’s post, you said, “I hope that you don’t sing ‘Amazing Grace’. Its doctrinal position is incompatible with Catholicism.” I have read the lyrics and I’m not too sure what kind of problems there are. Could you please enlighten? Thanks. Kevin October 7, 2000

The lyrics of this Protestant hymn refer to receiving grace at “the hour I first believed.” This refers to an adult conversion experience and implies the rejection of the efficacy of baptism, which confers grace even on infants who, not yet having reached the age of reason, are incapable of performing an act of faith. “Amazing Grace” implicitly denies Catholic teaching on baptism.

Don’t get me wrong: I like “Amazing Grace.” It’s a great hymn–for Protestants. It just doesn’t belong in a Catholic setting because its theology is wrong.

(Worse yet: If you’re going to sing “Amazing Grace,” at least keep to the lyrics as originally written. In many parishes the line that says “that saved a wretch like me” is changed to “that saved and set me free.” There is a kind of dishonesty involved in such tinkering. Still, I don’t think the hymn should be sung by Catholics at all.) Karl Keating October 8, 2000

Music at mass

In the apologetics site it said the songs, Mary did you know, and Amazing Grace doesn’t reflect Catholic teaching. What words in each song does not reflect our teaching. These songs are sung at Mass all the time. Kevin July 3, 2003

Sadly, it is true they are sung, as are others, all the time.

Amazing Grace is coming out of the Protestant theological tradition and reflects its emphasis on sola gratia, grace alone. In verse one the text says “Amazing grace! How sweet the sound, That saved a wretch like me!” While this sounds very humble, and by itself appears inoffensive to Catholic ears, in light of the theological tradition it comes from it suggests the complete depravity of man which was at the root of Luther’s theology. Catholic teaching rejects that. Human nature is wounded, but remains capable of natural good acts, that is, acts of natural virtue, both moral and intellectual, as opposed to supernatural virtue (which IS a gift from God).

In keeping with that the Catholic must also reject verse two, which asserts that sanctifying grace is given with belief. “How precious did that grace appear, The hour I first believed.” While a certain natural faith in the credibility of revelation disposes the person to request entrance into Christ’s Church and to desire the “Amazing Grace” of Justification, sanctifying grace (actual justice), the grace of the theological virtues (faith, hope and charity), the supernatural moral virtues (without which a meritorious act, as opposed to an act of the natural man cannot be done) and the Gifts of the Holy Spirit (which perfect man) are communicated at Baptism, NOT “the hour I first believed.” Granted a Catholic could read into that the hour of baptism, when supernatural faith is actually communicated, but that is not the intended meaning of the hymn, which reflects the theology that one must only “believe on the Lord Jesus” and one is granted salvation. Implied in the balance of the verses is the doctrine of Blessed Assurance, that “once saved” one’s salvation is assured – a doctrine at serious odds with Scripture, and therefore Catholic teaching, and contrary to the good of man.

Since there is an obligation to use only doctrinally sound hymns in the Liturgy, Amazing Grace is at best equivocal and at worse seriously contrary to the Catholic theology of grace.

As for “Mary did you know”, a similar situation pertains. It’s coming out of a theological tradition that tends to reduce Mary to an ordinary mother and wife, and eliminates her perpetual virginity and sinlessness. While the Church has not formally taught that Mary had detailed knowledge of Her Son’s future, Our Lady would at minimum have known the Scriptures and what the Messiah would do and suffer. She certainly knew, from the Annunciation, Who her Son was and what His mission would be. In addition, a number of saints have had highly developed mystical lives from an early age (4, 5, 6 etc.), so it would be incongruous to suggest that Mary did not have mystical insights into the Scriptures, or even private revelations regarding the Divine plan. Indeed, later Catholic mystics affirm this conclusion of logic.

Particularly troublesome is the verse, “Did you know that your baby boy, has come to make you new; this child that you delivered, will soon deliver you.” It at least calls into question the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception, which teaches that in virtue of the Redemption, Mary was conceived without original sin. This occurred about 44 years prior to Calvary. So, while this verse correctly alludes to her need for redemption (in the sense understood by the Church as preservation from falling), it places it in the future, rather than the past (with regard to original sin and personal sin), and the present (she was also preserved from falling at every moment of her life).

So, both songs are unfitting for Catholic use, as they at minimum call into question Catholic teaching, and if understood according to the lyricists’ intention, teach contrary to it. Colin B. Donovan STL August 5, 2003


Amazing grace

Dear Mr. Donovan: I’ve read past posts about the inappropriate use of the song “Amazing Grace” at mass, it being protestant in nature. I think it is the 2nd verse that is in question…”how precious did that grace appear, the hour I first believed”. I don’t get it. Why do we have such a problem with those lines? We need God’s grace to believe so what’s the big deal. This song is sung at just about every Catholic funeral I’ve attended and that particular troubling verse probably goes right over people’s heads. Please explain. Thanks and God Bless. Mary O. September 29, 2004

The grace of which the hymn is speaking is not “actual grace,” which moves us to conversion, or the grace of faith, which moves us to believe, though not apart from the command of our own will accepting Christ’s teaching, but justifying, sanctifying, grace. It is the grace by which we are saved by faith, as Protestants understand that.

The problem is the implication that “the hour” in which grace is infused, is when “I believed.” Catholic doctrine is that faith given preparatory to baptism does not confer grace, but that baptism infuses sanctifying grace, charity, Gifts of the Holy Spirit and the infused moral virtues, into the soul. A doctrinally incorrect hymn should not be used in the liturgy. If “when we sing we pray twice,” when we sing such a hymn we err twice. This is not a good thing for Catholics to do. Colin B. Donovan STL October 25, 2004


Amazing Grace Hymn

I have been listening to Catholic radio for about a year now and I believe that during this time I have heard at least twice that the hymn Amazing Grace is not to be sung during the Mass. Can you confirm this? My reason for asking is that this hymn has been sung at our mass twice rather recently, and if a correction needs to be made, I would like to ensure that the proper people know the Catholic Church’s stance on this hymn. The reason I believe it is not an accepted hymn is that it follows protestant teachings of “saved by faith alone”. Any help you can give would be greatly appreciated. Donald M. Mondragon November 3, 2006
No authority has specifically decreed that Amazing Grace is not to be sung, but Church norms require that hymns be doctrinal correct and Amazing Grace has a wrong theology of justification, and therefore is incompatible with Catholic liturgy. The liturgy must express the Catholic faith, and it clearly does not, despite its popularity. Colin B. Donovan, STL November 12, 2006


Amazing Grace
Given the principle “lex orandi, lex credendi,”* how is it that we can sing the hymn “Amazing Grace,” at least in reference to the last phrase of the second verse? It goes: “…how precious did that grace appear, the hour I first believed.” To me, this bespeaks a theological opinion at odds with Catholicism, i.e., that grace appears when I can personally make an act of faith. The Church teaches, as you well know, that Baptism is the sacrament of faith and grace appears long before I can personally make an act of faith. In fact, the Catholic position far more emphasizes the gratuity of grace than this “believer’s only” attitude of Baptism. A baby can do nothing to earn or merit (sanctifying) grace; the baby cannot even make an act of faith. The hymn is even in the official Liturgy of the Hours (English edition). How can we pray this in song with any integrity (or again at least the second verse), when it contradicts our theology? What happened to “lex orandi, lex credendi”? Curious *As we pray, so we believe
Dear Curious, You are perfectly correct. Many, many prepping graces precede the final grace of Baptism. Maybe years of graces are given before the grace of the Sacrament of Baptism. God bless. Fr. Robert J. Levis February 7, 2007


Info on ‘Amazing Grace’ KONKANI CATHOLICS FORUM Digest no. 1397, March 6, 2008

I heard that this particular hymn is from a protestant source and it is not as per the Catholic teaching on certain aspects. I would be grateful if Austine or anyone could give more information as to what exactly is the problem with this particular hymn, explaining those aspects as to where it goes wrong. Deepak Ferrao, Bangalore

Dear Deepak, You said: “I heard that this particular hymn is from a protestant source and it is not as per the Catholic teaching on certain aspects.” You are right in smelling a rat here despite the fact that the hymn has found its way into very many Catholic hymnals, especially those of private circulation which have never been approved by the competent authority for liturgical use. The hymn “Amazing Grace” coming straight out of the Protestant theological tradition and clearly reflects its emphasis on “sola gratia” i.e., “grace alone”.
The opening line reads, “Amazing grace! How sweet the sound, That saved a wretch like me!”
Now this very much sounds like a humble confession and most Catholics couldn’t possibly suspect the un-Catholic background behind it. In order to make it appear more innocent, there is often circulated the rumour that its author, John Newton wrote this hymn immediately after he was saved at sea. As a matter of fact, the slave trader wrote it many, many years later after becoming a minister in the Anglican Church at which time he was a “pronounced Calvinist” in his theology.
What does “pronounced Calvinism” imply? It means adherence to Calvin’s doctrine of the inadmissibility of divine grace and the certitude of salvation, as well as those basic doctrines characteristic of Lutheranism.
It is from here that they draw their conclusion that we can, in this world, have absolute certainty of our final perseverance expressed by the famous “once saved, always saved” idea. This flatly contradicts the teaching of the Scriptures which clearly convey to us that salvation while being a free gift also requires the co-operation of the human will, which therefore can be forfeited.


The use of personal pronouns like “I, me and my” more than ten times in the text leads one to suspect that the author held the typically “reflexive” faith of Martin Luther which lays too much emphasis on the individual (“personal”).
It is the Protestant theological tradition which suggests the complete depravity of man that is at the root of Luther’s theology of justification. Catholic teaching rejects that because Human nature though wounded, remains capable of natural good acts [that is, acts of natural virtue, both moral and intellectual, as opposed to supernatural virtue (which IS a gift from God)] and of coming to the knowledge of God with certainty through natural revelation.
The “grace” the hymn refers to is not the “actual grace,” which moves us to conversion, or the grace of faith, which moves us to believe but the Protestant understanding of grace by which we are “saved by faith.”
In keeping with that the Catholic must also reject verse two, which asserts that sanctifying grace is given with belief.
“How precious did that grace appear, The hour I first believed.”
While a certain natural faith in the credibility of revelation disposes the person to request entrance into Christ’s Church and to desire the “Amazing Grace” of Justification, sanctifying grace (actual justice), the grace of the theological virtues (faith, hope and charity), the supernatural moral virtues (without which a meritorious act, as opposed to an act of the natural man cannot be done) and the Gifts of the Holy Spirit (which perfect man) are communicated at Baptism, NOT at “the hour I first believed.”
Granted a Catholic could read into that the hour of baptism, when supernatural faith is actually communicated, but that is not the intended meaning of the hymn, which reflects the theology that one must only “believe on the Lord Jesus” and one is granted salvation. Implied in the balance of the verses is the doctrine of Blessed Assurance, that “once saved” one’s salvation is assured – a doctrine at serious odds with Scripture, and therefore Catholic teaching, and contrary to the good of man.
Since there is an obligation to use only doctrinally sound hymns in the Liturgy, Amazing Grace is at best equivocal (i.e., having more than one meanings) and at worse, seriously contrary to the Catholic theology of grace. That summarizes it for you. Austine Crasta, moderator [See also pages 109-110]


Protestant Songs at Mass

ROME, November 11, 2003 ( Answered by Father Edward McNamara, professor of liturgy at the Regina Apostolorum Pontifical Athenaeum. For follow-up to this, see page 96.
Q: What criteria should be used in judging the use of modern music in Mass? Is it OK to use Protestant songs? What criteria apply in those cases? P.C., Honolulu, Hawaii
A: First it is necessary to recall that the choice of text and melody is not totally arbitrary but requires the use of properly authorized texts.
The new General Instruction on the Roman Missal (GIRM), explaining the different modes of singing the proper of the Mass, gives as the fourth and last alternative “a suitable liturgical song similarly approved by the Conference of Bishops or the Diocesan Bishop.”
The other choices are: (1) the antiphon from the Roman Missal or the Psalm from the Roman Gradual as set to music there or in another musical setting; (2) the seasonal antiphon and Psalm of the Simple Gradual; (3) a song from another collection of psalms and antiphons, approved by the bishops’ conference or the diocesan bishop, including psalms arranged in responsorial or metrical forms (No. 48; see also Nos. 86 and 87).
Referring specifically to the United States, it states: “Bearing in mind the important place that singing has in a celebration as a necessary or integral part of the Liturgy, all musical settings of the texts for the people’s responses and acclamations in the Order of Mass and for special rites that occur in the course of the liturgical year must be submitted to the Secretariat for the Liturgy of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops for review and approval prior to publication” (No. 393).
Some episcopal conferences have published official repertoires of songs that may be used in the liturgy while others have yet to install a system for the approval of musical texts. The diocesan bishop may decide for himself the manner in which he approves hymns and songs for liturgical use. He may publish a diocesan repertoire or may simply limit himself to approve any hymnal or liturgical songbook containing an imprimatur from another bishop.
What is important is to understand that the choice of texts and music for the liturgy is not merely a question of personal taste but entails the deeper question of ecclesial communion.
In general the criteria used for the approval of suitable texts is that the hymn or song be inspired by Scripture or the liturgy although vested in a poetic form, and also that the text should be, in some way, a confession of faith, expressing perennial and orthodox truths rather than current issues.
This should be taken into account in the case of Protestant hymns. They may be used in the liturgy provided they conform to Catholic doctrine. Any hymn that contains doctrine contrary to Catholic teachings, or is ambiguous, should not be used.
Liturgical melodies are there to assist prayer and should be distinctive in style and tone from worldly music. Their function is to elevate the spirit — not set the foot tapping or the imagination rolling. Therefore, they should never be baptized versions of current hits — or, as is more common, hits from the previous generation — but should seek to express the religious value of the text for, in Catholic tradition, the text always has priority over the music and in a sense is its soul.
The dearth of good liturgical music is fairly understandable given that after the introduction of the vernacular, parishes found themselves almost overnight with the need for music adapted to the new liturgy. The repertoire of traditional vernacular and Latin compositions was unfortunately judged insufficient, or worse, out of fashion or irrelevant. As Mozarts don’t come a dime a dozen, and the need for new music was pressing, most parishes took what they could get and they got a lot of dross although some fine pieces were also composed.
Almost every country experienced a period of generally dreadful music, especially in the 1970s. In Spain, for example, many traditional American or English tunes were adapted with new words, raising tourists’ eyebrows as they heard Spanish versions of “Nobody Knows the Troubles I’ve Seen” or “Land of Hope and Glory” belted out at Mass, or even the “Lord Have Mercy” and the “Sanctus” sung to the Beatles’ “Hey Jude” and “Help.”
This invasion of the profane into the realm of the sacred is a recurring problem in Church music and has always been strenuously combated.
Around the time of the Council of Trent, for example, many bishops complained about the use of secular melodies as musical themes for polyphonic masses, such as the one inspired in a popular ditty called “Bacciami amica mia” (Kiss me, my dear). St. Pius X, both as bishop and Pope, also fought against the fashion of individualistic opera style music in Italian churches.
In recent years there has been marked, albeit slow, improvement in many places. Along with the recovery of many traditional songs, and even some return to the use of Gregorian chant and classic polyphony, some serious contemporary composers are addressing the problems of music for the liturgy.
Italy, for example, has seen many excellent compositions that could easily provide a benchmark for the work of composers in other languages. Most notable perhaps is the work of Monsignor Marco Frisina, whose biblically and liturgically inspired music is both beautiful and easily memorable, being open to interpretation either by a simple congregation or a full-blown, four-voice choir.
Although it will probably take several decades, it is probable that a new corpus of good liturgical music will be formed in accordance with the principles of the Second Vatican Council and authentic Catholic tradition.


Bangladesh Church tries to protect traditional hymns, end loud singing

DHAKA August 18, 2008, UCANews. Bangladeshi Catholic hymns are “out of control,” sometimes sung too loudly or performed by pop-style bands, so much so that some claim the deep spirituality the music is meant to inspire gets lost. The Episcopal Commission for Liturgy and Prayer (ECLP) has responded to the problem by trying to bring order to the chaos and restore a level of uniformity and a proper atmosphere for Bangla-language hymns. It did so in a six-day training program for liturgical music experts and performers that was conducted July 13-18 at the Holy Spirit Major Seminary in Dhaka.
The program assembled 71 liturgical singers in charge of leading choirs, and parish liturgy committee representatives from the country’s five dioceses and one archdiocese to learn the correct musical notes to be played and sung in the hymns, as well as how loudly they should be sung.
Dora D’Rozario, an ECLP member, explained to UCA News, “This training program was initiated because, in terms of the tunes, nowadays the liturgical hymns are out of control, and they need to be controlled.”
According to D’Rozario, the problem is lack of proper tone for the spiritual occasion. It is not just a matter of “belting out the lyrics,” she stressed, but the need to restore depth and beauty in the liturgy and Holy Eucharist.
Father Francis Gomes Sima, a former ECLP member, pointed out to UCA News that the Second Vatican Council (1962-65) opened the door to composing and singing hymns in the vernacular rather than Latin. As a result, he said, hymns were composed in the Bangla language amongst Bengali Catholics in Bangladesh and India, but choirs have drifted away from the correct practice.
Over the decades, Father Sima further noted, there have been developments such as using the harmonium to accompany hymns, and the recent seminar included instruction on the correct musical notes to be sung for those hymns.

Different music suits different times, he said, and for religious occasions, two types of music, traditional and band, or pop-style, songs are available, “but band songs destroy the beauty, depth and spirituality of liturgy.” The priest did concede, however, that band music could be used on certain occasions, “but not in liturgical celebrations.”
Auxiliary Bishop Thetonious Gomez of Dhaka agrees there is “need to control the use of musical instruments in the liturgical celebration.” The Holy Cross bishop, who chairs the Episcopal Commission for Christian Education, told UCA News, “There will be no more loud tunes, but union and harmony in tunes is a must to express the depth of spirituality.”
Father Ashes Dio, another ECLP member, told UCA News, “The liturgical hymns must express that the Eucharist is the mystery and the center of our life.”
To rectify the incongruence identified by ECLP members, the participants were taught the correct musical notation and volume for the singing of hymns. But Father Patrick Gomes, ECLP’s secretary, told UCA News that choir leaders also need help to choose the right sequence of hymns and to select hymns suitable for a particular theme. New hymns are not being composed, he added, but ECLP is now thinking of doing something to change that.
The training program was useful, said several participants, including Prianka Mollah, a choir leader and college student. She told UCA News it was good to get help for the traditional hymns, and she hopes to implement what she learned when she returns to her parish.
ECLP member D’Rozario expects all participants to practice properly and arrange musical training in the dioceses when they go back home. “Only then will the devotion grow and eyes will open to feel in their hearts the meaning of the liturgy,” she said. “This process will help them be closer to God.”


Singing at the Elevation

ROME, December 14, 2010 ( Answered by Legionary of Christ Father Edward McNamara, professor of liturgy at the Regina Apostolorum university.

Q: Our priest used to sing a verse from “Come Let Us Adore Him” during the elevation of the consecrated host. Most of the congregation would sing along with him and it was beautiful. Then someone threatened him that they were going to report this to the bishop, so now he has stopped singing this. Is there any reason why a priest could not sing during the elevation and thus bring the message to the congregation more fully? T.V., Canada
A: While the priest’s zeal in promoting faith in the Real Presence is appreciable, I cannot agree with this particular mode of doing so as it goes against sound liturgical principles. It may also be true that the priest stopped acting this way not so much out of fear of the bishop but rather that some parishioner convinced him of his error. I am sure that a priest who shows such veneration for the Real Presence would also desire to show equal respect for liturgical law.
The overarching principle to be applied in this respect is that of the General Instruction of the Roman Missal, No. 24: “Nevertheless, the priest must remember that he is the servant of the Sacred Liturgy and that he himself is not permitted, on his own initiative, to add, to remove, or to change anything in the celebration of Mass.”
The motives behind this principle are well articulated in the instruction Redemptionis Sacramentum:
“[11.] The Mystery of the Eucharist ‘is too great for anyone to permit himself to treat it according to his own whim, so that its sacredness and its universal ordering would be obscured.’ On the contrary, anyone who acts thus by giving free reign to his own inclinations, even if he is a Priest, injures the substantial unity of the Roman Rite, which ought to be vigorously preserved, and becomes responsible for actions that are in no way consistent with the hunger and thirst for the living God that is experienced by the people today. Nor do such actions serve authentic pastoral care or proper liturgical renewal; instead, they deprive Christ’s faithful of their patrimony and their heritage. For arbitrary actions are not conducive to true renewal, but are detrimental to the right of Christ’s faithful to a liturgical celebration that is an expression of the Church’s life in accordance with her tradition and discipline. In the end, they introduce elements of distortion and disharmony into the very celebration of the Eucharist, which is oriented in its own lofty way and by its very nature to signifying and wondrously bringing about the communion of divine life and the unity of the People of God. The result is uncertainty in matters of doctrine, perplexity and scandal on the part of the People of God, and, almost as a necessary consequence, vigorous opposition, all of which greatly confuse and sadden many of Christ’s faithful in this age of ours when Christian life is often particularly difficult on account of the inroads of ‘secularization’ as well.


“[12.] On the contrary, it is the right of all of Christ’s faithful that the Liturgy, and in particular the celebration of Holy Mass, should truly be as the Church wishes, according to her stipulations as prescribed in the liturgical books and in the other laws and norms. Likewise, the Catholic people have the right that the Sacrifice of the Holy Mass should be celebrated for them in an integral manner, according to the entire doctrine of the Church’s Magisterium. Finally, it is the Catholic community’s right that the celebration of the Most Holy Eucharist should be carried out for it in such a manner that it truly stands out as a sacrament of unity, to the exclusion of all blemishes and actions that might engender divisions and factions in the Church.”
And with specific mention of the Eucharistic Prayer: “[53.] While the Priest proclaims the Eucharistic Prayer ‘there should be no other prayers or singing, and the organ or other musical instruments should be silent’ except for the people’s acclamations that have been duly approved ….”
From another standpoint I think that introducing the phrase “Come let us adore him!” in fact unwittingly reduces the scope of the Eucharistic mystery. By concentrating only on the Real Presence, this expression leaves out the full reality of the Mass as a memorial making present the entire salvific mystery that is, in a way, the latest moment in salvation history. In fact, this reality is better expressed by the usual acclamations after the consecration which ties the Eucharistic mystery of faith to the Passion, Resurrection and Second Coming.
I certainly have no objections to a priest singing in order to underline the importance of this moment of the celebration, but this can be done without any undue additions. First of all, the rubrics already allow him to sing the entire consecration itself. It is also highly recommendable that he also intones the “Mystery of Faith” so that the faithful can also sing the memorial acclamation.


Communion singing

The entrance hymn at Mass begins as the entrance procession moves off and continues for as long as necessary to allow the assembly to gather and prepare for the celebration (not only until the presider reaches the sanctuary!). If a hymn accompanies the procession of gifts, it begins as the preparation of the gifts gets underway and continues until the priest’s invitation: “Pray, my brothers and sisters, that our sacrifice …” The recessional hymn commences immediately after the words of dismissal and accompanies the procession to the door of the church.
Logic would therefore suggest that the communion hymn starts as soon as the celebrant and people begin to receive communion and continues until all have been fed from the table. Hands up all those readers where this is not the practice in their parish. Look at all those hands! As Julius Sumner Miller would have asked, why is it so?
Why is the logical pattern of the other hymns at Mass not followed when it comes to the communion hymn?
According to the liturgy documents, the communion song begins while the priest is receiving the Sacrament and continues for as long as the Sacrament is being administered to the faithful. Delaying the song encourages people to adopt an attitude of individual quiet reflection at this point rather than the union of spirit and joy of heart appropriate to this rite. (General Instruction of the Roman Missal #86)
“After Communion, they praise and pray to God in their hearts” (GIRM #45).
The time for giving thanks to God and asking for the strength to be Christ in our world of family, work and community in the days ahead is the period of silence that follows the distribution and reception of Holy Communion. Despite logic and the exhortations of the General Instruction, it is common for the communion procession to take place in silence or to be accompanied by quiet instrumental music and for a communion hymn to be sung after communion has finished.
The communion procession, which should be the most joyful of all, is often more like a sombre march to the communion table than a joyful gathering at the banquet of the Lamb. Liturgy committees will come up with several reasons for their current practice: “We’ve never sung during communion! People want to say their private prayers at communion time. How can people sing and walk at the same time? But they can’t carry a hymn book on the way to communion!”
All of these objections can be responded to with liturgical formation and creative thinking. Change needs to be undertaken gently, with clear explanations of the reason for the change, and using hymns that the assembly already knows by heart.
Ordinary Time is the best time to introduce the singing of a hymn to accompany the communion procession. Songs with a short refrain are best to begin with because a cantor or choir can sing the verses while the people join in the refrain. This avoids people having to juggle hymn books or sheets on their way to communion. Songs that focus on adoration or “me” are not appropriate. The communion song must express the unity of the people of God as they come forward to receive and to become the body of Christ.

Good catechesis, careful planning and quiet perseverance will eventually enable the liturgical assembly to experience this most joyful of all processions as a unifying and sacred time.

Elizabeth Harrington is the education officer with the Brisbane archdiocesan Liturgical Commission.


Polka Masses

ROME, April 20, 2004 ( Answered by Father Edward McNamara, professor of liturgy at the Regina Apostolorum Pontifical Athenaeum.
Q: This past summer, my parish had a Polka Mass. I didn’t feel it was right to go to this Mass, since I don’t know how I would be able to associate Polka music with anything other than dancing. Isn’t the music at Mass supposed to elevate one’s spirit to God? Does a polka do that? And is that a legitimate form of liturgical music? T.L., Johnstown, Pennsylvania
A: We have dealt previously with the general principles involved in liturgical music (see (Nov. 11 and Dec. 23). From those I believe that it is fairly clear that music usually associated with dancing or other profane activities (at least in a Western context) should not be admitted into the Mass.
I was rather surprised to hear that Polka Masses were still going on — I had thought that they had gone out in the ’70s along with a host of other similar fads.
Perhaps the principal difficulty with such things is not so much the music in itself, which like many human elements in the liturgy may have different meanings in different cultures and in different epochs, but the idea that the Mass needs some sort of a theme in order to enhance its significance or relevance.
When we label the Mass we tend to diminish rather than augment its importance. We restrict its universal meaning as Christ’s very sacrifice renewed upon the altar and the sacred banquet which forms and increases our union as part of Christ’s Mystical Body, the Church.
This is the Church’s greatest offering to God and any addition to the Mass itself — such as “Polka,” “Clown,” “Disco” (yes, there have been cases) or any similar extraneous element — reduces its scope and attempts to press it into service for some cause other than the worship of God.
It could be argued that this is done in order to make the Mass more attractive or welcoming to certain groups. I am certain that it is often done in good faith. Yet, I think that 40 years after the Second Vatican Council it is clear that such attempts have failed to fulfill their promises.
The best and most efficacious means of making the Mass meaningful is to teach Catholic truth as to what the Mass is. To understand the Mass is to grasp the foundation of every other aspect of the Catholic faith as well as to find the strength to live it. No amount of toying with externals can substitute for a lack of knowledge of the essentials although, when carried out with beauty and fidelity, these externals can prove to be a resource for teaching and confirming the faith in the essentials.
What I term labeling of the Mass, however, should not be confused with legitimate practices such as, for example, when an immigrant group celebrates Mass in their own language and using music from their religious tradition, or when different styles of liturgical music are adopted in accordance with the various congregations’ spiritual sensibilities.
Nor does it include the proper use of the many possibilities offered in the missal to adapt the Mass texts to particular situations, such as the use of votive Masses and Masses for Special Necessities such as “For Peace,” “For Christian Unity,” etc. These texts serve to specify particular intentions and invocations which the Church, albeit in general terms, already implores from God, in every Mass.


Follow-up: Polka Masses

ROME, May 4, 2004 ( by Father Edward McNamara

After our piece on “Polka Masses” (April 20) a priest from North Dakota wrote the following commentary “The tradition of having ‘Polka’ Masses is very much alive … scheduled to coincide with a community’s annual ‘Polka Fest.’ When I ask people who attend them for their reaction, they respond by swinging their hips and saying something like, ‘I wanted to get up and dance.’ I have never heard anyone say that it brought them closer to God or his people. A few people respond, ‘It was hard to pray.'”
I think that the commentary speaks for itself. What is important is not if the people like the music (they probably do) but whether it helps them live the Mass (it probably does not).
While the recently published instruction “Redemptionis Sacramentum” says little about music, it does say in No. 78: “It is not permissible to link the celebration of Mass to political or secular events, nor to situations that are not fully consistent with the Magisterium of the Catholic Church. Furthermore, it is altogether to be avoided that the celebration of Mass should be carried out merely out of a desire for show, or in the manner of other ceremonies including profane ones, lest the Eucharist should be emptied of its authentic meaning.”
Thus, linking the Eucharist to an annual “Polka Fest” or other analogous celebrations in this manner is not advisable.
This does not mean that all expressions of national or ethnic traditions are excluded from the Mass. But they must be specifically religious in content and contribute to living it with fervor.
Although such folkloric music is excluded from Mass it may be offered to the congregation after Mass in the parking lot or parish hall, especially in communities with strong ethnic ties.


A Christmas Play after the Homily

ROME, November 30, 2010 ( Answered by Legionary of Christ Father Edward McNamara, professor of liturgy at the Regina Apostolorum university.

Q: Our parish has a Christmas play during Mass after the homily but before the prayer of the faithful. Is this allowed? My priest tried to find the answer this year but had difficulty. But I think I found the answer in the Lectionary of the Mass for Children No. 52 which says that plays should not happen during Mass. I know that this happens at a lot of parishes in America so an answer would be great! — G.G., Pasadena, California
A: First of all, not finding an express prohibition in liturgical documents does not mean that something can be done. Many, if not most, liturgical abuses are not named because nobody can possibly foresee all that the human imagination can conjure. Specific reprobation on certain abuses arrives only after they have come to the attention of ecclesiastical authority.
Usually it is sufficient to recur to general principles in order to know if something is allowed. For example, there is the elemental principle that no priest may add or remove anything from the liturgy on his own initiative. Another principle applicable to our case is found in the instruction Redemptionis Sacramentum, No. 75: “On account of the theological significance inherent in a particular rite and the Eucharistic Celebration, the liturgical books sometimes prescribe or permit the celebration of Holy Mass to be joined with another rite, especially one of those pertaining to the Sacraments. The Church does not permit such a conjoining in other cases, however, especially when it is a question of trivial matters.”
If there are severe restrictions on joining the Mass to other rites, including officially approved rites, the exclusion of non-liturgical elements such as Nativity plays would certainly be included.
Our correspondent’s use of the Introduction to the Children’s Lectionary has a certain validity in view of the fact that since the norms for children’s liturgies allow for extensive adaptations, the fact that something is forbidden for this kind of celebration means “a fortiori” that it is not allowed in regular Masses.
It must be recognized though that the Introduction to the Children’s Lectionary is not a universal document. It was produced by the U.S. bishops’ conference and, I believe, has yet to reach its definitive form. It is interesting that the Italian bishops’ conference also included a ban on dramas, slide shows and the like during Masses with children in its own directory.
Perhaps a more useful universal source would be the Directory for Children’s Masses issued by the Holy See in November 1973. The adaptations refer to Masses where the vast majority of participants are children ages 6 to 9. These norms do not apply to assemblies of older children.
I will offer selections of what I believe are relevant texts. The full document may be found at a Web site called
Chapter III, Part 1. Offices and Ministries in the Celebration
“22. The principles of active and conscious participation are in a sense even more significant for Masses celebrated with children. Every effort should therefore be made to increase this participation and to make it more intense. For this reason as many children as possible should have special parts in the celebration: for example, preparing the place and the altar (see no. 29), acting as cantor (see no. 24), singing in a choir, playing musical instruments (see no. 32), proclaiming the readings (see nos. 24 and 47), responding during the homily (see no. 48), reciting the intentions of the general intercessions, bringing the gifts to the altar, and performing similar activities in accord with the usage of various peoples (see no. 34).
“To encourage participation, it will sometimes be helpful to have several additions, for example, the insertion of motives for giving thanks before the priest begins the dialogue of the preface.
“In all this, it should be kept in mind that external activities will be fruitless and even harmful if they do not serve the internal participation of the children. Thus religious silence has its importance even in Masses with children (see no. 37). The children should not be allowed to forget that all the forms of participation reach their high point in eucharistic communion, when the body and blood of Christ are received as spiritual nourishment.
“23. It is the responsibility of the priest who celebrates with children to make the celebration festive, familial, and meditative. Even more than in Masses with adults, the priest is the one to create this kind of attitude, which depends on his personal preparation and his manner of acting and speaking with others.
“24. Since the Eucharist is always the action of the entire ecclesial community, the participation of at least some adults is desirable. These should be present not as monitors but as participants, praying with the children and helping them to the extent necessary …
“Even in Masses with children attention is to be paid to the diversity of ministries so that the Mass may stand out clearly as the celebration of the community. For example, readers and cantors, whether children or adults, should be employed. In this way a variety of voices will keep the children from becoming bored.
Chapter III, Part 5. Gestures
“33. In view of the nature of the liturgy as an activity of the entire person and in view of the psychology of children, participation by means of gestures and posture should be strongly encouraged in Masses with children, with due regard for age and local customs. Much depends not only on the actions of the priest, [29] but also on the manner in which the children conduct themselves as a community ….
“34. Among the actions that are considered under this heading, processions and other activities that involve physical participation deserve special mention.
“The children’s entering in procession with the priest can serve to help them to experience a sense of the communion that is thus being created. The participation of at least some children in the procession with the Book of the Gospels makes clear the presence of Christ announcing the word to his people. The procession of children with the chalice and the gifts expresses more clearly the value and meaning of the preparation of the gifts. The communion procession, if properly arranged, helps greatly to develop the children’s devotion.
Chapter III, Part 6. Visual Elements
“35. The liturgy of the Mass contains many visual elements and these should be given great prominence with children. This is especially true of the particular visual elements in the course of the liturgical year, for example, the veneration of the cross, the Easter candle, the lights on the feast of the Presentation of the Lord, and the variety of colors and liturgical appointments.
“In addition to the visual elements that belong to the celebration and to the place of celebration, it is appropriate to introduce other elements that will permit children to perceive visually the wonderful works of God in creation and redemption and thus support their prayer. The liturgy should never appear as something dry and merely intellectual.
“36. For the same reason, the use of art work prepared by the children themselves may be useful, for example, as illustrations of a homily, as visual expressions of the intentions of the general intercessions, or as inspirations to reflection.
“45. In the biblical texts “God is speaking to his people … and Christ is present to the faithful through his own word.” Paraphrases of Scripture should therefore be avoided. On the other hand, the use of translations that may already exist for the catechesis of children and that are accepted by the competent authority is recommended.
“46. Verses of psalms, carefully selected in accord with the understanding of children, or singing in the form of psalmody or the Alleluia with a simple verse should be sung between the readings. The children should always have a part in this singing, but sometimes a reflective silence may be substituted for the singing ….
“47. All the elements that will help to explain the readings should be given great consideration so that the children may make the biblical readings their own and may come more and more to appreciate the value of God’s word.
“Among such elements are the introductory comments that may precede the readings and that by explaining the context or by introducing the text itself help the children to listen better and more fruitfully. The interpretation and explanation of the readings from the Scriptures in the Mass on a saint’s day may include an account of the saint’s life, not only in the homily but even before the readings in the form of an introduction.
“When the text of the readings lends itself to this, it may be helpful to have the children read it with parts distributed among them, as is provided for the reading of the Lord’s passion during Holy Week.”
In spite of the flexibility allowed for children’s celebrations it is significant that there is no opening at all for extra-liturgical dramatizations during Mass. It follows therefore that there is even less support for such an initiative during regular Christmas Masses.
This does not mean that there is no space for such plays in the church. It is almost always better to hold such events in the parish hall, but if this is not possible they could be held in the church building before or after Mass.


Follow-up: The Profane at Mass

ROME, December 14, 2010 ( Answered by Legionary of Christ Father Edward McNamara, professor of liturgy at the Regina Apostolorum university.

Somewhat related to the question of dramas during Mass (see Nov. 30) is that of particular folk traditions. An Ohio reader asked: “Our parish had its … 25th annual polka Mass. The band consists of trumpet, saxophone, trombone, accordion and vocalist. They play ‘Roll out the Barrel’ and other polka tunes to which the words of the liturgical hymns are substituted. I believe this to be sacrilegious …”
We have written before about the so-called polka Masses on April 20 and May 4, 2004, and maintain the same position.
This inquiry leads me to note one aspect of Catholic tradition with respect to the music used in church. This characteristic could be called the “rejection of the profane” and means that the Church is wary of accepting any music that the faithful easily associate with non-religious music.
This is not a novelty. Pope St. Gregory the Great (590-604) forbade the deacons from singing lyrical psalms and limited them to the simple tones of the Gospel. He said, “The cantor serving the altar irritates God with his customs even when he fascinates the people with his melodies.” An 11th-century monk thundered against the fad of early attempts at polyphony and solo singing: “What compunction, what tears are born from these tropes when someone elevates the voice like a buffalo while in church. Monks have not entered this solitude to stand before God inflating the neck so as to sing melodies, rhythm arias, agitate their hands and jump from one foot to the other.”
The birth of polyphony, at the same time deeply Christian, was not without dangers. Some composers used popular songs as musical themes for the composition of Masses which then took the name of the song. This is why there is a Mass called “bacciami amica mia” (kiss me, my dear). The Council of Trent attempted to contrast such tendencies in its 22nd session by decreeing: “That form of Music must be removed from churches in which anything impure or lascivious is mixed in, either from the sound of the organ, or through song … so that the house of God may truly be called a house of prayer.”
It must be recognized that some musical forms are inherently profane either because they are tied up with irreligious or immoral contexts or simply intimately associated with the secular sphere. So long as the music invokes the non-religious original, then “baptizing” the lyrics is simply insufficient.
On the other hand, sacred and profane with respect to music often depends on time and circumstances rather than any inherent quality of the music itself. Certain secular tunes can with time lose their exclusively profane context and eventually be used as religious hymns. The lyrics to the popular Christmas carol “What Child Is This,” composed in 1865, are much better known than those to the original Tudor love-song “Greensleeves.” The so-called Ave Maria of Schubert was originally a German translation of Sir Walter Scott’s “Lady of the Lake.” It was only later adapted by other composers to the full text of the Hail Mary.
Thus, while some flexibility may be allowed, the church is not the place to introduce experimental music which may grind on the sensibility. The primary function of liturgical music is to assist divine worship and to be a prayer itself. The forms of music should contribute to this goal.


Music – Different Parts of Mass


Advent and Lent     

Liturgy of the Word     

Opening Song     

Kyrie (Lord have mercy)     




Gospel Acclamation     


Liturgy of the Eucharistic  



Eucharistic Prayer     

Doxology (Through Him, with Him…)         

Our Father     

Agnus Dei (Lamb of God)       

Communion Song     

Post-Communion Song      




32 The nature of the presidential texts demands that they be spoken in a loud and clear voice and that everyone present listen with attention. While the priest is speaking these texts, there should be no other prayer or liturgical song, and the organ or other instruments should not be played.

39. The faithful who gather together to await the Lord’s coming are instructed by the Apostle Paul to sing together psalms, hymns, and inspired liturgical songs (see Colossians 3:16). Liturgical song is the sign of the heart’s joy (see Acts 2:46). Thus Saint Augustine says rightly: “To sing belongs to lovers.” There is also the ancient proverb: “One who sings well prays twice.”
40 With due consideration for the culture and ability of each liturgical assembly, great importance should be attached to the use of singing in the celebration of the Mass. Although it is not always necessary to sing all the texts that are of themselves meant to be sung (e.g., in weekday Masses), nevertheless, the complete absence of all singing by ministers and people—which by law accompanies celebrations which take place on Sundays and Holy Days of obligation—should be particularly guarded against.
In choosing the parts actually to be sung, however, preference should be given to those that are more significant and especially to those to be sung by the priest or deacon or reader, with the people responding or by the priest and people together.
41 All things being equal, Gregorian chant should hold a privileged place, as being more proper to the Roman liturgy. Other kinds of sacred music, polyphony in particular, are not in any way to be excluded, provided that they correspond with the spirit of the liturgical action and that they foster the participation of all the faithful.
Since the faithful from different countries come together ever more frequently, it is desirable that they know how to sing at least some parts of the Ordinary of the Mass in Latin, especially the profession of faith and the Lord’s Prayer, set to simple melodies.

It should be noted that the 3rd edition of the Missale Romanum provides more musical notation for the common texts than the second edition (found in the present US Sacramentary), so that the Mass can be more easily sung in its entirety, including the Eucharistic Prayer. For greater solemnity it is possible even to sing the readings, though this is rarely done, since few know how anymore. 

103. The schola cantorum or choir exercises its own liturgical function among the faithful. Its task is to ensure that the parts proper to it, in keeping with the different types of chants, are carried out becomingly and to encourage active participation of the people in the singing. What is said about the choir applies in a similar way to other musicians, especially the organist.
104. There should be a cantor or a choir director to lead and sustain the people in the singing. When in fact there is no choir, it is up to the cantor to lead the various liturgical songs, and the people take part in the way proper to them.

312 In relation to the design of each church, the schola cantorum should be so placed that its character as a part of the assembly of the faithful that has a special function stands out clearly. The location should also assist the exercise of the duties of the schola cantorum and allow each member of the choir complete, that is, sacramental participation in the Mass. [Musicam sacram 23]

313 The organ and other lawfully approved musical instruments are to be placed suitably in such a way that they can sustain the singing of the choir and congregation and be heard by all with ease when they are played alone. It is appropriate that the organ be blessed before its designation for liturgical use. This should be done according to the rite described in the Roman Ritual. [De benedictionibus 1052-1054]


Advent and Lent:

313 … During Advent the organ and other musical instruments may be used with moderation, corresponding to the character of the season, but should not anticipate the full joy of the Nativity of the Lord.
During Lent the use of the organ and musical instruments is permitted for accompanying sustained singing. Nevertheless, exceptions are made for Laetare Sunday (the fourth Sunday of Lent), for solemnities and feast days.

Opening Song:

47 After the people have gathered, the opening liturgical song begins as the priest with the deacon and ministers come in. The purpose of this liturgical song is to open the celebration, intensify the unity of those who have assembled, lead their thoughts to the mystery of the season or feast, and accompany the procession of priest and ministers.

[US Adaptation] 48. The opening liturgical song is sung alternately either by the choir and the people or by the cantor and the people; or it is sung entirely by the people or by the choir alone. In the dioceses of the United States of America there are four options for the cantus ad introitum: 

(1) the antiphon and Psalm from the Roman Missal as set to music by the Roman Gradual or in another musical setting; 

(2) the seasonal antiphon and Psalm of the Simple Gradual; 

(3) a song from another collection of psalms and antiphons, approved by the USCCB or the Diocesan Bishop, including psalms arranged in responsorial or metrical forms; 

(4) a suitable liturgical song chosen in accordance with GIRM, no. 48. If there is no singing for the entrance, the antiphon in the Missal is recited either by the faithful, by some of them, or by a reader; otherwise, it is recited by the priest himself, who may also incorporate it into his introductory remarks (see n. 31).

121 During the procession to the altar, the opening liturgical song is sung (see nos. 25-26).



52. Then the Kyrie always begins, unless it has already been included as part of the penitential rite. Since it is a liturgical song by which the faithful praise the Lord and implore his mercy, it is ordinarily prayed by all, that is, alternately by the congregation and the choir or cantor.
As a rule each of the acclamations is repeated twice, though it may be repeated more, because of different languages, the music, or other circumstances. When the Kyrie is sung as a part of the penitential act, a trope may be inserted before each acclamation.



53. The Gloria is the ancient and venerable hymn in which the Church, assembled in the Holy Spirit, praises and entreats God the Father and the Lamb. The text of this hymn is not to be replaced by any other. The Gloria is begun by the priest or, as needs dictate, by a cantor or a choir, but is sung by everyone together, or by the people alternately with the choir, or by the choir alone. If not sung, it is to be recited either by all or by two parts of the congregation responding to each other.
The Gloria is sung or said on Sundays outside Advent and Lent, on solemnities and feasts, and in special, more solemn celebrations.


Responsorial Psalm:

61. After the first reading comes the responsorial psalm, which is an integral part of the liturgy of the word and holds great liturgical and pastoral importance, because it promotes meditation on the Word of God.
The responsorial psalm should correspond to each reading and should customarily be taken from the Lectionary.
It is appropriate that the responsorial psalm be sung, at least as far as the people’s response is concerned. Hence, the psalmist or cantor of the song sings the verses of the psalm at the ambo or other suitable place. However, in order that the people may be able to join in the responsorial psalm more readily, the people remain seated and listen, but also as a rule take part by singing the response, except when the psalm is sung straight through without the response. If the psalm cannot be sung, then it should be recited in a way more suited to fostering meditation on the word of God.

[US Adaptation] In the dioceses of the United States of America, the following may also be sung in place of the psalm assigned in the Lectionary for Mass: either the proper or seasonal antiphon and Psalm from the Lectionary, set either in the manner of the Roman or Simple Gradual, or, in another musical setting; or, an antiphon and Psalm from another collection of the psalms and antiphons, including psalms arranged in metrical form, providing that they have been approved by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops or the Diocesan Bishop.

Songs or hymns may not be used in place of the Responsorial Psalm. 

102. The psalmist or cantor of the psalm is to sing the psalm or other biblical song that comes between the readings. To fulfill their function correctly, these psalmists should possess the ability to sing and an aptitude for correct pronunciation and diction.



64 The Sequence is optional, except on Easter Sunday and Pentecost. It is sung before the Alleluia.


Gospel Acclamation (Alleluia):

62 After the reading which immediately precedes the Gospel, the Alleluia or another song indicated by the rubrics is sung, according to the liturgical season. An acclamation of this kind constitutes in itself a rite or act, by which the assembly of the faithful praises and welcomes and greets the Lord who is about to speak to them in the Gospel and professes its faith in liturgical song. The Alleluia is sung by all standing, led by either the choir or a cantor, and if appropriate, it may be repeated. The verse itself is sung either by the choir or by the cantor.

a) The Alleluia is sung in every season outside Lent. The verses are taken from the Lectionary or the Graduale.
b) During Lent in place of the Alleluia the verse before the Gospel is sung, as indicated in the Lectionary. It is also possible to sing another psalm or tract, as long as it is found in the Graduale.

63 When there is only one reading before the gospel reading:

a) during a season calling for the Alleluia, there is an option to use either the psalm with Alleluia as the response, or the responsorial psalm followed by the Alleluia with its verse;

b) during the season when the Alleluia is not allowed, either the psalm and the verse before the gospel or the psalm alone may be used.
c) The alleluia verse before the Gospel may be omitted if it is not sung.


67 The symbol or profession of faith serves as a way for all the people gathered together to respond to the word of God proclaimed in the readings taken from Sacred Scripture and explained in the homily, and so that, by professing the rule of faith in a formula approved for liturgical use, the great mysteries of the faith may be recalled and confirmed before their celebration in the Eucharist is begun.
68 The profession of faith is to be sung or said by the priest together with the people to respond and to give their assent to the word of God, heard in the readings and through the homily, and for them to call to mind the truths of faith before they begin to celebrate the Eucharist.
If it is sung, it is begun by the priest, or, as necessary, by a cantor or the choir. It is sung by all together, or by the people alternating with the choir.
If not sung, it must be recited by all together or by two parts of the congregation responding one to the other.


Offertory Song:

74. The procession bringing the gifts is accompanied by the liturgical song for the preparation of the gifts, which continues at least until the gifts have been placed on the altar. The rules for this liturgical song are the same as for singing the entrance antiphon (see n. 48). The liturgical song may always be associated with the offertory rites.

48. [US Adaptation] The opening liturgical song is sung alternately either by the choir and the people or by the cantor and the people; or it is sung entirely by the people or by the choir alone. In the dioceses of the United States of America there are four options for the cantus ad introitum: 

(1) the antiphon and Psalm from the Roman Missal as set to music by the Roman Gradual or in another musical setting; 

(2) the seasonal antiphon and Psalm of the Simple Gradual; 

(3) a song from another collection of psalms and antiphons, approved by the USCCB or the Diocesan Bishop, including psalms arranged in responsorial or metrical forms; 

(4) a suitable liturgical song chosen in accordance with GIRM, no. 48. If there is no singing for the entrance, the antiphon in the Missal is recited either by the faithful, by some of them, or by a reader; otherwise, it is recited by the priest himself, who may also incorporate it into his introductory remarks (see n. 31).



216 The preface is sung or said by the presiding priest celebrant alone. 



216 … the Sanctus is sung or recited by all concelebrants with the congregation and the choir.


Eucharistic Prayer:

May be sung by the celebrant. See note under General, 41, above.

32. The nature of the presidential texts demands that they be spoken in a loud and clear voice and that everyone present listen with attention. While the priest is speaking these texts, there should be no other prayer or liturgical song, and the organ or other instruments should not be played.


Doxology:  [“Through Him, with Him, in Him…]

236 The concluding doxology of the Eucharistic Prayer is said solely by the principal priest celebrant together with the other concelebrants, but not by the faithful.





Our Father:

81 In the Lord’s Prayer, daily food is prayed for, which for Christians means preeminently the Eucharistic bread, and for the forgiveness of sin, so that what is holy may be given to those who are holy. The priest offers the invitation to pray, but all the faithful say the prayer with him; he alone adds the embolism: Deliver us, which the people conclude with a doxology. The embolism, developing the last petition of the Lord’s Prayer, begs on behalf of the entire community of the faithful deliverance from the power of evil. The invitation, the prayer itself, the embolism, and the people’s concluding doxology are sung or are recited aloud.


Agnus Dei (Lamb of God):

155 The priest then takes the Eucharistic bread and breaks it over the paten. He places a small piece in the chalice, saying inaudibly: May this mingling. Meanwhile the Lamb of God is sung or recited by the choir and congregation (see no. 56:5).

366 It is not permitted to substitute for the chants found in the Order of Mass, e.g., at the Agnus Dei.


Communion Song:

86. During the priest’s reception of communion, the communion song is begun. Its function is to express outwardly the communicants’ union in spirit by means of the unity of their voices, to give evidence of joy of heart and to highlight more the “communitarian” character of the communion procession. The song continues while the Sacrament is being ministered to the faithful. But the communion song should be ended in good time whenever there is to be a hymn after communion.
Care must be taken that cantors are also able to receive communion conveniently.

[US Adaptation] 87. In the dioceses of the United States of America there are four options for the Cantus a Communionem: 

(1) the antiphon and Psalm from the Roman Missal as set to music in the Roman Gradual or in another musical setting; 

(2) the seasonal antiphon and Psalm of the Simple Gradual; 

(3) a song from another collection of psalms and antiphons, approved by the USCCB or the Diocesan Bishop, including psalms arranged in responsorial or metrical forms; 

(4) a suitable liturgical song chosen in accordance with GIRM, no. 86.

If there is no singing, the communion antiphon in the Missal may be recited either by the faithful, or by a group of them, or by a reader. Otherwise the priest himself says it after he has received communion and before he gives communion to them.


Post-Communion Song:

88. After communion, the priest and people may spend some time praying silently. If desired, either a psalm or other canticle of praise or a hymn may be sung by the entire congregation.



193. After the celebration of Mass, the acolyte and other ministers return in procession to the sacristy with the deacon and the priest in the same way and in the same order in which they entered.

A recessional hymn is not explicitly mentioned; however, it is customary to accompany a procession with song in the Latin Rite.

44. … Such movements and processions should be carried out becomingly in keeping with the norms prescribed for each while the liturgical songs proper to them are being sung.


Him, Not Hymn. Hymn-singing during Communion blocks reception of what Christ may have to say to us

By William Bentley Ball, Adoremus Bulletin Online Edition – Vol. III, No. 6: September 1997

While the comment of a lay person on the liturgy is not always welcomed by professional liturgists, if the lay person is also a lawyer, the comment is likely to be rejected even before it is heard. Surely the lawyer’s comment will be nit-picking, the vain posturing of the know-it-all, some slippery business to beware of and anyhow, why, for heaven’s sake, should a lawyer be opining on the liturgy?

With all the humility characteristic of my profession, I will accept this bad-mouthing and suspicion should it greet me and will not be deterred from the one comment on liturgy which I shall make, not in legalistic terms, indeed not as a lawyer, but simply as a fellow in the pews who loves the Faith and its Mass.

A couple of more disclaimers, and then I will get on with my one point. I’m not a crusader for returning the Mass to its pre-Vatican II form. The “new” Mass, said properly and reverently, is as good a Mass experience as I would wish for. Nor do I remotely share the view of Thomas Day, in his otherwise brilliant Why Catholics Can’t Sing, that songs such as “Be Not Afraid” and “On Eagles Wings” are kitsch. Here’s my single point:

The requirement that the congregation sing during the reception of Communion should be modified in order that Christ may be properly received. The “requirement” as found in the General Instruction of the Roman Missal, March 27, 1975:

“During the priest’s and the faithful’s reception of the sacrament the communion hymn is sung. Its function is to express outwardly the communicants’ union in spirit by means of the unity of their voices, to give evidence of joy of heart, and to make the procession to receive Christ’s body more fully an act of community. The song begins when the priest takes Communion and continues as long as seems appropriate while the faithful receive Christ’s body.” (Emphasis added)

“As long as seems appropriate” appears to most pastors to mean: until the last person in the Communion line has received. The requirement raises the question: should the communicant pray during reception? It is rarely asked, but when I have asked it, the answers I have been given are two. First, that “He who sings once, prays twice”; second, that the Communion songs are prayers. If prayer is the lifting up of the mind and hear to God, to adore him, thank him, repent to him or petition him, then the two answers aren’t adequate. The “he who sings” answer begs the question: he who sings what? The second similarly asks: Is the song really a prayer?

As we look over the songs most usually sung, we find that many of them (there are exceptions) are not prayers, but simply expressions of holy, or at least wholesome, ideas. As Jesus comes upon our tongues, we are, too often, bade to advise him that “Where charity and love prevail, There God is ever found”, that he should “Taste and see the goodness of the Lord”, that he should “Come before the table of the Lord”. We are to tell him “Let all mortal flesh keep silence”, or that “Peace is flowing like a river”, even that “Whatever you do to the least of my little ones, this you do unto me”.

This is all pious stuff, good sentiments, but none of it prayers to him. He who sings such things once isn’t praying at all unless he’s tuning out the sound all about him and desperately wedging in his greeting to the Lord. Those noble and sometimes inspiring songs are certainly appropriate to most Protestant church services where the person of Christ is not deemed actually present in the species.

Finally, he who sings may be doing just that only that vocalizing, heedless of whatever words may be in the hymn. But as King Claudius says in Hamlet, “Words without thoughts never to heaven go.” It’s odd to think that, at this most precious moment of the miracle of Jesus Christ’s coming to me, I may be ordered to address him in words not to him or from my own mind and heart, but from the pen of Bob Dufford, Sy Miller, David Haas, or Suzanne Toolan.

But there is another aspect of reception: listening. We do need silence, not only from enforced singing but for our own yapping minds, even though they try to be engaged in prayer. John Paul II recently stressed this very point. The hymn-singing obviously blocks the profounder reception of hearing what Christ may have to say to us. “Sorry, dear Jesus, no chance to hear you. I’m told to spend these critically precious moments telling you, doing all the talking, not hearing you.”

Suppose this: I get word from my dear old friend, Harry that he is going to come to my house to visit me. The doorbell rings. Here’s Harry, smiling, his hand extended, I greet him by singing: “Oh, say can you see, By the dawn’s early light”, and go on and on to complete the national anthem. It’s beautiful and inspiring, and I enjoy rendering it full throat. But good-natured Harry is puzzled and says: “Bill, what’s all this? What’s wrong with you? I’m your old friend, Harry! Aren’t you glad to see me? Can’t we just talk? I’ve been storing up things to tell you, and I thought you’d have things to tell me. Why are you singing at me?”

Either we are faced, at the Mass, with the reality of the actual Person of Christ coming to us in Communion, or we are faced with a gathering, an assembly, a prayer meeting. Now, the General Instruction does tell us that singing during reception is “an act of community.” Surely it is desirable for Catholics to do all they can to restore the Church to the sense of community it once had and to reverse the trend to a “diverse” (cafeteria) Catholicism.

Group-singing may help that, but when it pre-empts prayer and obliterates reception, it attacks the essence of the Eucharist the Real Presence. To be a community heedless of that, simply in order to be in some sense, a “community” is not only pointless but destructive of the Faith.

Cardinal Oddi, a decade ago, took note that, while the Communion lines were lengthening, the confessional lines were shortening. Bishop William K. Weigand, of Salt Lake City, in a forceful pastoral letter in 1992, sounded a strong alarm to what he observed was a growing decline in belief, among Catholics, in the Real Presence. Now, in 1997, we have incontrovertible statistical studies confirming this extreme misfortune.

While there are undoubtedly several reasons for this, one is surely the new dominance of musical distraction at the time when the concentration of congregations should be most intensely riveted on the great reality of Christ, alive, and graciously offered to us.

I can’t do better in my argument here today than to bring to my side a lawyer far better qualified than I to speak of this. Saint Thomas More, while a prisoner in the Tower in 1534, wrote “A Treatise to Receive the Blessed Body”. In the midst of all our singing at reception (and, in part, due to what is being sung), lost is the sense of the gravity of the moment of reception as well as its sublimity. More’s “Treatise” brings us powerfully to that sense as this brief passage from it shows:

Now when we have received our Lord and have Him in our body, let us not then let Him alone and get us forth about other things and look no more unto Him (for little good could he that so would serve any guest), but let all our business talk to Him, by devout meditation talk with Him. Let us say with the prophet: Audium quid loquator in me Dominus. (I will hear what our Lord will speak within me.)

It is in More’s sense, I plead: “Him, not hymn!”


Ritus Narcissus: Why Do We Sing Ourselves and Celebrate Ourselves?

By Father Paul Scalia, Adoremus Bulletin Online Edition – Vol. 5, No. 1: March 1999

Imagine the following scene: You arrive at Mass on Sunday, eager to thank God for His goodness to you. You slide into the pew early, kneel in prayer, and direct your praise and worship to your Lord and God. You stand as the song leader introduces the opening hymn: “Table of Plenty”. Suddenly your praise comes to a screeching halt, not because of your own prayers, but because of what you are singing. In fact you are no longer praising God at all, but singing to the others:

Come to the feast of heaven and earth!
Come to the table of plenty!
God will provide for all that we need,
here at the table of plenty.

Now it gets worse: you begin to sing His lines:

O, come and sit at my table
where saints and sinners are friends.
I wait to welcome the lost and lonely
to share the cup of my love.

And so at the very beginning of Mass, your conversation with God is derailed and transformed into a participation in the congregation’s introspection.

To appreciate the damage done by such hymns, we must first call to mind two essential aspects of the Mass: presence and dialogue. First of all, what distinguishes the Mass from all other forms of worship is the re-presentation of Christ’s sacrifice. The Mass does not merely recall or reenact Christ’s redemptive act but in fact makes present the mystery of faith, the passion, death and resurrection of Christ (cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1366).

Second, the presence of Christ in the Eucharist and indeed throughout the Mass makes possible a real dialogue between God and man; it creates an active conversation. The remembrance of someone does not lead to dialogue with that person; only to reminiscing. The presence of Christ in the Mass, however, inspires us to speak to Him as only the beloved can speak to the Lover. Thus the Mass is a dialogue between Christ and the Church, between God and man, in which God speaks His lines and we speak ours. He speaks to us through the readings and (we hope) the homily, while we respond to Him through the prayers of the priest, our personal prayers, and the hymns.

Accordingly, active participation at Mass requires the faithful to acknowledge the presence of Christ and enter the dialogue, taking the words of the Bride as their own. They embody the Bride, and their Mass parts — the Kyrie, Gloria, Sanctus, and Agnus Dei express her desire for union with the Bridegroom. Other texts used at Mass should reflect and deepen this sentiment. The dialogue reaches its culmination at the Consecration, when the Bridegroom speaks His definitive words of love and thus becomes really present to His Bride in the Eucharist.

Given the lyrics of much contemporary liturgical music, however, we must ask what has become of this dialogue and our ability to enter it. Many hymns have us sing only about ourselves and to ourselves, even going so far as to usurp God’s part. Such words fail to convey the true meaning of the Mass as a dialogue between Christ and the Church. The offending lyrics come in two varieties: in the first, we sing to one another and about one another, but do not include God in the conversation; and in the second, we sing God’s parts.


The Cult of Conceit: Why Are We Singing to Each Other?

A conversation demands that we include the other in the discussion. If someone speaks to you about himself, about you, about himself and you, but never really with you, you would call that person conceited. So have we become in our conversation with God: He humbles Himself to dwell among us under the form of bread and wine, while we ignore Him and sing about ourselves and to ourselves.

Of course, many traditional hymns also address the other believers rather than God. But a close look at such hymns (for example, “Now thank we all our God”, “Praise, my soul, the King of heaven”, or “Ye watchers and ye holy ones”) reveals a crucial difference: the traditional hymns address others only to invite them to worship God, while most contemporary songs invite us to glorify ourselves.

“Bread of Life” by Rory Cooney, provides a splendid example of this self-centered conversation. The theme of the song lends itself to the Communion rite. But unfortunately, the words distort the meaning of Communion and the dialogue that should be taking place:

I myself am the bread of life
you and I are the bread of life
taken and blessed, broken and shared
by Christ
that the world may live.

Aside from the fact that this song radically distorts Our Lord’s “Bread of Life” discourse, it also leaves God out of the conversation: we talk to ourselves. As the communicants come forward to receive the living God, they are singing about themselves. “Sing a New Church”, a triumphalist paean to diversity by Delores Dufner, OSB, also fosters the Cult of Us:

Let us bring the gifts that differ
And, in splendid, varied ways,
Sing a new Church into being,
One in faith and love and praise

So the chorus goes, and the verses similarly proclaim us to ourselves. Passing over the tremendous ecclesiological problems in the text, we should question what the song communicates to the congregation: songs about us constitute worship of the Almighty. We have replaced Him as the focus of worship.

A favorite Communion song in some parishes is “This Bread That We Share” by Dominic MacAller:

This bread that we share is the body of Christ,
this cup of blessing his blood.
We who come to this table bring all our wounds to be healed.
When we love one another as Christ has loved us,
we become God’s daughters and sons.
We become for each other the bread, the cup,
the presence of Christ revealed.

Again the words, which clumsily try to convey the beautiful theology of the Mystical Body, foster in the congregation a focus on itself at the very moment that it should be speaking to and about Himself.

One of the worst offenders in this cult of conceit is a song called “Anthem” by Tom Conry:

We are called, we are chosen.
We are Christ for one another.
We are promise to tomorrow,
while we are for him today.
We are sign, we are wonder,
we are sower, we are seed.
We are harvest, we are hunger.
We are question, we are creed.

Count them: 13 separate uses of “I” or “we” in these lines. Nor do the verses help: they do not sing to Christ, but only about Him and to … us! Although the verses do emphasize our inadequacy before God and dependence on Him, nevertheless, the dialogue with the Almighty has been shut down, and we sing to one another about one another and only secondarily about Him, the object of all our affections.

Songs such as these give us a wonderfully ridiculous image of a bride so enamoured with herself that she cannot see the Bridegroom awaiting her at the altar.


The Confused Dialogue: Why Are We Singing God’s Part?

Further, in order to carry on a conversation, each party must know his role and speak his lines. You and I cannot speak if I forget my role and insist on saying your lines. Romeo and Juliet would never have been lovers if he had strolled onto the scene and lamented, “O Romeo, Romeo! Wherefore art thou Romeo?”

Nor would he have thought her worth the trouble if she, while throwing open the shutters, asked, “What light through yonder window breaks?” The same holds true for the Liturgy: when we seize God’s lines we cripple the conversation and therefore the relationship.

For example, in the song “Hosea” by Gregory Norbet, OSB, we sing God’s words to us:

Come back to me with all your heart,
don’t let fear keep us apart.
Long have I waited for your coming home to me
and living deeply our new life.

The question arises, To whom are we speaking? We cannot possibly be speaking to God, because it would make no sense for us to speak these words to Him. One hopes that these words are not intended for each other, for that would be the height of arrogance. In fact, when we sing these words we speak to no one in particular. We no longer converse with God at all, but simply reminisce about Him.

Similarly with the chorus of the song “I Have Loved You” by Michael Joncas:

I have loved you with an everlasting love,
I have called you and you are mine;
I have loved you with an everlasting love,
I have called you and you are mine.

Of course, the “I” here is God not us. So why are we singing God’s part? Again, because this cannot possibly be conversational, we reduce the event to mere remembrance. With the elimination of the dialogue with God, active participation becomes nostalgic reminiscence.

At certain moments of the Mass, the peculiarity of these lyrics becomes strikingly clear. At Communion, for instance, when the Creator comes to dwell within His creatures, and we come forward to receive the Almighty, we often act like anything but creatures:

I, the Lord of sea and sky,
I have heard my people cry,
all who dwell in dark and sin
my hand will save.
I who made the stars of night,
I will make their darkness bright
Who will bear my light to them?
Whom shall I send?

Granted, the chorus of the song (“Here I Am” by Dan Schutte) reflects the proper dialogue. But the verses have us speaking in God’s voice. That leaves us little room to recognize our dependence on Him and need for Him in the Eucharist.

Perhaps most offensive are those songs that take the words of Consecration as the refrain. For example, “Take and Eat” by Michael Joncas and James Quinn:

Take and eat; take and eat:
This is my body given up for you.
Take and drink; take and drink:
This is my blood given up for you.

More than any others, these lyrics eliminate the dialogue of the Mass by having us speak God’s lines. The words of Consecration comprise God’s final act of love for man: by them Christ gave Himself definitively to the Church; by them Christ continues to renew His sacrifice; by them Christ the Bridegroom presents Himself to His Bride. Priests have special reverence for these words, because in saying them they stand in the person of Christ and speak with the voice of Christ. The Consecration holds pride of place at Mass precisely because at that moment a man dares to speak the words of God the Son to God the Father.

Unfortunately, what should be regarded as sacred and exceptional is now common domain. We all sing — to whom? — what we should hear only from Christ. So how can we really understand its significance?

These and similar lyrics do not simply confuse the situation, they distort the Mass itself. By usurping God’s role we abolish any sense of conversation and in effect deny the presence of Christ at Mass. We elevate ourselves to God’s level and lower the Mass to a mere moment of remembrance.


Ritus Narcissus

The myth of Narcissus provides a good lesson for modern liturgy. The handsome young man, so enchanted with his own looks, sat gazing at his reflection in the water. He could not bring himself to leave his image and so grew rooted to the spot, admiring himself.

Too many current songs encourage us to do the same. We talk to ourselves and sing love songs to ourselves.

Just as Narcissus’s self-adulation rendered himself incapable of a relationship and therefore of love, so also these hymns of conceit cripple our ability to speak with God. If God sees that we are so smitten with our own presence, He may judge us unfit to enter His.

Father Scalia is a priest in the diocese of Arlington and a frequent contributor to the Adoremus Bulletin.


“Active Participation” in Chant EXTRACT

by the Rt. Rev. Martin B. Hellriegel, Adoremus Bulletin Online Edition – Vol. VI, No. 8: November 2000
Monsignor Martin B. Hellriegel (1890-1981), an Apostolic Protonotary, was one of the giants of the 20th century Liturgical Movement that Pope Pius X inspired. A native of Heppenheim, Germany, his most productive years were spent in America, where he was chaplain to the Most Precious Blood Sisters in O’Fallon, Missouri, then pastor of Holy Cross parish in St. Louis. Considered an innovator before the Second Vatican Council, Monsignor Hellriegel was influential in promoting liturgical reforms that Pope Pius XII had urged in Mediator Dei, his 1947 encyclical on the liturgy — in particular the restoration of the Easter Vigil and the participation of the congregation in the chants of the Mass.

Very soon after the Council, his views came to be considered passé in liturgical circles. Nevertheless, he achieved in his own parish Church, Holy Cross, most of the objectives of the Council’s Constitution on the Liturgy. In the article reprinted here, he gives advice on encouraging active (actual) participation by the congregation in liturgical chant.

This essay originally appeared in the January-February 1956 issue of Caecilia, a now-defunct journal devoted to sacred music. – Editor

Indeed it is very necessary that the faithful attend the sacred ceremonies. Not as if they were outsiders or mute onlookers, but let them fully appreciate the beauty of the liturgy and take part in the sacred ceremonies, alternating their voices with the priest and choir, according to the prescribed norms.” Mediator Dei, §192 

Here are a few suggestions:

1) It is important to impress on choir members and congregation that there can be no such thing in church as “music for music’s sake”, or “music for gratification sake”. The music in the house of God must be for the glory of God and the edification of the faithful. The music must be worship of God, not of men.

2) Services must be well prepared. Our adult choir members on Sundays, and our children choristers every day, assemble 20 minutes before service to go through their music, mark their books, etc. There must be no haste, neither at the altar, nor in the choir. People must have their texts, and the respective numbers of the Mass, Credo and hymns must be posted on the hymn-board. Order is not as yet perfection, but there is no perfection without order. The best we can give to our God is not good enough. Sancta sancte! Holy things must be done in a holy way!

3) I am convinced that we need a reasonable reduction of “black” Masses, lest we experience a spiritual black-out. No organist can, for any length of time, play a daily Requiem (or two or three on the same day) and remain spiritually fresh: neither can priest and people especially children. If these endless Requiems were “according to the mind of the Church”, why did the Church not supply us with some five or six different musical settings? We have eighteen chant Masses for feasts, but only one for the Requiem. Est modus in rebus! Which might be colloquially translated as: “Let’s not overdo it”. It certainly is not difficult to teach people to have sung Masses offered instead of Requiems. From a pastoral viewpoint the “Requiem problem” is serious matter which must be given earnest consideration. [Ed. Note:
The Requiem Masses almost completely disappeared. The “Requiem problem” today is almost the opposite as in 1956.]

4) One of the priests attends the choir rehearsals, not because the organist is unable to keep proper discipline, but to give prestige to the work, a work so sacred and important that no other activities must stand in the way. Let us not become guilty of an inversion of values! First things first!

5) The choirmaster’s position in the light of the divine mysteries is, indeed, an exalted one. Needless to say, he must lead an exemplary life. The Vespers hymn of a confessor well expresses the program of his life. “Saintly and prudent, modest in behavior, peaceful and sober, chaste is he and humble, while this life’s vigor, coursing through his members, quickens his being”. He must show patience and cheerfulness. Let him begin and close his rehearsals with prayer, be prepared to translate the Latin texts (especially of the Propers), and interpret the spirit of the chant. He is entitled to the respect of the priest and people of the parish and also to a decent salary.

6) The choir members, too, must be exemplary Christians, the cream of the parish. Only chaste and noble souls can fittingly sing the chaste and noble songs of the Church. I suggest that in the music room a chart be hung up with the words vox and cor superimposed horizontally and vertically in the shape of a Greek cross, as if to say: “What the heart contains the voice expresses”.

7) Organist and choir must cheerfully collaborate in the restoration of the ordinary (Kyrie, Gloria, Credo, Sanctus, and Agnus) to the people to whom it rightfully belongs.

Regarding part music, take what is possible and do it well. It is better to let Palestrina rest in peace than compel him to turn over in his grave. Of great importance it is, moreover, to work towards proper diction, not only with children but also with adults.

In sum: “Let the full harmonious singing of our people rise to heaven like the bursting of a thunderous sea and let them testify by the melody of their song to the unity of their hearts and minds, as becomes brothers and the children of the same Father” (Mediator Dei, §194).


Rethinking the Responsorial Gloria

By Andrew Brownell, Adoremus Bulletin Online Edition – Vol. VI, No. 10 – February 2001

“When I see a hymn that says ‘Refrain’, I usually do …” Austin C. Lovelace

In the course of working with Catholic liturgical music and dealing with all of its problems, one must invariably encounter that lamentable practice of singing the Gloria in excelsis with a refrain. Its use in the Catholic Church is now so widespread that one hardly thinks twice when singing a responsorial Gloria, and the vast majority of settings being composed today are of this form. Its predominance extends to other languages as well; a quick look at the Spanish hymnal Flor y canto, 1989 edition, reveals twelve settings of the Gloria, all of them responsorial.1

The acceptance of this practice is a curious phenomenon, as it is thoroughly foreign to the liturgical history of this hymn. The Gloria has existed, in one form or another, since before the 6th century, when it was used exclusively in papal Masses. The Latin text arrived at its current form in the 9th century, over a thousand years ago.2 Its use by clergy of lower rank was strictly regulated for specific occasions, until its universal use was granted in the late 11th century.3 The modern Kyriale provides nineteen chant settings of the Gloria of “varying antiquity”.4 None of these is responsorial, even as the practice of alternating verses and antiphons comes directly out of the chant tradition.

Western art music, of course, has a rich history of setting the Mass Ordinary. But anyone familiar with the Renaissance polyphony of Palestrina, the orchestral Masses of Mozart and Haydn, or the individual settings of the Gloria by Vivaldi and Poulenc knows that none of these composers, in his infinite wisdom, chose to set the text with a refrain.

What is more, the responsorial Gloria is a phenomenon unique to contemporary Roman Catholic practice. The Hymnal 1982 of the Episcopal Church, our closest liturgical brethren, contains eighteen settings of the Gloria in its Service Music section (including the 1985 appendix), both in the Rite I English and in the Rite II version. None of these settings is responsorial.5 In a more liturgically distant denomination, the Lutheran Book of Worship has only three settings; again, none of these is responsorial.6
The Presbyterian Hymnal contains two settings of the Gloria, neither of which is responsorial.7 The idea is clearly alien to virtually all Protestant denominations who use the Gloria in their liturgies. It does not seem to have occurred to anyone outside the Catholic Church that the Gloria can be set as a verse-and-refrain composition.

Considering more than fifteen centuries of liturgical tradition both inside and outside the Catholic Church, the responsorial Gloria is nothing short of revolutionary! This kind of novelty and exclusivity warrants serious consideration of its roots, and like so many other problems with Catholic music today, its origins can be traced to the implementation of the liturgical renewal following the Second Vatican Council. The verse-and-refrain form is the trademark of folk music, that counter-cultural idiom that has dominated Catholic music in the United States for the last thirty years. As a matter of fact, “sacro-pop” hymnody has been quite incapable of producing anything beyond the verse-and-refrain form.

This limitation, combined with the pervasiveness of the folk style, has resulted in the prevalence of the responsorial Gloria over the “through-composed” form. A multitude of objections may legitimately be leveled against the rise of the folk style in Catholic music, but ultimately they are independent of the specific problems associated with the responsorial Gloria. Good reasons exist to reject it as a liturgical, musical, and semantic disaster.

The responsorial Gloria is blatantly contrary to the ideal of active participation (at least, as it is commonly understood), which is ironic since the proponents of active participation and modern liturgical composers are often in the same camp.

Consider the typical scenario in the Mass: the musicians at the front of the church, whose function is often described as “leading the congregation in song”, begin to sing the refrain. In its repetition, various gestures are employed to get the congregation to join in. Even if the congregation does join in, it is immediately left by the side of the road while the cantor alone declaims the rest of the text.

Almost universally, “missalettes” contain music for the refrain only; the congregation is repeatedly denied the opportunity to sing the rest of the Gloria. This complicates the relationship between the cantor and congregation, giving the impression that the congregation is being sung to, rather than being led in song. The perception of the cantor as a performer is, of course, entirely logical; after all, the cantor is usually at the front of the church with a microphone and does most of the singing. This problem is only magnified by having the cantor sing text that is off-limits to everyone else, and it contributes to the problem of the passive congregation, who does not wish to interrupt the performance. In short, it is bad liturgy.

If active participation is a goal of the post-Vatican II liturgy, there can be no justification for junking the through-composed Gloria and replacing it with responsorial settings. If the congregation can sing the entire text, then it should be allowed to do so. But the implication from all the refrain-only settings seems to be that the congregation cannot do this, and that liturgical composers do not trust the ability of the congregation to learn an entire Gloria.

The text assigned to the congregation usually consists only of the first complete sentence of the hymn: “Glory to God in the highest, and peace to his people on earth”. Sometimes it is even less than that. Christopher Walker’s well-known “Celtic Mass” (which, incidentally, offers a through-composed setting) has only the first half of this sentence as a refrain.8 This tells the congregation that musicians do not think they can learn anything more than a few words. But this is, after all, the same congregation that is supposed to remember the Nicene Creed, all the other parts of the Mass, a handful of hymns, and negotiate a new Psalm response every week. Is singing the entire Gloria really the straw to break the camel’s back?

Another major problem with the responsorial Gloria is its tendency to foster radical alterations of the liturgical text, in violation of Sacrosanctum Concilium, which states that no one may “add, remove, or change” anything in the liturgy.9 Further alteration of the Gloria is particularly dangerous, as English-speaking countries have already been given a remarkably inept translation by ICEL [International Commission on English in the Liturgy] to work with. Its opening sentence alone obscures the hymn’s biblical origins (Luke 2:14).


Latin liturgical text

Gloria in excelsis Deo
Et in terra pax hominibus bonæ voluntatis.

Douay-Rheims translation

Glory to God in the highest;
and on earth peace to men of good will.

ICEL translation

Glory to God in the highest,
and peace to his people on earth.

The ICEL translation is oversimplified and omits an important point; there is a prerequisite of bonæ voluntatis, or eudokias in Greek, for the reception of this peace.10 But eudokias “is not the good will of men but the good will of God, God’s pleasure, God’s favor and grace”.11 In other words, men “partake of this peace not because of a turn of fortune’s wheel, but because of God’s free, merciful decree”.12 This is a theologically complex statement, and “peace to his people on earth” fails to convey any of this.

Apparently, liturgical composers have seen a need to further alter an already diluted text. This first sentence of the Gloria, typically used as the refrain, often undergoes additional transformation at the hands of composers, and some of the results are quite startling. The “God, here among us Mass” of Christopher Willcock, SJ, alters the refrain to “Glory to you, Lord our God, now and until the end of time.”13 This begs for an “Amen”, sounding more like a doxology at the end of a prayer than the beginning of a hymn. Carey Landry’s Young People’s Mass of 1979 (which contains a responsorial Sanctus and takes a hacksaw to Eucharistic Prayer II) has the following refrain: “Glory be to the Father; glory be to the Son; Glory be to the Spirit, All glory to our God”!14 It seems that the composer has confused the Gloria in excelsis with the Gloria Patri. With these bizarre alterations, the original meaning of the Biblical text has been completely lost.

Responsorial Gloria settings in Spanish are among the offenders as well. The official Spanish text is “Gloria a Dios en el cielo, y en la tierra paz a los hombres que ama el Señor“. This translation more faithfully conveys the original meaning, although it isn’t exactly Cervantes. But in various Spanish settings, the word “Dios” gets replaced with virtually every other synonym in existence, yielding “Gloria al Señor“, “Gloria a Ti“, “Gloria a nuestro Dios“, or “Gloria a mi Dios“.

Returning to the ICEL translation, one discovers that after the first sentence, things only get worse. The various types of laudation that follow are severely truncated, some of the majestic titles given to Jesus are altered, and the penitential petitions beginning at “Qui tollis” undergo a kind of mix-and-match operation to emerge as something entirely different.

Additional modification of this curious translation is necessary to make the Gloria fit the straitjacket of the verse-and-refrain setting. Unfortunately, the Gloria is a prose poem, and any attempt to divide the rest of the text into equal parts and set it metrically to the same music is nearly impossible. (Marty Haugen’s Mass of Creation is a notable exception, providing new music for each “verse”.15) That composers are willing to attempt it is a testament to their dedication, perhaps. Various solutions have been devised for this, always involving further alteration of the official liturgical text.

Carey Landry’s Young People’s Mass, with its confusing refrain, invites further analysis. The remainder of the text, if one can honestly say that the opening sentence has already been set, is divided into three verses. The first verse is little more than a paraphrase of the laudatory section of the hymn, and it includes some redundant repetition:

We praise you, we bless you, we give you thanks.

We praise you for your glory.
We praise you, we bless you, we worship you,
O Lord, our God.

The praise is clear enough. But what the verse lacks are the majestic titles for God found in the original. The emphasis in this verse is exclusively on the actions of the faithful, possibly a symptom of man-centered liturgical theology.

In the second verse, the petition for mercy is excised:

Lord Jesus Christ,
only Son of God!
You are one with the Father.
Receive our prayer.

Gone are the references to Jesus as the “Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world”. Indeed, there is no mention of sin at all, which completely neutralizes the penitential tone of this section of the Gloria. In fairness to the composer, this setting was written for use with a young congregation, as the title of this Mass implies. But again, the composer is assuming a complete lack of intelligence on the part of the congregation. Do children really need a dumbed-down version of the Gloria? Surely there is nothing in the original text that is objectionable or inappropriate for children.16

Musically speaking, this setting is rife with problems. The first verse, for example, has thirty-one syllables, whereas the second has only twenty, over a third fewer. This is quite inexplicable, as the whole point of altering the text is to make it fit into metrical verses. But Landry’s verses are so full of tied notes, rests in the text, small notes for extra syllables, and so on that one wonders why the composer decided on such an unyielding version of the Gloria in the first place. What is more, the way in which the text has been altered in its focus on man and deliberate disregard for sin displays far too many influences of unorthodox theology to be coincidental. Rather, the composer seems to have a non-musical agenda.

Another textually altered setting is Mike Anderson’s “charismatic” Gloria of 1983. Aesthetic considerations aside — the refrain could easily be a rejected Madonna tune from the mid-80s — the refrain is in Latin, to this author’s utter bewilderment. However, it only contains the words “Gloria in excelsis Deo“, and the missing half of this sentence is only tangentially referred to in the first verse. The use of Latin also seems to be at odds with the enthusiastic clapping notated in the refrain, resulting in an unsuccessful marriage of “contemporary” elements with the traditional “old” language. The penitential mini-litany is carelessly dissected at the end of the second verse: “You take away our sins, O Lord, have mercy on us all”.

Considering that this is a petition for God’s mercy, the music is curiously banal at this point. But what is more, the logical continuation of this is interrupted by the refrain and only resumed in the third verse, creating a discontinuity in the flow of the text. The fourth and final verse seems to be entirely unrelated with the established text, and an invention of the composer:

Glory, Father and Son,

Glory, Holy Spirit,
to you we raise our hands up high,
we glorify your name.

For some reason, the first half of this verse is lacking in verbs and articles. This level of syntax is unworthy of even the Teletubbies, much less the Holy Mass.17

At the end of the Gloria, the “Amen” is a very important event. The text covers so much ground so quickly, including the angelic address, declarations of God’s majesty, exploration of Jesus’ sacrificial role, and even a penitential litany, that it desperately requires some sort of closure. The word “Amen” provides this. In many responsorial settings of the Gloria, the “Amen” is omitted, as in the settings of Landry18 and Anderson.19 In the settings that do include it, the formula of responsorial composition demands that the refrain be repeated at the end, rendering the finality of the “Amen” meaningless.

A more innovative solution to the problem of setting the text in verses can be seen in Peter Jones’s Glory to God of 1982. It does not involve actual alteration of the liturgical text, but it does re-organize the text in an unbelievably confusing and thoroughly unnecessary manner. (It also has the extraordinary tempo marking of “Slow but jolly”.) Astonishingly, the score identifies four refrains, although only the first is really used as such; refrains 2, 3, and 4 are really just interjections from the congregation. Why the congregation would be thought capable of jumping in mid-stream (on off-beats!) to make some of these proclamations, but incapable of singing the entire Gloria, is a mystery known only to the composer.20

But this setting raises many questions beyond issues of practicality. Considering only how the text is arranged, one discovers that in this setting with four “refrains”, a hymn of praise to God is transformed into a dialogue among the faithful. (This seems to be another example of anthropocentric theological influence.) The text of the Gloria is clearly addressed to God, so it is illogical and confusing that the faithful should be singing to each other. The imperative clauses of the penitential section are assigned to the congregation in refrains 3 and 4, with the result that the congregation appears to be praying to the cantor.

What possible musical or liturgical purpose could this serve? In the highly unlikely event that a church would be able to execute this Gloria in accordance with the composer’s directions the cantor usually ends up performing the whole piece a very eerie dynamic would emerge between the cantor and congregation, going far beyond the performer versus audience situation. The exact role of the cantor here, as recipient of the congregation’s petitions, is unclear and disturbing. It is possible that the composer has not considered the ramifications of his creation, but seen in this light, Glory to God becomes theologically suspicious, if not downright sinister.

Some of these textual modifications are so radical that barely a ghost of the original text remains. One wonders how composers can get away with calling these compositions settings of the Gloria, or whether they have any respect for the sanctity of liturgical text. (Carey Landry certainly didn’t.21) Surely there can be no objection to freely altering the text of the Gloria and presenting it as an independent hymn, but composers become irresponsible and dishonest both liturgically and musically by masquerading their free compositions as legitimate settings of the Mass Ordinary.

All of the settings examined above differ dramatically from one another in both content and setting. What all of them share in common, however, is tearing the unity and flow of the Gloria to shreds.

The Gloria took three centuries to arrive at its final form, and this only includes its years of existence in Latin. Surely the writers of antiquity knew what they were doing. The text of this ancient hymn displays an overriding unity when viewed as a whole; each idea in the text logically follows the preceding one and flows directly into the next. To interrupt this flow anywhere, even where a division seems logical, with a sudden exclamation of “Glory”! is insensitive in the extreme. Fifteen centuries of musical practice affirm this judgment. Even worse is the case of Anderson’s Gloria ripping apart the progression of an idea in the penitential section and arranging it on either side of a refrain. Musically speaking, this is an indefensible case of poor text-setting. 22

Protestant hymnals do not have any responsorial settings of the Gloria for a very good reason; the Gloria is not a responsorial hymn. To set it as such violates the flow of ideas in the text and requires a kind of linguistic gymnastics to fit the text into verses. The very nature of the text makes it inappropriate for a responsorial setting, and the mountain of liturgical and musical problems that are created by attempting it cannot easily be solved if the end result even warrants the effort.

Through-composed settings, with everyone singing the entire Gloria, are not the only answer, of course. Tradition has provided other ways to sing the Gloria, antiphonal singing (alternating verses) and chanting being regrettably underused today. With these splendid traditional practices remaining to be explored, it is clear that the time has come to consign the responsorial Gloria to the scrap heap of failed liturgical experiments.

Andrew Brownell is a pianist who has won awards both as a soloist and as a chamber musician. He is currently a graduate student of music at the University of Southern California and serves as organist at St. Vincent dePaul in Los Angeles.


1 Flor y canto (Portland: Oregon Catholic Press, 1989), nos. 590-601.
2 “Gloria in excelsis“, The New Harvard Dictionary of Music, ed. Don Michael Randel (Cambridge, 1986), 342.
3 Joseph Jungmann, SJ, The Mass of the Roman Rite, trans. Francis Brunner C.Ss.R., Rev. Charles Riepe (New York: Benziger Brothers Inc., 1959), 238.
4 “Gloria in excelsis“, op. cit., 343.
5 The Hymnal 1982 (New York: Church Hymnal Corporation, 1985), S-201 through S-204, S-272 through S-281, S-396 through S-399.6 Inter-Lutheran Commission on Worship, Lutheran Book of Worship (Minneapolis: Augsburg Publishing House, 1978), 58, 79, 100.
7 The Presbyterian Hymnal (Louisville: Westminster/John Knox Press, 1990), nos. 566, 575.8 Christopher Walker, Celtic Mass (Portland: Oregon Catholic Press, 1996).
9 Vatican Council II, Constitution Sacrosanctum Concilium (1963), art. 22.3. Cf. Sacred Congregation for the Sacraments and Divine Worship, Instruction Inaestimabile Donum (1980).
10 The original Greek for this verse reads: doxa en uyistois qew kai epi ghs eiphnh en anqrwpois eudokias
11 Joseph Jungmann, SJ, op. cit., 234.
12 Ibid., loc. cit.
13 Christopher Willcock, SJ, God, Here Among Us Mass (Portland: Oregon Catholic Press, 1991).
14 Carey Landry, Young People’s Mass (Cincinnati, North American Liturgy Resources, 1979).
15 Marty Haugen, Mass of Creation (Chicago: G.I.A. Publications, 1984).
16 Landry, op. cit.
17 Mike Anderson, Gloria (Portland: Oregon Catholic Press, 1983).
18 Landry, op. cit.
19 Anderson, op. cit.
20 Peter Jones, Glory to God (Portland: Oregon Catholic Press, 1982).
21 Landry, op. cit. See the responsorial Sanctus and the treatment of Eucharistic Prayer II, rendered virtually unrecognizable and illicit with the addition of congregational acclamations.

22 Anderson, op. cit.


On adding “tropes” to the Agnus Dei

Adoremus Bulletin Online Edition – Vol. VIII, No. 8: November 2002

Editor’s Note: Several readers have inquired recently about substituting or adding phrases to the Agnus Dei (Lamb of God) prayer of the Mass — usually other titles, such as “Jesus, Prince of Peace”.

We intend to address this matter in a future article*, but have decided to publish some of these letters with a response now, in the hope that it will be useful to people who are concerned, as we are, that the Church’s very deliberate emphasis on the Sacrifice of the Lamb of God by the threefold repetition of this title in the Agnus Dei prayer, is diminished by this practice. *See following page


Are there approved translations of the Agnus Dei that refer to Christ as the one “who takes away the fear and the pain”, or as “the way of justice and peace”? I belong to a generally orthodox parish whose music minister has sought to make sure that 2/3 or more of our Sabbath and Holy Day hymns are from 1968-1985, and he has also recently begun to alter the Agnus Dei in the Liturgy. Could you point me in the right direction for locating the pertinent documents that govern the approved translations of this part of the Canon of the Holy Mass? I would be most grateful to you for your help. Mark A. Newcomb
Can you tell me where I can find information on whether it is correct to use different titles in place of “Lamb of God” when the Agnus Dei is repeated? There is a difference of opinion among our music people and we need an authoritative document. Margaret Comstock
Would you know a resource to reference concerning the use of Mass settings that do not use the same words as those contained within the usual Mass rite? I specifically refer to the “Lamb of God” written by Bernadette Farrell in the “Mass of Hope”. Although it is lovely, it does not use the words “Lamb of God, Who takes away the sins of the world, have mercy on us” and the final “Lamb of God, Who takes away the sins of the world, grant us peace”. It would seem those words would be essential, but perhaps there is latitude allowed.

Additionally, I was recently told by a choral director that the “latest interpretation” given to musicians is that Communion time is basically a procession, and therefore music more befitting a procession and congregational unity should be used, as opposed to music that reflects personal love of Jesus. Is there anything that can be referenced to counter this, or is it correct?

I was informed that according to the US bishop’s “document #68”, both the “Lamb of God” and the “Lord Have Mercy” [Kyrie eleison] are considered litanies, and exact wording is not required as long as the meaning is found. Is that correct? And do you know what document they are referring to? Judy Hinickle, Wisconsin

The matter of adding “tropes”, or phrases, to the Agnus Dei (also the Kyrie) is a growing concern. As you note, composers of Mass music have become very freewheeling in adding or even substituting new words of their own composition to the Mass, which many people find annoying and disturbing, for a variety of reasons.

There is no justification whatever for eliminating the texts that are an intrinsic part of the Mass and replacing them with other words. The official texts are always required (even when it is permissible to add other phrases, as in a true litany). The new Missal’s Institutio Generalis [IGMR] says this clearly.

#366: It is not permitted to substitute for the chants found in the Order of Mass, e.g., at the Agnus Dei.

The “latest interpretations” that you heard would eliminate traditional Eucharistic hymns deemed “devotional”, (or would require congregational singing throughout the entire distribution of Communion), are just that: interpretations — opinions of individuals. Such interpretations are by no means Church law, and should never be represented as such.

The document to which you refer is “Music in Catholic Worship”. MCW paragraph 68 says in its only section mentioning the Agnus Dei:

#68: The Agnus Dei is a litany-song to accompany the breaking of the bread, in preparation for Communion. The invocation and response may be repeated as the action demands. The final response is always “grant us peace”. Unlike the “Holy, Holy, Holy Lord”, and the Lord’s Prayer, the “Lamb of God” is not necessarily a song of the people. Hence it may be sung by the choir, though the people should generally make the response. This, as you see, allows only for repetition of “the invocation and response”. The invocation being “Lamb of God…”

A commentary on MCW was published by the National Association of Pastoral Musicians in 1983. The discussion on the Agnus Dei was written by Monsignor Frederick McManus. The comments below on the Agnus Dei are by Monsignor McManus from his paper, “Word, Song and Gesture Articulate the Communion Rite“.

“Ideally the litany form of the Agnus Dei should be respected, with a cantor or small group singing the invocation (‘Lamb of God: you take away the sins of the world’) and the people, together with the choir making each response. But other arrangements are possible; strengthening or elaborating the melody by part singing, even singing the text as a kind of motet rather than a litany. In some countries alternative texts are used, including the alternative translation composed by the ecumenical International Consultation on English Texts (‘Jesus, Lamb of God / Have mercy on us / Jesus, bearer of our sins / Have mercy on us / Jesus, redeemer of the world / Give us your peace’.) Alternative texts have not been formally sanctioned for the United States”. Music in Catholic Worship: The NPM Commentary (1983, revised edition. The Pastoral Press, Washington, DC, pp. 125-131.)

The first specific mention of alternate texts is in Liturgical Music Today, a 1982 statement of the Bishops’ Committee on Liturgy. Like its counterpart on architecture, Environment and Art in Catholic Worship (EACW), LMT [Liturgical Music Today] is not an authoritative document, but it has been invoked as if it were. In a section on “litanies” LMT says: 20. The Lamb of God achieves greater significance at Masses when a larger sized Eucharistic bread is broken for distribution and, when Communion is given under both kinds, chalices must be filled. The litany is prolonged to accompany this action of breaking and pouring. In this case one should not hesitate to add tropes to the litany so that the prayerfulness of the rite may be enriched.

Although liturgists have been advocating adding new texts of their own composition for some years, the practice is unwarranted by the official documents.


Worthy is the Lamb

By Susan Benofy Adoremus Bulletin Online Edition – Vol. VIII, No. 9: December 2002 – January 2003

Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power and riches, wisdom and strength, honor and glory and blessing! Revelation 5:12

This is the cry of a countless multitude worshipping the Lamb of God, described in the Book of Revelation. The Lamb, of course, is Christ, whom John the Baptist called “The Lamb of God who takes away the sins [sic] of the world” (John 1:29) at the beginning of His public life. The Lamb, slain, yet triumphant, is an image of the Risen Christ.

The image of the Lamb, worshipped in the heavenly Liturgy described in Revelations [sic], has been incorporated into the Mass in three places: 1. in the Gloria (Domine Deus, Agnus Dei, Filius Patris, qui tollis peccata mundi, miserere nobis… [Lord God, Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world, have mercy on us…]); 2, at the beginning of Communion, when the priest elevates the host and chalice (Ecce Agnus Dei, ecce qui tollit peccata mundi [Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world]); and 3, a repeated invocation at the fraction, the breaking of the consecrated bread for Holy Communion (Agnus Dei qui tollis peccata mundi, miserere nobis… [Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world, have mercy on us]). This repeated invocation of Christ, the Lamb of God, has been part of the Mass since at least the seventh century. In the earliest times, the Agnus Dei chant accompanied the rather elaborate fraction rite. By the ninth century, after deepened understanding of the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist led to the universal use of unleavened bread, the Agnus Dei chant became a triple repetition concluding with the phrase “dona nobis pacem” (grant us peace), except at funeral or Requiem Masses that substituted “dona eis requiem” (grant them rest) for the miserere. The Agnus Dei also seems to have been sung during Communion.

Jesuit liturgical historian Joseph A. Jungmann, SJ, in his 1949 history of the Mass, comments:

The ceremony which had previously been so carefully built up now disappears, either because the breaking has been taken care of beforehand … or because the particles intended for the Communion of the faithful were already prepared in the desired shape and size — a thing which was not the rule till the eleventh century.1

The Agnus Dei continued in this triple-repeated form for centuries. In the Roman Missal of 1970, this chant was designated at the fraction, and the rubrics stated that the repetitions could continue “as often as necessary to accompany the breaking of the bread”:

Agnus Dei: during the breaking of the bread and the commingling, the Agnus Dei is as a rule sung by the choir or cantor with the congregation responding; otherwise it is recited aloud. This invocation may be repeated as often as necessary to accompany the breaking of the bread. The final reprise concludes with the words, grant us peace.

(1970 General Instruction of the Roman Missal, §56 e)


“We need new words and actions”
Thus, it is clear, though the reformed rite permitted more than three invocations of Agnus Dei, it continued to specify the text. Nevertheless, almost as soon as the General Instruction of the Roman Missal (GIRM) was released in a preliminary version in 1969, some liturgists suggested changes to the Communion rite — in particular to the ancient text of the Agnus Dei.

In a 1969 book on Liturgy for small groups, Father Robert Hovda and Gabe Huck objected to the “vertical” theology and “individualistic” piety evident during the Communion Rite and advocated “new words and actions”:

[I]t would seem we need new forms — words and actions — to counter such a strong “tradition”. We need words that unmistakably and unequivocally express the significance of a group of persons, individuals, sharing commonly in this broken bread and poured-out wine.2

Both Father Hovda (a priest of the diocese of Fargo) and Huck worked for The Liturgical Conference in 1969, and their strenuous emphasis on the “horizontal” dimension of the Eucharistic celebration had a strong influence on parish liturgies. (Huck later became director of Liturgy Training Publications of the Archdiocese of Chicago.)

The replacement of the Agnus Dei with “new forms” became a serious enough problem that an inquiry was directed to the Holy See’s Congregation for Divine Worship. The question and reply were published in 1975 in the Congregation’s journal Notitiae:

QUERY: May the singing of “Shalom” replace the singing of the “Agnus Dei“?

REPLY: No. The Ordinary of the Mass in all its parts must be followed as it appears in the Missal. Some slight adaptation is countenanced in the “Directory for Masses with Children” no. 31. What is established for children, however, is not transferable to other assemblies. (p. 205)


What part of “no”…?
The Congregation’s advice was not heeded, however, despite this further clarification of what was already quite clear in the text of the GIRM. Composers inserted new “invocations” in their settings of the chant to accompany the fraction rite. They were encouraged in this practice by many articles in which the actual rubric about extending the Agnus Dei chant was considerably expanded. For example, this interpretation in an article by liturgist-musician Father Edward Foley, OFM Cap., of the Catholic Theological Union in Chicago:

The inherent litany structure of the Lamb of God should be respected. This is an eminently useful form for expanding the manifold meanings of a text that calls to mind the suffering servant imagery of Isaiah, the expiatory character of Christ’s death, and the memorial of Jesus as the paschal lamb of the new covenant. To achieve such expansion, the General Instruction of the Roman Missal makes it quite clear that in this litany … the invocations maybe repeated as often as necessary to accompany the breaking of the bread [GIRM, 56]. Thus the cantor intones any number of intercessions, each ending with the response “have mercy on us”. The assembly joins in this plea.3

Though he cites the rubric permitting repeating the “intercession”, Fr Foley imposes his own interpretation: that the cantor intones “any number of intercessions” — evidently a number of different intercessions as a means of “expanding the manifold meanings” of the text.

Liturgists who advocate adding different intercessions generally attempt to justify their preference in one of two ways:


1. The Agnus Dei is a litany.

This is essentially what Foley said above. It is said even more emphatically by David Haas in a book published earlier this year. After saying the Lamb of God is a litany, Haas says:


In a good litany the movement and progression of the dialogue moves beyond the specific intonations and results in a communal act of worship and awe. This requires that the length of the litany be substantial, as two or three invocations will not accomplish this. The specific text of the litany is not as important as is the repetition of the response, which in and of itself becomes a prayer of intercession.4

The reader is left to conclude that only the form — not the text — of a litany is significant. But a litany is simply a prayer in the form of a series of invocations, each followed by a petition. The text may be prescribed or left undetermined in its details. The litany form is ancient, appearing in the Old Testament in such texts as Psalm 136 and the canticle of the three young men in the fiery furnace.

Three prayers of the Mass have the form of a litany. The Kyrie and Agnus Dei have a prescribed text and we see from this that the form of the prayer is a litany. In the case of the Prayer of the Faithful, however, the litany structure is prescribed, but the precise petitions and response are not. The fact that a particular prayer in the Missal happens to be in the form called a “litany” is not a warrant for replacing prescribed words with some set of freely chosen invocations and responses.


2. The alternate texts are “tropes”, and troping is a traditional practice in the liturgy.
This, like the reasoning above, merely introduces a technical word as a description and treats it as if it were automatically a justification of what is done.

Professor Peter Wagner, author of a standard history of the Gregorian chant, explains tropes:

The tropes … may be described as introductions, insertions, or additions to the liturgical chant. The result is always an extension of the original text, and often also of the original melody.5

Tropes arose during the Middle Ages, and Wagner tells us that those added to the Ordinary of the Mass are “characteristic productions of the pious gladness and sacred poetry of the Middle Ages” (p. 246). These tropes were often amplifications meant to connect the otherwise unchanging texts of the Ordinary of the Mass more closely to the specific feast being celebrated.

Some tropes were fairly simple, putting words to melodic passages known as “melisma“, such as the long series of notes to which the final syllable of Kyrie or Christe is sung.6 Some tropes became so extensive, however, that they were actually longer that the original chant, which almost seemed to be an interpolation in the trope. Others grew into independent hymns. A few of these hymns remain in the Mass as the Sequences prescribed on particular feasts, such as the Victimae Pascali for Easter. Except for these sequences, the tropes were eliminated in the reform that followed the Council of Trent. They were not restored by Vatican II.

It is particularly odd that liturgists would choose a practice of the Middle Ages as justification for their alterations. Liturgists do not share the medieval “pious gladness”, and generally scorn practices of this era. Adamant opposition to kneeling and to any sign of adoration of the Eucharist are characteristic of contemporary liturgists’ approach to medieval piety. In fact, the current use of “tropes” does not correspond to the traditional usage.

Rather than proposing additions to the Agnus Dei to bring out the meaning of a particular feast, modern liturgists propose replacing the specific invocation with others that could be used for any feast or season.

Furthermore, the Agnus Dei is neither the only text to which tropes were added during the Middle Ages, nor is it the only “litany” in the Mass.

The Kyrie (Lord, Have mercy) is also in the form of a litany, with invocations and response. Generally, however, liturgists do not argue that this permits substituting other invocations for the Kyrie – in fact, most of them would prefer to drop the Kyrie altogether.

The International Commission on English in the Liturgy (ICEL), proposing a rearrangement of the Opening Rites of the Mass a few years ago, gave six possible options for the Opening Rite, only one of which included the Kyrie. (This was in ICEL’s proposed revision of the Sacramentary recently rejected by the Holy See.)

Nor do liturgists usually propose “troping” the Kyrie. This may be because the GIRM already allows for this, but specifies precisely what may be done:

As a rule each of the acclamations is repeated twice, though it may be repeated more, because of different languages, the music, or other circumstances. When the Kyrie is sung as a part of the penitential act, a trope may be inserted before each acclamation. (§52)

This makes it clear that the new trope is not a replacement for the invocation, but an addition to it. Furthermore, it applies only in the case where the Kyrie is sung as part of the penitential act.

A clear inference also is that if the GIRM allows “troping” a particular text, it says so. There is no provision for “troping” the Agnus Dei; surely a further indication that there was no intention to permit replacing or adding to the traditional invocations.

In the 2000 Institutio Generalis Missalis Romani, the statement on the Agnus Dei itself is essentially unchanged. Significantly, however, it is preceded by a new statement: that the fraction rite should not be overemphasized or unnecessarily prolonged, and that the breaking of the bread should be done only by the priest and deacon. Further, a new paragraph in IGMR 2000, § 366, refers explicitly to the Agnus Dei:

It is not permitted to substitute for the chants found in the Order of Mass, e.g., at the Agnus Dei.

What could be more clear?
These added provisions in the 2000 Missal are not so much changes from the earlier edition, as clarifications of what was intended all along. There has never been any authorization for substituting other chants for the Kyrie, Gloria, etc. And no one except the priest is mentioned as doing the fraction rite.

Both of these “new” restrictions have provoked a strong negative reaction from the liturgical establishment. Considerable attention was focused on restrictions on the use of extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion, and a number of adaptations to reverse these restrictions were proposed. Although changing the Agnus Dei was not the subject of much debate by the bishops, the effort to introduce “troped” settings of the Agnus Dei into parishes continues apace, judging from the letters sent to Adoremus recently.

Why do the rubrics insist on repetition of the single invocation? And why are liturgists so determined to substitute new titles for “Lamb of God”?


Image of Sacrifice
The image of the Lamb is very important in Scripture, as we mentioned above.

In the account of the Crucifixion in Saint John’s Gospel, Jesus is compared to the Paschal lamb, and the Epistle to the Corinthians says: “For our paschal lamb, Christ, has been sacrificed” (I Corinthians 5:7).

The Book of Revelations contains more than 36 references to the Lamb. For example, “the Lamb that was slain from the beginning of the world” (13:8); several references to “the blood of the Lamb”, and the acclamation “Worthy is the Lamb that was slain” (5:12). These repeated references to the paschal lamb and the lamb of sacrifice inevitably recall Christ’s passion.

According to Jungmann, the Agnus Dei is an element introduced into the Roman rite from the East. There, since the sixth century, the breaking of the consecrated bread was considered a reference to Christ’s Passion, and the sacrificial gifts were called the “Lamb”. Jungmann emphasizes the reverence and adoration evident at the Agnus Dei:

From all that has been said we can see at once that the address to the Lamb of God patently does not refer to Christ simply, but rather to Christ present in the Eucharist as a sacrificial offering…. In the interval between consecration and Communion this hymn represents a reverential and, at the same time, humble greeting of Him who has been made present under the form of bread. We might compare it to what occurred some five hundred years later when, under the impulse of a new wave of Eucharistic devotion, the silence of the consecration and the breaking of the bread was broken by the introduction of … hymns like Ave verum corpus and O Salutaris hostia. An indication of the close kinship between these two scenes is to be found in the fact that the beginnings of the more recent rites of adoration before the Blessed Sacrament were introduced in the twelfth century at the Agnus Dei, and then gradually transferred to the elevation. (vol. 2, p. 335)

One begins to see that “tropes” for the Agnus Dei are not inspired by a sudden sympathy with medieval practices, but are part of liturgists’ project of “relocation of transcendence”7 in the Communion Rite. All these innovations are aimed at redirecting our attention from the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharistic species, to ourselves as the “Body of Christ”.

The use of the single invocation “Lamb of God” repeated several times emphasizes that Jesus Christ is our paschal sacrifice — as well as affirming His Real Presence in the Eucharistic species and the sacrificial character of the Mass. If “Lamb of God” is just one among several titles invoked, this clear focus is lost.

Though most of the attempts at introducing alternate invocations for the Agnus Dei have come from independent groups or publications, some efforts have a more official character.


Change proposed by BCL
In 1978 the Bishops’ Committee on the Liturgy (BCL) reported that a Subcommittee on Music had been formed. Archbishop Rembert Weakland, who had just been appointed to the Milwaukee See, was elected chairman. (Before he became a bishop, Weakland had chaired the BCL’s original music advisory board in the mid-1960s. He was appointed to the BCL in November 1977, and served as BCL Chairman from 1978 to 1981. He remained on the Music Subcommittee.)

The BCL Newsletter reported in its July-August 1979 issue that the Music Subcommittee had met in June to review existing projects and to plan new ones. Among the new projects was to change the Agnus Dei:

The need for texts for the Lamb of God was seen as particularly important, following the directive of the General Instruction, n. 56e, to use this musical movement to accompany the fraction rite. Because of the varying length of the rite, which has come to involve not only the breaking of the bread, but also the pouring of the wine into chalices from flagons, the present structure of the Lamb of God was thought to need expansion. The threefold movement no longer seems adequate to a rite which now takes considerably longer. Flexibility in the text and music was seen to be necessary for a better understanding of the fraction rite itself as a moment of prayer in which the assembly participates. The setting commissioned by the Music Subcommittee will allow for such flexibility, and, it is hoped, will further creativity.

Composers are being commissioned for this and other music. Following a lengthy review process, the music may appear sometime in early 1980. (pp. 169-170, emphasis added)

The claim that the “threefold movement no longer seems adequate” is irrelevant; the GIRM already allowed for as many repetitions as needed. The real reason for the “flexibility” proposed here is to place greater emphasis on the participation of the assembly, reasoning essentially identical to that of Huck and Hovda ten years earlier.

There is no record in the BCL Newsletter that this projected setting of the Agnus Dei was ever published. In fact all mention of the Music Subcommittee disappears shortly after this. Apparently the Subcommittee was disbanded. Even if no text was actually published, however, the project gave official encouragement to composing alternative texts — contrary to the requirements in the GIRM.


“Ecumenical texts” proposed
A later attempt to approve alternative texts partially succeeded.

In June of 1995 the US bishops, as part of their vote on ICEL’s proposed revision of the Sacramentary (ICEL’s term for the Mass prayers), approved a set of “ecumenical texts” composed by the International Consultation on English Texts (ICET), an ecumenical group in which some ICEL translators participated. These “ecumenical texts” included translations of the prayers of the Ordinary of the Mass: the Kyrie, Gloria, Credo, Sanctus and Agnus Dei.

The ICET Agnus Dei uses alternate invocations: “Jesus, Lamb of God: Have mercy on us. Jesus, bearer of our sins: Have mercy on us. Jesus, redeemer of the world: Give us your peace”.

Though these proposed texts were approved by the US Bishops, the ICEL Sacramentary revision, including these texts, was rejected by the Holy See.

But this rejection has by no means stopped the production of new compositions of “troped” versions of the Agnus Dei. For example, the most recent issue of Today’s Liturgy (Advent-Christmas-Epiphany), a magazine and liturgy planning guide published by Oregon Catholic Press (OCP), contains a newly revised Mass by Owen Alstott.

Alstott’s revised “Lamb of God” has been transformed into a litany that includes ten additional invocations – all of them unrelated to the image of the Lamb of God, and its response omits the “sins of the world”. One of them reads: “O Morning Star, who guides us on our journey”. The response for each of the new invocations is “hear us as we pray”.

Even when the first two and the last invocation are all “Lamb of God”, the focus on sacrifice and on the Passion of Our Lord present in the prescribed liturgical text is seriously weakened by the addition of new titles. This is especially true if the new version of the Agnus Dei is combined with the illicit use of unleavened bread and ceramic vessels, numerous lay ministers, etc.

Such alterations to the Mass are, in effect, reversing the development of a deeper awareness of the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharistic species that Jungmann noted occurred from the ninth century onward. He had observed that increased understanding of the presence of Christ in the Eucharist led to increasingly reverent handling of the Eucharistic elements, individual hosts to avoid fragments, and a sense of adoration expressed in words and actions.

Most liturgists today diminish Christ’s unique presence in the Eucharist and view the “gathered community sharing a meal” as the key symbol of the celebration of Mass. They object strongly to adoration of the Lamb who was slain as a sacrifice for our salvation. And their view of the Eucharist underlies their promotion of new invocations with more “upbeat” metaphors.

It is hardly surprising, then, that so many Catholics have little understanding of the “Real Presence”, as recent studies have shown. As Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger explains in Feast of Faith:

To speak of the Eucharist as the community meal is to cheapen it, for its price was the death of Christ…. This is why the Church holds fast to the sacrificial character of the Mass.8

Though liturgists are enthusiastic about introducing changes, as in the Agnus Dei, the people often resist the new practices. Liturgists insist that such people need to be “catechized” about the reason for the changes. The problem, however, is that liturgists claim the right to introduce texts and practices of their own devising in place of those prescribed by the Church’s official rite. As Cardinal Ratzinger observes,

[T]he obligatory character of the essential parts of the Liturgy also guarantees the true freedom of the faithful: it makes sure that they are not victims of something fabricated by an individual or a group, that they are sharing in the same Liturgy that binds the priest, the bishop and the pope. In the Liturgy, we are all given the freedom to appropriate, in our own personal way, the mystery which addresses us. (p. 67)

Since liturgists have been incessantly introducing new features into the Mass, “liturgical catechesis” has come to mean explaining liturgists’ latest preferences to an increasingly frustrated faithful. However, as Cardinal Ratzinger indicates, the purpose of liturgical catechesis is to help the faithful to appropriate the mystery. We can hardly be expected to enter into a mystery that is never presented to us.

At the fraction rite the Church intends us to enter into the great mystery of salvation, the triumph of the Lamb who was slain. She presents us, therefore, with the repeated invocation Agnus Dei. Substitute invocations such as “Morning Star”, “Radiant Sun” and “Rock of Strength” do not express this particular mystery, and so are not acceptable as alternate invocations. True creativity would help to illuminate the mystery. The substitute invocations offered, in fact, obscure it.

How many Catholics are familiar with the numerous references to the Lamb in Scripture, especially in the Book of Revelations? Homilies dealing with the image of the Lamb and its relation to the Passion of Christ and the text of the Agnus Dei would offer a genuine liturgical catechesis. This would help the congregation truly participate in this ancient prayer and appropriate the mystery. Only when this happens will the Liturgy be what it is meant to be: a “foretaste of the heavenly Liturgy” where “every creature in heaven and on earth” cries:

To the Lamb be praise and honor, glory and might, forever and ever!

(Revelation 5:13)


1 Joseph A. Jungmann, SJ, The Mass of the Roman Rite: Its Origins and Development (Missarum Sollemnia) trans. Francis A. Brunner, C. SS.R. (Allen, Texas: Christian Classics, 1986), from the revised German edition of Missarum Sollemnia (1949) published by Herder Verlag, Vienna, Austria. p. 84.

2. Robert W. Hovda and Gabe Huck, There’s No Place Like People. (Washington, DC: The Liturgical Conference, 1969), p. 65.

3. Edward Foley, OFM Cap., “Planning the Music” from It is Your Own Mystery, p. 35 (Washington, DC: The Liturgical Conference, 1977), cited in Gabe Huck, The Communion Rite at Sunday Mass, 18. (Chicago: Liturgy Training Publications, 1989).

4. David Haas, The Mission and Ministry of Sung Prayer. (Cincinnati: St. Anthony Messenger Press, 2002) p.

5. Peter Wagner, Introduction to the Gregorian Melodies: A Handbook of Plainsong, second edition, translated by Agnes Orme and E.G.P. Wyatt. (London: The Plainsong and Medieval Music Society, 1901) pp. 243-244.

6. A troped Kyrie of this type can be heard on the “Chant” CD by the Monks of Santo Domingo de Silos that was a bestseller several years ago. It is the Kyrie fons bonitatis (Track 17).

7. See It Is Your Own Mystery, p. 4, and Adoremus Bulletin May 2002, p. 3.

8. Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, Feast of Faith, translated by Graham Harrison. (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1981) p. 65.

Susan Benofy is Research Editor of and frequent contributor to the Adoremus Bulletin, and an officer of Women for Faith & Family. A Chicago native, she received her doctorate in physics from Saint Louis University, where her husband is a professor of physics. The Benofys live in St. Louis.


Singing for the Supper or the Sacrifice?

By Lucy E. Carroll, Adoremus Bulletin Online Edition – Vol. VIII, No. 8: November 2002

While actual numbers vary but little, most surveys today show that more than half of American Catholics either do not believe in the Real Presence, or do not understand the concept. Since the Real Presence is the primary difference between Catholicism and Protestantism (all other differences must pale in comparison), this is a serious issue. Causes are many: inadequate catechesis, incorrect catechesis, emphasis on the Liturgy of Word over the Liturgy of the Eucharist, removal of the Tabernacle, prohibitions on kneeling, bargain-counter lines to Communion, secularization of the Church’s art, architecture and music….

In Catholicism, the altar is an altar of sacrifice. Replacing it with a wooden table, as in Protestant churches, shifts the emphasis from the sacrifice to the meal. This becomes only a banquet, a memorial of Holy Thursday without the blood sacrifice of Good Friday. In some denominations, the Communion service is only held once or twice a year. In other Christian churches, it is once a month. Yet to Catholics, the very purpose of the service is the Eucharist; to miss that portion means to miss Mass.

It is ironic that in churches that recognize only a “presence” (Episcopal, Lutheran), Communion is received reverently, while kneeling at the altar rail. In other denominations, bread and small cups of wine or juice are passed out to the seated congregants, who partake in silence and reverence. Yet Catholics, who are to receive the transubstantiated Body and Blood, the very soul and divinity of Jesus Christ, march up to the server while juggling a paper missal and singing. About what exactly are Catholics singing about the Eucharist these days? Are we singing for a supper? Or for the sacrifice of Calvary?

One often-overlooked issue in the erosion of belief in the Real Presence is the text of Communion hymns. As we sing, so we believe. In the rush to provide vernacular hymnody in post-Conciliar days, many Protestant hymns were adapted. Some are beautiful, suitable; interestingly, some are even more appropriate textually than modern-day hymns in “Catholic” liturgy booklets.

Contemporary hymns lead us to believe that Christ becomes bread, rather than the reverse; that the bread is only a symbol of Christ, or, worse, of something else entirely; that it is our body and our blood; that this is a meal only; or that this is a call to social activism. The words sacrifice, Real Presence, and even Body and Blood of Christ are strangely absent.

To most of Protestant Christianity, the Eucharist is a symbol; while some believe that Christ becomes somehow present in the elements of bread and wine, only Catholicism (and Orthodoxy) believe that the elements actually become Body and Blood. But in this hymn, we have only a symbol:

Welcome the symbols
Feasting and telling;
Signs of thanksgiving,
Signs of indwelling

(James Hansen: “Bless the Feast”. Text © 1988 Oregon Catholic Press [OCP] Publications).

Welcome the symbols? Surely this is more than a symbol. Yet in another hymn we find only a meal, and symbols yet again:

We bring the bread and wine to share a meal
Sign of grace and mercy
The presence of the Lord
(Marty Haugen: “We Remember”. Text © 1980 GIA Publications).

A sign of the presence of the Lord. Is that all there is? Similarly, in “Bread, Blessed and Broken” we find no reference to
Body, Blood, Presence, or sacrifice:

Bread, blessed and broken for us all
Symbol of your love, from the grain so tall

(Michael Lynch: “Bread, Blessed and Broken”. Text © 1978, 1979 Raven Music; published in OCP Publications).

The aspect of symbolism is now enlarged upon in some current hymn texts. The bread is a sign not of Christ, but of something else entirely, as is the wine. For example:

Here we will take the wine and the water
Here we will take the bread of new birth
Give us to drink the wine of compassion

(Marty Haugen: “Gather Us In”. Text © 1982 GIA Publications).

Bread is re-birth, wine is compassion? They may be something else again, as in this hymn:

You are the bread of peace
You are the wine of joy
(Bernadette Farrell: “Bread of Life”. Text © 1982, 1987 Bernadette Farrell; published by OCP Publications).

Joyful wine? This extended symbolism continues in a text by Jerry Brubaker:

We eat the bread of teaching,
Drink wine of wisdom
(Jerry Brubaker: “Wisdom’s Feast”. Text © 1998 World Library Publications [WLP]).

Wine of wisdom? What an interesting interpretation! Now, dramatic license is very well and good, but a steady diet of questionable interpretation can only serve to erase the true meaning of the Eucharistic sacrifice.

This extended interpretation is carried even farther in this Wisdom’s Feast: here we learn that it is not Christ giving His Body and Blood, but Wisdom – the gnostic concept of Sophia! – giving us bread and wine.

Wisdom calls throughout the city
Knows our hunger and in pity
Gives her loving invitation
To the banquet of salvation

Simple ones whose hearts are yearning
Come and gain from Wisdom’s learning
Bread and wine she is preparing
Know her loving in the sharing
(Jerry Brubaker: “Wisdom’s Feast”. Text © 1998 WLP).

Perhaps reading Gnosticism into this is unfair; perhaps this is only a feminine pronoun for God, inclusive language run amok? At any rate, the concept of Wisdom preparing bread and wine for a banquet is rather far removed from orthodoxy. The Eucharist, one must repeat, is the gift of bread and wine that become – through the act of consecration, through the sacrifice of Calvary prefigured in the Last Supper – the Body and Blood. But according to another current hymn, it is the reverse:

Here is a living sign:
That one man’s dying and rising
Becomes our bread and wine

(Jack Miffleton: “Give Thanks and Remember”. Text and music © 1975 WLP).

Here we are told that death and resurrection become bread and wine. And is it Christ’s death and resurrection? The text only refers to Him as “one man”. Regardless, actions cannot become elements: death does not become bread. Through Christ’s death the bread becomes His Body, but how are Catholics to know that, given the texts they are given to sing?

Indeed, according to David Haas, the reverse is true: Christ becomes bread.

(verse 3) He chose to give of Himself
Became our bread
(David Haas: “Now We Remain”. Text © 1983 GIA Publications).

Moreover, we are to become bread and wine, as the hymn continues:

(verse 4) We are the presence of God
This is our call
Now to become bread and wine
Food for the hungry
Life for the weary
(David Haas: “Now We Remain”. Text © 1983 GIA Publications).

Another popular hymn repeats that we become bread:

Bread for the world,
A world of hunger
Wine for all peoples:
People who thirst
May we who eat be bread for others
May we who drink pour out our love

(Bernadette Farrell: “Bread for the World”. Text © Bernadette Farrell, 1990, published by OCP).

This confusion continues as some hymns now tell us that we are to become the bread of life:

I myself am the bread of life
You and I are the bread of life
Taken and blessed, broken and shared by Christ.

(verse 2) This is our body
This is our blood
Living sign of God in Christ

(Rory Cooney: “Bread of Life”. Text © 1987 NALR, published by OCP Publications).

So, are we all involved in this act of consecration? This is our blood? Is it any wonder Catholics are confused? It is only Jesus Christ who is the Bread of Life! And that bread is His Body, that wine becomes His Blood.

More confusion occurs in this hymn:
When we eat this bread
And when we drink this cup
We share this love
We become the body of Jesus

(Scott Soper: “Gift of New Life”. Text © Scott Soper 1993, 1997. Published by OCP Publications).

Yes, we are all part of the mystical Body of Christ. But in texts like this one, with no reference to the fact that bread becomes the Body of Christ, the impression is given that we are the ones involved in the act of transubstantiating.

Here it is once again:
Bread of Life and cup of promise
In this meal we all are one
In our dying and our rising
May your kingdom come
(David Haas: “Song of the Body of Christ”. © 1989 GIA Publications).

Just who, one must ask, is the Deity here? Are we all priests, are we all gods?

To be your bread now,
To be your wine now,
Lord come and change us
To be a sign of your love

(David Haas: “To be Your Bread”. Text © 1981, 1982 David Haas. Published by Cooperative Ministries, Inc. Exclusive agent: OCP Publications).

So, we are changed into bread and wine by the Lord?

A constant diet of these symbolic and reversal texts, without explanations, without mention of sacrifice, Body, Blood, Eucharist, can only erode the understanding and belief in Catholic doctrine. Here is another:

This bread we do consume
It does no longer taste of bitter herbs
Nor of unleavened bread
It is the bread of a land promised us where we shall be set free

(Didier Rimuad, translated by Christopher Willcock: “In Remembrance of You”. Text © 1988 Christopher Willcock, S.J., Published by OCP Publications).

Ah, but the fact is, the host does still taste of unleavened bread. As Thomas Aquinas wrote, our senses deceive us here. And, no longer unleavened bread, is it now the Body of Christ? No, the song tells us: it is still bread: bread of a land of freedom. This is repeated about the wine in verse 2:

This wine we hold dear
It does no longer taste of bitter springs
Nor of dark, salty pools,
It is the wine of a promised land
Where we shall be made whole
(Didier Rimuad, translated by Christopher Willcock: “In Remembrance of You”. Text © 1988 Christopher Willcock, S.J., Published by OCP Publications).

At this point, those of us who still believe in Transubstantiation should want to stand up and hurl those little paperback hymnals out the window.

Marty Haugen and many others whose music appear in Catholic worship aids are not Catholic; their interpretation of the Eucharist cannot be ours. Yet even Catholic writers completely miss the point. The sacrifice, they write, is rather only a banquet in which we are fed, which in turns prompts us to feed the hungry, a call to social action:

Come to the banquet
Come, come to the feast
Here the hungry find plenty
(verse 3) In the thirst for justice we share
Christ is here in the breaking of the bread

(Bob Hurd: “Come to the Feast”. Text © 1994, 1995 Bob Hurd and Pia Moriarity. Published by OCP Publications).

Observe the wording: Christ is here in the breaking of the bread. We have Jesus as a guest at dinner, not as priest and victim. One imagines Him paternally watching over us as we break bread, plain bread, as we gird ourselves to social activism.

The hymn commissioned by the Archdiocese of Philadelphia for the Eucharistic Congress of 1976 is so popular that it even appears in the current Presbyterian Hymnal. Yet the text speaks only of “gift of wheat”, “bread of life”. The true gift is not wheat, but the gift of Christ Himself. Finally, in verse 3 is found this reference:

Is not the cup we bless and share
The Blood of Christ outpoured?
Do not one cup, one loaf declare
Our oneness in the Lord?

(Omer Westendorf: “Gift of Finest Wheat”. Text and music © Archdiocese of Philadelphia).

There is no reference to the Body of Christ, however. Vague as the text is, it is understandable that it could easily be adopted in Protestant hymnals.

Yet there are texts that come to us from Protestant churches that are most appropriate. For example:

Lord, sup with us in love divine
Your Body and Your Blood
That living bread, that heavenly wine
Be our immortal food.
(James Montgomery 1771-1854: “Shepherd of Souls”).

And another, most appropriate hymn:
Draw near and take the Body of the Lord
And drink the Holy Blood for you outpoured

(John Mason Neale 1818-1866: “Coena Domino”, 1851)

This is actually a translation and adaptation of an earlier Latin hymn, and the sentiment is unabashedly Catholic.

Of course, there is the exquisite, mystical text of “Adoro te devote” by Saint Thomas Aquinas:

Adoro te devote, latens Deitas
Godhead here in hiding whom I do adore

(verse 2) Visus, tactus gustus, in te fallitur
Seeing, touching, tasting, are in Thee deceived

(Saint Thomas Aquinas 1225-1275: “Adoro te devote”. Translation by Gerard Manley Hopkins, S.J. 1844-1889).

This mystical text tells us that the true God is hidden in the forms of bread and wine, deceiving the senses, and yet we believe, for God Himself has told us:

(verse 2) Credo quid quid dixit Dei Filius
Nil hoc verbo veritatis verius.
What God’s Son has told me, take for truth I do;
Truth Himself speaks truly, or there’s nothing true
(Saint Thomas Aquinas 1225-1275: “Adoro te devote”. Translation by Gerard Manley Hopkins, S.J. 1844-1889).

If we are to teach orthodox belief in the Eucharist, we must sing texts that reflect that belief. Here is one, from a priest who converted to Catholicism from the Church of England:

(verse 4) For this is God, the very God
Who has both men and angels made
Sweet Sacrament, we thee adore
O make us love thee more and more!

(Father Frederick Faber 1814-1863: “Jesus my Lord, my God, my All”).

The hymn Anima Christi gives us this reference:

Body of Jesus, be my saving guest
Blood of my Savior, bathe me in thy tide

(“Anima Christi”: attributed to Pope John XXII 1249-1334, translator unknown.)

“O Lord I am not Worthy” is based on a text present in the Mass, taken from Scripture, but this worthy hymn is banned in many places because it is deemed demeaning to the congregants. Yet the fact is, if this is truly the Body and Blood, none of us can be worthy to receive. This traditional hymn re-affirms the Catholic belief:

(verse 4) Increase my faith, dear Jesus
In thy Real Presence here

(text: “O Herr ich bin nicht werdig”, translator unknown, Landshuter Gesängbuch of 1777; based on “Domine, non sum dignus” text.)

Only by purging our churches of questionable texts and by insisting on hymns that correctly state the nature of the Eucharist can we hope to restore belief in the Real Presence. Only by emphasizing the Sacrifice rather than the supper can we bring to this sacrament the reverence it deserves.

Lucy E. Carroll has worked professionally as choral director and music educator; she has served as organist/choir director in Lutheran, Episcopal, Catholic churches, a high school, two colleges, and a Reform Synagogue. She is currently (and happily) organist/choir director at the Carmelite Monastery in Philadelphia, and an adjunct associate professor at Westminster Choir College, Princeton. She is also the creator of the Churchmouse Squeaks cartoons, which regularly appear in AB.


What Happened to My Hymn?

By Lucy E. Carroll, Adoremus Bulletin Online Edition – Vol. IX, No. 4: June 2003

“They finally picked a hymn I remember from childhood”, a friend recently commented, “but when I sang it, I realized the words I was singing from memory had very little to do with the words in the paper hymnal. What have they done to my hymn?”

One of the very frequent complaints heard today is that the texts to traditional hymns are no longer traditional. Why are they changed? Sometimes for good reason; sometimes, not.

Altering texts is not something new. Many hymns are translations from the Latin; some are translations from the great body of German hymnody. Translations will vary, in attempts to fit syllables comfortably to notes that were intended for a quite different language. These translations are often “updated” to keep pace with language changes. But it is the translations that are updated, rather than a new translation offered. This twice-removed aspect can begin to lose the very meaning of the original text.

Catholic hymns that were written in the sentimental Victorian age reflect their time, as all music does. The formal language of thee and thou is still understandable, but archaic forms such as wert for were may prove a stumbling block today. When text is updated to avoid confusing texts, it might be helpful, but it is still tampering.

The thou text format helps us even today to realize that the person we are addressing is not our human equal. The English language, unlike many European languages, no longer uses a formal second person. In French, the formal text is je vous aime; the familiar form is je t’aime. Vous is formal, te is familiar. In English we simply say I love you. Elizabethan and Victorian English used the thou form when speaking to the Deity. I must confess to a preference for retaining the old format in works that originally used it. Besides, the rhyme scheme will be seriously altered. After all, we do not update other works of art, do we? We read Shakespeare in Elizabethan English. We did not repaint the Mona Lisa in day-glo colors in the 1960s, did we? Why do we “repaint” the texts of musical works of art?

For an example, look at All Glory Laud and Honor. The text, written in 820, is by Theodulph of Orleans (760-821). The traditional translation was by John Mason Neale (1818-1866) in 1851:

Thou art the King of Israel
Thou David’s royal son.
Who in the Lord’s name comest
The King and blessed one.

And here is an updated version found in the 2002 Music Issue of Oregon Catholic Press (OCP):

You are the King of Israel
And David’s royal Son.
Now in the Lord’s Name coming
Our King and Blessed One.

The archaic form is actually less strained and circuitous than this modern update.

In the days before the Second Vatican Council, attempts were already being made to cleanse hymns of texts deemed overly sentimental. In the Preface to the People’s Hymnal (Cincinnati: World Library of Sacred Music, 1955) the editors wrote:

The affectations of a false emotional attitude, the exaggeration of feelings actually possessed, and excitation of mere sentimental associations. All these devices, irrespective of their outward sincerity, manifest a piety that inwardly is untrue. Catholic devotion, as the Church takes care to emphasize, should represent, not what we would wish to feel, but what we actually do feel. There is no need for saying the “our hearts are on fire” when really they are not.

This is an interesting statement, particularly in light of so much shallow and overly secular music that assaults us today. How can we say that people do not feel those strong emotions? And really, as a literary device, a metaphor, why should we not seek to express what we inwardly feel? Is there a phrase that better tells of our deep emotion other than “our hearts on are fire”? Surely no one ever took that phrase literally.

The Passion Chorale (O Sacred Head) has so many varied translations and new verses today that one can scarce recognize it next to the original. Yet even when the original format is kept, the words are often modernized. The text is from a Latin hymn attributed to St. Bernard of Clairveaux (1091-1153). The familiar, traditional translation is by Henry Williams Baker (1821-1877). The lines

Death’s pallid hue comes o’er thee
The glow of life decays…

offer a stark and powerful image. This image is softened in the version offered by OCP:

No comeliness or beauty
Thy wounded face betrays.

This is an odd configuration of archaic “thy” with an equally archaic replacement word “comeliness”; the power of the original imagery is lost.

Hail Holy Queen is a paraphrase of Salve Regina, a Gregorian chant with text by Aimor, Bishop of Le Puy, in the 11th century. The translation in the Roman Hymnal of 1884 gives us these lines in verse six:

When this our exile is complete, O Maria
Show us thy Son, our Jesus sweet, O Maria!

OCP recasts this as

And when our life-breath leaves us, O Maria
Show us Thy Son, Lord Jesus, O Maria.

This may have been done to rid us of the adjective “sweet”, but we lose the image of earthly exile. (Latin: Et Jesum, benedictum fructum ventris tui nobis, post hoc exilium, ostende: “And Jesus, the blessed fruit of thy womb, show [to] us, after this our exile”). The OCP re-working is a poor replacement, and the word “leaves” must take up two notes, a trap for the unsuspecting person-in-the-pew

Sometimes publishers will change the texts so that those translations are purely theirs. Then you must purchase their version. Sometimes it is just over-zealousness.

There is a more worrisome reason for altering texts, and that is to fit an agenda. Politically correct language presents us with lots of stumbling blocks. But when we alter the words, often we alter the meaning.

The Kingship of Christ is a wonderful image: the role of king is one understood even by those of us living in a democratic republic. Yet the idea of kingship is not politically correct today, and some parishes do not even celebrate the mandated feast of Christ the King. Imagine at Christmas if we were made to sing, “Glory to the newborn Person-in-Charge”.

Sometimes entire verses disappear, to be replaced with new, self-centered texts.

Sometimes the attempt at so-called “inclusive” language becomes laughable. The English language is not as gender-specific as some. Again, in French, la table is a feminine noun. To us, it is just a table. Mankind is the English word we have to indicate people, collectively. It is inclusive, not exclusive. How can we imagine that all women are excluded? Do French men feel excluded because all tables are feminine?

Faith of Our Fathers is a favorite hymn. The text was written by the Reverend Frederick W. Faber (1814- 1863), a convert to Catholicism from the Church of England. The second verse is powerful:

Our fathers, chained in prisons dark
Were still in heart and conscience free;
And truly blest would be our fate
If we, like them, should die for thee.

World Library/Paluch in the Seasonal Missalette (2002) adds a verse by Mike Hay:

Our mothers, too, oppressed and wronged
Still lived their faith with dignity;
Their brave example gives us strength
To work for justice ceaselessly.

Ah, the concerns this new verse raises! Since “our fathers” are mentioned, we must now mention “our mothers”. But “fathers” is a common collective noun indicating ancestors, forefathers. Are we to think that no women suffered in prisons or died for the faith? How about, for just one example, the Carmelite nuns of Compiègne, led to the scaffold? And were the “fathers” not wronged, just the mothers? If the mothers were dignified, were the fathers undignified? And what kind of “justice” is meant? Religious freedom? Or is there a subtext here of radical feminism?

“Inclusive” language strikes everywhere — and even recent songs are subjected to rigorous neutering. Soon after it was published, the refrain of We Are the Light of the World was altered from “Let our light shine before men” to “Let our light shine before all” (Text and music by Jean Anthony Grieif, © 1966 Vernacular Hymns Publishing Co.).

Some hymnists today feel every word we sing should be directly from Scripture (though the passages are often very loosely rendered). Although it is an interesting concept, it ignores the great tradition of supplemental hymnody.

A particularly distressing example is the altering of the Stabat Mater. This magnificent hymn is attributed to Jacopone da Todi (1230-1306). With Mary, we follow Jesus along the route of the Passion. But with Mary falling out of favor with some over-zealous liturgists, Mary is sometimes left out of her own hymn. A 1965 setting (Baltimore: Barton-Cotton) adjusts the verses so they prefigure the next station. The literary value of this setting is highly suspect. At the end of the fifth station, before the sixth where Jesus meets Veronica, this stanza is offered:

Brave but trembling came the woman
None but she would flaunt the Roman
Moved by love beyond her fear.

Flaunt the Roman? What? This is followed, before the first fall (seventh station) with

Prostrate on the dust He crumbled
Flogged in Body He resembled
All our brothers poor and scorned.

Poor as that is from a purely literary standpoint, the verse after the fourteenth station is almost too embarrassingly bad to sing:

Jesus, Risen, be our lover
In your Food and in our brother,
Lead us home to heaven with you.

And what have we discarded to be given the above? Here are verses from the translation by the Reverend Edward Caswall (1814-1878):

At the Cross, her station keeping
Stood the mournful mother, weeping
Close to Jesus to the last.

Oh how sad and sore distressèd
Was that mother, highly blessèd,
Of the sole begotten One.

(a nice reference to Mary’s virginity here)

Let me share with you His pain
Who for all our sins was slain,
Who for me in torments died.

Of course, the very best version is still the original:

Stabat Mater dolorosa
Juxta crucem lacrimosa
Dum pendebat Filius.

There are endless examples of text-tampering. Haven’t we heard Good Christian Men Rejoice altered to “Good Christians, all rejoice”, or “Good Christians, now rejoice”, or “Good Christian folk rejoice”? And what to do with God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen?

One of the worst examples is the mutation from Of the Father’s Love Begotten to “Child of God, of Love Begotten“.

Heresy: Jesus was not a “love child”, but was begotten of the Father.


The Original is the Original
But even when texts are altered slightly, for reasons of language modernization, isn’t something very precious lost?

I like turquoise, but I’m not going to re-paint the blue in my flag. The original is the original is the original. The original texts, or the traditional translations, become a part of our heritage and tradition. If there is a hymn we have sung since childhood, then it ought to be the same as we learned it. Otherwise, we’d better rewrite the Constitution, the Declaration, Shakespeare, Gettysburg Address, and so on.

Familiar texts can be as comfortable as old shoes, and as uncomfortable when replaced as new ones a size too small. Unless there is a very, very, very serious reason, oughtn’t we permit the originals to remain as they are?


A Choir Director Selects — The Top Ten Catholic Hymns

By Lucy E. Carroll, Adoremus Bulletin Online Edition – September 2005 Vol. XI, No. 6

The question was raised in a recent AB Readers’ Forum (June 2005) — what are the top ten” Catholic hymns?

This is perilous ground. Selections of music for the Sacred Liturgy must be viewed not on popularity but on appropriateness of text, musical style and form, and accessibility to the congregation. And the music for Mass is not exactly the same thing as hymns. (See AB reader picks in box below — Ed.)

Actually, the Vatican provided the music for singing the Mass thirty years ago. At the urging of Pope Paul VI, a booklet, known as Jubilate Deo, was published in 1974, with the Mass music that all Catholics everywhere should be able to sing. It is all in Latin, the universal (and official) language of the Church, and all the music is Gregorian Chant.

This repertoire is for the universal Church, that Catholics may have appropriate music common to all languages and ethnicities, for their use in gatherings of the universal and multi-lingual Church.

The booklet is available from GIA Publications (info on GIA web site: It is also downloadable in several versions (chant or modern notation – see

But how many parishes do any of us know that actually use that booklet? Very few. Alas!

The Hymns
In my top ten” list for the Church in America — apart from the Jubilate Deo — I have omitted Christmas carols, Easter songs, and patriotic pieces, and most are in English. I’ve also avoided song-hymns that are more appropriate for devotions or similar events than for singing at Mass.

The selections are Catholic in origin, many translated from original Latin works. All of them are in traditional style. Pope John Paul II reminded us that the closer the music is in style to chant, the more appropriate it is for the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. (“100th Anniversary of Pope Saint Pius X’s Launch of the Liturgy Reform Movement”, on the Adoremus web site at

Therefore, all pop-style pieces are automatically eliminated. The hymns on this list have been around a long time, thus proving their value and staying power rather than any reliance on short-lived popular styles. These hymns are suitable for the Holy Sacrifice of Mass, and can take us — except Easter and Christmas — through the Liturgical year. Some of my personal favorites are not on the list. This is a utilitarian assemblage. Give these to a Catholic congregation, and they will sing out!


#1 God the Father…
“Holy God We Praise Thy Name”
The first purpose of a hymn is to praise God. This hymn is a translation of Te Deum Laudamus, perhaps the most comprehensive and magnificent text of praise ever penned by hymnist. The text is attributed to Saint Nicetas, +415. The music is a traditional German chorale (Grosser Gott, Vienna, 1774) with a sing-able, well-structured melody and standard harmony. Give this to a congregation and prepare to have them shake the walls. But do find all seven verses so the entire Te Deum is represented in verse form.

#2 God the Son…
“To Jesus Christ Our Sovereign King”

Again, this is a general hymn of praise to God, but now in the person of Jesus Christ, our King and Salvation. The text is a translation of the Latin Christus Vincit, Christus Regnat, a chant hymn, adapted by Monsignor Martin Hellreigel.

The melody, the German chorale Ich Glaub an Gott, Mainz, 1870, is in the chorale style, with a repeated refrain. The melody is steady, predictable, and well-structured. This hymn is useful year ’round for praise, but is especially appropriate for Christ the King, Palm Sunday, even for Easter.

# 3 To God the Holy Spirit…
“Come Holy Ghost”
The third choice rounds out a set of three hymns to the three Persons of the Trinity. This familiar hymn is based on the Veni Creator Spiritus (Rabanus Maurus, 776-856), with music by the Reverend Louis Lambillotte. It has an easy, symmetrical melody in a steady rhythm. It is good for Pentecost, Confirmation, or any time we call on the Holy Spirit.

#4 The Eucharist…
“Soul of My Savior”
This perfect little Communion hymn is an English adaptation of the Latin text Anima Christi, attributed to Pope John XXII (1249-1334). It tells us of the Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of Jesus in the Eucharist. There are several settings; my preferred one is that by Lorenzo Dobici.

#5 Our Blessed Mother…
“Hail Holy Queen Enthroned Above”
The text is an adaptation of the Salve Regina, probably by Aimor, Bishop of Le Puy, 11th century. This English version in verse is from the Roman Hymnal, New York, 1884. (Hail, holy Queen, enthroned above, O Maria. Hail, mother of mercy and of love). The melody is consistent and symmetrical. If done in a good key, range is not too high for the folks in the pew. (Bb is a nice key). This hymn is good for all Marian feasts, especially the Assumption.

#6 Ad Jesum per Mariam…
“Mary the Dawn”
This is a lovely unison melody hymn, with text and melody by Paul Cross (pen name of Justin Mulcahy, C.F.) The text has beautiful imagery, the tune is very easy to sing; reminiscent of Ambrosian chant. This hymn is good anytime, but especially good for Advent. Each pairing of symbols can furnish much material for meditation: Mary the dawn, Christ the perfect day;/Mary the gate, Christ the heav’nly way.

#7 The Passion…
“Stabat Mater Dolorosa” or
“At the Cross, Her Station Keeping”
There are enough verses to this hymn that, if a few are done each week, it can take you through Lent. The verses, by Jacopone da todi (1230-1306) put us at the foot of the Cross with Mary, feeling her anguish as she experiences the Passion and Death of her Son. Powerful text, very good for Lenten meditations. Chant-like melody is very easy to sing, and is from the Mainzlisch Gesängbuch of 1661. Good for Lent, Holy Week, Stations of the Cross. The traditional English adaptation is by Reverend Edward Caswall.

#8 The Passion…
“O Sacred Head Surrounded”
(Passion Chorale)
The text began as a Latin hymn attributed to Saint Bernard of Clairveaux. Henry William Baker’s English translation is perhaps the best. (Modern adaptations sterilize the text too much.)

Musically, this is a bit harder for folks, but it is so familiar that most congregations can sing it well if led by a strong organ and choir. This is the harmonization by Johann Sebastian Bach of a melody by Hans Leo Hassler. The harmonization is also a nice challenge for the church choir. This is the one hymn from a Protestant music source on my list, but the text is Catholic in origin, and the music is a treasure.

#9 Adoration…
“Let all mortal flesh keep silence”

The text is ancient: the Cherubic Hymn from the 4th-century Liturgy of Saint James, still extant in Greek and Syriac and Eastern rites. Gerard Moultrie paraphrased the text. The music is a 17th-century French tune. It is modal and chant-like, easy to sing and very spiritual in nature. Good anytime, especially for Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, Communion, Christmas, general praise. (Omit verse 4 in Lent because of the alleluias in the refrain.)

And hymn #10?

It is difficult to end this list, because all Catholics should know a good setting of O Salutaris Hostia and Tantum Ergo for Benediction. Also, the most perfect text on the Eucharist is the Adoro Te Devote chant, text by Saint Thomas Aquinas. This hymn is already in the Jubilate Deo Latin chant booklet mentioned above, but I think a good English translation ought to be in Catholic repertoire. The best translation is by Gerard Manley Hopkins. There are text adaptations perhaps easier to sing, but they stray very far from the original Latin. Saint Thomas worded it best!

When I asked my own choir members for their choices, the common answers included Panis Angelicus by Lambillotte, O Lord I Am Not Worthy, and several of the hymns on the above list.

So, having huddled all those together, I’ll mention here a hymn that is one of my favorites. It is a 19th-century folk-like melody, a bit on the sentimental side, but very singable.

The hymn is the work of that illustrious duo, Anonymous and Unknown, but it is definitely American in origin. The title alone could, as one priest reminded me, furnish much food for meditation: “O What Could My Jesus Do More?


Five Fine Contemporary Hymns

By Lucy E. Carroll, Adoremus Bulletin Online Edition – October 2005 Vol. XI, No. 7

Are there contemporary compositions that are worthy of being included in a church choir’s repertoire of sacred music? Last month I offered a selection of the top ten” Catholic hymns every choir should know (“A Choir Director Selects Top Ten Catholic Hymns“, AB September 2005): and we also saw the list of Adoremus Bulletin‘s readers’ choices. All but one of those hymns have been with us for decades or even centuries, having passed the test of time and transcended popular tastes and styles.

It is difficult to select from the mountain of modern hymn offerings. Which ones will last and which will fade is simply impossible to determine. However, here are five newer hymns that are well worth finding, learning, and singing at Mass.

All of these are sacred in nature, eschewing pop styles and using instead a singable, more neutral sacred style. All are congregation-friendly as far as range and difficulty, and all have lyrical melodies. All are musically well-constructed; all can be used with organ, choir, and traditional orchestral instruments.


Herewith, in no particular order, are five “current top picks”.

O Blessed Savior. (text: Omer Westendorf 1916-1997, © World Library Publications [WLP 1990]; music by Jerry Brubaker, © Jerry Brubaker 1990).

Here is a lovely Communion hymn that has been well received by the nuns, choir, and congregation at our monastery. WLP also offers a four-part choral arrangement (SATB) with interesting harmonic lines and a soprano descant. This is a long hymn, with a slightly irregular and long refrain, with melodically simpler verses. If used with choir, the congregation may sing only the refrain or the easier verses, or both.


O blessed Savior, now behold
the grateful gath’ring of your fold
in joyful celebration.
Our thirsting souls, our hungry hearts
now seek the food which life imparts:
the bread of our salvation.

Both text and music are reverent and God-centered, focusing on the Eucharist as a source of life, akin to manna in the wilderness or the miracle of the loaves and fishes. The “saving cup” is “Jesus, [God’s] only Son”.

Open Wide the Doors To Christ. (Joseph Diermeier; text and music © WLP 1999).

This hymn was written for the Jubilee year 2000 on the theme phrase “open wide the doors to Christ”. The melody is akin to the classic hymn, To Jesus Christ Our Sovereign King (included on our “top ten” list) in its format, although it is not as sophisticated musically. The text of the refrain is suitable for any occasion:

For Christ is the Light
And Christ is the Way
And Christ is the Love who loves you.

Where Charity and Love Prevail. (text based on Ubi Caritas et Amor, 9th century), by Omer Westendorf, 1916-1997; music by Paul Benoit 1893-1979, ©WLP 1960).

This haunting, chant-like melody is well-written, easy to sing, and comfortably fits the text. This is a good adaptation of the Ubi Caritas text:

Where charity and love prevail
There God is ever found
Brought here together by Christ’s love
By love are we thus bound.

On the Wings of Change. (Jerry Galipeau, © WLP 1994).

This text is derived from scripture: I Corinthians 15:15-16 and Deuteronomy 32:11.

We shall be changed,
the trumpet will sound
The dead will be raised
and we shall be changed.

This little tune has a very singable refrain. The verses modulate to a related key but are still congregation-friendly. WLP offers a fuller arrangement for choir and trumpets with organ that is quite majestic for such feasts as Ascension, Transfiguration, etc.

O Lord with Wondrous Mystery. (Text by Michael Gannon © WLP 1955; music by Hendrik Andriessen 1892-1981, © Andriessen estate).

This modal, chant-like melody is well crafted and well suited to the Eucharistic text.

O Lord with wondrous mystery
you take our bread and wine
And make of these two humble things
Yourself, Our Lord Divine.

There it is: transubstantiation! And…

… this bread bears your Divinity
this cup contains infinity.
The myst’ry fills our souls with love,
O Holy Majesty!

This text centers on Christ, on the mystery of the act of Consecration. This is a lovely little hymn: find it, sing it, believe it!


How to Form a Choir: In Ten Easy –and not so easy — Steps.
(A light-hearted but still serious approach)

By Lucy E. Carroll, Adoremus Bulletin Online Edition – February 2006 Vol. XI, No. 10

Is your church ready to form a parish choir? You need a good, well-trained choir director who knows music, theory, Latin, English, chant, polyphony, harmony. The bad news is that there are as few well-trained choral directors out there as there are trained organists. The good news is that with the following tips, lots of elbow grease, and prayer, you can still develop a nice church choir.

1) Find a choir director
Is money no object? Search and hire someone with a master’s degree in directing and training in liturgy. (Lucky you!)

If you fit into the other 99.5% of parishes, you will have to do some looking around. Public high schools usually have trained music teachers on staff, and school choirs. Ask around: a music teacher may be interested, or may know someone who is. Look into local community choruses. Check with local colleges: if not a faculty member, there are college students who could use the experience putting to practice what they are learning in class.

If this fails, find someone in the parish who can be coerced — uh, that is — convinced to assist. He or she must be able to read music, know some theory, play keyboards at least a little, and be willing to study about liturgical music.

Pray to Saint Jude.

2) Arrange for help and supervision

Be sure you have the full backing of the pastor. The pastor or assistant priest must go over plans, liturgy documents, the General Instruction of the Roman Missal (GIRM), and the long-range goals. Discuss a beginning budget.

Photocopying copyrighted music is illegal, even if for church. Be sure you have a room for rehearsals (with chairs, a piano, a blackboard) that you can have every week. Find a file cabinet or closed shelves for the music.

If your director is a novice, obtain materials from the American Choral Directors Association, or arrange for funding to send your volunteer to conducting class, or summer workshops, or find a good soul, perhaps a retired professional, willing to mentor the beginning conductor.

Pray to the parish patron saint.

3) Find an accompanist
Ah, another difficulty! In the absence of a trained organist, or during the continued search for one, again go to the local high schools. Students may be available. If all else fails, the director will have to play until an accompanist can be found. This is not the end of the world! You can work on a cappella pieces forever, you know!

Pray to Saint Cecilia.

4) Find singers
Actually, this is much easier than 1) and 3). Some cantors may wish to do additional singing. Advertise in the parish bulletin, but be aware that personal contact and word of mouth is the best recruitment venue. Do not write “no experience necessary” or “do you like to sing in the shower?” People are not going to want to join a group like that. As a friend once said, “I wouldn’t want to hear any choir that took me as a member!”

Instead, be encouraging. State exactly what you need: “We are looking for a few good folks with a generous heart, a little extra time, and the willingness to learn music for the liturgy”.

You don’t want soloists. You want nice folks who can work together as a group. Do not take anyone who is a prima donna, excessively garrulous, too busy (“I’ll be there for Mass but not rehearsals”. No, no, no!), or who sounds like a water buffalo with no volume control.

If all else fails, mandate that all the cantors must meet together once a month to rehearse together and must sing together as a group once a month. There’s a beginning choir.

Pray to the heavenly choirs of angels.

5) Have a plan
Work on the assumption that you will find at least a few hardy souls. Have some hymnals or sheet music copies ready. A good place to start is to obtain choir editions of The Adoremus Hymnal. Set a date for the choir’s “debut”. Plan to have them sing at the same Mass at least once a month. Work with a priest and/or mentor and plan easy music for the first time through Christmas, Holy Week, etc.

Lean on your guardian angel.

6) Select good but quickly learnable material for the first year
Ah, this is one of the reasons you want your director trained … or if untrained, to do some study or find a mentor. Otherwise, you are at the mercy of publishers who — let’s be honest here — want to sell you their music. Of course, the material you select will depend on the voices you have.

Be objective. Handel’s Hallelujah from Messiah is not a good starting place! Neither are all the pieces that you’ll want to do after the choir is formed. Start small.


If no one in your group has any choral experience, start with unison music. Eventually, with some vocal exercises (another reason you need to get some training for your director), ranges will become obvious and can be stretched here and there until your singers fall into the standard soprano/alto/tenor/bass categories.

The very best suggestion I can give for a “first piece” is to head to The Adoremus Hymnal #541, “Mary the Dawn”, by Paul Cross (a pseudonym). Excellent text relating Mary to her Son, beautiful symbolism, an Ambrosian-chant-like melody, and all learnable in one sitting.
To make it sound like a choral piece instead of a hymn, have the men sing the first line “Mary the dawn” and the women, the answer “Christ the perfect day”. Continue in this antiphonal fashion until all sing the final line and Amen together. Guaranteed success. My choir loves to sing this piece this way!

Next, find a nice Gregorian chant. This is a great way to introduce chant to your congregation (the goal is that they will sing the piece someday, too!) and will be a nice challenge for your singers. Also, it is still in unison.

If your director and singers are uncomfortable with Latin, The Correct Pronunciation of Latin According to the Roman Usage, from the St. Gregory Guild, is still available through GIA Publications.

Which chants? Head to The Adoremus Hymnal again. For Easter season, use the “Regina Caeli” (#546). For Advent, do a few verses of “Veni Emmanuel” (#300) or “Conditor Alme Siderum” (#308). For Christmas, there is “Puer Natus“(#324), for Lent, “Stabat Mater” (#400; not really a chant, but can be chant-like when sung in unison) — the melody will be familiar to the singers, as will the “Veni Emmanuel“, so the only challenges are the Latin, beginning and ending phrases together, and blending together rather than trying to out-shout each other.

If the congregation does not have Adoremus Hymnals, but the choir does, some hymns that are not found in the parish liturgy booklet but are in The Adoremus Hymnal may be used as choir pieces.

As the motley bunch begins to “turn into a choir”, don’t try all four parts at once. If the altos are willing, let everyone sing melody and teach the altos their part. Or alternate verses men/women. Here’s a dandy suggestion: let the tenors sing the melody and give the tenor part of a hymn to the sopranos to sing an octave higher. Instant descant!

Next, find some rounds and canons. No, not “Row, row, row your boat”, or “Three blind mice”. There are sacred pieces of music out there not much more difficult than those, which sound … heavenly. Some suggestions: for Lent: “When Jesus Wept” by William Billings. By that great composer Unknown, there is the lovely “Dona Nobis Pacem“.

When things are going well, try a canon at the fourth: “Non Nobis Domine” by William Byrd. This is a gorgeous piece, and within the realm of the beginning church choir. Also sung by advanced choirs! A secondary benefit here is that the singers will be singing these pieces unaccompanied, training them for a cappella singing and weaning them off the keyboard. Resist the temptation to cover the singers with a multitude of instruments until they are well established and can hold their own.

When you can, but not before, move up to published choral music. If you have the choir able to sing in two parts (women, men) a nicely written piece is “Peace to Soothe Our Bitter Woes” by David Cherwien (GIA Publications).

Don’t know where to find music? Request catalogs from CanticaNOVA Publications (, Gregorian Institute of America Publications (, and World Library Publications (www.wlp. Also, there is J.W. Pepper & Son, Inc. (, a music supply house that can help you locate things or send you things on approval. All are online and anxious to help you. Ask established choir directors for suggestions.

A trained choral director will also be able to arrange music to fit the particular needs of a choir, if, for example, you have really strong altos and weak sopranos, or no tenors.

Pray to the Holy Spirit for guidance.

7) Organize the choir
Have the choir write by-laws and select officers. Who to call if they will be absent? Or if they have a question? Or need a ride to rehearsal? How to care for music? When will music be collected? End of rehearsal? End of season? End of year?

Select or appoint a president, assistant, treasurer, secretary, music librarian. Of course, the director is still in charge, but input from the ranks is very important. Take attendance at each rehearsal and Sunday Mass. Make membership rules. (But be nice! These are, after all, busy volunteers.) It’s better to have eight people who come all the time than fifteen people, eight of whom are faithful, and seven of whom wander in and out without explanation.

Pray for patience.


8) Morale boosting is a must
Be sure the choir is thanked for their work. From the pulpit. In the bulletin. Perhaps do a “recognition” some Sunday after the choir has really taken hold. An annual social event for the members is a good idea too: a picnic, or just a cookies-and-punch reception.

A good choir is a family. Sign birthday or get-well cards for members. Eventually, there may be choir lapel pins. And choir robes.

Any good choir needs a name. How about: The St. Cecelia Choristers? The St. Walburgis Warblers (oog, try again)? The St. Agnes Schola Cantorum (impressive!). Resurrection Parish Adult Choir (nah, sounds like “adult movie”); Resurrection Parish Choir (nice and succinct).

Pray to the Holy Family.

9) Continue to prepare
Once the choir is established, they should be greeted each September with a tentative yearly calendar. Mark all the rehearsals, extra rehearsals for Christmas and Holy Week, the Sundays they will sing (with the goal of eventually becoming an every-Sunday choir), and a list of pieces to work on. (Doesn’t mean they’ll all be learned. Set goals just a bit high).

If your choir members are all non-readers, make tapes for them of their part of a difficult piece. Your section leaders (or officers) can make copies of those tapes for the full choir. This way, the singers can rehearse at home and save valuable rehearsal time.

10) Be creative
Once the choir is established, plan special activities. Invite the choir from another parish to do a “choir exchange”. On a given Sunday, the guest choir will sing with your choir on service pieces and hymns, and they can sing a special piece before Mass and at communion. Next Sunday, bring your choir to their church. Same procedure. Or, find a piece that both choirs know and sing it together at both churches. Take a group trip to hear a concert by a really good choir — or a professional choir. And so on.

Say many prayers of thanksgiving if you have gotten this far and a choir is functioning in your parish.

The important thing in a choir is not that it be large in number, but willing of spirit; that its members understand the importance of the place of the choir in the liturgy, and be willing to work for quality in choice of music and execution. A large part of rehearsals will be taken up with preparing those parts of the Mass in which the choir will be leading the congregation. But certain parts of the Mass, according to the GIRM, belong to the choir.

When I first began, my mentor, Monsignor Remey, told me two things I’ve never forgotten: “pick choir singers, not soloists”, and “a good choir is a family”.

I would like to add something I truly believe and try to practice: the motto of all choir members, all church musicians — professional and amateur — should be Non nobis Domine, sed nomini tuo da gloriam! (Not to us, Lord, but to your name be the glory!) Amen.


What the heck are they singing about? A Choir Director’s Lament on Lyrics for Liturgy

By Lucy E. Carroll, Adoremus Bulletin Online Edition – May 2006 Vol. XII, No. 3

Is there a real choir in your parish? If there is a choir, it is more probably a song group accompanied by guitar, perhaps with drums and bass guitar. The traditional choir, a mainstay of Catholic liturgy — with a repertoire of great beauty — has all but vanished in the parishes.

Where once Catholic choirs sang the great masterworks of Palestrina, Nanino, Victoria, Mozart, etc., now song groups gabble the pop-style pablum churned out by the powerful music publishing industry.

Where once the magnificent texts of O Sacrum Convivium“, “Ave Verum Corpus“, and “Sicut Cervus” wove through the air drawing the listener heavenward, now the song groups are mired in secular style, and singing — well, just what the heck are they singing?

Sacrosanctum Concilium, Vatican II’s oft-ignored guideline for liturgical reform, stated that greater importance was to be given to choirs. The Holy See’s Instruction on music in the liturgy, Musicam Sacram (1967), clearly spelled out the role of the choir in the sacred liturgy. (The word “cantor” never appeared until later, when the responsorial psalm was restored, and then there was need for “cantor of the psalm”.)

Today, however, choirs have virtually disappeared in most parishes. Usually soloists perform up front, with keyboard “backup”. (Why be lost in a group when one can sing solo?)

Vatican documents state that all music texts in the sacred liturgy should be from scriptural or “traditional” sources.

The purpose of the liturgy is to lead us into the great mystery of faith, the consecration, where elements of bread and wine become Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Jesus Christ. Saint Pope Pius X warned that music surrounding this event must have the “dignity befitting the temple”.

The style of much church music today is secular, low-level pop music with little grandeur about it. The nature of the music is secular. That is, it is associated with non-sacred activities, feelings, and responses.

The texts, too, are often essentially secular, despite the occasional appearance of “God”. The structure and style of the music is a concern in itself, but for the moment, let us consider only the text of some of these new works.

Here is an interesting example of ideology masquerading as theology:

The light of God is shining bright
In ev’ry girl of woman born
And in her fingers and her face
Are heaven’s glory, pow’r and grace
So when she’s walking, running, leaping,
Sitting and thinking, talking, sleeping,
Don’t ever treat a girl with scorn,
But look and see the face of God in ev’ry girl of woman born

Of Woman Born“, words by Brian Wren, music by Francis Patrick O’Brien, GIA Publications #G5916 (2002)

This is the first third of the text. (Boys are included later on, you’ll be happy to know.) This song was included in a publisher’s workshop held in our area. At the conclusion of the “sing-through”, most of us sat, stunned into silence. The event-leader asked, “Now, for what occasions could you use this piece?”

A male voice in the back boomed: “The Twelfth of Never!” and was greeted with uproarious applause. The reading session leader was surprised at the negative reaction and hastily tried to justify the piece. This might be nice for something — perhaps a grade school graduation — but for the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass?

Pope Pius XII wrote: “… the chants and sacred music are immediately joined with the Church’s liturgical worship and should be conducive to the lofty end for which they are intended…. It must be holy. It must not allow within itself anything that savors of the profane [non-sacred or secular]”. (Pope Pius XII, Musicae Sacrae, #41, 42)

Is the above-quoted choral text holy? Is it lofty?

Here’s another new choral piece:

Walking on cobble-stones,
tearing my feet to the bones,
tryin’ to make it on my own,
wondering where I’m going and how I’m gonna get there,
sure can’t do it all alone.

On a Journey Together” by John Angotti, WLP #007482 (1999)

Now this might serve as lyrics for any pop, rock, or country song, mightn’t it? (No comment on the lofty nature of the poetic text!) God does eventually wander into the text in the refrain:

On a journey together
We can fare any weather
Keeping Christ the center
of our community.
On a journey together
We can make the world better
By forgiving and loving
starting with you and me.

This might work at a support group of some sort — but where is the aspect of worship and adoration of Almighty God?

The misdirected focus on “folks” instead of the Godhead in many Catholic liturgies today is obvious in this piece. It’s also a good example of the “stupefied torpor” that then-Cardinal Ratzinger wrote about not long ago.

“In its essence”, he wrote, liturgical music “must be different from a music which is meant to lead the listener into rhythmic ecstasy or stupefied torpor, sensual arousal or the dissolution of the Ego”. (“In the Presence of Angels I Will Sing Your Praise”, Adoremus Bulletin, October 1996.)

Here’s an example of psychobabble further dumbed-down for kiddies. It is listed for “Choir, Assembly, Children’s Choir, Keyboard and Guitar, with C Instrument”.

I am special, God loves me
You are special, God loves you, too
We are all special children of God
And God loves us one and all.

I Am Special” by James E. Moore, Jr. GIA Publications #G-5734 (2002)

This text repeats twice. That’s it. Period. This silly ode to self-esteem would be bad enough at a children’s gathering in school. But at the Altar of Sacrifice?

Another example: A music publisher sent me a choral piece, “Christ has no body now but yours”.

“Heresy!” cried one sister at the monastery when I read her just the title. “What about His glorified body?”

“I think it means we have to do Christ’s work on earth”, I suggested.

“That’s not what it says. It’s heresy!” she repeated.

This theologically confusing text may be becoming trendy, because soon after, I received another version:

Yours are the eyes through which to look out Christ’s compassion to the world [sic]
Yours are the feet on which He is to go about doing good,
And yours are the hands with which He is to bless us now.
“No Hands But Yours”. Text attributed to Saint Teresa of Avila, music by J. Jerome Williams. Hinshaw Music
#HMC2022 (2005)

The attribution to Saint Teresa is unfortunate, because this text is unintelligible. (A different version says “yours are the eyes through which Christ looks with compassion on the world”.)

Here’s another text that is sure to confuse.

I choose you, I choose you
You shall be the way, You shall be the truth
I choose you, I choose you.
Be the road between my people and my dreams.
“I Choose You” by Rory and Claire Cooney, World Library Publications #007343 (2000)

Just who, after all, has chosen whom? Is this a vox dei text? Is it God speaking? He chooses me? But no, we cannot be the way and truth, can we? The text continues:

I am the words you drink, written in spirit and flame
I am the words that reach you, trying to teach you my name
I am the tongue of fire that lights up with love in your eyes
I am the glimmer in your heart not to grow dimmer and die!

So this is God speaking to us, after all? No dimmer glimmer, He! Finally, the text says,

I choose you, my disciple,
my beloved child
My eyes, my arms, my truth my shelter
the tongue of flame still burning from your dreams
the road between my people
and my dreams.

What! God chooses God’s people and God’s dreams? When I read this text to my choir, they blinked in dismay. If the choir can’t understand the text, what is the congregation to think?

But if that song is confusing, here’s one with a very clear agenda:

For ev’ryone born, a place at the table,
For ev’ryone born, clean water and bread,
A shelter, a space, a safe place
for growing,
For ev’ryone born, a star overhead.
“A Place at the Table”, words by Shirley Erena Murray, music by Lori True. GIA Publications, #G-5670 (2001)

Sort of sounds like a campaign song, doesn’t it? (A chicken in every pot!) And what “table” are we talking about? If it is the table of the true Eucharistic banquet, it is not open to “everyone born”.

The song goes on:

For woman and man, a place at the table,
Revising roles, decided the share,
With wisdom and grace,
dividing the power,
For woman and man, a system that’s fair.

I am not making this up! Imagine sitting at Mass, preparing to receive the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Our Lord and Savior, and hearing a song about revising men’s and women’s roles, and “dividing the power” for “a system that’s fair”. Is that why you came to Mass?

Again, let us turn to our current pope:

… when in this congregation a choir exists which can draw the congregation into the cosmic praise and into the wide open space of heaven and earth more strongly than the congregations’ own stammering is able to do, then precisely in that moment the delegated, representative function of the choir is especially appropriate and fitting. (“In the Presence of Angels I will Sing Your Praise”, AB)

Now there is a challenge! Draw the congregation into the cosmic praise! Draw them into the wide-open space of heaven and earth! The above song texts just don’t measure up to that, do they?

Perhaps all of the above songs can find a home somewhere: concerts, assemblies, special programs, non-liturgical events. But are they the right choice for the Sacrifice of Calvary re-enacted in our sanctuaries?

The untrained folks in charge of selecting music know only what the publishers send them, and these pieces, while they come with recordings (learn by listening!), do not come with warning labels as to the suitability for Holy Mass. Indeed, most music publishers would be confounded to think anyone would even question the suitability of these pieces — the current attitude toward music for Mass is, well, pretty much, “anything goes”.

Have none of these folks read Musicam Sacram? Or Pope John Paul II’s chirograph on the 100th anniversary of Tra le sollecitudini?

The publishers whose works are quoted above do have choral pieces eminently suited for the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, although they are fewer in number compared to the overwhelming piles of quasi-sacred and downright un-sacred material.

Catholic music publishers sell their products to all denominations these days. Isn’t it odd to think that, while our understanding of the Eucharist (i.e., transubstantiation) is so different from Protestant churches, that communion texts could possibly be one-size-fits-all? Or that, given the difference in our theology, anything quasi-religious is suitable for all?

Let us restore to our sacred liturgy choral texts that raise us heavenward, texts that give worship and adoration to the God of all creation, to the Son who sacrificed for our salvation, to the Spirit that vivifies us.

Let us insist on texts that draw us to the miraculous act of transubstantiation, rather than the foibles of those around us.

Let us sing to God, not glory in each other. Let us restore sacred texts of lofty nature.

Let us pray!


Music for Catholic Funerals — or, But Uncle Horace Loved that Song!

By Lucy E. Carroll, Adoremus Bulletin Online Edition – September 2006 Vol. XII, No. 6

There was a time when Catholics were buried at a Requiem Mass. The priest wore black vestments, signifying mourning. Traditional Latin chants were solemn and magnificent, the Introit, Requiem aeternam, asking for eternal rest; the Sequence, Dies Irae, where one trembles at the thought of the Last Judgment; and the celestial In Paradisum, where martyrs greet the deceased and a choir of angels receives him. Many classical composers over the centuries have set those texts for the concert stage, so impressive are they.

After the Second Vatican Council, the emphasis at Catholic funerals shifted from sorrow of death to the joy of heaven. In the Mass of Christian Burial, vestments are usually white, symbolizing the Resurrection (though violet and black are approved colors). The Dies Irae disappeared. Today, instead of choirs of angels transporting someone into heaven, we’re more likely to hear of their being scooped up on bird wings.

What music is appropriate for a Catholic funeral today? First of all, it normally takes place within the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. Thus, the basic rules for Mass apply. Is the text sacred? Is the music sacred in nature?

In some places, it has become popular to play a recording of the deceased’s favorite pop song. But at a Catholic Mass, recorded music is never to be used, and popular secular songs are forbidden at Mass. Period.

Uncle Horace’s favorite song, then, unless it is an appropriate Catholic hymn, is best saved for the funeral parlor, wake, or family gathering. “Danny Boy”, for example, is totally inappropriate within the Mass, no matter how Irish Uncle Horace was. Putting religious words to that tune does not make it a sacred song. It is still “Danny Boy”. Whitewashing the pump does not purify the water! Save it for the family gathering after — along with the eulogies, which should not be part of the Mass. [The beautiful Hymn of Saint Patrick, “I bind unto myself today” (Adoremus Hymnal 463) would be an excellent choice — even for the non-Irish. — Ed.]

A priest once told me that he had officiated at what he called “the worst funeral ever in our archdiocese”. A young man in his thirties, very active in sports, had died. The young man’s brother wished to say a few words at the funeral. The local bishop permitted this, as long as the talk was spiritual”.

The brother walked into the sanctuary in shorts, sneakers, and spoke of sports and such. Near the end, someone from the congregation handed something to the speaker. He held the object aloft, saying: “So, brother, here’s a toast: to you!” Pfsst! He popped open the beer can and began to drink! Immediately, from the congregation, pfsst, pfsst, pfsst, pfsst followed — people had brought their own beer cans to Mass!

That illustrates the problem — that many people have pretty much forgotten the meaning of the word “appropriate”. The brother’s toast was not appropriate in the sanctuary at Mass, even if it was intended to honor the deceased. This applies just as much to music. It must be appropriate.

What hymns are appropriate for a funeral Mass? Most anything that is appropriate for Mass. The text may recall God’s love for us, or it may paraphrase that most comforting of Psalms, 23, “The Lord is My Shepherd”. “The King of Love My Shepherd Is” is thus a very suitable hymn. (Two common musical settings are Columba, a traditional Gaelic melody – Adoremus Hymnal 580, and Dominus regit by Henry Dykes.) Hymns from the Easter season speaking of the Lord’s resurrection may also be suitable.

The Responsorial Psalm must be a Psalm, and not a wild paraphrase or a song. Stick to the Lectionary, folks! [Ten choices of Psalms for funeral Masses are given in the Lectionary. — Ed.]

At Communion, any Blessed Sacrament hymn with a theologically correct text could be used. Most lovely, perhaps, would be “Soul of My Savior”. Verse three pleads:

Guard and defend me from the foe malign.
In life’s last moments make me only thine.
Call me and bid me come to thee on high
Where I may praise thee with thy saints for aye. [ever]

Text attributed to Pope John XXII
(Tune: Anima Christi by Lorenzo Dobici.
Adoremus Hymnal 522)

Music from the traditional Requiem Mass may also be used. The chant settings of the Dies Irae, Requiem Aeternam and In Paradisum are in the Adoremus Hymnal 577, 574, and 572 respectively.

[The Dies Irae, no longer the required Sequence hymn before the Gospel at a Requiem Mass, might now be chanted before Mass begins. — Ed.]

There is perhaps no more lovely “sending off” than the In Paradisum. The setting in the Gabriel Fauré’s Requiem always leaves me with moist eyes. The Gregorian Chant melody is not difficult. I am on a mission to restore this lovely text to Catholic funerals!

In Paradisum deducant angeli
In tuo adventu, suscipiat te martyres
Et perducant te in civitatem sanctam Jerusalem.
Chorus angelorum te suscipiat
Et cum Lazaro, quondam paupere
Aeternam habeas requiem.

My own translation:

May the angels lead you into Paradise
And when you come may the martyrs receive you
And lead you to the holy city of Jerusalem.
May a choir of angels receive you,
And with Lazarus, once a pauper,
May you have eternal rest.

(We have a simplified chant version at the monastery. If you’d like a copy, send a SASE with your request to Lucy Carroll, 712 High Ave., Hatboro, PA, 19040).

There is also a nice English paraphrase of In Paradisum with text by Father James Quinn, to a tune from the Geneva Psalter (Adoremus Hymnal

A very appropriate Offertory hymn, I suggest, is “There’s a Wideness in God’s Mercy”, text by Father Frederick Faber, to the Dutch tune In Babilone (Adoremus Hymnal 613). Most of us will need God’s mercy as we approach our judgment! Other suitable hymns may be found in the section “Last Things” in the Adoremus Hymnal.

Another good choice would be “All You Who Seek a Comfort Sure”, text based on Qui cumque certure quaeritis, translated by Father Edward Caswall, to the tune Saint Bernard, from Tochter Sion, Cologne (Adoremus Hymnal 772), or “Lord Jesus Think on Me”, text by Synesius of Cyrene (4th century), translated by Allen Chatfield, to the tune Southwell (Adoremus Hymnal 364). Here is verse 5:

Lord Jesus, think on me
That when the flood is past
I may the eternal brightness see
And share thy joy at last.

That is, after all, what we all hope: that we may share the eternal joy of heaven, at last, when this life is over!

Think about planning the music for your own funeral Mass. You could leave instructions with your will. Most musicians I know, myself included, do this — list the music, attach copies, and even list the musicians you would like to participate. Of course, if you request something inappropriate, your pastor couldn’t honor that request!

Requiescat in pace!



Wandering in the Desert – After forty years, we still seek the musical Promised Land

By Anthony Corvaia, Jr., Adoremus Bulletin
Online Edition – February 2007 Vol. XII, No. 10

“The musical tradition of the universal Church is a treasure of inestimable value, greater even than that of any other art. The main reason for this pre-eminence is that, as sacred song united to the words, it forms a necessary or integral part of the solemn liturgy.… Therefore sacred music is to be considered the more holy in proportion as it is more closely connected with the liturgical action, whether it adds delight to prayer, fosters unity of minds, or confers greater solemnity upon the sacred rites.” (Sacrosanctum Concilium 112)

In the days before Vatican II, the average parish music program was fairly simple. The volunteer choir, always lacking in tenors it seems, knew a few accompanied masses and some motets from the St. Gregory Hymnal or from a handful of similar sources.

Parishes with sophisticated pastors had organists who could play with both feet and trained choir directors who attempted the occasional Palestrina or Victoria piece, or compositions from contemporary composers like Montani, Perosi, Yon and Ravanello. A short list of Latin and vernacular hymns supplied music for low Mass and devotions. The motu proprios of several popes along with the Caecilian Movement had reined in the excesses of the Baroque and Classical styles and urged choir directors to rediscover the Church’s musical patrimony of chant and polyphony, which were raised up as models for new compositions. The liturgical renewal of the first half of the 20th century saw progressive parishes adopt congregational chant masses, typically the “Mass of the Angels”, and dialogue masses. Music in the Roman Rite was on a steady course.

Then along came Vatican II and the direction changed. While continuing to cite chant and polyphony as the ideal, the Council encouraged congregational singing (SC 30) and permitted the use of the vernacular (SC 36.2, 3), thus allowing a much broader repertoire. The prospects were exhilarating. Of course there were some who, like the mythological Cassandra, sounded warnings that were not taken seriously, who saw in the new freedom the fulfillment of the maxim: “Every innovation occasions more harm and derangement of order by its novelty, than benefit by its abstract utility”. But the excitement of a new vision for liturgical music swept all naysayers away.

In the vast majority of parishes the vision remained a dream, however. Pastors who could hardly afford the organist-choir director at the one Sunday Mass with music were now faced with the need for an organist and cantor for the plethora of weekend Masses. Guitars and amateur songsters became a cheap alternative. Hymnals, never a low-cost commodity, would have to be bought. Instead, the urgent need for musical resources was filled with text-only song sheets and woefully inadequate “Mass books” consisting mostly of warmed-over Protestant hymns and campfire songs.

Because “active participation” was the cry of the day, the act of singing was emphasized over what was being sung. With congregational participation a priority, choirs were left to languish and expire. In line with the anti-authoritarian spirit of the times, the opinions and contributions of the amateur were valued more than the expertise and experience of the professional musician, who symbolized the supposedly patriarchal and oppressive pre-Vatican II Church. Those musicians who had spent many years in the service of the Church at substandard wages (if they were paid at all) became increasingly unhappy at having to dish up the pabulum required by musically uninformed pastors and obdurate liturgy committees, who were either unfamiliar with the Council’s documents or hoodwinked by the purveyors of the “new music”.

After forty years of wandering in the desert, we still have not found the musical Promised Land. In too many places we now have well-intentioned but ill-prepared “music ministers” who have no knowledge of liturgical music before 1965 and therefore no appreciation for the vast musical heritage of the Western Church. Their repertoire is determined largely by music publishers whose musical selections, like the “missalettes” that propagate them, are totally disposable, frustrating any hope of a consistent Catholic repertoire. The texts are often influenced more by popular social theory than by Scripture and theology. Except for the contribution of a small handful of classically trained liturgical composers, after a half century the most this generation has been able to add to the Church’s musical treasury has been some lightweight music that can be performed by amateur musicians and ad-hoc singers.

There are some parishes that sponsor music programs of liturgical, musical and pastoral excellence, but they are the exception. Some fall victim to shrinking parish budgets. Some simply wither because there is not enough qualified and interested talent to lead them. Others are constrained by parish liturgy committees.

Increasingly, parish music programs are governed by ideologies and assumptions rather than by the documents and authentic spirit of Vatican II. Some of the misconceptions about what constitutes legitimate practice have become codified into a kind of “liturgical correctness” that dare not be questioned. It’s time to dispel some of these misconceptions



Common Misconceptions

1. There is no need for a choir in today’s parish. If you have one, its only function is to support congregational singing.

But the General Instruction of the Roman Missal (GIRM) says: “Among the faithful, the schola cantorum or choir exercises its own liturgical function, ensuring that the parts proper to it, in keeping with the different types of chants, are properly carried out and fostering the active participation of the faithful through the singing”. (103)

It is clear that the Council (SC 114, 116, 121) intended the choir to have a specific and substantial role with a proper repertoire, not simply sing along with the congregation. Is there any wonder that choirs have dwindled when what they are asked to sing is so simplistic and uninteresting and produces such little effect? Parish choirs grow when they are challenged to sing good music by enthusiastic and capable choir directors. As someone once said, the difference between the choir and the congregation is that the choir rehearses. Just as the celebrant must excel at presiding, the lector at reading, and the homilist at preaching, so the choir must excel at singing.

2. The liturgy requires a leader of song.

Regarding the “leader of song”, the GIRM says: “It is fitting that there be a cantor or a choir director to lead and sustain the people’s singing. When in fact there is no choir, it is up to the cantor to lead the different chants, with the people taking part.” (104)

This sounds good on paper but frequently sounds bad in church. Is there anything more detrimental to congregational singing than an ill-prepared cantor crooning into a microphone and waving his or her arms as if sending semaphore messages to the faithful? Yet parish after parish has been convinced that a “leader of song”, no matter how inept, is the surefire way to improve the singing.

Note that the GIRM specifies that it is up to the cantor to lead the singing when there is no choir. I served at a parish for many years that had no “leader of song”; instead the congregational singing, which was unusually robust for a Catholic church, was led by a trained choir and an accomplished organist who knew how to simultaneously guide and support the congregation.

If a “leader of song” is required, then he or she should be a trained professional whose voice does not need amplification except in the largest of churches.

3. Mass must open with a congregational gathering song.

The GIRM says: “The singing at this time (at the Entrance) is done either alternately by the choir and the people or in a similar way by the cantor and the people, or entirely by the people, or by the choir alone. In the dioceses of the United States of America there are four options for the Entrance Chant: (1) the antiphon from the Roman Missal or the Psalm from the Roman Gradual as set to music there or in another musical setting; (2) the seasonal antiphon and Psalm of the Simple Gradual; (3) a song from another collection of psalms and antiphons, approved by the Conference of Bishops or the Diocesan Bishop, including psalms arranged in responsorial or metrical forms; (4) a suitable liturgical song similarly approved by the Conference of Bishops or the Diocesan Bishop.” (48)

A congregational hymn or song as the Entrance chant has become de rigueur, yet it is not required by the GIRM. The American version of the GIRM permits it but only as the last of four options. The original expectation was that the Introit (part of a psalm with its antiphon sung while the celebrant and ministers enter the church and approach the altar) from the Roman Gradual or the Simple Gradual would be used. Since these melodies are beyond the capability of most congregations, they are rightly the purview of the choir.

There are occasions when singing the proper Introit would seem especially appropriate. The Introits for the first Mass of Christmas, Epiphany, Ash Wednesday, Holy Thursday, Easter, Pentecost and the Requiem are unequalled in their insightful encapsulation of the theme of the liturgical celebration. These Introits add greatly to the solemnity of these days.

In those places where a chanted Latin Introit is not pastorally advisable, the Introit from the English version of the Simple Gradual or as set to one of the traditional psalm tones can be used.

The GIRM also says “After the people have gathered, the Entrance chant begins as the priest enters with the deacon and ministers. The purpose of this chant is to open the celebration, foster the unity of those who have been gathered, introduce their thoughts to the mystery of the liturgical season or festivity, and accompany the procession of the priest and ministers.” (47)

Notice that the proper name for the song at the entrance is the “Entrance chant”, not “Gathering Song”. “Gathering” is only one purpose of this chant.



4. The nine-fold Kyrie, required in the pre-Vatican II Mass, is obsolete.

But the GIRM says: “As a rule, each acclamation (of the Kyrie) is sung or said twice, though it may be repeated several times, by reason of the character of the various languages, as well as of the artistry of the music or of other circumstances.” (52)

There are many good settings of the Kyrie that should not be cast aside simply because they are nine-fold. One way of performing a nine-fold Kyrie is to have a cantor or part of the choir sing the 1st, 4th, and 7th invocations, the congregation respond with the 2nd, 5th and 8th, and the choir sing the 3rd, 6th and 9th polyphonically.

5. The Gloria is strictly a congregational part.

Yet the GIRM states: “The Gloria is intoned by the priest or, if appropriate, by a cantor or by the choir; but it is sung either by everyone together, or by the people alternately with the choir or by the choir alone.” (53)

The popular adaptation of the Gloria in which a soloist or the choir sings parts of the Gloria while the congregation repeats a refrain (typically “Glory to God in the highest” or some variation thereof) as if it were a responsorial psalm violates the structure of the hymn. The Gloria should be sung straight through. As the GIRM indicates, the form in which sections of the Gloria are sung alternatim between congregation and choir (which may render its portions polyphonically) is perfectly acceptable; this form is frequently used at the Vatican.

6. When the psalm between the readings is sung, it must be sung responsorially.

Regarding the psalm, the GIRM says: “The responsorial Psalm should correspond to each reading and should, as a rule, be taken from the Lectionary.

It is preferable that the responsorial Psalm be sung, at least as far as the people’s response is concerned. Hence, the psalmist, or the cantor of the Psalm, sings the verses of the Psalm from the ambo or another suitable place. The entire congregation remains seated and listens but, as a rule, takes part by singing the response, except when the Psalm is sung straight through without a response. In order, however, that the people may be able to sing the Psalm response more readily, texts of some responses and Psalms have been chosen for the various seasons of the year or for the various categories of Saints. These may be used in place of the text corresponding to the reading whenever the Psalm is sung.

In the dioceses of the United States of America, the following may also be sung in place of the Psalm assigned in the Lectionary for Mass: either the proper or seasonal antiphon and Psalm from the Lectionary, as found either in the Roman Gradual or Simple Gradual or in another musical setting; or an antiphon and Psalm from another collection of the psalms and antiphons, including psalms arranged in metrical form, providing that they have been approved by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops or the Diocesan Bishop. Songs or hymns may not be used in place of the responsorial Psalm.” (61)

Of all the changes affecting music, the restoration of the responsorial psalm has been, in my opinion, the least successful. There are many parishes that do not have a trained cantor at their disposal and as a result, the congregation is often made to suffer through what seems an interminable test of faith as a well-intentioned but miscast soloist sings the psalm verses. The responsorial approach, meant to permit instant congregational participation, unrealistically assumes that the congregation can sing the antiphon (response refrain) confidently after hearing it only once. Add to that the penchant of contemporary composers for writing syncopated and tonally ambiguous antiphons, and one has a foolproof recipe for disaster.

If the psalm is to be sung responsorially, a simple seasonal antiphon with the proper psalm verses sung to one of the traditional psalm tones may be a better choice. It is not necessary that the antiphon or the verses be accompanied. In fact there is great power in hearing a congregation singing in unison without supporting instruments.

There are other options however. The GIRM recommends congregational participation but does not require it. The proper gradual, either from the Roman or Simple Gradual, can be chanted in Latin or English by the choir, or it can be sung in parts (falso bordone).

The psalm may be sung straight through without an antiphon. A method that I have used quite effectively is to have the psalm sung antiphonally between choir and congregation. The choir sings the first half of each psalm verse; the congregation, the second. This method requires that the congregation has a pointed version of the psalm to indicate phrasing, but with modern computer capabilities, this does not require much effort. The approved texts of the psalms are available on the Internet at

7. The readings, Creed, and general intercessions should not be sung.

Concerning the general intercessions, the GIRM says: “The intentions are announced from the ambo or from another suitable place, by the deacon or by a cantor, a lector, or one of the lay faithful.” (71)

Singing the readings and general intercessions can add great solemnity to the Eucharistic celebration. Tones for the general intercessions are given in Appendix III of the present Sacramentary, along with tones for the celebrant’s prayers and blessings.

The tones for the readings are not included, but they can be found in the Graduale Romanum. Of course if there are not sufficient musical resources to have these parts sung competently, it is better to speak them, for the singing is not merely for singing’s sake but for the more effective proclamation of the text.

Regarding the Creed, the GIRM says “If it is sung, it is begun by the priest or, if this is appropriate, by a cantor or by the choir. It is sung, however, either by all together or by the people alternating with the choir.” (68)

Some have argued that the length of the Creed prohibits it from being sung congregationally. Balderdash! My parish sings the Creed once a month when a chant Ordinary is sung. Teenagers have no problem memorizing hundreds of songs, and adults can do the same. It is a question of will and not ability. We sing and never recite the National Anthem; should we not sing the Creed, which is the Church’s “national anthem”, on Sundays and other festive celebrations?

8. The Lamb of God is a litany that properly includes tropes.

There is simply no provision in the liturgical rules for any changes or insertions to the text of the Lamb of God, except for the option to repeat the petition as often as needed to cover the fraction rite. If the GIRM as clarified by Redemptionis Sacramentum is followed, the triple invocation of the Lamb of God will provide ample time to fill ciboria, the chalices having been filled previously at the Offertory.

9. The congregation must sing during Communion.

In describing the Communion chant, the GIRM says: “This is sung either by the choir alone or by the choir or cantor with the people.” (87)

Despite the protestations of modernist liturgists, there is no requirement that there be congregational singing during Communion. This insistence on congregational singing stems from an over-emphasis on the communal nature of the Eucharist, which many modernist liturgists define as an act of sharing and of table fellowship at the expense of its eschatological and sacrificial aspects, along with the total elimination of any notion of Eucharistic adoration during Mass.

The proper Communion chant along with an appropriate choral motet is the most practical method of providing music during Communion.

There is usually plenty of time after Communion for a hymn if congregational singing is desired during the Communion rite.

10. The time before Mass and the time after Communion are ideal opportunities for the choir to sing by itself.

I like to call this “throwing a bone to the choir”. The choir has its own proper liturgical role. It does not exist to “fill in the gaps”.

The GIRM points out that “When the distribution of Communion is finished, as circumstances suggest, the priest and faithful spend some time praying privately. If desired, a psalm or other canticle of praise or a hymn may also be sung by the entire congregation.” (88)

It is clear that the song after Communion is to be sung by the congregation, not by the choir. It is not a time for a “performance” by the choir. Nor is it necessarily a time of meditation (one frequently hears mention of “the Meditation Song”), since a “psalm or other canticle of praise or a hymn” may be sung.

11. The most important congregational parts of the Mass are the hymns and songs.

But the GIRM says: “The acclamations and the responses of the faithful to the priest’s greetings and prayers constitute that level of active participation that the gathered faithful are to contribute in every form of the Mass, so that the action of the entire community may be clearly expressed and fostered.” (35)

In the choosing of the parts actually to be sung, however, preference should be given to those that are of greater importance and especially to those to be sung by the priest or the deacon or the lector, with the people responding, or by the priest and people together. (40)

The largely overlooked instruction Musicam Sacram specifies the order in which congregational singing is to be introduced into the Mass. It divides the sung parts into three degrees (See Musicam Sacram 28-31).

The first degree includes those parts that always are to be sung and consists of the priest’s greetings, the opening prayer, the Gospel acclamation, the prayer over the gifts, the preface with its dialogue and the Sanctus, the Lord’s Prayer with the invitation and embolism, the Pax Domini, the prayer after the Communion, and the final dismissal.

The second degree is comprised of the Kyrie, Gloria, Agnus Dei, Creed and the Prayer of the Faithful.

The third degree consists of the Entrance, Offertory and Communion songs, the psalm between the readings, the Gospel Alleluia, and the Scripture readings, “unless it seems more suitable to proclaim them without singing”.

The second and third degrees may be used wholly or partially, but never without the first. Notice how in usual practice the order is just the opposite!

So we see that there is no basis for any of these “rules”. The greatest antidote for our current musical ills is familiarity with the official instructions of the Church as found in her authoritative documents. Yet there are bishops who do not uphold them, pastors who ignore them, and liturgists who contradict them.

As a result, we are destined to wander in the desert a bit longer. Unacquainted with and uninterested in our past, yet unwilling to embrace a truly modern idiom, we recycle the same mediocre and unsatisfying fare. There are bright spots here and there, in parishes willing to dedicate the time and resources to maintain first-rate music programs, but they hardly represent a trend.

Ah, where is the Moses who will lead us to the land of musical milk and honey?

Anthony Corvaia, Jr. lives in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, where he has been actively involved in liturgy for more than 20 years. During this time he has filled various roles, including parish liturgist, music coordinator and hymnographer. He was commissioned to write a hymn text for the dedication of the new dome mosaic at the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception. His earlier contributions to the Adoremus Bulletin include “Signs and Wonders” (March 2005) and “In the Year of the Eucharist (September 2005).


Rethinking the Responsorial Psalm – Has it become a “Bull in a China Shop”?

By Lucy E. Carroll, Adoremus Bulletin Online Edition: June 2008 Vol. XIV, No. 4

When the Mass was revised after the Council, the responsorial psalm was added to the expanded Scripture readings, and it became part of the musical repertoire in the new form of the liturgy (Novus Ordo). At first, the psalms were sung to simple melodies, and truly chanted, as in the Liturgy of the Hours. Little by little, however, singing the psalm took on a life of its own.

Today it isn’t unusual to hear the psalm sung as a solo by the cantor, with no chanting involved. In many modern musical settings for the psalm, even the response line that the congregation is supposed to sing can be complex. So the folks in the pew, who do not have the notes in front of them (or possibly couldn’t read the notes anyway) can’t remember their refrain so they often don’t sing it at all. And often they do not understand the words that are sung by the cantor.

In the “Vetus Ordo” (extraordinary) form of the liturgy, there was no responsorial psalm. Instead, a verse or two of a psalm formed the Gradual and Alleluia between the reading of the Epistle and Gospel. The Novus Ordo, implementing the directives of the Council that called for more Scripture at Mass, brought in two Scripture readings before the Gospel, replaced the Gradual with a psalm; then the Alleluia and another verse introduced the Gospel reading.

The intention of introducing the responsorial psalm within the Liturgy of the Word was to reinstate the chanting of more verses of the psalm, and to involve the folks in the pew in the repeated response after each verse.

At the time the responsorial psalm was introduced into the Mass, what was envisioned was the kind of chanting done with the psalms in the Divine Office (or Liturgy of the Hours). In monastic houses, the antiphoner chanted the antiphon before the psalm, and the congregation alternated chanting the separate verses, ending with the Gloria Patria and a repeat of the antiphon.

Alternatively, the psalm could be chanted “responsorially”: that is, that antiphon line could be repeated by the congregation after each verse of the psalm, like a refrain. This latter method became the “responsorial psalm” of the revised liturgy. (In many Protestant denominations, the psalm for the day is simply read together by the congregation, usually “responsively”, that is, alternating the verses between right and left sides of the congregation.)

The addition of more verses of the psalm was a very positive development. The involvement of the congregation in the response line (a kind of antiphon) is also a happy restoration. The monastic-style chanting was reassuring to people who were concerned about the direction that Catholic Church music was taking in those early days after the Council.


Church documents on sacred music

There is no mention of chanting the psalm in the Council’s Constitution on the Liturgy, Sacrosanctum Concilium, though it did say that the people should participate:

To promote active participation, the people should be encouraged to take part by means of acclamations, responses, psalmody, antiphons, and songs, as well as by actions, gestures, and bodily attitudes. And at the proper times all should observe a reverent silence. (SC 30. Emphasis added.)

The 1967 Instruction on Sacred Music, Musicam Sacram, issued by the Sacred Congregation for Rites and approved by Pope Paul VI, mentions congregational singing of the responsorial psalm, as an alternative to the Gradual after the first two readings:

It is desirable that the assembly of the faithful should participate in the songs of the Proper as much as possible, especially through simple responses and other suitable settings.

The song after the lessons, be it in the form of gradual or responsorial psalm, has a special importance among the songs of the Proper. By its very nature, it forms part of the Liturgy of the Word. It should be performed with all seated and listening to it — and, what is more, participating in it as far as possible. (MS 33)

The General Instruction of the Roman Missal (GIRM) of 1975 referred to the “responsorial psalm” in this way: “The psalmist or cantor of the psalm sings the verses of the psalm” (36). Thus the psalmist was to be the reincarnation of the monastic antiphoner. The chanting during the rest of the Mass was to be shared between the choir and congregation, each having its rightful place. There is no doubt that the psalm was meant to be chanted. Sacrosanctum Concilium set the standard:

The Church acknowledges Gregorian chant as specially suited to the Roman liturgy … it should be given pride of place in liturgical music. (SC 116)

It also stressed the importance of the choir:

The treasure of sacred music is to be preserved and fostered with great care. Choirs must be diligently promoted, especially in cathedral churches; but bishops and other pastors of souls must be at pains to ensure that, whenever the sacred action is to be celebrated with song, the whole body of the faithful may be able to contribute that active participation which is rightly theirs…. (SC 114. Emphasis added.)

However, in the period following the Council, choirs virtually disappeared, and the cantor of the psalm took on the role of soloist throughout the entire Mass. The responsorial psalm also took on a new flavor.

Today, particularly at larger churches and cathedrals, but in some parishes as well, the soloist cantor often sings the psalm as a through-composed piece (that is, the music is different for each verse, with no pause between verses).

The psalm is usually the most complex piece of music in the Mass. The verses of the psalm often become an opportunity for vocal flourishes and solo flights of fancy, and the words often become lost in the involved and non-repetitive style of the music. In some places, the psalm is the piece of music on which most time and work is spent. What was to be the re-institution of monastic-style chanting of the psalm had become a solo showcase, completely out of keeping with the actual intent of the Council’s reform.

The responsorial psalm, however, is definitely not the most important piece of music in the Mass. The Instruction Musicam Sacram placed singing the psalm in the third and last “degree” of parts of the Mass that are sung (MS 29-31). (Hymns and songs fall into this category as well, but that is a story for another day).

According to Musicam Sacram, the “first degree” of music for Mass, the most important, even indispensable sung parts of the Mass consist of the priest’s altar chants and the congregation’s response, the Sanctus, and the Lord’s Prayer. Yet in how many parishes today does one hear an elaborate solo on the psalm, and little to no singing by the priest?


Sing to the Lord perpetuates problems

The guidelines on sacred music approved by the US bishops in November 2007, Sing to the Lord: Music in Divine Worship, do little to remedy the situation. The guidelines are fraught with contradictions. Just as the old cliché about a giraffe being a horse designed by a committee, so too does Sing to the Lord have its odd angles and mis-directions.

While Sing to the Lord does refer to some Vatican documents, in some parts it is inconsistent with the principles of sacred music found in authoritative documents such as Musicam Sacram, Pope John Paul’s Chirograph on Sacred Music, and Pope Benedict’s Sacramentum caritatis.

Sing to the Lord states that the responsorial psalm “is of great liturgical and pastoral significance” (155) and, “as a rule, should be sung” (156) and that “every means available in each individual culture is to be employed” (158).

But overemphasizing the importance of the cantor in singing the responsorial psalm runs contrary to the instructions on sacred music that have been given to us since Sacrosanctum Concilium. Choirs were to be encouraged, not soloists. Although the intention of introducing the responsorial psalm into the liturgy was to increase both participation and understanding of the psalm by the worshippers, what actually happened was the opposite. The focus shifted from the Scripture to a musical performance.


The way we do it…

At our monastery, when the psalm is sung, it is chanted by our choir on a Gregorian psalm tone or a simple tone set by the organist. The response of the people is also a simple, chant-like melody that is easy to pick up and that does not cloud the text itself. Of course, there is much chanting in the monastery: the nuns chant the Office each day, singing Morning Prayer just before our Sunday Mass. A lay Carmelite group that meets at the monastery the first Saturday of each month chants Morning Prayer before their meeting. In each case, the psalms are chanted recto tono (that is, on one note throughout).


However, the Magnificat or other Canticles are chanted on a Gregorian tone or another chant tone. At our summer novena in honor of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, and the autumn Triduum, three days of prayer in honor of Saint Thérèse, the entire congregation chants Vesper psalms to simple tones and melodies.

Sing to the Lord suggests that Gregorian psalm tones do not work in English: “Gregorian chant tones are suited to the Latin language … [and] should not be used for those vernacular languages that have final accents, or else the Gregorian cadences should be adapted to fit the accentuation of the particular language” (237). Well, yes, of course the chants will be adapted. And for the record, the chant tones work exceptionally well in English, if one just uses a little common sense. (Gregorian tones 2, 8g, and 3a work very well and are easily adapted to any responsorial psalm in English.)

The view that Gregorian chant tones may not fit English is quite a surprise to all at our monastery, and to Father Samuel Weber, OSB, who uses the Gregorian tones in his setting of the Prayers for the Day. We have used much of Father Weber’s work at the monastery. And we can assure everyone that Gregorian tones do work in English, with some very slight modification.

While our small choir at the monastery chants the verses of the responsorial psalm each Sunday, it took a little practice and a lot of time being together. Our choir meets every Thursday and Sunday year-round, as well as the major feasts of the Church, and the summer novena and fall Triduum.

After a few months of chanting together, a small group such as our choir — or a monastic group of monks or nuns — will develop a group feel and can chant together cleanly, so the text can be understood by the listeners.

This may not work for a larger choir, or a choir that is not together as much as our monastery choir. In cases of large choirs, the chanting could be done by one different vocal section each Sunday, or on varied verses of the psalm.

A small group of singers (a mini-choir or kleiner-chor or schola) might be used. This way, the original monastic chanting of the psalm is restored. Even if the verses are sung by a solo cantor of the psalm, singing on a psalm tone allows the text to be sung cleanly and clearly, that the congregation may understand the text, which is, after all, the goal of it all.


Time for change

What was to be a simple chanting of psalm texts has too often become a solo showcase moment for the cantor. It ought not to be the most elaborate musical moment of the Mass, nor the most difficult for the congregation to understand. The responsorial psalm is part of the Liturgy of the Word — and both the words and the music must be clearly intelligible to all, for that is the purpose of the psalm. Too often, however, the responsorial psalm has become the bull in the china shop.

The Church has been told again and again — for over a century, from Pope Pius X to Sacrosanctum Concilium and Musicam Sacram, to Pope John Paul II’s Chirograph and the many writings of Pope Benedict XVI — that Gregorian chant is the great heritage of the Catholic Church, and the most suitable form of music for the sacred liturgy.

There is no better place to begin than by restoring the responsorial psalm to a chant on a simple Gregorian tone or chant-like melody. It is time for the bull to be led, gently, out of the china shop and into the back pasture.


Reverence, Music at Mass Top Readers’ Concerns – Report on the Adoremus Survey

Compiled by Susan Benofy, Adoremus Bulletin Online Edition: December 2008 – January 2009 Vol. XIV, No. 9

Music and reverence at Mass topped the list of concerns of readers who responded to the survey enclosed in the July-August issue of the Adoremus Bulletin.

Dissatisfaction with the state of liturgical music drew by far the largest majority, with 74% rating this as a significant concern. Reverence was a serious concern for 68% of the respondents, 60% listed violations of liturgical rules, and another 39% listed “innovations” at Mass as a major concern. The survey elicited 607 responses from 148 US dioceses in 48 states and the District of Columbia, and included 7 Canadians and one each from Australia, the Philippines and Ireland. [It included] 39 priests, 11 deacons and 9 religious.

Despite the generally high ratings on reverence most readers gave their own parishes, they had concerns about the state of the liturgy in the Church as a whole.

“Indifference, indolence and ignorance regarding the actual reform called for by Vatican Council II” has led to liturgical abuses, commented a laywoman from Dallas, Texas.



Music Concerns

Though music was very high on the list of liturgical concerns, many readers also noted improvements in music in their parishes in the past five years: better hymns, more sacred music, more use of Latin Ordinaries or hymns, new music director or placement of the choir in a loft rather than in the sanctuary.

Since nearly three-quarters of the surveys reported problems with music in their parishes, it is not surprising that when asked about one improvement they would ask for in Mass at their parish, the largest group of respondents chose a change in the music. Often comments about improving the music at Mass were related to the second major concern: reverence.

• A priest from Madison, Wisconsin, wrote: “My premise: if you do the music well, reverence, honor, respect, dignity will return to the Mass”.

• And a reader from Washington, DC wrote: “I would like to have chant used, although not exclusively, because it is sacred music and simply by using it we can restore reverence to the Mass. I would reduce the number of hymns in the hymnals. Do we really need 600?”

Many people asked that the music be sacred (or liturgical), that the hymns be “better” or “traditional”, that pop or rock music not be used at Mass, that the organ be used rather than guitars or the piano. The words to hymns used were sometimes seen as being theologically inadequate, at best.

• A woman from Gaylord, Michigan wrote: “The choice of music [for Mass] is a problem, with the confusion in the wording [of some songs] which suggests that we receive wine, not the Precious Blood”.

Inappropriate music was variously described as “too loud”, “too secular”, “too commercial”, or “too self-centered”. Several people found it reminiscent of “piano bar” music. Some even said that there was too much of it. This last comment usually referred to the use of music both during and after Communion, especially when a Communion hymn continues throughout the distribution of Holy Communion, and is immediately followed by another hymn so that there is no time of silence for an individual’s thanksgiving.

• A woman from Chicago wrote: “Music: It is poorly rendered and for the most part not very sacred. The music also dominates and at times seems disruptive. There is no silence during Communion. At times two songs are sung to fill the time“.

• A Madison, Wisconsin, parishioner wrote: “At Communion time there is no time to converse privately with Our Lord because of the importance placed on joining in the Communion hymn(s). Chanted psalm verses, whether by a soloist or choir group, are rarely understandable, and repeating the response is tiresome rather than edifying. First the accompanist, then the cantor, then the congregation; and sometimes the response itself is doubled!”

Susan Benofy, AB research editor, analyzed the data from the surveys, and compiled the results.


Why Catholics Can’t SingThe Culture of Catholicism and the Triumph of Bad Taste Thomas Day



When my brother John first told me about
Why Catholics Can’t Sing, I nearly fell off my chair laughing. Someone had actually written a book about this phenomenon? Every since I started going to church again after a several-year absence, I have been complaining to all who would listen about the atrocious music sung in Catholic masses these days. It’s not that Catholics can’t sing, it’s that they don’t. Who wants to sing unremarkable music? I love to sing and I rarely do in mass. The reason is that most of the music is some 70s holdover sappy pop folk stuff that hurts my ears to hear, especially when accompanied by guitar strummers. Whatever happened to the music I loved as a little girl in the early 60s? Faith of our Fathers, O Santissima, Holy God We Praise Thy Name?


When I asked my mother why our music was so bad, especially compared to that of the Episcopalians, she replied that 1) we believe that the music should not detract from the mass, and 2) that great church music sounds too much like Protestant music and we need to be different. Not that she believes either of these reasons to be sufficient justification for bad music, it’s just that these are the reasons that are typically given.

Detract from the mass? What is more of a distraction than poorly sung bad music? Try to be different from the Protestants? Why? We have the most beautiful, glorious music in our Catholic heritage and no one is growing up knowing it.

Now Thomas Day has gone and written a whole book about the subject –
Why Catholics Can’t Sing – The Culture of Catholicism and the Triumph of Bad Taste. As the chair of the music department at Salve Regina University in Newport, Rhode Island, Day delivers a well researched and scathing criticism of today’s low musical standards and compelling hypotheses of how we got to this deplorable state. Day takes his criticism a little far I think in condemning priests who say “Good Morning” to the assembled congregation. But he takes care in painting a pretty full contextual picture of how the mass and liturgy have changed since second Vatican council in the late 50s when Catholics around the world abandoned the Latin Mass and how these fundamental changes have affected the music. One trend he notes is the new music’s emphasis on the individual experience and the individual singing as if she were the voice of God, rather than on the glory of God. My mother recalled that singing in the Latin mass was always a sung prayer, not a song “about” goodness, but an actual prayer. Day draws an amusing caricature with the description of the enthusiastic music director who drowns out everyone else with his mic-ed and over amplified performances. It is a shame that our church leaders, both cleric and lay, have rejected so much of our beautiful, inspiring musical heritage in favor of pop-folk. It’s as if we are catering to the lowest common denominator rather than recognizing the power of great music to lift up and inspire everyone. Well done Mr. Day.


Why Catholics Can’t Sing – Thomas Day

Published by: Crossroad Publishing Company
From an review of the book Why Catholics Can’t Sing: The Culture of Catholicism and the Triumph of Bad Taste:

The state of the Catholic Mass in America is dreadful. There, I said it. The emperor has no clothes. Americans Catholics have suffered through decades of ICEL’s bland translations of the liturgy, jovial priests “facilitating” the congregation’s worship, and then there’s the music! Oh, Lord have mercy and save us from that music!! Cantors who sound like frustrated nightclub singers wailing schmaltzy ditties with so much “feeling.” Nuns with folk guitars trying to make us “experience community.” These banal offerings are then followed by “Father Chuck” telling everyone, “Wasn’t that great!! Let’s give ’em a big hand!!” This from the Church that once commissioned music from Palestrina and Mozart!

Thomas Day understands the confusion of so many Catholics who long for a return to reverence in their worship. In Why Catholics Can’t Sing, he presents his views on what ails music in the Catholic liturgy. A trained musician who has worked for both Catholic and Protestant congregations, he offers remarkable insights into the musical tastes and styles prevalent within these traditions. He offers the interesting thesis that the initial cause of many ills in American Catholicism stems from the influence of the Irish immigrants who largely adhered to a “silent Mass” stemming from the long persecution of Catholicism in their homeland and associated rousing hymns with their Protestant oppressors. This was not the case on the European continent or Latin America but the Irish dominance made it a norm for the American Church. Even when the Mass was glorious and reverent in other respects, music was often treated as an afterthought. Only in the early stages of the liturgical renewal movement did music (particularly Gregorian Chant) begin to be taken seriously.

Day chronicles the many problems in sacred music in contemporary Catholicism with great energy and a delightful sense of humor. Any regular attendee of the Mass will recognize the blandness he targets and will be unsure whether to laugh or cry. Day pulls no punches when it comes to the overt silliness that has taken over many parishes. This has led many in the current Catholic liturgical and musical establishment to severely criticize Day as an elitist or a disgruntled pre-Vatican II traditionalist.

It is clear to any unbiased reader that Day is hardly a “pre-Vatican II” poster child. He clearly points out the problems predated this period — thus dispelling the notion this was at all related to Vatican II as many traditionalist Catholics would assert. The real issue is more a case of a poor understanding of the purpose of worship than one of conspiratorial intrigue.
The elitist tag also does not fit. Day argues against making the high culture works of the most significant composers the musical norm for liturgical music. Most parishes simply do not have the talent available to perform the masses of Mozart, et al. However, they are capable of learning chants and more basic hymns and liturgical music. These have been used successfully in many places and should be implemented far more widely. He is not railing against simpler music — just bad music.

Day stresses the point repeatedly that musical style sends a message. Trivial, banal, and schmaltzy music will end up with God appearing the same. Lyrics better suited to a self-help seminar transforms the purpose of the liturgy from worshipping God to worshipping ourselves. The end result is an affirmation of our own worst tendencies.

Not content to just criticize without giving solutions, Day finishes with a plan to reform the Catholic liturgical music. In a purely practical manner, he outlines a number of steps to engage the congregation in worship through music without the necessity of a large budget or a heavy reliance upon professionals. If widely implemented, many other problems would take care of themselves as the liturgical abuses would be exposed as terribly wrong and out of place.


Then and now – Why Catholics Can’t Sing excerpts – Brief Article – Excerpt

Listed below are quotations from Thomas Day’s 1990 book, Why Catholics Can’t Sing and Elaine Rendler’s responses, from a recent interview with NCR, follow.

* Day: Everything begins with the pastor.

Rendler: True. As long as the pastor doesn’t end up micromanaging the music.

* Day: Let the assembly hear its own voice, not the voice of an ego behind a microphone.

Rendler: Absolutely. The assembly has no microphone. For the cantor with the mike, know when to hold and when to fold.

* Day: Put a reasonably good musician in charge, pay a reasonable salary.

Rendler: Pay a reasonable salary to someone who understands the art of pastoral music and knows that the sound of the assembly singing is the priority.

* Day: Occasionally sing unaccompanied music supported only by a choir…. Maybe once a month let the music reach its full potential; let the entire assembly sense that it is doing its best to pray in song. Rendler: I agree.

* Day: Hymns and songs are useful, but they can die from overuse. Catholicism’s real musical destiny is in singing the actual texts of the liturgy, not songs which are dropped into the service.

Rendler: Service music can be overdone, too.

* Day: Avoid palpitating romantic [and] … songs that go racing along at the speed of 180 words a minute. This type of music may be biblical or even beautiful at times but it is miserably difficult and discouraging for a congregation to sing.

Rendler: And perhaps for an organist to play with pedals. But I disagree.

* Day: Encourage music as an art.

Rendler: Yes. The big need is to create contemplative and devotional forms. Explore the possibilities of liturgical — a music for the rites, for Liturgy of the Hours as well as Mass.


Music in Catholic Worship (1972-2007)

By Jeffrey Tucker, November 06, 2007

It’s been 35 years since the USCCB unleashed Music in Catholic Worship on the country. This is the document that said “the musical settings of the past are usually not helpful models for composing truly liturgical pieces today”–so much for the inestimable value of chant–and further said that the distinction between propers and ordinary “is no longer retained.”
It proposed an amorphous three-fold judgment of music (pastoral, musical, liturgical) that not only created confusion but strangely left out the theological judgment. Its focus was mainly on the use of music to the congregation (“assist the assembled believers to express and share the gift of faith”) not on worshiping God.
For all these years, this document has exercised amazing influence in the lives of American Catholics. Musicians have been sent to conventions, and they are told about MCW and they would come back with the appointed cheers, and proceed to introduce every manner of far-flung innovation in parish music programs, mostly with good intentions. The stories of heartbreak and loss are voluminous.

In any case, next week (Nov 12-15), the USCCB will begin to discuss a completely new draft with a new name. All reports indicate that it is vastly improved, e.g. it actually quotes Vatican II on sacred music. It’s been a very sad time in all these years but let us look forward to the future

Music in Catholic Worship, 1972. Order from USCCB Publications (202) 541-3000/ toll-free: 1-800-235-8722.


Sing to the Lord: Music in Divine Worship

Issued by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, November 14, 2007

Sing to the Lord: Music in Divine Worship, a revision of Music in Catholic Worship, was developed by the Committee on Divine Worship of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB). On November 14, 2007, the Latin Church members of the USCCB approved these guidelines. These guidelines are designed to provide direction to those preparing for the celebration of the Sacred Liturgy according to the current liturgical books (in the ordinary form of celebration). […]

E. Ministers of Liturgical Music

The Choir

28. The Second Vatican Council stated emphatically that choirs must be diligently promoted while ensuring that “the whole body of the faithful may be able to contribute that active participation which is rightly theirs. . . .”41 The choir must not minimize the musical participation of the faithful. The congregation commonly sings unison melodies, which are more suitable for generally unrehearsed community singing. This is the primary song of the Liturgy. Choirs and ensembles, on the other hand, comprise persons drawn from the community who possess the requisite musical skills and a commitment to the established schedule of rehearsals and Liturgies. Thus, they are able to enrich the celebration by adding musical elements beyond the capabilities of the congregation alone.

29. Choirs (and ensembles—another form of choir that commonly includes a combination of singers and instrumentalists) exercise their ministry in various ways. An important ministerial role of the choir or ensemble is to sing various parts of the Mass in dialogue or alternation with the congregation. Some parts of the Mass that have the character of a litany, such as the Kyrie and the Agnus Dei, are clearly intended to be sung in this manner. Other Mass parts may also be sung in dialogue or alternation, especially the Gloria, the Creed, and the three processional songs: the Entrance, the Preparation of the Gifts, and Communion. This approach often takes the form of a congregational refrain with verses sung by the choir. Choirs may also enrich congregational singing by adding harmonies and descants.

30. At times, the choir performs its ministry by singing alone. The choir may draw on the treasury of sacred music, singing compositions by composers of various periods and in various musical styles, as well as music that expresses the faith of the various cultures that enrich the Church. Appropriate times where the choir might commonly sing alone include a prelude before Mass, the Entrance chant, the Preparation of the Gifts, during the Communion procession or after the reception of Communion, and the recessional. Other appropriate examples are given in the section of this document entitled “Music and the Structure of the Mass” (nos. 137-199). The music of the choir must always be appropriate to the Liturgy, either by being a proper liturgical text or by expressing themes appropriate to the Liturgy.

31. When the choir is not exercising its particular role, it joins the congregation in song.

The choir’s role in this case is not to lead congregational singing, but to sing with the congregation, which sings on its own or under the leadership of the organ or other instruments.

32. Choir members, like all liturgical ministers, should exercise their ministry with evident faith and should participate in the entire liturgical celebration, recognizing that they are servants of the Liturgy and members of the gathered assembly.

33. Choir and ensemble members may dress in albs or choir robes, but always in clean, presentable, and modest clothing. Cassock and surplice, being clerical attire, are not recommended as choir vesture.


The Psalmist

34. The psalmist, or “cantor of the psalm,” proclaims the Psalm after the first reading and leads the gathered assembly in singing the refrain.42 The psalmist may also, when necessary, intone the Gospel Acclamation and verse.43 Although this ministry is distinct from the role of the cantor, the two ministries are often entrusted to the same person.

35. Persons designated for the ministry of psalmist should possess “the ability for singing and a facility in correct pronunciation and diction.”44 As one who proclaims the Word, the psalmist should be able to proclaim the text of the Psalm with clarity, conviction, and sensitivity to the text, the musical setting, and those who are listening.

36. The psalmist sings the verses of the Responsorial Psalm from the ambo or another suitable place.45 The psalmist may dress in an alb or choir robe, but always wears clean, presentable, and modest clothing. Cassock and surplice, being clerical attire, are not recommended as vesture for the psalmist.


The Cantor

37. The cantor is both a singer and a leader of congregational song. Especially when no choir is present, the cantor may sing in alternation or dialogue with the assembly. For example, the cantor may sing the invocations of the Kyrie, intone the Gloria, lead the short acclamations at the end of the Scripture readings, intone and sing the verse of the Gospel Acclamation, sing the invocations of the Prayer of the Faithful, and lead the singing of the Agnus Dei. The cantor may also sing the verses of the psalm or song that accompany the Entrance, Preparation of the Gifts, and Communion. Finally, the cantor may serve as psalmist, leading and proclaiming the verses of the Responsorial Psalm.

38. As a leader of congregational song, the cantor should take part in singing with the entire gathered assembly. In order to promote the singing of the liturgical assembly, the cantor’s voice should not be heard above the congregation. As a transitional practice, the voice of the cantor might need to be amplified to stimulate and lead congregational singing when this is still weak. However, as the congregation finds its voice and sings with increasing confidence, the cantor’s voice should correspondingly recede. At times, it may be appropriate to use a modest gesture that invites participation and clearly indicates when the congregation is to begin, but gestures should be used sparingly and only when genuinely needed.

39. Cantors should lead the assembly from a place where they can be seen by all without drawing attention from the liturgical action. When, however, a congregation is singing very familiar responses, acclamations, or songs that do not include verses for the cantor alone, the cantor need not be visible.

40. The cantor exercises his or her ministry from a conveniently located stand, but not from the ambo.46 The cantor may dress in an alb or choir robe, but always in clean, presentable, and modest clothing. Cassock and surplice, being clerical attire, are not recommended as vesture for the cantor.


The Organist and the Other Instrumentalists

41. The primary role of the organist, other instrumentalists, or instrumental ensemble is to lead and sustain the singing of the assembly and of the choir, cantor, and psalmist, without dominating or overpowering them.

42. The many voices of the organ and of instrumental ensembles, with their great range of expression, add varied and colorful dimensions to the song of the assembly, especially with the addition of harmonization.

43. Those with the requisite talent and training should be encouraged to continue the musical tradition of improvisation. The liturgical action may call for improvisation, for example, when a congregational hymn or choral piece concludes before the ritual action is completed. The art of improvisation requires its own special talent and training. More than mere background sound is called for. When worthy improvisation is not possible, it is recommended that musicians play quality published literature, which is available at all levels of difficulty.

44. There are also times when the organ or other instruments may be played alone, such as a prelude before the Mass, an instrumental piece during the Preparation of the Gifts, a recessional if there is no closing song, or a postlude following a closing song.


The Director of Music Ministries

45. A professional director of music ministries, or music director, provides a major service by working with the bishop or pastor to oversee the planning, coordination, and ministries of the parish or diocesan liturgical music program. The director of music ministries fosters the active participation of the liturgical assembly in singing; coordinates the preparation

of music to be sung at various liturgical celebrations; and promotes the ministries of choirs, psalmists, cantors, organists, and all who play instruments that serve the Liturgy. In the present day, many potential directors of music are not of our faith tradition. It is significant as we go forward that directors of music are properly trained to express our faith traditions effectively and with pastoral sensitivity.

46. Since every ministry is rooted in the Sacraments of Initiation, which form the People of God into “a community of disciples formed by and for the mission of Christ,”47 the director of music ministries has a role that “finds its place within the communion of the Church and serves the mission of Christ in the Spirit.”48

47. Directors of music ministries and other lay ecclesial ministers exercise their role in relation both to the ordained and to the community of the faithful. Directors are collaborators with bishops, priests, and deacons, who exercise a pastoral ministry based on the Sacrament of Holy Orders, which configures them to Christ the Head and consecrates them for a role that is unique and necessary for the communion of the Church.49



At the same time, lay ecclesial ministers are members of the lay faithful, “sharing in the common priesthood of all the baptized” and “called to discipleship.”50 […]


Instrumental Music

91. Although instruments are used in Christian worship primarily to lead and sustain the singing of assembly, choir, psalmist, and cantor, they may also, when appropriate, be played by themselves. Such instrumental music can assist the gathering assembly in preparing for worship in the form of a prelude. It may give voice to the sentiments of the human heart through pieces played during the Liturgy and postludes after the Liturgy. Instrumentalists are to remember that the Liturgy calls for significant periods of silent reflection. Silence need not always be filled.

92. Instrumentalists are encouraged to play pieces from the treasury of sacred music by composers of various eras and cultures. In addition, those with the requisite talent and training are encouraged to improvise, as described in no. 43.


Recorded Music

93. Recorded music lacks the authenticity provided by a living liturgical assembly gathered for the Sacred Liturgy. While recorded music might be used advantageously outside the Liturgy as an aid in the teaching of new music, it should not, as a general norm, be used within the Liturgy.

94. Some exceptions to this principle should be noted. Recorded music may be used to accompany the community’s song during a procession outside and, when used carefully, in Masses with children. Occasionally, it might be used as an aid to prayer, for example, during long periods of silence in a communal celebration of reconciliation. However, recorded music should never become a substitute for the community’s singing.


C. Location of Musicians and Their Instruments

95. Musicians and musical instruments should be located so as to enable proper interaction with the liturgical action, with the rest of the assembly, and among the various musicians. Ideally, ministers of music are located so as to enable their own full participation by being able to see and hear the Liturgy. In most cases, it will work best if musicians are in close proximity with each other—for example, by placing the organ console or keyboard close to the choir and to the cantor’s stand.

96. When not engaged in the direct exercise of their particular role, music ministers, like all ministers of the Liturgy, remain attentive members of the gathered assembly and should never constitute a distraction.

97. The cantor should generally be located in front of the congregation to lead the singing. When a congregation is able to sing on its own, either in response to the priest or ministers or through instrumental leadership, the cantor does not need to be visible. The Responsorial Psalm is usually proclaimed from the ambo or another location that is visible to the assembly. The psalmist, therefore, should sit in a place where the ambo is easily accessible.

98. The placement of the choir should show the choir members’ presence as a part of the worshiping community, yet serving in a unique way. Acoustical considerations will also play a role in determining the best location for the choir.

99. Placement of the organ console and pipes, speakers of amplified instruments, and acoustic instruments such as the piano is determined both by visual considerations, so that there is no distraction from the liturgical action, and by acoustical considerations, so that the sound can support the congregation and so that the instrumentalist is readily able to accompany cantors, psalmists, and choirs.

100. If the space occupied by the choir and instruments is visible to the assembly, it must reflect the sacredness of the music ministry. Any appearance of clutter or disorganization must be avoided. Just as no one would tolerate stacks of books and papers in the sanctuary, the music ministry space should be free from clutter.


D. Acoustics

101. Acoustics refers to the quality of a space for sustaining sound, especially its generation, transmission, and reception. While individual ministers of the Liturgy, ensembles, and even choirs can be sound-enhanced through amplification methods, the only amplification of the singing assembly comes from the room itself. Given the primacy of the assembly’s song among all musical elements of the Liturgy, the acoustical properties of the worship space are critical. For this reason, specialists in acoustics should be consulted when building or modifying liturgical space.

102. If each member of the assembly senses his or her voice joined to the entire community in a swell of collective sound, the acoustics are well suited to the purpose of a gathered community engaged in sung prayer. If, on the other hand, each person hears primarily only his or her own voice, the acoustics of the space are fundamentally deficient.

103. Sound-absorbing building materials include carpet, porous ceiling tiles, soft wood, untreated soft stone, cast concrete or cinder block, and padded seating. Avoiding excessive use of such materials makes it easier to achieve the ideal of many voices united in song.84

104. The acoustics of a church or chapel should be resonant so that there is no need for excessive amplification of musical sound in order to fill the space and support the assembly’s song. When the acoustics of the building naturally support sound, acoustic instruments and choirs generally need no amplification. An acoustically dead space precipitates a high cost of sound reinforcement, even for the organ. […]

108. Hymns, songs, and acclamations written for the liturgical assembly are approved for use in the Liturgy by the bishop of the diocese wherein they are published, in order to ensure that these texts truly express the faith of the Church with theological accuracy and are appropriate to the liturgical context. […]

155. The Responsorial Psalm follows the first reading. Because it is an integral part of the Liturgy of the Word, and is in effect a reading from Scripture, it has great liturgical and pastoral significance.123 Corresponding to the reading that it follows, the Responsorial Psalm is intended to foster meditation on the Word of God. Its musical setting should aid in this, being careful to not overshadow the other readings.124

156. “As a rule the Responsorial Psalm should be sung.”125 Preferably, the Psalm is sung responsorially: “the psalmist, or cantor of the psalm, sings the psalm verses and the whole congregation joins in by singing the response.”126 If this is not possible, the Psalm is sung completely without an intervening response by the community.

157. The proper or seasonal Responsorial Psalm from the Lectionary for Mass, with the congregation singing the response, is to be preferred to the gradual from the Graduale Romanum.127 When the Latin gradual is sung in directum (straight through) by choir alone, the congregation should be given a vernacular translation.

158. Because the Psalm is properly a form of sung prayer, “every means available in each individual culture is to be employed”128 in fostering the singing of the Psalm at Mass, including the extraordinary options provided by the Lectionary for Mass. In addition to the proper or seasonal Psalm in the Lectionary, the Responsorial Psalm may also be taken from the Graduale Romanum or the Graduale Simplex, or it may be an antiphon and psalm from another collection of the psalms and antiphons, including psalms arranged in paraphrase or in metrical form, providing that they have been approved by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops or the diocesan bishop.

159. Songs or hymns that do not at least paraphrase a psalm may never be used in place of the Responsorial Psalm.129

160. If it is not possible for the Psalm to be sung, the response alone may be sung, while the lector reads the intervening verses of the Psalm “in a manner conducive to meditation on the word of God.”130 […]


The Communion Chant or Song

189. “While the priest is receiving the Sacrament, the Communion chant [or song] is begun. Its purpose is to express the communicants’ union in spirit by means of the unity of their voices, to show joy of heart, and to highlight more clearly the ‘communitarian’ nature of the procession to receive Communion.”157 The singing begins immediately and continues “for as long as the Sacrament is being administered to the faithful.”158 The Communion chant or song may be sung by the people with choir or cantor, or by the choir alone. Because the Communion chant expresses the unity of those processing and receiving the Holy Sacrament, communal singing is commendable. The singing of the people should be preeminent.

190. There are several options for the Communion song or chant,159 including the proper antiphon from the Graduale Romanum, a seasonal antiphon from the Graduale Simplex,160 an antiphon and psalm from a collection approved for liturgical use, or another appropriate liturgical song.161

191. In selecting a Communion song suitable for the Eucharistic banquet in which God’s blessings are bestowed so abundantly, one should look for texts that have themes of joy, wonder, unity, gratitude, and praise. Following ancient Roman liturgical tradition, the Communion song might reflect themes of the Gospel reading of the day. It is also appropriate to select a Communion processional song that reflects the liturgical action, i.e., eating and drinking the Body and Blood of Christ.

192. As a processional piece, the Communion chant or song presents particular challenges. The faithful are encouraged to grasp ever more deeply the essentially communitarian nature of the Communion procession.

In order to foster participation of the faithful with “unity of voices,” it is recommended that psalms sung in the responsorial style, or songs with easily memorized refrains, be used. The refrains will generally need to be limited in number and repeated often, especially at the outset, so that they become familiar to the faithful.

193. When the Communion procession is lengthy, more than one piece of music might be desirable. In this case, there may be a combination of pieces for congregation and pieces for choir alone. Choirs with the requisite ability may sing the proper Communion chant from the Graduale Romanum, either in Gregorian chant or in a polyphonic setting, or other suitable choral pieces. Instrumental music may also be used to foster a spirit of unity and joy. If there is a hymn or song after Communion, the Communion music should be ended “in a timely manner.”162 A period of silent reflection for the entire congregation after the reception of Communion is also appropriate.

194. During the various seasons of the year, the psalm or song during Communion should be chosen with the spirit of that season in mind. On most Sundays and other days, it would be appropriate to sing one of the psalms that have long been associated with participation in the Eucharistic banquet, such as Psalms 23, 34, and 147. There is also a substantial repertory of liturgical songs that give expression to the joy and wonder of sharing in the Lord’s Supper.

195. Care should be taken to ensure that the musicians (singers and instrumentalists), too, “can receive Communion with ease.”163 Since the Communion song begins while the priest is receiving the Sacrament, the singers and other musicians may receive Communion at or near the end of the procession.


Song after Communion

196. “When the distribution of Communion is finished, as circumstances suggest, the priest and faithful spend some time praying privately. If desired, a psalm or other canticle of praise or a hymn may also be sung by the entire congregation.”164 The song after Communion should focus the assembly on the mystery of the Holy Communion in which it participates, and it should never draw undue attention to the choir or other musicians. The congregation may stand for the song after Communion if the nature of the music seems to call for it.

197. The priest may sing the Prayer after Communion, or even just the concluding formula. At the conclusion of the prayer, the entire assembly sings the Amen as a sign of assent.



41. SC [Second Vatican Council, Sacrosanctum Concilium (Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy) (1963)], no. 114.

42. LFM [Lectionary for Mass], no. 56.

43. See LFM, no. 56.

44. GIRM [General Instruction of the Roman Missal], no. 102. See LFM, no. 56.

45. See GIRM, no. 61.

46. See LFM, no. 33.

47. USCCB, Co-Workers in the Vineyard of the Lord: A Resource for Guiding the Development of Lay Ecclesial Ministry (CVL) (Washington, DC: USCCB, 2005), 21.

48. CVL, [USCCB, Co-Workers in the Vineyard of the Lord: A Resource for Guiding the Development of Lay Ecclesial Ministry (2005)] 17.

49. See CVL, 21ff.; CCC, no. 1581.

50. CVL, 25.

84. See USCCB, Built of Living Stones: Art, Architecture and Worship (BLS) (Washington, DC: USCCB,

2000), no. 200.

123 LFM, no. 19-22; see GIRM, no. 61.

124 See LFM, no. 19.

125 LFM, no. 20.

126 LFM, no. 20.

127 “The Responsorial Psalm should correspond to each reading and should, as a rule, be taken from the

Lectionary” (GIRM, no. 61; see LFM, nos. 20, 89).

128 LFM, no. 21

129 See GIRM, no. 61.

130 LFM, no. 22; see LFM, no. 21.

157 GIRM, no. 86.

158 GIRM, no. 86.

159 “In the dioceses of the United States of America there are four options for the Communion chant (song):

(1) the antiphon from the Roman Missal or the Psalm from the Roman Gradual, as set to music there or in another musical setting; (2) the seasonal antiphon and Psalm of the Simple Gradual; (3) a song from another collection of psalms and antiphons, approved by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops or the diocesan Bishop, including psalms arranged in responsorial or metrical forms; (4) a suitable liturgical song chosen in accordance with no. 86. This is sung either by the choir alone or by the choir or cantor with the people” (GIRM, no. 87).

160 Antiphons from the Graduale Romanum or Graduale Simplex might be sung in Latin or vernacular.

161 See GIRM, no. 87.

162 GIRM, no. 86.

163 GIRM, no. 86.

164 GIRM, no. 88.


Follow-up: Protestant Songs at Mass [For the initial Q&A, see page 36]

ROME, November 25, 2003 ( by Father Edward McNamara…

A reader says he was “totally shocked” by our comments on liturgical music (see Nov. 11). He asks if I “have any sense how critical a role music plays in the Liturgy for young people” and believes that “To move back to traditional, pre-Vatican music is contrary to what John Paul II has demonstrated as he has reached out to our younger members. He has participated in World Youth Day celebrations …”
While I am sorry for causing distress to anybody I do not believe that my earlier response called either for a total return to pre-conciliar music nor for any prohibition of new pieces. In fact, I actually recommended the work of Monsignor Marco Frisina, who wrote almost all the liturgical music for the 2000 World Youth Jubilee.
Certainly the pre-conciliar world had its share of maudlin dirges which should not be resuscitated. But this does not mean that anything produced before 1962 is fit only for octogenarians and the trash can.
While no expert on the role of music in the religious formation of youth, I firmly believe that young people — like older folk — cannot be painted with the same brush with respect to tastes and inclinations.
My own experience with parish youth choirs has taught me that normal young men and women easily understand that, even when recent compositions are adopted, the liturgy demands a musical style that is different from secular or other contexts.
For example, during the heady days of the Jubilee 2000 Youth Encounter, 2 million young people sang the theme song “Emanuel” all over Rome, except during the Holy Father’s Mass, as its text and style, while musically attractive and religious in content, were not orientated toward the liturgy.
I have also learned that young people can appreciate and sing with gusto good music from any epoch if presented to them without prejudice. They can even take a liking to the more common Gregorian melodies, especially those of the common prayers of the Mass. Widespread knowledge of a couple of Gregorian Masses is expressly recommended by the Second Vatican Council and later documents and would be most useful for the ever increasing number of international encounters.
Several readers asked me to comment as to the propriety and orthodoxy of particular hymns and songs, for example singing patriotic songs such as “America the Beautiful.”
It is unfortunately impossible for me to deal with each example, but as a general principle, since most regulation of liturgical music falls within the province of the bishops’ conference and the local bishop, one may trust that a song approved by them has a certain guarantee of overall orthodoxy.
Sometimes these texts may be subject to several interpretations, such as one sample a correspondent sent in saying, “Sing a new church into being, one in faith and love and praise.” Since this particular song received episcopal approval, one may suppose that in this case the novelty refers to the inner renewal of the Church’s members and is not proposing a Church other than the one founded by Christ.
Episcopal approval, though offering assurance of doctrinal orthodoxy, does not guarantee musical or literary quality or doctrinal clarity. Pastors, with the help of their music directors, should select these texts with great care lest the legitimate poetic license enjoyed by composers lead to confusion among the faithful.
Composers of liturgical music, aware of the importance of their mission, should also strive to present the truths of the faith as clearly as possible.
While patriotic hymns should not be the norm, local custom may allow for them on special occasions such as Independence Day. Healthy patriotism has always been considered a Christian virtue. Nonetheless, even when permitted by the bishops, it appears most appropriate to reserve them as closing hymns, sung after the blessing and dismissal, rather than during Mass itself.


Sounds of Silence

ROME, January 20, 2004 ( Answered by Father Edward McNamara, professor of liturgy at the Regina Apostolorum Pontifical Athenaeum.

Q: What is the role of silence in a Mass? When should there be silence? J.C., Perth, Australia
A: Silence has a very important role to play in the celebration as indicated by the General Instruction of the Roman Missal, No. 45.
“Sacred silence also, as part of the celebration, is to be observed at the designated times,” the GIRM says. “Its purpose, however, depends on the time it occurs in each part of the celebration. Thus within the Act of Penitence and again after the invitation to pray, all recollect themselves; but at the conclusion of a reading or the homily, all meditate briefly on what they have heard; then after Communion, they praise and pray to God in their hearts. Even before the celebration itself, it is commendable that silence [to] be observed in the church, in the sacristy, in the vesting room, and in adjacent areas, so that all may dispose themselves to carry out the sacred action in a devout and fitting manner.”
To this we would add that silence should also be observed after Mass until one is outside the Church building, both for respect toward the Blessed Sacrament, and toward those members of the faithful who wish to prolong their thanksgiving after Mass.
The specific periods of silence recommended in the GIRM encourage a general atmosphere of interior and exterior silence for all the participants at Mass.
This silence should be sought while listening to the readings, the homily, or the proclamation of the eucharistic and other priestly prayers. This helps quiet our imagination, our worries and our toils so as to join our hearts to the prayers and be fully attentive to whatever the Holy Spirit should inspire in us. Thus silence at Mass is an active, not a passive disposition.
This form of interior silence does not impede, and indeed favors, full and active participation in those parts of the celebration where the community is united in acclamation and song, for each person is more fully aware of what he or she is doing.
Our modern world is starved of silence and Holy Mass should be a privileged moment to escape the hustle and bustle of daily life and, through worship and participation in Christ’s eternal sacrifice, become capable of giving an eternal value to these same daily and transitory activities.
To help achieve this, we should foment by all available means the spirit of attentive and active silence in our celebrations and refrain from importing the world’s clamor and clatter into their midst.


Follow-up: Sounds of Silence

ROME, February 3, 2004 ( by Father Edward McNamara…

In response to our column on the importance of silence (Jan. 20), a reader from England who had long experience in Africa suggested that my comments were too centered on the realities of the noisy Western world.
He writes: “In many parts of the world Catholics will spend the whole week on their farms with little hustle and bustle, no radio, just the sound of wind and birds and an occasional human voice. When they gather for Mass on Sunday in parts of Africa, it can seem like a very noisy affair and this is frequently misunderstood by Western missionaries. They have been silent all week, farming in an almost contemplative manner. At Mass they want to sing together, pray aloud together, much more than we who are saturated with sound.”
He continues: “here are also cultural differences that are often misunderstood. Africans typically live in a talking culture. What they think is expressed verbally, or, to put it another way, without verbal expression, where is thought? So to pray silently may be not to pray at all … The point of all this is that silence will be experienced and received in different ways around the world. Where life is noisier, Mass will require more silence. But where life is already silent, Mass may require more song and verbal prayer.”
Our reader certainly makes some valid points. I should perhaps plead guilty to being at times overly centered on Western situations. One of the advantages of this column is the opportunity to mine the wisdom and experience of our readers.
That said, I do think that the fact of living in a relatively silent ambience is not exclusive to the African experience nor does it necessarily translate into a desire for a boisterous liturgy. Before the arrival of portable radios, this general atmosphere of silence was, for centuries, ubiquitous in rural Europe and America. Yet the Mass was far more silent than it is today.
The argument from cultural differences is stronger; it is true that silence will be experienced in different ways in different cultures. While I have not yet had the privilege of visiting Africa, my ministry brings me into daily contact with Africans from several countries. They certainly pertain to a talking culture and have no difficulty in assisting at long Masses with multiple reflections and frequent common prayers and songs.



Yet my personal experience is that they are also frequently gifted with a great capacity for silent personal prayer and weave both traits into a harmonious whole. It is no accident that of the Africans recently raised to the altars, two of them, Blessed Cyprian Michael Iwene Tansi and St. Josephine Bakhita, were cloistered contemplatives.
Liturgical law grants a wide swathe to the bishops to adapt aspects such as these to the concrete demands of local culture. But I harbor strong doubts as to the wisdom of completely eliminating silence. While it is certain that we can vocally talk to God as a community, the experience of silence makes it a lot easier for God to talk to us.
From the West, some readers from the United States and Australia asked about the importance of silence before and after Mass in the light of the need to form community.
Before Mass there should be a general atmosphere of silence. This does not exclude a quiet word of greeting, a nod of recognition or a friendly handshake among the parishioners. What should be avoided is the steadily rising hum of multiple conversations in the pews, often on frivolous themes, interrupted only by the announcement that the celebration is about to begin.
When this happens the result is that while the body and the voice are ostensibly raised in prayer, the mind tarries on the theme of conversation. In contrast, an overall spirit of silence allows for an easy transition from the world to the celebration of the mystery.
This transition is also very necessary for the priest, even when he has the custom of greeting the faithful before Mass. He should strive to reserve some moments of silent preparation for the celebration. He may use the traditional vesting prayers, the prayers before Mass provided in the missal, or any prayer that helps him to recollect his thoughts before the celebration begins.
Sometimes, people desire to speak with the priest before Mass. Although there will always be special cases which need immediate attention, in general it is best for the priest to take the opportunity of a teaching moment and tactfully point out that Mass is about to begin. He should always seek to meet them halfway and propose a concrete and convenient time in which he will attend them. If done charitably, this will edify the people and help them to value the importance of the Mass.
Other ministers and servers should likewise strive to foment this climate. As far as possible, all practical details should be resolved beforehand so as to avoid inopportune interventions.
The General Instruction of the Roman Missal, in No. 45, says: “Even before the celebration itself, it is commendable that silence to be observed in the church, in the sacristy, in the vesting room, and in adjacent areas, so that all may dispose themselves to carry out the sacred action in a devout and fitting manner.”
Some readers also asked about the respect for the silence after Communion and what, if any, activities should be carried out during this time.
As we saw in the previous article, after Communion a period of silence should be observed or a hymn may be sung which is different from the hymn sung by all during the reception of Communion. In general it is best to observe the period of silence and even on those occasions when a suitable hymn is sung, it seems preferable that it be a meditative piece executed by the choir so as to also allow for silent thanksgiving.
It may sometimes be possible to combine both methods, either leaving a brief period of silence after a hymn or else concluding a period of silence with a psalm or song of thanksgiving either executed by the choir or by the whole congregation. I remember participating in a Mass where the latter form was used to great effect, a modern setting of the ancient hymn Anima Christi (Soul of My Savior) concluding the period of silence.
It is inappropriate to use this period of silence for other activities such as second collections or announcements. The proper time for these is after the concluding prayer and before the final blessing. If necessary, the congregation may be invited to sit down until the announcements are over.
After Mass, the most charitable approach is to quietly leave the main body of the Church so as to facilitate the recollection of those who wish to extend their personal thanksgiving for Communion. This quiet is similar to the situation before Mass as it does not exclude a friendly greeting. But actual conversation should not begin until outside.
Even in those cases when the tabernacle is not present in the sanctuary the church remains a sacred space and its character should be respected.
It is true that this may sometimes hinder the formation of a parish community spirit — although this is above all a fruit of the liturgy rather than a result of human endeavor.
Many older churches do not have a contingent indoor space where the faithful may gather after Mass, a difficulty especially acute in areas with harsh winters. Some pastors strive to overcome these obstacles by organizing other activities after Mass in the parish hall that allow parishioners to get to know one another in less formal settings.


Pre-recorded music at Mass

ROME, November 23, 2004 ( Answered by Father Edward McNamara, professor of liturgy at the Regina Apostolorum Pontifical University.
Q: What is the official teaching of the Church on using taped music at Mass? We just attended a funeral today and two songs were played over the loud speaker that were professional recordings. Each of these had a Christian message. Another song was pre-recorded onto a tape and was sung by a relative. Is there any official document that has guidelines that would help with this situation? C.Y., Murdock, Minnesota
A: There are few universal norms which explicitly forbid the using of recorded music during the liturgy. But this should not be surprising as it is impossible to foresee everything that the human imagination can conjure up.
The principal documents that deal with music in Church always emphasize the importance of singing and presume the presence of live musicians who are considered as being part of the assembly.
Thus the General Instruction of the Roman Missal states in Nos. 39-40: “The Christian faithful who gather together as one to await the Lord’s coming are instructed by the Apostle Paul to sing together psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs (cf. Col 3:16). Singing is the sign of the heart’s joy (cf. Acts 2:46). Thus Saint Augustine says rightly, ‘Singing is for one who loves.’ There is also the ancient proverb: ‘One who sings well prays twice.’
“Great importance should therefore be attached to the use of singing in the celebration of the Mass, with due consideration for the culture of the people and abilities of each liturgical assembly. Although it is not always necessary (e.g., in weekday Masses) to sing all the texts that are of themselves meant to be sung, every care should be taken that singing by the ministers and the people is not absent in celebrations that occur on Sundays and on holy days of obligation.”
Later the same document (in No. 312) states: “The choir should be positioned with respect to the design of each church so as to make clearly evident its character as a part of the gathered community of the faithful fulfilling a specific function. The location should also assist the choir to exercise its function more easily and conveniently allow each choir member full, sacramental participation in the Mass.”
The same principles are also valid for organists and other musicians.
The reason for this is that the use of music in the liturgy is always to enhance the quality of liturgical prayer and can never be considered as entertainment.
It is practically impossible for recorded music to serve the same function.
All the same, there is one circumstance where recorded music has been permitted, if somewhat timidly, in the Directory for Children’s Masses. No. 32 of this document states:
“Care should always be taken, however, that the musical accompaniment does not overpower the singing or become a distraction rather than a help to the children. Music should correspond to the purpose intended for the different periods at which it is played during the Mass.
“With these precautions and with due and special discretion, recorded music may also be used in Masses with children, in accord with norms established by the conferences of bishops.”
Among the various episcopal conferences, one that has explicitly forbidden the use of recorded music in the liturgy is the Italian. The Italian bishops have even extended this prohibition to cover children’s Masses by calling attention to the need for the “veracity” of important liturgical signs such as singing, and furthermore “stresses the duty of educating in song the assembly of little ones that participates in the Sacred Celebration.”
For this reason the conference states: “It is good to use recorded music to teach the songs outside of the sacred celebration but it is not permitted to use it during Mass.”


Follow-up: Pre-recorded Music

ROME, December 7, 2004 ( by Father Edward McNamara…
As a corollary to our column regarding the use of pre-recorded music at Mass (Nov. 23) a reader from Taiwan asked about the legitimacy of pre-set accompaniment to live singing, a possibility offered by many modern organs.
Simultaneously, a correspondent from Wisconsin reminded me of the 1958 instruction “De Musica Sacra” issued by the Congregation of Rites, which states: “Finally, only those musical instruments which are played by the personal action of the artist may be admitted to the sacred liturgy, and not those which are operated automatically or mechanically.”
This document followed Pope Pius XII’s 1955 encyclical, “Musicae Sacrae,” in which he insisted that liturgical music be “true art,” if it is to be a genuine act of worship and praise of God.
Although these documents precede the Second Vatican Council, there is practically nothing in the conciliar or post-conciliar documents which would contradict the principles enunciated or invalidate their general normative value.
Indeed the council’s insistence that choir and musicians form part of the liturgical assembly would even strengthen the presumption against the use of mechanical music.
There may be exceptions, as we saw in the case of children’s Masses, but any general permission to use recorded or automatically produced music would require the express approval of the corresponding bishop or episcopal conference.
According to the above documents it is preferable to sing without musical accompaniment than resort to artificial means.
A Nigerian correspondent requested if, due to the dearth of musically literate parishioners, it were possible to hire professional musicians to play the organ or other instruments even if they are non-Catholic.
Paid musicians are actually quite common, especially in cathedrals and large churches.
The principle, however, is that, even if paid, the musicians should form part of the assembly, and hence be practicing Catholics.
There may be circumstances when this is not possible and a parish must recur to the services of non-Catholic professionals in order to support the liturgical participation of the faithful.
In such cases great care must be taken to ensure that the musician understands the sacred nature of the music to be played and to avoid musical virtuosities and other elements that smack of public concert performances.
The latter criterion, needless to say, is also valid for Catholic musicians.
They should likewise always be in a supportive role with respect to the choir and the rest of the assembly. For the purpose of good liturgical music is to foster the active participation of the assembly, at times through joining in the song and at times by meditatively listening to the music while uniting heart and soul to God.
As far as I know, there is no recent official document which would forbid the use of non-Catholic musicians in the above-mentioned circumstances or on very special occasions, provided the use is limited and the music played is genuinely Catholic.
In 1988 I remember participating at a Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica, presided over by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger but attended by the Holy Father, in which Rome’s German community celebrated the 10th anniversary of the pontificate with a thanksgiving Mass accompanied by a major German orchestra and choir that sang Beethoven’s “Missa Solemnis.”
Certainly not all of the musicians were Catholic, but the Mass and the Music certainly were.


Heretical hymns? with about 50 comments, some very thought-provoking.

By George Weigel August 29, 2006
I love hymns. I love singing them and I love listening to them. Hearing the robust Cardiff Festival Choir belt out the stirring hymns of Ralph Vaughan Williams at what my wife regards as an intolerable volume is, for me, a terrific audio experience. It was only when I got to know certain Lutherans, though, that I began to think about hymns theologically.
For classic Lutheran theology, hymns are a theological “source:” not up there with Scripture, of course, but ranking not-so-far below Luther’s “Small Catechism.” Hymns, in this tradition, are not liturgical filler. Hymns are distinct forms of confessing the Church’s faith. Old school Lutherans take their hymns very seriously.
Most Catholics don’t. Instead, we settle for hymns musically indistinguishable from “Les Mis” and hymns of saccharine textual sentimentality. Moreover, some hymn texts in today’s Catholic “worship resources” are, to put it bluntly, heretical. Yet Catholics once knew how to write great hymns; and there are great hymns to be borrowed, with gratitude, from Anglican, Lutheran, and other Christian sources. There being a finite amount of material that can fit into a hymnal, however, the first thing to do is clean the stables of today’s hymnals.
Thus, with tongue only half in cheek, I propose the Index Canticorum Prohibitorum, the “Index of Forbidden Hymns.” Herewith, some examples.
The first hymns to go should be hymns that teach heresy. If hymns are more than liturgical filler, hymns that teach ideas contrary to Christian truth have no business in the liturgy. “Ashes” is the prime example here: “We rise again from ashes to create ourselves anew.” No, we don’t. Christ creates us anew. (Unless Augustine was wrong and Pelagius right). Then there’s “For the Healing of the Nations,” which, addressing God, deplores “Dogmas that obscure your plan.”

Say what? Dogma illuminates God’s plan and liberates us in doing so. That, at least, is what the Catholic Church teaches. What’s a text that flatly contradicts that teaching doing in hymnals published with official approval?
Next to go should be those “We are Jesus” hymns in which the congregation (for the first time in two millennia of Christian hymnology) pretends that it’s Christ. “Love one another as I have loved you/Care for each other, I have cared for you/Bear each other’s burdens, bind each other’s wounds/and so you will know my return.” Who’s praying to whom here? And is the Lord’s “return” to be confined to our doing of his will? St. John didn’t think so. “Be Not Afraid” and “You Are Mine” fit this category, as does the ubiquitous “I Am the Bread of Life,” to which I was recently subjected on, of all days, Corpus Christi — the one day in the Church year completely devoted to the fact that we are not a self-feeding community giving each other “the bread of life” but a Eucharistic people nourished by the Lord’s free gift of himself. “I am the bread of life” inverts that entire imagery, indeed falsifies it.
Then there are hymns that have been flogged to death, to the point where they’ve lost any evocative power. For one hundred forty years, the fourth movement of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony sent shivers down audiences’ spines; does anyone sense its power when it’s morphed into the vastly over-used “Joyful, Joyful We Adore You,” complete with “chanting bird and flowing fountain”? A fifty-year ban is in order here. As it is for “Gift of Finest Wheat.” The late Omer Westendorf did a lot for liturgical renewal, but he was no poet (as his attempt to improve on Luther in his rewrite of “A Mighty Fortress” — “the guns and nuclear might/stand withered in his sight” — should have demonstrated). Why Mr. Westendorf was commissioned to write the official hymn for the 1976 International Eucharistic Congress in Philadelphia is one of the minor mysteries of recent years. “You satisfy the hungry heart with gift of finest wheat/Come give to us, O saving Lord, the bread of life to eat” isn’t heresy. But it’s awful poetry, and it can be read in ways that intensify today’s confusions over the Real Presence. It, too, goes under the fifty-year ban.
Hymns are important. Catholics should start treating them seriously.
GEORGE WEIGEL, a Senior Fellow of the Ethics and Public Policy Center, is a Roman Catholic theologian and one of America’s leading commentators on issues of religion and public life. Weigel is the author or editor of seventeen books, including God’s Choice: Pope Benedict XVI and the Future of the Catholic Church (2005), The Cube and the Cathedral: Europe, America, and Politics Without God (2005), Letters to a Young Catholic: The Art of Mentoring (2004), The Courage to Be Catholic: Crisis, Reform, and the Future of the Church (2002), and The Truth of Catholicism: Ten Controversies Explored (2001).
George Weigel’s major study of the life, thought, and action of Pope John Paul II, Witness to Hope: The Biography of Pope John Paul II (Harper Collins, 1999) was published to international acclaim in 1999, and translated into French, Italian, Spanish, Polish, Portuguese, Slovak, Czech, Slovenian, Russian, and German. The 2001 documentary film based on the book won numerous prizes. George Weigel is a consultant on Vatican affairs for NBC News, and his weekly column, “The Catholic Difference,” is syndicated to more than fifty newspapers around the United States.


Poor selection of the “worst of the worst” here, I fear. Far be it from me to praise hymns like “I Am the Bread of Life”–but, when you hear them, you can readily tell that the singer is quoting the words of Our Lord and not claiming to be Our Lord (at least if both you and the singer are sane, which may well be true). As for actually heretical content, “Ashes” does have some really bad lines, but it can’t compare with “Lord of the Dance” for thoroughly falsifying the big picture–and yet the author doesn’t even give a dishonorable mention to “Lord of the Dance” here. Trash bad hymns by all means, but evaluate their badness accurately! Don McMaster




See Document MUSICAM SACRAM + compiled information on SACRED MUSIC

See my compilation

Also read Pius X’s 1903 motu proprio Tra le sollecitudini [Inter Sollicitudines]; Concerts in Churches,
Musicae Sacrae
, Liturgiam Authenticam,
John Paul II’s
Chirograph on Sacred Music, Sacrosanctum Concilium, Spiritus et Sponsa, etc. in the Church Documents section of this site.




Substituting the Psalm

ROME, July 14, 2009 ( Answered by Legionary of Christ Father Edward McNamara, professor of liturgy at the Regina Apostolorum university.
Can the psalm after the first reading (usually from the Old Testament) be replaced by a hymn related to the second reading (usually from the New Testament) or the Gospel? Music groups rarely have a repertoire that includes all the psalms, but can usually find something related to the second reading or Gospel. — J.S., London
A: The short answer to this question is no. The General Instruction of the Roman Missal (GIRM, American translation) is quite explicit in No. 61, which deals with the psalm:
“After the first reading comes the responsorial Psalm, which is an integral part of the Liturgy of the Word and holds great liturgical and pastoral importance, because it fosters meditation on the word of God.
“The responsorial Psalm should correspond to each reading and should, as a rule, be taken from the Lectionary.
“It is preferable that the responsorial Psalm be sung, at least as far as the people’s response is concerned. Hence, the psalmist, or the cantor of the Psalm, sings the verses of the Psalm from the ambo or another suitable place. The entire congregation remains seated and listens but, as a rule, takes part by singing the response, except when the Psalm is sung straight through without a response. In order, however, that the people may be able to sing the Psalm response more readily, texts of some responses and Psalms have been chosen for the various seasons of the year or for the various categories of Saints. These may be used in place of the text corresponding to the reading whenever the Psalm is sung. If the Psalm cannot be sung, then it should be recited in such a way that it is particularly suited to fostering meditation on the word of God.
“In the dioceses of the United States of America, the following may also be sung in place of the Psalm assigned in the Lectionary for Mass: either the proper or seasonal antiphon and Psalm from the Lectionary, as found either in the Roman Gradual or Simple Gradual or in another musical setting; or an antiphon and Psalm from another collection of the psalms and antiphons, including psalms arranged in metrical form, providing that they have been approved by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops or the Diocesan Bishop. Songs or hymns may not be used in place of the responsorial Psalm.”
Thus, although there is a lot of flexibility in order to promote singing the psalm, including the substitution of the psalm of the day and possible use of an approved metrical version, there is no occasion in which a non-biblical hymn may substitute the psalm.
This is because no human work, no matter now musically or poetically accomplished, can substitute God’s inspired word. This norm is already found in the GIRM, No. 57:
“In the readings, the table of God’s word is prepared for the faithful, and the riches of the Bible are opened to them. Hence, it is preferable to maintain the arrangement of the biblical readings, by which light is shed on the unity of both Testaments and of salvation history. Moreover, it is unlawful to substitute other, non-biblical texts for the readings and responsorial Psalm, which contain the word of God.”
Only God’s Word enjoys that special presence of Christ which is found during the liturgical proclamation of the Word. As St. Augustine wrote in his lectures on the Gospel of John (30, 1):
“The passage of the holy Gospel of which we have before discoursed to you, beloved, is followed by that of today, which has just now been read. Both the disciples and the Jews heard the Lord speaking; both men of truth and liars heard the Truth speaking; both friends and enemies heard Charity speaking; both good men and bad men heard the Good speaking. They heard, but He discerned; He saw and foresaw whom His discourse profited and would profit. Among those who were then, He saw; among us who were to be, He foresaw. Let us therefore hear the Gospel, just as if we were listening to the Lord Himself present: nor let us say, O happy they who were able to see Him! because there were many of them who saw, and also killed Him; and there are many among us who have not seen Him, and yet have believed. For the precious truth that sounded forth from the mouth of the Lord was both written for our sakes, and preserved for our sakes, and recited for our sakes, and will be recited also for the sake of our prosperity, even until the end of the world. The Lord is above; but the Lord, the Truth, is also here. For the body of the Lord, in which He rose again from the dead, can be only in one place; but His truth is everywhere diffused. Let us then hear the Lord, and let us also speak that which He shall have granted to us concerning His own words.”
God speaks to us through all the readings and not just the Gospels. We also respond to him using his inspired words which encapsulate all possible human reactions to the encounter with God. July 16, 2009:

Dear Mahesh, Many thanks for posting this.
This was a point I wanted to make long back. And the reason is aptly summarized by Fr. McNamara: “This is because no human work, no matter now musically or poetically accomplished, can substitute God’s inspired word.”
Until quite recently, the official hymnal in the diocese of Mangalore used to be the Konkani Bhoktik Gitam which used to have a section for hymns after the first reading. Later when we got a trained liturgist who pointed out the problem, the section was done away with in subsequent editions and a circular was issued by the bishop instructing parishes to use only the responsorial Psalm.
While most parishes took the extra effort of familiarising themselves with the responsorial psalms sooner or later, in some places hymns still continue to be sung.
The unlawful practice is quite common in special masses and group masses. This is partly because of the misunderstanding, even conceitful at times, that the special or group mass is a “private” liturgy which the group could celebrate as it wishes.
Quite on the contrary, the Church’s Constitution on the Liturgy makes it abundantly clear that:
“LITURGICAL SERVICES ARE NOT PRIVATE FUNCTIONS, but are celebrations of the Church, which is the “sacrament of unity,” namely, the holy people united and ordered under their bishops. THEREFORE LITURGICAL SERVICES PERTAIN TO THE WHOLE BODY OF THE CHURCH; they manifest it and have effects upon it; but they concern the individual members of the Church in different ways, according to their differing rank, office, and actual participation.” [Sacrosanctum Concilium, 26]
Therefore no matter who celebrates the Roman liturgy, they are bound to faithfully observe all the norms of law concerning the liturgical celebration in the Roman rite. And that includes, among other things:
1] the use of the Responsorial Psalm [not any hymn] after the First Reading, and
2] the use of hymns whose melodies, texts and settings have been approved for use in the liturgy, not the latest (unapproved) new songs released on tapes/CDs or “Praise & Worship” songs borrowed (without liturgical approval) from non-Catholic composers.
Pastors, lectors, cantors, choirs and others involved in the musical formation of the people of God must co-operate with one another to this end. Austine Crasta, moderator


Follow-up: Substituting the Psalm

ROME, July 28, 2009 ( In relation to our July 14 answer on the responsorial psalm, a New Zealand reader asked: “Are the first or second readings in the liturgy optional? I have attended Mass in New Zealand where either the first or second reading is omitted and the Gospel acclamation is completely ignored.”
The principles involved here are found in the Introduction to the lectionary.
Regarding Masses on Sundays and solemnities, No. 79 of the Introduction says: “In Masses to which three readings are assigned, all three are to be used. If, however, for pastoral reasons the Conference of Bishops has given permission for two readings only to be used, the choice between the two first readings is to be made in such a way as to safeguard the Church’s intent to instruct the faithful more completely in the mystery of salvation. Thus, unless the contrary is indicated in the text of the Lectionary, the reading to be chosen as the first reading is the one that is more closely in harmony with the Gospel, or, in accord with the intent just mentioned, the one that is more helpful toward a coherent catechesis over an extended period, or that preserves the semi-continuous reading of some biblical book.”
With respect to the weekday readings, No. 82 says:
“The arrangement of weekday readings provides texts for every day of the week throughout the year. In most cases, therefore, these readings are to be used on their assigned days, unless a solemnity, a feast, or else a memorial with proper readings occurs.
“In using the Order of Readings for weekdays attention must be paid to whether one reading or another from the same biblical book will have to be omitted because of some celebration occurring during the week. With the arrangement of readings for the entire week in mind, the priest in that case arranges to omit the less significant passages or combines them in the most appropriate manner with other readings, if they contribute to an integral view of a particular theme.”
Therefore, unless the New Zealand bishops’ conference has allowed the use of only two readings on Sunday, then three readings must be used. I have been unable to verify whether this is the case.
Although the lectionary offers ample possibilities for choosing various readings on weekdays, there is no provision for omitting one of the readings altogether. Hence, two readings and a psalm are always required.
On the other hand, the rubrics foresee the possibility of omitting the acclamation before the Gospel if it is not sung. 



Use of secular/profane musical instruments at Mass; See

September 7, 2004

Our Parish is split into three churches, under one umbrella. In two of the three churches we have traditional Liturgy following the GIRM and the Vatican Documents, almost to the letter. However, my question concerns the third Church. At Sunday Mass there is a ‘band’ that play the music, much like that which you would find in an Evangelical Church. Even the music they use is evangelical and not catholic. The instruments used are keyboards, electric guitars, drum kits, and trumpets. Surely this is, in some way a breach of authentic Liturgy. Can you advise on this in relation to actual Church documents etc? As the whole parish Organist and Musical Director I feel very frustrated about this – but at the moment do not have any say in whether or not they are right in what they are doing. I would like to make my point to them in the near future. -James

Yes the Church has produced a handful of documents that deal with music…  since you are involved with ministry I think you should read “Musicam Sacram” as well as its “parent” document “Sacrosanctum Concilium” from Vatican II.

One thing that these documents are absolutely clear on is that musical instruments that are associated with the secular culture are absolutely barred from the Liturgy. (Musicam Sacram, 63)

I really don’t think that it can be argued that the guitar and drum sets are not associated with secular music.

Besides, it goes against common sense to use these instruments at Mass, since in our culture they are used for profane entertainment. Holy Mass is NOT entertainment, rather it is a sacrifice and it is worship. Only those things that are sacred are to be permitted for use at Mass. Guitars and drums are not sacred. When you go to Mass, there should never be any question in your mind where you are at: at church or at a rock concert. -Jacob Slavek


Using the church for choir practice

November 10, 2004

My friends and I are having a disagreement about what is appropriate or not in the church. Piano lessons for children and choir practice are now being held in our church on certain days of the week for about 2 hours on each day. A couple of people I know and myself are used to having a Holy Hour in front of the tabernacle every day and we are being disturbed by the noise going on. What if there was someone that was in the process of having a conversion and needed some quiet time with our Lord? That person may just turn around and walk out and never come back. Some of my friends think there is no problem with this kind of thing going on, that we should expect this, and say that we don’t own the church and are being to strict. What do you think? Just what kind of things are appropriate or allowed in the church, if any? –Shelley

The choir should be practicing in the church, especially since that is where they will be performing their ministry. Hopefully though will keep the chatter to a minimum even if the church is empty since Christ is present in the tabernacle. However though there will be noise and the director and members will be talking to each other, there will be questions and bad music and books dropping and confusion. This is a good thing, since they are working on their ministry to get it perfect for Sunday.

They should be posting their practice times in the bulletin, so that the members know when to be there and that so that other people know that they are there. I myself could even purposely schedule a holy hour during that time so that I can use the music for prayer, and tune out the “downtime” for my own personal prayer so that I wouldn’t be alone in the church. Just my preference, though, the important thing is that you are making the holy hour in the first place.

Hopefully any stranger that happens to show up to have a conversion experience during those two hours would understand what is happening.

I really can’t see any reason why there would be piano lessons in church. Surely there must be a better place, perhaps in the instructor’s home, or in the school (if the parish has one) or in the parish hall if they have a piano there. Private pipe organ lessons however must be held in the church since each pipe organ is played differently. Jacob Slavek


The Gloria – when is it sung or omitted?

December 7, 2004

The Gloria is to be omitted on Sundays during Advent and Lent.

It is still said however on solemnities (Immaculate Conception) and other solemn occasions.Jacob Slavek


Use of secular/profane musical instruments at Mass

February 10, 2005


In reading Psalm 150, it would seem that just about any musical instrument should be used to praise our God. Let me quote from previous response on this topic in reference to guitars and drums, “One thing that these documents are absolutely clear on is that musical instruments that are associated with the secular culture are absolutely barred from the Liturgy.”
Somehow, I think that something got lost in the translation. How the music is played – rather than what instrument is being played – would be the determining factor as to whether it is appropriate for liturgy or not.
Do we not, as Catholics, encourage people from all cultures to bring what talent they have to the Lord? Do we not, as Catholics embrace all people and all cultures? Was the answer to the original post not clearly thought through? –Deacon Pat

Yes, any musical instrument can and should be used to glorify God. However the Psalms and Scripture were never meant to be guidelines for the modern Liturgy, that is what the Missal and other documents are for. As I said in my previous reply, Rome has decided that instruments associated with the profane are not to be admitted into the Sacred Liturgy. That does not mean that you cannot use drums and guitars in your own private or public non-liturgical worship.

Yes, the Catholic Church embraces all people and cultures, all are called to salvation in the Church, however profane or sacrilegious elements of any culture or any incorrect teaching must not be admitted to the Church. This includes profane elements of our own culture, and musical instruments that are so closely associated with the profane that they cannot be separated. –Jacob Slavek


Robes for the choir

February 13, 2005

I am wondering if hand bell robes are appropriate to wear and liturgically correct. There is a conversation going on at my church and some feel that the use of robes sets the hand bell choir apart from the congregation. Some feel that we are ministers of music and should not be set apart from the congregation, others feel that by wearing black skirts and slacks and white shirts is an appropriate “uniform”. I see the robes as a “uniform” that enhances the liturgy and shows humility. I am asking for your assistance with this question. I can find nothing in GIRM and do know other local churches that do wear robes. This is not a monetary issue as someone donated the money after they attended a concert where we played. He was moved to buy the robes as a remembrance of his wife. –Zoe

in the GIRM you will find that an alb is the vestment for those with a lower rank than deacon, or also that street clothes may be worn.

In my opinion, those who are in the choir should wear something more special that what the people are wearing, white shirts and black slacks seem appropriate. 

Albs I believe would also be okay or some other “robe” as long as they do not resemble a vestment that the priest would wear, such as a stole.  If the choir consists of seminarians or clergy then cassocks and surplices would be an option.

As for those who worry that separate dress may separate the choir from the congregation: In my opinion this sounds like it is coming from people who have nothing better to do with their time than complain about something that honestly doesn’t matter to anyone anyway. –Jacob Slavek


Sacred music and Gregorian chant

January 31, 2006

In the old days of the Tridentine Mass, whenever there was High Mass, the choir would sing beautiful chants to the Introit, Gradual, Offertory antiphon and the Communion antiphon. Can these same chants still be incorporated into the Novus Ordo mass? –Charles

Yes. In fact the Benedictine Monks at Solesmes have published a wonderful missal for just that purpose.

By the way, YES the second Vatican council ordered that sacred music be preserved. (Sacrosanctum Concilium, n.114)  Gregorian chant is to be given “pride of place” in sacred Liturgy. (n.116) –Jacob Slavek


Hymn instead of the Responsorial Psalm

April 17, 2007

Is it ever permitted to substitute a hymn for the responsorial psalm? Not the psalm put to music, but a different song entirely that may have NOTHING to do with the prescribed psalm for the day. The former music minister at my parish insisted that a priest from Franciscan University told him that it was permitted at a “youth Mass,” and he took that to mean a Mass with contemporary music. At first I didn’t question it, but then my husband pointed out that it would be illicit to replace, for example, the second reading with a poem. The new music minister learned this policy from the former minister, and I’m wondering whether it could possibly be correct.
Also, as a matter of opinion, if this is NOT licit, would it be appropriate for a member of the music ministry to sit out on the responsorial “song,” or would they not be culpable for the liturgical abuse and not be required to do so, provided that they have pointed out the Church’s position to the appropriate persons? -Rachel

No, it is not permitted.  I know it is a common abuse, but as the General Instruction says, the responsorial psalm “is an integral part of the liturgy of the word and holds great liturgical and pastoral importance, because it promotes meditation on the Word of God.” (n.61) It goes on to say that the gradual may be used in it place, but says nothing of a hymn.

If you feel like you should sit out, go ahead. I doubt that you would be culpable if you did not sit out if you had voiced your concerns. –Jacob Slavek


Use of recorded music in the liturgy

April 28, 2007

We have several priests that play CDs at various parts of the Mass when there is no choir. -Charlie

First of all I need to mention that I do not consider the CD playing to be liturgical since liturgical law does not allow the use of recorded music (there is an exception in the Directory for Masses with Children, n.32). There should not be any CD music at all during the Mass; if the priest absolutely must play his CDs in church for whatever reason they must be played BEFORE Mass starts of AFTER it has finished. –Jacob Slavek


Use of secular/profane musical instruments at Mass

September 27, 2008

I have been part of my parish for 10 years. At one point I was asked to join the “folk” group. I have since left this group, but since the main “singer” has married the local Methodist minister I notice the hymns chosen never mention the Eucharist.
Now they have found a drummer, and the drum set is in the centre of the Blessed Sacrament chapel.
I find all of this really distracting and have told my priest I feel I have to hear mass elsewhere because I do not feel recollected when this type of music is used.
I have nothing against drums or drummers but I feel this isn’t giving my kids the right example / approach to Catholic adoration. Am I being unreasonable to want to hear mass elsewhere? Are drums acceptable at mass? –Mary Jean

Before I answer your first question I want to clear up a little vocabulary problem: We do not just “hear” Mass.  We celebrate it, and we pray it.

So are you unreasonable in wanting to attend Mass elsewhere? Well if the only Masses available were celebrated so irreverently to include secular and profane music, you bet I would want to go somewhere else.

There are several liturgical documents that deal the music in the Liturgy: I will quote three of them here. The first is an old one, it’s from 1903, but it’s the best one to use for making the argument that drums are not allowed.

“The employment of the piano is forbidden in church, as is also that of noisy or frivolous instruments such as drums, cymbals, bells and the like.” (Tra le Sollecitudini, n.19)

“It is strictly forbidden to have bands play in church” (n.20)

Tra le Sollecitudini is a Motu Proprio of Pope St. Pius X.

For the 100th anniversary of Tra le Sollecitudini, Pope John Paul II wrote a centenary letter on the subject, a follow-up of sorts. Although he didn’t mention any of the “banned” and didn’t “un-ban” any instruments by name, he did note that there are new compositions that use instruments other than the pipe organ.

“Nonetheless, it should be noted that contemporary compositions often use a diversity of musical forms that have a certain dignity of their own. To the extent that they are helpful to the prayer of the Church they can prove a precious enrichment. Care must be taken, however, to ensure that instruments are suitable for sacred use, that they are fitting for the dignity of the Church and can accompany the singing of the faithful and serve to edify them.”  (n.14, the entire text of this letter can be found at

So how can it be determined which instruments are “suitable for sacred use”?  For the answer I turn to the post conciliar Vatican II document, “Musicam Sacram” which says:

“63. In permitting and using musical instruments, the culture and traditions of individual peoples must be taken into account. However, those instruments which are, by common opinion and use, suitable for secular music only, are to be altogether prohibited from every liturgical celebration and from popular devotions.”

I really don’t think that it can be argued that the guitar and drum sets are not associated with secular music.

Besides, it goes against common sense to use these instruments at Mass, since in our culture they are used for profane entertainment.  Holy Mass is NOT entertainment, rather it is a sacrifice and it is worship (among other things). Only those things that are sacred are to be permitted for use at Mass. Guitars and drums are not sacred. When you go to Mass, there should never be any question in your mind where you are:  at church or at a rock concert. –Jacob Slavek

October 1, 2008

Thanks for the reply, it was really helpful.
I was quite shocked having been brought up with the Novus Ordo rite, and schooled by nuns to learn that guitars were considered profane instruments. (I admired the sisters who were musically gifted and primarily played guitar for Masses in our school chapel.)
I fully understand how the actual affect of the sound of music can be reverent and raise people’s hearts to God, or take them elsewhere.
I could not see the guitar specifically mentioned in the Papal references you gave.
Before I play the guitar at my church I pray to Saint Cecilia, and spend some time before the Blessed Sacrament. I thought my contribution was valid, as few people would make the effort to sing before I provided an accompaniment.
O Bread of heaven if played classically is still very beautiful.
(No organ players in our congregation.)
In trying to re-assess where my contribution stands, or if I should no longer assist at Mass at all. If I am in disobedience then I would rather not contribute.
So please can I ask how the church regards the hymn Silent Night – first hymn written for guitar between 1816-18 and how all of the hymns since written for guitar should be regarded?
This is a genuine question because most of the churches in my area have hymnals which contain at least 50 -75% guitar – based hymns, which I thought implied the guitar was o.k. –Mary Jean

Good questions.  I had not even realized that Silent Night was written for the guitar. One of the legends is that it was written for the guitar because the pipe organ was not functioning. 🙂

Anyway that doesn’t really matter, nor does it matter that the carol was originally written for the guitar.  Although I was not present in Austria in the early 1800’s, I think I can safely say that guitar music of that period was not as profane and secular as it is today in the USA.  It isn’t even the same guitar (classical guitar vs. folk or electric guitar)

The point of Musicam Sacram is that instruments that are suitable for secular use only are not acceptable for worship in Catholic Liturgy, according to “common opinion and use” (n.63)

I don’t think that this opinion can be applied to “Silent Night”, which, although was probably originally composed as a guitar piece, today is generally played in church on the organ with the choir and the people singing.  The organ is an instrument generally associated with sacred use.  So are the choir and the congregation. “Silent Night” is generally considered a sacred piece. Therefore there are no problems with using it, played in a sacred style, at a catholic Mass (at the appropriate times).

Even though Silent Night has been borrowed by hundreds (I would guess) of secular bands and has been arranged in every possible style you can imagine, including rock, it STILL is considered as belonging to sacred use and worship of the incarnate word. –Jacob Slavek


Use of secular/profane musical instruments at Mass

January 14, 2009

Mr. Slavek, going back to your reply on September 27, 2008 []

From Musicam Sacram:

“63. In permitting and using musical instruments, the culture and traditions of individual peoples must be taken into account. However those instruments which are, by common opinion and use, suitable for secular music only, are to be altogether prohibited from every liturgical celebration and from popular devotions.”
Would you agree that this is open to many types of interpretation?
Starting with “…the culture and traditions of individual peoples…” what does this mean exactly? Is this talking about culture and traditions of say people in Africa where drums and dancing are very common in worship? What about in Japan where various types of string instruments are used?
Also in Mexico mariachi music is extremely traditional and imbedded in their culture. As a child growing up pre-Vatican II in the US, I remember mariachi groups used for devotions to our Lady of Guadalupe and still in use to this day.
However since in the US there are people of many diverse cultures, wouldn’t the use of musical instruments of these individual peoples be allowed if there are enough people of that culture in certain parishes? I know in our city there is usually a “Dixieland” mass once year in our Cathedral. I don’t attend. I don’t think I could put up with a screeching clarinet, blaring trumpet, trombone all going different directions as they play “O Sacrament Most Holy” while processing up to communion.
Also the words “…suitable for secular music ONLY…” I can understand electric guitars, or acoustic steel string guitars, but acoustic guitars with nylon string have been around for centuries. How can we say that acoustic nylon string guitars are suitable ONLY for secular music? -Chas

I don’t agree that the actual statement is open to interpretation, but what IS open is exactly what instruments by name are suitable for sacred use. The authority responsible for making that interpretation would be the local bishops. This would mostly be an issue only in mission areas where evangelization is difficult enough without the added burden of introducing a whole new culture as well as the Faith.

About the classical guitar: the documents usually stop short of naming specific instruments, so personally I would group the nylon guitar with any other classical instrument. When deciding whether or not to use these instruments, one question to ask is “what sacred music is written for this instrument”. In other words, you can’t just play folk music on a classical instrument, the music itself must be appropriate as well. There is a large body of works written for the sacred orchestra, but I am not aware of any written for the classical guitar. (I could be wrong on that) Personally I would pass on the classical guitar in favor of the instrument that Rome has praised many times, that is the pipe organ. –Jacob Slavek


Singing the entire Mass

May 10, 2009

Is it permissible for the celebrant to sing the entire celebration of the Mass including the Words of Consecration? -Vincent

Absolutely, yes, the priest may sing the entire Mass, including the words of consecration.  Well almost the entire Mass anyway, I suppose it wouldn’t make much sense for him to sing the homily, as well as some other inaudible prayers.   But even the readings can be chanted!

Anyway, in the GIRM we read “In the rubrics and in the norms that follow, the words “say” (dicere) or “proclaim” (proferre) are to be understood of both singing and speaking” (n.38)

Regarding specifically the Eucharistic Prayer and other presidential prayers, there MUST NOT BE MUSICAL ACCOMPANIMENT when the priest sings.  (n.32) I know that it’s a common practice for the priest to sing, for example, the Mass of Creation which has a song written for the Eucharistic prayer. If the priest wishes to use this song, he must do so WITHOUT the organ or other instruments.

In my personal opinion, it just sounds bad for the priest to sing a song without the organ, so instead he is far better off CHANTING the prayers, even in English chant sounds good without the accompaniment of other instruments. –Jacob Slavek


Singing a response after the Gospel

June 4, 2010

Is it proper to sing an “alleluia” after the Gospel is read rather than singing “Praise to you, Lord Jesus Christ”?
Or should there be any singing at all after the Gospel and the congregation just responds? –Chas

No, the Alleluia is not to be repeated after the Gospel. However the “Praise to you, Lord Jesus Christ” may be sung, in fact the entire Gospel may be sung. –Jacob Slavek



What parts of the liturgy must be sung?

October 28, 2010

Most importantly, MUST the responsorial psalm be sung? -Heather

The Psalm is NOT absolutely required to be sung. The instruction says that the “psalmist or reader sings or recites the psalm verse”. (GIRM, no. 129)

The Alleluia verse must be omitted if it is not sung, so that means that it cannot be recited.

Then there are other parts of the Liturgy that would make absolutely no sense at all to recite, such as Gregorian chant, but I suppose an argument could be made that that too could be recited.

Hymns are often recited during the Liturgy of the Hours. –Jacob Slavek


New music with the New Missal

November 27, 2011

Since the new translation in the Church started being implemented with permission from our bishop a few weeks ago, our priest and our musical director have been helping the congregation get used to the new words. This has been fine and I have appreciated the explanation of the reasons behind the changes. However, our music director has changed the “beats” to all the music. The Gloria, The Amen, the Holy, Holy, Holy… just about every part of the music has been changed to an upbeat hip sound. People are starting to raise their hands in prayer; the electric guitar sometimes is made to sound like a drum beat.

This church used to be very traditional compared to the neighboring churches. It was not perfect, nor do I expect that, but I always felt the Pastor was trying to keep our congregation as close to the correct formula of the church and I have always appreciated his effort.

I just wanted clarification; I thought the changes were meant to get us closer the original Latin. I also thought the Pope had said, that there should not be a break with the sacredness of the mass which contemporary music may do (those were not the pope’s exact words, but I thought that is what he meant).

Did these changes mean the beat to the music were to change? Is this happening in other churches too? I’m confused. I love my Catholic faith and will not leave, but this has saddened me. –Maureen

The only music allowed in the Mass is Sacred Music and instruments that lend themselves to Sacred Music. 

The new Missal gives specific guidelines on music that removes any discretion of the music director to do want he wants. The New Missal makes it clear that the music of the Mass is the chanted propers of the Mass.  The options available also require the normative chant. To make up some random text, setting it to music. Songs are out, chants are in. Read more detail about this on The Chant Café, a group of Catholic musicians. 

Given the clear instructions, I do not understand why your music director is doing this, unless it is some passive-aggressive or subconscious rebellion against the greater solemnity of the new translation.

Since I have not heard the music myself, check to be sure it violates the New Missal.

I would express your concerns with your pastor and ask about it. If he is not responsive, then contact your bishop. Be sure to present yourself in a business-like and professional manner when talking or writing letters to your pastor or bishop.

P.S. Fr. Robert Barron has an excellent talk on the New Missal. –Bro. Ignatius Mary OMSM


“Amazing Grace” [See also pages 33-36]

January 23, 2012

From what I understand, the song “AMAZING GRACE” is a Protestant song and is considered the Protestant anthem. Why in God’s Holy Name is it played and sung in Catholic churches, especially during Holy Communion. How can this be allowed? I complained to the Grand Knight of our Knights of Columbus Council and he recommended that I bring it up to the Pastor of our parish. I feel this is traitorous to our Holy Catholic Faith and Church which always has been and still is being attacked from the outside and even worse from within. What do you recommend I do? -Kenneth

I recommend that you be careful about scrupulosity. Just because a hymn is written by a Protestant does not automatically make it problematic. After all, the Church officially teaches that truth can be found outside of the Catholic Church and where there is that truth to that degree, even if it is only a small grain of truth, we can agree with non-Catholics on that grain.

With that said, here are the lyrics:

Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound,
That saved a wretch like me.
I once was lost but now am found,
Was blind, but now I see.

T’was Grace that taught my heart to fear.
And Grace, my fears relieved.
How precious did that Grace appear
The hour I first believed.

Through many dangers, toils and snares
I have already come;
‘Tis Grace that brought me safe thus far
and Grace will lead me home.

The Lord has promised good to me.
His word my hope secures.
He will my shield and portion be,
As long as life endures.

Yea, when this flesh and heart shall fail,
And mortal life shall cease,
I shall possess within the veil,
A life of joy and peace.

When we’ve been here ten thousand years
Bright shining as the sun.
We’ve no less days to sing God’s praise
Than when we’ve first begun.

Most people against this hymn claim that it teaches Grace Alone. Indeed, since John Newton was a Calvinist, I am sure the Calvinist view, which is heretical, was on his mind.

The actual words of the hymn, however, are not really clear. At best the hymn is ambivalent and subtle when looking only at the words, and not considering the author’s intent.

On the issue of Faith alone:

The Catholic Church, in her document, Ephesians, chapter 2:8-10 says:

“For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone be found boasting. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.” 

We cannot buy grace, we cannot earn grace. Grace by definition is a “free gift” of God. 

The controversy about Sola fide is really not so much about the grace part, inasmuch as it is about the faith part — the characteristics that someone with this faith will express in their lives.

St. James says:

(James 2:17-18, 24, 26) So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead. But some one will say, “You have faith and I have works.” Show me your faith apart from your works, and I by my works will show you my faith.

…You see that a man is justified by works and not by faith alone.

…For as the body apart from the spirit is dead, so faith apart from works is dead.

There is no contradiction between St. Paul and St. James, which is why it is really puzzling that Martin Luther, a educated Catholic monk, could so easily misinterpret this.

Our salvation is by grace “through” faith, not works of the law. But what is faith? St. James says that “faith apart from works is dead”, that is, if we have faith we will express that faith in the works of love.

 St. James was not talking about the works of the law as St. Paul was talking about.

Thus, St. James says that if we say we have faith, and do not express that faith in the works of love, then our so-called faith is dead. If our faith is dead, then we have no faith, and then we do not have the saving grace which requires faith as St. Paul says. It is apples and oranges here between St. Paul and St. James.

The Lutheran Church, by the way, in discussions with the Catholic Church, finally agreed, I think, that there is no conflict between the Catholic and Lutheran views. Finally after 450 years, the Lutherans finally saw that there were no contradictions between St. Paul and St. James.

Back to the hymn, Colin Donovan, from the EWTN Q&A, focuses on the intent of the author:

Answer by Colin B. Donovan, STL on 8/5/2003: 

Amazing Grace is coming out of the Protestant theological tradition and reflects its emphasis on sola gratia, grace alone. In verse one the text says “Amazing grace! How sweet the sound, That saved a wretch like me!” While this sounds very humble, and by itself appears inoffensive to Catholic ears, in light of the theological tradition it comes from it suggests the complete depravity of man which was at the root of Luther’s theology. Catholic teaching rejects that. Human nature is wounded, but remains capable of natural good acts, that is, acts of natural virtue, both moral and intellectual, as opposed to supernatural virtue (which IS a gift from God). 

In keeping with that the Catholic must also reject verse two, which asserts that sanctifying grace is given with belief. “How precious did that grace appear, The hour I first believed.” While a certain natural faith in the credibility of revelation disposes the person to request entrance into Christ’s Church and to desire the “Amazing Grace” of Justification, sanctifying grace (actual justice), the grace of the theological virtues (faith, hope and charity), the supernatural moral virtues (without which a meritorious act, as opposed to an act of the natural man cannot be done) and the Gifts of the Holy Spirit (which perfect man) are communicated at Baptism, NOT “the hour I first believed.” Granted a Catholic could read into that the hour of baptism, when supernatural faith is actually communicated, but that is not the intended meaning of the hymn, which reflects the theology that one must only “believe on the Lord Jesus” and one is granted salvation. Implied in the balance of the verses is the doctrine of Blessed Assurance, that “once saved” one’s salvation is assured – a doctrine at serious odds with Scripture, and therefore Catholic teaching, and contrary to the good of man. 

Since there is an obligation to use only doctrinally sound hymns in the Liturgy, Amazing Grace is at best equivocal and at worse seriously contrary to the Catholic theology of grace. 

The Bottom line: Unless the Church declares otherwise, it would appear that a person’s personal opinion about Amazing Grace is up to personal conscience.

But, the suitability of this hymn for liturgy is a completely different matter. I agree with Mr. Colin’s last paragraph.

I would certainly talk to your pastor about Amazing Grace being sung during Mass. You might also contact the bishop to get an official decision about this. –Bro. Ignatius Mary OMSM

Categories: Liturgical Abuses, PROTESTANTISM

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