Saturday, December 8, 2007


Here we go - the chapter we've all been waiting for in Sing to the Lord: "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. . . .” 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.

Remarks on the first emphasis: The primary song of the liturgy is the Mass itself. If these bishops are referring to hymnody, or those ditties that get passed as such, as these "unison melodies", they're sadly mistaken. (You can tell as we go deeper into this document, BTW, that this is really "Trautman's last dirty deed" before stepping down as BCL head. I can really see the Vatican saying, "OK, where is that directory of common repertoire that you were supposed to give us?")

Remarks on the second emphasis: I sure as hell hope that these "added musical elements" isn't limited to merely enhancing congregational song. Let's not forget that there are times when listening is a part of the real FCAP.

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.

The Gloria was never intended to be sung responsorially ("congregational refrain with verses sung by the choir"). Also, the "Preparation of the Gifts" is the action taking place. The "Offertory" is the nomenclature for the hymn/antiphon being sung at that time. The GIRM says so. (You certainly don't think these guys were going to be faithful to what the GIRM says now, do you, except for the few things they really want you to know?)

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.

Now this emphasis is more correct! But instead they imply the exact opposite in paragraph 28, that the choir's role is limited to merely enhancing the congregation's song.

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.

Preferably the organ!

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.

We are all servants of the Liturgy - from the faithful on up. The Liturgy should not "serve us".

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.

Cassock and surplice have been the traditional dress of choir for eons. It's NEVER been limited to only clerics as long as I've known. If this emphasis isn't hogwash, I don't know what is!

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. The psalmist may also, when necessary, intone the Gospel Acclamation and verse. 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.” 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. 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.

First emphasis: In many cases, I prefer "another suitable place", like the choir loft of somewhere where the Psalmist is less tempted or prone to attract attention to himself/herself (like the good old fashioned flapping of the arms - human songbirds don't fly, sorry).
Second emphasis: refer to my remark on paragraph 33.

These last three paragraphs of the document given, one should remember that the Gradual and Alleluia (or Tract) from the Roman Gradual are also suitable options, according to the much more authoratative document, the GIRM, for the chants that follow their respective readings.

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.

Except for the Psalm (where a cantor would become the "Psalmist" for that moment) or anything else responsorial (like an Entrance or Communion), there really is no need for a cantor to stand at a mic and sing with the congregation when the choir is there to do the same thing. I have seen instances where the choir would sing a standard congregational hymn (For All the Saints and O God, Our Help in Ages Past both come to mind as examples I've actually seen - AND ON TV, one in a cathedral, another in a basilica!) and the cantor, or even TWO cantors (one male, one female) would flap their arms at the mic and put on a show of their own, often in an attempt to outblast a well-resounding choir and a well-played pipe organ. The cantors are totally needless in that capacity.

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.

So true. Yet, one of the pet peeves that people were complaining about at my now-former parish was that the cantor couldn't be heard (apparently they wanted her to stick out). This was more the case of, instead of singing, certain people opted to become busybodies in order to make life miserable for the rest of the parish.

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.

The emphasized is often easier said than done. The people really don't need to see arm flapping.

40. The cantor exercises his or her ministry from a conveniently located stand, but not from the ambo. 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.

Again, see my comment paragraph 33.

On the next post in this series, we'll cover the Organist and the "Director of Music Ministries".

1 comment:

Michael O'Connor said...

Hey Brian,

Actually Pius X did state in Tra le sollicitudine that cassock and surplice should be worn by choirs when singing in the sanctuary BECAUSE they were exercising a clerical role. Since women were not allowed to participate in a choir in the sanctuary, they could not wear cassock and surplice since that would be the only time they could.