It is our honor and privilege to lead the music at the various liturgies of our community.
Through Liturgy, we celebrate God's wondrous gifts to us along life's journey. Baptisms, First Communions, Anointing of the Sick, Eucharist, Confirmation, Weddings, Quince Años, Reconciliation, and Funerals are all celebrated with music at our parish. Music allows us to express in song what words alone fail to communicate fully.
We are parishioners just like you who love the Lord and love to sing our praise to God.
Over forty years ago in 1972, barely nine years after the Second Vatican Council, our United States Catholic Conference of Bishops issued a document called Music in Catholic Worship. This document was to change the future of music for the celebration of the Eucharist for all time. Prior to 1972 we followed a kind of “four hymn theology” of music during mass; that is, Opening Hymn, Offertory Hymn, Communion Hymn and Closing Hymn. Our newly revised Roman Missal and Lectionary were still quite new to us and we as a Church were adjusting to many changes including the use of our common language in the liturgy. The whole structure of the mass was revisited from its earliest origins. Music after 1972 was intended to accompany the ritual action of the mass itself. The bishops strongly reiterated the Church’s ancient principal that, “Music is integral to the Liturgy.” The Church set forth in all its documents on the liturgy a natural flow, rise, and fall to the ritual action that is our prayer together. In preparing music for the liturgy, we must remain within the Church's guidelines. They are listed here in order of importance.
The liturgy is divided into two equal segments, the Liturgy of the Word and the Liturgy of the Eucharist. Each of these two segments has a peak. They are the Gospel and the Eucharistic Prayer, respectively. Therefore the first and foremost things we should sing are the Gospel Acclamation or "Alleluia," the Holy, Holy, the Memorial Acclamation, and the Great Amen. These are the preeminent sung parts of the mass or the “propers” of the mass. These few things are very easily sung and ought never to be simply recited or spoken even at the simplest of masses. Choosing music for the liturgy must start here and not with the prior model of: “Opening Hymn”, “Offertory Hymn”, “Communion Hymn”, and “Closing Hymn”. Once we are sure of the acclamations we then begin to choose the other songs based on the other guidelines given us by the USCCB.
The Psalms are the sacred hymns and songs of the Hebrew bible. These unique and very important prayers are part of the ritual action that is the Liturgy of the Word. Many styles and varieties of psalms exist now in our worship and there should be no reason not to sing the psalm. Seasonal psalms may be used to highlight certain characteristics of a season. The Ministry of the Cantor was restored to us with Vatican II. Psalms “belong” to the cantor in the same way proclaiming the Gospel at Mass is the duty of the deacon.
The Communion Rite is that part of the liturgy from the Our Father through the Prayer after Communion. The principal music here is the Communion Song. It should be a song that will foster a sense of unity. Likewise, it should also emphasize the paschal mystery. Adoration hymns are inappropriate. The singing of simple refrains, such as "You Are Our Living Bread," "We Remember," or "Now We Remain" are good choices because the assembly can easily memorize its part and leave the verses to be sung by cantors or the choir. These “antiphonal” songs accompany the ritual action of the assembly receiving Holy Communion.
The Introductory Rite of the liturgy serves to gather the people into one body, one worshiping assembly. All the elements of the Introductory Rite from the Penitential Rite to the Collect (the Opening Prayer), focus our hearts and minds to the proclamation of God's Word that is to follow. The purpose of the Gathering Song then, is similar to that of the Communion Song, to foster a sense of unity. The Gathering Song is not a greeting for the presider and therefore should not end merely when he has reached the chair. It is a song that reflects the nature of the celebration, be it joyful, penitential, or etc. Music chosen can be thematic for the season or based upon the scriptures of the day. The Gathering Song accompanies the ritual action of the procession and the assembly gathering. The Kyrie and Gloria continue in that effort; bringing the assembly together and preparing it to hear God’s Word. If there is a Sprinkling of Holy Water instead of a Penitential Rite, the music will accompany the ritual action of the sprinkling of water.
This leaves us with the music for the Preparation Rite (the term Offertory is more correctly used to describe the Eucharistic Prayer itself) and the closing or recessional songs or hymns. During the preparation of the table, the low point of the liturgy, assembly singing is completely optional. This is a time to reflect upon the Word of God broken open for us during the homily and a time for us to gather our gifts of bread and wine and prepare the table for the Eucharist. It is a resting point for the assembly. Finally, recessional hymns are also optional. They are however, a good way to emphasize the blessing or prayer over the people which asks the assembly to "go forth and share what we have celebrated." At St. Peter’s Basilica in Vatican City recessional hymns are rarely allowed and only then on high feast days at high masses.
Choosing and planning music for the liturgy is not difficult if we have a clear understanding of the ritual action. The music we sing can be either joyful or sorrowful, reflective or exuberant depending on the nature of the celebration. It would be entirely inappropriate to sing an Easter song during Advent or a Christmas Carol during Lent. In the same manner then, music should reflect and represent what the text is saying. Another important matter is the use of music from other Christian traditions than our own. We must be very careful to use music that clearly represents and communicates what we as Roman Catholics profess as our faith. Music is powerful and has great catechetical ability. You may have heard the quip, “No one leaves whistling the homily.” Therefore, when we borrow from other Christian traditions, especially fundamentalist or evangelical churches we must avoid the use of any music that brings their understanding of salvation, baptism, communion, marriage or forgiveness into direct conflict with our own Church teaching.
The USCCB gave us three criteria that we are obliged to follow in preparing music for our liturgies. First, the music must be of good quality and a tune that is well crafted. Trite and overly simplistic music should be avoided. Likewise, it would be completely inappropriate to sing a concert setting of a Mass while the assembly sits and listens. Second the music must fit the liturgy, the season and the part of the mass for which it will be used. Finally, music must “fit” the community that will be asked to sing it. This “Pastoral” judgement, as it is called is perhaps the most difficult. “A Mighty Fortress is Our God” is a wonderful Lutheran hymn. Would using it in our Catholic churches be appropriate? This is a tough choice. Obviously it is a great hymn, well written and has a powerful text. Yet we must remember the historical context of the hymn and what motivated Martin Luther to write it.
“Music allows us to express in song what words alone often fail to convey.” This is perhaps my favorite quote from the USCCB. In the Sacred Constitution on the Liturgy, written in 1963, the Church reminds us of the great treasure of music that is ours as Roman Catholics. Gregorian Chant, Psalms and Canticles, Acclamations, Responses and Hymns all have a place at God’s banquet of Holy Eucharist. It is up to us to offer our best sacrifice of praise through the effort we put forth whenever we gather at that sacred table.
"The aim and final reason of all music should be nothing else but the Glory of God and the refreshment of the spirit."
J.S. Bach, 1685-1750