Music in the liturgy
The Liturgical Music Catholic Dictionary was published by the Bishops’ Committee on the Liturgy in 1972.This work’s most significant contribution to the Church was delineation of a triple judgment to be applied regarding suitability. The triple judgment concerns a piece of music’s pastoral, liturgical, and musical character.
The Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops (CCCB) in 2015 provided the revised guidelines for liturgical music. We can learn and make use of them to improve our music ministries and our way to actively and properly participate in the music ministry.
For the past months, our music ministry has been conducting seminars in Ifugao and Mountain Province on liturgical music. The participants were very enthusiastic to listen and learn. I found out that the revised guidelines of the CCCB help in answering queries.
1. Liturgy is the public act of worship of the believing community. In the liturgy we encounter God in word, in sacrament, and in the presider and assembly at prayer. In the liturgy – the great act of giving praise and glory to God – music is a most concrete and expressive way of announcing our belief and uniting our voices with one another. “The Christian faithful who come together as one in expectation of the Lord’s coming are instructed by the Apostle Paul to sing together psalms, hymns, and spiritual canticles (cf. Col 3.16). Singing is the sign of the heart’s joy (cf. Acts 2.46).”1 Indeed it arises from joy and, if we look closer at it, from love.2 Singing and making music belong to lovers.3 Convinced of our human need of praising God, the One we love, at all times, Saint Augustine states: “When the brethren are assembled in church, why should the time not be devoted to the singing of sacred songs, except of course during a reading or a sermon, or while the presiding minister is praying aloud, or the deacon is leading the joint prayer of the congregation? At other times not thus occupied, I do not see what could be a more excellent, useful, and holy exercise for a Christian congregation.”4
A dimension of communication
2. “There is also an ancient proverb: ‘Whoever sings well prays twice over’”.5 It is good to pray aloud in spoken voice. To lift that prayer into song shifts it to yet another dimension of communication. Think of the normal act of breathing. We open our mouths and breath drops in, filling our body cavities with air. We simply channel that air into a vowel sound and song begins. Raising and lowering the pitch brings about melody. However, when we think of that air analogously as the breath of life, the Holy Spirit, we reach another level of understanding. As the breath of life gives birth to wonderful sounds within the assembly, our voices are united in prayer to the Father, with Christ and in the unity of the Holy Spirit.
A corporate act
3. Music is a communication medium that gathers up the distinctive qualities of each individual and weaves them into a whole. A single voice expresses the faith and love of one person. Communal song is shaped by the accumulation of many voices expressing faith and love. Therefore, communal song is a corporate act of prayer and praise.
4. The General Instruction of the Roman Missal offers many comments on the role of music during particular moments of the liturgy. The statement about the entrance song provides a good foundation for understanding the role of song in liturgical prayer. The foremost reason for all song during the liturgy is to give praise and thanks to God. In addition, the purpose of the entrance song “is to open the celebration, foster the unity of those who have been gathered, introduce their thoughts to the mystery of the liturgical time or festivity, and accompany the procession of the Priest and ministers.”6
To unite the community
5. Congregational song unites not only our words and voices, but our hearts and minds.7 The hymn texts provide us with a common language with which to respond to God. If the texts are chosen from hymnals carefully prepared to serve the liturgy, then the words will indeed express our belief. The texts will also shape our understanding of God’s gracious love, the redemptive act of Christ and the Spirit-filled community of disciples.