GIRM 39-41: The Importance of Singing

We don’t need the GIRM to tell us of the importance of singing, but it’s nice to have back-up. a single section of the 1975 GIRM was expanded in 2000 into three. Two significant additions to the text were the “every care … Obligation” clause in 40a, and the quote from Sacrosanctum Concilium 116 in 41a on Gregorian chant and other kinds of sacred music. 

39. 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). Thus St. Augustine says rightly, “Singing is for one who loves,”[St. Augustine of Hippo, Sermo 336, 1: PL 38: 1472.] and there is also an ancient proverb: “Whoever sings well prays twice over.”

40. Great importance should therefore be attached to the use of singing in the celebration of the Mass, with due consideration for the culture of peoples and abilities of each liturgical assembly. Although it is not always necessary (e.g., in weekday Masses) to sing all the texts that are in principle meant to be sung, every care should be taken that singing by the ministers and the people not be absent in celebrations that occur on Sundays and on Holydays of Obligation.

This is a significant strengthening of the old GIRM 19, and worded in a particular way to allow for continued growth in music-poor communities, but to advise that when music can be provided, it should be.

However, in the choosing of the parts actually to be sung, preference is to be given to those that are of greater importance and especially to those which are to be sung by the Priest or the Deacon or a reader, with the people replying, or by the Priest and people together.[cf. Musicam Sacram 7, 16]

41. The main place should be given, all things being equal, to Gregorian chant, as being proper to the Roman Liturgy. Other kinds 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.[cf. SC 116, also SC 30]

Things, from nation to nation, parish to parish, and even from one gathering of a community to another, are not equal. Unfortunately, the discussion on the place of chant gets bogged down by extremes of both ends of the spectrum, the no-chant and the all-chant camps.

Since the faithful from different countries come together ever more frequently, it is desirable that they know how to sing together at least some parts of the Ordinary of the Mass in Latin, especially the Profession of Faith and the Lord’s Prayer, according to the simpler settings.[cf. SC 54, Inter Oecumenici 59, Musicam Sacram 47]

It’s interesting that two non-musical examples are given here, and that the Lord’s Prayer seems to be counted as a part of the Mass Ordinary. Also note that no provision is given here for choir-only music–the explicit prescription is for congregational singing.

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Todd and his family live in Ames, Iowa. He serves a Catholic parish of both Iowa State students and town residents.
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4 Responses to GIRM 39-41: The Importance of Singing

  1. Also note that no provision is given here for choir-only music–the explicit prescription is for congregational singing.

    Todd, it would be unreasonable to expect you to expect others to skim over or skip the importance of your modifier “here” in your analysis. You know there are numerous prescriptions for the office of the choir within the IGRM. I don’t want to appear contentious as you don’t want to appear disingenous, as “all things being equal,” there is nothing greater than a fully engaged and singing congregation. But to argue that ideal in order to subordinate the perfectly licit and, in some situations, primary role of a choir is intellectually suspect. Let’s not be niggardly reductionist (I use that word sparingly, but it seems apt.) in order to counter-balance the argument for museum liturgy that props up the choir to superior status. I think even Jeffrey Tucker would agree, even though Shawn Tribe might not.

    • Todd says:

      Sure, but let’s not underestimate the importance of GIRM 41. GIRM 39-41 constitutes the first address to the issue of music in the whole document. And others have commented that the purpose of Latin in multi-national gatherings is more optimal than a Babel-inspired liturgy. Taize, after all, got that, and they aren’t even Catholic.

      GIRM 41/SC 54 touts Latin as a means of achieving a degree of unity in the assembly. And the upgrade clearly emphasizes congregational singing. That is, in my view, a better reason than the maintenance of a heritage. Granted, a musical heritage need not be neglected for the sake of full participation–here it is put to use serving it.

      Eventually in the GIRM we will get to the role of the choir. But that time is not yet.

    • Jimmy Mac says:

      Make a joyful noise unto the Lord. All the rest is frosting on the cake.

  2. Jimmy Mac, God bless ya, I have a fellow in our ensemble that figures that maxim provides him the rationale to employ his blustery weapon (and I mean that) of a baritone in any manner he so chooses. Noise it is, he believes it’s joyful, perhaps God does as well. It’s murderin’ the rest of us and has been for 18 years and counting.
    Time off in purgatory, huh Todd?

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