Musicam Sacram: Liturgical Roles (13-17)


Musicam Sacram now begins a chapter entitled, “Those With a Role In Liturgical Celebrations.” First we read of one difference between clergy and lay liturgical ministers. The former minister because of their ordination. The latter serve because of the need they fill in a particular liturgical assembly.

13. Liturgical services are celebrations of the Church, that is, of the holy people, united under and directed by the bishop or priest.[SC 26 and 41-32; Lumen Gentium 28.] 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.[SC 29]

We have an important reminder of the role of the presider and the public orations offered in the name of the community:

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,[SC 33] they should be devoutly listened to by all.

The Church recognizes that it cannot prescribe or legislate what takes place in the interior of the person. This would be one reason why MS and other liturgy documents focus on external participation. It’s a measurable indicator of the whole, but certainly not the only thing for which to strive. So the document elaborates on what the Church means by participation, namelt that it “should be internal” and “must be external”:

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.[SC 14] 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;[SC 11]

(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.[SC 30]

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.

Choir Masses are judged to be not the most religious or joyful, it would be those Masses in which the choir (and other ministers) completely fulfill their ministerial role, that interior and exterior participation is enabled:

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.[SC 30]

(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.

MS 16 is rather clear on the people’s role in singing. The norm is that the choir or others may temporarily take upon themselves some of the people’s parts, but with the assumption that the people have yet to be prepared for singing them.

17. At the proper times, all should observe a reverent silence.[SC 30] 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.

Silence here is not a musical value necessarily, but a spiritual one. Interiority is cultivated not just by listening, but by a community which strives to find God in the silent minutes of a liturgical celebration.

Lots of strong language against performance choirs. Lots of strong language in favor of cultivating the externals. What do the musicians among us have to say?

About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in the Pacific Northwest, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
This entry was posted in Liturgical Music, Musicam Sacram, post-conciliar liturgy documents. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Musicam Sacram: Liturgical Roles (13-17)

  1. Dave says:

    I don’t see the strong language against “performance choirs” (not sure what that means). I see presented a role for both the choir and the people in the singing. I’m also not sure what is meant by the term “Choir Masses”. I think the mix of choir and people in liturgical music is the best way to cultivate the participation of the entire congregation.

  2. Todd says:

    Dave, I would see “choir Masses” as being liturgies staged for the main purpose of showcasing the music–coming from a town with a music school, I know it happens.

    In the context above, even a choir singing at a Mass, doing a fine job musically, is not the hallmark of being a religious or joyful celebration. It is when the assembly participates by expressing its faith and devotion through its own singing.

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