This week is the final instalment of the article about the importance music plays at Liturgical celebrations.
Peace in Jesus
Music fulfils its role in liturgy when: (1) the amount of singing aptly corresponds to the solemnity of the occasion, (2) the selected music provides for the unanimous participation of the assembly at the designated moments, and (3) the beauty of the compositions and their performance is expressive of prayer (cf. CCC 1157).
The amount of singing should correspond to the degree of festivity and solemnity of the particular celebration of the day, feast or season (MS 7). For example, weekdays are more subdued than Sundays; the major Sunday community Mass is more festive than other Sunday Masses; major feasts such as Trinity Sunday or Pentecost are more festive than other Sundays; the seasons of Lent and Advent are more subdued; the seasons of Christmas and Easter are more festive.
“In the choosing of the parts actually to be sung, however, preference should be given to those that are of greater importance and especially to those to be sung by the presider or the deacon or the lector, with the people responding, or by the presider and people together” (GIRM 39-40; cf. MS 6, 7, 16, 2836).
When choosing music and songs, “the criterion that must inspire every composition and performance of songs and sacred music is the beauty that invites prayer” (John Paul II, Address to the Pontifical Institute of Sacred Music, 3; cf. Chirograph, 3). Music preparation involves the liturgy team, the musicians, the presider and the assembly. All need to work in collaboration, respecting the particular expertise each one brings to the process (cf. MS 5).
There are three long-held principles that help us to choose the most appropriate music (cf. Pope John Paul II’s Chirograph on Sacred Music, 4-6; Musicam Sacram, 5; and Pope Pius X’s Tra Le Sollecitudini, 2, 7-9, 22-23):
- Liturgically, it must be holy. To be holy, the music must serve the spirit and norms of the liturgy and the faith it expresses. Is it closely connected with the liturgical action? Not all music is suitable. Even some socalled Sacred Music “cannot be part of the celebration without violating the spirit and norms of the liturgy itself” (Chirograph, 4). To be closely connected to the liturgical action, “the meaning and the proper nature of each part and of each song” must be carefully observed (MS 6). These norms are detailed in the General Instruction of the Roman Missal (GIRM) and Musicam Sacram (MS).
Does it express the Church’s faith and teaching? The text should be based on appropriate scriptural or liturgical texts. It should refer to God in the persons of the Trinity. It should express the nature of the Church as the People of God and the Body of Christ. It must not conflict with the catechetical teaching and tradition of the Church.
- Musically, it must be beautiful. Much of the beauty of liturgical music is in its apt suitability to liturgical prayer. Does it possess sound form? The melodic range and contour, the harmony, rhythm and tempo must be aptly suited to singing by the intended music ministers – priest, cantor, schola (choir) and assembly. The form of song must be aptly suited to the particular part of the liturgy – cantillation (for prayers, readings and proclamations), dialogue, acclamation, litany, responsorial psalm, processional antiphon or song with repeating refrain, or hymn. Is it true art? It must have enduring appeal, able to bear the weight of repeated singing over time. Does it fully adhere to the text it presents? It must suitably embody the text of the liturgy. Prescribed texts must be used without variation. Where texts are not prescribed, “they must be in keeping with the parts of the Mass, the feast or the liturgical season” (MS 36). Does it synchronise with the intended time and moment in the liturgy? The music should be synchronised to begin and end at the times specified by the rite. “The various moments in the Liturgy require a musical expression of their own. From time to time this must fittingly bring out the nature proper to a specific rite, now proclaiming God’s marvels, now expressing praise, supplication or even sorrow” (Chirograph, 5). Does it reflect the gestures of the rite? It must be aptly suited to any gestures, actions or processions it accompanies (e.g. the breaking of the bread, the procession and presentation of the gifts).
- Pastorally, it must be universal. The music must be suited to the particular assembly while respecting the need for universal appeal. Does it comply with the legitimate demands for adaptation and inculturation? The music should be in a language that is comprehensible to the majority (Chirograph, 6). There are many local cultural adaptations as well as special provisions for Masses with children and other special groups that must be considered. Your parish priest is best placed to discern what adaptations are applicable for a given situation.
Does it involve the entire assembly in the celebration? The music must invite prayerful participation in each and every person, young and old. The Diocese of Wollongong is developing a common repertoire for parishes and schools in the Diocese to meet this important pastoral need.
Is it deserving of universal esteem, offending nobody? Personal tastes in music vary greatly in a parish assembly. While not everything chosen will be everyone’s favourite, all the music must be deserving of everyone’s esteem. Music that offends anyone’s prayerful sensibilities should be avoided.
As you can see, the use of music in the Liturgy is an important part of the worship. Hopefully this article will motivate us to a more active participation and also help us to appreciate the effort that music ministry members put into the preparation of the weekly worship. Once again, if there is anyone interested in forming a choir to support the Masses on Sunday mornings that would be highly appreciated.