Sing to the Lord: Music in Divine Worship (STL) was issued by
the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops as a set of guidelines,
"designed to provide direction to those preparing for the celebration
of the Sacred Liturgy according to the current liturgical
books (in the ordinary form of celebration)" (STL, pre-foreword).
I will focus on the two lenses that STL offers to guide the choice
of music for the liturgy: "The Three Judgments, One Evaluation"
and the "Two Dimensions" and "One Context." These lenses are
similar to a lens in a pair of glasses. Each lens helps a person see
through one eye but with limited perspective. When using both
lenses, seeing is clearer and contains the breadth of perspective
needed to negotiate life more surely. The Three Judgments, One
Evaluation and Two Dimensions, One Context offer a kind of
20/20 vision for choosing liturgical music.
The three judgments are not new to most people involved in
choosing music for Roman Catholic worship. They were first
articulated in The Place of Music in Eucharistic Celebrations (PMEC), published by the United States Bishops Committee on
the Liturgy (BCL) in 1968 (Edward Foley, Capuchin, A Lyrical
Vision: The Music Documents of the U.S. Bishops [Collegeville:
Liturgical Press, 2009], 22). Music in Catholic Worship (MCW),
published in 1972 as a BCL document expanded them. They
often have been used in opposition to one another, as if they were
"competing judgments in which one voice eventually prevailed
rather than three voices in a mutual dialogue leading to a consensus"
(Foley, 36). Like the Milwaukee document that preceded
it, STL makes clear that these judgments are aspects of one
evaluation (STL, 126).
STL shifts the order in which the judgments are presented.
MCW started with the musical judgment (26–29), followed by
the liturgical judgment (30–38), and then the pastoral judgment
(39–41). STL starts with the liturgical judgment (127–129), followed
by the pastoral judgment (130–133), and then the musical
judgment (134–136). Saint Thomas Aquinas taught that ordo est
sapientia (order is wisdom). This reordering is important. It
affirms the integral nature of music in Roman Catholic liturgy
and that music serves the liturgy, not the other way around.
Sacrosanctum Concilium (SC) states:
||The musical tradition of the universal Church is a treasure of
inestimable value, greater even than that of any other art.
The main reason for this preeminence is that, as sacred song
bound to the text, it forms a necessary or integral part of
the solemn liturgy . . . . Therefore sacred music will be the
more holy the more closely it is joined to the liturgical rite,
whether by adding delight to prayer, fostering oneness of
spirit, or investing the rites with greater solemnity. (SC, 112)
Anthony Ruff, OSB, notes that, "Conceptually, liturgy comes
before music" (Anthony Ruff, OSB, Sacred Music and Liturgical
Reform: Treasures and Transformations © 2007 Hillenbrand
Books). Hans Urs von Balthasar reminds us that "Earthly liturgy
is liturgy because and only because it joins what is already in
process, the greater reality," the heavenly liturgy (The Glory of
the Lord: A Theological Aesthetics, vol. III © 1991 St. Ignatius
Press, 129). Music is integral to and serves the liturgy.
Liturgy is celebrated by a real community from various
cultures, ages, traditions, abilities, and needs, in real time (see
Lawrence A. Hoffman, Beyond the Test: A Holistic Approach to
Liturgy © Indiana University Press, 1987, 6). Therefore, the pastoral
and musical judgments are equally important. To answer
whether "this particular piece of music [is] appropriate for this
use in the particular Liturgy" (STL, 126) requires the expertise of
liturgists, musicians, pastoral ministers, and the baptized, in dialogue
with one another. I liken this to the directive in the GIRM:
||The pastoral effectiveness of a celebration will be greatly
increased if the texts of the readings, the prayers, and the
liturgical songs correspond as closely as possible to the needs,
spiritual preparation, and culture of those taking part. This
is achieved by appropriate use of the wide options described
below. The priest, therefore, in preparing for the celebration
of Mass, should have in mind the common spiritual good of
the people of God, rather than his own inclinations. He
should, moreover, remember that the selection of different
parts is to be made in agreement with those who have some
role in the celebration, including the faithful, in regard to
the parts that more directly pertain to each. (GIRM, 352)
In other words, anyone involved in preparing and leading
the liturgy needs to be in a dialogue that reflects the "cooperation,
consultation, collaboration, and mutual respect" (STL, 126)
that the music document demands. Let's look at what each judgment
contributes to the dialogue.
This judgment asks, "Is this composition capable of meeting the
structural and textual requirements set forth by the liturgical
books for this particular rite?" (STL, 127). An answer requires
familiarity with the liturgical rite being planned: its structure,
texts, place in the liturgical year or our sacramental system, purpose
in our life of faith, and the difference the way a community
will celebrate this rite makes.
The Responsorial Psalm can provide an example for us.
Structurally, it follows the First Reading and is an integral part
of the Liturgy of the Word. Its purpose is to help the assembly
meditate on the word of God. It should have some relationship
to the reading just proclaimed and be taken, "as a rule," from the
Lectionary. As a psalm, it is preferable that it be sung. As part of
the word of God, it is sung from the ambo. Finally, the assembly
is to have some voice in the psalm, either by singing in alternation
(responsorially) or by singing the psalm straight through.
The liturgical judgment makes a difference.
The pastoral judgment relates to the particular community that
will celebrate the liturgy at a given time and place so as to deepen
their relationship with Christ. It asks, "Will this composition
draw this particular people closer to the mystery of Christ,
which is at the heart of this celebration?" (STL, 133). Answering
this question requires attentiveness to the community and their
needs, realities, and abilities, along with how they express and
deepen faith. Just as someone skilled in the liturgy is needed to
address the liturgical judgment, someone with pastoral skill is
needed to address this judgment.
The pastoral judgment ultimately asks questions of faith,
such as: "Does a musical composition promote the sanctification
of the members of the liturgical assembly by drawing them
closer to the holy mysteries being celebrated? Does it strengthen
their formation in faith by opening their hearts to the mystery
being celebrated on this occasion or in this season? Is it capable
of expressing the faith that God has planted in their hearts and
summoned them to celebrate?" (STL, 130)
How can someone unfamiliar with the people who will gather
begin to answer these questions? How can someone begin to
answer these questions without being aware of the diverse customs
and traditions, whether that diversity is due to age, ethnicity,
language, education, or theology? In our diverse Church,
people bring "their own musical tradition, and this plays a great
part in their religious and social life. For this reason, their music
should be held in proper esteem and a suitable place is to be
given to it, not only in forming their religious sense but also in
adapting worship to their native genius" (STL, 119).
This judgment is concerned with more than language.
People pray differently in the music that formed their faith and
that includes its rhythms, styles of melody, and instrumentation.
Prayer traditions also include sights, smells, and all the senses,
so color, religious art, and the use of silence make a difference.
The pastoral judgment asks us to enter into the experience of the
other if we want to find ways for all members of our assemblies
to find a home in the liturgy and its music. This is not an easy
task! That is why we need to consider the musical experience of a
given assembly, "lest forms of musical expression that are alien
to their way of worshiping be introduced precipitously. On the
other hand, one should never underestimate the ability of persons
of all ages, cultures, languages, and levels of education to
learn something new and to understand things that are properly
and thoroughly introduced" (STL, 132).
The musical judgment has to do with aesthetics, beauty, and
musicality and their ability to "bear the weight of the mysteries
celebrated in the Liturgy" (STL, 134). This judgment asks, "Is
this composition technically, aesthetically, and expressively
worthy?" (STL, 134). As the National Association of Pastoral
Musicians Study Guide to STL notes, "This artistic judgment,
which requires musical competence, has a spiritual purpose . . . .
Only music judged to be artistically sound will have the enduring
qualities necessary to disclose the presence and action of God
that the liturgy celebrates" (J. Michael McMahon, Paul Colloton,
OP, Gordon Truitt, Seven Sessions: The NPM Study Guide to Sing
to the Lord: Music in Divine Worship © 2009 NPM Publications.
But questions of beauty, aesthetics, and what is musically sound
Determining beauty depends upon the culture, age, and
background of the people defining it. What is beautiful to someone
from one culture or life experience is not necessarily so to
someone from another, and vice versa. However, there is a characteristic
of beauty that seems to approach objectivity, that is,
when something touches the heart in a way that leaves one transformed
by an encounter with the one who is the Creator of all.
No matter how we would answer the question of beauty, STL
reminds us that we cannot allow "the cheap, the trite, or the
musical cliché often found in popular songs . . . to cheapen the
Liturgy, to expose it to ridicule, and to invite failure" (STL, 135).
The cheap and trite do not pass the test of time, although it can
take time to know that. The aesthetic and artistically sound seem
to pass that test. And beauty is not equated with any one style:
"the Church has not adopted any particular style of art as her
own. She has admitted styles from every period, in keeping with
the natural characteristics and conditions of peoples and the
needs of the various rites" (SC, 123, quoted in STL, 136). Making
the musical judgment requires musical skill and openness to the
music of all times, places, and peoples.
As I hope is clear from the discussion in these preceding paragraphs,
each voice, that of the liturgist, that of the pastoral person,
and that of the musician, lends an important ingredient to
the recipe of what music will help a particular gathering of the
body of Christ pray the liturgy. Without the voice of the liturgist,
music might be chosen that is pastorally and musically effective,
but does not serve the rite being celebrated. Without that of the
pastoral person, the selection might be liturgically correct and
musically sound, but will not help this gathered assembly enter
into prayer, fully, consciously, or actively, as SC, 114, reminds us
is our right and duty by virtue of our Baptism. Without that of
the musician, the liturgy might be served but the community
may not experience the kind of music that "bears the weight of
the mysteries celebrated in the Liturgy" and is "technically, aesthetically,
and expressively worthy," no matter its source. All
three voices, all three judgments, are needed to use the gift of song
that God has planted in human beings in ways that empower
them to glorify God and grow in holiness. This lens asks us to
collaborate, to speak and listen in ways that benefit the worshipping
community. The lens found in STL's discussion of the two
dimensions and one context is an important complement.
These words from SC bear repeating: "Sacred music is to be considered
the more holy the more closely connected it is with the
liturgical action, whether making prayer more pleasing, promoting
unity of minds, or conferring greater solemnity upon the sacred
rites" (SC, 112). Holiness is related to two dimensions of liturgical
music: ritual, the external manifestation of the spiritual, and
one's inner relationship with the holy. They are considered within
a cultural context, a community's shared attitudes, values, goals,
and practices, that is, both external and internal. These dimensions
and context ask us to focus on the ability of music in the
liturgy to express and deepen faith, to draw people closer to the
mystery of Christ, and to deepen one's relationship with God
and God's people. This lens asks us to consider the presence and
action of God that the liturgy celebrates and reveals.
The ritual dimension reflects the fact that liturgical music must
be "connected with the liturgical action so that it accords with
the structure of the Liturgy and expresses the shape of the rite"
(STL, 68). Music in the liturgy must "allow the rite to unfold
with the proper participation of the assembly and its ministers,
without overshadowing the words and actions of the Liturgy"
(STL, 68). Can you hear echoes of the liturgical judgment? This
dimension reaffirms that music serves and does not overshadow
the liturgy. It asks, "Does this musical setting help the rite unfold
in ways that invite participation and serves the liturgy or does it
overshadow the rite being celebrated?"
Spirituality has to do with one's relationship with God and helping
people touch the one who calls us by name, gathers us for
worship, and to whom our worship gives glory and praise. The
spiritual dimension of sacred music has to do with "its inner
qualities that enable it to add greater depth to prayer, unity to
the assembly, or dignity to the ritual" (STL, 69). The spiritual
dimension addresses the ways that music mediates or facilitates
God's holiness to the gathered assembly and their communion
with God and one another through Christ. I hear echoes of the
musical judgment. If music is going to mediate God's presence
to people and invite them into deeper relationship with God and
one another, skill in assessing music's inner qualities is needed.
What kinds of music touch the heart, express faith, help people
touch the holy and grow in communion with one another?
"The cultural context refers to the setting in which the ritual and
spiritual dimensions come into play" (STL, 70). This setting
includes: "age, spiritual heritage, and cultural and ethnic background,"
and choosing a piece of music "will often depend on
those ways in which a particular group finds it best to join their
hearts and minds to the liturgical action" (STL, 70). We are
incarnate beings. One needs to know the gathered assembly.
What helps them pray? What helps them know God's presence
in their midst? What fosters their ability to become the Christ
put on in Baptism? What hinders it? Where are they already in
communion with one another and where is there a break in that
union that might require healing and reconciliation? The answer
to these questions requires the same kind of attentiveness to
people and their lives of faith that the pastoral entails.
The musical judgment is also reflected here: "In discerning
the sacred quality of liturgical music, liturgical musicians will
find guidance in music from the Church's treasury of sacred
music . . . . They also should strive to promote a fruitful dialogue
between the Church and the modern world" (STL, 71). In
other words, no one style of music can answer the questions this
context raises. We need the wealth of our tradition along with
the wealth a dialogue with the diversity between the musical and
artistic expressions of different regions, nations, ages, and cultures
bring (STL, 67, refers to Gaudium et Spes, 62). What music
will help this assembly join their minds and hearts to the liturgical
action and grow in union with God and with one another?
Part of the answer comes from attending to pastoral needs.
Another part will come from someone whose musical skill and
competence attends to musical needs and abilities.
A pair of glasses has two lenses. The Three Judgments, One
Evaluation is one lens to guide a community's choice of music
appropriate for the liturgy. The Two Dimensions and their One
Context is another. Each lens complements the other to give all
involved in preparing the liturgy concrete and practical tools to
which a community can turn for the direction our Bishops' wish
to offer us, based on the Church's theology of worship and the
history of liturgical music. Together, they can help us answer
the Bishops' prayer that "this document will draw all who worship
the Lord into the fullness of liturgical, musical prayer"
1. How do you experience music as an integral part to
celebrating the liturgy?
2. When the liturgy is celebrated without music, what is missing?
3. How collaborative is your liturgy planning? What could
improve your planning so that it "correspond[s] as closely as
possible to the needs, spiritual preparation, and culture of those
4. How has music mediated your experience of God or your
communion with Christ in the liturgy?
5. Can you identify all the players who comprise the cultural context
of your parish or the diocese of which your parish is a part?
6. How do your celebration of the rites of the Church and your
choice of music reflect the context you describe in answering
question five? What is missing? How could you incorporate the
is an ordained friar of the Order
of Preachers (Dominicans), Province of St. Albert the Great.
The director of Continuing Education for the National Association
of Pastoral Musicians has 40 years of experience in pastoral
ministry as a preacher, presider, musician, liturgist, music educator,
spiritual companion, consultant, and in HIV/AIDS ministry.
This is the second in a series of articles reflecting on the Sing to the Lord: Music in Divine Worship. Those using the study guide may find it helpful to read the document, which can be found online at the web site of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, www.USCCB.org.
Part I: How Firm a Foundation: The Theology of Sing to the Lord: Music in Divine Worship
Part II: Considering the Lenses of Sing to the Lord:The Relationship between the Three Judgments and the Two Dimensions, One Context
Part III: Catechizing the Faithful
Part IV: Cultural, Multicultural, and Intercultural Perspectives
Part V: Sing to the Lord and Psalmody in the Life of the Church
Part VI: Helpful Guidelines for Challenging Issues