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Considering the Lenses of Sing to the Lord:
The Relationship between the Three Judgments
and the Two Dimensions, One Context
Paul Colloton  

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.

The Liturgical Judgment
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
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
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 are tricky.

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.

Three Judgments: One Evaluation
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.

Two Dimensions and Their One Context
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
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?"

The Spiritual Dimension
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
"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" (STL, Foreword).

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 taking part?"

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 missing elements?

Paul H. Colloton, OP, DMin,
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

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