Sing to the Lord: Music in Divine Worship (STL)
begins with an examination of why we sing. It
acknowledges God as the giver of the gift of song.
Song, in turn, becomes a vehicle for reaching "to
the realm of higher things. Music is . . . a sign of
God's love for us and of our love for him" (STL, 2).
As with all gifts, it is God who initiates the gift of
song, and we who are to respond.
Music is both a personal and communal
experience. "Thus, it is no wonder that singing
together in church expresses so well the sacramental
presence of God to his people" (STL, 2).
Whenever the members of the Catholic community
gather for worship, their common song
"strengthens [their] faith when it grows weak and
draws [them] into the divinely inspired voice of
the Church at prayer" (STL, 5). "Faith grows when
it is well expressed in celebration. . . . Good music
‘make[s] the liturgical prayers of the Christian
community more alive and fervent so that everyone
can praise and beseech the Triune God more powerfully,
more intently and more effectively'" STL, 5, Musicae Sacrae
Disciplina (On Sacred Music) (MSD), 5.
Sing to the Lord reaffirms the principle that "within the
gathered assembly, the role of the congregation is especially
important" (STL, 11). Recognized by the Fathers of the Second
Vatican Council in Sacrosanctum Concilium (SC) (Constitution
on the Sacred Liturgy), this principle has been a guiding force
during the decades of liturgical reform. "The full and active participation
by all the people is the aim to be considered before all
else, for it is the primary and indispensable source from which
the faithful are to derive the true Christian spirit" (STL 11, 14).
Sacrosanctum Concilium proceeds to mention several ways in
which the assembly is to be engaged in the liturgy: five of these—acclamations, responses, psalmody, antiphons, and songs—involve music (SC, 30). Hence, the needs and role of the assembly,
in a special way regarding music, are to be held in highest regard.
How does the assembly become rooted in its musical role? Who
is charged with the mission of catechesis and formation? The
ultimate responsibility for forming the assembly falls to the
diocesan Bishop, who is to be "particularly concerned with the
promotion of the dignity of liturgical celebrations" (STL, 16).
He is charged with educating the liturgical professionals, with
the "promotion of the continuing musical education and formation
of clergy and musicians; and . . . [the] careful attention to
the musical training of future priests and deacons" (STL, 16).
The bishop is assisted in this role by his staff in the diocesan
office of worship and/or the diocesan music or liturgical
commission, which provides "valuable assistance in promoting
sacred music together with pastoral liturgical action in the diocese"
(STL, 16–17; Musicam Sacram, 68). Organizations such as
the National Association of Pastoral Musicians are invaluable in
assisting the bishops with this endeavor.
After the bishop and his diocesan office, the priest is
entrusted with guiding and forming the assembly, including
shaping them in their musical role. The priest's example becomes
a means of forming the assembly. "No other single factor affects
the Liturgy as much as the attitude, style, and bearing of the
priest celebrant" (STL, 18). He "sings the presidential prayers
and dialogues of the Liturgy according to his capabilities, and he
encourages sung participation in the Liturgy by his own example,
joining in the congregational song" (STL, 19).
STL continues: "Seminaries and other programs of priestly
formation should train priests to sing with confidence and to
chant those parts of the Mass assigned to them" (STL, 20). (See
below for a discussion concerning which parts of the Mass should
be sung). Thus, priests should radiate confidence and comfort
with singing and chanting their parts of the liturgy.
"After the priest, the deacon is first among the liturgical
ministers, and he should provide an example by actively participating
in the song of the gathered assembly . . . . Programs of
diaconal preparation should include major and compulsory
courses in the chant and song of the Liturgy," so that deacons
can prayerfully execute in song "those parts of the Liturgy that
belong to them" (STL, 22–23).
The lay faithful also have a special role in the music of the
liturgy, "so that they may give thanks to God and offer the spotless
Victim not only through the hands of the priest but also
together with him, and so that they may learn to offer themselves"
(STL, 24; General Instruction on the Roman Missal, 95).
Among the lay faithful, "Some members . . . are recognized
for the special gifts they exhibit in leading the musical
praise and thanksgiving of Christian assemblies. These are the
liturgical musicians . . . and their ministry is especially cherished
by the Church" (STL, 48).
Who are these liturgical musicians? They are the members
of the choir, the cantor, organist and other instrumentalists, and
the director of music ministries. This group is as diverse as any
can be, coming from every background and walk of life, ranging
in age from children to senior citizens, some being volunteers
and others paid professionals. No matter their specific role
within music ministry, Sing to the Lord clearly states that the
assembly has a "right to expect that [the] service [of these liturgical
musicians] will be provided competently" (STL, 50). Just how
does this happen? How is the liturgical musician formed, educated,
and catechized in this ministry? What skills are needed in
this important ministerial role?
STL presents educational standards, stating that the musician
needs to embrace "a love and knowledge for Scripture,
Catholic teaching, Liturgy, and music." Their formation should
provide them with "the musical, liturgical, and pastoral skills"
necessary "to serve the Church at prayer" (STL, 50). Clergy are
called on to encourage musicians to avail themselves of the
opportunities that universities and other formational programs
provide. The document states that "parishes and dioceses should
provide the financial support needed to ensure competent liturgical
musical leadership" (STL, 51), and that pastoral musicians
should be compensated justly for their work with "appropriate
wages and benefits that affirm the dignity of their work" (STL, 52,
Co-Workers in the Vineyard of the Lord, 63).
Sing to the Lord takes the extraordinary step of recognizing
that some directors of music ministries are members of other
faith traditions. This does not, however, excuse them from formation
in the faith. "It is significant as we go forward that directors
of music are properly trained to express our faith traditions
effectively and with pastoral sensitivity" (STL, 45). Hence, education
needs to be provided for all liturgical musicians, and in a
special way for those from other faith backgrounds, so that the
integrity of the liturgy can be celebrated well.
With an understanding of the people who share in the
responsibility for catechizing and forming the faithful in their
liturgical and musical roles, let us examine some of those parts
of the liturgy which should be sung and by whom.
When determining which parts of the liturgy should be sung,
and the manner in which those parts will be rendered, the principle
of progressive solemnity is to be applied. "Progressive
solemnity means that ‘between the solemn, fuller form of liturgical
celebration, in which everything that demands singing is in
fact sung, and the simplest form, in which singing is not used,
there can be various degrees according to the greater or lesser
place allotted to singing' " (STL, 111; MS, 7).
One factor that determines those parts that might be sung
is the liturgical importance of the day, with solemnities and then
feasts calling for a more festive celebration. Another determining
factor is the liturgical season. Penitential seasons such as
Advent and Lent call for more restraint and less use of music
and/or musical instruments. Within the parameters of progressive
solemnity, Sing to the Lord provides extensive details regarding
those parts of the liturgy that should be sung, just as have the
GIRM (2002) and Musicam Sacram (1967).
According to STL, 115, the singing of dialogues and acclamations
are of primary importance in all liturgical celebrations.
Next in order of importance are antiphons and psalms, then
refrains and repeated responses, and finally hymns. Given the
importance placed on the first category, "dialogues and acclamations,"
let us take a close look at these types of ritual elements.
Most assemblies in this country are familiar with the
Gospel acclamation, Sanctus, memorial acclamation, and Great
Amen. To a great extent, U.S. Catholic assemblies have taken a
sense of ownership of these acclamations, singing them readily
without the use of a participation aid.
On the other hand, the singing of dialogues is not as commonplace.
Part of the reason for this might stem from the lack of
attention given to dialogues in Music in Catholic Worship and
Liturgical Music Today. No mention of dialogues is made in
either of these U.S. documents. However, the Roman document
Musicam Sacram, which the Sacred Congregation of Rites issued
in 1967, cites dialogues in the "first degree" of participation by
the faithful. "The following belong to the first degree: (a) In the
entrance rites: the greeting of the priest together with the reply of
the people; the prayer. (b) In the Liturgy of the Word: the acclamations
at the Gospel. (c) In the Eucharistic Liturgy: the prayer
over the offerings; the preface with its dialogue and the Sanctus;
the final doxology of the Canon, the Lord's Prayer with its introduction
and embolism; the Pax Domini; the prayer after the
Communion; the formulas of dismissal" (Musicam Sacram, 29).
The singing of dialogues, for example, the Preface Dialogue,
is also emphasized in the General Instruction of the Roman Missal.
"Preference should be given especially to those [parts] to be sung
by the priest or the deacon or the lector, with the people responding"
(STL, 115a; GIRM, 40).
Why are the dialogues so important? What makes these
exchanges between priest, deacon, or lector and assembly so vital
to our worship experience? There are two reasons for this focus.
The first is the dialogic nature of the liturgy as an exchange
between God (who has inaugurated the dialogue) and the Church
(which responds to God's invitation through the power of the
Holy Spirit). The second is the need to unify in this one liturgical
act the two forms of sharing in Christ's priesthood—the ministerial
(ordained) priesthood and the royal (baptismal) priesthood
of all believers. The dialogues between priest and people, then,
are to "foster and bring about communion between priest and
people" (GIRM, 34) (Seven Sessions: The NPM Study Guide to
"Sing to the Lord: Music in Divine Worship," McMahon, J. Michael,
Colloton, Paul, OP, Truitt, Gordon E., NPM Publications, 2009).
Given the importance of the dialogues, clergy should be
instructed in the practice of singing their parts. "Music ministers
can support priests by giving them time and training"
(Newsletter of the Committee on Divine Worship of the United
States Conference of Catholic Bishops, August 2009, p. 29). When
priests' portions are rendered with confidence, assemblies will
learn to respond with equal assurance. "The importance of the
priest singing various parts of the Liturgy must also be explained
to the faithful" (ibid., paged 30). This can be done by the priest/
pastor as shepherd of his flock, or the music minister, or even
more effectively through a combination of both priest and musician.
Bulletin articles and/or brief rehearsals before Mass are but
a few of the effective means to achieving this end.
Lectors, if so disposed, should also be instructed to sing
another of the dialogues, the concluding acclamation of the
scripture readings: "The Word of the Lord." However, STL gives
room for this to be led by "someone other than the reader" (STL,
154). If not sung by the reader, the cantor is a probable alternate.
STL emphasizes that even "at daily Mass, the above priorities
should be followed . . . . Even when musical accompaniment is
not possible, every attempt should be made to sing the acclamations
and dialogues" (STL, 116). In other words, all of the faithful—priests, deacons, lectors, cantors, and assembly—should be so
comfortable with singing the dialogues and acclamations, that
they can sing them whenever the community gathers.
Latin has played a significant role in the history of Roman
Catholic liturgy. To that end, Sing to the Lord takes its cue from
earlier documents such as Sacrosanctum Concilium (#54) and
Musicam Sacram (#47), reaffirming the place of Latin in liturgical
music. After acknowledging the normative use of the vernacular
in "most liturgical celebrations in the dioceses of the
United States" (STL, 61), Sing to the Lord states that "care should
be taken to foster the role of Latin in the Liturgy, particularly in
liturgical song" (STL, 61). The Latin language can be especially
useful as a unifying factor when members of "different language
groups" are present at liturgical celebrations, such as at "international
and multicultural gatherings" (STL, 61).
Referring to the parts of the Ordinary of the Mass, Sing to
the Lord recommends that the assembly "should be able to sing
together in Latin those parts . . . of the Mass proper to them, at
least according to the simpler melodies" (STL, 61). The simpler
melodies to which STL refers are described in the section concerning
Gregorian Chant. "Each worshipping community in the
United States, including all age groups and all ethnic groups,
should, at a minimum, learn Kyrie KVI, Sanctus XVIII, and
Agnus Dei XVIII . . . . More difficult chants, such as Gloria VIII
and settings of the Credo and Pater Noster, might be learned
after the easier chants have been mastered" (STL, 75). Many parishes
in the United States already sing the easier Latin chants
listed above, especially during seasons such as Advent and Lent,
which "call for a certain musical restraint" (STL, 114). These
Latin chants can be sung effectively with organ accompaniment,
or a cappella, thus suiting the penitential seasons.
All of this being said, Sing to the Lord gives room for those
communities for which "the Latin language poses an obstacle . . .
for example, in pronunciation, understanding of the text, or
confident rendition of a piece." In these instances, "it would be
more prudent to employ a vernacular language in the liturgy"
(STL, 64). Pastors are given the authority to make determinations
of language, instructing them to "employ that form of
participation which best matches the capabilities of each congregation"
(STL, 66; MS, 47).
Sing to the Lord strikes a balance between the traditional, with
its emphasis on the Latin language and Gregorian chant, and the
contemporary, with its nod to music and composers of the current
era. "In every age, the Church has called upon creative artists
to give new voice to praise and prayer" (STL, 81).
Citing Gaudium et Spes, STL states, "New art forms adapted
to our times and in keeping with the characteristics of different
nations and regions should be acknowledged by the Church.
They also may be brought into the sanctuary whenever they
raise the mind up to God with suitable forms of expression and
in conformity with liturgical requirements" (footnote to STL, 71;
Gaudium et Spes, 62). Thus, "the Church joyfully urges composers
and text writers to draw upon their special genius so that
she can continue to augment the treasure house of sacred musical
art" (STL, 82).
The United States today is a veritable patchwork quilt of ethnicities.
The U.S. Bishops honor this diversity in Sing to the Lord and
other documents (for example, Welcoming the Stranger: Unity in
Diversity). "The valuable musical gifts of the diverse cultural and
ethnic communities should enrich the whole church . . . by
contributing to the repertory of liturgical song and to the growing
richness of Christian faith" (STL, 59). Thus, the assembly
becomes entrenched in "the unity that is shared in Christ" (STL, 59) as
"diverse languages and ethnicities [are woven] . . . into a tapestry
of sung praise" (STL, 60). Although challenging, this cultural
reciprocity is worth the effort, as it brings about an understanding
of other peoples, while accepting and, indeed, embracing their
traditions and gifts.
Thus, the parish repertoire that honors a mix of the traditional,
"contemporary, and the multi-cultural will assist the
assembly in understanding the history and diversity, the breadth
and depth of their Roman Catholic faith tradition."
After reading Sing to the Lord: Music in Divine Worship, consider
the National Association of Pastoral Seven Session Study Guide
for group discussion or individual study. NPM has also made
available the CDs of the Hovda lectures that focused on Sing to
the Lord during their 2009 national convention. World Library
Publications' booklet "The Role of Music in Worship: Sing to the
Lord in Pastoral Practice" gives an excellent overview of the
document, describes in detail its historical context, and explores
its impact on future generations.
While much has happened in the decades since the Second
Vatican Council, much work still lies ahead. "The musical formation
of the assembly must be a continuing concern in order to
foster full, conscious, and active participation" (STL, 26).
Sing to the Lord emphasizes the transformative power of
music in the liturgy, and its ability to send the assembly forth for
mission. "Particularly inspired by sung participation, the body
of the Word Incarnate goes forth to spread the Gospel with full
force and compassion" (STL, 9).
As we go forth in mission, let us "sing as wayfarers do —
sing but continue your journey. Do not grow tired, but sing with
joy" (STL, 259; Saint Augustine, Sermo, 256).
1. How are the music ministers in your parish formed in the
faith? How does this formation ensure that their ministry "will
be provided competently?"
2. Choose one aspect of Sing to the Lord that is new to your
parish community, for example, singing the Ordinary of the
Mass in Latin, or singing the dialogues. What steps might your
parish take in order to implement this?
3. When your community gathers for daily Mass, are the
dialogues and acclamations sung? If not, what steps might be
taken to put this into place?
4. What is your community doing to encourage your priests in
their role as musical leaders of your liturgical assembly? How
does the attitude and style of your priest(s) shape and form your
community in its musical role in liturgy?