The Centrality of Liturgy and the Eucharist
As Catholics, we know that celebrating the liturgy of the Church is at the heart of the way we give glory to God. The term ‘liturgy’ has its origins in the Greek word λειτουργίας, meaning ‘public work' or a 'service in the name of / on behalf of the people.' This word appears throughout the New Testament, and is understood to mean the participation of the People of God in the work of the Triune God (cf. Lk 1:23; Acts 13:2; Rom 15:16, 27; 2 Cor 9:12; Phil 2:14-
Through liturgy, Christ continues the work of our redemption in, with and through his Church. The liturgy is our way of participating publicly in the ongoing work of Christ – in worship, proclamation of the Gospel and active charity – to the glory of God (Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC), 1069-
The Function and Importance of Music in Liturgy
Our model for music in the liturgy is Jesus himself, who sang psalms with the apostles at the Last Supper (Mt 26:30; Mk 14:26). Music is an integral part of our participation in liturgy – an integral part of our participation in the work of God. For “when song and music are signs of the Holy Spirit’s presence and action, they encourage, in a certain way, communion with the Trinity” (John Paul II, Address to the Pontifical Institute of Sacred Music, 3; Chirograph on Sacred Music, 3).
The Second Vatican Council’s Constitution on Sacred Liturgy (CSL) made particular mention of the role of music in fulfilling the purpose of liturgy, which is the glory of God and the sanctification of the faithful (CSL 112). The Second Vatican Council’s Instruction on Music in the Liturgy, Musicam Sacram (MS), mentions five specific ministerial functions of music in the liturgy. Through music in the liturgy:
1. prayer is given a more graceful expression,
2. the mystery of the liturgy, with its hierarchical and community nature, is more openly shown,
3. the unity of hearts is more profoundly achieved by the union of voices,
4. minds are more easily raised to heavenly things by the beauty of the liturgy, and
5. the whole celebration more clearly prefigures the heavenly liturgy (cf. MS 4-
“One cannot find anything more religious and more joyful in sacred celebrations than a whole congregation expressing its faith and devotion in song” (MS 16).
“Great importance should therefore be attached to the use of singing in the celebration of the Mass, with due consideration for the culture of peoples and abilities of each liturgical assembly. Although it is not always necessary (e.g., in weekday Masses) to sing all the texts that are in principle meant to be sung, every care should be taken that singing by the ministers and the people is not absent in celebrations that occur on Sundays and on holy days of obligation” (General Instruction of the Roman Missal (GIRM), 40).
Our preparation and leadership of music within the Mass greatly assists the People of God, the community as the body of Christ, to experience "new life in the Spirit, involvement in the mission of the Church, and service to her unity" (CCC 1072).
The Role of the Music Ministry
The primary music minister in the liturgy is the assembly. At certain times the priest, the deacon, the choir, the musicians, the psalmist and the cantor have specific roles of their own. But there is no place in the liturgy for performances of art for art’s sake.
Of special importance are the roles of music director, choir director and music
coordinator, who are responsible for preparing, rehearsing and conducting the musical aspects of liturgical celebrations. They have a vital role in choosing the music and helping the assembly take an active part in the singing (cf. CSL 28, 30, 114, 118, and 121). The role of voice trainers is critical in preparing psalmists to sing the responsorial psalm.
“From the smooth coordination of all – the priest celebrant and the deacon, the acolytes, the altar servers, the readers, the psalmist, the schola cantorum (choir), the musicians, the cantor and the assembly – flows the proper spiritual atmosphere which makes the liturgical moment truly intense, shared in and fruitful” (Chirograph, 8).