Issue of September 19, 2021
Mt. Province

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Music in the liturgy (part II)

Music in the liturgy has important roles and functions and has a hierarchy to follow.

Music director Kathleen Harmon of the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur presented the hierarchy of liturgical music such as hierarchy of form and hierarchy of function. It therefore entails a careful selection of songs for the Holy Mass.

Every song of the liturgy has a function and purpose. Music ministries must be able to determine the music for the liturgy from devotional songs, praise and worship songs, inspirational songs, and secular songs.

Sometimes Protestant songs are being adapted to the liturgy because of its “singability” and emotions but at one point, it is giving a wrong understanding and impression to the people that the holy mass is just the same with the praise and worship of other sects. The holy mass is unique. It is a sacrament and not a mere praise and worship.

We continue to ponder on the guidelines of liturgical music provided by the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops.

To help us hear God’s Word

Our hymn texts celebrate the various aspects of God’s revelation in Jesus, in his ministry and paschal mystery, in the Church, in the saints and in the life of God’s faithful people. Throughout the three-year cycle of the Lectionary readings, the life and mission of Jesus is presented according to the evangelist whose Gospel is proclaimed each Sunday. Hymns function as formative instruments, providing images and metaphors rooted in the Sacred Scriptures which call us to an ever more committed life as disciples of the Lord. Some texts include quotations of the Sacred Scriptures; others allude to scriptural images.

To help us celebrate the season

Some hymns have melodies that are used only during specific seasons, so the melody itself alerts us to certain narratives. Memory calls forth God’s revealing presence in one’s own particular life and within the life of the worshipping community.

A means of dialogue

Music also provides the assembly with a melody for its dialogue, either with God or with other ministers in the assembly. For example, during the Liturgy of the Eucharist, the preface dialogue engages the presiding priest and assembly in powerful dialogue which leads all to participate in their respective ways in the one great eucharistic prayer. Note the action words: lift up, give thanks. The purpose of this is to draw the assembly into the act of giving thanks and praise to God. The best way of doing so is to sing these texts, lest their weekly or daily spoken repetition gives way to monotony.

Full, conscious, and active participation

Music in the liturgy is intended to foster the full, conscious, and active participation of all the faithful in the Church’s public prayer. By joining our hearts and minds together, knowing the mystery we celebrate and to whom we give praise and thanks, we are led to the kind of participation which is so earnestly desired by the pastors of the Church. Music is integral to the structure of all of our liturgical rites and therefore, integral to our worship of God.

The assembly

The primary minister of music is the assembly itself. Every member of the assembly is called to participate in the liturgy by way of acclamations, responses, psalms, antiphons and other songs. With the support of competent music ministers, the entire assembly is enabled to voice its song of praise to the God of salvation. By joining their voices in song the members of the assembly express their unity in Christ, acclaim Christ’s presence in word and sacrament, and exercise their baptismal priesthood, offering a living sacrifice of praise to God.

The choir

Choirs exercise a distinct ministry within the liturgy and are, therefore, to be diligently promoted. Most often the choir provides leadership by supporting the song of the assembly. Sometimes the choir enhances the people’s song with harmony and descants. Occasionally, the choir alone will sing works that are beyond the competence of the assembly to sing, but which, nevertheless, enrich its prayer. At all times, the choir is part of the assembly and enriches its prayer.

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