Straight to point!

Why Should Priests Sing?

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The ICEL introduction to the chants for the new Roman Missal notes a number of reasons why the priest celebrant   should sing:

 1. To preserve the tradition of unaccompanied singing which gives the Liturgy a more noble form;

 2. To continue the realization of a goal given by the Second Vatican Council in the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy of “full and active participation” of all the people;

3. To reinforce, by chanting, the accentuation of the English language; and

4. To preserve the vernacular chants already in use.  [What about Latin?  Sacrosanctum Concilium says that people should be taught – by their pastors – both to speak and to sing all the parts pertaining to them in both Latin and their mother tongue.  Do we belong to the Latin Church? cf. Sacrosanctum Concilium 54; Musicam sacram 47]

The USCCB’s 2007 guidelines on music in the Liturgy, Sing to the Lord: Music in Divine Worship, explicitly address the role of the priest in singing the Liturgy in paragraphs 18-21. These paragraphs highlight the importance of the priest singing the presidential prayers and the dialogues of the Liturgy according to his ability. As previously stated, the implementation of the revised Roman Missal is an opportunity for priests to expand their own abilities and to learn to sing the revised texts of the parts of the Mass.

Even if the priest himself is not confident singing alone he should definitely pay attention to his singing with the rest of the community in congregational song. [cf. Sacrosanctum Concilium 54; Musicam sacram 47] If the celebrant is not perceived as interested in the communal singing of the Liturgy, it will almost always influence the way in which the community will respond in song. Here the truism can apply: “lead by example.” [This is perhaps an issue for discussion: is this something woven into the warp and weft of the Novus Ordo?  The priest has to … encourage?] In addition, the priest, by his attention and participation, should support the role of the cantor and psalmist. The priest also needs to be careful in the use of the microphone when singing with the gathered assembly, in order to avoid having his voice overpower that of the people.

Finally, in preparation for the reception of the Missal, pastors can point out to the faithful the overall importance of music in the Liturgy, [perhaps even along the lines the Church actually write about sacred music… about Gregorian chant and polyphony having pride of place, for example, about how the true texts to be sung are found in the Roman Missal rather than in a hymn book.]as well as the various parts of the Mass that should be sung and who should sing them.

In his 2006 Apostolic Exhortation Sacramentum Caritatis, Pope Benedict XVI notes that liturgical song has “preeminent place” as an aspect or building block of the ars celebrandi, the art of liturgical celebration (see no. 42). [See below.] Singing not only at the Liturgy but singing of the Liturgy (i.e., singing the rites themselves), [NB: The texts to be sung are in the Roman Missal.  They are first and foremost the antiphons in the Missale Romanum.] which involves both the priest and the gathered assembly, is an important tool for fostering the full, conscious, and active – and therefore fruitful – participation in the Liturgy. The implementation of the revised Roman Missal provides an opportunity for pastors and parishes to evaluate their practices and commit to embracing the ars celebrandi, which will lead to more fruitful worship and prayer.

Let’s quote what Pope Benedict wrote in Sacramentum caritatis:

42. In the ars celebrandi, liturgical song has a pre-eminent place. Saint Augustine rightly says in a famous sermon that “the new man sings a new song. Singing is an expression of joy and, if we consider the matter, an expression of love”. The People of God assembled for the liturgy sings the praises of God. In the course of her two-thousand-year history, the Church has created, and still creates, music and songs which represent a rich patrimony of faith and love. This heritage must not be lost. Certainly as far as the liturgy is concerned, we cannot say that one song is as good as another. Generic improvisation or the introduction of musical genres which fail to respect the meaning of the liturgy should be avoided. As an element of the liturgy, song should be well integrated into the overall celebration. Consequently everything – texts, music, execution – ought to correspond to the meaning of the mystery being celebrated, the structure of the rite and the liturgical seasons. Finally, while respecting various styles and different and highly praiseworthy traditions, I desire, in accordance with the request advanced by the Synod Fathers, that Gregorian chant be suitably esteemed and employed as the chant proper to the Roman liturgy.


Written by Erineus

January 31, 2012 at 1:04 am

Posted in Liturgy, Mass

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