How to choose the right music for liturgical celebrations
"...The General Instruction on the Roman Missal indicates clearly that acclamations and responses have priority when it comes to deciding what parts of the Mass to sing..."
"...In deciding whether a piece of music is liturgically appropriate, there are a number of areas to be considered. The style of the musical piece should reflect the nature of that part of the Mass where it is to be used..."
The Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy states: “To promote active participation, the people should be encouraged to take part by means of acclamations, responses, psalmody, antiphons and song…” (#30).
The General Instruction on the Roman Missal indicates clearly that acclamations and responses have priority when it comes to deciding what parts of the Mass to sing.
There are four acclamations which should be sung at Mass, even if there is no other singing: the Gospel Acclamation, and three acclamations during the Eucharistic Prayer– ‘Holy, Holy’, memorial acclamation and great amen. Musical settings of these acclamations should enable people to sing them from memory and to join in these songs of the whole assembly without great difficulty.
The basic criterion for deciding whether a particular piece of music is suitable is the musical judgment. This involves assessing the music on its technical, aesthetic and expressive qualities. Only artistically sound music is appropriate and effective in worship.
This does not mean, however, that only one style of music should be used in liturgy. Good music is to be found across a variety of forms, including chants, metrical hymns, responsorial music, and contemporary composition.
While all music used in liturgy needs to be good music, not all good music is suitable for liturgy. As well as the musical judgment, selecting music for worship must also be made on liturgical grounds.
In deciding whether a piece of music is liturgically appropriate, there are a number of areas to be considered. The style of the musical piece should reflect the nature of that part of the Mass where it is to be used. For example, a hymn which relates well to the readings for a particular celebration is only a good choice as an entrance song if it also serves well the purpose of gathering the assembly.
Those choosing music should understand the feasts and seasons of the Church’s year and to have studied closely the scripture readings and prayer texts for the celebration. They also need to ask whether the musical setting expresses and interprets the text correctly and makes it more meaningful.
The third criterion to be met is the pastoral judgment. This involves making decisions about whether a particular piece of music enables this assembly to express its faith at this time and in this place. Is it appropriate for the age, culture and education of the congregation? Is it within the capabilities of the organist and song leader?
The choice of music for parish Masses is not determined by the personal preferences of the parish music co-ordinator. The musical judgment is made by the people with expertise in music and knowledge of available resources. The liturgical judgment requires knowledge of the structure, flow and spirit of the liturgy. Making sound pastoral judgments depends on knowing the tradition and culture of a particular parish community.