Why priests should sing during Holy Mass

The August newletter of the USCCB’s Committee on Divine Liturgy has some pages dedicated to music for the upcoming translation of the Roman Missal

Among the points made by the Committee…

Why Should Priests Sing?

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.

I am all for promoting sung liturgy.

Let us sing the liturgical music of the Church!

Later in the same newsletter we read also:


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.


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  1. Jordanes says:

    One of the thing I’ve especially loved about the times I’ve been blessed to take part in Byzantine Divine Liturgies is that it is entirely sung — even the lections from Holy Scripture!

  2. Jordanes: Sounds the the Roman Rite, properly celebrated.

  3. chironomo says:

    I find it humorous, and have written about it several times, that publications such as “Today’s Liturgy”, “NPM Journal” and “GIA Quarterly” always bring this up in their commentary and analysis of Sing To The Lord. They emphasize the “importance of the Priest singing”, but then leave out the rest of what the document says about WHAT they are supposed to be singing. SttL is very clear that the sung dialogues are of the greatest importance, and that these texts, chanted, should be the top priority. It also emphasizes that the faithful should be able to sing those parts of the Ordinary in Latin that are indicated in the Missal. Instead of pointing out these parts of the document, however, the mainstream publications are more likely to point out the few sentences dealing with “diversity” and “participation”, or the useless introductory section … “Why We Sing”.

  4. Traductora says:

    I agree…priests shouldn’t be belting the latest (well, as of 1979) St Louis Jesuits ditty, and they should be singing the mass parts, in an appropriate chant. The interesting thing about sung speech is that it is actually much easier to understand in any language, so if understanding is the key, singing is much better, whether in Latin or the vernacular. It’s also easier for the speaker. Even people who have stammers, for example, can generally sing or chant without a problem.

  5. At the Sacred Music Colloquium in Chicago this past June, Fr. Jeffrey Keyes celebrated a sung Ordinary-Form Mass in English according to the current ICEL translation. Here are the mp3 files; not one word was spoken.

    Yes, Latin ought to be used more widely. But singing the texts would be a good start. After all, if “singing is for lovers,” why ought we mutter “and also with you” at the Wedding Feast of the Lamb?

  6. Jeff Pinyan says:

    “[NB: The texts to be sung are in the Roman Missal. They are first and foremost the antiphons in the Missale Romanum.]”

    Except where the Missale’s antiphons deviate — for whatever reason, I don’t know — from the Graduale!

  7. Random Friar says:

    Aristotle: As the kids would say… SWEET! Thanks for the link!

  8. TJM says:

    If the vernacular Mass were chanted from beginning to end, and celebrated ad orientem, it would immediately take on tremendous dignity, a transcendent quality, and feel very much like the TLM. Tom

  9. Indeed I support this as well…(even with a sore throat as I’m typing this)…Though I didn’t find the Gradual, offertory, and Communion Chants in the Missal (They should be put there in the new edition)

  10. Agnes says:

    Just so long as we can be spared “On Eagle’s Wings”.

    Unless it was in Latin.

    No. Not. Ever.

  11. ssoldie says:

    Again I say come, to the “Gregorian Rite Mass” at Flensburg and pray the High Mass and listen to the beautiful voices of the choir, like angels singing. It sure beats ‘Shall we gather at the river’ among many.

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