QUAERITUR: Can choir director teach a song at homily time?

From a reader:

I am a choir director and my pastor would like me to teach the congregation a song during the homily. He will introduce me and I come to the front and take over from there. I am uncomfortable with this.

Wondering if I obey or if this represents a liturgical abuse that allows me to refrain.

I think you should do your best to talk him out of this bad idea.

Let us review Redemptionis Sacramentum:

[64.] The homily, which is given in the course of the celebration of Holy Mass and is a part of the Liturgy itself, “should ordinarily be given by the Priest celebrant himself. He may entrust it to a concelebrating Priest or occasionally, according to circumstances, to a Deacon, but never to a layperson. In particular cases and for a just cause, the homily may even be given by a Bishop or a Priest who is present at the celebration but cannot concelebrate”.

[65.] It should be borne in mind that any previous norm that may have admitted non-ordained faithful to give the homily during the eucharistic celebration is to be considered abrogated by the norm of canon 767 §1.  This practice is reprobated, [Which means it so thoroughly forbidden that it cannot be reestablished even by custom over time.] so that it cannot be permitted to attain the force of custom.

[66.] The prohibition of the admission of laypersons to preach within the Mass applies also to seminarians, students of theological disciplines, and those who have assumed the function of those known as “pastoral assistants”; nor is there to be any exception for any other kind of layperson, or group, or community, or association.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
This entry was posted in ASK FATHER Question Box and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.


  1. If it’s really really necessary to teach the congregation a song (and congregations HATE that), it’s something best done before Mass starts. (You could only do it after Mass, if you had some way to keep people from leaving. But chaining the doors wouldn’t really improve people’s learning skills….) Nowadays, I suppose you could also post it online or link to somebody else’s performance. If you did something like that every week, and put a note in the bulletin every week, you might actually build up some minor interest. But Catholics would rather go by what’s in the book and by hearing it — which is very like the Annunciation, really. :)

  2. annieoakley says:

    What about nuns? Sometimes a nun from an inner-city parish or a foreign mission will speak at the homily to talk about the work her community is doing and to ask us for help.

    Our choir director goes over new songs and responses before Mass – problem solved.

  3. FranzJosf says:

    Being a sometime Cathedral Music Director for many years, I would suggest that, if you want to talk him out of it, have a detailed alternative proposal, which includes the reasons (both concrete and abstract) that your plan will work, with a minimus of discomfort to all concerned.

    Against my better judgment, I tried the before-Mass rehearsal exactly once. I did it at the behest of a well-intentioned priest (not the Rector), afterwards deciding never to do it again.

    Some random considerations:

    As they say in England of teaching a choir Anglican Chant: “It’s better caught than taught.” I think the same is true for new congregational music.

    Before attempting the music with the congregation, have the tune occur twice in the same service, several weeks ahead of time. For instance, have the choir sing it during the Offertory; then, use the tune for organ music during Holy Communion. Have the choir sing it a second week, by themselves once again. The day the congregation is to sing it for the first time, use the tune in the Prelude before Mass. The results depend on the memorability and the musicality of the tune itself, but eventually success will be achieved. Needless to say, patience is required.

    Don’t introduce it on a major Feast.

    Introducing, say Credo III, is a different story. We simply announced ahead of time that we would be doing it. The choir carried it about a month before good participation happened. (Of course, some older parishioners remembered it from days gone by.) But it turned out to be a satisfactory experience for all.

    I broke my own “Feastday Rule” once. (It wasn’t actually a Feast, but it was a big gathering.) We were having a big Marian celebration, that happened to fall in Eastertide, so we wanted to do the Regina Coeli, instead of Salve Regina. Most people didn’t know it. Keeping in mind that it is short, straightforward, and simple, here’s what we did:

    Before the celebration began, the choir sang it, then I improvised on the tune, the choir sang it a second time, I continued improvising.

    I used the tune for a sort of Fanfare before and after the Gospel Acclamation.

    We all sang it and the close of the service, and it went very well.

  4. Titus says:

    What about nuns? Sometimes a nun from an inner-city parish or a foreign mission will speak at the homily to talk about the work her community is doing and to ask us for help.

    Well, nuns are laypersons, and thus are not permitted to preach during Mass. Of course, the practice of having informational announcements about, and sometimes by members of, worthwhile lay apostolates during the homily time but after the homily itself is widespread. My understanding is that this practice is frowned upon by some but that at the same time there is little consensus about where is a good place to have such things said.

    Long and short: nuns and religious sisters are not permitted to give homilies. “Please give money to my worthwhile organization about which I’m telling you” is not, by itself, a homily and shouldn’t be substituted for one, although it can probably follow one without too much problem.

  5. Usually when you want to have a nun speak about her work in the missions, or a layperson speak about donating to the school, I think the proper time is after the final blessing but before the recessional, isn’t it? (That’s when my Parish has done it, at least)

    That way people haven’t gotten up to leave yet, but it’s outside the prayer of Mass. (Remember, the whole Mass is a prayer, which is why we begin and end with the sign of the cross. It seems..irreverent to interrupt the prayer for ‘a word from our sponosrs…’)

  6. capchoirgirl says:

    AGREE, Suburbanbanshee. I HATE being taught a hymn before or during Mass. Actually, I hate it anytime. Half the congregation doesn’t sing, half the congregation tries to and it’s just awful. It’s like being in second grade and having the teacher coax out awful songs from reluctant students.

  7. cmm says:

    Give the lyrics to the pastor, and suggest he give his homily on the meaning of the words of the hymn. This will draw people’s attention to the hymn and might motivate them to try and learn it.

    If, after giving his homily on that topic, the pastor wishes the choir director to spend a few minutes teaching the music to the congregation, then why not. It would be tied to the homily and might be a natural continuation. I have never seen that done, but why not try it once (since that’s what the pastor wants) and see how it goes.

  8. Miriam says:

    Our homilies are kept just as homilies, which is very cool. Announcements are after communion but before the recessional.

    I am wondering how Father is going to introduce the corrected translation. He has spoken about it once or twice. I can’t wait.

    Overall our parish is pretty orthodox. It is small (fewer than 800) families but I was really impressed this morning at mass. We had 30 adults and 14 children. Mostly babies and toddlers, one teenager about 17 yrs old.

    We usually have 30 to 50 at daily mass.

  9. revs96 says:

    The best time for a nun or anyone else to go promoting one organization or another is immediately before Mass. Having a nun make such an announcement after the homily makes it appear homily-like (especially if she essentially preaches about her group or goes on for longer than the priest) and according to the GIRM, the proper time for doing this sort of thing is after the post-communion prayer, not during the time for the homily.
    In the TLM, announcements are right before the homily, but are to be made by the homilist, so the only choice would be before Mass. Such a practice is not allowed at Mass, not even in the permissive Novus Ordo.

  10. Bernie says:

    Well, here in the diocese of Rochester, New York, we are so very special. We are cutting edge. We have laity administrating parishes (something like 20 laypersons; several are nuns; one is an ex-nun) and giving homilies at least every other week even with both a priest and deacon present. At least one nun (a Womens Ordination Conference member) in charge of a parish always does most of the baptismal rite when it is part of the Mass.

    The Vatican must have a box marked “Rochester” to hold all the mail many of us have sent objecting to these abuses. Nothing ever happens. Of all the people who have sent letters I don’t think any of us have ever received a reply. I know I haven’t.

    Bottom line: you must obviously be wrong. The laity may give homilies. Call our bishop. He can explain it to you. (Oh, the nun who does must of the baptismal rite? “I don’t take orders from the pope. I take my orders from my bishop!”)

  11. Aaron says:

    Where announcements from the pulpit are concerned, I’ve always wanted to hear a priest say, “There are announcements in the bulletin. Read it.”

  12. Scott W. says:

    More fruits of the misappropriation of “active participation”.

  13. Kate Asjes says:

    DeaR Fr. Z,

    In the Diocese of Dubuque the practice of using lay homilists is so ingrained that most Catholics look at you like you’ve lost your mind if you suggest that Rome doesn’t approve…I simply lower my head and pray for the salvation of their souls. Surely, they are ignorant.

    I like your new format, except I can’t seem to figure out how to send you an e-mail–so I might be creating a rabbit hole:

    But what about the opposite problem: the growing practice of priests attending Masses as if they were lay people? We have a retired priest who goes to Mass daily at 2 parishes in “street clothes”. This priest is so camouflaged, that at Holy Communion, he gets in line like the rest of us and receives from the lay ministers. I can’t put my finger on why, but this practice really troubles me.

  14. pforrester says:

    We often have a layperson speak after Father gives a very brief homily. So the Priest gave the homily. The layperson is making an announcement or sharing…..but it is still during the liturgy. Is this still technically admissible?

  15. TrueLiturgy says:

    Instruction: Ecclesiae de mysterio (1997)
    Article 3
    The Homily
    1. The homily, being an eminent form of preaching, qua per anni liturgici cursum ex textu sacro fidei mysteria et normae vitae christianae exponuntia [the Mysteries of the Faith and the guiding principles of the Christian life are expounded from the sacred text, during the course of the liturgical year],(68) also forms part of the liturgy.
    The homily, therefore, during the celebration of the Holy Eucharist, must be reserved to the sacred minister, Priest or Deacon(69) to the exclusion of the non-ordained faithful, even if these should have responsibilities as “pastoral assistants” or catechists in whatever type of community or group. This exclusion is not based on the preaching ability of sacred ministers nor their theological preparation, but on that function which is reserved to them in virtue of having received the Sacrament of Holy Orders. FOR THE SAME REASON THE DIOCESAN BISHOP CANNOT VALIDLY DISPENSE FROM THE CANONICAL NORM(70) since this is not merely a disciplinary law but one which touches upon the closely connected functions of teaching and sanctifying.
    For the same reason, the practice, on some occasions, of entrusting the preaching of the homily to seminarians or theology students who are not clerics(71) is not permitted. Indeed, the homily should not be regarded as a training for some future ministry.
    All previous norms which may have admitted the non-ordained faithful to preaching the homily during the Holy Eucharist are to be considered abrogated by canon 767, 1.(72)

  16. catholicmidwest says:

    They might want to if they don’t do their job until too late to do it before mass. Slackers.

  17. catholicmidwest says:

    PS, the whole “choir director” thing in the Catholic church has me flummoxed. I travel a lot, seeing a lot of parishes in action, and there just aren’t very many real choirs in Catholic churches anymore. So I don’t see how we can have very many “choir directors.” Rather I think we have song leaders, and generally they’re fairly bad ones at that on the whole.

    Vis a vis this thread, a person trying to teach the congregation a song, whether in the homily or not, is not fulfilling the role of “choir director.” They’re doing the job of a public song leader, badly but still, that’s what they’re doing.

Comments are closed.