A note about music from the USCCB’s Committee for Divine Worship

In the latest newsletter of the USCCB’s Committee for Divine Worship there is a focus on the Holy Father’s Post-Synodal Exhortation Verbum Domini, concerning Sacred Scripture.

I found this interesting:

In times of praise and thanksgiving, and in times of sadness and anxiety, the word of God always has something to say. “[W]ith a view to making the People of God ever more familiar with the word of God in the context of liturgical actions or, in any event, with reference to them” (no. 64), the Holy Father offers several other liturgical suggestions for highlighting the transformative power of the word and letting it enrich our lives:

Celebrations of the word of God are encouraged, particularly as part of liturgical formation, as preparation for the Sunday Eucharist, and as a time to pray and meditate on sacred Scripture. These types of celebrations are particularly recommended during Advent, Christmas, Lent, and Easter (see no. 65).

The celebration of the Liturgy of the Hours, particularly Morning Prayer and Evening Prayer, ought to become more widespread among the lay faithful. Pastors should give emphasis to such public celebrations, particularly the First Vespers of Sundays and solemnities. Clergy and religious communities should promote the Liturgy of the Hours with the participation of the lay faithful (see no. 62).

  • Whether during the Liturgy of the Word at Mass or at other occasions, the proclamation of the word of God “is to be celebrated in such a way as to promote meditation” (General Instruction of the Roman Missal, no. 56). Proclaiming the word of God also involves silence afterward, in order to allow the Holy Spirit to transform us in the Lord. In the Mass, sacred silence should take place before the Liturgy of the Word begins, after the First and Second Readings, and after the homily. [Frankly, I avoid too much silence after my sermons, lest people get the idea that I and what I say are the true focus.] Pastors are exhorted to foster moments of recollection so that the word of God can truly take root in people’s hearts (see no. 66).
  • In the selection of songs for the liturgy, “[p]reference should be given to songs which are of clear biblical inspiration and which express, through the harmony of music and words, the beauty of God’s word” (no. 70). These words should give new impetus to composers, and also inspire all to make greater use of Gregorian chant, [I am grateful for the reference to Gregorian chant.  But this is really too little, no?  Sacrosanctum Concilium is pretty clear that Gregorian chant is THE music par excellence.] “songs handed down to us by the Church’s tradition” (no. 70). [Consider with regret and horror what some people will claim are “traditional songs”.] The 2007 guidelines document of the USCCB, Sing to the Lord: Music in Divine Worship, can provide help in song selection.
  • In churches, the ambo should be paid special attention through its clearly visible placement, beautiful design, and aesthetically harmonious decoration with the altar. Also, if possible, the sacred Scripture (either a Bible or book of the Lectionary) could be displayed in a place of honor in the church, even outside of liturgical celebrations. This placement should not compete, however, with the centrality of the tabernacle (see no. 68).
  • Parishes should provide “every possible practical assistance” to those who are visually and/or hearing impaired, so that they too may actively participate in the liturgy and “experience a living contact with the word of the Lord” (no. 71).

Brick by brick, my friends, brick by brick.

Start forming Gregorian chant scholas.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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  1. Henry Edwards says:

    Pastors should give emphasis to such public celebrations, particularly the First Vespers of Sundays and solemnities.

    Why not First Vespers of Sunday on Saturday afternoon/evening instead of the anticipated Sunday Masses that have (I think) turned out to detract from the Sunday observation of the Day of the Lord? Think how First Vespers, along with priests hearing confessions, would prepare for Sunday Mass.
    Fr. Z's Gold Star Award

  2. ray from mn says:

    ‘the proclamation of the word of God “is to be celebrated in such a way as to promote meditation” ‘

    In my parish, the pastor remains seated after the purification of the sacred vessels (by the deacon) and there is total silence for five minutes or more for a meditation of thanksgiving after Communion. Then he rises for the final blessing.

  3. A la Fr. Z’s comment on post-sermon silence: perhaps it’s just me, but I agree these guidelines seem to imply that at least the entire first half of Mass is mainly for the sake of our personal edification. The Church has long held, though, that the Mass is not primarily a teaching moment for the congregation — at every second, rather, the Mass is first and foremost the public worship of God. I’m not saying that we in the pews shouldn’t know and read and meditate on the liturgical readings — but when they are read at Mass, it’s not quite the same as when they are read at a Bible Study. Down through the years, the Gospel has been incensed, chanted in Latin, etc., because of its holiness and power as the very Word of God, quite apart from anyone’s being able to absorb the phrasing of the Vulgate as it’s sung.

    Don’t get me wrong, hand missals and the laity’s awareness of the Mass readings are definitely for the best; it’s just that the overtones in these guidelines paint the ‘Liturgy of the Word’ as if it were meant primarily for the congregation to mull it over. And once one part of the Mass is viewed as such, it’s a bit of a slippery slope to seeing the entire Mass itself as being designed mainly for our personal betterment, as if the important thing is whether or not we leave church having learned something new from the letter to the Corinthians.

    If I’m making a false dichotomy I’ll stand corrected, but I do think the emphasis here leaves room for a very misleading understanding of the Sacrifice of the Mass.

  4. PghCath says:

    My response to the earlier post about what the Holy Father should do now that ad orientum worship has become part of his public routine: require every Catholic church to use the Graduale Romanum for all Masses one Sunday this year. The developments from Rome are wonderful, but not enough Catholics know about them. I know the Holy Father likes to lead by example rather than by mandate, but put a little chant in the parishes, and good things will happen.

    To that end: anyone interested in forming a schola in the South Hills of Pittsburgh? :-)

  5. It is a real blessing for me to chant the propers with the men of the choir at my church for the Missa Cantata every Sunday. I am still learning about Gregorian chant and I expect to be learning for a long time to come. That’s good, too. I am not by any means a trained singer and my musical training did not extend beyond playing trombone in the band in high school. This is feasible, guys. If you have a decent voice, can carry a tune and know how to show up, you can do this. Don’t be afraid to approach your local schola director about joining. There are also great resources for learning chant. Email me if you want more info about these.

  6. Childermass says:

    Father, do you think that at some point relatively soon we will be freed from the mandated NAB?

  7. @Henry – I like the First Vespers idea. Even if it were offered on the eve of solemnities, it would be great. I know Father Perrone has tinkered with the idea, but we are a commuter parish with people coming from throughout the diocese, making it impractical for many.

    Fr. Z says: [Frankly, I avoid too much silence after my sermons, lest people get the idea that I and what I say are the true focus.]

    But, Father! But, Father! In most parishes today it is dangerous to have too much silence following the Gospel anyway. It becomes yet another opportunity for a mid-Mass social for the vast majority of Catholics who have not been properly catechized on God-centered worship.

    I suspect most people would appreciate pastors teaching their flocks about the appropriateness of total silence in the parish church for the full 30 minutes before Mass so they can prepare for it. Before I got to Assumption Grotto, I heard it all before Mass (and during).

  8. AndyMo says:


    To that end: anyone interested in forming a schola in the South Hills of Pittsburgh?

    It’s a little hike, but I have a small schola started about an hour north of the city.


  9. Luvadoxi says:

    It’s a little discouraging though. There was a schola formed in a parish in the Atlanta diocese, but a new priest came in and it was shut down, and from what I hear, also so was kneeling for receiving Communion and ad orientem worship (except at one Mass). Notices have been put in the bulletin for instructions on the norms for receiving Communion (which I find condescending). I guess this is the “counseling” the USCCB mandates. How are we supposed to form scholas if power really comes from above? I really don’t see any changes being made.

  10. Andy Milam says:

    Fr. Z….

    In Des Moines, we have started a schola for our EF Mass. It is a mixed schola and it has an age range from 9 to 65….We are very excited about this and while we have a long way to go, it is certainly a step in the right direction….we are doing the propers for each week, and getting stronger and stronger…

    Gregorian Chant has returned, FINALLY, to Des Moines….

    Our next goal is to start a schola for the OF….that will be a bit more work….but hopefully it will be accomplished…in the next year or so.

  11. anilwang says:

    WRT silence, I agree with the guidelines. Anyone who has been to a Protestant service knows that every spare second is filled with either singing or speaking. There is little place for contemplative prayer. In many Protestant parishes, if the choir and musicians are sick, the service would fall apart. In an orthodox Catholic mass (NO or not), if this happens, nothing much is lost since the mass isn’t about being entertained, its about God.

    WRT Gregorian Chant, yes I agree. But it’ll take time to wean parishes off of Protestant hymns and take even longer to get both clergy and laity to learn Gregorian Chant. If we can get the Psalms and Our Father to be chanted by the laity, we’ll be making some progress even if the Protestant hymns remain for now. As you said, brick by brick.

  12. Andy Milam says:

    I just blogged about Henry’s post over at http://www.traddyiniowa.blospot.com. I think that the idea is so good, I am going to bring it to the attention of my good and holy pastor, Monsignor Frank Chiodo.

  13. The proclamation of the Word of God is something God has commanded us to do as worship. It has an effect on us which is not primarily educational or intellectual, because God’s Word does things to us and to the world. (This is not to deprecate the edifying and educational aspects.)

    Listening to the Word of God and trying to be docile to it is worship. Responding to the Word of God with our will (and eventually our actions out in the world) is worship. Giving people a moment of silence to work on their worshipful listening and response is not a bad thing. But yeah, you don’t have to make it stretch forever, either. Keep it just right.

  14. AnAmericanMother says:

    Our NW Atlanta parish doesn’t have a schola as an independent entity, but our parish choir functions as one. We do lots of chant and challenging music (lots of Renaissance motets and Masses, both English and continental, with occasional forays back to Josquin and Dufay and forward to the English Edwardians). Our director is a genius who plays the organ like an angel (he is also a very kind man who is very patient with us amateurs). You would be welcome!

  15. chironomo says:

    When Verbum Domini was first made public there was some brief discussion about this passge and I felt at that time that it would resurface in coming months. It seems that it has. There has been, during the past several years, beginning in earnest actually with Pope John Paul II’s “Chirograph on Sacred Music” , a very gradual (no pun intended!) move towards stronger language concerning liturgical music. With the statement from Cardinal Canizares several weeks ago it seems that there may be additional steps coming:

    “The new liturgical movement will have to discover the beauty of the liturgy. Therefore, we will open a new division in our congregation dedicated to “Art and Sacred Music” at the service of the liturgy. This will lead us to offer soon a criteria and guidelines for art, song and sacred music. As well we offer as soon as possible criteria and guidelines for preaching.”

    And yet there has been little talk about this. I (optimistically) think that there may be an even more forceful statement coming regarding Sacred Music, preceding the implementation of the New Translation in November 2011.

  16. TomG says:

    Father, if you’re gonna start that Gold Star stuff, I’m afraid it’ll be monopolized by Mr. Edwards!

  17. oldCatholigirl says:

    I have long felt that the best place for non-liturgical hymns is outside of Mass, and that singing in Mass (either form) should be restricted to the liturgical texts (whatever language)–and as much singing as possible/correct done by the congregation, at least at daily Masses and ordinary Sunday Masses–with choirs, trumpets, etc., for special feasts. Yet there are so many beautiful hymns from so many centuries that express (and make memorable) the truths/attitudes of the Catholic Faith (some of them written by Protestants). Only so many can be sung , or are appropriate for, processionals and recessionals. Without words, many make appropriate “incidental music” during Mass, but they are meant to be sung (!) (I’m with St. Augustine on this one.) Besides, how would anyone know what the words are unless they hear them? (No, they’re not likely to learn in any school.) Wouldn’t it be a good idea to have them worked into those recommended “celebrations of the Word of God…[in] preparation for the Sunday Eucharist”? That might even be the place for the “Praise” songs so many people are attached to, or Gospel spirituals, or even (yuk) Christian Rock.
    When? Where?–Catholic schools? (assuming that the children are also being taught chants for Mass also, especially in Latin); before Sunday Masses?; on Wednesday nights?; in conjunction with the LOH (nix on the Christian Rock, in that case)???
    We can’t possibly fit our whole music heritage into Sunday Mass anyhow–not to mention all the catechesis we need, or all the fellowship. But it’s a challenge to get people to come to church at other times. Many (as at Assumption Grotto or St. John Cantius or in rural areas) live fairly far away and are restricted not only by time but by gas money. And, alas, many have gotten used to going to church only when it is convenient, which is why, perhaps, Henry Edwards’ admirable suggestion would often meet with opposition.

  18. musings says:

    How timely…. I work in an Hispanic Parish in Tucson and within our parish boundaries is also one of the several Yaqui Indian sections around our city. There are also many RV parks where people come to live during the colder months. So, ours is a diverse population and there is a wide variety of cultural expressions of the Faith. I have been involved in the preparation and participation for several big parish celebrations that are bi-lingual and bi-cultural. Given this kind of background at this point in my life I was looking at Gregorian Chant and anticipating the reform of the reform and I found myself in a very unique situation. My pastor and his assistant would use Latin from time to time during the Liturgy. At first, the pastor questioned the use of Latin, but we had a friendly, short discussion about how Latin is the mother of Spanish. He explained that from the altar before praying the first part of the Eucharistic Prayer in Latin. Because the people have the disposable Word of God/Missal with them in the pews, Father merely stated, “I will be using Eucharistic Prayer II” and then proceeded as though this was the norm. Since then there have been no big discussions about the use of Latin and incense at Mass. s

    With this experience and the reforms in mind I was asked to take the Saturday evening Vigil Mass. Our loft is small with a donated home style theater organ. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. But I can sing, so it is fine with me. Many times I just shut off the organ and sing hymns such as Of the Father’s Love Begotten – English, Spanish and/or Latin. When I am asked to work with one of the Spanish speaking groups, I set the Psalm and Gospel Acclamation in a simple chant and use Spanish and English — there is real sensitivity that no one language dominate the all parish Solemnities. We are gradually using Latin and it is fun to indicate that we are also using “Greek” when we sing the Kyrie. This has been so successful at our level that the pastor requested that my husband learn the Exultet in Latin so as not to show preference for one language over the other. He is very honored to be asked to do this and for the reason of bringing another point of unity to the parish.

    This brings me to my original reason for writing in response to Henry. I am currently working on establishing First Sunday Evening Vespers just before the Vigil Mass. It is a natural progression. My plan is to invite people up into the loft and to sing them antiphonally and anyone who wants to join us may. This allows those in the body of the church to pray quietly and/or go to confession.

    As I have talked about this next step I receive some raised eyebrows and then that look that says, “I think I should check that out. When and where did you say?” Now my next step is to get the necessary materials together.

    Thank you Henry for the confirmation.

  19. Luvadoxi says:

    AnAmericanMother: That sounds heavenly! I am stuck in a small town in the boonies, where last Sunday we sang “Sing a New Church” from the Glory and Praise. I don’t *want* to sing a new church into being. What the you-know-what does that mean anyway? There’s also a saxophone being used at one of the masses–it sounds like a nightclub in there. The church I referred to in my earlier post is not my own church, but it is within an hour of me and I had had high hopes for maybe attending there. I have a feeling the reform of the reform is going to be a long time coming to my parish.
    On another note (!), I do like many good old Protestant hymns (I have never actually experienced Gregorian chant, so I can’t really speak to that with any knowledge; it just sounds good when I hear it on CDs by monks and in movies and things)–the ones I grew up with that aren’t used very much any more. Four part harmony, everyone singing–about God’s glory and majesty, not the wonderfulness of us. I mean hymns like “Holy , holy holy” and “Crown Him with many Crowns”, and “Onward Christian Soldiers.” There are also so many others that teach good theology and could be used in Catholic worship. The one that gets me–and it may be a spiritual–is “Let us Break Bread Together on our Knees”, with the words, “When I fall on my knees with my face to the rising sun, O Lord, have mercy on me.” If that isn’t Catholic, I don’t know what is! Of course, modern Catholics wouldn’t experience this–ad orientem, falling on my knees. “Have mercy” referring to the Kyrie applies though.
    Sorry for rambling…..but I do think there’s a place for the good old hymns that praise God. That would get the men singing again, too.

  20. Luvadoxi says:

    Also wanted to say we had terrific processional hymns growing up as a Presbyterian in the 50s and 60s….like “God of our Fathers, whose almighty hand” (with the trumpets!)….not politically correct these days. I can’t believe what passes for a processional (entrance song!) in a Catholic church. Oh, another good one…”All hail the power of Jesus’ name”. The first year I was Catholic and we didn’t sing “Jesus Christ is Risen Today” I was really sad. Since then, it’s been sung, though. (yay!) But we had music all the time like this growing up. Then in the 70s and 80s it became alot like Catholic music today, but not as bad. I just love, love love Benediction with “Holy God We Praise Thy Name.” Now *that’s* sacred music!

  21. jaykay says:

    Our choir sang parts of the Missa Orbis Factor (Kyrie, Sanctus & Agnus Dei) this Christmas. Quite unexpected really, because while we’ve done occasional Missa de Angelis parts (the Gloria) and parts of the Missa pro Defunctis, there hasn’t been – to put it politely – an emphasis on chant. So it was a (lovely) bolt from the blue when it was announced we’d be doing the Orbis Factor parts. It went down very well with the congregation, so hopefully bricks are being laid, or at least foundations prepared for same.

  22. AnAmericanMother says:

    Sorry you’re too far away. We sing almost all the hymns you mentioned, including “Let Us Break Bread Together”.
    “Crown Him with many Crowns” we have sung often — there is an absolutely dynamite descant from the Episcopal hymnal that my daughter and I always launch on the fourth verse. This lovely recording from St. Martin of Tours Louisville has the trumpeter doing the descant on the third verse, with the organist adding flourishes on verse four (plus you get lovely chant up front):

    Crown Him With Many Crowns

    I hadn’t heard this choir before. Absolutely first class – solid choir, fine organist, very good trumpeter with perfect control, and looks like an awesome parish.

  23. Luvadoxi says:

    AnAmericanMother–Thank you *so* much for that beautiful video! I’d never heard the descant before–it’s like being lifted to heaven. And the interior of that church is lovely. I know some Catholics don’t think we should use any Protestant-originated hymns, but back in the day didn’t some also object to orchestral music like Handel? Anyway, there is so much rich theology in the words to these hymns; I learned the Christian religion from the hymns as much as from any sermons growing up Presbyterian. I miss this music! What’s really scary though, is for many people, Haugen/Haas would be missed if it were done away with. This is sad!
    (PS: I’d love to visit your church!)

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