Music in our Liturgies

Music creates a certain mood, it is rousing, moving, it expresses happiness and sadness. It relaxes us in body and mind. It gathers us into one. The music that we use in our liturgies, including the lyrics, is an integral element of our worship of God. It is intended to express the praise and petition, the sorrow and thanksgiving of God’s people.

The church places great emphasis on the contribution of music to our liturgies. The General Instruction states that ‘song is the sign of the heart’s joy.’ ‘Singing should be widely used at mass,’ but we must remember that music is not the only sound we hear at our liturgies, there is also speech and especially silence. It is important that we remember that we do not sing “at” the liturgy, rather, we “sing the liturgy.” When ritual prayer is enshrined in music that is accessible, prayerful, and engaging – then the liturgy is elevated being a true act of worship, not the mere following of rubrics and meaningless gestures.

Vatican II stresses that the ‘musical tradition of the universal Church is a treasure of inestimable value, greater than that of any other art.’ Scripture itself has bestowed praise upon sacred song, ‘sing psalms and hymns and inspired songs among yourselves, singing and chanting to the Lord in your hearts.’ (Eph. 5:19) So too ‘have the Fathers of the Church and the Roman pontiffs who in more recent times, led by St Pius X, have explained more precisely the ministerial function exercised by sacred music in the service of the Lord.

Music in our liturgies is not just looking for our favourite hymn. Worship is not entertainment, rather it is a meeting of God with God’s people. It is ‘to be considered the more holy, the more closely connected it is with the liturgical action, whether making prayer more pleasing, promoting unity of minds, or conferring greater solemnity upon the sacred rites.’

Arising out of the Second Vatican Council’s Constitution on the Litrugy, an Instruction entitled Musicam Sacram, specifically devoted to sacred music in the liturgy, was published in 1967. Sacred music, it tells us is ‘created for the celebration of divine worship’ and it is ‘endowed with a holy sincerity of form.’ ‘Gregorian chant, sacred polyphony in its various forms both ancient and modern, sacred music for the organ and other approved instruments, and sacred popular music, be it liturgical or simply religious’ come under the title of sacred music.

Prayer is expressed in a more attractive way when it is celebrated through music. Music is only a signpost in our liturgies, it is not the destination, for that is God himself. Music helps us to turn in the right direction, and so careful attention should be given to preparing the liturgy and choosing the appropriate hymns to be sung. Our liturgies should leave us ‘lost in wonder, love and praise.’ It is important that the meaning and proper nature of each song be carefully observed. When selecting the music to be sung in our liturgies ‘one should start with those that are by nature of greater importance, and especially those which are to be sung by the priest or by the ministers, with the people replying, or those which are to be sung by the priest and people together.’

Music is our liturgies has a very important role, it contains a variety of ways of speaking, i.e. Proclamation, Praise and Meditation. Moreover, music should help the people to express their praise, sorrow and prayer. Finally when we finish our liturgies we should ask the question, Was this a meeting of God and God’s people? If we can say yes then we have succeeded.