Do you know the latest teaching on music at Mass?

February 2, 2010

Bobz Book Reviews

“The Role of Music in Worship:

‘Sing to the Lord’ in Pastoral Practice”

Fourteen brief pages are an easy-to-absorb discussion starter about what liturgical music strives to accomplish in Catholic worship as today, and local music and liturgy experts Father J. Michael Joncas and Vicki Klima are among the authors who open the door to this always vital part of parish life.

World Library Publications has crafted four articles previously published in its magazine — AIM: Liturgy Resources — into this offering in its series of “Worship Works: Practical Guides for Liturgy.” I would think every parish liturgy committee would want to circulate this little primer among its members and leadership team to have a working knowledge of what our church is aiming for when it comes to music for worship.

“The Role of Music in Worship” takes up the challenge of dissecting/explaining/perhaps helping to implement the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ latest guiding document on liturgical music, “Sing to the Lord: Music in Divine Worship.” Although the bishops’ approved the document in November of 2007, author Steven R. Janco notes that “the Church in the United States is still becoming aware of it.”

No ideal put forward

Janco, director of the Rensselaer Program of Church Music and Liturgy at St. Joseph’s College in Indiana, offers a historical perspective, noting that a new document on the topic was overdue while also pointing out that much of what was in previous church literature on music for workshop is affirmed in “Sing to the Lord” while it at the same time raised additional issues.

Importantly he writes, “the document doesn’t attempt to articulate one musical ‘ideal.’ Rather it recognizes and affirms the diversity of musical styles used in the U.S. and the need for local decision-making when it comes to musical repertoire and performance options.”

Klima, who for 20 years lead the Worship Center of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis and now serves at Pax Christi Parish in Eden Prairie, MN, culled a “Top Ten” items from her analysis of “”Sing to the Lord.” Here are just a few:

  • Because liturgical music helps form Catholics in their faith, “We need to ask of every melody, accompaniment and text we use, ‘What will this element teach people?'”
  • “The full and active participation by all the people is the aim to be considered before all else.”
  • Think about a varied repertoire. “Use of other languages, including Latin, and varied musical styles can build bridges between our history and our current state as well as between the Church and the world today.”

Why do we sing?

Father Joncas makes the case that “Sing to the Lord” breaks new ground, first by supplying a theological foundation in its initial chapter with articles that explore why Catholic sing in worship.

The well-known composer of “On Eagles’ Wings” and the “Michael Joncas Psalter” is a priest of the archdiocese who is assistant professor of theology and teaching fellow in Catholic Studies at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul.

He see the document as providing a new framework for exploring different kinds of music for the liturgy that not only involves a ritual and spiritual dimension but a cultural context as well, and while pointing musicians to the church’s treasury of sacred music notes that they should “strive to promote a fruitful dialogue between the Church and the modern world.”

What in Father Joncas’ estimation is the greatest contribution of “Sing to the Lord” is its nuancing of the three elements that past church documents saw as vital for evaluating liturgical music: Is it musical, liturgical and pastoral?

“Sing to the Lord” calls for each of those three elements be considered together as opposed to separately, recasts their priority to be “liturgical, pastoral and musical,” and says evaluating those elements “requires cooperation, consultation, collaboration and mutual respect among . . . pastors, musicians, liturgists or planners.”

Good song makes good prayer

Finally, Angela Stramaglia, for 15 years the director of music and liturgy at the Catholic campus ministry Sheil Center at Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill., took from “Sing to the Lord” that Catholics were being called to “pray with one voice as menbers of the wider Church.”

To describe music that helps Catholics pray with one voice she uses words such as “familiar,” “comfortable,” and that aid the “sense of belonging to the corporal body and facilitates the sung prayer of the community at worship.”

Stramaglia adds, “If a piece of music and its text are sound in theology, liturgically appropriate and musically accessible to a congregation, then it should facilitate good prayer regardless of style.”

In an increasingly individualistic society, “Sing to the Lord” can be a guide to help “utilize the riches of our ministry to paint a broader picture of Church.”

World Library Publication’s Web address is

About Bob Zyskowski

Bob is the Client Products Manager for the Communications Office of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis. A 42-year veteran of the Catholic Press, he is the former Associate Publisher of The Catholic Spirit. You can follow him on twitter or email him at

View all posts by Bob Zyskowski