Do Catholics sing?
Now granted, I’m no Frank Sinatra, but I tend to at least try to sing at mass because i strongly feel like it is part of our mandated participation in the liturgy (the work of the people). But I also think that there is a strong faction of people who would much rather listen than sing, especially if your choir is great!
I’ve been attending a mass that has no music lately–or, I should say, no accompaniment. And I must say I really miss the organ which helps people like me who can’t carry a tune in a bucket, at least think they aren’t butchering the song.
Good choir directors hold their singers to higher standards but also besides sounding good, the job of the choir and especially of the cantor (if your parish uses one) is to be inviting. You are the leader of song but that does not mean that you are “performing.” You are “leading prayer-song” and we should all be participating with you. Your job is to help us sing with you. You can sing and we can follow you. Without you, we may indeed be lost. This is another reason that the music should indeed be good quality at mass. You play better tennis with better tennis players–and you sing better with people who have been trained to do so well, even if you haven’t been.
Now all that being said, I think that the little practices that choir directors do before mass are a bit overdone. What people want in music at mass is good quality and singable music–things that we don’t really have to stretch too far to sing ourselves. My thought is that if we have to practice it, then we probably shouldn’t sing it.
I do like a lot of the call and response hymns/songs that are out there these days and favored by a much younger demographic. They do in fact give room for the Cantor to lead and for us to respond to the prayer-leader. It’s a great way for the laity to play a proper part in the liturgy as well.
I also think that the music should reflect the ritual. So we might have a very rousing and lively opening hymn (AKA the processional hymn) or even a beautiful processional featuring classical Bach. But come communion time, something much more contemplative is called for, and we may opt for a Taize chant or even Gregorian chant.
Here’s a great article on the 8 myths about music at mass. One myth that adds to my comment about choirs performing:
Myth 3. Choirs are only there to support congregational singing.
In the early church, the faithful sang much of the Mass. There were, however, certain melodies and texts that developed over time that some found difficult to sing.
Choirs, or scholae cantorum, were developed with trained singers who not only supported congregational singing, but also performed some pieces on their own. Europe saw the development of famous choir schools and Catholic education has always included the teaching of music in its curricula. The advent of part-singing made choirs even more necessary to the Mass.
Choirs can be beneficial in leading the faithful in song, but they also can have their own role apart from the congregation. Active participation does not mean that everyone has to do the same things at the same time; it implies an interior participation by listening and contemplation as much as engaging in following the Mass and observing ritual gestures.
Paid professional cantors and choirs have been a part of the Catholic musical tradition for many centuries and continue to inspire Christians in their worship beyond what is accessible to the ordinary pew-singer. Vatican II explicitly urges the development of such choirs and musical education in schools.
What are your pet peeves about music at mass? Are you bored by the old-school hymns or are you inspired by the sounds of the pipe organ? Do diva cantors and awesome choirs inspire you to sing more–or do they make you more passive and more apt to simply listen rather than participate? Do you sing out loud or are you embarrassed? What’s the deal?