Ministers of Music


“The function of music is ministerial; it must serve and never dominate.”
This statement from paragraph 23 of the document ‘Music in Catholic Worship’, issued by the Catholic Bishops of the USA in 1972, applies also to those liturgical ministers who serve the assembly of faith by playing a musical instrument, singing in the choir or taking on the role of cantor. Their role is not to perform or ‘do the music for Mass’ as I’ve heard it described, but to assist the assembly to offer its praise to God in song.
That is why I cringe when someone is described as being the ‘lead singer at church’. For me this conjures up images of Diana Ross in gold lamé fronting the Supremes at a Las Vegas nightclub floorshow!
Certainly, liturgical musicians need to be skilled musicians, just as Ministers of the Word need to be skilled at reading in public. To play and sing well is very important, but it is not enough. Ministers of music have to be ministers, or servants of the worshipping assembly, as well. Ministers of music do not perform for the entertainment of those present, but provide the accompaniment and lead to enable the members of the assembly to sing the responses, acclamations and songs of the liturgy.
The main role of the cantor could be described as that of an animator. He or she assists the assembly to do its part by drawing everyone into the common sung prayer. Hence a cantor needs not only vocal skills but also the skills of knowing how to encourage people to participate.
The cantor should never dominate the singing and “drown out” the assembly. Once the people are familiar with the melody, key and timing of a piece of music, the cantor can step back from the microphone and let the assembly do its work unaided.
The cantor is often called on to sing the verses of the psalm during the Liturgy of the Word. Other tasks might include welcoming the assembly, introducing the liturgy, rehearsing new music and leading the general intercessions (prayers of the faithful).
Before Vatican II, the role of choral singing at Mass was to add beauty and solemnity to the celebration. Today, the primary ministry of the choir – as of the organist and other instrumentalists – is to support and enhance the singing of all present
Paragraph 64 from the 1982 US document ‘Liturgical Music Today’ sums it up beautifully:
What motivates the pastoral musician? Why does he or she give so much time and effort to the service of the church at prayer? The only answer can be that the church musician is first a believer and then a minister; he or she is a worshipper above all. Thus the liturgical musician is not merely an employee or volunteer. He or she is a minister, someone who shares faith, serves the community, and expresses the love of God and neighbour through music.
Thank God for our Ministers of Music!


Elizabeth Harrington