Music Ministers, Greek and Latin Roots


Music ministers are those who serve the assembly by playing a musical instrument, singing in the choir or taking on the role of cantor. They assist the assembly to offer its praise to God in song.

Liturgical musicians certainly need to be skilled musicians, but that alone is not enough. Ministers of music have to be 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 is to assist 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. 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 allow the assembly do its work unaided.

Many members of the assembly would be oblivious to the time and effort that music ministers put into preparing for their role at Sunday worship. Songs and settings need to be chosen carefully, music located and practised, rehearsals held, etc.

Why are liturgical musicians prepared to put so much time and effort into their service of the Church at prayer? “The only answer can be that the church musician is a minister, someone who shares faith, serves the community, and expresses the love of God and neighbour through music.” (Liturgical Music Today)


In the words we use in worship there are traces of both our Greek and Latin heritage. The word ‘eucharist’, for example, is Greek in origin. Christianity grew up in a Hellenistic culture. The first writings of the Christian Church, including the Gospel accounts, naturally used the language of the time and place where Christianity developed, and that was Greek. Even in Rome, the language of literature and culture was Greek.

‘Eucharist’ is the Greek word for ‘thanksgiving’. At Mass we offer praise and thanks to God for the free gift of salvation we have been given through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus.

The word ‘Mass’, on the other hand, is Latin in origin. When Christianity came to Rome, most of the common people spoke only Latin. Pope Saint Callistus (217-222) decided that Latin should be used in liturgy. This move met with strong opposition from those who considered Latin too vulgar for worship, and the Roman liturgy was not completely Latinised until the late 4th century.

The term ‘Mass’ derives from a phrase used in the dismissal rite of the Latin Mass. In English the celebrant says: ‘Go forth, the Mass is ended’. In Latin the form is ‘Ite, missa est’. Missa comes from missio, meaning ‘to send’, so the phrase was a sending out of the people. Gradually ‘missa’ became ‘Mass’ and people began to use the word to refer to the whole of the celebration.



Elizabeth Harrington