Should We Sing the Antiphons?

Should parishes be singing antiphons at Mass? Antiphons are short scripture verses that are provided to be recited or sung to accompany certain parts of the Mass, in particular the Entrance, Offertory, and Communion. As with all liturgical questions, let’s turn to the General Instruction of the Roman Missal. Here’s what it says is permitted for the music for the Entrance, Offertory, and Communion:

In the Dioceses of the United States of America, there are four options for the Entrance Chant:
(1) the antiphon from the Missal or the antiphon with its Psalm from the Graduale Romanum, as set to music there or in another setting;
(2) the antiphon and Psalm of the Graduale Simplex for the liturgical time;
(3) a chant from another collection of Psalms and antiphons, approved by the Conference of Bishops or the Diocesan Bishop, including Psalms arranged in responsorial or metrical forms;
(4) another liturgical chant that is suited to the sacred action, the day, or the time of year, similarly approved by the Conference of Bishops or the Diocesan Bishop.
- General Instruction of the Roman Missal, 48

Paragraphs 74 and 87 state that the above applies also for the Offertory and Communion chants. As you can see, most of the music we typically use in your average parish falls under the 4th option: “another liturgical chant”.

It Is Required to Sing the Antiphons?

I’ve heard some liturgical experts say that these options are in order of preference, in which case the first preference should always be to sing the antiphon from the Roman Missal or Graduale Romanum. Some even say that the other three options should be outside the norm, although the GIRM does not state this. There is a hierarchy to these options though, which is why they are listed in that order. Since the antiphon is given in the Missal itself, the antiphon is the most ideal text. We have the three other options though because music for the Mass is art, and art requires freedom. So the Church gives priests and music directors freedom in these four options so they can create beautiful art through their decisions in music, and hopefully through the art, people will recognize God the Creator and grow closer to Him.

So no, it’s not required to sing the antiphons, that’s why the Church gives options.

Should We Sing the Antiphons?

The antiphons in the Roman Missal and Graduale Romanum are the texts given by the Church herself for each particular liturgy, so I don’t think we should consider any other text more ideal than the antiphon. Yes, we should be free to serve our congregation with another song or hymn that will unite their hearts to Christ, but if there’s a way to use antiphons, why not? Keeping in mind you don’t have to… but if you can give your congregation the opportunity to pray these scripture verses in the Missal, I encourage you to go for it. When you chant the antiphons, you begin to see the rhythm of the liturgical year. You begin to identify certain text with certain liturgies, which enriches your liturgies as well as your personal devotion to scripture. If you decide to use antiphons though, be sure that your decision isn’t out of righteousness or pride, but out of a desire to uncover the Church’s wisdom, out of humility.

How to Sing the Antiphons

If your parish is used to only songs or hymns at the Entrance, Offertory, and Communion, it can be jarring to your congregation to introduce antiphons, so I encourage you to do so slowly. It can take a parish an entire three year liturgical cycle to get used to singing antiphons, so be patient. To start out, you could pick one antiphon to use over a liturgical season like Advent or Lent, so your congregation can get used to singing along, then when you change liturgical seasons, you can start to use the weekly antiphons for each particular liturgy.

I don’t recommend cutting out songs/hymns and replacing them with antiphons unless your congregation is ready, which could take years or even generations. I’ve seen parishes switch to antiphons only too quickly, and no matter the amount of catechesis, their parishioners still felt abandoned. The faith of your congregation is more important than being right when it comes to these options. Make changes relationally, for example introduce a communion antiphon, give it some time, then see how your congregation is doing. Keep adjusting the rate of your change according to your congregation, which is how you can make changes pastorally.

I recommend pairing the antiphon with a song/hymn. For example, for Communion, you can chant the Communion antiphon twice (once by a cantor and then invite the congregation and choir to join), then transition into your Communion hymn. In an effort to teach the congregation that the antiphons are not a political thing, but a prayer just as much as the Communion song, I chant the communion antiphon in the same or a similar key as our communion song with organ or a keys pad under it, and we keep the keys sustaining straight into our communion song. We even do this for our Entrance procession as well. To see how we do this, you can check out my church’s YouTube channel, where we post our Masses every weekend: St. Timothy’s YouTube Channel

Most publishers now have versions of the antiphons that you can use, the antiphon arrangements we use are available for free download at illuminarepublications.com. I really enjoy using these antiphons because they were arranged to be in the same mode as the Latin antiphons in the Graduale Romanum. For Masses like Christmas and Easter, we even do these English antiphons back-to-back with the Graduale Romanum antiphons, and it eases the intimidation of the Latin since we also sing the English translation.

Personally, in my personal prayer time, I know the Holy Spirit has encouraged me to chant antiphons, and I would like to pass on that encouragement. Anything outside of our paradigm can seem like a mountain to climb, but they’re a lot more simple than it seems. Just make sure that anything you do isn’t out of pride, but out of service for God and your congregation. If you ever need help learning how to chant the antiphons, feel free to reach out to myself (davidmaresmusic@gmail.com) or check out my resources page.

Leading Worship: Leaders Listen

Think of great leaders in business, politics, or sports, and you usually think about inspirational speeches. The first quality that comes to mind about great leaders is what they say. In all of the great speeches in history or the greatest sports movies, you see a leader already leading those who follow. But what comes before that? What influences them to follow the leader in the first place?

In ministry, the model we have for leadership given by Jesus is “pastoring”, which draws from the image of a shepherd leading his sheep. A shepherd should always keep an eye on all of his sheep, but in ministry, we can’t see where anyone is spiritually, we can only see evidence, such as if a person visibly praying. We have to know where people are in order to direct them where to go, and the only way that we can know where people are is by listening: listening to God, and listening to them. This is why listening is one of the most important tools for any leader, especially in ministry.

Listen to God

I am the good shepherd, and I know mine and mine know me.
— John 10:14

How can we truly know where people are in their relationship with God? Only God knows our hearts, which is why it’s vital to listen to God, the Good Shepherd Himself. As worship leaders, yes, it’s important for people to follow us so we can sing and praise together, but ultimately the goal is to direct our hearts to the presence of God and to a deeper relationship with Him. In order for us to direct others to God, we need to ask God two things:

  1. Where are the people I’m leading in their relationship with God in this very moment?

  2. How can I lead them closer to God?

If we don’t ask these questions before we lead (in prayer while planning), while we lead (between and even during songs), and after we lead (spending time in prayer), we’re not following God and we’re definitely not leading anyone. We’re only serving ourselves at that point.

Don’t Play Songs, Lead Prayer

While on the surface, it may look like we can just pick some songs and play them through, but if that’s all we do, then we’re missing an opportunity for something so much deeper. While you lead through the songs, constantly be asking God those two questions above. Even take moments in the songs for “listening” time, where you can repeat a chord progression or even stay on one chord, and spend a moment to listen to God in your heart. When I have a band, I’ll usually build in a few “instrumental breaks”, which can also be a powerful moment of soaking in God’s presence. I’ll usually cue it up by saying something like “let’s take a moment and open our hearts to God’s presence” or “let’s take a moment to allow God to speak His love into our hearts.” Sometimes God will give me something to share, like an image, an encouraging word, or a scripture. Other times the moment of quiet will serve its own purpose, maybe God will speak directly into everyone’s hearts. If we desire praise and worship to deepen our relationship with God, it has to be a balance of speaking/praise and listening, since that’s how relationships are built. We need to give God the space to lead us into His heart.

Listen to Others

Afterwards, take time to talk to those who were praising with you and see how God moved in their hearts. Find out what songs or moments were fruitful for them. This will help you not only adjust how you lead the next time, but allow you to see where you listened to God, which will help you grow in knowing God’s voice. As you grow deeper in relationship with God, you’ll be able to hear his voice more clearly, and checking with others affirms that growth within yourself.

More importantly, simply talk to people about how they’re doing in life. Relational ministry, which is listening to another where they are in life and serving them in that, goes hand in hand with leading praise and worship. It helps you to see with even more clarity how God may be moving in a particular moment. Also, there’s a saying that “People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.” Growing in relationship with someone allows each of you to open your heart to what the other has to say, because you begin to see each other not in a ministerial role, but simply as a human person. Taking time to grow in relationship with others affects the way that they will respond to when you lead praise and worship.

Know God’s Voice

We need to learn his voice. We need to spend the time listening to him in our private prayer life. Prayer life is critical for worship leaders. Carve out time for prayer, let’s allow God to lead us in everything we do.

Starting an Electric Guitar Pedalboard for Praise and Worship

Heavily distorted riffs. Wailing guitar solos. Critics of the electric guitar usually reduce the instrument to these uses, but there is so much more to the guitar than this. An electric guitar can actually create a prayerful ambience, it can sustain chords like an organ and create inspiring melodies like a violin. This gives the electric guitar the ability to lead prayer in a way that lifts up the mind and heart in a heavenly direction towards God, but it requires more than just a guitar and an amp. Guitar pedals are the key to creating that prayerful ambience. But how do you know which to buy? There are thousands of different guitar pedals to choose from, so hopefully this blog will help sort that out for you.

What makes certain gear best for praise and worship? Good gear is good gear. End of blog. But there are certain guitar pedals that help your tone sound more “heavenly” with delays and reverbs, which in turn can lead to prayer. In contrast, there are guitar pedals and amps that create sounds that can distract from prayer, typically high distortion and high volume gear. So at the heart of the question, what gear sounds great and helps people pray?

Order to Buy Pedals

Typically, musicians don’t have thousands of dollars laying around, so pedalboards are usually purchased one pedal at a time. When I starting buying guitar pedals, I looked at a famous guitarist’s pedalboard, looked up which one was the cheapest, and bought that one first. It was a noise gate. It was also the first guitar pedal I sold, because I realized I didn’t need a noise gate. So if you’re looking to start out and can only buy one pedal at a time, here’s what I recommend. I’ll also list a few pedals in order of cost, starting with the cheapest.

  1. Delay

    Delay is the one effect that you can’t create with just a guitar and an amp. You can use delay to create rhythmic textures, or you can use it more subtly to add ambience. Behind every great swell sound is a great delay.

    • Types of Delays

      • Digital: clean and clear repeats

        • Boss DD-7 (also offers other delay types), Strymon Digg

      • Analog: warmer (less high end) repeats, typically includes modulation (chorus-like effect)

        • Electro-Harmonix Memory Man

      • Tape: tone can vary depending on “tape age”, typically includes tape effects like tape crinkle and wow and flutter

        • Strymon El Capistan

      • Multi-delays

        • Electro Harmonix Canyon, Boss DD-200/DD-500, Strymon Timeline

  2. Reverb

    Why does chant sound so beautiful in a cathedral verses a small room? Reverb! A reverb pedal creates space and length around your notes, and is the difference in sounding “prayerful”. If you have reverb on your amp, you can get away with using your amp reverb, but I recommend an “ambient” type reverb to start for any praise and worship guitarist.

    Reverb Pedals: Boss RV-6, Neunaber Wet/Immerse, Strymon Blue Sky/Big Sky

  3. Overdrive

    Overdrive allows you to control the amount of dirt in your guitar tone, so that you can alternate between a cleaner tone with a more saturated tone. You can use an overdrive to add dirt at a similar volume as your clean tone, or you can use your overdrive as a boost to either make your lead lines louder or to hit your tube amp harder, which will create more dirt from your amp itself. I also use overdrives as an EQ control, in order to warm and thicken up single notes.

    Typically overdrives fall into four categories: boost, overdrive, distortion, and fuzz. They’re actually all fairly similar but just vary in the way that your guitar signal “clips”, or cuts off the top and bottom of your guitar signal’s waveform. Boost typically doesn’t clip your signal, overdrive clips in a smoother way, while distortion and fuzz clip your signal sharply. This is why distortion and fuzz pedals have a more aggressive tone than overdrive, and why I’ll focus on overdrive and boost below. I’ve also grouped the overdrives into “families”, as most pedals are derivations of others, and therefore have similar qualities. Tubescreamers are the classic, because they have add mid-frequency emphasis and compression that is great for warming up and boosting lead tones. Klons still have some mid-frequency emphasis, but not as much. Theyr’e great for hitting a tube amp harder. Bluesbreakers were designed to sound like a tube amp, so they have a flatter EQ curve and a more sensitive gain response. My preference is to use Bluesbreakers for rhythm overdrive and a light amount of grit when I dig in, and either stacking with another Bluesbreaker or Tubescreamer for lead tones.

    • Types of Overdrives

      • Tubescreamers: Ibanez 808/TS-9, Keeley Red Dirt Overdrive, Earthquaker Devices Dunes/Palisades, JHS Moonshine/Bonsai, Outlaw Effects Cactus Juice

      • Klons: Klon Centaur, Klon KTR, Wampler Tumnus, J. Rockett Archer Ikon, Electro-Harmonix Soul Food

      • Bluesbreakers (more transparent, “amp-like” gain): Analogman King of Tone/Prince of Tone, JHS Morning Glory, Snouse BlackBox, Wampler Pantheon, Mooer Blues Crab

      • Boosts: Tim/Timmy, Xotic EP Booster

  4. Tuner and Volume Pedal

    If your guitar is out of tune, it doesn’t matter what you play, it’ll sound terrible. So a get a tuner pedal! I also recommend a volume pedal you can use for swells, slight volume adjustments as you play, and as a mute.

  5. Compressor

    The amount of compression you’d like to use is personal taste. You can use it as an effect, like cranking a Dyna-Comp, or you can use it subtly to add a hint of sustain. Or you can not use any compression, since by nature of the electronics in pickups and amps, you already are compressing the signal somewhat. I recommend compressors that have a blend knob, so you can control the amount of compression that you hear.

    Compressors: MXR Dyna-Comp Deluxe, Xotic SP Compressor, Walrus Audio Deep Six Compressor, Keeley Compressor

An Essentials Example

Below I show two examples of just the essentials, the first being simpler and cheaper, and the second having more sounds and functionality live with presets. The Strymon pedals are expensive, so you can always purchase a cheaper delay and reverb pedal in the meantime, but I do recommend them for their sound quality, sound selection (types of delays/reverbs), and ability to store presets. If you’re really on a tight budget, be sure to check out companies like Mooer and Outlaw Effects that provide solid “clones” for cheap. Of course, every guitar pedal is deeply personal, so I recommend buying used so you can sell the pedal for equal amount if you end up not liking it.

Smaller Example with Ibanez TS9, Boss DD7 (with Tap Tempo), and Neunaber Immerse

Smaller Example with Ibanez TS9, Boss DD7 (with Tap Tempo), and Neunaber Immerse

Larger Example with Xotic SP Compressor, JHS Morning Glory, Ibanez Tubescreamer, Strymon Timeline, and Strymon Big Sky

Larger Example with Xotic SP Compressor, JHS Morning Glory, Ibanez Tubescreamer, Strymon Timeline, and Strymon Big Sky

Multieffects

Don’t forget about the power of multieffect pedals like the Line 6 Helix. With a Line 6 Helix, you can have all the effects and amp models in one purchase. Line 6 also offers the HX Effects/Stomp, which will give you a multitude of effects that you could need. In the past I’ve used a Line 6 M5 as a swiss army knife to supply any type of delay/tremolo/weird effect I might need. I don’t use a full Helix since it doesn’t provide the exact sounds that are in my favorite pedals, but if the sounds on a Helix inspire you, go for it. You can also check out the Boss MS-3 which functions as both a pedal switcher and a multi-effects, so you start by using the built in effects and add your favorite pedals as you go.

My Pedalboard

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This shown as an example, again, some of these pedals are very personal picks that I love.
Overdrives: Timmy, JHS Morning Glory, Analogman King of Tone
Delays: Strymon Timeline
Reverbs: Neunaber Wet, Old Blood Noise Endeavors Dark Star




The following are some other guitarists who have amazing tone for more examples.

Nigel Hendroff

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Jeffrey Kunde

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Michael Pope

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Leading Worship: Creating a Set List

For worship leaders, selecting songs and song order for a time of praise and worship is vital. It gives life and direction to the time of praise and worship. Unfortunately, many times it’s thrown together, and we plan by saying: “this song is my jam” or “they know these ones” and done. If this is the case, there’s more at stake than we realize because praise and worship provides a space for encounter with God and a deepening of that relationship. It’s an opportunity with eternal consequences for conversion and evangelization, to draw us closer to God. While there’s nothing wrong with simply picking a few songs and playing through them, something powerful happens when you approach the time of praise and worship as a cohesive journey of prayer. It’s easy to just focus on picking songs and the dynamics of the songs within themselves, but there are two additional areas to think through: the direction of lyrics and the space between songs - the transitions.

Direction of Lyrics

Before selecting songs, look at where you begin and where you want to go. Are people entering the time of praise and worship just walking in from their everyday lives? Or is the time of praise and worship following an inspirational message? Are you ending with sending people out encouraged or are you ending with quiet prayer or adoration? These answers should dictate not only the energy and tempo of the music, but the lyrics as well.

In the video below, Jeremy Riddle gives four different types of songs, in order that you’d select them according to the content of their lyrics:

  1. Songs of Invitation

    • Examples: We Have Come, O Come to the Altar (slower tempo, but lyrics fit this category)

  2. Songs of Declaration

    • Examples: This Is Amazing Grace, The Lion and the Lamb, Good, Good Father

  3. Songs of Response

    • Examples: Great Are You, Lord, Build My Life, Lord, I Need You

  4. Songs for Encounter

    • Examples: Reckless Love, Tremble

Praise and worship is a deepening of relationship, and true relationship develops in a progression. Conversations themselves have a progression, when talking with a friend you typically don’t start by sharing your deepest thoughts, you wait until the conversation progresses naturally. The lyrics and music of the songs we choose should reflect this progression of intimacy, because ultimately we’re inviting those we lead into a deeper relationship with God. 

Of course, there are different ways of adapting the song progression above to fit the context of the time of praise and worship, for example if you’re only leading 2 songs, you can’t hit every song category. You might even be asked to play one song, and you’d need to use that song to create the progression of prayer. There are other models and descriptions that fit this as well. One of them is called the Temple Model, which you can read about in this blog on LifeTeen.com. The concept is that your music should progress from the “Outer Courts” of the Temple into the “Holy of Holies”, the place for encounter and union with God’s presence. Another term used for this place of encounter during praise and worship is “entering the throne room of God.” With all of these concepts, keep in mind that a set list is an art, and sometimes great art can emerge if rules are broken with intentionality.

At the very least, make sure that the songs you’re singing towards the end of the time of praise and worship have lyrics directed to God (for example, “God, you…”). These are your Songs of Response or Songs for Encounter. Avoid songs that “sing to one another” (like O Come to the Altar) at the end of your time of praise and worship. The lyrics should be directed to God because singing to God Himself, as opposed to about God, places us in communication directly with God and his presence. Communicating directly with someone is essential to relationship. You can never truly know someone without speaking with them. If we desire to move from knowing about God to knowing God Himself, we need to sing lyrics that are directed to Him.

Working with the Spirit

Most importantly, it’s critical to allow everything we do to be inspired by the Holy Spirit, especially selecting songs. God has a plan, if we listen, then he will speak through the time of praise and worship to each person in a way greater than we’ll know.

Many times, there’s a tension between spending hours planning and being inspired in the moment. If we spend hours planning, are we trying to constrict and out-plan the Holy Spirit? If we prefer to wait until Holy Spirit inspires us, are we going to miss out on planning the perfect set list, and in the mean time stress out our other musicians by not having a plan? First of all, it’s important to remember that God works through order. All of God’s creation was formed with process and order, so should our set lists. But sometimes, God changes our plan at the last minute. If we’re the type of personality that prefers order and God calls us to change our plans in the moment, we need to remember that it doesn’t mean that the Spirit wasn’t inspiring the previous plan. When our plans change, it’s all a part of the journey God desires for us. Be open to the Spirit changing a song or transition in the moment, something powerful and anointed may happen if so. In all that we do, we pray that the Holy Spirit will guide our thoughts, so that He will anoint our planning and leading to stir God’s presence in the hearts of those we lead, leading all of us closer to Him.

Build a Great Repertoire and Don't Fight Liturgical Style Wars

Forming a Musical Repertoire for Mass

Musical style for Mass always seems to be a tension in our parishes and dioceses. Many Catholics come to Mass with an expectation of a particular style, disappointed if their expectations are not met. Some even avoid certain Masses or churches based on their musical preferences. While there's nothing wrong with having a musical preference, it's a problem when the preference becomes a distraction from fully entering into Mass. Of course I understand being upset at liturgical abuse or terrible quality of music, but we should not let preferences get in the way of God and His graces from the Mass. 

Music ministers have the ability to teach their congregation to pray the Mass by the way they select, arrange, and play/sing for the Mass. Music should be selected with two areas of focus: 1) What will lead the congregation in prayer now? and 2) What will form the congregation for the future? A well-crafted music repertoire with a balance of both can teach a congregation to be free of the "style wars" and instead help them focus on uniting their hearts with God at Mass. Then music will be able to function as it should, with its purpose being "the glory of God and the sanctification of the faithful." (SC 112)

Before diving in, I should point out this blog focuses on the Propers of the Mass (Entrance, Communion, etc.), which is music that isn't even the most important for the Mass. For more on that, read my blog on What Should We Sing at Mass?

Don't Worry About What Has Always Been Done

The first step is to set aside what we've always done.  If we only play what we've always played, our liturgies will always sound like the year we decided to play what we've always played. We see this in many (if not most) churches around the US. Some churches sound like 1950, some sound like 1980, some even sound like 2010. Until music ministers courageously try something they haven't tried, they will remain frozen.  What's wrong with this? Pope Benedict says in "A New Song for the Lord" that it limits our ability to encounter Christ Himself, who is "yesterday, today, and forever".

The first encounter with Jesus Christ occurs in the present...but to ensure that I get close to the whole Christ and not just a piece of him perceived by chance, I must heed the Christ of yesterday as he reveals himself in the sources, especially in Scripture. If, in the process, I listen to him carefully and do not excise essential parts of his appearance because of a dogmatically asserted worldview, I see him open to the future and I see him coming from eternity, which embraces the past, the present, and the future, all at once.

We need this approach to our music and the Liturgy.  Through the liturgy, Christ meets us in our present time and lifts us into His time, which is the past, present, future, and all of eternity.  If our liturgies sound like a certain time period, we should ask ourselves if we're limiting our encounter with Christ to Christ-existing-in-a-certain-time-period.  When I was a university campus minister, I saw students come to our campus ministry expecting whatever "style" of liturgy they grew up with, whether it was contemporary music, "Breaking Bread"/"Gather", or hymns. When that expectation wasn't met, many looked elsewhere for the "Christ they knew", whether it was another church, denomination, or something other than religion. Music in the liturgy has a role in forming our image and relationship with Jesus Christ. 

Build a Strong Foundation

The musical tradition of the universal Church is a treasure of inestimable value, greater even than that of any other art. - SC 112

The next step in our liturgies is to create a foundation of Catholic music that is prayed all over the world. Why? The word "Catholic" means "universal", so we need cornerstone pieces of music that are truly universal, meaning they stand the test of time and change in culture. There is something so powerful when people gather from all over the world and are able to sing and pray together in a common language. I experienced this in Rome being able to sing the Ordinary of the Mass in Latin, and many experience this at events like World Youth Day. Every generation has their own music, but our gift to the next generation is maintaining this foundation. We should learn how to pray this music.

The antiphons are texts, usually scripture, that are prescribed in the Roman Missal for the entrance, offertory, and communion processions. They are optional, but they provide foundational texts for us to center our hearts in prayer for each liturgy. Find ways to chant or sing the antiphons, since they are texts the Church has given that will continue to stand the test of time. The Lumen Christi Simple Gradual is a simple way to pray these texts.

As a starting point for hymns, here's a list of top Catholic hymns. Don't be afraid of chant. The document on liturgy from Vatican II (Sacrosanctum Concilium) states that Gregorian chant should have "pride of place" in our liturgies. Why? Chant is a music style created specifically for the Mass that does not have a time signature or tempo - it is outside of time itself. It focuses on the Word Himself and lifts us into His time, the eternal. Take your time with Latin, and use English translations first to teach how to pray the song. An example of this is my English arrangement of Adoro te Devote on my Arrangements page. After using the English a few times, then start to teach the Latin version. When using Latin, always provide vernacular translations. Never use a hymn just to use a hymn, use it for the prayer it leads. Also remember that singing a song in Latin doesn't make you more holy, only God makes us holy. Use Latin to enable your congregation to join with all of the earth in singing praise to God.

A final note, I have a preference for hymns that are Catholic in origin. If we're going to build a Catholic foundation, why not make sure it's Catholic? Some Protestant hymns we commonly think are Catholic include: Holy Holy Holy, How Great Thou Art, Praise to the Lord the Almighty, Nothing But the Blood, Amazing Grace, etc. There's nothing wrong with these Protestant hymns as long as they're in line with Catholic teaching, but it's important to know where our music comes from and to place a priority on Catholic music for our foundation.

Constantly Renew

Composers, filled with the Christian spirit, should feel that their vocation is to cultivate sacred music and increase its store of treasures. - SC 121

The final step is to continually ask how we can create a better repertoire of music for our Masses. The moment we stop asking the question is the moment our parish becomes frozen in time. What's wrong our current repertoire? Potentially nothing right now, but there are always new liturgical compositions that can spiritually shake us awake and lead us in prayer in new ways. In addition, the pastoral needs of every church change with time, so we need to be constantly adapting our music so it will lead our congregation to unite themselves with Christ. We can't just say, "This is our music. Accept it." That's not a pastoral approach. The word "pastor" means to walk to the lost and lead them to a destination. It requires both actions of reaching out and leading to the goal, which is encountering and growing closer to Christ Himself. We need to create music that our congregation will receive, stir them to prayer, and through it lead them to know and love God more. This is what Sacrosanctum Concilium had in mind:

In certain parts of the world, especially mission lands, there are peoples who have their own musical traditions, and these play a great part in their religious and social life. For this reason due importance is to be attached to their music, and a suitable place is to be given to it, not only in forming their attitude toward religion, but also in adapting worship to their native genius - SC 119

Adapting worship does not mean putting religious lyrics on a secular song. In order for any type of cultural music to be suitable for Mass, it has to become sacred. Sanctification involves the process of purging from worldly elements. So in order to adapt cultural music for the Mass, we have to identify the worldly elements that distract us from prayer and turn the focus on the musicians. The remaining elements we can use for the Mass are those that are beautiful, help us focus on the text, and encourage us to lift up the prayer to God.

Forming a repertoire that balances both the treasury of sacred music and constant renewal is challenging, especially since change is always difficult. As musicians, we need to start thinking about where we envision our parish in 5, 10, even 50 years from now and work toward that with patience and under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. Let's allow the Spirit to renew our hearts and be our strength so we can serve our parishes.

What Apps do I Use?

OnSong: I use this to organize all my music PDFs for Masses, worship nights, etc. This is definitely the easiest way to use iPads for music, since it connects with Dropbox, SongSelect, and Planning Center. If I download a SongSelect chord chart, I can transpose the key easily without having to download a new chart. Even though you have to pay extra for the add on, it's worth it to be able to annotate and draw on the charts.

iMissal: It's nice to have an app that can pull up the readings for the day without needing to wait for it to load or wifi. It's come in handy during Mass when I need the Gospel Acclamation verse.

Ordo: This is the app version of the book made by Paulist Press. It has critical information like should you sing the Gloria, is there a Creed, what other reading options do you have, etc. It's a terrible interface unfortunately, and you have to download a new app every year, and it's very expensive for an app, but I justify buying it since it's equivalent to a book.

Catholic Bible: My favorite Bible app is made by Just1Word, it's good to be able to copy and paste scripture readings as needed.

Planning Center Services: This is an online service for scheduling musicians and distributing rehearsal sheet music and audio files to practice along with. The phone app interface for listening and practicing with music is exceptional. It's a monthly fee for the entire service, so I'd take a look if it's something you can budget. It's saved me about a days work per week. In the future, if we switched to all iPads instead of binders, I would look at their Music Stand addition since it can sync all the music between the iPads. It also has a built in alternative to ProPresenter.

Google Sheets: This is how I plan music for Masses. I create a sheet for every year so I can go back and look at music from years ago. I enjoy being able to share the planning spreadsheet, make comments, and access it from the app.

GuitarToolkit: This app is amazing, since it has a tuner, scales, metronome, and chords. I always use it when I run into a really weird chord, since it gives you many different positions for playing the chord. Also, you can input notes on the fretboard and it'll tell you what chord you're playing.

 Tempo: Great free metronome app. It has a tap tempo (gives what tempo you're tapping) and allows you to store tempos. 

Subdivide: This is only if you're looking for a complex metronome. It's the app version of a Boss "Dr. Beat". I use it a lot since you can blend the different types of subdivisions, as well as a tap tempo.

Garageband: This is great if you want to create rehearsal recordings for your groups on the fly. Typically, if I'm not using my full Pro Tools setup, I'll just use the Voice Memo or Music Memos app on my phone though.

When Do We Sing the Gloria?

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The Gloria is a beautiful prayer that we sing towards the beginning of Mass, meant as a way to direct our praises to God in celebration of his coming as man 2000 years ago. We begin with the words of the angels in Luke 2, rejoicing that our Savior is born and has come to redeem us.

"And suddenly there was a multitude of the heavenly host with the angel, praising God and saying: 'Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.'" - Luke 2:13-14 | NABRE

We don't always sing the Gloria though, such as weekday Masses and especially during penitential liturgical seasons, as well as most weekday Masses. For music ministers, this can become confusing, so when do we sing the Gloria?

Here's the simple answer: 

  • Sundays in Easter

  • Sundays in Christmas

  • Sundays in Ordinary Time

  • Feasts

  • Solemnities

  • Weddings

 

I always check the title of the liturgy for the day, and if the title has one of the words above, then you sing the Gloria.  For example, we do not sing the Gloria during Lent or Advent, but if there is a Feast or Solemnity during these seasons (such as the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception), then you sing the Gloria. If there's a wedding during Advent or Lent (many parishes/dioceses do not allow weddings during Lent), you sing the Gloria.  A few unique liturgies are Palm Sunday, when you will not sing the Gloria, but on Holy Thursday, Evening Mass of the Lord’s Supper, you’ll sing the Gloria since it is a Solemnity. Today, December 12, is the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe. Key word: "feast".  Sing the Gloria!  You'll notice other unique days throughout the week are called "Memorials", and it can be easy to confuse these with "Feasts" since these "Memorials" are typically used to commemorate certain Saints' feast days. Notice the title of the liturgy is "Memorial" though, and not "Feast", so we do not sing the Gloria on these days.  As you use this rule of thumb, it's important to remember that we celebrate Christmas and Easter for 8 days, so we sing the Gloria throughout the week after Christmas and Easter.

If you want to double check, I recommend picking up a small book called an Ordo, which are published according to each diocese. They indicate a lot of useful information about each liturgy, such as should we pray the Creed, what color vestments should the priests wear, and should we sing the Gloria. Paulist Press also has an app called "Ordo", but you have to be sure to buy a new app every year. Most importantly, memorize the list above and wield it with confidence the next time you prepare music for Mass. 

What Parts Should We Sing at Mass?

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How much of the Mass we sing varies drastically from parish to parish, even from Mass to Mass.  We should sing as much as possible, since in singing we unite ourselves to the "primordial song of the liturgy," which is that of Christ's "victory over sin and death". (Sing to the Lord: Music in Divine Worship, 7).  We usually do not see the average Mass entirely sung though, because it can be difficult for priests and congregations to know and fully participate in singing everything.  So if we don't sing everything, what should we sing?  In other words, what parts of the Mass have a priority for us to sing over other parts of the Mass? "Instruction on Music in the Sacred Liturgy" (Musicam Sacram, 28) answers this by separating the parts of the Mass into three "degrees."  The first degree contains the most important parts of the Mass to be sung.  If you sing at all, it should be the first degree.  If you sing the parts of the Mass in the third degree, you should be singing the first and second degrees as well.  So what is the most important part of the Mass to sing?

The First Degree: The Order of the Mass

The following belong to the first degree:

(a) In the entrance rites: the greeting of the priest together with the reply of the people; the prayer.

(b) In the Liturgy of the Word: the acclamations at the Gospel.

(c) In the Eucharistic Liturgy: the prayer over the offerings; the preface with its dialogue and the Sanctus; the final doxology of the Canon, the Lord's prayer with its introduction and embolism; the Pax Domini; the prayer after the Communion; the formulas of dismissal.

This is called the Order of the Mass, which consist of dialogues between the priest and the congregation. The first example given above is the simplest, which we know as, "The Lord be with you." "And with your spirit."  These chants can be found in the Roman Missal and on the ICEL website, and if your congregation isn't used to singing them, it's something that can be addressed with your pastor, since the priest/deacon leads these chants during the Mass.

Why are they so important?  Love needs to be expressed.  On a human level, love is communicated through our bodies and our voices.  It's difficult to maintain a relationship when love is not communicated.  When we participate in the dialogues at Mass, we enter into unity with the Church, who communicates with the priest standing in persona Christi (in the person of Christ).  The purpose of the Mass is for us to enter into Christ's work of redemption through the Cross and Resurrection, and the dialogues communicate our desire to enter into this relationship.  A great example of this is the Preface Dialogue:

 

The Second Degree: The Ordinary of the Mass

The following belong to the second degree:

(a) the Kyrie, Gloria and Agnus Dei;

(b) the Creed;

(c) the prayer of the faithful.

These texts are called the Ordinary of the Mass, since we use them every Mass (depending on the liturgical season, such as the Gloria).  What is most surprising on first glance is the Creed.  It is very rare to find a parish who sings the Creed, and although it might be difficult and take a long time to teach and master a sung arrangement of the Creed, it should be in the long term vision for music directors to introduce it in a pastoral manner.

The Third Degree: The Propers of the Mass

The following belong to the third degree:

(a) the songs at the Entrance and Communion processions;

(b) the songs after the Lesson or Epistle;

(c) the Alleluia before the Gospel;

(d) the song at the Offertory;

(e) the readings of Sacred Scripture, unless it seems more suitable to proclaim them without singing.

As you can see, musicians preparing for the Liturgy typically spend the most time and energy on what's actually the least important to sing, which are called the Propers of the Mass.  Many times this leads us to only singing the parts of the Mass that are in the third degree.  If we understand the purpose of singing the Mass, and what parts of the Mass are most important, we can see how this demonstrates a disordered view of the Mass.

Musicians should still put in the time and energy in leading music that is excellent, beautiful, and most of all prayerful for the Entrance, Offertory, Communion, etc., but we should also be sure to sing the dialogues (Order of the Mass) and the Ordinary.  The more we can sing at Mass, the more we can express the nature of the Mass, where Christ calls us to enter into the song of His sacrifice to the Father, in anticipation of full communion with God in heaven.

For more on what we sing for Entrance, Offertory, and Communion, check out my post on Singing the Antiphons.

For further reading, check out Bishop Olmsted's article on "Singing the Mass"