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Church Music:
Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow

by Rembert G. Weakland, O.S.B, Archbishop of Milwaukee
Continued from previous page

The Future

What should we be doing at this moment as we look toward the future of parish church music?

Children's Choir, Farmington, CT

We must continue to see music as integral to the congregation's faith response; to be conscious of the importance of the text; to use choir and cantor to support, extend, and edify the worshipping community. What we need most, however, is an explicit commitment on the part of all involved to restudy Pius X's admonition on quality and the need for music to create an awareness of the sacred, of God's presence.

In a more concrete way, the following guidelines should shape our music in the Catholic parish of the new millennium.

Jane Tanski
  • Our people must learn that liturgy is never a private devotion, but the act of the whole assembled body of believers. Music is not a background to private prayer: It is the prayer of the faith community.
  • There should be some music at every eucharist. Texts, such as the Alleluia, the Acclamation after the words of institution, the Great Amen at the end of the Eucharistic Prayer, cry out for music. That music does not have to be long nor complicated.
  • Every parish needs a cantor and a choir. At every Mass on Sunday there must be music. In addition to those pieces just mentioned as essential, there should be an Entrance Song, a response to the Readings, the Preface acclamation, and Communion hymns. The role of the choir and cantor is to sustain and vary all of these chants.
  • Every parish needs a trained musician, with liturgical sensitivity, to ensure the quality of the music chosen and adequate performance of the right piece at the right time. These decisions are not the prerogative of elected committees of untrained people, regardless of their goodwill. Elected liturgy committees could well meet early in the week with the musician in charge and the priests who will be celebrating the Sunday liturgy. Together they can reflect on the theme of the biblical texts and suggest music that corresponds to that theme; but the ultimate judge of quality must be the professional.
  • It is important that a congregation learn to sing well, and in rhythm. One of the reasons why congregational singing has not been well accepted is that it is not well done. Often the choir sings its portion in a professional way, to be followed by a ragged singing of the assembly. People are embarrassed by this and come away feeling angry. No one enjoys doing poorly. Often this is the fault of the musician in charge, who ignores the congregation.
  • Most of all, people must be taught that the music--words and melody--is their prayer. They do more than sing; they pray together.

To implement all these points will require time and a concerted effort. We must sharpen our tastes in music in general, so that church will not be an isolated moment, but a part of our general cultural concern for quality. As believers, we must support that kind of art and music that ennobles the human spirit and inspires belief in the transcendent dimension of God's presence in human history.

This article, Church Music: Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow, was adapted with permission from Today's Parish, available from Twenty-Third Publications, (800) 321-0411.

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