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You are here: Documents > Sacred Music > Instruction On Sacred Music and Sacred Liturgy  Back one page.

Table of Contents
Table of ContentsChapter III: Special NormsChapter III-2. Kinds of Sacred Music.

Chapter III-1. Principal liturgical functions in which sacred music is used.

A. Mass

a. General principles regarding the participation of the faithful:

22. By its very nature, the Mass requires that all present take part in it, each having a particular function.

a) Interior participation is the most important; this consists in paying devout attention, and in lifting up the heart to God in prayer. In this way the faithful "are intimately joined with their High Priest...and together with Him, and through Him offer (the Sacrifice), making themselves one with Him" (Mediator Dei, Nov. 20, 1947: AAS 39 [1947] 552).

b) The participation of the congregation becomes more complete, however, when, in addition to this interior disposition, exterior participation is manifested by external acts, such as bodily position (kneeling, standing, sitting), ceremonial signs, and especially responses, prayers, and singing.

The Supreme Pontiff Pius XII, in his encyclical on the sacred liturgy, Mediator Dei, recommended this form of participation:

"Those who are working for the exterior participation of the congregation in the sacred ceremonies are to be warmly commended. This can be accomplished in more than one way. The congregation may answer the words of the priest, as prescribed by the rubrics, or sing hymns appropriate to the different parts of the Mass, or do both. Also, at solemn ceremonies, they may alternate in singing the liturgical chant (AAS 39 [1947] 560)".

When the papal documents treat of "active participation" they are speaking of this general participation (Mediator Dei: AAS 39 [1947] 530-537), of which the outstanding example is the priest, and his ministers who serve at the altar with the proper interior dispositions, and carefully observe the rubrics, and ceremonies.

c) Active participation is perfect when "sacramental" participation is included. In this way "the people receive the Holy Eucharist not only by spiritual desire, but also sacramentally, and thus obtain greater benefit from this most holy Sacrifice". (Council of Trent, Sess. 22, ch. 6; cf. also Mediator Dei: AAS 39 [1947] 565: "It is most appropriate, as the liturgy itself prescribes, for the people to come to holy Communion after the priest has received at the altar".)

d) Since adequate instruction is necessary before the faithful can intelligently, and actively participate in the mass, it will help to note here a very wise law enacted by the Council of Trent: "This holy Council orders that pastors, and all those who are entrusted with the care of souls shall frequently give a commentary on one of the texts used at Mass, either personally or through others, and, in addition, explain some aspect of the mystery of this holy Sacrifice; this should be done especially on Sundays, and feast days in the sermon which follows the Gospel (or "when the people are being instructed in the catechism)" (Council of Trent, Sess. 22, ch. 8; Musicæ sacræ disciplina: AAS 48 [1956] 17).

More Perfect Worship

23. The primary end of general participation is the more perfect worship of God, and the edification of the faithful. Thus the various means of congregational participation should be so controlled that there is no danger of abuse, and this end is effectively achieved.

b. Participation of the faithful in sung Mass.

24. The more noble form of the Eucharistic celebration is the solemn Mass because in it the solemnities of ceremonies, ministers, and sacred music all combine to express the magnificence of the divine mysteries, and to impress upon the minds of the faithful the devotion with which they should contemplate them. Therefore, we must strive that the faithful have the respect due to this form of worship by properly participating in it in the ways described below.

25. In solemn Mass there are three degrees of the participation of the faithful:

a) First, the congregation can sing the liturgical responses. These are: Amen; Et cum spiritu tuo; Gloria tibi, Domine; Habemus ad Dominum; Dignum et justum est; Sed libera nos a malo; Deo gratias. Every effort must be made that the faithful of the entire world learn to sing these responses.

b) Secondly, the congregation can sing the parts of the Ordinary of the Mass: Kyrie, eleison; Gloria in excelsis Deo; Credo; Sanctus-Benedictus; Agnus Dei. Every effort must be made that the faithful learn to sing these parts, particularly according to the simpler Gregorian melodies. But if they are unable to sing all these parts, there is no reason why they cannot sing the easier ones: Kyrie, eleison; Sanctus-Benedictus; Agnus Dei; the choir, then, can sing the Gloria, and Credo.

Recommended Chants

In connection with this, the following Gregorian melodies, because of their simplicity, should be learned by the faithful throughout the world: the Kyrie, eleison; Sanctus-Benedictus; Agnus Dei of Mass XVI from the Roman Gradual; the Gloria in excelsis Deo, and Ite, missa est-Deo gratias of Mass XV; and either Credo I or Credo III. In this way it will be possible to achieve that most highly desirable goal of having the Christian faithful throughout the world manifest their common faith by active participation in the holy Sacrifice of the Mass, and by common and joyful song (Musicæ sacræ disciplina: AAS 48 [1956] 16).

c) Thirdly, if those present are well trained in Gregorian chant, they can sing the parts of the Proper of the Mass. This form of participation should be carried out particularly in religious congregations and seminaries.

26. High Mass, too, has its special place, even though it lacks the sacred ministers, and the full magnificence of the ceremonies of solemn Mass, for it is nonetheless enriched with the beauty of chant, and sacred music.

It is desirable that on Sundays, and feast days the parish or principal Mass be a sung Mass.

What has been said above in paragraph 25 about the participation of the faithful in Solemn High Mass also applies to the High Mass.

27. Also note the following points with regard to the sung Mass:

a) If the priest and his ministers go in procession by a long aisle, it would be permissible for the choir, after the singing of the Introit antiphon, and its psalm verse, to continue singing additional verses of the same psalm. The antiphon itself may be repeated after each verse or after every other verse; when the celebrant has reached the altar, the psalm ceases, and the Gloria Patri is sung, and finally the antiphon is repeated to conclude the Introit procession.

b) After the Offertory antiphon is sung, it is also allowed to sing the ancient Gregorian melodies of the original Offertory verses which once were sung after the antiphon.

Additional Verses

But if the Offertory antiphon is taken from a psalm, it is then permitted to sing additional verses of this same psalm. In this case, too, the antiphon may be repeated after each verse of the psalm, or after every second verse; when the offertory rite is finished at the altar the psalm is ended with the Gloria Patri, and the antiphon is repeated. If the antiphon is not taken from a psalm, then any psalm suited to the feast may be used. Another possibility is that any Latin song may be used after the Offertory antiphon provided it is suited to the spirit of this part of the Mass. The singing should never last beyond the "Secret".

c) The proper time for the chanting of the Communion antiphon is while the priest is receiving the holy Eucharist. But if the faithful are also to go to Communion the antiphon should be sung while they receive. If this antiphon, too, is taken from a psalm, additional verses of this psalm may be sung. In this case, too, the antiphon is repeated after each, or every second verse of the psalm; when distribution of Communion is finished, the psalm is closed with the Gloria Patri, and the antiphon is once again repeated. If the antiphon is not taken from a psalm, any psalm may be used which is suited to the feast, and to this part of the mass.

After the Communion antiphon is sung, and the distribution of Communion to the faithful still continues, it is also permitted to sing another Latin song in keeping with this part of the Mass.

Before coming to Communion the faithful may recite the three-fold Domine, non sum dignus together with the priest.

d) If the Sanctus-Benedictus are sung in Gregorian chant, they should be put together without interruption; otherwise, the Benedictus should be sung after the Consecration.

e) During the Consecration, the singing must stop, and there should be no playing of instruments; if this has been the custom, it should be discontinued.

f) Between the Consecration, and the Pater Noster a devout silence is recommended.

g) While the priest is giving the blessing to the faithful at the end of the Mass, there should be no organ playing; also, the celebrant must pronounce the words of the blessing so that all the faithful can understand them.

At Low Mass

c. Participation of the faithful in low Mass.

28. Care must be taken that the faithful assist at low Mass, too, "not as strangers or mute spectators" (Divini cultus, Dec. 20, 1928: AAS 21 [1929] 40), but as exercising that kind of participation demanded by so great, and fruitful a mystery.

29. The first way the faithful can participate in the low Mass is for each one, on his own initiative, to pay devout attention to the more important parts of the Mass (interior participation), or by following the approved customs in various localities (exterior participation).

Those who use a small missal, suitable to their own understanding, and pray with priest in the very words of the Church, are worthy of special praise. But all are not equally capable of correctly understanding the rites, and liturgical formulas; nor does everyone possess the same spiritual needs; nor do these needs remain constant in the same individual. Therefore, these people may find a more suitable or easier method of participation in the Mass when "they meditate devoutly on the mysteries of Jesus Christ, or perform other devotional exercises, and offer prayers which, though different in form from those of the sacred rites, are in essential harmony with them" (Mediator Dei, AAS 39 [1947] 560-561).

In this regard, it must be noted that if any local custom of playing the organ during low Mass might interfere with the participation of the faithful, either by common prayer or song, the custom is to be abolished. This applies not only to the organ, but also to the harmonium or any other musical instrument which is played without interruption. Therefore, in such Masses, there should be no instrumental music at the following times:

  1. After the priest reaches the altar until the Offertory;
  2. From the first versicles before the Preface until the Sanctus inclusive;
  3. From the Consecration until the Pater Noster, where the custom obtains;
  4. From the Pater Noster to the Agnus Dei inclusive; at the Confiteor before the Communion of the faithful ; while the Postcommunion prayer is being said, and during the Blessing at the end of the Mass.

Prayers and Hymns

30. The faithful can participate another way at the Eucharistic Sacrifice by saying prayers together or by singing hymns. The prayers and hymns must be chosen appropriately for the respective parts of the Mass, and as indicated in paragraph 14c.

31. A final method of participation, and the most perfect form, is for the congregation to make the liturgical responses to the prayers of the priest, thus holding a sort of dialogue with him, and reciting aloud the parts which properly belong to them.

There are four degrees or stages of this participation:

a) First, the congregation may make the easier liturgical responses to the prayers of the priest: Amen; Et cum spiritu tuo; Deo gratias; Gloria tibi Domine; Laus tibi, Christe; Habemus ad Dominum; Dignum et justum est; Sed libera nos a malo;

b) Secondly, the congregation may also say prayers, which, according to the rubrics, are said by the server, including the Confiteor, and the triple Domine non sum dignus before the faithful receive Holy Communion;

c) Thirdly, the congregation may say aloud with the celebrant parts of the Ordinary of the Mass: Gloria in excelsis Deo; Credo; Sanctus-Benedictus; Agnus Dei;

d) Fourthly, the congregation may also recite with the priest parts of the Proper of the Mass: Introit, Gradual, Offertory, Communion. Only more advanced groups who have been well trained will be able to participate with becoming dignity in this manner.

32. Since the Pater Noster is a fitting, and ancient prayer of preparation for Communion, the entire congregation may recite this prayer in unison with the priest in low Masses; the Amen at the end is to be said by all. This is to be done only in Latin, never in the vernacular.

33. The faithful may sing hymns during low Mass, if they are appropriate to the various parts of the mass.

34. Where the rubrics prescribe the clara voce, the celebrant must recite the prayers loud enough so that the faithful can properly, and conveniently follow the sacred rites. This must be given special attention in a large church, and before a large congregation.

The Mass in Choir

d. Conventual Mass, or the Mass in Choir.

35. The conventual Mass, among all other liturgical ceremonies, has a special dignity: this is the Mass which must be celebrated daily in connection with the Divine Office by those whom the Church obliges to choir service.

For the Mass, together with the Divine Office, is the summit of all Christian worship; it is the fullness of praise offered daily to Almighty God in public, and external ceremony.

Since, however, this perfection of public, and corporate worship cannot be realized daily in every church, it is performed vicariously by those who have the "choir obligation", and are deputed for this service. This is especially true of cathedral churches acting in the name of the entire diocese.

Thus all "choir" ceremonies should be performed with special dignity and solemnity, making use of both chant and sacred music.

36. the conventual Mass should, therefore, be a solemn Mass, or at least a high Mass.

Even if particular laws or indults have dispensed from the solemnity of the "choir" Mass, the canonical hours are not to be recited during the conventual Mass. It would be more appropriate to celebrate a conventual low Mass according to the manner outlined in paragraph 31; however, any use of the vernacular is to be excluded.

The Conventual Mass

37. Regarding the conventual Mass, the following prescriptions are to be observed:

a) On each day only one conventual Mass is to be celebrated; this must correspond to the Office recited in choir unless the rubrics direct otherwise (Additiones et variationes in rubricis Missalis, ti. I, n. 4). However, if there are pious foundations or other legitimate reasons which require more than one conventual Mass, they still remain in force.

b) The conventual Mass follows the rules of a sung or low Mass.

c) Unless the superior of a community decides that it should be said after Sext or None, and this only for a serious reason, the conventual Mass is to be said after Terce.

d) Conventual Masses "outside the choir", which until now were sometimes prescribed by the rubrics, are now abolished.

e. Assistance of priests in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, and so-called "syncronized" Masses.

38. In the Latin Church sacramental concelebration is limited by law to two specifically stated cases. The Supreme Sacred Congregation of the Holy Office, in a decision of May 23, 1947 (AAS 49 [1957] 370), declared invalid the concelebration of the sacrifice of the Mass by priests who do not pronounce the words of consecration, even though they wear the sacred vestments, and no matter what their intention may be. But when there are many priests gathered for a meeting, it is permissible "for only one of their number to celebrate a Mass at which the others (whether all of them or many) are present, and receive Holy Communion from one priest celebrant". However, "this is to be done only for a justifiable reason, and provided the Bishop has not forbidden it because of the danger that the faithful might think it strange"; also, the practice must not be motivated by the error, pointed out by the Supreme Pontiff Pius XII, which taught that "the celebration of one Mass at which a hundred priests devoutly assist is equal to a hundred Masses celebrated by a hundred priests" (cf. Address to Cardinals and Bishops, Nov. 2, 1954: AAS 46 [1954] 669-670; and Address to International Congress on Pastoral Liturgy at Assisi, Sep. 22, 1956: AAS 48 [1956] 716-717).

39. So-called "synchronized" Masses, are, however, forbidden. These are Masses in which two or more priests simultaneously, on one or more altars, so time their celebration of Mass that all their words, and actions are pronounced, and performed together at one and the same time, even with the aid of modern instruments to assure absolute uniformity or "synchronization", particularly if many priests are celebrating.

The "Opus Dei"

B. Divine Office.

40. The Divine Office is said either in choir, in common, or alone.

The Office is said in choir when it is recited by a community obliged by Church law to choir duty; it is said in common when recited by a community not bound to choir duty.

However it is said, whether in choir, in common, or alone, it must always be looked upon as an act of public worship offered to God in the name of the Church, if it said by persons deputed to this obligation by the Church.

41. The Divine Office by its very nature is so constructed that it should be performed by mutually alternating voices; moreover, some parts even presuppose that they be sung.

42. Thus the celebration of the Divine Office in choir must be retained, and promoted. Likewise, its performance in common, including the singing of at least some parts of the Office, is earnestly recommended when circumstances of places, persons, and time permit.

43. The recitation of the psalms in choir or in common, whether sung in Gregorian chant or simply recited, should be performed in a solemn, and becoming manner; care should be taken that the proper tones, appropriate pauses, and perfect harmony be preserved.

44. If the psalms of a particular canonical hour are to be sung, they should be sung at least partly according to the Gregorian tones; this may be done either with alternate psalms, or with alternate verses of the same psalm.

Vespers When Possible

45. Where the ancient, and venerable custom of singing Vespers according to the rubrics together with the people on Sundays, and feast days is still practiced, it should be continued; where this is not done, it should be re-introduced, as far as possible, at least several times a year.

The local Ordinary should take care that the celebration of evening Masses does not interfere with the practice of singing Vespers on Sundays, and feast days. For evening Masses, which the local Ordinary may permit "for the spiritual good of a sizable number of the faithful" (Apostolic Constitution Christus Dominus, Jan. 6, 1953: AAS 45 [1953] 15-24; Instruction of the Supreme Congregation of the Holy Office, same day: AAS 45 [1953] 47-51; Motu Proprio Sacram Communionem, March 19, 1957: AAS 49 [1957] 177-178), must not be at the expense of other liturgical services, and private devotions by which the people ordinarily sanctify the holy days.

Hence, the custom of singing Vespers or of holding private devotions with Benediction should be retained wherever such is done, even though evening Mass is celebrated.

46. In clerical seminaries, however, both diocesan and religious, at least part of the Divine Office should frequently be said in common; so far as possible if should be sung. On Sundays and feast days, Vespers at least must be sung (cf. canon 1367, 3).


47. Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament is a true liturgical ceremony; hence it must be conducted in accordance with the "Roman Ritual", ti. X, ch V, no.5.

Wherever an immemorial custom exists of imparting the Eucharistic Benediction in another way, the Ordinary may give his permission for the custom to continue; but it is recommended that the Roman custom of giving Benediction be prudently given preference.

Table of ContentsChapter III: Special NormsChapter III-2. Kinds of Sacred Music.

You are here: Documents > Sacred Music > Instruction On Sacred Music and Sacred Liturgy  Back one page.

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You are here: Documents > Sacred Music > Instruction On Sacred Music and Sacred Liturgy  Back one page.

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All contents © copyright, 1998-2018
The Catholic Liturgical Library