General and Introductory Materials
Part 4 Liturgical Issues

Chapter 45 Music

Preliminary Questions


Ten Finger History


The Three Judgments

1.  The Musical Judgment

2.  The Liturgical Judgment

Liturgical Musical Forms

3.  The Pastoral Judgment

Ministry of Music

Ministry of the

Ministry of the Choir

To Think About

Preliminary Questions

In general do you find music at Mass a help or a distraction? Recall a Mass that you found particularly prayerful; what role did music play in this celebration? What kind of music do you like at Mass? What criteria do you use in making this judgment?

On a scale of one to ten how involved are you in liturgical music? What do you know about liturgical music? How much should you know?

Heard on "Speaking of Faith" on NPR:  "I was walking down the street in Jerusalem and I glanced through the window of a house and saw these men gyrating and acting very strange. I could only conclude that they were mad. Then someone opened the window and I heard the music. Then I realized that they were dancing. --- Only when we are open to "hear the music" can we truly understand our neighbors actions."

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1963.  Second Vatican Council. Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy.  Chapter VI "Sacred Music". (Discursive section = 112. Dispositive 113-121.)  "Discursive and dispositive law" is explained in Chapter d51 Introduction to Liturgical Law

1967.  Sacred Congregation of Rites.  Musicam Sacram.  Instruction on Music in the Liturgy. 

1969.  General Instruction of the Roman Missal, 19.

1972.  USCCB / BCL. Music in Catholic Worship.  TLD (1) pp.  217-242.

1982.  USCCB / BCL.  Liturgical Music Today.  TLD (1) pp. 243-262.

1983.  USCCB / BCL. Music in Catholic Worship  (Revised Edition).  TLD (1) pp.  217-242.

1992 The Milwaukee Symposia for Church Composers: A Ten Year Report. © 1992, Archdiocese of Milwaukee. Available from OCP # 6027, $3.71.

2007  USCCB, Sing to the Lord: Music in Divine Worship (November 14, 2007)


The websites of several major Catholic music publishers:

GIA Publications at

Oregon Catholic Press at

World Library Publications at

National Pastoral Musicians  —a new service from GIA Publications, Inc.—is a groundbreaking tool that brings you the convenience of downloading hymnal selections and reprint boxes of your favorite hymns and songs, right onto your own computer! Creating worship aids and service bulletins was never so easy. And best of all, the only cutting and pasting you'll do will be on your computer.  For the low subscription price of just $100.00 per year, plus the cost of the appropriate reprint license, you now have access to high quality, 600 dpi graphical images of hymnal selections....

 Musical-Arts home page  St. James Press, and lots of links to other musical and liturgical websites. 

The Cyber Hymnal   This site has over 5,200 Christ­ian hymns & Gos­pel songs from ma­ny de­nom­in­a­tions. You'll find lyr­ics, scores, MI­DI files, pic­tures, his­to­ry, & more. To use the site ef­fect­ive­ly, you'll need speak­ers, a sound card & a brows­er that sup­ports Ja­va­Script & XHTML, & can play MI­DI files.

Internet Articles

Eight Habits of Highly Effective Cantors

Exsultet with Real/Audio Sound Clip

St Anthony Messenger Readers' Favorite Hymns Http://

Printed Books and Articles

National Association of Pastoral Musicians.  Pastoral Music.

Resource Publications.  The Music Locator.

Federation of Diocesan Liturgical Commissions.  Copyright Update:  Reprint Permission Policies of Publishers of Liturgical and Sacred Scripture.  Washington:  FDLC. 

Johnson, Lawrence J. The Mystery of Faith: The Ministers of Music. Washington DC: National Association of Pastoral Musicians, 1983. [provides historical background, documentation, reflection, suggested questions for discussion, and a bibliography for: The Assembly, Presider, Deacon, Cantor, Choir, Instrumentalists, Organist, Dancer, Composer. By the same author as The Mystery of Faith: A Study of the Structural Elements of the Order of Mass. Both excellent resources.]

Foley, Edward. "Toward a Sound of Theology". Studia Liturgica, 1993, pp 121-139.

Liturgical Ministry Volume 3, Fall 1994 is devoted entirely to "Liturgical Music."

Liturgical Ministry Volume 4, Fall 1995 is devoted entirely to "Hymnody."

David Haas. The Ministry and Mission of Sung Prayer.  Saint Anthony Messenger Press. 2001.

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Some things I have published regarding liturgical music 

Thomas Richstatter. Liturgical Law Today.  pp 41-48, 103-106, 110, 216-217.

Thomas Richstatter. "Today's Liturgy and Today's Music." St. Anthony Messenger Press. 60 minute cassette.

Thomas Richstatter. Update. "Why Lay Ministers at Sunday Mass?"

Thomas Richstatter, O.F.M. "Valid and Lawful? Fully Effective!" Pastoral Music, April-May 1989, pp 19-20.

Thomas Richstatter, O.F.M. "Making Mass a Real Celebration:  Tips on Planning" Youth Update, Cincinnati:  St. Anthony Messenger Press, June, 2001.  Y0601.  Text available at



Music Publishers and the revised Mass Texts 2011

Music publishers have set up websites to showcase revised as well as new Mass settings.


GIA Publications: Home    Revised Settings    New Settings


Oregon Catholic Press (OCP): Home    Revised Settings    New Settings


World Library Publications (WLP): Home    Revised Settings    New Settings


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Ten Finger History

1. Apostolic [0-399]  Psalmody. Hymns with poetic non-scriptural texts.

2. Patristic [400-799]  Responsorial psalmody.

3. Early Medieval [800-1199] St. Gregory.  Gregorian Chant.  People sing the common.  Schola sings the proper.  Organ introduced.
4. Medieval [1200-1299] Solemn High Mass. People watch and adore. Schola alone sings all.  Part-singing introduced.
5. Late Medieval [1300-1499] Early polyphony. Music left to the professionals.  Instrumental accompaniment introduced.
6. Reformation [1500-1699]   Polyphony.  Reformers work to restore congregational singing.
7. After Trent [1700-1899] Triumph of the baroque. Church choirs. Orchestrated Masses and motets.
8. Before Vatican II [1900-1959] Revival of Gregorian chant as "people music". Polyphony continues to develop as "sacred". "Sacred music" distinct from "secular music".  Predominance of the "low Mass."  "Catholics don't sing."
9. Vatican II [1960-1975] Restore liturgical "roles".  Participation:  Music returned to the people.  Search for new musical styles.  Vernacular texts need marriage partner of new kind.  Cultural incarnation. 1980's copyright issues.  Electronic media issues. 
10. After Vatican II [1975-2050]  Move from "Singing during the liturgy" to "singing the liturgy."  Awareness of "roles" "progressive solemnity" and "structure & elements" leads to composition of musical "units" for gathering rites, etc.

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General Instruction of the Roman Missal

19. The faithful who gather together to await the Lord's coming are instructed by the Apostle Paul to sing psalms, hymns, and inspired songs (see Col 3:16). Song is the sign of the heart's joy (see Acts 2:46). Thus St. Augustine says rightly: "To sing belongs to lovers." There is also the ancient proverb: "One who sings well prays twice."   TRR Commentary  "To sing belongs to lovers."   Singing is usually related to the "emotional content" of the text.  For example, we are more likely to sing a lover song, than singing directions to get to the book store.   This principle is fundamental to the section on Liturgical Musical Forms treated below.

With due consideration for the culture and ability of each congregation, great importance should be attached to the use of singing at Mass; but it is not always necessary to sing all the texts that are of themselves meant to be sung. 

In choosing the parts actually to be sung, however, preference should be given to those that are more significant and especially to those to be sung by the priest or ministers with the congregation responding or by the priest and people together.  [DOL 1409]. TRR Commentary Singing is a "performance event" and part of the "musical judgment" concerns the culture and ability of this congregation here and now.   Part of the "liturgical judgment" concerns which elements of the liturgical action are to be expressed and emphasized in song.  Part of the "pastoral judgment" concerns the culture and faith of this here and now community.

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The Three Judgments

One of the lasting values of the statement of  the Bishops' Committee on the Liturgy  "Music in Catholic Worship" (1972, 1983) is the introduction of the concept of the "Three Judgments".    As a pastor I have found it very helpful "tool" in helping to plan and evaluate liturgies. 

1.  The Musical Judgment

The Musical Judgment = Is it good music? (MCW 26-29)

1.  This is a very important judgment, but it is not the only judgment.  Sometimes it is the judgment that a (non musical) pastor is least qualified to make.  Sometimes it is the judgment that the parish musician is most qualified to make; but there is  danger here if the parish musician is not a liturgical-musician and a pastoral-musician but just a musician.

2.  The Musical Judgment asks: is it good music in itself?

3.  General principle:  Artistic simplicity.    Is the music attractive?

4.  General principle:  Less is more.  Is the music spaced throughout the liturgy or is one or the other rite emphasized out of proportion to its function by too much music.  Is there a theme to the texts of this celebration?  Does this piece enhance the theme or introduce new themes?

5.  General principle:  The artist always uses a limited palette.  Is there a consistency of musical styles and accompaniment?

6.  Is it good music as it is being performed?  Is is proportionate to the resources of the community?  Is it appropriate to the time of day (e.g. harder to sing high notes early in the morning; our vocal cords limber up as the day goes on.  Is the pitch and key of the musical element adapted to the time of day?  Is the music appropriate to the ability of the celebrants?  Is the music appropriate to the instrumental resources available?

7.  How frequently do we use the music?   Keep good songs off the "endangered species list".  Are we singing too many new songs?  Too many old songs?  What did we sing last week?  What proportion of the music is new?  What proportion familiar?  What proportion is difficult or easy?  Are we continually learning new things or always using the old songs over and over?   On the other hand, acclamations (e.g. Alleluia; Holy, Holy, Holy; Memorial Acclamation; Great Amen) should be so familiar that they can be acclaimed by everyone confidently and forcefully.

8.  Future Needs:  We must continually challenge and inspire artists to compose ever better liturgical music which is  adapted to parishes and their musical capabilities.

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2.  The Liturgical Judgment

The Liturgical Judgment = Is it good liturgy? (MCW 30-38)

1.   To apply this judgment one must be aware of the different "liturgical forms.  We are not singing at the liturgy but singing the liturgy.  It is not a matter of singing "hymns" interrupting the liturgy but a matter of singing the liturgy itself.  Therefore, the sung text must musically and textually respect the literary genre and function of the liturgical "element". 

2.   Application of the general liturgical principles to the music e.g. does it foster the active participation of all present?  Does this music encourage all to participate and not just watch and listen?  Does the music use inclusive or exclusive language? What is the degree of involvement in this piece:  background music, listen, participate, perform, create, etc.? 

3.  Roles:  each one performs only those roles proper to the ministry being performed.  Perhaps the most important music ministry is the one who invites the celebrants to sing, especially with face and hand, secondarily with voice (singing and instructions).

4.  Is this music consistent with the Liturgical Year (Calendar)?  The liturgical season (Easter, Advent, etc)?  With the degree of solemnity (Solemnity, Feast, Memorial, etc)?

5.  General principle:  Scripture is always of primary importance in the liturgy.  Are the words Scriptural?  95% of all the texts' words are from Scripture.  Does the music enhance and reinforce the liturgical texts being proclaimed in this celebration?  (esp. the Homily).

6.  Future needs:  We need better liturgical music, music which will foster the participation of all.  Note:  The law of "supply and demand" will lead composers to compose music adapted to the function of the liturgical element when there is a demand for such composition.  These new compositions will take account of "cues" and introductions so that, for example, acclamations can follow immediately upon their cue.  New compositions are needed for an entire "rite" (e.g. Gathering Rite) with parts that can be used or omitted depending on the occasion, solemnity, resources, etc. [Artist uses a limited palette.]

"Singing" is directly related to the "emotional content" of a text.  We don't sing a phone book.  The following list is arranged from most to least "emotional content."  The references are to the statement of  the Bishops' Committee on the Liturgy  "Music in Catholic Worship" (1972, 1983).

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Liturgical Musical Forms

One of the finest parts of the document Music in Catholic Worship treats of the liturgical form of the various musical selections and shows how the form must match the liturgy – acclamations for acclamation times, etc.

Acclamations (# 53-59):  Acclamations are short, affirmative, forceful and rhythmically strong.  A joyful shout.  The "shout" more important than the "content".  Must follow immediately upon the cue.  Ordinarily acclamations are not read from a book; consequently the words of an acclamation (known by all from memory) are never changed.

  1. Great Amen
  2. Memorial Acclamation
  3. Holy, Holy, Holy
  4. Alleluia

Processionals (# 60-62) (Parade music / 2/4 time / watch the parade)

  1. Gospel procession
  2. Procession to bring the bread and wine to the table
  3. Communion procession

Responsorials (63)

  1. Meditation chants
  2. Dialogues

Litanies (65)

  1. Lamb of God
  2. General Intercessions
  3. Lord have mercy

Songs and chants and hymns
1.  Glory to God
2.  Our Father
3.  Meditation songs
4.  Gathering songs (gathering "procession").  Gathering songs "set the mood." 
They  tend to be more introspective, aiding in the process of gathering.

"Summoned by the God who made us
Rich in our diversity,
Gathered in the name of Jesus,
Richer still in unity:
Let us bring the gifts that differ
And, in splendid, varied ways,
Sing a new church into being
One in faith and love and praise."

During the "seasonal" times of the year, they are usually seasonal texts and melodies, creating a sense of  the liturgical season. Perhaps there is no other element of liturgy that can so quickly establish the "feeling" of the liturgical season as music can.  Enter a church and hear "Come, O Come Emmanuel" and immediately it feels Advent.

5. Commissioning songs (exit "procession").  Note:  Commissioning songs tend to be joyful and affirmative, often 4/4 (march them out), direct them to the service of the world outside; aid the transition from "gathered phase" to "scattered phase" of the liturgy. 

"Show us Christ in one another,
Make us servants strong and true.
Give us all your love of justice,
So we do what you would do.
Let us call all people holy,
Let us pledge our lives a-new.
Make us one with all the lowly,
Let us all be one in you."

Proclaimed Texts

  1. Scripture (When sung, the singing must not obscure the text.  Formerly singing "proclaimed texts" was often more for acoustical reasons than for aesthetical reasons.
  2. Creeds
Rubrics   When "rubrics" or "directions" are sung it is usually to amplify the voice so all can hear and to add "solemnity"  (e.g. "Flectamus genua.  Levate.") or to invite a sung response; e.g. "Let us proclaim the mystery of faith.")


To see if you understand how the knowledge of these liturgical "forms" is used singing the liturgy, apply this knowledge to the Eucharist.  Look at an Outline of the Structure and Elements of the Mass and place 3 stars in front of each Acclamation, 2 stars in front of the processionals, Responsorials, and the litanies; place one star in front of the songs.

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3.  The Pastoral Judgment

The Pastoral Judgment = Is it good prayer? (MCW 39-41)

1. Does this music express and deepen the Faith of these people in this place at this time?

2. Does it "say" what I am really wanting to "pray"?  Does this music foster prayer?

3. Is the text "provocative" -- helping me go deeper into the Word proclaimed?

    "Here we are, all together as we sing our song...

    "Shepherd me, O God, beyond my wants, beyond my fears, from death into life."

4. Does the music express what is happening in this local Church at this particular time?

5. Future needs: We need texts rooted in biblical imagery which are provocative to deepen the faith of contemporary Christians. Music and musicians deserve their share of the parish resources, training, etc.

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Three judgments together — These THREE judgments must always GO TOGETHER.  Even two of them without the third can lead to poor liturgical music decisions. Example:  Comparing the Holy Holy Holy of Bach's Mass in B minor with that of third grader Susan Jones' People's Mass in C Major. 

Holy. Holy. HolyBach's Sanctus in B minorSusan Jones' Mass in C
Musical Judgment100%75%
Liturgical Judgment50%90%
Pastoral Judgment60%80%

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Ministry of Music

Pastoral musicians must have the same liturgical qualifications that are required for any liturgical ministry.  Five Qualities of Authentic Ministry

1. An Attitude of Service. Why are you a minister? It is to serve the community, to aid their prayer, to help this assembly become a place where we can contact the living God? It is easy to tell "service" from "showing off." The ministers of music know the difference between a prayer and a performance and they know that the worshiping community can recognize that difference. Ministry is a service to a community of persons; it is not a reward for being a pillar of the parish or a major contributor to the fund drive.

You can tell a lot about your ministry by the comments people make. A good minister should be hearing things like: "Your singing really helped me pray this morning." "I really felt God speaking to me when you read the Epistle."

2. Competence. The good (i.e., prayerful) liturgies which I have experienced have been those at which each of the ministers did their ministry well. While it is important that there be a variety of ministries in evidence at Mass in order to reflect an authentic picture of the Church, this can never be cause for ministers to do tasks for which they are not prepared. There is no substitute for competence. Ministers of music must be competent musicians. The ministers of the Word must be good readers, capable of being heard and understood, capable of inspiring the assembly and making evident the fact that it is Christ himself who speaks when the Scriptures are read in the liturgy.

Often special training is necessary to exercise a ministry well. We are used to providing financial support to train priests; we will have to find ways to support the training that is necessary for the ministries proper to the order of the faithful.

3. Teamwork. In order for the human body to function well the various parts of the body must work harmoniously. When some cells start to grow too rapidly and begin to take over, the cancer must be removed for the good of the whole. We can say the same about liturgy: All the ministries must work together. If those exercising a special ministry do not work together with the other ministers, the very reason for the variety of ministries is defeated. The beauty of the Church's diversity is hidden. A cantor who wants to show off and "steal the show" can destroy a celebration even though the singing is technically perfect. Ushers and readers must work together; the ushers cannot be seating latecomers while readers are ministering to the community.

4. Consistency. The daily lives of the ministers must be consistent with their ministry. This does not mean that you have to be ready for canonization, but it does imply that you cannot proclaim the Good News which Jesus announced to the poor if the congregation knows that you are the most crooked real estate agent in the city. If you are a minister of Communion and helping the assembly share the Body and Blood of the Lord as a sign of their willingness to share their lives with one another, you must be known to be a generous, sharing person whose life-style is consistent with your ministry.

Many parishes today demand that those who are going to exercise special ministries at Sunday Mass must do something special during the week: perhaps participation in the Eucharist or in another form of group prayer, or service to the poor, or some special generosity or spirit of dedication in their daily lives and jobs.

5. Representative. The diversity of ministers at Mass should reflect the diversity that exists in the order of the faithful with regard to age, sex, race and ethnic background. If 55 percent of the faithful are women, they are poorly symbolized by an all-male ministry. The order of the faithful is poorly represented, in the view of many liturgists, when all the lay ministers are dressed in albs or cassocks like the clergy rather than the order to which they belong and which they symbolize.

The diversity of ministers working as a team at Sunday Mass should be an authentic sign of the way the whole parish works together during the week. It is a poor sign to have members of the laity active at Mass in a parish where the laity have no active role to play in the mission of the parish during the week.

(The above five points are taken from Thomas Richstatter, O.F.M. "Why Lay Ministers at Sunday Mass?" Catholic Update, Cincinnati: © St. Anthony Messenger Press, January 1981.)

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Ministry of the Congregation

 All celebrants (=everybody) have a musical ministry because music is integral to the liturgy.

"In the harmony of your minds and hearts, let Jesus Christ be hymned.  Make of yourselves a choir, so that with one voice and with one mind, taking the key-note of God, you may sing in unison with one voice through Jesus Christ to the Father, and he may hear you and recognize you as members of his Son."  (Saint Ignatius of Antioch. quoted by Archbishop Oscar Lipscomb, Chairman of the USCCB Committee on the Liturgy, Newsletter, August 2001, p 32.)

"At music ministry workshops and conferences that I have presented all across the country and other places, the most often asked question is: ‘How do we get the people to sing?' I believe that this is the wrong question. The important issue is: ‘What do the people have to sing about ?' When an assembly experiences themselves corporately as the community of believers rather than isolated individuals; when they feel bonded together on the journey of faith then there is something to sing about. And as a result, they sing!" (David Haas. The Ministry and Mission of Sung Prayer.  Saint Anthony Messenger Press. 2001. p.**)

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Ministry of the Choir

David Haas says: "We live in a culture of individualism, entertainment, capitalis and self absorption, which exists in opposition to what liturgy and our entire of life of faith proclaims. Our lack of lament in worship, and the widening divide between authentic worship and the mandate of Catholic social teaching is severely lacking."  (Hass, David, In his The Ministry and Mission of Sung Prayer, (St. Anthony Messenger Press, Cincinnati, 2001, p. xx)

David Haas says: "The choir still remains a group of singers, but their mission has expanded. They no longer are to perform for a passive audience, they are members of the assembly who lead people in prayer through their musical gifts. Their charge is to add fire and energy to the worship of the people, and assist through the harmonies and interpretation in their choral singing. They have an important role in helping the assembly to respond robustly in the acclamations, litanies, psalms and hymns. There are also time (which are rare) when it would be appropriate for them to sing an anthem or selection alone." (Hass, David, In his The Ministry and Mission of Sung Prayer, (St. Anthony Messenger Press, Cincinnati, 2001, p. xx)

David Haas says: "A true conversion has yet to have taken place for many choirs. Their role and ministry is not determined by a particular musical style, or by their competence or abilities. Their posture and activity is determined by the liturgy, and is in service to the liturgy. The focus should not be on repertoire, but rather, the role. This is where much of the crisis lies in regards to sung prayer - our obsession and over attention to choices in the repertoire, rather than develop and reflect on developing and reflecting upon ta theology of sung prayer." (Hass, David, In his The Ministry and Mission of Sung Prayer, (St. Anthony Messenger Press, Cincinnati, 2001, p. xx)

David Haas says: "At music ministry workshops and conferences that I have presented all across the country and other places, the most often asked question is: ‘How do we get the people to sing?' I believe that this is the wrong question. The important issue is: ‘What do the people have to sing about ?' When an assembly experiences themselves corporately as the community of believers rather than isolated individuals; when they feel bonded together on the journey of faith then there is something to sing about. And as a result, they sing!" (Hass, David, In his The Ministry and Mission of Sung Prayer, (St. Anthony Messenger Press, Cincinnati, 2001, p. xx)

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To Think About

1.  Composers and artists must be aware of all three judgments. The non-musician did much better than the musicians who seemed (in general) to miss the whole point because they, perhaps, knew thought they knew all about music, and consequently skip the liturgical and pastoral judgment.  Few knew what the liturgical judgment was about because few know the elements of the Mass.

2.  Conflicting general liturgical principles — Sometimes there is a conflict between several general principles. For example: A. Beauty elevates. B. Active Participation. Often the more beautiful music is too difficult for the participation of all. When do you sacrifice "beauty" for "participation"?

3.  Donald Boccardi suggests three general areas of concern for any contemporary hymnal:

1.  liturgical-ecclesial issues (e.g., ecumenism, peace and justice issues, inclusive language);
2.  rapport with the contemporary world (multi-culturalism, participation of diverse groups and ages);
3.  the preservation and renewal of tradition.

3.  Music during silence:  Background music?  Something in our culture says that pure silence can be too dissonant with the normal experience of the parishioners and background music actually helps create the experience of silence.

4.  Pastoral musicians have a right to just compensation for their ministry.  See: FDLC.  Copyright Update:  Reprint Permission Policies of Publishers of Liturgical and Sacred Scripture.    Resource Publications.  The Music Locator.

5.  It doesn't matter if you can't sing; God wants to hear your voice. The voice God gave you. God likes that voice. (Vernon Huguley, St. Meinrad, November 1992)

6.  Did you learn anything new about music and its role in the liturgy? How has this chapter altered your attitude toward music at worship?

7.  How much about music does a priest need to know to fulfill his ministry?

8.  State five "General Liturgical Principles" which have particular application music.

9.  What are the three "judgments" given in the BCL statement Music in Catholic Worship?  Explain how they are to be used.

10.  The sung text must musically and textually respect the literary genre and function of the liturgical "element". Name some of the more important literary genres of the liturgical elements of the Mass and indicate how music would respect this genre.

11.  Using the outline of the structure of the Eucharist on the previous page, put three stars in front of the acclamations, two stars in front of the processionals, Responsorials and litanies, and one star in front of the songs.

12.  What steps can a pastor take to get people to sing at Mass?

13.  Trace the history of music through the ten periods of the historical grid.


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© Copyright: Tom Richstatter, Franciscan Province of St. John the Baptist, Cincinnati Ohio, Order of Friars Minor. All Rights Reserved.  This page was created by Fr. Thomas Richstatter, O.F.M.  Every effort has been, and is being made, to acknowledge sources when the ideas are not my own.  Any failure to comply with the United States Copyright Act (Title 17, United States Code) will be corrected immediately should I become aware of it.  This site was updated on 03/20/15 .  Your comments on this site are welcome at