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Christopher Mueller is a church musician, conductor, and composer. He aims to write beautiful music out of gratitude to God, the Author of all beauty.
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"Upon the road, René was always occupied with God. His words and the discourses he held were all expressive of submission to the commands of Divine Providence, and showed a willing acceptance of the death which God was sending him. He gave himself to God as a sacrifice, to be reduced to ashes by the fires of the Iroquois, which that good Father's hand would kindle. He sought the means to bless Him in all things and everywhere. Covered with wounds as he himself was, Goupil dressed the wounds of other persons, of the enemies who had received some blows in the fight as well as those of the prisoners. He opened the vein for a sick Iroquois. And he did it all with as much charity as if he had done it to persons who were his best friends."
— St. Isaac Jogues (writing in 1643)

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Rediscovering “Musicam Sacram”
published 12 October 2015 by Chris Mueller

213 Vatican II AVING RECEIVED an absurd Facebook suggestion (albeit in jest) regarding music for a funeral, a friend replied with a very pithy, “Sorry: Musicam Sacram 60.” I decided to look that up, 1 and encountered anew this wonderfully clear and concise document about music in the liturgy.

Musicam Sacram is the official “instruction on music in the liturgy,” released in 1967 as one of the teaching documents of the Second Vatican Council. Not only does Vatican II have a lot to say about liturgical music, but it also has a lot to say about choirs particularly. Sometimes people criticize choral music in the Mass, suggesting that it doesn’t belong, or that all music should be sung by the people and there is really no need or use for a choir.

However, Musicam Sacram in paragraph 7 discusses the roles of liturgical participants in relation to music, with the closing phrase that there is even a role for the “choir alone.” Paragraph 9 contrasts sacred music “for the choir or for the people.” Paragraph 16 elucidates conditions under which “some of the people’s song” may be “handed over to the choir alone.” And paragraphs 19-24 discuss in some detail the role of the choir, different types of choirs, and formation of its singers, beginning with this remarkable statement:

The role of the choir “has become something of yet greater importance and weight by reason of the norms of the Council concerning the liturgical renewal.” (MS 19)

So we can say unequivocally that, yes, Vatican II prescribes choral singing at Mass.

To the criticism one sometimes hears, that the choir is elitist or set apart from the rest of the church, Musicam Sacram offers this direct corrective:

The nature of the choir “should be clearly apparent—namely, that it is a part of the whole congregation, and that it fulfills a special role.” (MS 23a)

Finally, as more general point, music is central to the celebration liturgy. We are instructed that “there is no reason why some of the Proper or Ordinary should not be sung” in a spoken Mass. Read that again: there is no reason to exclude music altogether from a Mass!

Therefore, singing at Mass, and specifically, choral singing at Mass, are manifestations of the true spirit of Vatican II.



NOTES FROM THIS ARTICLE:

1   Musicam Sacram 60 states, “Anything done in churches… [which is] unbecoming to the holiness of the place [or] the dignity of the liturgy… must be avoided.”