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.”