The Archdiocese of Birmingham - The Parish of the Immaculate Conception

Music and Choirs

The History of the Ministry.

Music and worship have a long affinity going back to the Old Testament. The Psalms were written to be sung – Jesus and His disciples sung psalms after the Last Supper before making their way to the Garden of Gethsemane (Mark 14: 26). The Psalms formed the backbone of Jewish worship and this, in turn, inspired Cristian prayer. In the psalms Christians saw the coming of Christ, His ministry, death and Resurrection all foretold. As a result they became a keystone to Christian worship forming the core of the prayer of the church known as the Divine Office. Saint Paul, writing to the Ephesians, exhorted them to: “Sing psalms and hymns and inspired songs among yourselves, singing and chanting to the Lord in your hearts, always and everywhere giving thanks to God who is our Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (4: 19-20). He takes up the theme again in the First Letter to the Corinthians: “I shall pray with the spirit, but I shall pray with the mind as well: I shall sing praises with the spirit and I shall sing praises with the mind as well.” (14: 15). The author of the Letter of James advises that “ ... anyone in good spirits should sing a psalm.” (5: 13).

During the post-apostolic age, in the fourth century the popularity of cantors and singers in some churches forced the introduction of regulations governing their ministry. The Council at Laodicea allowed cantors to sing from the ambo, but they were not to wear the same vestments as other ministers. The council also restricted ministers, including cantors from frequenting local taverns. They were supposed to lead moral lives so that their behaviour away from the church would enhance their ministry within it.

As monasticism developed in the west monks and nuns would spend the hours of the many daily services singing and chanting the psalms in the worship of God. This needed to be led by a skilled singer or cantor.

The Nature of the Ministry.

Saint Augustine said in one of his sermons that “Singing is for one who loves.” Music still does, as it did in the past, form an important part of the liturgy. It drives the rhythm of the Mass, it creates mood, atmosphere, emotion that leads us into prayer, praise, sorrow and wonderment that draws us closer to the beauty that is God. The role of the cantor is key in this. The cantor sets to tone and pace of the singing, he or she brings the people together in worship indicating where a new verse begins, keeping the pitch and rhythm where they should be. Saint Paul, in his First Letter to the Corinthians, writes: “There are many different gifts, but it is always the same Spirit; there are many different ways of serving, but it is always the same Lord. There are many different forms of activity, but in everybody it is the same God who is at work in them all. The particular manifestation of the Spirit granted to each one is to be used for the general good.” (12: 4-7).

“Among the faithful, the schola cantorum or choir exercises its own liturgical role, ensuring that the parts proper to it, in keeping with the different types of chants, are properly carried out and fostering the active participation of the faithful through the singing. What is said about the choir also applies, in accordance with the relevant norms, to other musicians, especially the organist.”
General Instruction of the Roman Missal, 103.

I am interested in this ministry - what will it involve me doing?

The Parish of the Immaculate Conception has two choirs – that at the 11.00 a.m. Sunday Mass is the more traditional in its music companied by an organ while that at the 9.00 a.m. Sunday Mass tends to adopt a less formal approach and is accompanied by guitars, flutes and an electric piano. Both are always keen to welcome new members and not being able to read music is not an obstacle. Both choirs have regular practice sessions and unless you choose to do so you will not be asked to act as a solo cantor.

Further reading:

Jennifer Kerr Breedlove and Paul Turner (2007) - Guide for Music Ministers. [The Liturgical Ministry Series]. Chicago. Liturgy Training Publications.
Jennifer Kerr Breedlove and Paul Turner (2007) - Guide for Cantors. [The Liturgical Ministry Series]. Chicago. Liturgy Training Publications.
Catholic Bishops' Conference of England and Wales (2002) - General Instruction of the Roman Missal. London. Catholic Truth Society (PDF file).
Catholic Bishops' Conference of England and Wales (2005) - Celebrating the Mass; a pastoral introduction. London. Catholic Truth Society. (PDF file)
Peter J.Elliott (2005) - Ceremonies of the Modern Roman Rite; the Eucharist and the Liturgy of the Hours. Second edition. San Francisco. Ignatius Press.