I. INTRODUCTION

“Among the many signs and symbols used by the Church to celebrate its faith, music is of 

preeminent importance. As sacred song is united to words it forms a necessary or integral part of 

the solemn liturgy. Yet the function of music is ministerial; it must serve and never dominate. 

Music should assist the assembled believers to express and share the gift of faith that is within 

them and to nourish and strengthen their interior commitment of faith. It should heighten the 

texts so that they speak more fully and more effectively. The quality of joy and enthusiasm 

which music adds to community worship cannot be gained in any other way. It imparts a sense 

of unity to the assembly and sets the appropriate tone for a particular celebration.” Music in 

Catholic Worship (MCW), 23 

A minister of music, also referred to as a “pastoral musician” or “liturgical musician” in this 

document, is one who encourages and leads the assembly in their sung prayer. In order to foster 

and encourage full, conscious, and active participation of the assembly in the liturgical 

celebration, strong leadership in liturgical song is necessary. Choir directors and choir members, 

cantors, accompanists, and instrumentalists must be provided with formation and training 

Ministers of Liturgical Music 1appropriate to their particular function. This document supplies basic guidelines for selection 

and formation of Ministers of Liturgical Music, and is intended for use by those persons 

responsible for parish music ministry. 

 

II. THE ROLE OF MUSIC IN THE LITURGY

The Church’s liturgy is inherently musical; thus, music is a necessarily normal dimension of 

every experience of communal worship. (Liturgical Music Today, #5). In the liturgy, however, 

music is an art placed at the service of communal prayer. “Music should assist the assembled 

believers to express and share the gift of faith that is within them and to nourish and strengthen 

their interior commitment of faith. It should heighten the texts so that they speak more fully and 

more effectively. The quality of joy and enthusiasm which music adds to community worship 

cannot be gained in any other way. It imparts a sense of unity to the Assembly and sets the 

appropriate tone for a particular celebration.” (Music in Catholic Worship, #23). Yet as the late 

Brother Roger, founder of the Taizé Community remarked, “liturgical music must be like John 

the Baptist: always pointing to Christ, never calling attention to itself.” 

 

III. THE ASSEMBLY AS PRIMARY MUSICIAN

The primary musician for the liturgy is the assembly. All other musicians are present at liturgy 

to support the assembly’s song. All musicians are also members of the assembly. “The entire 

worshiping assembly exercises ministry of music. Some members of the community, however, 

are recognized for the special gifts they exhibit in leading the musical praise and thanksgiving of 

Christian assemblies.” 

We speak of the primacy of the assembly because they are seen as the primary presence of 

Christ; they are the Body of Christ enfleshed in the world today. “Where two or three are 

gathered in my name, there am I in their midst.” (Mt. 18:20) “. . . Christ is really present in the 

very liturgical assembly gathered in his name, in the person of the minister, in his word, and 

indeed substantially and continuously under the Eucharistic species” (GIRM 27). It is because 

liturgical musicians are first of all members of this Body of Christ gathered to worship that they 

can minister to the liturgical assembly.

Ministers of Liturgical Music 2

 

IV. SELECTION

The Ministry of Music is open to all baptized who have the ability to truly lead the song of the 

faith community. Based upon the need for knowledge of liturgy and the liturgical year and the 

ability to cope with the public nature of worship, a minimum age of 16 years is suggested. 

Exceptions may be made for younger people who demonstrate unusual ability and maturity. 

Parishes wishing to incorporate youth in the liturgical ministries may use this guideline in 

determining the readiness of young people to take leadership roles in music ministry. 

The Ministry of Music includes cantors/song leaders, accompanists (organists/pianists), 

instrumentalists, choir directors and choir members. A Minister of Music should have: 

 Musical ability – accomplished and skillful rhythm, tempo, melody, etc. 

 Appropriate training and experience 

 Degree in music if in music ministry leadership role (responsible for music ministry) 

 Knowledge of liturgy, current music and principles for selection of music 

 Ability to lead and encourage assembly participation in song and prayer 

 Prayerful approach to music and liturgy. 

Ministers of Music should be chosen to reflect the diversity of the parish community, and should 

include individuals of various ages, social and ethnic background; of both sexes, of the married, 

single, and widowed state. 

The number of ministers should be determined by need. They should not be so few as to require 

service at multiple liturgies on any given day nor so many each does not serve at least monthly. 

Ministers of Music should assume only one liturgical role at the liturgy. “In liturgical 

celebrations of each one, priest or layperson, who has an office to perform, should do all of, but 

only those parts which pertain to that office by the nature of the rite and the principles of 

liturgy.” (CSL 28) (NOTE: While implementing this principle may be more difficult in 

smaller parishes than in larger ones, ideally a sufficient number of parishioners share their gifts 

as liturgical ministers. In addition to allowing an individual to develop more fully the 

competencies demanded in a particular task, such a procedure would call more people to service. 

Thus ministry would not be seen as something belonging only to a select few.)

Ministers of Liturgical Music 3

 

V. FORMATION

All who serve in the ministry of music in a parish should attend special training sessions to 

become aware of theological, pastoral and procedural aspects of their ministry. Training of all 

Ministers of Music will focus on preparation for their major responsibilities. In order to assure 

that all music ministers have the opportunity to receive adequate training and formation, those 

who are responsible for music ministry in a parish should have further special education and 

training that prepares them to reach others. Having appropriate knowledge and training will help 

all ministers to function effectively and bring confidence and joy to their experience. The 

following principles are especially significant in this regard: 

 It is important that all musicians be informed and guided by the liturgical documents: the 

Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy (CSL), Music in Catholic Worship (MCW), Liturgical 

Music Today (LMT), the Milwaukee Symposia for Church Composers (MSCC), and the 

General Instruction of the Roman Missal (GIRM). 

 “[All liturgical ministers] must be deeply imbued with the spirit of the liturgy, in the 

measure proper to each one, and they must be trained to perform their functions in a 

correct and orderly manner.” (CSL 29) 

 The responsibility for effective pastoral celebration in a parish community falls upon all 

those who exercise major roles in the liturgy. An organized ‘planning team’ or 

committee should meet regularly to achieve creative and coordinated worship with a 

good use of the liturgical and musical options of a flexible liturgy.” (MCW 10) 

 “Musicians should use appropriate gestures for animating the assembly without 

conducting them.” (MSCC 69) 

 “Those who assume musical leadership in worship need to balance their skills with an 

awareness that their musicianship is always at the service of the assembly. The nature of 

the liturgy requires a unique style of musical leadership: one that is, at its core, both 

professional and pastoral.” (MSCC 72) 

 Subscriptions to periodicals such as Pastoral Music, Rite, Ministry and Liturgy, GIA 

Quarterly, AIM and Today’s Liturgy, can be very helpful. Membership in professional 

organizations such as the National Association of Pastoral Musicians is an ongoing way 

of continuing one’s education and formation. The following websites also have useful 

information: 

 www.npm.org www.wlp.jspaluch.com www.choristersguild.org

 www.ocp.org www.giamusic.com

 

Ministers of Liturgical Music 4

 

VI. THE DIRECTOR OF MUSIC MINISTRY

Like all other ministers, the Director of Music is first of all a member of the assembly, one called 

to surrender his or her individual talents to the service of the baptized community. The role of 

the Director of Music Ministry is unique among the many forms of lay ministry. Often the 

director will have formal academic training in music, providing him or her with formal skills in 

both instrumental and vocal music. The director must also have a comprehensive understanding 

of the various liturgical rites, especially the Mass and the liturgical year. The Scriptures, in 

particular the psalms, should have a central role in the musician’s formation. Finally, the 

Director should be able to make sound pastoral judgments, work well with a wide variety of 

people, and develop his or her own personal prayer life. 

Some of the Director of Music’s functions are very obvious: accompanying the singing of the 

assembly on Sundays, holy days and at weddings, funerals and other sacramental celebrations; 

directing various choirs, and serving as cantor. Planning meetings with the parish liturgy 

committee, presiders, school or religious education personnel, the adult initiation director, 

engaged couples, and bereaved families are part and parcel of this ministry. 

While the Director of Music ministries usually has a very public role in the liturgy, much of their 

work is invisible to most members of the assembly. Choosing new music for the assembly or the 

various choirs can be very time-consuming. Preparing for choir rehearsals, scheduling 

musicians, rehearsing with choirs, cantors and presiders, personal practicing, budgeting, record 

keeping and professional reading are critical but often overlooked aspects of this ministry. The 

person in charge of choosing the assembly’s repertoire must also be attentive to broader issues 

such as the quality of the sung tests, balancing various styles of music, inclusive language 

concerns, multicultural issues, passing on the heritage of the church’s treasury of music, 

copyright laws, acoustical challenges, the needs of children and young adults, and the role of 

silence in the liturgy.

 

VII. CANTORS

The cantor’s function is to lead and encourage the assembly in singing. Often the cantor has the 

special task of drawing all present into the proclamation of the Word of God through the psalm. 

“The human voice is the premier musical instrument in liturgical worship, and its basic repertoire 

is the psalms” (Fr. A. Kavanaugh). The cantor may also teach new music to the congregation. 

Ministers of Liturgical Music 5Ministers of Liturgical Music 6

Cantors also serve as leaders of musical prayer at funeral vigils and other sacramental rituals. 

Cantors need to be able to sing the text well with a pleasant voice. 

Of all musical leaders, it is especially the cantor who requires direct visual and auditory contact 

with the assembly. In every situation in which the musical leadership has visual contact with the 

assembly, it is important to avoid a physical setting reminiscent of a stage or other entertainment 

venue.

 

VIII. THE CHOIR

The Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy emphasized that “Choirs must be diligently promoted . . 

.” (#114). “The choir remains at all times a part of the gathered assembly. It can serve that 

assembly by leading it in sung prayer and by reinforcing or enhancing its singing. Occasionally, 

the choir may appropriately sing alone more elaborate music that can aid the prayerful reflection 

of the congregation.” (Introduction to the Order of Mass, 18). Attention to pitch, tone, breath 

support and diction are essential for excellence.

 

IX. INSTRUMENTALISTS

“The organ and other instruments not only support and encourage participation through song but 

also, in their own right, can powerfully assist contemplation and express praise and a variety of 

human feelings before God.” (Introduction to the Order of Mass, #18)

 

X. COMMISSIONING

It is most appropriate that Ministers of Liturgical Music be commissioned for their role in accord 

with the rite found in the Book of Blessings, chapter 62, an “Order for the Blessing of Altar 

Servers, Sacristans, Musicians and Ushers.” 

 

XI. CLOTHING

Ministers of Liturgical Music should be dressed in a way that expresses the respect and dignity 

proper to the ministry they exercise. 

St Edward Music Ministry

St Edward Catholic Church

417 W. Grand Blvd

Corona, CA 92882

Office: (951) 549- 6000

Catechetical Ministry  (951) 549- 6005  

Fax: (951) 549 - 6009 

www.stedwardcorona.com