“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
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
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
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
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.
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
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.
“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)
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.”
Ministers of Liturgical Music should be dressed in a way that expresses the respect and dignity
proper to the ministry they exercise.