Pastoral Musicians, and Cantor

“Among the faithful, the schola cantorum or choir exercises its own liturgical function, its place being to take care that the parts proper to it, in keeping with the different genres of chant, are properly carried out and to foster the active participation of the faithful by means of the singing” (GIRM, no. 103). The USCCB’s guidelines on liturgical music provide additional clarity on the choir’s supporting role:

The choir must not minimize the musical participation of the faithful. The congregation commonly sings unison melodies, which are more suitable for generally unrehearsed community singing. This is the primary song of the Liturgy. Choirs and ensembles, on the other hand, comprise persons drawn from the community who possess the requisite musical skills and a commitment to the established schedule of rehearsals and Liturgies. Thus, they are able to enrichthe celebration by adding musical elements beyond the capabilities of the congregation alone. (STL, no. 28)

Liturgical documents during and after the Second Vatican Council affirm the primacy of the gathered faithful in their singing the liturgy. Choirs support the people and give added beauty to liturgical celebrations. When choral pieces are sung, the faithful “unite themselves interiorly to what the ministers or choir sing, so that by listening to them they may raise their minds to God” (Musicam Sacram, no. 15). The organist and other instrumentalists likewise assist the choir and the faithful through their respective instruments, “without dominating or overpowering them” (STL, no. 41).

A key member of the choir is the cantor. He or she supports the singing done by the faithful, but does not overpower their collective voice, nor that of the choir. In the absence of a choir, the cantor directs the singing of the various hymns and chants, while allowing the people to sing their proper parts as well. He or she may also serve as the psalmist when none is available, as noted above (see GIRM, no. 104; STL, nos. 37-40). The cantor may exercise his or her ministry from a conveniently located stand, but the ambo should only be used by the cantor if leading the singing of the Responsorial Psalm (see GIRM, no. 61; STL, nos. 36 and 40).


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