Saturday, May 20, 2006

even the bishops say we should use choir lofts

From “Built of Living Stones”:
§ 88 § Music is integral to the liturgy. It unifies those gathered to worship, supports the song of the congregation, highlights significant parts of the liturgical action, and helps to set the tone for each celebration.108

§ 89 § It is important to recognize that the building must support the music and song of the entire worshiping assembly. In addition, "some members of the community [have] special gifts [for] leading the [assembly in] musical praise and thanksgiving."109 The skills and talents of these pastoral musicians, choirs, and instrumentalists are especially valued by the Church. Because the roles of the choirs and cantors are exercised within the liturgical community, the space chosen for the musicians should clearly express that they are part of the assembly of worshipers.110 In addition, cantors and song leaders need visual contact with the music director while they themselves are visible to the rest of the congregation.111 Apart from the singing of the Responsorial Psalm, which normally occurs at the ambo, the stand for the cantor or song leader is distinct from the ambo, which is reserved for the proclamation of the word of God.

§ 90 § The directives concerning music found in the General Instruction of the Roman Missal and the guidance offered by Music in Catholic Worship and Liturgical Music Today112 can assist the parish in planning appropriate space for musicians. The placement and prayerful decorum of the choir members can help the rest of the community to focus on the liturgical action taking place at the ambo, the altar, and the chair. (ED: In other words, the choir should not be visible?) The ministers of music are most appropriately located in a place where they can be part of the assembly and have the ability to be heard. Occasions or physical situations may necessitate that the choir be placed in or near the sanctuary. In such circumstances, the placement of the choir should never crowd or overshadow the other ministers in the sanctuary nor should it distract from the liturgical action.

This excerpt outlines an interesting fact that, now that I think of it, is supported by the Roman documents as well: a choir should be out of sight, while a cantor should be visible. I can’t say I disagree....though I question the need for song leaders in a scenario where we really teach people that singing is something to be done at Mass, and that there is no good reason for anyone not to do it.


At Sunday, May 21, 2006 8:15:00 PM, Blogger Jeffrey Tucker said...

Thanks for blogging this. I've read this statement several times before, and I always find myself a bit confused by the strange formulations and oddly parsed and vague principles, some of which seem contradictory. What's the point of writing this way? I really don't get it. If the USCCB is going to comment on the position of choirs, plain English and clear instructions would help. Why not just answer the questions that are everyone's minds? E.g. are lofts suitable and desirable or not? Should the choir stand in front of the congregation or sing facing the same direction as the people? And that material about the Cantor and the director is a real problem too. There is a long distance between a choir in a loft and a Cantor in the sanctuary. In any case, your summary is much clearer than the document itself.

At Sunday, May 21, 2006 8:29:00 PM, Blogger Cantor said...

ISTM that the nature of most liturgical documents is to be explicit as a last resort; the idea, which I can understand, is to form a conscience such that people can best implement a liturgy. For example, let’s say that a church building gets flooded, and we have to have Mass in a gym or something. If the document weren’t “vague” enough, it wouldn’t speak to the needs of that situation.

Of course, the document could say something like, “use a choir loft; if one isn’t there, do this-this-that...”.

But yes, I agree, some clarity would be nice.

Interesting idea: would the people who claim choir lofts separate the choir from the assembly forbid people from sitting in the choir loft when the pews are full at Mass? How many pastors would advocate for a special group of the faithful to be in the Mass facing the rest of the assembly?

I think no one could really think that a choir behind them is akin to a performance. Whether they acknowledge it or not, they like what, in effect, is the form of a concert - and they’re probably the same people who like the soloistic contemporary pop stuff to boot.

At Monday, May 22, 2006 11:08:00 AM, Anonymous brandon field said...

I would hold (weakly) that a loft does separate the choir from the congregation. What about an arrangement of monastic choir stalls, that are on either side of the altar? That's clearly not a performance either, since that arrangement would direct all the attention to the altar. (That doesn't, however, place them out of sight).

And with regards to the song leader, I would say that the cantor functions in the same place to the congregation that the director does to the choir. So I would say that the requirement that he/she be in sight of the congregation is a reasonable one.

At Tuesday, May 23, 2006 7:28:00 AM, Blogger Cantor said...


I think there is a separation of choir and congregation that is natural in most situations. The choir loft, of course, does separate physically, but so does any other arrangement. My argument is that the choir loft is the least of all evils.

Re monastic seating, I don’t have as much of a problem with it, but I’d like it better if there were “actual” congregation on the other side of the altar. Having all the liturgical ministries in one concentrated place seems to marginalize those in the back.


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