Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington

From the

Official News Magazine of the Diocese of Spokane

Deacon Eric Meisfjord, Editor
P.O. Box 48, Spokane WA 99210
(509) 358-7340; FAX: (509) 358-7302

Liturgy Reflections
The three judgments about liturgical music

by Father Jan Larson

(From the Dec. 20, 2007 edition of the Inland Register)

Father Jan Larson What music is appropriate for the liturgy, whether it be the Sunday celebration of the Eucharist, a wedding or a funeral, or even a liturgy for children? The answer is not always easy, but there are a set of three judgments that can be of great assistance in selecting music. The threefold judgment is musical, liturgical and pastoral.

The musical judgment, made by competent musicians, decides whether the music is technically, aesthetically and expressively good. This norm seeks to eliminate the cheap, the trite, and the musical cliché often found in popular songs, for such music will most often cheapen the liturgy.

The liturgical judgment looks to the nature of the liturgical rite itself to determine what kind of music is called for, what parts ought to be sung, which parts may be sung, and who is to sing them. For example, the Alleluia before the Gospel should always be sung, but planners must also remember that the Alleluia is not a part of the liturgy during the season of Lent. Another example is the Lord’s Prayer, which the liturgy itself determines must be recited or sung by the entire assembly. It would therefore be inappropriate for soloists, even though they have all the talent of opera stars, to sing the Lord’s Prayer to the exclusion of the rest of the worshipers who are present.

The pastoral judgment, often the most difficult of the three, is the judgment that must be made in a particular situation, with its concrete circumstances, and asks whether music in the celebration enables these particular people to express their faith in this place, in this age, in this culture. The judgment is made by those who plan the liturgy.

A genuine pastoral judgment does not take precedence over the musical or the liturgical judgment. Unfortunately the word “pastoral” is sometimes confused with allowing people to do whatever they want, or with making choices that will not upset anyone.

Compromising on this pastoral judgment happens most often at weddings, funerals and children’s liturgies. But even at funerals, where the sensitivities of people can be at their deepest, the norms that apply to music at every Mass apply here as well. While it may be severely tempting to admit into the liturgy a “favorite song,” or something that is very beautiful but not exactly expressive of Christian faith, such “pastoral” concessions are really not pastoral at all, but are more a case of lack of nerve on the part of those responsible for planning the liturgy. The principles of good liturgy ought not to take second place to personal preferences or personalities.

(Father Larson is a priest of and liturgical consultant for the Archdiocese of Seattle.)

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