June 7, 2016

Music in Catholic Worship (Music Ministry)

Chris Muglia

One of the great gifts for pastoral musicians in recent years is the document Music in Catholic Worship (MCW), which came from the United States Catholic Bishops, specifically from the Bishops Committee on Liturgy. MCW gives those interested or involved in divine worship some great guidelines regarding a theology of worship, the role of the pastoral musician, and how to choose music for the liturgy.

"The Three Judgments" are really important to know when we prepare music for liturgy, specifically the Eucharistic liturgy — the Mass! The musical, liturgical, and pastoral judgments all have an important say in helping us find an appropriate balance in our song choices.

When we look at a piece of music for Mass, we need to ask ourselves, "Is this song musically good?" It may have the right lyrical theme and may underscore the message of the holy scriptures, but can it musically carry the weight and timelessness of liturgy?

We may like a song for its musical characteristics; it may have a pretty melody or an interesting chord progression. But what of the theology of the lyric? Are the words consistent with the Catholic theology of salvation? Do the lyrics trivialize the message of the gospel? This is the liturgical judgment.

Finally, there is the pastoral judgment. When deciding whether or not a particular piece of music is right for a liturgical celebration, we need to consider its pastoral effectiveness or relevance. There may be a song that the young church sings well, "owns" and prays well. That same song may not speak to an older generation. Some music may exclude members of the assembly by its own unique nature. Another musical choice may unite an assembly because of its lyrical content, despite its musical style.

These three judgments or guidelines are meant to teach us about BALANCE. In liturgy planning it is not about winning or losing — my favorite song versus your favorite song. Liturgy is always about the Church, the People of God, encountering the sacred, and being transformed through that encounter. Our musical choices (sometimes good, sometimes not so good) need to point to and support that encounter.

Chris Muglia's song, "Our God is Here," comes to mind as a beautiful example of balance: contemporary but accessible musical style, Eucharistic theology contained in the lyric, and just a good, gentle piece of music that could be sung with about any age group. As you listen to this song, let it remind you of the Good News: Our God is here, our God is holy, and our God loves you and me "to life."

*This blog was first published in 2007, before the dissemination of Sing to the Lord: Music in Divine Worship.