Liturgical music guidelines aim to nourish, strengthen message

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  • July 24, 2008

{mosimage}TORONTO - A new committee within the National Liturgy Office is developing liturgical music guidelines for the Catholic Church in Canada.

The guidelines, being drafted by the National Council for Liturgical Music, once completed, will need to be approved by the bishops and will help worship leaders, priests and liturgy offices in the task of deciding what songs are appropriate to play or sing during Mass. It will also assist musicians hoping to compose music for the Mass setting.

“What we’d like to see happen is a parish that has a song that isn’t in the (Catholic Book of Worship), that they bring it to us,” said John Dawson, a member of the council. “We’re developing criteria to advise what songs are appropriate and which are not. We’re there to be a musical resource.”

The committee could be consulted even when it comes to choosing where to use approved songs within the Mass setting. The committee is still determining the submission process.

“Although we can be contacted directly through the members or through the National Liturgy Office, individuals and parishes are encouraged to go through their local bishop or whoever handles liturgical issues on his behalf as this council is, first and foremost, an advisory body to the bishops,” said Dawson.

Dawson, himself a musician who works with the archdiocese of Toronto’s Office of Catholic Youth, is the committee’s consultant on youth and contemporary music. He said that with the growth of Christian contemporary music in recent years, guidelines will help to keep the Catholic messages intact.

“Some music can have blatant theological problems,” he said. “I think if people are not discerning in choosing appropriately, they risk undermining the sense of corporate worship.”

Fr. Bill Burke, director of the National Liturgy Office, said he has encountered many instances where liturgical errors are committed through music, and cites the Communion procession.

“You need to decide — is it appropriate for the Communion procession?” said Burke. “It’s not a time for a personal approach, it’s a time that we are in communion with God through Christ Jesus and with others.”

Burke said that the “me and Jesus” approach in some music should be avoided in favour of a reverant, yet communitarian song. Some Christian songs express a theology contrary in tradition to Catholic teaching when used at inappropriate times, he said.

Burke said the parts of the Mass equally need to be respected. For example, parishes must not replace responsorial psalms with a hymn which uses altered or completely different wording.

“It is Scripture and it cannot use a paraphrase — in the same way you do not paraphrase the Scripture readings or Gospel,” said Burke. “There’s an inner logic to the nature and dynamism of liturgy and music must nourish and strengthen that, and that’s really the purpose of the guidelines.”

There is of course leeway for light textual changes in the refrain of the responsorial psalm, he said. But that is, again, something that parishes should ask their bishop about.

Burke said clear guidelines on liturgical music in Canada will help control some of the extremes in music. However, Catholics need not worry that they will be limited to Gregorian chant or any other particular style.

“With youth, there is a genre of music that’s more attractive (for example) and we recognize that,” he said. “But we have to look at how to develop that and these guidelines will help to do that.”

Burke said the council was formed two years ago, in response to Pope Benedict’s emphasis on the importance of liturgical music.

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