The Catholic Church boasts of a complex structure that ensures efficiency and sufficiency of functions aimed at facilitating salvation and the drawing of followers to Christ. The church has adopted a variety of changes over the years with this regard. In the years preceding the Second Vatican Council, most choirs and organists in the Catholic Church appreciate their role as providers of liturgical songs. There was a 1903 publication of the church Inter Sollicitudenes document by Pope St. Pius X “Motu Proprio”, which encouraged live singing of a variety of responses and Latin chants by the entire congregation. However, a majority of Catholics still experienced a liturgy whereby the songs were done by the choir, or a single singer (cantor); who on several occasions served as the organist.
Vatican II embraced reforms which were a representation of continuity and paradigm shift on how music would and should be used. The 1963 constitution on Sacred Liturgy (CSL) emphasized the use of liturgical songs as well as responses, antiphons, text acclaims and verses. The CSL incorporated a chapter on sacred music, with a declaration that it was of higher value than any other art. The argument was pegged on the formation of crucial parts of the solemn liturgy (No. 112) as the sacred songs firmly bind to the text. The dual purpose of music in the ceremony was also stressed in the constitution. One was to glorify God, and the other, to sanctify the faithful.
Vatican II introduced an aspect of active participation by the whole assembly, hence setting out a new agenda for liturgical musicians. Those charged with the responsibility of revising liturgical books were to prioritize active involvement. The role of the choir and other musicians in the church was reaffirmed, but with the condition that they promote the involvement of the assembly.
Many choirs may have been downgraded, or even eliminated in the years after. Nevertheless, they had a more significant role in the church. The result was a flourishment of a variety of parish choirs from versatile groups to more complex organs like Gospel Choirs, Life Teen Bands, and Chant Ensembles. Different parishes across the globe embraced array regarding church choirs in the quest to fulfill the constitutional requirement. Such groups include children, youth, and traditional choirs as well as a contemporary ensemble.
Church documents on liturgical music reveal a gradual change on the interactions between various choirs or music ministries and the general assembly. Some official records, amongst them, the recently revised Roman Missal General Instruction envision mass celebrations in which the meeting is involved in sung dialogue with priests and live singing with the choir or cantor. The documents have the presumption that the liturgy is a sung celebration with the priest and choir/cantor assigned different roles. The choir’s singing forms an integral part of the celebration and should, therefore, be to the plans of the prayers or song of the whole congregation. The situation has posed the challenge of fostering active participation by the congregants while still ensuring the utmost quality of music.
Lawrence V. McCrobie