Sacred Music

We suggest you explore the resources available through the Church Music Association and Benedict XVI Institute.

Below, we offer the following introduction which was generously put together by Karen Shadle of the Archdiocese of Louisville.

The Parts to Be Sung

Preference for singing should be given to those parts of the Holy Mass that are of greater importance. The USSCB in Sing to the Lord, 115 orders these as:

1. Dialogues and Acclamations

2. Antiphons and Psalms

3. Refrains and repeated responses

4. Hymns

See also Musicam Sacram, 29.

Judging the Appropriateness

According to Sing to the Lord, in evaluating music for the Liturgy, consideration is given to the three following qualities collectively. Each judgment must be weighed together, emphasizing cooperation and respect among pastors, musicians, liturgists, and planners. For additional information, reference Music in Catholic Worship.


“Is this composition capable of meeting thestructural and textual requirements setforth by the liturgical books for thisparticular rite?” (STTL, 128)


“… takes into consideration the actual communitygathered to celebrate in a particular place at aparticular time. … Will this composition draw thisparticular people closer to the mystery of Christ?”(STTL, 133)


“Is this composition technically, aesthetically, and expressively worthy? This judgment requires musical competence. Only artistically sound music will be effective and endure over time. To admit to the Liturgy the cheap, the trite, or the musical cliché often found in secular popular songs is to cheapen the Liturgy, to expose it to ridicule, and to invite failure.” (STTL, 134-135)

The Entrance Chant

General Instruction for the Roman Missal, 48

This chant is sung alternately by the choir and the people or similarly by a cantor and the people, or entirely by the people, or by the choir alone. In the Dioceses of the United States of America, there are four options for the Entrance Chant:

(1) the antiphon from the Missal or the antiphon with its Psalm from the Graduale Romanum, as set to music there or in another setting;

(2) the antiphon and Psalm of the Graduale Simplex for the liturgical time;

(3) a chant from another collection of Psalms and antiphons, approved by the Conference of Bishops or the Diocesan Bishop, including Psalms arranged in responsorial or metrical forms;

(4) another liturgical chant that is suited to the sacred action, the day, or the time of year, similarly approved by the Conference of Bishops or the Diocesan Bishop.

Church Documents

Sacrosanctum Concilium (1963)

This important document is the Constitution on the Liturgy from the Second Vatican Council. It included chapters dedicated to sacred art and music.

30. Participation must also be external, so that internal participation can be expressed and reinforced by actions, gestures, and bodily attitudes, and by the acclamations, responses, and singing

112. The musical tradition of the universal Church is a treasure of inestimable value, greater even than that of any other art.””Sacred music will be the more holy the more closely it is joined to the liturgical rite, whether by adding delight to prayer, fostering oneness of spirit, or investing the rites with greater solemnity.

113. A liturgical service takes on a nobler aspect when the rites are celebrated with singing, the sacred ministers take their parts in them, and the faithful actively participate.

116. The Church acknowledges Gregorian chant as distinctive of the Roman liturgy; therefore, other things being equal, it should be given pride of place in liturgical servicesBut other kinds of sacred music, especially polyphony, are by no means excluded from liturgical celebrations, provided they accord with the spirit of the liturgical service.

Musicam Sacram (1967)

This document from the Second Vatican Council specifically addressed music in the liturgy.

7. Between the solemn, fuller form of liturgical celebration, in which everything that demands singing is in fact sung, and the simplest form, in which singing is not used, there can be various degrees according to the greater or lesser place allotted to singing. However, in selecting the parts which are to be sung, one should start with those that are by their nature of greater importance, and especially those which are to be sung by the priest or by the ministers, with the people replying, or those which are to be sung by the priest and people together. The other parts may be gradually added according as they are proper to the people alone or to the choir alone.

15. Participation in the Sacred Liturgy must be ‘internal, in the sense that by it the faithful join their mind to what they pronounce or hear, and cooperate with heavenly grace’

Even when listening to the various prayers and readings of the Liturgy or to the singing of the choir, the assembly continues to participate actively as they ‘unite themselves interiorly to what the ministers or choir sing, so that by listening to them they may raise their minds to God.’

Sing to the Lord (2007)

In this document the USCCB provides basic guidelines for understanding the role and ministry of music in the liturgy. It is the most recent document guiding American Catholics following Music in Catholic Worship (1972).

5. Good celebrations can foster and nourish faith. Poor celebrations may weaken it.

13. The quality of our participation in such sung praise comes less from our vocal ability than from the desire of our hearts to sing together of our love for God. Participation in the Sacred Liturgy both expresses and strengthens the faith that is in us.

Tra le sollecitudini (1903)

Motu proprio issued by Pope Pius X on sacred music.

1. Today Our attention is directed to one of the most common [abuses], one of the most difficult to eradicate, and the existence of which is sometimes to be deplored in places where everything else is deserving of the highest praise … Such is the abuse affecting sacred chant and music.