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Making the Mass sing

Paul Mason  |  02 February 2017

For Catholics, the Mass is central to our way of life. The vibrancy of a Catholic parish can be measured by the joy and beauty of its celebrations. Parishoners who choose music for Mass have a great responsibilit.

Six tips that draw from Vatican II’s Instruction on Music in the Liturgy. 

1. Collaborate and review

It is important that the musicians, priest and people work in collaboration in choosing music for the Mass, respecting particular expertise each brings to the team. It is also important to review and take stock of repertoire choices at least once a year with a view to improving the repertoire over time.

2. Decide and explain   

It may surprise some people to know that singing has always been an integral part of the Mass, ever since Jesus and the apostles sang at the Last Supper (Mt 26:30; Mk 14:26). We sing at Mass for the same reason we sing at birthday celebrations or sports events or Crowded House concerts.

The songs and music need to correspond to the texts of the particular day, feast or season. In this regard, use the music suggestions resources at They provide a great way to help the team decide on choices. Information is provided to help explain the relevance of your choices to the Sunday texts and the copyright licenses applicable for each song.

3. Prepare and communicate

The team needs to allow enough time for all preparations and rehearsals. For example, introducing new repertoire requires longer preparation time; major celebrations require extra rehearsal. Prepare music choices early and communicate them to the priests and deacons, homily preparer, projection preparer, bulletin preparer, projectionist, musicians, choir members, copyright reporter, hymn board preparer, and the congregation.

4. Diversify

There are over thirty places for singing in the Mass, and seven song types. These are identified in a handy table in ‘Guidelines: Music Within the Mass’, available at

It is most important to choose music firstly from the full diversity of song types: acclamations (e.g. Alleluia, Holy, Amen), dialogues (e.g. Gospel, Preface), chanted prayer (e.g. Our Father), hymns (e.g. Glory to God), litanies (e.g. Kyrie, Lamb of God), processional songs (e.g. Entrance, Communion), and the Responsorial Psalm. It is also most important to choose from the repertoire of music that the people know and can relate to and can sing.

5. Prioritise

Prioritise the songs that maximise the degree of the people’s participation in the singing. 

For a Mass where there is a significant role for the choir in the major songs, prioritise dialogues and acclamations for the people’s participation. 

For a Mass where the people are used to singing only four processional songs, prioritise the Mass parts and the responsorial psalm. 

For each particular congregation, take into account the capability of the people to participate in the singing.

6. Balance

Just how much singing is needed for a particular Mass is a question of balance. Sing as much as is fitting to the joy and beauty of the particular celebration. The joy and beauty of every Mass, even weekdays, is enhanced by some singing. Our Sunday celebrations particularly are a focus for celebrations in which the whole community participates fully and actively. Big events, such as Christmas and Easter greatly benefit from as much of the musical parts of Mass being sung as the community is capable of singing.


Paul Mason is Coordinator of Liturgy for the Catholic Diocese of Wollongong.



Topic tags: prayer, liturgyandthesacraments, church-thepeopleofgod, vocationsandlifechoices

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