Minimum Age for Cantors (Catholic Church)?
  • TeresaW
    Posts: 35
    Good evening, all,

    I am considering training some young people to be cantors. That being said, I'm wondering if there's a minimum age to be a cantor? According to the Cantor guide from the Diocese of Lansing, there's no sacramental requirement (I've attached a snip of the paragraph detailing this). Even with this dioceses' rule in mind, I'm simply doubtful because I remember my catechist great-Aunt telling my mother that I should not cantor before High School per Church rules.

    Can I allow late Middle School and early High School adolescents to cantor with an adult cantor (in a mentor-student relationship)? Are there any official rules on age?

    Thank you to the experts out there!image
    Thanked by 1Jes
  • I would think in terms of minimum requirements for serving in the capacity of cantor, not minum age. Age should be irrelevant in assessing whether a person can function with confidence and a minimum of expertise. It is quite conceivable that a given grade school person, certainly a high school one, could fulfill the cantoral role well.

    What might constitute 'minimum requirements'?
    I would look for a good solid voice, very good diction, ability to sing a text musically and bring its meaning to life for the congregation, good intonation, projection, and a good musical sense, dedication and willingness properly to be prepared, etc. Failure to display any of the above would result in non-acceptance or dismissal. Age is irrelevant.
    (The Sarum Use stipulated that Alleluya was to be intoned by a boy chorister [four on great feasts] wearing a cope - so youth would not be a novelty.)

    Look for competence, not age.

  • CharlesW
    Posts: 8,399
    There are no age requirements that I am aware of. As noted, cantors are not instituted ministers and don't need to meet the requirements for the instituted or ordained. As Jackson noted, ability not age is what matters.
  • CCoozeCCooze
    Posts: 505
    I suppose you'll need to find out if having minors in your choir will require the adults to have Virtus (or some equivalent) training/certification.
    Thanked by 1ClergetKubisz
  • As an aside -
    Several have mentioned the matter of instituted 'ministers'. We at Walsingham do not have cantors, but we do have instituted lectors who chant the lectionary on solemnities. This was at the initiative of Bishop Lopes, who instituted us. Currently there are two of us, but, since I am not immortal, we do need to train more. We have quite a few non-instituted lectors who read the lectionary on ordinary Sundays, and do it very well.
    We also have a number of instituted acolytes who serve as sub-deacons at our masses.

    A cantor, such as is common in the OF, would have no role at all at Walsingham's masses. Our people know what to do by reading their service folders and from subtle cues from the organ. Our psalm is sung in directum by all to Anglican chant. If someone had the indecency to make any sort of announcement or non-ritual utterance at any of our masses I believe that the building would collapse spontaneously.
  • I would be surprised if there was such a restriction. The choir schools have cantors in very young years.
  • chonakchonak
    Posts: 6,787
    The diocesan official who wrote the above may be failing to remember that cantors sing responsorial psalms. Those are Scripture readings just as much as the readings that precede and follow the psalm, so at least some of the norms for a lector should apply as well as whatever singing requirements are pertinent. E.g., a cantor should be a practicing Catholic.
  • PaxMelodious
    Posts: 172
    My concern would be the practical issues around practise: Where I am based, if you have a person who is a minor involved with anything, then you should have two adults present at all times, one of who must have been police-vetted by the parish/diocese. Or if you cannot have two adults, at very least two same-gender minors.

    Training up the group to start with is easy enough in a group context. But the specific practice for each week would usually need to be individual, since there's only one cantor. And that would mean scheduling to suit musician, cantor and chaperone.
  • Dbfishersr
    Posts: 1
    I, too, train youth in our parish to be cantors; however, my priest does not allow them to participate until they have been confirmed, usually in ninth or tenth grade. Even during Life Teen Masses, the participants cannot be lectors or servers until they have been confirmed. I assumed our priest was basing this on some official source such as the GIRM or other instructional document. It may, in fact, be his personal preference, but it has in fact worked very well. By confirmation age, most of the male voices are through changing and the female voices are slowly maturing. It still gives me several years to train and develop them and provides a nice pool of singers throughout the liturgical year.
  • Steve CollinsSteve Collins
    Posts: 1,000
    I disagree with chonak, and all diocesan "liturgists" who are classifying the Responsorial Psalm as a fourth "Reading". I have been involved in singing at Mass since my parochial school days before Vatican II. In the time since the Council closed, the sung responses between the Readings has gone back and forth between Reading and NOT a Reading. IMO, it is more like the Gradual (and all other Propers, mostly ignored by modern liturgists) and is a musical response/meditation between the Scripture Readings. Certainly, the Psalms are in the Bible, and therefor "Scripture", but they were intended to be sung. There are so many other parts of the Mass that are directly from the Scriptures, I see no need of this special classification for the Psalm between the Readings.

    I do realize that learned people on this forum disagree with me on this, and that my opinion is in conflict with most diocesan offices. That matters not to me. This is my opinion, and I will stick with it.

    And part of my "reasoning" is that, if the RP is officially a "Reading", then it MUST be read (performed) from the ambo. Again, if this is music, it needs to come from whichever part of the church provides the music. If the Cantor/Psalmist is accompanied by the organ in the choir loft, then that is where the singer should be. This is really a quite simple concept!
  • a_f_hawkins
    Posts: 478
    On the one hand the Instruction on the Lectionary says the cantor sings the responsorial psalm "from the lectern", and GIRM says "from the ambo or another suitable place". On the other hand both instructions, which are very similar, clearly refer to the Readings, and to the Responsorial Psalm, under these separate headings.
  • Liam
    Posts: 3,023

    Just to clarify: the General Instruction on the Lectionary (2nd Edition) dates from 1981, and footnotes to a now-superseded edition of the GIRM. Thus, the 3rd edition of the GIRM, which is later and specific, would normally control to permit "another suitable place". The RP is fully within the lections (the choice of the RP is specific to the other elections) rather than a song between lections, but allowance is made for it to be offered differently; however, one might argue that the Gradual is not within the lections as such (not being within the Lectionary), so perhaps that's one reason for flexibility.
  • a_f_hawkins
    Posts: 478
    Liam - Agreed
    Going back to the OP's question - it depends what we mean by a cantor. Often, I think, what we mean is some singer as a solo voice in chant, which is rather different from the technical use in GIRM (England&Wales version) :
    102. It is the psalmist’s place to sing the Psalm or other biblical canticle to be found between the readings. To carry out this function correctly, it is necessary for the psalmist to be accomplished in the art of singing Psalms and have a facility in public speaking and elocution
    104. It is fitting that there be a cantor or a choir director to direct and support the people’s singing. Indeed, when there is no choir, it is up to the cantor to direct the different chants, with the people taking the part proper to them.
    I know someone who demonstrated superb skill at choir conducting for one rehearsal piece as a treat for her 13th birthday. I also knew a cathedral precentor with vast musical knowledge and a beautiful voice who was absolutely useless as a cantor, he had no/nil/zilch rapport with the congregation.
  • ...what we mean by a cantor.

    This is the $64.000 question of our age.

    Let us consider some things and talents that an historical cantor would have and accept that this is what constitutes a real live actual genuine bona fide authentic cantor -
    >Can sing psalms to all the eight Gregorian tones (and probably point them at sight)
    >Is well versed in Gregorian chant.
    >Can confidently sing the incipits to any and all chants for others to take up.
    >Can sing authoritatively the solo sections of all the Gregorian repertory.
    >Set the tone and mood for chants to be sung by all.
    >Lead others by his or her vocal projection alone.
    >Can sing the lectionary with grace and authority
    >The above hold regardless of the language which is being chanted.
    >One who, in short, follows proudly in the footsteps of the highly skilled cantors of the early centuries of the Church.

    And - some things that a cantor is not -
    >A 'song leader'
    >One who raises (or flails) hands or arms
    >One who pirouettes
    >One who sings into a microphone
    >One who announces stuff throughout the liturgy
    >One who does well to more or less sing stuff like R&A and thinks that this is being a cantor.
    >One who knows little, if anything, about chant.

    And - another kind of cantor, a Kantor, really -
    >This, in the Lutheran tradition, is the rough equivalent of the Anglican choirmaster and orgainist, highly competent and highly esteemed.
    Thanked by 1tomjaw
  • Cantor has never been one of the seven ranks of ordained ministry identified in the Western progression of orders, so it must instead be understood to be a particular office or function which is fulfilled, and thus the qualifications must comport to particulars of the office being exercised.

    If the liturgy in question requires that the cantor sing the psalm and gospel acclamation provided in R&A, and nothing else, then the ability to do that with competence, dignity, etc. is the requirement.

    If the liturgical practice of a given place requires the cantor to also serve as a commentator throughout the mass, intone the prayers of the faithful, sing all of the Gregorian propers for the mass, and sing Schubert's Ave Maria as a solo, then the ability to do that would be the minimum for a cantor.

    I suppose in some ideal world all cantors would also be instituted lectors, have a thorough formation in liturgy, sacraments, scripture, and music, but since we live on Earth and not in a fantasy world we must make do.

    I think a lot of music directors make the mistake of letting someone serve as a cantor for some occasion, for which perhaps that person is well prepared, and then are not able to find a good excuse for why that person shouldn't regularly serve as a cantor for other occasions for which the person is not well prepared. For my own part I am vastly more comfortable learning a piece of chant than something modern, and others are quite the opposite, so don't fall into some stupidity about who's "turn" it is, match the musician and the music as best as possible.

    Also, microphones, while a thing I generally dislike in liturgy, are a necessity in many of our churches. Something to do with carpet, carpet pads, and very noisy air handling systems (and lots of screaming children, who would probably scream less if not for the overly loud PA system...) making our churches acoustically worthless.

    Finally, the psalm ideally should be chanted from the ambo just as the epistle and lesson also should ideally be chanted from the ambo. In the case of the readings the chanting can be replaced with reading. In the case of the psalm, other suitable locations are permissible. I generally prefer singers be primarily heard more than seen in liturgy, but in the case of the psalm I think the ambo does make sense.
  • CharlesW
    Posts: 8,399
    I think we are straining at gnats. Much that has been said assumes cantors are plentiful, they are well-trained, and have genuine talent. Many do not, but are all that is available in that place at that time. We make do.
    Thanked by 2melofluent bhcordova
  • ...straining at gnats...

    If we are straining at anything, it is calling pirouettists and arm flailers and announcers and people who hardly can sing a psalm from the likes of R&A cantors. It is rather like calling someone who does well to read a Dick and Jane primer (complete with bodily contortions) literate.

    Actually, the description I gave above is far beyond what talent and learning would be easily found in this land. I am aware of this, but desired to point in the direction in which we should be going. Certainly every cathedral and musically mature parish should be blessed with someone(s) of at least roughly similar stature as cantor(s). If anyone could boast of some semblance of the attributes I gave he or she would be far more a 'cantor' than those whom we with a polite fiction call cantors. Most of them are a disgrace to the cantoral office. Further, the subjectively founded and realtivist definitions of a cantor which are offered above do nothing to improve the state and respect of music in our churches.

    Those of our Catholic universities which offer graduate degrees in sacred music (of which UST, Houston, is now one) should include in their curricula serious training in the history and practice of cantors.

    We have instituted acolytes and instituted lectors - there is no reason that we shouldn't have instituted cantors who know chant and liturgical song and perform their role with a very high level of expertise.
    Thanked by 1a_f_hawkins
  • CharlesW
    Posts: 8,399

    We have instituted acolytes and instituted lectors - there is no reason that we shouldn't have instituted cantors who know chant and liturgical song and perform their role with a very high level of expertise.

    Those offices as minor orders certainly disappeared after the Vatican II reforms and are now called "ministries." You may "institute" them somehow, but they are not ordained. Eastern churches still have ordained readers, cantors, and subdeacons, all male.

    I have decent cantors who sing from the loft, not the front. I have seen those "arm flailers" and agree they are a disgrace. As for the state of music education in "Catholic" schools - some being questionably Catholic - it likely varies from good to bad. Professional cantors are available, if you can convince the parish to pay for them. Most will not do so.
    Thanked by 1M. Jackson Osborn
  • JesJes
    Posts: 384
    My first job as cantor was at the age of 7. But I was a strong reader of music and words. My friends weren't allowed to cantor til they were 11 or 12. My brother also cantored early. We often used 2 or 3 young kids as cantors and the older ones could cantor in a pair or on their own.
    We were required to memorise a number of responsorial psalms and sing something in latin for our audition. Nowadays that is not considered to be egalitarian and is too elitist and parents complain so...

    We use something called "frequent choir points" in my school where the kids have to accrue 20 frequent choir points to be allowed to cantor on the microphone. You earn a point from attending a rehearsal and a point for attending a mass.
    Let's just say... it's an ordinary school but the kids beg their parents to go to mass and so the parent comes with the child, drops them off at the church and picks them up afterwards... So make sure to specify that they must come accompanied by an adult cos you don't want to be babysitting and well... what poor example to not attend mass with one's child...
    Thanked by 1CHGiffen
  • Caleferink
    Posts: 216
    I have a cantor who is 13 yo (started last year). Unlike many singers her age, she projects *very* well - I have actually had to work very hard with her to get her not to over-sing (she thought she had to in order to project over the organ - I assured her this was not the case). Admittedly there have been some "off" moments and times where I've wondered if this is the right thing to be doing, but as her voice is starting to mature there's more control and warmth to her tone, whereas before it was rather harsh. She's also become one of my most well-prepared cantors.

    Some had tried to pressure me to get rid of her when she was starting out and had a lot of those rough edges - too loud, too brash, too off-key, etc. One person even stormed out of the parish in a fit of rage and fury over her. I recalled then that this was about the age I started myself, both as a cantor and a (then) pianist at Sunday Mass (I had been in the children's choir for a few years before). I can only imagine how "harsh" and "off" I was at that age, but if that parish music director didn't trust and encourage me to keep going and working at my craft, I probably would not be doing what I'm doing today. In a sense then, I feel I have a duty to "pay it forward" when someone(s) like this come around.
  • melofluentmelofluent
    Posts: 3,923
    Unless and until local parish pastors (and bishops) take a direct interest in matters such as this, most of this posturing and conjecture herein will remain an exercise in straining gnats.
    Thanked by 1TeresaW
  • Steve CollinsSteve Collins
    Posts: 1,000
    As I stated, the classification of the RP as either a Reading or between the Readings has vacillated ever since the first books were printed shortly after the close of Vatican II. Many contemporary Catholic musicians were not involved through all these "adjustments". I believe that the conflation, ironically, came from the separation of the Lectionary and Sacramentary from the all-encompassing Missal. It being the state of affairs that only a few Masses would have enough music to cover these extended Psalms, that they needed to be included in the Lectionary - such that they could be read by someone, if there were no musicians available. Remember, EVERYTHING was in the Missal, in the order it happened, no matter which minister and/or people were to say it. THIS is where the Responsorial Psalm because a Reading - simply because it had to be read, and preferably NOT by the "Presider". (Most people ignore the instruction that the "Alleluia" should be omitted if NOT sung, and insist on reciting it no matter what!) IMO, this is not part of the hermeneutic of continuity, and the "Hymns of the Church", both Psalms and Canticles, should remain as something separate from the "Readings".
    Thanked by 1M. Jackson Osborn
  • chonakchonak
    Posts: 6,787
    Whether the RP be counted as a lectio or a graduale, it's a matter of presenting a scripture text, so there is a sacred character to the act which is not present in singing a non-liturgical text (e.g., an entrance hymn). This is why I think the role of psalmist should involve some of the norms of the role of lector.
  • I agree with both Chonak and Steve (if that's possible).

    While Steve puts forward some cogent thought, I tend torwards Chonak's emphasis.
    Insofar as the psalm (however, wherever, and by whomever it is sung) is found in the lectionary itself it seems rather conclusive that it is conceived to be an element of the sacred readings (all of which should be sung, at the very least on solemnities) and, like them, should be (must be?) read-sung by a Catholic. It is noteworthy that the alleluya responsory also appears in the lectionary. So, is it, too, therefore to be considered a 'reading'? Not likely. Both of these responsories, the psalm and the alleluya with its verse, serve, by an exquisite parallelism, to heighten the liturgical drama by introducing a more complex literary form which includes the voice of the entire congregation as the gathering momentum climaxes at the gospel's proclamation and the ritual which accompanies it. They are in the lectionary precisely because they are inherent to the dramatic and powerful unfolding of the scriptural message of the day. (The ritual surrounding the gospel is magnified greatly in the Ordinariate's 'gospel procession' in which crucifer, torches, thuribler, boat boy, deacon, and book bearer proceed solemnly from the sanctuary out into the nave where the gospel is sung in the people's midst.)

    The psalm, which by post-VII convention is most usually sung responsorially, is the direct descendant of the EF-Tridentine gradual responsory in the LU, which, itself, is the mere remnant of a lengthier responsorial psalm. I, personally, see it as both reading and meditation, but would stress that its being called 'responsorial' is due to the manner in which it is normally sung rather than because of it being a mere 'in between meditation', or, as some would quite wrongly suggest, a 'response' to the first reading. (It is worth stressing yet again that, normally, the Lesson, the Psalm, and the Gospel are of an unfolding piece - the Epistle, usually, being not necessarily of the same 'piece'.)

    Indeed, were The Psalm to be sung antiphonally it would, rather obviously, not be the 'responsorial psalm', but the 'antiphonal psalm'. Further, the psalm as sung at Walsingham would be characterised as the 'in directum psalm', not the 'responsorial psalm' (of course we just call it 'the psalm'.

    The psalm may, of course, be sung in directum (as at Walsingham), or antiphonally (as I know to be done in a few places), or, as is normal, responsorially. The responsorial method seems for several reasons most fitting for most congregations. For one, the responsorial form echos that of the old historic gradual responsory. For another, it involves the people in the reading in a way that increases their understanding of the day's text; and, importantly, it increases the liturgical drama as the readings unfold, and anticipates (and parallels) the Alleluya responsory which heralds the climax of the liturgy of the word. True antiphonal singing by a congregation, while feasible and not to be shunned, is not likely a good option for any but some talented and eager congregations blessed with choirmasters blessed with charisma. Ditto in directum.


    Some further ideas about the psalm -

    Not only is it a part of the OF lectionary, it is the heir to the old gradual responsory found in the LU and GR. This makes it both a reading and a proper. This means that, for OF Liturgy in English the psalm responsory should be included in any complete sets of newly composed propers, just as should the alleluya responsory from the GR. This means that those who might compose choral settings of the propers in English should include the OF lectionary's psalm as an option together with a translated gradual responsory.

    So, a complete set of choral propers in English for the OF would consist of the following English versions of the GR propers -
    Gradual, and, as an option, the lectionary psalm (yes, for all three years)

    It would be a gift of great worth to the Church were someone (Miss Cooze, Greg Hamilton, Francis, are you listening?) to compose such COMPLETE sets of choral propers at least for all solemnities.

    We really don't need any more of these little books of 'entrance and communion antiphons' that seem to be in vogue now. Many of them aren't even the GR antiphons but those from the missal. They are the latest addition to the train of half-baked and misleading measures that do nothing to restore the proper propers - ALL of them.
    Thanked by 2chonak CHGiffen
  • TeresaW
    Posts: 35
    I think we have quite different parishes, Mr. Osborn. I don't think anything that formal will fly here for at least some time. I don't have the manpower to do choral propers all the time either, so for now, I will "make do."

    I appreciate all of your thoughts and tangents.
  • Steve CollinsSteve Collins
    Posts: 1,000
    Please allow me to bring my tangent back to the subject of age requirements, even along with other requirements.

    1. That the older, historic (?) form of a Responsorial Psalm is what we have could be considered part of the archaeologism that Pope Pius XII warned against. Do we really know how it was performed? Are from place in a building it was performed? Are the changes in the GIRM, even since Vatican II, and evolution or a devolution?

    2. That all the "Readings" (including the RP or not) must happen at the Ambo is a modern invention. Catholic church buildings had a pulpit, almost always outside the Sanctuary, where the sermon was delivered. It was never used for the Readings in Latin - the liturgical part of the Mass. The priest re-reading them in English was a pastoral consideration, even if the congregation did stand etc. for the Gospel. Anglican church buildings had lecterns, usually in the choir, not the high altar, separate from their pulpits.
    Conflating the protestant lectern with the Catholic pulpit to make an ambo is more modernism.

    3. While the EF Mass Readings were done by the celebrant at the Low Mass from the Missal on first the Epistle side, and then the Gospel side, that was not so at the Solemn High Mass. In that case, the Subdeacon chanted the Epistle on the floor of the Sanctuary facing liturgical east, and the Deacon processed outside the Sanctuary to a spot in the Nave, and chanted the Gospel facing liturgical north. All of the Readings being done in the Sanctuary, from the Ambo, is totally modern, and an accommodation for members of the laity to come forward as volunteers to read, and thusly the priest or deacon for the Gospel. There is no hermeneutic of continuity in any of this.

    4. To the point, many parishes (including cathedrals) force the singer to leave the choir loft and the rest of the musical forces (and the organ), and quietly (invisibly) make their way down front just to fulfill this questionable practice. This puts extra requirements on ALL the musicians. The organist must accompany the cantor/psalmist from as much as a football field away, and then lead the congregation as the c/p steps back from the microphone. In many places, the raising of one or both arms, to cue the congregation who evidently cannot hear the end of a musical phrase or the organ getting louder, is an ABSOLUTE requirement - and is totally bogus! Said c/p must therefor be vested appropriately AND have a secular style stage presence, as well as judging distances from the microphone. NONE of this is necessary if said c/p is allowed to sing/chant/lead, alongside the organ and/or choir, in the loft, or wherever in the building the organ and choir are located.

    So, IMO, there may be some places that the Psalm performed from the Ambo works, but others that it not only doesn't, but is a definite visual distraction to the congregation, while putting extra requirements on the singers, of any age!
  • Richard MixRichard Mix
    Posts: 1,298
    The RP is fully within the lections (the choice of the RP is specific to the other elections) rather than a song between lections
    The aptness of the Communio can likewise depend on which pericope is read, and explicit allowance for substituting the Gradual makes the "just as much" assertion rather dubious, at least in my opinion.