role of cantor in NO Mass
  • I have been serving as cantor the past several months when my daughter plays the organ at our parish for the Saturday vigil Mass. My understanding has been that the cantor is to sing/lead the Psalm and the Alleluia. Period. The rest of the time the cantor is part of the congregation following the organ for singing, not leading the congregation from the microphone. Tonight an altar server came up to me after Mass to say that the congregation can't hear me when I don't stand in front of the microphone and so can't follow the hymns. She said Father wants me to do that. I told her I'm not the song leader; that's the job of the organ. I told her I'd talk to our music director about this (which I will) but thought I'd ask the experts first. :-)

    So, what is your notion of the cantor's role at Mass?
  • MarkB
    Posts: 262
    GIRM 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.

    Sing to the Lord
    The Cantor
    37. The cantor is both a singer and a leader of congregational song. Especially when no
    choir is present, the cantor may sing in alternation or dialogue with the assembly. For example, the cantor may sing the invocations of the Kyrie, intone the Gloria, lead the short acclamations at the end of the Scripture readings, intone and sing the verse of the Gospel Acclamation, sing the invocations of the Prayer of the Faithful, and lead the singing of the Agnus Dei. The cantor may also sing the verses of the psalm or song that accompany the Entrance, Preparation of the Gifts, and Communion. Finally, the cantor may serve as psalmist, leading and proclaiming the verses of the Responsorial Psalm.

    38. As a leader of congregational song, the cantor should take part in singing with the
    entire gathered assembly. In order to promote the singing of the liturgical assembly, the cantor’s voice should not be heard above the congregation. As a transitional practice, the voice of the cantor might need to be amplified to stimulate and lead congregational singing when this is still weak. However, as the congregation finds its voice and sings with increasing confidence, the cantor’s voice should correspondingly recede. At times, it may be appropriate to use a modest gesture that invites participation and clearly indicates when the congregation is to begin, but gestures should be used sparingly and only when genuinely needed.

    39. Cantors should lead the assembly from a place where they can be seen by all without
    drawing attention from the liturgical action. When, however, a congregation is singing very familiar responses, acclamations, or songs that do not include verses for the cantor alone, the cantor need not be visible.

    40. The cantor exercises his or her ministry from a conveniently located stand, but not
    from the ambo. The cantor may dress in an alb or choir robe, but always in clean, presentable, and modest clothing. Cassock and surplice, being clerical attire, are not recommended as vesture for the cantor.
  • teachermom24, in my opinion you've got it exactly right. But perhaps the pastor wants something more like a Christian Science service where the soloist dominates even the hymn-singing. Hope not.
  • Some congregations sing robustly, when a sympathetic, confident solo voice sings with them.

    They follow that voice in the way the documents imagine that they ought to follow the instruments alone.

    Amplifying with intent to pull the plug seems like a bait-and-switch. They get confident following a thing, and then it changes.

    If you want to do the thing unamplified ever, then amplify never. Plant strong voices in the pews who follow the organ, and exemplify that, in order to achieve your desired result.

    Imho, however, voices most naturally are led by other voices. In the ideal situation, after all, a choir leads the singing.
  • One should use microphones as rarely as possible. Congregations can be taught how/when/what to sing, but even at that they can not (meaningfully) be compelled to cooperate with that teaching. If the congregation does not wish to sing, it may not be because the choir/cantor and organ have done something wrong. I found that I couldn't sing at my father's memorial service recently, but not because the music was too difficult or anything of the sort. It was all familiar (to me, at least).

    On the other hand, if someone (well-meaningly, I presume) wishes to measure the goodness or fitness of a cantor by how exudingly the congregation responds... that person needs a new metric.
  • People do not sing better when a so-called 'cantor' is singing into a microphone. The impression of greater singing is given because all one hears is the amplified voice of the so-called 'cantor'. Cantors (and those who think that they are cantors) should never sing into microphones - and anyone who needs one to be heard should not be standing in place of a real cantor. Further, it is the organ people should be following for hymns and such - not a song leader.

    You have it right. If I were you I would stop cantoring if I were expected or required electronically to amplify my voice.
  • chonakchonak
    Posts: 7,898
    On the other hand, sometimes you need to work with the people you have. They are certainly more helpful than the people you don't have. The building you have is another sticking point. That other better building which you don't have turns out to be less available.
  • a_f_hawkins
    Posts: 1,507
    At the end of para 37 of Sing to the Lord there is an important but much misunderstood point.
    Finally, the cantor may serve as psalmist, leading and proclaiming the verses of the Responsorial Psalm.
    The roles of psalmist and cantor are different, the role of psalmist is the one you have accepted. Song leadership is best done by the organ*, but it is not a charism posessed by everyone who can play the organ well. There is helpful advice in this series Do it Rite by Fr Anthony Ruff OSB (they are listed here in reverse order).
    Also these two https://www.praytellblog.com/index.php/2014/09/29/the-organ-is-too-loud-and-so-is-the-piano/ and https://www.praytellblog.com/index.php/2014/09/30/the-organ-is-too-loud-as-so-is-the-piano-part-ii/
    * GIRM is written from the stance of the ideal music being unaccompanied chant for which clearly a cantor is needed.
  • In this case, the organ is easy to follow which I know since I have often been in the congregation when my daughter is playing. Our pastor wants the people to sing, especially the Mass parts, but they don't, not much at all at any rate. On Saturdays, the church is barely half full with 80 or so in the congregation. We have been at this parish for 11 years and have seen that when there are good singers in the congregation the congregation does sing better. Perhaps the parish would be better served by my sitting with the congregation and singing well from there.
    Thanked by 3Elmar CHGiffen matthewj
  • CharlesW
    Posts: 10,099
    My own experience is a cantor in front of a microphone inhibits congregational singing by overpowering them. My cantors do not have microphones, they are in the loft with me, and they start the first phrase or so of the hymns then back off and sing with the congregation. It seems to work fine for us. I should note we don't routinely throw new material at the congregation - oops, assembly or whatever. Bleah!

    I have had Sundays when the cantor did not show up for legitimate reasons. The congregation sang the mass Ordinary by following the organ.
  • Don9of11Don9of11
    Posts: 229
    Most Sunday congregations seemingly can't do anything without a cantor leading them, at least that's been my experience, we are in essence a soloist. From our website it reads:

    Cantor Ministry-Those serving in the cantor ministry lead the assembly in singing the mass.  A cantor has a pleasant soloist voice, excellent musicianship, and exemplifies an attitude of servitude with the desire to minister to God’s church by proclaiming the gospel through music.  This ministry is open to junior high age students-through mature adults through audition.  We rehearse once a month on the last Tuesday or first Tuesday of the month in the church @ 6:30 p.m.  Cantors serve according to their availability.

    Sometimes the cantor or choir will before mass introduce a new hymn or hymn that hasn't been heard in awhile. We have microphones at the pulpit and the Ambo, organ and piano combination and on occasion a flute.
  • a_f_hawkins
    Posts: 1,507
    Another significant comment in "Sing to the Lord" is
    When, however, a congregation is singing very familiar responses, acclamations, or songs that do not include verses for the cantor alone, the cantor need not be visible.
    IMHO an important point of liturgy is that the congregational responses acclamations and songs should be familiar. In other words: the Ordinary is the people's part, and the Common responses. You can, and may need to, ask the congregation to take on the role of choir, in part or whole, but in so far as you do they need direction just as the choir would.
    Thanked by 1Paul F. Ford
  • Hawkins,

    Sing to the Lord is an improvement on its predecessors, but the implication in a statement such as "the cantor need not be visible" in certain limited circumstances is that normally he should be. This premise, however, is not true.

    For what it's worth, there's more than one way to make congregational responses familiar. One is to use the same melody for everything. Another is to use the same music all year round. A third is to make music part of the culture of the parish.

  • a_f_hawkins
    Posts: 1,507
    CGZ - I don't see that as "certain limited circumstances", I see those as the normal circumstances; except when the cantor is acting as psalmist. Only when the congregation has taken on the role of choir/schola should there be any need to see the cantor. In a small church of course they may need to act as schola routinely. Even then music can, and I believe should, only require visibilty of the cantor if it has verses for the cantor alone, as STTL says.
    OTOH cantor is a visible role in much of the Church's traditional liturgy.
  • Hawkins,

    I agree that cantor visibility is not at all necessary, but the implication is (in STTL) that since he need not be, rather than he needs not to be visible, being visible is preferred and being invisible is tolerable.
  • canadashcanadash
    Posts: 1,410
    Why is an altar boy giving you directives?
    Thanked by 2Carol PolskaPiano
  • a_f_hawkins
    Posts: 1,507
    If you look back, that was an altar girl/lady.
    Thanked by 2Carol canadash
  • Carol
    Posts: 480
    I act as cantor (and psalmist) every week at an OF Mass with an organist and I sing in the choir loft. I do sing into a microphone, but I am very careful to remember my place is as song leader and our parishioners are accustomed to hearing a song leader. I never sing solos or take liberties with the hymns to make them seem like solos. Our congregation does sing the ICEL English ordinaries with accompaniment of the organ and chants the Our Father very well. During the Our Father, which is unaccompanied, the celebrant leads and the people join in. When it is time to sing "For the kingdom..." I do use the microphone to get people started up again and all in the same key. All these choices are those of the organist.
  • jcr
    Posts: 51
    Cantors face several common problems and also cause several common problems. In our work we have had people present themselves out of the blue with "Hi, I'm ... and I'm a cantor". We have had a Pastor insist that the resident prima donna be permitted to sing whenever she wants to (she didn't always show) and we have had numerous very cooperative and hardworking, reliable people who, although often somewhat limited vocally, could be coached and prepared to do a very respectable job.

    We always preferred cantors to sing from the loft because of several apparent tendencies. If the loft is in a rear balcony position, the distance between the cantor and the organist/pianist is an acoustical impediment, especially if the cantor is occasionally a bit weak on intonation and rhythmic security. There also seems to be a relationship between the position of the cantors and the attire worn on the days they sing. Some of the most outlandish and inappropriate get ups have appeared at the front of the church on folks who were pretty casual when they sang from the loft. As a side note, the same outfit phenomenon was apparent with readers.

    We tried to insist that to qualify as cantor, one must be a member of the choir. This was not always popular with the wannabe cantors, but it made it possible for us to control some of the uncontrolled stuff we had seen in quite a number of places. One of my professors told us that whenever someone told you that he/she was a soloist and couldn't sing in a choir that his reply was always, "Then I suggest that you learn how to sing." There was only one situation where we were unable to enforce the choir member requirement and that was where the Pastor insisted that the resident "soloist" be permitted free access to the microphone. She did come to two rehearsals, I think.

  • CCoozeCCooze
    Posts: 736
    Why is an altar boy giving you directives?

    Because Father instructed so?
    Similar to how I sometimes send one of my kids to tell the other kids something.

    ---

    Re: congregational singing at a Vigil Mass, with/without a mic:
    It has been my experience that most who habitually attend the Saturday night Vigil Mass don't want to sing, and would be more than happy with absolutely no music at that Mass, at all.

    Pretending that priests don't tend to assume mic'd cantors/choirs will encourage congregational singing isn't helpful. And they aren't completely wrong - many non-vocalists simply aren't confident in singing along to "background music."
    For that matter, they might not even know that they are supposed to be singing along, if they can't hear someone else!

    Stuffing the pews with choir members, not even necessarily to be heard, but to be seen as PIPs interested in singing hymns, I think would encourage more actual PIPs to sing.

    However, many may just not want to... no matter how much they may grumble about a lack of things with which to "participate."
    Thanked by 2CHGiffen CharlesW
  • canadashcanadash
    Posts: 1,410
    Because Father instructed so?
    Similar to how I sometimes send one of my kids to tell the other kids something.


    I find this difficult. Sometimes a server will come upstairs and tell me something "urgent" like "please intone the Gloria... the bishop has a cold" but changing where you stand and telling you that the congregation can't sing along if they don't have a "leader" is a broader conversation, non? I don't think I would a appreciate hearing this from a server right before Mass.

    My son had a job as a cantor at a neighbouring parish. He has a strong voice. He only sang the Psalm and verses to the Gospel Acclamation in the microphone to start (acoustics are horrible). People just did not sing. Mind you another problem there was piano as the accompaniment. The priest asked him to sing into the microphone and suddenly people felt more comfortable and began singing. If the priest asks for this, I would tend to do what he requests. He can always find a replacement who will.
    Thanked by 1Carol
  • Carol
    Posts: 480
    Our parish sings well when they know the hymns. We use OCP and they recommend and our organist chooses the recommended hymns, which are often unfamiliar to PIPs and so having a song leader, in my opinion, does assist the PIPs to join in. The style of organ introduction, where there is a pause of indeterminate length and then the singing starts, makes it challenging to know the timing to begin singing unless one has eye contact with the organist. Somebody has to get the ball rolling in this case.

    I agree that only in emergencies should an altar server be delivering instructions to the cantor.
  • ...
  • I despise singing into a microphone at church, and have mostly been permitted not to use it. I sing everything from the loft except the Psalm, and I'd be happy(er) to do that from the loft as well.

    The microphone (in my very much non-universal experience) encourages people to think of me as a 'soloist', which, at least in the sense that they mean it, is certainly not supposed to be how we operate.
  • toddevoss
    Posts: 104
    My experience (as a PIP) is that a strongly amplified Cantor has the effect of discouraging singing because : 1) one can't hear oneself and so one hesitates on that score and 2) makes it seem its "their job". Also, I grew up Lutheran and there was no such thing as an amplified Cantor (or even Cantor in my Church). The Pastor led off and the congregation just fell into chanting the Introit. I think we probably only used a handful of tones. Same with sung liturgy (the famous common service with a few variations after the green hymnal was introduced). So I agree with Chris that using consistent melodies encourages chanting/singing. Interesting phenomena at current parish -once organist didn't show up and Priest said : "Folks we're still going to sing the liturgy - acapella. We can do it". And we did it. People actually sang more when they knew it was all up to them. Maybe the Eastern Orthodox are onto something. Not that we would trade in our wonderful organist who is the embodiment of music.
  • a_f_hawkins
    Posts: 1,507
    People actually sang more when they knew it was all up to them.
    That has been my experience too.
  • CharlesW
    Posts: 10,099
    I am fortunate to work in an older and acoustically live building. That being said, there is one large, newer church in town so acoustically dead that microphones are required. You wouldn't be able to hear a thing without them. They have to use them.
    Thanked by 1Carol
  • Our music director confirmed that the role of cantor in our parish does include song leading. I sang last night and it was not a big deal leading the songs, and I do think it brought out the congregation a wee bit. But, as I told the DM, I've been content with just being the psalmist mostly because my voice is so often "iffy." Once the Alleluia is sung, I always breathe a little sigh of relief that I'm "done" for that Mass. Also, I am very uncomfortable being up front in that role. (The organ is to the side of the altar which is where all singers sit as well.) So I told her I will continue until the end of the year or until a replacement for my spot on the rotation can be found.

    Thank you all for your helpful input!
    Thanked by 1Carol
  • Don9of11Don9of11
    Posts: 229
    teachermom24, your decision to get out is the right one, especially if you are feeling uncomfortable and it's getting too hard for you to do. I made the same decision a few years ago. I continue to sing with the choir but even that is getting difficult to do. Good luck.
  • That being said, there is one large, newer church in town so acoustically dead that microphones are required.

    Is a renovation project in order in this building, such that this parish become acoustically live and thus microphone free?
  • CharlesW
    Posts: 10,099
    Is a renovation project in order in this building, such that this parish become acoustically live and thus microphone free?


    No, they hired a friend of the original pastor who was a recording engineer. He built what is essentially a recording studio. Even the Rodgers is piped through the building sound system. They have no plans to change it and with the music they do, it wouldn't make any difference.