Liturgy newbie
  • Hi everyone! I'm so glad that I've found this vibrant musical forum to connect with other seasoned musicians.

    I have always had a love for ancient music, but was raised in a different faith. I am currently in The Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults and plan on being welcomed into the church, if all goes well, at Easter vigil. I have a degree in harp performance and vocal performance, as well as about three years experience directing/conducting a small women's vocal ensemble that sings early sacred music. We do St. Hildegard chants as well as Bernard of Clairvaux, Tomas Luis de Victoria, and other early pieces. I am convinced that it is my love of early music (and Saint Hildegard) that have brought me to the truth of the Catholic Church. I also have decent piano skills and am currently taking organ lessons.

    My question is this: I would love to become more involved in the musical life of the church and aspire to becoming a director of music eventually, but I am completely clueless when it comes to liturgy. What is the best way that I can plunge into liturgy and learn as much as possible? By just attending mass, or is there something I can read or study? I have considered looking into a masters in sacred music, but am not sure if it is necessary or required. Any advice would be greatly appreciated.

    Thanks so much and God Bless!!
  • canadashcanadash
    Posts: 1,457
    Oh my! You sound like you will be a real blessing at a very lucky church!

    I would, if I were you, find the church in your area with the BEST music program - (lots of Gregorian Chant, polyphony, propers... etc. etc.). This might be a drive. Then, attend Mass there or, if you have the time, join the choir. I think you can start learning and helping right away if you like.

    The only thing I would say is that being a musician at church has often been a distraction to my own presence at Mass and sometimes hindered my prayer life and relationship with our Lord in the Eucharist. As a neophyte, you may want to just spend time in prayer, developing that relationship until you come into the church in the spring. Or, if you have the time, add attending an extra mass during the week or on Sunday to your schedule, just to grow in the love of our Lord.

  • Mysticalharp,

    One observation I've made before seems apropos here. Sink yourself deeply into the liturgy of the Church, not by thinking you need to be in control, but that you need to learn from the liturgy, whose servant you are. Don't merely learn the "ropes", as it were, but breathe the liturgy.

    I encourage you to attend a workshop put on by the CMAA, or, depending on your location, by some other group dedicated to beautiful liturgy.
  • matthewjmatthewj
    Posts: 2,659
    Move to Phoenix, AZ. The weather is lovely and we'll put you to work.
  • Don9of11Don9of11
    Posts: 398
    Close observation is the best. You might do a tour of being a cantor, this will give you exposure to the Mass from an entirely different point of view and you can become familiar with the Liturgy and how it flows. There is a rhythm to the Mass. I found that Edward Sri book "A Biblical Walk Through The Mass" a good read and it help me to understand the Mass and what it means. I would also, if you haven't already, direct your questions to your RCIA instructor. You could also purchase a daily Mass Missal. Hope that helps.
  • Liam
    Posts: 4,137
    " . . . Phoenix, AZ. The weather is lovely . . ."

    Except that it's so not a dry heat during monsoon season, which is very humid.
  • CHGiffenCHGiffen
    Posts: 4,475
    Don't forget the haboob season in and around Phoenix.
  • A visit pilgrimage (or two [or three]) to Walsingham in Houston wouldn't hurt.
    Solemn high mass (sometimes pontifical) is every Sunday and Solemnity at 11.15am, and on every week-day solemnity at 6.30pm

    Devouring accounts of liturgical history and development, such as Jungman and others, would give you good academic tincture.

    There is a plethora of good liturgy for view on the internet.
    Ditto literally any music that you could want to hear.

    Membership in notable (meaning them that sing exquisite sacred music) choirs and scholas, whether they be accomplished or not, will teach you immensely about sacred music and the liturgy which it adorns; not to mention friendship with like-minded folk and the knowledge and manners of thinking that come with such holy camaraderie.

    By all means get degrees from the best professors you can get to and afford. There is no substitute for the systematic assimilation of historical academic knowledge and the intellectual polish that accompanies it, adding to the authority and spiritual depth of all your learning from all sources within and beyond university walls.

    Never miss an opportunity to attend sacred concerts of famed choirs regardless of what church they hail from. The best are English, American Episcopalian, and Lutheran, though one does encounter every now and then an admirable Catholic choir of some renown.

    Attend Fr Columba Kelly's annual summer workshop at St Meinrad's Archabbey in Indiana. There is no greater tutelage about chant to be had from anyone or any organisation or 'Association' in this country - some that is more popular, maybe, but none that is more academically and musically defensible with respect to the historical paleographic record of western liturgical chant. (With chant especially, learn to distinguish between 'what everybody is doing' and what represents a historically objective and desirable paradigm.)

    More with respect to chant: in addition to Fr Columba's tutelage, obtain, devour, and inwardly digest Dom Cardine's Gregorian Semiology - this should be your default frame of reference for any authoritative chanting. Anything else is made up child's play.

    Sing every day. If you say the daily office, sing it. When you pray, sing your prayers. Let Musicality shape even your everyday speech. Cultivate a musical mind. Think music always - let even your thoughts be mentally sung. (Keep Calm and Sing Everything.)

    (Perhaps more later.)
    Thanked by 2CHGiffen princehal
  • Big thumbs up on most of what's been said. Especially the liturgy life.
    I recommend the following 5 essential steps that any sacred musician can do to become the musician God intended:

    1. Go to weekly confession

    2. Start hunting for a spiritual director (which is its own art).

    3. Hunt around for a sacred musician you really admire who will get a beer with you.

    4. Participate in some authentic sacred music in your area.

    5. Then, go to conferences and workshops (some great ones mentioned above).

    (After a decade of really letting these workshops soak and doing all the homework, while simultaneously making it happen in the real world, you'll run circles around a typical masters student. And I mean circles. To any typical master students out there, I'm sorry you had to hear that.)

    6. (Optional) If you really don't have much initiative or don't study well on your own, a masters in sacred music might be worth the time and cash if there was a program that you were REALLY excited about.

    Welcome home and God bless you! We're all rooting for you :)
    Thanked by 1KyleM18
  • Earl_GreyEarl_Grey
    Posts: 843
    All the above advice is good, but since it sounds like you were specifically asking for a reading list and no one has yet to mention any books, I'll offer the following titles to get you started:

    Assuming we are talking about the Ordinary Form, the most essential would be the General Instruction of the Roman Missal for the most current edition of the Roman Missal. This will explain the Mass step by step with all the possible options and variations on what to sing where. This will also acclimate you to church-speak before reading other Church documents on the Liturgy.

    Also the Constitution of the Sacred Liturgy (Sacrosanctum Concilium) from Vatican II & the most recent statement from the USCCB on sacred music Sing to the Lord: Music in Dive Worship

    Selected books:
    The Spirit of the Liturgy by Pope Benedict XVI
    The Musical Shape of the Liturgy by William Mahrt
    Catholic Music Through the Ages by Edward Schaeffer

    This is just a start. There is much more, but this would be a good starting point.

    There is a wealth of things to read on including historical documents which are no longer particular law, but offer perspective and an historic context. Many of the Popes from the last 100 years starting with Pope St. Pius X wrote extensively on liturgy and sacred music. Most of their writings can be found for free on the Vatican website.

    The Adoremus Bulletin is another good online source for liturgical commentary and there are also many good short articles on

  • The Mass in Slow Motion, by Msgr. Ronald Knox.

    The Mass Explained for Children by Maria Montessori.
  • I can't thank you enough for your advice! I feel so blessed to have found an online community that is able to answer my sacred music questions so directly. Just yesterday I got in touch with a music director that is looking for cantors so that will be a great way to jump in - I hope!! (As long as she is willing to give me any and all cues and a good prep beforehand!) Thank you for all the specific reading lists and ideas of how to get involved. I am incredibly excited that there is a sacred music workshop at St. Meinrad because I live in Indiana!!
    I have three young children so I have already been attending two masses occasionally so that I can really soak in everything without having to worry about keeping the kids quiet and focused. This is a learning curve for them as well!

    Thank you again!! God Bless
    Thanked by 2CHGiffen canadash