Music Ministry Advice

Thank you for your time and consideration!

I’m looking for information on music in the liturgy (rules) and chanting. Are there any websites or books that you would recommend?

Background Info.

I have zero music background. I used to drive the lady who played the organ for our mission church for several years. We grew quite close. She taught my sister to sing. I would sit with my sister in the pew next to the organ at the front of the church. When the lady passed away, a novice student of hers took over. I sat next to the organ and helped cue her to play for the various parts of Mass.

The organ player wasn’t there for a day of holy obligation at some point so Father asked me to pick a hymn right before he walked down the aisle. In a rush, I picked the first hymn I recognized and we sang a cappella (turned out, I didn’t know how to sing the first verse). It was rough. It was really rough. It then became customary for me to pick out hymns (I did get better at it.) and lead us without music whenever the volunteer organ player was absent.

Our organ player moved. I’ve been leadings us in song for many months.

We got a new pianist! She has been playing for two or three months now. She is very good. She is also young (14) and still learning music. I’ve been working with her and her mom on cues and building a foundation. She was only playing hymns. Now, she is working on playing the various parts of Mass.

Working together was going fine but I noticed someone being pushy about the music with the girl and her mom. They come from a nonconfrontational culture and I was concerned. I talked to the mother about me being the point of contact. Her daughter had clearly been flustered by the encounter. She was very happy with that suggestion. I told the secretary of the church what we had decided and why. Would she please let our priest and deacon know and are they okay with that?

I’m the new music facilitator.

It was brought to my attention today that Father was upset that we played too long at last week’s Mass. I asked him about it and he was very nice. He said he wasn’t upset but since I asked, he explained that the music should be over by the time the priest washes his hands (offertory). If it isn’t over, it should stop immediately. I didn’t know that. I’ve just been timing it so the ushers didn’t have to do the second collection in silence. Most of what I know comes from attending Mass and reading the paperback book in the pew.

I love the faith and my church. I really want to do the best I can for them and for our new pianist and her family who come from out of town to help us with music.

Any suggestions on books, websites, etc. regarding liturgical music rules and how to chant as well as anything else you can think of would be greatly appreciated!

Thank you, again!

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You might check with your diocese. In Los Angeles that would be the Office for Worship which offers various programs for learning more about music ministry. Best wishes.


From the rest of your post it looks like the duration is the problem. I’d recommend talking to the priest to clarify how long the music should be for each period of music.

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It sounds like you’re doing fine! A lot in circumstances like yours must be acquired via trial and error. I’ll second contacting your diocesan worship office. Following the missalette is usually just fine, too. The only thing you didn’t know (and doubt you would find written in any simple instruction anywhere) is that liturgy must continue flow… don’t make the priest wait.

Are there other Catholic parishes in your city/town?

If so, I recommend contacting the Music/Liturgy Director at those parishes and asking for a little mentoring and perhaps even some simple training.

Chances are really good that the Music/Liturgy Director has played organ/piano and/or conducted the choir at your parish. Those of us who play organ/piano are in high demand at parishes other than our own!

So he or she probably can help you out with advice, suggestions, going through the Mass parts with you, etc. And I can’t imagine that they would charge you anything for this service, although if they are extremely busy with not only their parish responsibilities, but also teaching in the parish school, teaching private lessons, and involvements in secular music activities in the city/town, they may ask for a stipend. If you can’t afford them, just tell them so and ask if there’s someone else you can talk to.

You are walking down the same road that other music directors have walked down, myself included. It takes a little time to gain the wisdom and experience that is needed to know what songs to pick and when to play them and how much music you are going to need to walk the priest down the aisle, get through communion, etc.

The church document, Sing To The Lord can be found on line and can be of help to you as well. As music facilitator, you are doing an important job. There are people that sing and people that play but someone needs to tie it all together.

Hang in there. You will learn what works and what doesn’t.

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The main book with rules is The Roman Missal. It also has lots of chant information. A website with a lot of the music from The Roman Missal is .

For example, the General Instruction of the Roman Missal has:
“74. The procession bringing the gifts is accompanied by the Offertory Chant (cf. no. 37 b), which continues at least until the gifts have been placed on the altar. The norms and the manner of singing are the same as for the Entrance Chant (cf. no. 48). Singing may always accompany the rite at the Offertory, even when there is no procession with the gifts.”

Another part of it:
“111. There should be harmony and diligence among all those involved in the effective preparation of each liturgical celebration in accordance with the Missal and other liturgical books, both as regards the rites and as regards the pastoral and musical aspects. This should take place under the direction of the rector of the church and after consultation with the faithful in things that directly pertain to them. However, the Priest who presides at the celebration always retains the right of arranging those things that pertain to him. [footnote 90: Cf. Second Ecumenical Council of the Vatican, Constitution on the Liturgy, Sacrosanctum Concilium, no. 22.]”

And from n. 352: “Since, indeed, many possibilities are provided for choosing the different parts of the Mass, it is necessary for the Deacon, the readers, the psalmist, the cantor, the commentator, and the choir to know properly before the celebration the texts that concern each and that are to be used and it is necessary that nothing be in any sense improvised. For harmonious ordering and carrying out of the rites will greatly help in disposing the faithful for participation in the Eucharist.”

[Excerpts from the English translation of The Roman Missal, © 2010 International Commission on English in the Liturgy Corporation. All rights reserved.]

Whew - - this is a big topic!

I personally have enjoyed reading and learning from the Church Music Association of America. It’s an organization for Catholic music directors, organists and interested others who are typically very passionate and very well-educated about music in the liturgy.

Here’s their blog, “Chant Cafe”:


Here is their Forum page:

Their main webpage:

Thank you for your service to the Church and kudos on wanting to learn!

See if your Diocese has a partnership with Dayton university . It offers short courses for Lay Ministers. It has a couple on Music Ministry. Easy to complete, learn and cheap.
As far as learning chant , could you get in touch with a Monastery and ask for some assistance and guidance.
You are in my prayers.

Thank you all for your wonderful replies!

Sorry for the delayed response. Traveling for the holiday and life in general.

I emailed the archdiocese office of worship and they recommended “Sing to the Lord Music in Divine Worship”. I ordered it and “Music in Catholic Liturgy: A Pastoral and Theological Companion to Sing to the Lord” yesterday.

We’re a mission church. Our priest and deacon come from a neighboring town. They have a choir director. I plan on arranging a meeting but I haven’t gotten to it yet. She is our new pianist’s teacher :slight_smile:

Thank you again for your time, consideration and prayers! I’ll check out the links and other recommendations throughout the week.

When it comes to explaining the ideals of liturgical music, I think Archbishop Sample’s recent letter covers all the bases:

When it comes to when songs ought to end and what specifically your pastor wants, however, there is nothing to substitute for simply setting up a regular meeting with him. Ask him what he wants in the future, rather than just guessing what he might want and then getting feedback after the fact. As you go along, you’ll find out from him how often he wants to have a chance to tell the musicians what he wants.

It isn’t unusual for a parish to have a “liturgy committee” which, for instance, allows the people who do the decorating, those who communicate with the lectors, ushers and so on, those who run the music, and those who schedule the altar servers to meet with the pastor all at once on a regular basis so that everyone can be on the same page concerning what the pastor wants done. It is one-stop shopping for him and makes communication between all the different parties he has assisting him much more efficient. This also allows feedback from everyone about everything. (For instance, at one parish I attended they arranged so that the crucifer did not come out of the sacristy until Father was also ready to go. The musicians could see over the crowd that the processional cross was there even when they couldn’t see the priest, so that was all the signal they needed that things could get started whenever they were ready. Not a universal rule, but just what worked for their pastor and their musicians. With a liturgy committee, all the people would be in a room at once to decide that the people doing the ushering could have a line of sight ability to relay that information from the priest to whereever the musicians are using relayed eye contact that couldn’t happen directly from the priest to the music director.)

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This book has the rules with excerpts from the GIRM. It is put out by the USCCB so is authoritative. My wife is the music facilitator in our parish and has lots of experience. She has been doing music ministry in church for 35-40 years and she uses this book all the time as a reference.

This is a chant book at beginner level that you might find helpfull.


Lots of controversy about “Sing to the Lord” (the USCCB document, not Archbishop Sample’s).

And no matter what you do, it is always necessary to talk to your pastor who has had communications from your bishop about the particulars for your diocese.

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I think your best bet would be to schedule a meeting with the Pastor and get his input. In my experience, in addition to the GIRM, every priest has their own preferences.


To reach your congregation, play this:

Anyhow, comedic relief from the stress of music ministry.
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I can just hear the hullabaloo of discontented whispers :slight_smile:

Thank you all for your replies. I’ve managed to take at least a quick look at all the links and see that you’ve provided me with a wealth of information.

Thank you very much!


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