Skills for Cantors

Why do we sing and make music in our worship? Maybe because music “reaches the parts that other things cannot reach”. Think about a song that moves you. If you just read the words out aloud, does it have the same effect?

Our liturgy – our worship – can be described as our participation in the mystery of the death and rising of Jesus. It’s not just the assembly that is worshipping, it’s the priest, deacons, other ministers – and Christ too. It’s our baptismal call to worship God together as his “chosen race, royal priesthood, holy nation” [Sacrosanctum Concilium 14].

The Second Vatican Council stressed that

the whole body of the faithful may be able to contribute that active participation which is rightly theirs … by means of acclamations, responses, psalmody, antiphons, and songs, as well as by actions, gestures, and bodily attitudes. And at the proper times all should observe a reverent silence.

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As a cantor, you have an important role in helping the assembly to find its voice and participate in worship – not to sing for them! The cantor needn’t be one person; you can have several cantors for one service, each leading a different piece of music. The cantor need not be an individual – it could be a small group of people, or a choir.

Most importantly, the cantor is the psalmist, singing the psalm and encouraging the assembly’s response to the word of God. You may also be a song leader, or animator, to help the assembly to sing at other times, and the person who introduces new music.

Each of these facets of being a cantor is explored in these articles:-

Of course, many of the points raised in these articles are not relevant only to cantors. They apply to music directors, singers and all those engaged in music ministry.

Useful resources

Cantor Basics – Jim Hansen, Melanie Coddington and Joe Simmons.
The Singing Thing, The Singing Thing Too – John Bell.
The Ministry of Cantors – Kathleen Harmon. ISBN 978-0814628775
The Parish Cantor: Helping Catholics Pray in Song – Michael Connolly. ISBN 978-0941050241
Sing something simple: resources to support the ministry of cantor.

These posts are summaries of a workshop given at the Society of St Gregory Summer School 2014