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Ask the Register: Do I have to sing?

Q. Do I have to sing at Mass?

A. Hahahahahaha. Why? Are you not a good singer? I think this is a question many readers might ask themselves. 

Very regularly, I ask my parishioners to join me in singing at Mass and at other liturgical celebrations. By my own admission, I am not a good singer, but I like to try. I would be one of those people who say, “I can’t carry a tune in a five-gallon bucket.” Nonetheless, that doesn’t stop me from wanting to give the Lord the best that I can. 

To get an understanding of the role of music in the Liturgy—that is, the Mass, other sacraments and other liturgical celebrations (like Eucharistic Adoration, 40 Hours Devotion, Eucharistic processions, etc.)—one can look to at least two sources: Biblical history and what the Church asks of us in terms of being active participants in the Liturgy.

Music has always played a central role in mankind’s worship of God. The 150 Psalms of the Old Testament—widely believed to have been written by King David—are various beautiful, melodic, and poetic interactions with God set to music. Jesus prayed and sang these very Psalms.

In addition to the Psalms, there are many references to music and especially singing in the Bible: Ephesians 5:19, Hebrews 2:12, Exodus 15:1, Colossians 3:16, Revelation 14:3 – 4, Amos 6:5, 2 Chronicles 5:13, Job 35:10, Judges 5:3, Nehemiah 12:27, just to name a few.

The Catholic Church, established by Jesus, picks up on the beauty and centrality of music and encourages worshipers to participate in the liturgy by singing the songs and the parts of the Mass to the best of their ability.

The Church presents very encouraging words regarding the role of music and singing in the liturgy.

“The musical tradition of the universal Church is a treasure of inestimable value, greater even than that of any other art. The main reason for this pre-eminence is that, as a combination of sacred music and words, it forms a necessary or integral part of solemn liturgy” (Sacrosanctum Concilium (Vatican II), no. 112). The composition and singing of inspired Psalms, often accompanied by musical instruments, were already closely linked to the liturgical celebrations of the Old Covenant. The Church continues and develops this tradition: ‘Address . . . one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with all your heart.’ ‘He who sings prays twice” (Eph 5:19; St. Augustine, En. in Ps. 72,1:PL 36,914; cf. Col 3:16).’” – Catechism of the Catholic Church, no. 1156

Also the General Instruction of the Roman Missal tells us: Great importance should therefore be attached to the use of singing in the celebration of the Mass, with due consideration for the culture of peoples in the abilities of each liturgical assembly. (Number 40)

In addition, some of the greatest musical compositions in history, classical and contemporary, are musical masterpieces for the Liturgy. As a pastor, I truly appreciate when music is part of the liturgy. If you play a musical instrument and can sing, ask your pastor and/or parish music director if you might be part of your parish’s music program.

Are you obligated to sing? No. But I would encourage you to try. Most everyone can sing in a group. Thanks for your question.


This question was answered by a priest of the Diocese of Lincoln. Write to Ask the Register using our online form, or write to 3700 Sheridan Blvd., Suite 10, Lincoln NE 68506-6100. All questions are subject to editing. Editors decide which questions to publish. Personal questions cannot be answered. People with such questions are urged to take them to their nearest Catholic priest.

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