What is worship? A Catholic perspective part 2

What is worship? A Catholic perspective part 2

What is worship?

In my last post, I described my journey as a music minister, to rediscover the heart of worship in the Catholic church.  For me, there wasn’t a clear understanding among pastoral musicians as to what worship is and how it ought to be done.  This lack of understanding was my own fault as I came to discover; the Church is very clear about the notion of worship.  Allow me to share the insights I have found:

Worship is an act of God, that we cooperate with, in order to offer sacrifice to Him; so that we may know Him, love Him, and serve Him more fully.
(this definition is a combination of the definition of liturgy & the Baltimore Catechism’s answer to the question – “What did God make me?”)  Worship is something that man, made in the image & likeness of God, was made to do. Through sin, however, our ability to worship and our ability to worship God as the proper end goal of this activity, has been disordered.  That’s where music ministry comes in – pastoral musicians are one of the instruments God wants to use to help focus others on rediscovering the heart of worship.

With this understanding of worship in mind, we turn our attention to “How does the Catholic Church worship?”

There are 3 primary contexts of worship in the Catholic Church: liturgical, para-liturgical, and devotional. While each can rightly be called worship, the Catholic Church sees the liturgy as the source and summit of all Her activity.  In other words, the Liturgy is the “source from which the faithful are to derive the true Christian Spirit.”  (Sacrosanctum Concilium 14) Therefore, the other contexts of worship must always keep in mind how their expressions of worship come from and return to the worship of the Liturgy.

Liturgical Worship

Liturgical Worship is done within the context of “liturgy” – which is defined as: the entire public worship of the Church.  As such, the Liturgy has specific rules & guidelines.  These are referred to as rubrics or norms.  The Church is very clear about these norms, especially as they apply to music – which in this context is entitled “sacred music”.

According to the Church: “sacred music” is defined as, music that is closely connected to the liturgical action, and which: “adds delight to prayer, fosters unity of minds, or confers greater solemnity upon the sacred rites.” – from the Church’s Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy (Sacrosanctum Concilium paragraph 112)

The Constitution goes on to say, “…the Church approves of all forms of true art having the needed qualities, and admits them into divine worship.” This is the key point: “Sacred Music” has a specific character or quality to it.  In fact, SSC points out in paragraph 116, “The Church acknowledges Gregorian chant as specially suited to the Roman liturgy: therefore, other things being equal, it should be given “principem locum” in liturgical services.” The phrase “principem locum” is typically translated as “pride of place”.  However, a literal translation would render this text as “principle” or “first” place.  In other words, the Church is very clear about Her preferences within the context of Liturgy, while at the same time being open to other “forms of true art” that ascribe to the above mentioned principles which may include praise & worship music.

Effective music ministers leaders then, must appropriate themselves to these norms to the best of their abilities in humility & obedience; while at the same time discerning that way in which the Lord is calling us to use our unique musical gifts to serve his Church.

Para-liturgical Worship

For the purposes of this post, para-liturgical worship primarily refers to worship in the setting of Eucharistic Adoration. (a practice in the Roman Catholic Church in which the Blessed Sacrament (Eucharist) is exposed to and adored by the faithful.  Adoration is a sign of devotion to and worship of Jesus Christ, who is believed by Catholics to be fully present Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity, under the appearance of the consecrated host, in the form of hosts or bread.)

While Exposition and Benediction have specific rubrics and norms attached to them – and is therefore deemed to be “liturgical” – the musical prayer that happens between these two actions (called exposition & reposition or benediction) are left to the discretion of the those gathered so long as that practice “adds delight to prayer, fosters unity of minds, or confers greater solemnity upon the sacred rites”.  Thus, this particular setting more easily lends itself to a variety of musical expressions: Sacred Chants, Traditional Hymns, AND praise & worship songs may be appropriate in this setting – provided that these “songs” are Catholic in their theology and ascribe to the principles of sacred music.

Music ministry within the context of para-liturgical worship is focused on awakening people’s hearts & minds to God’s presence – especially as He is present in The Blessed Sacrament during Adoration.  The music is not an end in and of itself.  It music doesn’t create anything – emotional, spiritual, or otherwise, rather it is a tool that can invite people into a moment where they encounter God.

Devotional Worship

Devotional Worship is worship that is not within the context of a “liturgy” at all.  It can be private, or public.  Examples include: small prayer groups, youth group meetings, youth conferences, retreats, or on your own.

Since there are no rubrics or norms attached to these settings, even more songs may be appropriate – especially those songs which are designed to excite a large crowd and more typically used as ice-breakers, or as an introduction to musical worship.

The principles of sacred music must still be kept in mind however, since without them, our worship becomes purely emotive, individualistic, and banal.

This is just a quick glance into the worship-life of the Catholic Church.  A continued understanding and discussion on these three contexts is continually happening on our website, The Catholic Worship Blog.  I would encourage to add your voice to the conversation there, or if you have any questions please comment on this post and I would be happy to discuss this further!  You can also e-mail me at: [email protected] Until next time, when we discuss the different types of praise & worship and how to appropriate them to these contexts of worship!