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How to Have a Beautiful Sung Liturgy on a Catholic Campus, By Dr. Kurt Poterack

The following article by Dr. Kurt Poterack is another installment in our series of posts at Catholic Education Daily about how Catholic colleges and universities can live out authentic Catholic liturgical life on campus.  The Cardinal Newman Society is co-sponsoring the Sacra Liturgia 2013 conference in Rome, currently taking place, and providing registration scholarships for Dr. Poterack and other Catholic scholars to attend the conference.  Sacra Litrugia's goal is "to study, promote and renew the appreciation of liturgical formation and celebration and its foundation for the mission of the Church," according to organizers.  The Newman Society aims to help spur on this liturgical renewal in Catholic higher education.

Choir DirectorIn the following article, Dr. Poterack discusses practical considerations for having a beautiful sung liturgy on a Catholic campus.

One of the advantages of a choir at a college or university is that you have many bright, talented and energetic young adults to choose from – or at least to persuade to join the choir.  Whether or not the students are music majors is not quite so important.  What is important is that there is the basic ability to carry a tune, preferably some music reading skills and, above all, the commitment to attend rehearsals.  If these three things are present, or even the first and third, much can be accomplished.

The student choristers are the easy part.

However, two other things, which are absolutely essential, remain:  a director knowledgeable about both the music of the Church and Her theology of sacred music; as well as a chaplaincy with a shared enthusiasm for the liturgy.

These final two things are sometimes a little harder to find.

There are many institutions, Catholic and non-Catholic, which provide good training for choral directors, but few provide training in the Church’s own music: Gregorian chant.  However, one can take classes in Gregorian Chant at the Catholic University of America in the summer sponsored by the Dom Mocquereau Foundation, and the Church Music Association of America sponsors workshops across the country.  To find out about these offerings, one can find announcements on such blogs as “The New Liturgical Movement” and “Chant Café.”

In my opinion, a basic education in the Church’s theology of sacred music can be had by reading Chapter VI of Vatican II’s Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy.  This one chapter remains an excellent summary of the Church’s theology on sacred music.  However, if one wishes, one can read the actual pre-Conciliar documents that are briefly summarized, the most important of which is Pope St. Pius X’s Motu Proprio from 1903.  This document, which can easily be found on-line, has general principles that are still very much the Church’s teaching.

The last requirement is a priest who shares an enthusiasm for the Church’s liturgical riches and who can – sing.  One of the sad facts today is that many good priests of the Roman Rite today were never trained how to sing the liturgy.  This is something that happened for a number of complicated reasons, and it is absolutely contrary to what Vatican II called for, but a singing celebrant is ultimately essential for a beautiful liturgy on campus.

If these basic things are in place – committed student choristers, a talented and knowledgeable director, and a priest who can sing his basic parts – then one can have a beautiful sung liturgy on campus.

[Dr. Kurt Poterack is Director of Liturgical Music and Program Director of the Liturgical Music Minor at Christendom College in Front Royal, Virginia.  He holds a Masters and a Doctorate in Music Composition from Michigan State University.  He studied Gregorian Chant with Dr. Theodore Marier and did Ward Method studies with Scott Turkington, among others, at The Catholic University of America.  Dr. Poterack previously served as editor of the journal Sacred Music, the official publication of the Church Music Association of America.]

[Christendom College is recommended at TheNewmanGuide.com for its strong Catholic identity.]

Catholic Education Daily is an online publication of The Cardinal Newman Society. Click here for email updates and free online membership with The Cardinal Newman Society.

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