The Place of the Cantor in Worship

The cantor played an important role in biblical and ancient worship. The role of the cantor is being recovered in contemporary worship. This article explains how and where to use the cantor in the liturgy, with reference to Roman Catholic liturgy in particular.

The cantor is becoming an integral role in our worship. With that trend comes important questions. Who should these persons be? How can we find them? And what should they do?

Qualifications of a Cantor

The cantor should be a person who has a good voice and who is able to carry a tune. Asking for such persons through the parish bulletin is not recommended; you’ll likely get some very well-intentioned people who cannot sing. It is better for you to approach candidates who have proven they can sing in one of the parish music groups.

The cantor should be someone who feels comfortable standing in front of the assembly and leading the people in song. For some, this comes naturally. Others will need to work on this skill.

Cantors need to understand their role in the celebration and have an understanding that they are leading the people in prayer. Encourage them to study liturgy and the role that music plays in our celebrations.

Also, encourage the cantor to take voice lessons. The parish might subsidize this study or hire a voice teacher to work occasionally with all of the cantors in the parish.

The Cantor’s Role

For the eucharistic liturgy, the cantor should sing the verses to the responsorial psalm, lead the refrain to the responsorial psalm, lead the singing of the gospel acclamation. In addition, the cantor can lead the antiphonal song for the Communion processional, assist in the singing of the penitential rite, intercessions, Lamb of God, and possibly the Gloria.

For Morning and Evening Prayer, cantors can lead the singing of the Psalms. They can also lead music at penance celebrations, baptisms, funerals, and weddings—although few parishes have taken advantage of a good cantor’s ability to draw forth a music response from the assembly on these occasions.

The cantor can introduce and teach new music. Most cantors should be able at least to introduce a new refrain for the psalm responsorial, but not all should be expected to have the ability to introduce a new hymn.

Parish cantors should meet regularly to learn the music. This would also be the time for the cantors to learn how to use the parish sound system properly, to critique each other, and to further study liturgy and the Psalms. If your parish has not yet explored the ministry of a cantor, I strongly urge you to do so. Seek out parishes that use cantors and see what has worked for them.

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