Before the reforms of the Second Vatican Council, there were essentially three forms of the Mass: the High Mass and the Solemn Mass, both with ample singing by the choir or schola and chanting by the Celebrant, and the Low Mass or "read Mass," at which there was either no singing or only singing of congregational hymns on the periphery of the liturgy.
The form of the Mass the Second Vatican Council sought to bring forward as the normal modality for the celebration of the Mass, especially on Sunday, was the Missa Cantata or "sung Mass." This form of the Mass was to retain many features of the High Mass, namely, chanted greetings and prayers, but also dialogues that would be chanted between Priest and People.
For many reasons, however, the form of the Mass that persisted was the Low Mass, but with spoken dialogues and responses, popular hymns in place of Mass propers, and a latter emphasis on the "acclamations" (Alleluia, Sanctus, Mystery of Faith, and Amen).
Almost 50 years after Vatican II, we are only now beginning to move toward a more fully sung Mass as envisioned in the reforms of the Council. During the next couple of decades, we will begin to experience a deeper and richer way of praying together as a Church. With a finger on the pulse of the present, and with an eye toward the future, we are intentionally developing our repertoire of Music for the Congregation.
While the choir has an important role to play in supporting congregational singing, it also contributes the beauty of its own song to the liturgy, singing on our behalf and evoking for us the song of the heavenly liturgy of which we get glimpse in our celebration on earth. Those who are enrolled in our "school of singers" learn and prepare for the liturgy a wide range of music from the Church's growing treasury of sacred music.
Uniting Hearts and Minds
When the choir sings alone at Mass, we are invited to unite our hearts and minds with the voice of the choir, just as we united our hearts and minds to the prayers offered by the priest, or the Word of God proclaimed by the lector, psalmist or deacon. Over time, the whole community learns to pray with Music for the Choir.
The capacity to unite heart and mind with the words or actions of another is key to participation in the liturgy, for when we truly participate in the Mass we are united with Jesus Christ himself in his eternal offering to the Father.