Chanting on Our Behalf: a Pastoral Guide to Presidential Chanting and Musical Leadership

by Ricky Manalo, CSP Reviewed by Eileen Quinn Knight, Ph.D. Profiles in Catholicism


The author begins with the question: “What is the future of sung liturgy?” Our concern is the recognition that if liturgical celebration is inherently musical it involves more than the assembly’s voice or the Choir’s voice. Somehow it must involve the singing voice of the ministers. Since the relation of the ministers to the congregation is dialogical it is very strange to have a total contrast between a speaking presider and a singing congregation. Since the liturgy was put in the vernacular and once we began to recognize, for the first time in centuries, the importance of the assembly and its song, it was necessary to put most of our efforts into creating singing congregations. The role of singing ministers was no longer emphasized.


A second reason for the decline of singing among ministers was due to the music provided for their use. When we examine the music from the Sacramentary we recognize only the preface tones and the Exsultet have been widely used. This is not surprising considering the urgent need in the early 1970’s to provide a vernacular edition of the Sacramentary as quickly as possible. But because people found problems with the suggested music and because there was disagreement as to whether the ministers should sing anything, little of the music was actually used and substitutes for often-sung texts such as the Lord’s Prayer or the Litany of Saints were quickly found.


Manalo recognizes the fact that ministers need a guide if they are to consider any type of singing as presiders. This guide must both encourage them to get their feet wet and enable them to understand the underlying principles of the Sacramentary chants. This latter point is important: too often priests find prayer texts with musical notation daunting, because they think they have to learn a difficult through composed song rather than a simple formula repeated over and over again and utilized in many different situations. Any minister who wishes to undertake the role of chanting in liturgy should use this book. In particular, this book can be used with advantage in seminaries as the basis for a course in ministerial singing. Priests may find this book most useful if several ministers study it together and help each other with the various exercises provided.


The area of developing your own style in presidential chanting must be placed in the context of ministerial integrity. Musical leadership is aimed towards liturgical engagement as opposite to entertainment. What separates entertainment from engagement could be culturally conditioned; what one community may consider entertainment may not be another community’s interpretation. All presiders need to be sensitive to cultural styles of their worshiping community. Specific resources that address presidential skills from various cultural perspectives could be offered in the future.