The Role of Cantor
The role of the cantor or precentor has its roots in the Jewish tradition as the musician trained in vocal arts to lead the congregation in songful prayer, a tradition originating in the seventh century.
The role of the cantor was restored to Roman Catholic liturgical practice by reforms of the Second Vatican Council.
While there is no place in the liturgy for display of virtuosity for its own sake, artistry is valued, and an individual singer can effectively lead the assembly, attractively proclaim the Word of God in the psalm sung between the readings, and take his or her part in other responsorial singing. “Provisions should be made for trained singers, especially where there is no possibility of setting up even a small choir. The singer will present some simpler musical settings, with the people taking part, and can lead and support the faithful as far as is needed. The presence of such a singer is desirable even in churches which have a choir, for those celebrations in which the choir cannot take part but which may fittingly be performed with some solemnity and therefore with singing.”
The Liturgy Documents: Music in Catholic Worship #35
The cantor has a crucial role in the development of the assemblies singing and serves parishioners in their worship by:
- Proclaiming the Word of God through the singing of the responsorial psalm;
- Leading and assisting the assembly in common sacred song;
- Teaching new music - hymns, refrains, acclamations and responses as needed.
At the Church of St. Jean Baptiste, the cantors are drawn from the professional musicians of the octet. They serve as musical role models for the assembly. The goal of the cantor for the ordinary of the Mass is to bring the assembly into full song so that the only thing necessary is a simple gesture to begin. Cantors then lead the songs and hymns for the day.
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