Archdiocesan music director explores power of sacred music

BOSTON -- "Why do we sing?" That was one of the many deep, personal, and thought-provoking questions that Richard Clark, the director of music for the Archdiocese of Boston and the Cathedral of the Holy Cross, explored in a presentation given Aug. 13.

The idea for his talk, titled "Why We Sing As a Faith Community," came to him while attending the National Association of Pastoral Musicians (NPM) annual conference. NPM works to create opportunities for networking and professional development among musicians in faith communities.

Kiki Donahue, the director of the Boston chapter of NPM, helped to organize and promote the event, which drew about two dozen people, including other NPM members.

Before Clark gave his presentation, the attendees gathered for fellowship in the cathedral narthex, and then sang midday prayer together. Many attendees were musicians themselves, but Clark insisted that the topic of sacred music is important for all the faithful.

"If you're in the pews, this is just as important and just as pertinent, if not more so, than it is for all of us who do this either professionally or as an avocation," he said.

Clark acknowledged from the outset that the topic of his talk was broad, and that many of the ideas contained in it could each merit an entire course.

"I've had a growing appreciation of how important (singing as a faith community) is, and how it needs to be continually revisited," he said.

Throughout his talk, Clark emphasized his belief that singing and the Eucharist are both intrinsically tied to community. He said singing helps people pray the words of the Mass, and "brings us closer in relationship with God and with each other."

St. Augustine is often quoted as having said, "He who sings once prays twice." While this may not be a correct attribution, he did write in a sermon about the dedication of a church, "Music is for one who loves."

In covering the history and development of liturgical music, Clark drew on many different Church documents, including "Gaudium et Spes," "Desiderio Desideravi," the Catechism of the Catholic Church, and "Sing to the Lord: Music in Divine Worship."

He pointed out that the first document that resulted from Vatican II examined the liturgy. "Sacrosanctum Concilium," the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, said that God is present in three ways: in the sacraments, in his Word, and when the Church prays and sings. All three of these are manifested in the celebration of the Mass.

Clark explained that the Roman Rite and Gregorian chant evolved together, stemming from the Jewish tradition of singing the Torah. In the Traditional Latin Mass, as well as in Eastern Churches, the prayers of the liturgy have always been sung.

Three popes of the early 20th century, Pius X, Pius XI, and Pius XII encouraged greater participation of the faithful. Pius X wrote in his 1903 motu proprio that the purpose of sacred music is to glorify God and sanctify the faithful.

Hymns were originally used not for the Mass, but for the Liturgy of the Hours. The four-hymn structure was added to the Mass to allow the faithful to participate in the music. The genre of responsorial psalms -- so called because they respond to the first reading -- was created for the Novus Ordo Mass.

Clark quoted Pope Francis' words to the Scholae Cantorum in 2019, that "Liturgy is the first teacher of catechism." This means that the Mass and the music are both forms of evangelization in and of themselves. Clark also talked about the concept of "Lex orandi, lex credendi, lex vivendi," meaning that the way people pray shapes their belief, which shapes the way they live.

Toward the end of his talk, Clark had the group read and sing "Ubi Caritas," or "Where Charity and Love Prevail." The lyrics of this hymn speak of God's presence in community and how Christians are to live in relationship with each other.

"This really teaches us how to be together as a faith community," Clark said.

Using some of Jesus' parables about the Kingdom of God, he said that singing, even in small numbers, can be like a mustard seed, something that starts small but can have an enormous impact.

"When you sing, God is present, and you can change the world with that," he concluded.

"I am so grateful to (Richard Clark) for his support of our chapter, and also his willingness to invite us all into this beautiful space and to be a welcoming presence," Donahue said, speaking to The Pilot after the presentation.

She said she thinks NPM events are "a great way" for those involved in liturgy or sacred music "to come together and see that we're all on the same path, and we're all going for the same goal."

"I hope that we can be an organization that brings everybody together on the local level," Donahue said.

A recording of Clark's presentation can be viewed on his YouTube channel, @RJCCeciliaMusic. Information about the National Association of Pastoral Musicians is available at