Pray Tell Live: Panel Discussion on Liturgical Music in Hispanic Context

Thursday, July 14

4 pm:
Liturgical Music in Hispanic Context – panel
– Crista Miller, Sacred Heart Cathedral, Houston, TX
– Rick Gibala, St. Thomas More Cathedral, Alexandria, VA


  1. Some observations from the field:
    1. It’s standing room only in Spanish-language Masses on an ordinary Sunday in churches where I have participated in in Brooklyn, New York and suburban Atlanta, Georgia.

    2. The major hymnal and misalette publishers have done a great job providing printed and audio resources for liturgical music in Spanish.

    3. Many Spanish-language choirs, including the director, don’t read music. When I play a song according to the score, I hear comments such as: “Wow, is that what the song is supposed to sound like?” Some would like to sing the song as written, because, as they say, “they would like to learn and sing the song the right way.” Others continue to sing the song as they learned it by ear.

    4. In some parishes almost everybody sings. The feeling is indescribable in words, when you hear 300 people singing “Que alegria quando me dijeron” (I rejoiced when I heard them say) or “Pescador de Hombres” or “Espero en ti, Señor.” When they know the song, they sing. In other parishes, few people sing.

    5. Most Spanish-language choirs I have worked with have three levels of dynamics: loud, very loud and very, very loud.

    6. Where people like to sing, they sing, on pitch or not. Those who sing off pitch, of course, don’t realize they are off pitch, as they sing at the top of their voice when they do it. What’s remarkable is that nobody seems to mind. It is impressive to hear “Bendito, Bendito” sung, after Benediction, with as many as 5 people off pitch, singing at the top of their voices.

    7. Many want to learn how to read music and can learn, if given the opportunity. Twenty minutes of class after Mass every Sunday over three months go a long way towards learning to read music and sing from a score. Hay esperanza.

    1. @Vic Romero:
      Just one observation to your comment #3: if it is folk music, there is no one way “the song is supposed to sound like,” so their way is just as valid as what is printed in the books.

    2. @Vic Romero:
      My experiences in my parish in the Diocese of Salt Lake City pretty much parallel each of your points, except for #7, which we’ve not tried. There may be a parish or two in the diocese that does Hispanic ministry where folks don’t like to sing, but I suspect they are a rarity. Our 12:30 Spanish Mass is always standing room only and most of the 1000 people in the church are singing, at least the Mass parts and the popular songs. Because few people read music, the Spanish choirs (we have four and one bilingual one) don’t bother to announce the hymn numbers of the music they sing. The congregation learns the words by heart from frequent repetition. The music is lively, it is upbeat, and it brings joy to the people.

  2. A careful liturgist or musician at Spanish-language Mass will notice discrepancies in the Spanish-language liturgical texts. Missals or lectionaries published in Latin America use different texts than those from Spain. This matters, because the U.S. bishops have opted to use the Latin American version for the scripture readings, except for the responsorial psalm, for which they opted to use the Iberian version. At Christ the King Cathedral in Atlanta, we subscribe to El Día del Señor, published by the Jesuits of Mexico. They have taken into account the U.S. bishops’ “mixed-source” selection. It is still confusing, however, to follow along in El Día del Señor, when the priest prays the propers, using a missal with a different text of the propers.

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