The Office of Liturgy recently announced the publication of new archdiocesan guidelines for music at Masses celebrated in Spanish. As in many dioceses of the United States, the Archdiocese of New York serves an increasing number of people for whom Spanish is their primary language. Many pastors and parish musicians, however, are not familiar with the standard repertoire and styles of music frequently used at Spanish-language liturgies. In response, the members of the archdiocesan Liturgical Music Commission have developed guidelines intended to be of assistance to clergy and pastoral staff who wish to minister effectively to Spanish-speaking communities and offer an experience of liturgical worship that is culturally authentic, faith-filled, and beautiful.

This new resource, published in both English and Spanish on the Liturgy Office webpage, begins by noting the many contributions of Spanish-language music to the Catholic Church over the centuries. For example, celebrated Renaissance composers such as Cristobal de Morales (1500-1553), Francisco Guerrero (1528-1599), Tomas Luis de Victoria (1548-1611), and Alonso Lobo (1555-1617) all hailed from Spain. Later, when Spanish missionaries first proclaimed the Gospel in Central and South America, they brought with them this longstanding tradition of sacred  music from Spain to the New World. In fact, many traditional hymns originating in Spain are still sung regularly and remain beloved across the Spanish-speaking diaspora even today. In the centuries that followed, composers wrote new music to express the spiritual faith and religious fervor of Spanish-speaking Catholics. The liturgical works of Hernando Franco (1532-1585), Juan Gutiérrez de Padilla (1590-1664), and Francisco López Capillas (1608-1674) composed for the great cathedrals of Latin America, the villancicos sung on Christmas and folk hymns written in honor of Our Lady of Guadalupe, and modern religious compositions by Heitor Villa-Lobos (1887-1959) and Alberto Ginastera (1906-1983) all serve as examples of the ever-expanding repertoire of Spanish-language sacred music. This great body of works from both the Old and New Worlds forms part of the Church’s musical patrimony, which the Second Vatican Council described as “a treasure of inestimable value, greater even than that of any other art” (Sacrosanctum concilium, 112). 

The new guidelines also speak to the opportunities and challenges encountered in today’s Spanish-language parish music programs. For example, the importance of using familiar hymnody as essential to cultivating a singing congregation is underscored, and a list of well-known Spanish-language hymns grouped by liturgical season, theme, and Marian title is given in an appendix. Several recently developed resources for musical settings of the proper chants of the Mass (Entrance [Introit], Offertory, and Communion) are also listed.

A question that frequently arises in both Spanish- and English-speaking congregations is whether to introduce devotional or charismatic music into the Mass. The guidelines observe that, in many cases, these types of songs do not have as their focus the communal dimensions and activities of liturgical worship, and, for this reason, they are more appropriately sung in other contexts, such as prayer meetings and revivals, group sharing, Bible study sessions, etc.

Pastors and musicians will sometimes ask if Spanish Mass Ordinary settings (Señor Ten Piedad, Gloria, Santo, Cordero de Dios) that use abridged or poetic variations of the official prayers of the Mass may be sung. The guidelines note that these types of settings are not permitted for liturgical use, and only the approved liturgical texts found in the Misal Romano, Tercera Edición may be sung for the Mass Ordinary. 

Concerning instrumentation, the document observes that guitars, drums, percussion, and brass instruments are commonly used to accompany the singing of the gathered faithful in Spanish-language Masses. These instruments typically function well in this role, and they form a recognized part of the stylistic genres often associated with Spanish-language music in the United States. The guidelines also recall the teaching of the Second Vatican Council that the pipe organ may always be used at Roman Catholic liturgies because it “adds a wonderful splendor to the Church’s ceremonies and powerfully lifts up man’s mind to God and to higher things” (Sacrosanctum concilium, 120). In fact, congregations usually find the organ one of the easiest instruments to sing with because it produces sound much like the human voice (i.e., through wind-induced vibrations).

Additional topics are also addressed within the document, including the availability of printed musical resources for Spanish-language liturgical music, adequate budgeting and musical resources for Spanish-language Masses, providing assistance to volunteer musicians who lack formal musical training, and the use of sound amplification in the context of congregational singing.

The new guidelines are available for download on the Liturgy Office website. Additional questions may be referred to the archdiocesan Office of Liturgy or members of the Liturgical Music Commission.