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Cantor Guidelines

Regardless of whether you are :

  • already a cantor and would like a handy reference;
  • thinking about stepping up to cantor, and wonder what it entails;
  • or don't feel called to cantor, but would be better off knowing

what goes on in order to provide assistance to the cantor (which means everyone in the choir). These notes are for you!


The cantor's main task is to lead the congregation in song but not distract from the solemnity of Mass, which is a risk run for those who cantor regularly, ie this is not a performance. This usually, but not always, means singing some solo parts on the elements of the Mass (such as the Alleluia). It also means announcing the hymn numbers, and being ready to step up to the mike just BEFORE a response is about to start, such as the Sanctus.


In order to LEAD, you have to LOOK. This means that before the Mass, you should study the words of the songs you don't know (more on that later), so that at least during the refrain, you can look out at the people without having to look down too much. When you look at people, it encourages them to sing. Looking also means looking at the choir director as much as possible.

The cantor is leading the congregation singing, but that is first and foremost led by the choir and its director. So the cantor should follow the choir director at all times to ensure that choir and cantor are coordinated, not vice versa. It's the choir director who determines when a hymn begins and starts, whether a refrain is repeated, at which tempo we are singing a song.

You also have to LIFT -your arm(s), that is-to signal to the congregation that it's "their turn" to come in, so to speak, on responsorial music such as the Kyrie, Psalms, and Lamb of God. During songs where the congregation sings all the time, always have at least one arm up (it helps to switch between verses).


The cantor should be familiar with ALL the music being sung that week. I always send out the week's line-up early on, to give everyone time to study, listen to the mp3 files, and so on. This is ESPECIALLY important for the cantor!

Don't just study the music itself; look at the line-up. Who are the soloists? When should you move away from the mike, and when should you stay close to it in order to be ready to start quickly?

Remember that at nearly every Mass, we sing the following:

  1. Gathering (usually a hymn)
  2. Kyrie
  3. Gloria (but not during Advent or Lent, with a few exceptions)
  4. Psalm
  5. Gospel Acclamation : Alleluia (not during Lent)
  6. Preparation of the Gifts (usually a hymn)
  7. Eucharistic Acclamation : Sanctus/Christ Has Died/Amen
  8. Fractional Rite : Lamb of God
  9. Communion (usually a hymn)
  10. Song of Praise (might be a solo, choral piece or a hymn)
  11. Sending Forth (usually a hymn)

Do NOT assume that you "know it all". If you take a closer look, the Gospel Acclamation might not be the one we "always" do, or the Gloria might be the celebrated "Clapping Gloria", in which case you should announce the number in the paperback hymnal. Is a child going to sing the Gloria? You should lower the mike as soon as the Kyrie is over!

If you're new to cantoring, you might want to print out a copy of the lineup and make notes on it.

It helps to bear in mind the basic structure of the Mass, which has four parts; two main parts (in capital letters) and two framing rites:

Introductory Rites - musically, includes Gathering, Kyrie, Gloria LITURGY of the WORD (Biblical Readings, Homily, Creed, Intercessions) - includes Psalm and Gospel Acclamation LITURGY of the EUCHARIST (Preparation, Eucharistic Prayer; Communion Rite) - includes Preparation of the Gifts, Eucharistic Acclamation, Fractional Rite, Communion, Song of Praise Concluding Rite - Sending Forth In other words, the more familiar you are with the Order of the Mass, the more naturally your cantoring will flow ("Oh, Father is saying 'Lift up your hearts', so the Sanctus is coming in a moment").


Number one: Be on time to choir practice!

Number two is a corollary of number one: If you're scheduled to cantor and have a last-minute emergency, CALL ME. My cell phone is 636661603. If I don't answer, call [Dani:660 912 554 or Delories:625 278 238].

Once you're at practice, it's a good idea to check in with Dani and me about any questions or possible last-minute changes/corrections. Try to remember to bring a pencil or pen to make notes on your lineup.

Before Mass, the soloist for the Psalm should get up to run over that with the congregation. Even if you're not the soloist, you should remind them to do that, and see if Dani or a guitarist is ready to accompany.

MAKE SURE YOU HAVE ALL THE MUSIC YOU NEED and a copy of the LINE-UP on your music stand before Mass starts!

During Mass, keep me in the corner of your eye as much as you can; you'll get cues on tempo and so on, and - especially important - cues on when we're going to add/cut a verse. Remember that a closed fist means "last verse" or "last refrain"; fingers held up indicate the verse number; a gesture of rolling the hand forward means "another refrain".

Most importantly, FORGET ABOUT YOURSELF, and ENJOY THE MUSIC. No matter what happens, you should remember that small mistakes get noticed by almost no one but you, and regardless, everyone will appreciate what you're doing for the music ministry. On a good day, the Holy Spirit just takes over and it's wonderful. The more you cantor, the easier it gets - trust me! I used to be PARALYZED by solo singing, and now look at me.

God bless you all

Elke Wilson