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THCP516 - Liturgical Music

Teaching organisation

This unit involves 150 hours of focused learning or the equivalent of 10 hours per week for 15 weeks. The total includes formally structured learning activities such as lectures, tutorials, online learning, video-conferencing, or supervision. The remaining hours typically involve reading, research, and the preparation of tasks for assessment.

Unit rationale, description and aim

Music forms an integral part of the Church’s liturgy as an artistic expression of the Church’s prayer and theology. This unit explores the nature of liturgical music, its history and the Catholic Church’s official teaching on music from Vatican II onward. It will concentrate on the use of music in liturgy today exploring its function, forms and purpose, and it will draw forth theological and pastoral principles to guide the choice of appropriate music for liturgical use. This unit aims to provide a general introduction to the Catholic Church’s definition, documentation and practice of liturgical music and to enable students to understand and use key criteria to identify suitable liturgical music (as distinct from other forms of religious music) and to choose fitting music for different liturgical moments, purposes and genres of liturgical texts. It will help students to evaluate what makes music effective in liturgy and to understand the power of liturgical music for bonding an assembly in its worship of God in a way unsurpassed by any other art.

Learning outcomes

To successfully complete this unit you will be able to demonstrate you have achieved the learning outcomes (LO) detailed in the below table.

Each outcome is informed by a number of graduate capabilities (GC) to ensure your work in this, and every unit, is part of a larger goal of graduating from ACU with the attributes of insight, empathy, imagination and impact.

Explore the graduate capabilities.

On successful completion of this unit, students should be able to:

LO1 - Present a critical account of the theological significance of music as an integral part of the liturgical celebration (GA5, GA9);

LO2 - Outline the Church’s official teaching on music in the liturgy (GA5);

LO3 - Trace the major developments in Catholic sacred music through various historical epochs (GA5);

LO4 - Work collaboratively to utilise musical, liturgical, theological and pastoral judgments in the selection of appropriate music for worship (GA5, GA7);

LO5 - Distinguish various different types of ritual music and where to use them appropriately within the liturgy (GA7, GA9).

Graduate attributes

GA5 - demonstrate values, knowledge, skills and attitudes appropriate to the discipline and/or profession 

GA7 - work both autonomously and collaboratively 

GA9 - demonstrate effective communication in oral and written English language and visual media 


Topics will include:

  • The biblical foundations of liturgical music
  • Major developments in the history of liturgical music
  • The functions of music in liturgy
  • The forms of liturgical music
  • The purpose of music in liturgy
  • Official Church teaching on the use of music in the liturgy following Vatican II
  • Principles for judging and selecting music for the liturgy
  • The role of the choir in liturgy
  • The musical structure of Catholic liturgy
  • A theology of sound
  • Liturgical music as prayer

Learning and teaching strategy and rationale

This unit involves 150 hours of focused learning or the equivalent of 10 hours per week for 15 weeks. The total includes formally structured learning activities such as lectures, tutorials, online learning, video-conferencing, or supervision. The remaining hours typically involve reading, research, and the preparation of tasks for assessment.

The unit is normally offered in intensive face-to-face mode which enables students to interact directly with the lecturer and fellow class members as they consider carefully structured and sequenced unit materials designed to support the achievement of the unit’s learning outcomes. In face-to-face class sessions students are provided with the opportunity to learn with experts in liturgical music and to work collaboratively in groups to discuss key principles and critically analyse their application to specific practical examples; identify and assess their own presuppositions and current perceptions with regard to liturgical music and how these might change in light of exposure to unit content; and engage in practical activities which enable them to reflect critically on key unit content, analyse and integrate new information with existing knowledge, draw meaningful new connections, and then work individually to apply what they have learned to liturgies being prepared and celebrated in their own unique circumstances.  Assessment tasks are integrated into the unit as appropriate to the mode in which it is offered (i.e., students may work in groups to prepare and present an assessment task during the intensive week; if the unit is offered in a different mode – e.g., fully online, group presentation assessments may be replaced with a different equivalent task appropriate to the mode of learning). Assessment tasks are designed to provide a variety of opportunities for students to demonstrate their achievement of the unit’s learning outcomes and to enable them to go beyond the unit materials presented during the face-to-face classes so that they can engage in analysis and research tasks which require them to apply the knowledge they have gained through exposure to the unit’s lectures, tutorials, readings, analyses and exercises.

This unit is typically offered in intensive face-to-face mode. This mode of learning requires students to attend class sessions and interact actively with the lecturer and fellow class members during those sessions to learn, integrate and begin integrating key concepts covered in the unit; and work in small groups to prepare and offer presentations in class. Following the class students are expected to work independently to integrate and embed concepts, information and principles covered during the class sessions through follow-up reading, individual research, writing and submission of assessment tasks. 

Assessment strategy and rationale

To pass this unit students are required to attempt all assessment tasks and achieve a cumulative grade of Pass (50% or higher). The assessment tasks for this unit are designed to enable students to demonstrate their achievement of each learning outcome.

Assessment Task 1: Group Presentation requires students to work collaboratively in a small group to choose the music for a Eucharistic liturgy, providing a justification for the different types of ritual music chosen, utilizing the fourfold musical-liturgical-theological-pastoral judgment to explain why their selection of music is appropriate for a specific liturgical celebration.  This assessment task provides an opportunity for students to demonstrate an integration in practice of the theories and official Church teaching explored in this unit and to articulate and defend the rationale underlying their practical liturgical-musical decisions in front of their peers.

 Assessment Task 2: Liturgical Music Philosophy provides an opportunity for students to integrate into a philosophical statement their self-reflective understanding of and informed beliefs about liturgical music. Students will define their understanding of liturgical music and their understanding of music’s role and function in liturgy and how their beliefs about liturgical music translate into effective and informed liturgical music practice. Writing a liturgical music philosophy will help them to crystallize and articulate their central convictions about liturgical music in dialogue with official Church teaching in order to inform and improve their practice of liturgical music.

 Assessment Task 3: requires students to research and write a Major Essay which enables them to engage in an extended investigation and critical consideration of a topic central to the unit, in dialogue with unit materials and other relevant primary and secondary sources. This assessment offers students the chance to demonstrate a synthesis of knowledge and insight gained throughout the unit and to apply it to a practical setting.

Overview of assessments

Brief Description of Kind and Purpose of Assessment TasksWeightingLearning OutcomesGraduate Attributes

Group Presentation (in class): requires students to work in a small group to choose and explain the music for a Eucharistic liturgy demonstrating their understanding of the theory and official teaching about liturgical music studied in this unit.


LO4, LO5

GA5, GA7, GA9

Liturgical Music Philosophy: requires students to write a self-reflective statement expressing a coherent and theoretically-grounded philosophy of liturgical music articulating their central convictions about this topic in dialogue with official Church teaching.



GA5, GA7, GA9

Major Essay: requires students to research and write an extended critical consideration of a set essay topic synthesising and demonstrating understanding and application of central concepts covered in the unit.


LO1, LO2, LO3, LO5

GA5, GA7, GA9

Representative texts and references

Columbari, Bari and Michael R. Prendergast, eds. The Song of the Assembly: Pastoral Music in Practice. Portland: Pastoral, 2007.

Foley, Edward. Ritual Music: Studies in Liturgical Musicology. Beltsville: Pastoral, 1995.

Foley, Edward. A Lyrical Vision: The Music Documents of the US Bishops. American Essays in Liturgy. Collegeville: Liturgical, 2009.

Gill, Gerald .D. Music in Catholic Liturgy: A Pastoral and Theological Companion to Sing to the Lord. Chicago: Hillenbrand, 2009.

Harmon, Kathleen. The Ministry of Music. Collegeville Ministry Series. Collegeville: Liturgical, 2004.

Joncas, Jan Michael. From Sacred Song to Ritual Music: Twentieth Century Understandings of Roman Catholic Worship Music. Collegeville: Liturgical, 1997.

Leaver, Ralph .A. and Joyce Ann Zimmerman, eds. Liturgy and Music: Lifetime Learning. Collegeville: Liturgical, 1998.

McFarland, Jason J. Announcing the Feast: The Entrance Song in the Mass of the Roman Rite. Collegeville: Liturgical/Pueblo, 2011.

Saliers, Don. Music and Theology. Horizons in Theology Series. Nashville: Abingdon, 2007.

Wren, Brian. Praying Twice: The Music and Words of Congregational Song. Louisville: Westminster/John Knox, 2000.

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