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What Does it Mean to be In Choir?

March 27, 2017 by  
Filed under Church, Fr. Bartunek, Liturgy

What Does it Mean to be In Choir?


Choir and Rood Screen in Albi Cathedral in France

From time to time, in various spiritual writings and elsewhere, I’ve come across the term “choir” and it seems like it has nothing to do with music, which is what I associate it with. I think it might have something to do with Mass, perhaps where it is said?, but I’m not exactly sure what. Is it used in certain settings? Could you explain what it means to be “in choir” and “choir dress”? And also, what is the history behind it? Thank you very much. God bless you and your ministry.

Yes indeed, the word “choir” can be used in many different ways. We usually use it to refer to a group of singers. And in this sense, choir robes could simply refer to the uniform worn by members of a choir.

for post on what it means to be in choir

Choir Stalls

In the past, however, the term was primarily architectural. It referred to the part of the church reserved for the members of the choir. Depending on the time period and architectural style, this could be a balcony in the back of the church, or balconies above the naves, or any number of places. But it gets even more interesting when we dig into the monastic tradition.

For communities of monks and nuns who pray, chant, or sing together the Liturgy of the Hours, the “choir” often referred to the section of the church or chapel reserved for that purpose. This section, in some architectural traditions, is separated both from the sanctuary (where the priest celebrates the liturgy of the Eucharist) and from the nave, where other Catholic faithful, not monks or nuns, would sit for liturgical celebrations. Sometimes these sections of a church were elaborate structures containing large numbers of carved stalls, one for each monk or nun. Other times they were barely distinguishable from the sanctuary. Sometimes they were directly between the sanctuary and the nave, other times they were behind or to the sides of the sanctuary.

clerics in choir robes or choir dress

Clerics in Choir Robes or Choir Dress

Some liturgical assistants (acolytes or lectors, for example) would sometimes sit in this area of the “choir” during a liturgical service, even if they were not monks or nuns themselves. The specific vestments they used were then, sometimes, referred to as choir robes – the kind of robe you would wear if you had to sit in the choir during a Mass or vespers.

So, yes, the term “choir” has many uses. I hope this brief summary helps you understand the references you were puzzling over.

In Him,
Fr John
Fr John Bartunek, LC, SThD



Art for this post on the term “Choir”: Choir and rood screen in the Albi Cathedral, France, artist not identified, photographed by Pom2, 2 July 2008 own work, CCA-SA 3.0 Unported; Coro ligneo di Baldino di Surso: legno intagliato e scolpito (Baldino wooden choir Surso: carved and sculpted wood), artist not identified, 1477, photographed by IRE FEDU 14, 20 March 2015 own work, CCA-SA 4.0 International; ClerusProcesie2008Brugge (Clerics Processing 2008 Bruges [in choir dress]), Feast of the Ascension 2008, photographed by Carolus, 2008 own work, CCA 3.0 Unported; all Wikimedia Commons.

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About Fr. John Bartunek, LC

Fr. John Bartunek, LC, S.Th.D, received his BA in History from Stanford University in 1990. He comes from an evangelical Christian background and became a member of the Catholic Church in 1991. After college, he worked as a high school history teacher, drama director, and baseball coach. He then spent a year as a professional actor in Chicago before entering the religious Congregation of the Legionaries of Christ in 1993. He was ordained a Catholic priest in 2003 and earned his doctorate in moral theology in 2010. He provided spiritual support on the set of Mel Gibson’s "The Passion of the Christ" while researching the 2005 Catholic best seller, "Inside the Passion"--the only authorized, behind-the-scene explanation of the film. Fr. John has contributed news commentary regarding religious issues on NBC, CNN, Fox, and the BBC. He also served as the English-language press liaison for the Vatican’s 2005 Synod of Bishops on the Eucharist. His most widely known book is called: "The Better Part: A Christ-Centered Resource for Personal Prayer". His most recent books are "Spring Meditations", "Seeking First the Kingdom: 30 Meditations on How to Love God with All Your Heart, Soul, Mind and Strength", and "Answers: Catholic Advice for Your Spiritual Questions". Fr. John currently splits his time between Michigan (where he continues his writing apostolate and serves as a confessor and spiritual director at the Queen of the Family Retreat Center) and Rome, where he teaches theology at Regina Apostolorum. His online, do-it-yourself retreats are available at RCSpirituality.org, and he answers questions about the spiritual life at SpiritualDirection.com.

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