This Week’s Discussion Question: ” . . . too lively for Communion?”

In other parts of the blogosphere musicians often talk about what kinds of music are appropriate to sing during the communion rite, specifically during the communion procession. The issues seem to be that some music offered by publishers and used at Mass is “too lively for communion,” “not reverent enough,” or “doesn’t refer to the Body and Blood of Christ.” Some of the 142 Psallite Songs for the Table have been thus criticized: “Don’t Be Afraid,” “Listen: I Stand At the Door and Knock,” and “Walk in My Ways,” to name just three.

Building on what I wrote a year ago about the Interiority and the Exteriority of the Communion Rite, I am prepared to raise similar questions here and to make the following observation: There are times for reverence and adoration during the communion rite; but the communion procession is not one of those times. [The cat has just been set among the pigeons and the fox is in the hen house—let the pigeons and the chickens read the year-old post, please.]

Foundational to this entire discussion should be the text of Article 86 of the General Instruction of the Roman Missal, especially the new clauses and sentences (underlined in bold; compare the previous editions at Paragraph 56 i):

86. While the Priest is receiving the Sacrament, the Communion Chant is begun, its purpose being to express the spiritual union of the communicants by means of the unity of their voices, to show gladness of heart, and to bring out more clearly the “communitarian” character of the procession to receive the Eucharist. The singing is prolonged for as long as the Sacrament is being administered to the faithful. However, if there is to be a hymn after Communion, the Communion Chant should be ended in a timely manner.

Care should be taken that singers, too, can receive Communion with ease.

Some of us remember the controversial line from Music in Catholic Worship: ” Because they emphasize adoration rather than communion, most benediction hymns are not suitable” for communion songs.

This line only reinforced the teaching of Musicam Sacram 36: “Any one of the parts of the Proper or the Ordinary in a low Mass may be sung. Sometimes it is even quite appropriate to have other songs at the beginning, at the presentation of the gifts, and at the communion, as well as at the end of Mass. It is not enough for these songs to be “eucharistic” in some way; they must be in keeping with the parts of the Mass and with the feast or liturgical season.

The old Appendix to the General Instruction of the Roman Missal for the Diocese of the United States (November 1969) wisely clarified: “The Communion song should foster a sense of unity. It should be simple and not demand great effort. It gives expression to the joy of unity in the body of Christ and the fulfillment of the mystery being celebrated. Most benediction hymns, by reason of their concentration on adoration rather than on Communion, are not acceptable, as indicated in the instruction on music in the liturgy, no. 36.”

Why do I call this clarification wise? Because it surfaces the deep meaning of Article 89 of the GIRM (the new clauses are underlined in bold; compare the previous editions at Paragraph 56 k): “To bring to completion the prayer of the People of God, and also to conclude the whole Communion Rite, the Priest pronounces the Prayer after Communion, in which he prays for the fruits of the mystery just celebrated.

As I pointed out a few weeks ago, in our Catholic tradition slightly more than half (78) of the 150 psalms (or portions thereof) may be sung at communion, and about thirty percent (22) of the seventy-five biblical canticles. This we can see in the 552 communion antiphons of the Roman Missal, the 163 communion antiphons of the Roman Gradual and the 62 communion antiphons of the Simple Gradual. (Does everyone know that the complete Antiphonary Excerpted from the Roman Missal is available on the ‘net?)

(1) Of the 552 communion antiphons of the Antiphonary Excerpted from the Roman Missal, fewer than sixty antiphons refer even indirectly to the Body and Blood of Christ (I am still working on my analysis of this document).

(2) Of the 163 communion antiphons of the Roman Gradual only eight antiphons refer to the Body and Blood of Christ. All of these songs were realigned as a consequence of our new lectionary so that, as DOL 4298 says, “chants closely related to the readings should, of course, be transferred for use with these readings.” (DOL=Documents on the Liturgy 1963–1975: Conciliar, Papal, and Curial Texts (Collegeville, MN: The Liturgical Press, 1982), edited and translated by Thomas C. O’Brien of the International Commission on English in the Liturgy)

 (3) Of the sixty-two communion antiphons of the Simple Gradual, only four antiphons refer to the Body and Blood of Christ.

Why this infrequency? Because communion is about more even than the real presence of Christ’s Body and Blood. It is about how this Food and Drink is meant to forgive our sins, restore us to community, and to prepare us for life eternal, among many other things. (O sacrum convivium, in quo Christus sumitur, recolitur memoria passionis ejus, mens impletur gratia, et futurae gloriae nobis pignus datur. “O holy banquet in which Christ is consumed, the memory of his passion is recalled, the mind is filled with grace, and a pledge of future glory is given to us.” St. Thomas Aquinas, Canticle Antiphon for the Second Vespers of Corpus et Sanguinis Christi.)

Because communion is the fruit of the proclaimed word, especially the gospel, the communion song ideally “quotes” the proclaimed word, especially the gospel. It must at least be seasonally relevant, long enough and interesting enough to bear the weight of repetition. Its style needs to processional (more inspiring of movement than of meditation) and responsorial (sharing the burden of the text and music alternately, between the assembly and the cantor, choir, or instruments). Its texts need to have a biblical density and richness to it so that it can reflect as fulfillment what the Liturgy of the Word announced as promise.

As I study the Antiphonary Excerpted from the Roman Missal, I am learning that the subject matter of the Entrance Antiphon can be any one of the many kinds of prayer, even bitter complaint. By contrast, the subject matter of the Communion Antiphon is always some form of deep confidence, with an horizon of thanksgiving and joy . . .

. . . even if that means taking the original scripture verse complete out of context. Witness the communion antiphon for the celebration of the sacrament of confirmation: “Rejoice in the Lord, all you who have been enlightened, who have tasted the gift from heaven and have been made sharers in the Holy Spirit.” When I first read that text, I didn’t remember reading it ever before—and I never had!

The biblical citation is “cf. Heb 6:4”:

4 For it is impossible in the case of those who have once been enlightened and tasted the heavenly gift and shared in the holy Spirit 5 and tasted the good word of God and the powers of the age to come, 6 and then have fallen away, to bring them to repentance again, since they are recrucifying the Son of God for themselves and holding him up to contempt. 7 Ground that has absorbed the rain falling upon it repeatedly and brings forth crops useful to those for whom it is cultivated receives a blessing from God. 8 But if it produces thorns and thistles, it is rejected; it will soon be cursed and finally burned.

Gives a new meaning to the word ‘confer,’ does it not?
So, the discussion question of the week: Is there a biblical or liturgical text that is too lively for communion? Musical style is a secondary, cultural consideration.

Perhaps you are wondering where Sing to the Lord/Cantemus al Señor stands on these matters. My answer is: all over the place.

For completeness’ sake I’d have to cite lines from §§30, 77, 115b, and 189–194. Wanting to please everyone, the document fails to give the direction that the General Instruction of the Roman Missal and Musicam Sacram do and that Music in Catholic Worship and the Appendix to the General Instruction of the Roman Missal for the Diocese of the United States did. I’ll tackle that another day.

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38 comments

  1. Good. All too often, the alternative to “lively” is just simply “slow.” Like “slow” is the music-for-dummies default for “reverent.”

    I oppose the four-hymn sandwich, as I was reared off it in the late 70’s/early 80’s. But I also think little of the fast-slow-fast approach to Entrance/Communion/Sending like it was a Vivaldi concerto interrupted by Mass.

    What if the nature of the (biblical) text determined the tempo, arrangement, and liveliness of the music?

  2. In the parishes where I have served, using Breaking Bread / Gather resources, the repertoire of Communion songs has been rather stagnant. For example, BB 2012 has 44 songs in the “Communion” section, of which a typical parish might know 20 which have been in constant rotation since around 1985. Mostly Jesus->Bread->Jesus->Bread… By some accounts, my previous parish had sung the Taize Eat This Bread at least once a month for 20 years.

    Singing well-known responsorial psalms is an effective way to add variety to the Communion chant. If your parish has 15 or 20 psalm settings they already sing well, you can double your repertoire even before learning a single new song. Very practical.

    1. @Scott Pluff – comment #3:
      It’s been interesting to note the group leader reactions as I’ve programmed the occasional “responsorial psalm” for Communion. One group insists on “performing” them without announcing the number (good!) but also in strict “psalm style” with the same solo voice on intonation and verses. For newbie psalmists, this is a good training ground, I think. Give them a psalm verse (spread ’em all around!) and let them sing from the “comfort” of the choir area.

      Some bishop, I can’t remember who, suggested that six Communion songs were adequate for a parish repertoire, if they were excellent. That might be taking things to an extreme. But I can see his point that a large repertoire, a “song of the week” approach, has its drawbacks.

      As for the antiphonary, this is an extremely useful resource. Thank you, Paul.

      But I will chirp that a match to a three-year Lectionary cycle would be most useful for MR4, as well as more common options for stretches of the seasons. But y’all do realize that the Ordo Cantus Missae provides for a less than slavish approach, and that some substitutions and repetitions and switching around is a viable option, assuming that congregational singing is at the forefront of the reasons why.

  3. The communion song: “quotes”…word… gospel…be seasonally relevant, long … and interesting enough to bear …repetition…processional and responsorial…Its texts need… biblical density and richness to it so that it can reflect as fulfillment what the Liturgy of the Word announced as promise.

    Easier declared than realized perhaps, eh Paul and Todd, what with so much criteria to accommodate? Happily some fairly recent “variations” on those points help to make that “ideal” practical. Bartlett’s SEP (and other versions), Rice’s various Communio’s, Psallite etc. compliment sacred songs and hymns. I personally would like to initiate the congregational singing of the Communio antiphon (which I know works against DOL’s sensibilities, but hey!) at the celebrant’s reception. But that also is easier said than done. That’s where Lucien Deiss was so ahead of curve, we just didn’t adapt to its stylistic idiosyncrasies in the long run. Also, the mutual cross-translation of English songs to Spanish and vice-versa help with the duration aspect. And lastly, just to get the term “slavish adherence” into the mix, should a choral version of the Communio be available and measured well in order to then transition to a congregational hymn of praise, I don’t see a real problem with those forms as an “alternatim” option save for a slavish adherence to absolute congregational vocal participation. I suspect YMMV.

  4. Scott Pluff : In the parishes where I have served, using Breaking Bread / Gather resources, the repertoire of Communion songs has been rather stagnant. For example, BB 2012 has 44 songs in the “Communion” section, of which a typical parish might know 20 which have been in constant rotation since around 1985. Mostly Jesus->Bread->Jesus->Bread… By some accounts, my previous parish had sung the Taize Eat This Bread at least once a month for 20 years. Singing well-known responsorial psalms is an effective way to add variety to the Communion chant. If your parish has 15 or 20 psalm settings they already sing well, you can double your repertoire even before learning a single new song. Very practical.

    Yes, at first sight it is easy to make existing Responsorial Psalm settings do duty as Communion Processional Psalms. I would suggest, however, that this might not always be a good idea.

    One of these psalms is intended for singing sitting down, the other for singing standing up and moving. One is intended for a brief meditative reflection on the Word, the other for a rather more extended elaboration of the Liturgy of the Word. At the very least, the first of these differences implies a different kind of music, and I believe that this is something that composers have not yet generally begun to grasp.

    Further, I think one reason why the idea of the antiphon—psalm form at the Entrance and Communion Processions has not really taken off is precisely because people have been using settings that sound just like the Responsorial Psalm, thus promoting tedium and boredom. Music designed for processional movement ought to have a different feel to it.

    1. @Paul Inwood – comment #6:
      “One of these psalms is intended for singing sitting down, the other for singing standing up and moving.”

      a. many people do not receive communion & stay in their pews typically kneeling.
      b. many other people remain kneeling until they go to communion and return to their pew afterwards only to kneel again until celebrant is finished with the purification of the vessels. At that point we’ve arrived at the postcommunion prayer.

      The processional aspect you mention is often quite brief compared to the time spent kneeling both before and after communion.

      1. @Shane Maher – comment #10:
        You summarize – “The processional aspect you mention is often quite brief compared to the time spent kneeling both before and after communion.”

        For what it is worth – from Thomas Richstatter’s notes at St. Meinrad’s based upon the writings of Kilmartin:
        http://www.tomrichstatter.org/eEucharist/e75kmcon.htm

        Note:
        – “This would imply a real procession with identifiable food and drink; and eating bread and drinking wine (not just receiving a small host and a tiny sip of wine). The primacy of the assembly would imply a unity in posture (the presiding minister stands when the assembly stands, the presiding minister sits when the assembly sits, and the assembly kneels when the leader kneels). The primacy of the assembly implies a unity in clothing, vesture, and placement.” (Vatican II/Consilium goal that was never fully implemented and which Paul is referencing. Puts the emphasis on the communal action and not the presiding minister; not on the elements only)
        – moves away from mixing earlier eucharistic adoration practices and the eucharist and communion procession”
        – “Moving away from a theology of “magic moment” and “words of consecration” the berakah shape of the Eucharistic Prayer would be more evident if the remembering (anamnesis) preceded the petitioning (epiclesis); that is, the if epiclesis were not split as it is currently in the approved prayers for the Roman Rite. A unified epiclesis would also help remove the exaggerated emphasis on the narrative of the institution. This would also imply that the Presider use no manual gestures during the remembrance of the institution and emphasize (in word and gesture) the epiclesis, especially the epiclesis for communion. [The current genuflections and elevations are remnant of 1) a theology of the moment of consecration and 2) a theology of ocular communion rather than meal sharing.] The true place for the elevation is at the conclusion of the prayer in the great “toast”.

  5. One of these psalms is intended for singing sitting down, the other for singing standing up and moving. One is intended for a brief meditative reflection on the Word, the other for a rather more extended elaboration of the Liturgy of the Word. At the very least, the first of these differences implies a different kind of music, and I believe that this is something that composers have not yet generally begun to grasp.

    Paul, do you have a citation or some sort of instruction regarding this? I suppose I’m okay with most of your idea, but the first sentence seems like a very tenuous proposition to me.

    FWIW, I’ve had excellent luck with using responsorial psalm from Ordinary Time as communion antiphons. It helps unify repertoire, especially as these psalms occur often as responsorial psalms on Sundays and for weddings and funerals, not to mention when they are used during the communion procession. I could see where a “bad psalm tone” could lead to a stagnant communion antiphon, but that’s ultimately a matter of taste. At my place, judiciously reusing these psalms has greatly improved the congregational singing at communion for Masses where a choir or similar ensemble is not present.

    1. @Bruce Ludwick, Jr. – comment #7:

      Paul, do you have a citation or some sort of instruction regarding this?

      Bruce, no citations or instructions are necessary. The difference between the two forms is self-evident from their position and their function in the rite itself.

      If you’re looking for an instruction telling you to use (or not) a different kind of music at these two points in the rite, you won’t find one, not least because those who write such instructions are unaware that there even is a difference (and yet the difference is largely a matter of common sense). Even if they are aware that there is a difference, they don’t realize that the difference is important on the human level.

      Whole papers have been devoted to discussing this. What we’re talking about here is the anthropological dimension of liturgy which is too often overlooked.

      1. @Paul Inwood – comment #9:
        Paul, I suppose I was being imprecise: by “citation”, I was referring to your aforementioned “whole papers”. Perhaps I muddied the waters with “instruction”, leading you to think along the lines of GIRM, etc. I’m interested in doing some reading! Also, I see what you’re saying, but I hope you don’t mean this as a hard-and-fast rule.

  6. In regard to music being “too lively” for communion, I think one should consider the relationship between the speed of the procession and the tempo of the music. Formerly working in a diocesan setting, my best days allowed for some pretty privileged moments when one could choreograph – in the best sense of the term – the speed of the processions and the tempo of the music. It’s certainly possible to do this in the parish. It seems the communion procession will be inherently slower with people negotiating kneelers, waiting in line for the cup, letting others cut in and out of line and other similar factors. Yes – texts, styles, formats, instrumentation and the like should be considered when choosing communion repertoire, but don’t forget choreography. We are accompanying a procession after all.

  7. I was in a day-long faculty meeting, so I only had time to respond quickly to the first post from Todd.

    Here are my more considered replies thus far:

    @Todd Flowerday – comment #1:

    All too often, the alternative to “lively” is just simply “slow.” Like “slow” is the music-for-dummies default for “reverent.”

    This is quite insightful and anticipate Bill’s worthwhile citation of Kilmartin’s notes about the unnoticed holdovers from the Tridentine rite and its own antecedents with respect to Eucharistic piety.

    . . . I also think little of the fast-slow-fast approach to Entrance/Communion/Sending like it was a Vivaldi concerto interrupted by Mass.
What if the nature of the (biblical) text determined the tempo, arrangement, and liveliness of the music?

    Precisely the point I am trying to make.

  8. @Todd Flowerday – comment #5:

    Some bishop, I can’t remember who, suggested that six Communion songs were adequate for a parish repertoire, if they were excellent. That might be taking things to an extreme. But I can see his point that a large repertoire, a “song of the week” approach, has its drawbacks.

    
The bishop was Cardinal Mahony in Gather Faithfully Together. To correct misimpressions I was asked to write the essay “Interpreting and Implementing Cardinal Mahony’s Vision for the Responsorial Psalm and the Communion Song” for Liturgy 90, July/August 1998: https://dl.dropbox.com/u/7331043/Music%20in%20GFT%20Liturgy%2090.pdf

    As for the antiphonary, this is an extremely useful resource. Thank you, Paul. 
But I will chirp that a match to a three-year Lectionary cycle would be most useful for MR4, as well as more common options for stretches of the seasons. But y’all do realize that the Ordo Cantus Missae provides for a less than slavish approach, and that some substitutions and repetitions and switching around is a viable option, assuming that congregational singing is at the forefront of the reasons why.

    
You don’t have to wait for MR4: These communion antiphons are in the Psallite project from The Liturgical Press and are ideal for congregational singing.

  9. @Scott Pluff – comment #3:

    In the parishes where I have served, using Breaking Bread / Gather resources, the repertoire of Communion songs has been rather stagnant. For example, BB 2012 has 44 songs in the “Communion” section, of which a typical parish might know 20 which have been in constant rotation since around 1985. Mostly Jesus->Bread->Jesus->Bread… By some accounts, my previous parish had sung the Taizé Eat This Bread at least once a month for 20 years. . . . blockquote>Stagnant indeed, and deprives our people of the riches of the Eucharist.

  10. @Charles Culbreth – comment #4:


    . . . Bartlett’s SEP (and other versions), Rice’s various Communio’s, Psallite etc. compliment sacred songs and hymns. I personally would like to initiate the congregational singing of the Communio antiphon (which I know works against DOL’s sensibilities, but hey!) at the celebrant’s reception. But that also is easier said than done. That’s where Lucien Deiss was so ahead of curve, we just didn’t adapt to its stylistic idiosyncrasies in the long run. Also, the mutual cross-translation of English songs to Spanish and vice-versa help with the duration aspect. And lastly, just to get the term “slavish adherence” into the mix, should a choral version of the Communio be available and measured well in order to then transition to a congregational hymn of praise, I don’t see a real problem with those forms as an “alternatim” option save for a slavish adherence to absolute congregational vocal participation. I suspect YMMV.

    Spoken like a man from the trenches!



  11. @Paul Inwood – comment #6:

    Yes, at first sight it is easy to make existing Responsorial Psalm settings do duty as Communion Processional Psalms. I would suggest, however, that this might not always be a good idea.
One of these psalms is intended for singing sitting down, the other for singing standing up and moving. One is intended for a brief meditative reflection on the Word, the other for a rather more extended elaboration of the Liturgy of the Word. At the very least, the first of these differences implies a different kind of music, and I believe that this is something that composers have not yet generally begun to grasp.
Further, I think one reason why the idea of the antiphon—psalm form at the Entrance and Communion Processions has not really taken off is precisely because people have been using settings that sound just like the Responsorial Psalm, thus promoting tedium and boredom. Music designed for processional movement ought to have a different feel to it.


    Paul Inwood has made this point exactly correctly.


  12. @Bruce Ludwick, Jr. – comment #7:

    . . . FWIW, I’ve had excellent luck with using responsorial psalm from Ordinary Time as communion antiphons. It helps unify repertoire, especially as these psalms occur often as responsorial psalms on Sundays and for weddings and funerals, not to mention when they are used during the communion procession. I could see where a “bad psalm tone” could lead to a stagnant communion antiphon, but that’s ultimately a matter of taste. At my place, judiciously reusing these psalms has greatly improved the congregational singing at communion for Masses where a choir or similar ensemble is not present.

    Bruce, notice the change in many responsorial antiphon texts when they become communion antiphon texts. They shift from the subjunctive or the future to the indicative: e.g., the way the Missal might use Psalm 85:1 “Lord, may you bless our land” or “The Lord will bless our land” (graduals/responsorials) to “The Lord has bless our land” (communions).

    1. @Paul F Ford – comment #17:
      Sure, and I know what Paul is saying as well. However, I’m speaking more generally of Psalm 34, etc. I was questioning the more subjective nature of Paul’s comment: one person’s procession piece is another’s meditation. In some cases, I’ve found people are opposed to the whole concept of responsorial-psalm-as-meditative-reflection, and want a “sing-along”. So, perhaps I am discussing this at a lower level!

  13. @Michael Silhavy – comment #8:

    In regard to music being “too lively” for communion, I think one should consider the relationship between the speed of the procession and the tempo of the music. Formerly working in a diocesan setting, my best days allowed for some pretty privileged moments when one could choreograph – in the best sense of the term – the speed of the processions and the tempo of the music. It’s certainly possible to do this in the parish. It seems the communion procession will be inherently slower with people negotiating kneelers, waiting in line for the cup, letting others cut in and out of line and other similar factors. Yes – texts, styles, formats, instrumentation and the like should be considered when choosing communion repertoire, but don’t forget choreography. We are accompanying a procession after all.

    And that is another remarkable feature of Psallite’s songs for the table: they were all written for processions.

  14. A Data Observation

    The experience of “communion procession” for the people is somewhat complex.

    Phase 1 Waiting in the pew to get into the procession. During this portion we are in the pew (either standing, sitting or kneeling according to the custom of the parish) with the hymnal readily available. The response to a psalm sung by the choir can become pretty boring (since there isn’t anything else to do) especially if one is in the last row.

    Phase 2. Walking in the procession. This is the portion in which a refrain to a hymn or psalm becomes all important. I have trouble being confident of even a well know hymn like “One Bread, One Body” during the procession.

    Phase 3. Back in the pew after the procession (again either standing, sitting or kneeling according to the custom of the parish). Same problem as phase one, especially if you are in the first pew, repeating the refrain with not much else to do, except to listen to the psalm verses.

    Note: Psalms have to be printed to be heard. Cantors do not do a good job of articulation. This is particularly a problem for seniors. Psalm verses are not likely to be heard during the procession.

    A Trial Balloon

    A large local parish with a long communion procession uses two hymns (“chants”) in A B A fashion.

    This might be the solution with A being a well know hymn, e.g. “One Bread, One Body” and B being a psalm with a refrain.

    This has the advantage of not having to sing a hymn twice through, which often happens in my favorite parish. It also has the advantage of not having to sing a psalm refrain again and again and again and again.

    It would also have the advantage of keeping favorite communion hymns while expanding the repertory into the psalms.

    The hymn frame (part A) would be sung when most of the congregation was either waiting to enter the procession or had already been in the procession.

    1. @Jack Rakosky – comment #19:
      You make some helpful distinctions, in showing the phases in which people experience the distribution of communion. Similarly, the environment in which the distribution and singing take place changes the experience.

      Scene #1: a cross-shaped space with a central chancel. Each of the 4 wings is the same size, with the choir and instrumental accompanists seated in the 12 o’clock section and the congregation evenly seated in the other 3 sections. At the distribution, people in each of the 4 front rows come forward, then the people in each of the second rows, etc.

      Scene #2: a long, rectangular space, with chancel centered on the short side, pews in rows receding to the rear, and choir in the balcony at the rear. At the distribution, people come forward by rows by the center aisle, starting at the front.

      Scene #3: a wide, rectangular space, with chancel centered on the long side, seating in a semi-circle facing the chancel, two aisles dividing the seating into thirds, and the musicians gathered in one section near the front. At the distribution, people come forward via the twin aisles.

      Each space changes the experience of singing and the sense of communion. One long central aisle (#2) will mean that phase 2 is a longer experience; twin medium-sized aisles (3) will shorten that section of the experience; and four paths to approach the chancel (#1) will shorten it even more.

      Similarly, no matter where you might be sitting in #1, there are always people sitting directly across the way facing you. You are singing across the chancel to/with them, and vice versa. By contrast, in #2, you are always singing to someone’s back and hearing those behind you. In #3, it is somewhat mixed, as the semi-circular seating provides some sense of seeing the faces of others around you.

      Finally, if the space is not full for #2, gaps in the singers will be created as people commune, which can disrupt the singing, especially of unfamiliar/challenging music.

      1. @Peter Rehwaldt – comment #23:

        There is an additional variable, the choreography of the communion procession.

        My favorite parish is build like a T with about 25% of the congregation in each of the arms, and 50% in a widened but not very lengthy base.

        The people in the arms of the T go to communion first by processing down the side aisle of the base of the T to the entrance of the church at the base of the T, then take the center aisle up to the communion stations in front of the church, and then go to their respective arms of the T.

        When they are finished, the people in the base of the T go to communion by processing down the center aisle, beginning with the last pew first, so the people in the front row are the last to go to communion.

        I am sure this was designed that everyone goes to communion by making the same procession down the center of the aisle which the ministers make when they begin Mass. Also that there is really only one procession not multiple processions.

        Now one might say does that not make for a slow procession. On the contrary its makes for a fast procession since the two lines coming down the center aisle widen out to 4 stations plus six cups at the center of the church.

        In fact the procession is too fast for my walking stick so I have to be sure to get in the front pews of the sides of the T so that I get a leisurely walk to a place in the center aisle before the procession starts and therefore I am already standing in the center aisle waiting for the ministers to arrive so the procession can start.

        In this church most of the people are not processing at once because there are only two communion lines. But once they get into a line they process; they do not stand in line, except for those who stand in line in the center aisle awaiting the arrival of the ministers to begin distribution.

    2. @Jack Rakosky – comment #19:
      Your comments about the “phases” of a communion procession are well made. What we do, however, is stick a newer/lesser known hymn (or, very occasionally, one without a strong refrain) right at the beginning of the communion selections. In doing so we have the benefit of the hymnal-aided singing voices of almost the entire assembly. Since we initiate the communion songs when the presider receives, by the time he’s completed and has distributed to the Eucharistic Ministers, servers, etc., we are two or even three verses into that first communion song. For example, in the very near future the first of the songs will be Come to the Water (which is well-loved, but doesn’t have a refrain). Then our second communion selection might be a better known, traditional communion hymn with a strong refrain, to allow those in line to participate.
      We have a singing assembly. I hesitate to incorporate many psalms, since I feel as if I’m denying them a chance to sing. But the responses to this question lead me to rethink that stance.

      1. @Rachel Barber – comment #26:

        We have a singing assembly. I hesitate to incorporate many psalms, since I feel as if I’m denying them a chance to sing.

        As much as I like the psalms, think we should use more of them at Mass, and move toward the restoration of the Divine Office in our parishes, my “supreme law” is that I like to sing songs that I know and like, and that Mass should not be place where people learn to sing.

        I almost got thrown off of pastoral council for that, when several of us proposed that we practice new songs before Mass. The music ministers seemed to think that was their time to practice downstairs!

        Fortunately my favorite parish has choir practice before Mass upstairs (when they tried to move it downstairs, the people nixed that by a 2 to 1 vote) and all unfamiliar pieces are practiced before Mass.

  15. Ok, this post got my attention. I’ve been trying to program versions of the communion proper, with so-so luck… We use OCP’s Heritage missal, with Chabanel and R&A psalms. Those who use ‘responsorial psalms’ at Communion: are you using the proper for the day or one of the options ( translated or not) as found in the Simple Gradual?

    1. @John Ondrey – comment #20:
      I don’t use propers. If the Communion proper is derived from, say Psalm 84, I might program a setting of that psalm. Let’s say it’s Advent or Lent and its one of those years in which one of the common responsorial psalms doesn’t appear in the Sunday Lectionary. I consider the best Sunday placement for such a psalm, even if well known, just to keep it fresh in the community for once that year.

      I also make sure to utilize a variety of psalm styles, for developing the expertise of psalmists and also for keeping the experience artistically diverse for the community.

      I will also concede that I will consult a Scripture commentary for close relations of given psalms. An obvious example might be if Psalm 53 comes up and maybe my psalmist and community don’t know it. But they know Psalm 14. I’ll shrug, then program the one they know. A more practical example: the royal Psalms 93, 96, 97, 98–pretty much interchangeable in my mind.

  16. I am a fan of the Psallite collection. It wonderfully represents the paradigm of singing the psalms in procession, an ideal to which parishes can aspire. In my previous parish I had limited success in teaching several of these chants. When I was the cantor, I could lead the congregation and choir in these with some confidence. We even sang some of them unaccompanied, which was a wonderful experience. But when our amateur volunteer cantors tried these (hesitantly), they found these settings beyond their musical ability, even in the simplest arrangements. After I left the parish last summer, the Psallite books went back on the shelf.

    Making these settings look easy for the congregation is actually fairly hard. Well-trained, experienced, confident cantors can bring these to life. But while my parish strives to form our cantors for vocal leadership, we now mostly have volunteers who don’t read music, who have never studied voice, and who rely on hearing the organ/piano clearly lead the melody as they sing it. Skills like singing unmetered verses, free-speech chanting, or singing verse text over an ostinato refrain are in short supply.

  17. Paul Ford – I understand your editorial purpose in bolding and underlining the phrases from GIRM no. 86 to emphasize what is new in the current GIRM, but one effect of that is to highlight what is new at the expense of what else is there – including what has been carried over.

    GIRM no. 86 gives us a trifold purpose for the communion chant:

    * “to express the spiritual union of the communicants by means of the unity of their voices”

    * “to show gladness of heart”

    * “to bring out more clearly the “communitarian” character of the procession to receive the Eucharist.”

    Presuming that these are given in order of precedence, then it seems that the most important (although not the only) purpose is the first: “to express the spiritual union of the communicants” – with God and, through God, with one another.

    Paul Inwood’s principle, that the communion chant accompanies a procession, is surely correct, and others have qualified and elaborated it. In fact, It seems to me that the communion chant underscores quite a few different actions and movements:

    * The celebrant receiving communion

    * Any others on the altar (concelebrants, deacons, etc.) receiving communion

    * Other EMs receiving communion

    * The distribution of the vessels to the EMs

    * The EMs moving into position

    * In our parish and most parishes I’ve belonged to, ushers moving into position

    * The assembly kneeling in song until it is their turn to join the procession

    * Processing to communion

    * Receiving communion

    * Processing back from communion

    * Kneeling in song until all is complete

    * The EMs returning the vessels to the appointed place

    * (Whether the communion chant also underscores the ritual cleansing of the vessels isn’t clear in the GIRM).

    A number of these happen simultaneously, e.g. while EMs are moving into place, most of the people are kneeling. There is a lot of activity, but it isn’t the sort of ritually unified activity as when everyone stands at once for the Gospel.

  18. To complete the comment: it seems that a composer setting a text for the communion chant needs to take into account all of the above, plus, as you note, the character of the text itself (e.g. it could be a psalm of lament), plus – I would argue – the living tradition of the aesthetic quality of communion. Quite a lot to take into account. And overarching all of it, according to GIRM 86, is that it needs to “express the spiritual union of the communicants”.

  19. ” the subject matter of the Communion Antiphon is always some form of deep confidence, with an horizon of thanksgiving and joy . . .
    . . . even if that means taking the original scripture verse complete out of context. ”

    I hope folks don’t mind an anecdote, but this reminded me of something.

    Once when I was the spiritual director of a Christ Renews His Parish men’s group, I assigned some team members to choose a bible verse that would serve as the theme of the upcoming weekend. They did so, and came up with “The hand of the Lord is upon you”. The team thought it was very appropriate, and we had a big banner made with the verse in large block letters – it stood behind the speakers for the big weekend.

    Somewhat later, I took the opportunity of checking the reference, which was to Acts 13:11. Here is a bit more context:

    8
    But Elymas the magician (for that is what his name means) opposed them in an attempt to turn the proconsul away from the faith.
    9
    But Saul, also known as Paul,* filled with the holy Spirit, looked intently at him
    10
    and said, “You son of the devil, you enemy of all that is right, full of every sort of deceit and fraud. Will you not stop twisting the straight paths of [the] Lord?
    11
    Even now the hand of the Lord is upon you. You will be blind, and unable to see the sun for a time.” Immediately a dark mist fell upon him, and he went about seeking people to lead him by the hand.

  20. I’m as big a fan of Psallite as you are Scott. It’s a resource that has changed my parish’s approach (pun intended) the Communion Procession. We use a communion antiphon each week. 99% of the time it’s Psallite, but sometimes we need to make a few adjustments. We did a bit of catechesis when we began and asked people to spend a some time recognizing the tie between the antiphon and the Liturgy of the Word. Ours is an older demographic and singing on their way to and from communion wasn’t particularly comfortable for them. Now, several years later, it’s what they do. There are a couple of the Psallite antiphons that are a bit too long for them to memorize, so we don’t use them.

    With very few exceptions, our cantors are like yours. But I haven’t come across an antiphon that was beyond either the cantor or the assembly. We have had to assign the verses of the antiphon carefully as not all cantors could handle all of them. Some are more difficult than others. We frequently don’t use the superimposed tone for the verse unless we have a choir at that mass. We tend to do them as simply as possible. Very understated (if any) accompaniment, not much harmony. The choir likes it better when we fancy them up, but we don’t.
    We have become a parish which sings rather well during this procession. To see the Body of Christ approach the Blessed Sacrament with the Word of God on their lips is a real delight.

  21. As a professional musician, I have spent countless hours thinking about issues of rhythm, pulse, meter, and tempo. May I submit something that seems radical to this discussion: the communion procession doesn’t have a natural tempo or rhythm whatsoever, and if that is true, how does one deign to compose music that fits it? The purpose of any procession is simple: to get from one place to another. The purpose of the communion procession is to get to the place where communion is received, but there is no great importance to the movement itself. The music accompanies the procession, but it doesn’t have to match it. When singing the classic Gregorian communion chants, one can get into issues of tempo, movement, and subtle pulses, but there is no strict rhythm or tempo. I can’t imagine that the ancient Hebrews sang “Let us go to the house of the Lord” in strict rhythm.
    So I’m a bit boggled by the comments that the Psallite pieces are appropriate because they are processional. They are appropriate for their responsorial form, perhaps, but that has nothing to do with the tempo. Secondly, it is dangerous to suggest that there is one way to interpret these texts. Think of the Kyrie, for instance: some composers choose to treat it in a traditionally Roman supplicant manner, while others set it as the ancient Greek outcry. Both are correct. I will submit that a skilled composer can express joy at a slow tempo in F minor.
    Lastly, (and talking about the wolf in the hen house here), while the criticism you mention of Psallite is unjustified – style (as in chant vs. metrical, for instance) and reverence issues are moot, as you say – the music can be criticized on legitimate grounds of fittingness, substance, and quality. Those are not irrelevant issues to the divine liturgy.
    Since it has not previously been mentioned, I will mention Fr. Columba Kelly’s (of St. Meinrad Archabbey) collection of communion antiphons and psalms. He sets the official Roman Missal antiphons and abridged congregational refrains.

  22. The existence of the Antiphonary reminds me of the one included in the 1998 Sacramentary with its recommendations of the Psalm verses.

  23. I confess that sedate music “feels” right to me during the Communion rite, and I bridle a bit at music that feels too peppy and energetic. I don’t know if that’s entirely because the corpus of widely used songs for the Communion rite has trained me to have that attitude, or if there is something about the rite itself, and the experience thereof, that tends in that direction.

    Probably it’s the tempo of the communion line itself – it is sedate, so the music that accompanies it seems most fitting that way.

    I also find that singing while kneeling is physically more difficult than singing while standing or sitting or walking. Kneeling seems to make the upper body work a lot harder to keep itself upright. A song that calls for energetic singing can be a bit taxing. This is something that music ministers don’t experience when they are exercising their ministry.

  24. We have tried for years to ask our community sing during the Communion procession and have finally admitted defeat! We’re a small group, so it is particularly difficult.

    As for “lively” versus “sedate”, I opt for sedate and confess that I cringe if the singing is too lively. Yes it’s a procession, but an entrance or recessional can be a rousing hymn which seems out of place -to me – at Communion time.

    Usually I look to the Gospel of the day or the response to the psalm for a fitting theme but I’m always on the look-out for new ideas.

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