How do you select hymn texts and choir anthems for the Preparation of the Gifts? What do you look for? What do you avoid? Let’s discuss it.
The General Instruction of the Roman Missal gives helpful explanation of the purpose of the sung texts at entrance (47-48) and communion (86-87). But no. 74 says little about the “offertory chant,” except that it accompanies the procession, and singing may happen even if there is no procession. That latitude in free selection of hymns is the same as for the entrance (48), but unlike at 48, nothing is said about the purpose of the offertory chant.
The U.S. bishops’ document Sing to the Lord is similarly reticent about the purpose of the singing at Prep. The General Instruction’s brief instructions are quoted, and then it is stated that instrumental music may also be used.
Communion and Eucharist hymns aren’t appropriate, obviously. But should Prep hymns refer to Eucharist (at last indirectly) in the sense of preparing us to offer sacrifice and partake of banquet? Is this the time for gratitude for the earth’s blessings, picking up the theme of the prayers (“Blessed are you, Lord God of all creation…”) which may be said aloud? Or the offertory antiphon in the Lutheran hymnals, “Let the vineyards be fruitful, Lord”?
The Latin chant propers sometimes tie together Word and Eucharist in that the communion antiphon quotes the Gospel of the day. Should the piece at Prep tie in to the Scripture readings? Is this the time to sing the lectionary hymn (or Gospel hymn, or hymn of the day)?
I recall Kevin Irwin writing in Text and Context that the direction of the liturgical action shifts after the General Intercessions: at the Preparation of the Gifts, the focus moves to the table. Hymns that bring us back to the Liturgy of the Word are out of place. Do you agree?
I had Irwin in mind a week ago when my Gregorian Chant schola sang at Abbey Sunday Mass. We sang the proper introit and communio, the former as a prelude before the congregational hymn. But we didn’t sing the proper offertorium. Oftentimes, that particular chant is one of the most difficult of the propers. Instead of it I programmed a chant quoting the Gospel reading: Malos male perdet, “He will put those wretched men to a wretched death.” (That text is a challenge to interpret allegorically for spiritual benefit, btw, but that’s a conversation for another day.) I found this Gospel-based text by going to the Antiphonale Monasticum with its Benedictus and Magnificat antiphons tied to the 3-year lectionary. Did my selection distort the direction of the liturgy at this point?
At the end of this post are the offertorium texts of the Graduale Romanum for the Ordinary Time Sundays up to the 10th Sunday. I don’t see a clear pattern in their themes – do you? There is no clear focus on offering sacrifice, for example. The texts seem to range freely over themes of praise, worship, discipleship, and appeal. Does this suggest that we are quite free in selecting texts for congregation or choir at this point in the liturgy?
I welcome your contributions to this discussion.
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Texts of the Offertory Chant in the Graduale Romanum up to the 10th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Shout joyfully to God, all the earth; let all the earth cry out with joy to God, and sing a psalm to his name… (Ps 66: 1, 2, 16)
The Lord’s right hand has shown strength, the Lord’s right hand has exalted me. I shall not die, but live; and I shall declare the works of the Lord. (Ps 118: 16, 17)
It is good to give thanks to the Lord, to sing a psalm to your name, O Most High. (Ps 92: 2)
Make my footsteps sure in your paths, so my feet do not slip; incline your ear and hear my words; display your wonderful mercies, O Lord, Savior of those who place their hope in you. (Ps 16: 5, 6, 7)
Blessed are you, O Lord; teach me your commandments. With my lips I have declared all the judgments your mouth has spoken. (Ps 119: 12, 13)
Attend to the voice of my prayer, O my King and my God, for it is you, O Lord, whom I implore. (Ps 5: 3, 4)
Turn to me, Lord, and deliver my soul; save me for the sake of your love. (Ps 6:5)
Let those who know your name trust in you, O Lord, for you do not abandon those who seek you. Sing psalms to the Lord who dwells in Zion, for he does not forget the cry of the poor. (Ps 9: 11, 12, 13)
Enlighten my eyes, lest I fall into the sleep of death, lest my enemy say, “I have prevailed against this one.” (Ps 12: 4, 5)