Discussion: What texts at Preparation of Gifts?

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.

* * * * *

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)

25 comments

  1. One practical consideration: this is one place in the Mass that should not be “stuffed”: the music should not be a pretext to delay the flow of the Mass at this point.

  2. The Offertory chants remain untranslated into Japanese. Most Churches seem to choose a relatively apppropriate psalm. In years gone by one or other musically talented Japanese SVD’s have composed hymns focussing on the themes of offering bread and wine, or the vine and branches motiff. The most popular one, which we use quite regularly here at our seminary, is a musical setting of the priests prayer over the bread and wine; the lyrics are adapted a little to accomodate the melody.
    As a personal preference, even with an offertory procession, I like an interlude of prayerful silence at this point, in preparation for praying/proclaiming the Eucharistic Prayer. The reason being that we have had so many words, and enough music up to that point, and the interlude helps one prepare to listen to and pray the Eucharistic Prayer.
    How many in a congregation hear, open their hearts to the rich theology of the Prefaces and the Eucharistic Prayers; here I set aside the pros and cons of the new translation.

  3. The music director that I work with is fond of solos here. Panis Angelicus, believe it or not. I think that is wrong – never mind that it is not suitable for Mass in general – because in general the music is intended to be unison and congregational, and that is particularly true at this point. My modus operandi for the years when I was choosing hymns was to 1) look at the readings, 2) check the suggestions on the NPM website, and 3) assuming there were enough valid suggestions that I knew and the congregation also knew, it became a matter of choosing hymns from the group that related to the point in the Mass they would be used. In this regard, more strident, up tempo music fits at the beginning or the end, while slower more contemplative music is appropriate during Mass. In the realm of popular hymnody, the are in fact a few hymns that are very appropriate to the offertory such as All That We Have, and although it is hard to find in a hymnal these days, Give Thanks and Remember.

  4. Father
    I looked at the Introit for each of these days and these seem to be aligned with the offertory. Would you like to compare?
    In the introduction the monks of Solesmes note how the chants are redistributed in accordance with the renewed liturgical cycle. It seems to me that there is much to be learned from studying these and seeing how they support the readings.
    It is a pleasure to have a post not about the translation of the Mass being introduced. Thank you Father.

  5. WHAT HAS BEEN A TRADITION AT THE PARISH i AM AT, AT IT WORKS, IS AT THE mASSES WHEN A CHOIR IS PRESENT THEY DO A ANTHEM, MEDITATIVE TYPE BASED ON OR REINFORCING THE SCRIPTURES. AT OTHER MASSES THERE IS INSTRUMENTAL MUSIC. IT GIVES THE PEOPLE TIME TO PRAY REFLECT AND TO WATCH WHAT IS GOING ON. THEY HAVE BEEN DOING A LOT OF SINGING UP TO THIS POINT (I HOPE) AND THEY HAVE A LOT MORE TO DO. PEACE CARL

  6. In The Changing Face of the Priesthood, Don Cozzens references Rabbi Heschel to the effect that good homilies come out of prayer and invite us to pray. “Preach in order to pray. Preach in order to inspire others to pray. The test of a true sermon is that it can be converted to prayer (Heschel)

    A priest from another diocese is my favorite liturgist and homilist because he was able to integrate the whole Mass as a total prayerful experience using small phrases here and there.

    Even when the homily is about the Gospel, I usually find it an interruption, it may be related to what has gone before but it does not invite me to pray or the Liturgy that follows.

    My understanding is that the homily is not limited to the readings but can be integrated with the both the Proper and Ordinary of the Mass.

    When the Entrance Hymn, Preparation Hymn, Communion Hymn and Recessional are all related to the Gospel it makes the Mass seem very much like a Service of the Word with communion. That can be offset if there is a sung Eucharistic Prayer.

    Since the homily can be about the Propers and/or the Ordinary of the Mass, why can’t any of the hymns also be about the Propers and/or the Ordinary of the Mass not just the readings?

    For example when using the EP for reconciliation that could be cued in by the use of an appropriate hymn at the Preparation. The Byzantine Rite regularly uses the Cherubic Hymn which looks forward to the Sanctus.

    The collection is real competition for using a hymnal. So I would suggest that if the congregation sings the whole hymn that they be a limited number and well known so that they can be sung from memory. That means they will probably be seasonal or related to the Ordinary of the Mass, e.g. the EPs.

    Hymns, psalms and canticles where the congregation sings a refrain could be used as they are during communion processions.

    Maybe priests and musicians could work together to meet Rabbi Heschel’s ideal.

    1. What about relating the hymn to the Prefaces? They are certainly a strong feature of the Roman Rite. Personally I usually do not pay attention to them. But I might if the hymn prepared me for the Preface. Another area for priests and musicians to work together!

      I would even by amenable to the choir during a reflection piece (that is the people not singing) if it almost always related to the Preface, i.e. that is I knew I was getting ready for the Preface.

  7. awr:
    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?

    Gelineau was fond of pointing out that this point in the rite is where a song reflecting back on what has taken place in the Liturgy of the Word is a good solution — which seems in complete disagreement with Kevin Irwin.

    But his opinion was in the context of Thomas Talley’s comment on the structure of the Eucharistic Prayer — that it should begin with a burst of pure praise, before “settling down” into the thanksgiving of the Preface, etc. In other words, the twofold tu qui — nunc fac structure needs something else prior to the tu qui. If your celebration runs like that, then a song reflecting back on the Word seems entirely appropriate before you get to the burst of praise.

  8. Bound to happen. I could deflect umbrage by deferring to Pere G., but I agree with Mr. Inwood(!) and many others who take great care to bridge both the moment and the transition to the Preface/EP with a reflective, prismatic work. The Offertorio, in my experience, seems to be a sort of textual coda to the Introit, and thus serves best in an almost minimalist, intimate parish with a heritage and schola. In a larger environment such as a heavily attended megaparish or cathedral, a choral Offertorio or anthemic allusion is in no way inappropriate in this moment and transition.
    OTOH-in that all worship music programs are not equally staffed or effective, neither are all homilies and GI/UP’s equally crafted or successfully delivered, the deliberative music programmer should exhaustively mine “the treasury” of options (I can hear the catcalls of “apostacy!”) that, if nothing else, re-invigorates the LotW and homily, adds additional perspectives perhaps left unobserved in a homily’s “exegesis,” or re-orients the focus of the whole LotW if its import was otherwise replaced or left unmentioned due to some local reason. This should be S.O.P. for directors. Yesterday our deacon preached unflinchingly all he could summon about the “Wedding Banquet” parable to an SRO congregation of about 900, many of whom were there as this particular Mass was the focal festa Mass for Our Lady of Fatima. There was no bridge evident to the deacon. So, I found a Portuguese hymn about Mary, first apostle at the wedding at Cana in anticipation.
    Whether this is known as the “HymnSongPsalmMotetAnthem of the Day” method is ideal doesn’t interest me particularly. It has, however, provided many hundreds of Offertories that have had that resonant “ping” that then radiates into the LotE.
    YMMV.

  9. I usually look for something that reflects back on the readings, hoping that it will bring up a point or two touched on in the homily. If not, at least I have made a connection or a point that I would have wished touched on in the homily! Occasionally, since the people are sitting down and can look at the hymnal, I may take a utilitarian approach and use this as the first time for the congregation to sing a song we are introducing to the parish.

  10. I give this moment wide latitude. It can be something of a response to the Word – this Sunday, I used Wren/Johengen’s “At The Table Of The World.” It could be a hymn based on the actions themselves – Joncas’ “We Come To Your Feast” or his more recent composition, “The Sacrifice Of Praise” which is based on the Blessing Prayers. It could be a time for general praise, perhaps by choir alone – This coming Sunday, the choir will sing Rutter’s “For The Beauty Of The Earth.” It could be seasonal in nature – as we move into the final weeks of Ordinary Time with their eschatological focus, I’ve programed Hurd’s “O, How I Long To See” a few times. Lastly, there is indeed the instrumental option.

    Personally, my peeve is presiders who insist on saying aloud the “Blessed are you O God…” texts at every Mass – to the point where even if it is a long song, they will wait till it finishes to proclaim them aloud. This is after I’d shared with both the instructions that they MAY be said aloud, and that it’s probably not best to do it all the time. “But they are beautiful texts…” is all I get in reply.

    1. “Hymns that bring us back to the Liturgy of the Word are out of place. Do you agree?”
      No, I do not agree with Irwin and, as I do not wish to repeat what Paul I and Sean W. have said, I will just say that I agree with them!

  11. A look at older western liturgical traditions might shed some light on the offertory verse question in the reformed Roman rite.

    The offertory sentences of the 1662 Book of Common Prayer and its national revisions are not necessarily focused on explicit sacrificial themes either. The Tridentine liturgy likewise contains offertory verses which are not explicitly sacrificial in nature. Thomas Cranmer preserved many propers of the medieval English liturgies. It is not improbable that he also preserved certain of the communion verses, albeit with a much smaller variety of sentences than the Tridentine liturgy. Both liturgies share similar offertory verse characteristics, however.

    Perhaps the “disconnectedness” of communion verses from the propers and season in the reformed Roman liturgy is a continuation of a feature, and not a defect, of previous western liturgical eras. This is someone else’s great dissertation.

  12. Hymns that bring us back to the Liturgy of the Word are out of place.

    I think a good opening hymn prepares us for the Liturgy of the Word, and that a good “offertory” hymn moves us from the Liturgy of the Word to the Liturgy of the Eucharist. This is an easier task when the readings have to do with eating (feasting) or sacrificing. This is harder to do on other occasions.

    A good Communion hymn touches upon the mystery of Holy Communion (e.g. the Body and Blood of the Lord, or the Mystical Body of Christ, or the Communion of Saints, or service to the Body). And a good closing hymn would be a communal act of thanksgiving and a first step towards going out of the church and into the world, bringing with us the mystery we have celebrated and become.

    1. Yet one only need look to the antiphons to realize that 95% are not based on Eucharistically-themed scripture. Since the liturgy is a whole, I see nothing wrong with a Communion hymn that broadens the theme of the scripture of the day.

  13. Nothing to contribute to the stated topic here except to say that if everyone in a position to select music for Mass were as careful and thoughtful as Fr Ruff, we wouldn’t have the problems and divisions we have today.

    1. Jeffrey Tucker on this occasion is being far too modest. Jeffrey has raised a very important more general issue at Chant Café:

      http://www.chantcafe.com/2011/10/probably-of-non-liturgical-texts-at.html

      “Count up all the words sung in these non-liturgical songs from the beginning to the completion of Mass. You will find that they are roughly similar to the total words used in the readings of Mass or the homily at Mass. And yet consider that there is no guarantee at all these texts have anything to do with the Mass or the season.”

      I approached this issue in my comment above, challenging musicians and priests to collaborate on music and the homily. If we did a content analysis of both homilies and non-liturgical songs, homilies are probably just as guilty of deviating from the readings and the season as non-liturgical hymns!

      Beyond the issue of coordination of hymns, readings, and homily, I also raised the important issue of the coordination with the Preface, and Eucharistic Prayers, etc.. There is a real danger, even more so if hymns, readings and homily were well coordinated, of the Mass becoming psychologically a Service of the Word with communion.

      I hope the leadership of our blog will give careful and creative consideration about how to approach some of these issues in a separate post or post. In a way this post is a good introduction because there are particular issues for particular locations in the Mass as well as more general issues and the Mass as a whole.

      I suggest if we have the more general discussion that we rule out discussion of the Propers. We have had that so often and all the various options are well discussed at Chant Café.

  14. I certainly agree with #16, Jeffrey Tucker. Lacking a Fr. Ruff, silence would be fine. I hesitate to suggest anything else but we could end up with the noodling that went on during the incensing at the start of the Pope’s Mass in Berlin. Breathing quietly might calm everyone down.

  15. Amen to both JT and AWR for shedding some direct light on texts used at this particular moment of liturgical action. I see far more consensus thus far than disagreement; makes you wonder?
    One thing I forgot to mention, that Mr. Weidner illustrates above, there is that very rare occasion when a homily is compellingly transformative and its import just vibrates with silent power among all present, that any sung text by any means would interrupt that resonance.
    That happened at two Masses at our principal parish earlier this year. I suspended the Offertory piece, both times, and gave our organist, a magnificent improvisationist the con. Palpable communication and witness, like St. Francis offered, can be had without words.

  16. I am sorry this comment is appearing here.. I intended to write my thoughts about styles of church music, and didn’t intend for it to appear under this heading. Please forgive me. But since I’m writing, here goes:

    Frustration is the latest word used among many parish musicians in Sioux Falls, SD. Some parishes are throwing out all repertoire they have used for years, and are traveling in the OPPOSITE direction by doing all chant, with propers and a traditional hymn interspersed here and there. Drums, guitars, and pianos are collecting dust. It seems as though some priests are using the coming out of the Roman Missal Third Edition as an opportunity to finally do the liturgy the way THEY want to – all in the name of good, sound liturgy. As a result, those dedicated parish musicians who have served for many years suddenly feel as if what they had been doing in the past was “wrong”. They are hurt and angry. When they voice their complaint, the response generally is “too bad. This is the way it’s going to be from now on.” Whatever happened to doing things in moderation (including moderation)? Sure, use the introit, chant the mass parts, but also do music that touches others’ hearts.
    Some argue that chant is lovely and more modern music is trite. On the other hand, some argue that chant is boring, empty of life and joy. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and I feel it is not fair to give the assembly only one style of music.
    There is a BIG church in town called “Celebrate” that is growing by leaps and bounds.. it is nothing other than a big “WE LOVE JESUS” party with LOTS of worship music and all kinds of fluff that leaves you feeling high on God. No deep theology practiced. Dozens of young people and families are going there. I am afraid if our Catholic Churches go the opposite direction and do nothing but chant, latin, and music written before 1600, more young people will leave.
    I believe that the Holy Spirit is STILL inspiring composers, and to tell them their music is no longer allowed is just plain wrong.
    Why do we have to fight about types of music? I’m certain that this is making Jesus very unhappy.

  17. In my parish we have long used instrumental music at the Offertory. However, recently I have been using Richards Rice’s, offertory antiphons at this point in the liturgy. Thus far they have been well accepted by a “low” church congregation. During Advent, the plan will be to introduce the sung Introit as a prelude to the opening hymn. I am going to stay with Rice’s Simple Gradual for the time being as these good folk are not ready for anything that sounds too Gregorian, to say nothing of Latin.

  18. I’ve found the preparation of gifts to be the ideal place for a strophic hymn reflecting on the readings. In my large suburban parish, while the “gathering” hymn is sung, half of the congregation is still gathering-coming in the doors, finding a seat, taking off their coats, etc. Verse-refrain often works best there, as well as at Communion. During the “recessional” some people are making their recess, and I wonder if we have lost many people’s attention at that point. That leaves the prep, when you have a captive audience with nowhere to go, nothing else to do but sing the hymn!

    Has anyone heard of Catholic churches singing a Gospel Hymn either before or after the homily? I understand this is a tradition in many Protestant churches and that some Catholic churches have adopted this Hymn of the Day idea. Of course it’s not part of the ritual, not an option in the GIRM, etc. I’m not condoning it, just wondering if anyone has seen this.

  19. Greetings from a rather damp, autumnal UK.

    I am presently engaged in a small, diocesan project aiming towards a core repertoire of music for primary school celebration (ages 5 to 11 in the UK). For the Offertory we are looking at composing “fruits of the earth” texts, based on Psalms such as 66 (67) and 103 (104) and the more general praise text of Psalm 95 (96) with its instruction to bring an offering.

  20. I have some beautiful offertory hymns from older hymnals email me at gsharp88@gmail.com for the pdf files for e.g.

    S.Bruno 66.44.D

    Come down O Spirit blest!
    Here on this Altar rest!
    Bless these our gifts and with them all creation!
    Change thou this bread and wine;
    Make them the gift divine;
    Of Christ, our sacrifice of adoration!

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