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.
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.