Monday, October 26, 2009

Awkward Communion Procession

Hello everyone. Back at the office here after a wonderful trip to Mobile, Alabama. I was helping lead a three-day RCIA institute. We had a large number of clergy in attendance and a great group of laity. Once the institute ended, the team of presenters headed to the Cathedral Basilica of the Immaculate Conception (the cathedral of the Archdiocese of Mobile) for the Saturday 4:30 P.M. Mass. Here are a few shots of the cathedral. Its interior has recently been restored.

Just a few observations. All of the music for the Mass was printed in the parish's weekly bulletin. The Gloria scheduled was the Latin chant (Vatican Mass VIII - de Angelis). I was looking forward to singing this, after having commented about the latin Gloria in an earlier blog posting. Unfortunately, when we got to the Gloria, it was recited. It struck me that it was like a group of people gathering around a birthday honoree and reciting—rather than singing—"Happy Birthday." The Gloria simply needs to be sung. The same thing occurred with the responsorial psalm. There was a musical setting for it printed in the bulletin, but the entire psalm was recited. There I sat, reciting the antiphon: "The Lord has done great things for us; we are filled with joy." Frankly, there wasn't much that was joyful about it. There were two women in the sanctuary; one was the lector, the other the extraordinary minister of holy communion. Neither of them ever picked up the bulletin to sing anything. This was like being in another world for me. Minimal participation at best. There was no cantor, or was there? 

When it came time for communion, the organist—with a lovely voice—chanted the Latin antiphon "Laetabimur in salutari tuo" (Plainchant, Mode II). Then he played the introduction to the communion processional song. I immediately wondered why he didn't lead us in the Gloria or at least attempt to lead the refrain of the responsorial psalm earlier. 

I know that his intention here was to sing the chant appointed for this Sunday, but I've got to tell you, this was simply as disjointed as it gets. I felt like the musician wanted to "get the proper antiphon in," without regard for the liturgical action that was occurring. Here's what Sing to the Lord (the new document that helps guide our musical practice here in the United States) has to say:
"While the priest is receiving the Sacrament, the Communion chant [or song] is begun. Its purpose is to express the communicants' union in spirit by means of the unity of their voices, to show joy of heart, and to highlight more clearly the 'communitarian' nature of the procession to receive Communion. The singing begins immediately and continues 'for as long as the Sacrament is being administered to the faithful.' Because the Communion chant expresses the unity of those processing and receiving the Holy Sacrament, communal singing is commendable. The singing of the people should be preeminent."
"There are several options for the Communion song or chant, including the proper antiphon from the Graduale Romanum, a seasonal antiphon from the Graduale Simplex, an antiphon and psalm from a collection approved for liturgical use, or another appropriate liturgical song."

Where was the 'communitarian nature?' It looked more like the chant was sung to accompany the priest's reception of holy communion, and that the laity's reception was accompanied by the liturgical song chosen for that Mass, which was I Received the Living God. 

We at WLP are encouraging our composers, as directed by Sing to the Lord, to compose settings of communion songs using the proper antiphons. The hope here is that the song, which should begin as soon as we finish the "O Lord, I am not worthy to receive you . . ." accompanies the reception of communion by all. There is one song, not a chant in Latin followed by a song. 

I really had to work hard at this liturgy. The celebrant was Ugandan. His English was not easily grasped. The spoken parts that are usually sung sung irked me. The fact that the two women in the sanctuary were not interested in singing was disturbing. When I returned to my pew after having received communion, I belted out the refrain "I received the living God, and my heart is full of joy." And I really meant it, despite the fact that the liturgy simply missed the mark in so many ways. I always encourage people to look for the moment of transformation that God has in store for us at each and every Mass. Mine took place while I sang that refrain during communion. I had received the living God. That was the miracle for me at that Mass. 

That being said, however, I firmly believe that we need to work much harder as liturgical ministers to prepare places and times throughout the liturgy for these moments of transformation to occur for those entrusted to our care. God is God, and we are not. But we are given much responsibility when it comes to our ministry at Mass. 

Hope your week is a good one. Feel free to comment.

Gotta sing. Gotta pray.


Chironomo said...


The incident with the "Gloria" was a classic example of the celebrant not being informed of the was probably not his intention to exclude anyone, it just didn't occur to him that thwere was any difference between singing and saying the Gloria. That's why catechesis of Priests needs to be the center of any initiative to improve liturgy.

The Psalm being said would indicate to me that the chosen lector was accustomed to reading at daily Mass rather than weekend liturgies. This happens to me frequently at funerals where the daily mass lector is reading. I have to very quickly start the intro to the psalm as soon as she says "The Word of the Lord".

It is very awkward when the critical parts of the liturgy are spoken and the minor acclamations are sung. Bad form all around.

I don't fault the cantor singing the communion antiphon... it is intended to be sung while the priest receives communion. I would wonder why he didn't sing the appointed psalm verses alternating with the antiphon rather than a communion song though. Just singing the antiphon and then moving on is kind of like singing "Glory to God in the Highest....blah ...blah...blah, you all know the rest. Let us pray...".

It seems that the intention was that the Gloria and Communion Antiphon be an integration of chant into the liturgy. It also seems that somebody may have not liked the idea.

Jerry Galipeau, D. Min. said...

Hey there, Chironomo. Where do you find a directive that says that the communion antiphon is intended to be sung while the priest receives communion?

Todd said...

That a cathedral would have a liturgical train wreck like this is nothing less than a scandal. Who gets to preside at Mass at a cathedral and not know the plan? The rector or liturgist hands a visiting priest the outline and it goes from there.

In this day and age, it's amazing any parish would not sing the psalm at a Sunday Mass (aside, of course, from the occasional indult for quiet at 7AM or something).

That said, my parishes (over the past 21 years) have occasionally suffered emergencies or mishaps. Guest priests arrive unexpected. Cantors have accidents on the way to church. Good liturgists prepare parishes for problems, even if they can't be there themselves to address the disaster-in-waiting.

Anonymous said...

Hey there Jerry;

GIRM (2003) #86-

86. While the priest is receiving the Sacrament, the Communion chant is begun. Its purpose is to express the communicants' union in spirit by means of the unity of their voices, to show joy of heart, and to highlight more clearly the "communitarian" nature of the procession to receive Communion. The singing is continued for as long as the Sacrament is being administered to the faithful.74 If, however, there is to be a hymn after Communion, the Communion chant should be ended in a timely manner.

Clearly, the communion chant is to be sung while the priests receives communion. The fault in this example was that it did not continue while the rest of the faithful received as well.

I am not alone in suggesting that this is perhaps the most problematic moment in the liturgy as regards liturgical music. The purpose of the "communion chant" stated in the GIRM... express the communicants' union in spirit by means of the unity of their voices, to show joy of heart, and to highlight more clearly the "communitarian" nature of the procession to receive Communion the only example in all of liturgy where the music specifically accompanies the actions of the faithful. It further seems to be re-directing the notion of "communion" towards an awareness of our union with others at Mass rather than with Christ. There is also the very practical difficulty of being required to sing as a group while the nature of communion itself calls for individual prayer and reflection.

For the very reasons you stated I object to the idea of singing the Proper Antiphon at the beginning and then a communion song. The effect is exactly as you described. When I use the Proper Antiphon at communion (about two Sundays a month right now), we sing the complete Antiphon and Psalm in much the same way as the Responsorial Psalm is sung, a pattern that is familiar to the assembly. The current music book we have in the pews has the text of the Entrance and Communion antiphons printed in large bold type in the Order of Mass for each Sunday, making it possible for the assembly to sing the antiphon. I am hoping that someday (fingers crossed) there will be an antiphon setting (in English) included in the Missalettes in the same way as the Responsorial is currently included. Something to think about...


Alan Hommerding said...

It is a false duality to say that singing together during communion expresses "our union with others at Mass rather than with Christ." The others who are at Mass with us ARE the Body of Christ, gathered through the Holy Spirit when the Church prays and sings.
It is similarly false to state that "the nature of communion itself calls for individual prayer and reflection" when the Church's official teaching is that the nature of communion is, well, communitarian and not individual, so we are called upon to pray and reflect as a community.

Chironomo said...

Hey Jerry again...

I just caught this on another blog...strange coincidence. This is from the directives for guest choirs at St. Peter's Basillica in Rome, issued by the Prefect of the Musical Chapel and approved by Pope Benedict.

The guest choir may sing: at the Entrance procession until the moment when the celebrant reaches the altar (the Gregorian Introit is sung by the Musical Chapel of the Basilica), at the preparation of the gifts and relative offertory, at Communion, after the Gregorian antiphon has been sung, and at the end of Mass, after the Blessing. The program of music must follow the Liturgy of the day and will be agreed upon with and approved by the Choirmaster.

So it seems that the normative practice at St. Peters is to sing the Antiphon at communion and then follow it with the communion song, exactly the practice that was in question in your article. Now...I realize this is talking about St. Peters and not a parish church, but I would claim that there surely can't be anything wrong with this practice if it is the approved norm at the primary Basillica of the Catholic church.

Chironomo said...


There are many tangled lines of thought in our two posts! First...I didn't claim what you seem to be saying I am claiming. My point was that the purpose for the communion chant as stated in the GIRM seems to be defining communion as a union with one another, or at least emphasizing that aspect over the aspect of union with Christ. That isn't a false duality... I am aware that both aspects are present.

I would be intrigued to see where the church's teachings (not opinion) say that communion is not an individual, but rather a group act. If such were true, why is it necessary that individuals be properly disposed to receive? Are you implying that the reality of Christ as present in the gathered assembly leads to the conclusion that the purpose of communion is to join with one another?

Alan Hommerding said...

The communitarian nature of communion:

GIRM 86. While the priest is receiving the Sacrament, the Communion chant is begun. Its purpose is to express the communicants’ union in spirit by means of the unity of their voices, to show joy of heart, and to highlight more clearly the “communitarian” nature of the procession to receive Communion. The singing is continued for as long as the Sacrament is being administered to the faithful.


As usual, I will only post twice to avoid "blog pong"

Chironomo said...


I posted the exact same thing above. And so you are saying what?? The procession is communitarian without a all processions of large groups are bound to be by definition. This is all GIRM 86 is saying: that we sing together as a reflection of our processing together. I think it is a bit of a jump to say that this implies that communion (the Sacrament) is "communitarian" in nature if by that is meant the generally accepted definition of "collective" or "acquiring meaning or identity through participation in a group". If this is a theological distinction (you believe that communion requires such a group, and I don't believe such) then there is definitely no need for further postings as it is a matter of differing belief. But I am still not aware of anywhere in Catholic Theology that defines the Sacrament of Communion in terms of a relationship with anyone other than Christ.