Tuesday, July 26, 2016

When Does Music at Communion Begin?

Thanks to all who continue to voice their opinions and preferences about the cantor's gesture. This, from Sing to the Lord: Music in Divine Worship:

"At times, it may be appropriate to use a modest gesture that invites participation and clearly indicates when the congregation is to begin, but gestures should be used sparingly and only when genuinely needed."

It's that last phrase, "only when genuinely needed," that should guide the use of gestures.

OK, folks, putting another question out there for you. I know it has been asked before; just trying to get some feedback once again, especially in places where the practice has been changed or adjusted.



I often notice a complete lack of uniformity when it comes to when the piece of music sung during Communion begins. The General Instruction on the Roman Missal couldn't be any clearer:

"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."

At this point in the Mass, we all, priest, deacon, extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion, other liturgical ministers, musicians, and members of the faithful in the congregation are "one" in the Body of Christ. The music sung during Communion begins when the first person receives Holy Communion, namely the priest.

So often, there is no music when the priest receives Holy Communion. Sometimes the music doesn't begin until right after he has consumed the Body and Blood of Christ. Sometimes the music doesn't begin until the deacon has received Communion. Sometimes the music doesn't begin until the extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion receive. Sometimes the music doesn't begin until the musicians receive Communion.

At at least two parishes where I have worshiped in the past year, the cantor sings a solo that begins after the priest consumes the Body and Blood of Christ, continuing to "cover" the reception of Holy Communion by the extraordinary ministers. Often this solo continues well into the reception of Communion by many in the congregation. Then, while the congregation is in the middle of the Communion procession, the solo ends, there is a silent pause, then the cantor announces the "Communion Hymn."

How do these practices express, as the GIRM says, the "communitarian" character of the Communion procession. These practices mitigate against a sense of communion, don't you think?

So, my question, when do you begin the music that will be sung at Communion in your parish? What is your reasoning?

Gotta sing. Gotta pray.


20 comments:

Matt said...

I start immediately after the Ecce Agnus Dei/response. And I'm a fan of ONE communion song, even if it means repeating verses or adding refrains. There has started to be this weird drift in parishes to using some form of the communion antiphon followed by the "real" communion song.

I'd much rather do one song with a simple refrain that can be sung in the communion line with hymnals, worship aids, etc.

Stephen Obarski said...

Both at diocesan celebrations, and in the parish where I serve as organist, the number for the communion hymn is announced very simply, and the communion hymn begins
My experience has been that, doing what the general instruction stipulates, the singing of the communion hymn by the assembly has been strengthened considerably.

Alan Hommerding said...

One place that I subbed for a stretch of Saturdays never began the communion song until after the priest had self-communicated. I was told it was the pastor’s request and was done out of “respect” for the priest’s communion. That seemed to indicate that music is disrespectful, or that the priest’s communion was somehow different/better than everyone else’s – neither view supported anywhere by church teaching.
As a sub, I’ve also encountered the cantor’s (extended) solo followed by the communion song. Usually done out of pragmatic observation that few people will sing (if at all) until after they’ve received, and that folks in the front pews usually sing better than those in the back. Pragmatic, but again not supported by church teaching.
Places that do the proper communion antiphon followed by a communion song usually operate out of the misconception that a “proper” antiphon means that it’s a “mandatory” one. Not true. “Proper” merely means that it varies from celebration to celebration (vs. the “ordinary” or “invariable” parts).
I think that a very revealing part of doing proper antiphons is that we see that the church doesn’t believe the communion song needs to be about bread, cup, Body, Blood, meal, table, eating, drinking, etc. As a matter of fact, it rarely is—in the properly-appointed antiphons. There is often a reference back to the liturgy of the word. Also, psalm verses appointed are usually greater in number than they are for liturgy of the word. “Taste and See” as a proper communion psalm uses ALL the verses, rather than the three that are given with it in the Lectionary.
Many opportunities await us to enrich people’s experience of receiving communion as a COMMUNIty action, and to enrich or empower their lives with scripture.

Rick Reed said...

Both with the previous post about gestures and now this about the communion song, I have Cantors who ask," so why am I here?"

As a matter of practicality and as a way to have some of the songs that people can sing the refrain at least without needing the book, I use a rotation of 15 or so songs. They are all verse refrain format, and they all happen to mention body and blood or bread and wine or both. I know that there is much more allowed, but by keeping this part of the mass very familiar, participation in singing the processional song has increased.

Mike Novak said...

At Masses when I have had a choir, I have a cantor start leading the Communion song right away with the priest's reception, and then the choir "takes over" after they have received Communion, allowing the cantor to go receive. This is possible because of the placement of the choir and cantor both not too far from the altar. Generally, the assembly sings the refrain and the cantor or choir sing the verses. On some well-known songs, the assembly sings the verses as well, in which case the cantor "backs off" a bit on the verses.

If Communion is longer than the song, we recycle verses.

Bill Johnson said...

As a matter of principle, my preference is to begin the Communion as soon as the Lamb of God litany us concluded.

As a matter of practice, however, I begin the Communion hymn according to the preference of the celebrant.

In either case, the Communion hymn is sung first, followed by a setting of the Communion antiphon from the missal, usually something from the Communion antiphonal used at St. Meinrad's. We use a cantor/assembly format akin to the style of a Responsorial Psalm.

We generally get through both, and the assembly seems to enjoy participating in both. I suppose that the advantage is that our assemblies are large enough that the first him is finished well before the distribution of holy Communion has gotten very far underway.

Robert Noble said...

We follow the rubric set forth in the RM3. This practice was introduced when we were implementin RM3, so it too came with some catechesis. As soon as the celebrant receives, the music begins and the assembly stands. We do this at weddings and funerals as well.

Marcey Reilly said...

At our parish we have the cantor and musicians go to communion with the extraordinary ministers of communion
The communion song starts sooner that way. We then have a reflective meditation song sung untill it is time fir the priest to sit down. We feel this aids in the after communion prayers of the communicated. Sometimes the song is familiar enough they can sing along in a worshipful manner. Sometimes it is an instrumental piece with just flute and piano.

Terri said...

I think the problem with starting the dong with the priest's communion is related to the announcement of the song number. It's one thing to start singing while he's receiving, it's another to be announcing page numbers and song titles at that time. You would think (OK, I would think) that if the number is on a worship aid or posted on a hymn board, people would know to open up the hymnal without prompting. But, no, they seem to need to be told it's time to sing. Go figure.

Stephen Obarski said...

Our practice is to model the announcement on the pattern of invitations offered by the deacon.
So we simply say: Let us sing # ___.
No Title.
No variation from week to week or cantor to cantor.
More folks sing before they receive than after they receive; but post-reception singing is growing.
We try to observe a generous silence after Communion so that individual thanksgiving has a communal dimension.

Mary said...

We need to remind people every week "come up the middle aisle, go down the sides" - we tried not doing this, but chaos just came back again very quickly. So our pastor asks that we don't start music until he has said this, and he usually does so after the ExMinisters have received and moved to their places.

It's also very difficult for our musician to see exactly when the priest has received, due to sight-line issues. So that's another pragmatic reason for following the signal from the priest.

Anonymous said...

We begin immediately as soon as the priest receives communion, or even just a little before. An advantage we have is that we do not announce hymns or hymn numbers. I guess that's one advantage for using projection or in some parishes a worship aid. For those who need to announce, how about a familiar communion hymn, or a simple refrain that doesn't have to be announced.

Anonymous said...

We begin the intro to the music with the priest's communion and the cantor announces the song during the intro. I like the above idea of using only the hymn number and not the title-less talking.

Anonymous said...

I was taught by a priest to begin after priest receives communion. We had a deacon who took a long time to clean chalices after communion, so I'd wait till congregation received communion before I'd begin communion hymn, otherwise he killed any kind of flow to the liturgy, whIch was really ashame. I asked him if he was related to Mike Hargrove, but he didn't make the connection. :-D

Rob Spaulding said...

In my experience, the question lies more in the nature of the procession than the details of the music. When inviting the community to sing during the procession, beginning as the priest consumes, the most frequent responses are about a desire for private prayer and "sacred time." In many parishes, the communion procession is more a series of individual communions than the Body of Christ receiving and being transformed into the Body of Christ.

The instructions presented regarding the communion chant are not just musical directives but statements of Eucharistic Theology. Sadly, many of us still experience the eating and drinking of the Body and Blood of the risen Lord as a private action. When that thinking is joined with the assembly being transformed into the Body of Christ, the outward expression of communal singing makes clear sense.

Anonymous said...

Sometimes smaller parishes with limited resources have to choose the pragmatic over the best theology. While they want to do the "right" and correct manners, the limits of talent, lack of accompanist and size of parish makes it difficult to do everything "just so". So, sometimes in order to have the parish sing, they receive communion before the rest of the congregation for continuity in singing, since more often than not the congregation will stop singing once there is no person singing up front, or no piano/ organ.

As a cantor I tend to have folks who expect me to merely "follow" the liturgical practices as set up by the liturgist/ music director/ priest. Being in a parish with more than one priest, sometimes the various personalities of the priests get muted by the head pastor. So, the priests get interesting ideas in their head about the role of singing too.

What I find intriguing is that with all the various musical contests, reality shows, etc., that the folks in the pews have given up their right to sing in the pew. Is it because we don't do catechesis at the right level of understanding (do they have to join a 'group' in order to know what we really do at Mass), or is it because we have allowed ourselves to separate our spiritual life from our everyday living? Too many folks think they are not 'good enough' to sing at church because they are not 'good enough' to make a living at singing in the secular world. So, have our personal expectations gotten in the way of our being the body and blood of Christ? Or has our societal expectations separated our talents used for God's purposes versus our talents used to survive? Then the person mentioning that communion is a procession of individual communions is making a much deeper observation than what most people are aware of, because it is easy to ask God to 'transform me' into the person he wants, but to ask him to 'transform us' has a larger connotation that makes us responsible for each other.

Nancy Ellenson said...

At my parish the cantor and accompianist go up for communion right away and then start the communion song. That way they get to receive communion too. If they wait until the end of the song they get missed. (Yes, it has happened. While bishop was celebrating, no less!)
At the parish my folks go to, they have the choir and pianist go up for communion last.
I think the variances are due to a few things: priestly preferences, amount of musicians (choir vs. cantor), and size of parish to name a few.
I totally agree with the gesture-limit "rule"; I have gone to church where the song leader thinks he's directing a choir, and frankly, was quite put off. As for whether we announce numbers or use a worship guide, I'm glad that's left up to the parish as to what fits their needs best. Some find it hard to budget worship aides, or find them too much of a hassle to clean up after every Mass, or feel it is a waste because there is only one or two Masses on the weekend, etc. OK, so how do we compensate? Announcements. Or, as the case has been in our parish lately, since there is only a pianist, you start singing when she starts playing. Look at the board for the number.
Sadly, there were many years catechesis was poor. So the mid-lifers don't understand the theology and can't explain it to their kids. These people are also the RE teachers, so depending on their classroom resources (if they have any) they aren't teaching it either. AND a lot of our children are not being brought to Mass regularly but are coming to RE class; so if they learn it in class, they have no way of seeing it applied. As you can see, we have more serious problems than if we're singing the Communion song at the proper time.

Therese Butler said...

My preference is to begin as the presider receives and end when the final person has received and then seque into quiet instrumental until the remaining hosts are returned to the tabernacle. The pastor has asked me to wait just until after he receives. The custom in this parish is that the cantor receives with the eucharistic ministers. I usually do not wait for the cantor to start the music. I deliberately choose a hymn that does not need to be led by a cantor. My priority is that the cantor and choir are able to receive with reverence. I agree with the idea of one Communion Hymn. It is sufficient in our parish.

Todd Flowerday said...

Last summer I inherited this situation: the pianist begins the Communion song as the priest receives. The psalmist for the Mass announces just after the priest receives from the cup. I have trimmed the announcement to the minimum: number, title, number. No "communion song." No "please sing." The people know it's a Communion song. They know they can sing, and they do. The procedure with ministers near the altar can be lengthy with our elderly clergy. At one Mass this past weekend, we got to verse 4 of "I Am The Bread of Life" before all CM's were in place.

Lou Podesta said...

Thank you, thank you! I remember the instruction from years ago! It seems that many of our presiders are unaware of it...

If you haven't already, might you address the singing of the Agnus Dei during the fraction rite? I have been asked many times to continue that litany until the priest has finished dividing the congregation's hosts. Is it the fraction rite or the "cover the priest's activity" rite?