In part one of this 3-part series of articles, we looked at examples of how the text of some music choices used in the liturgy can divert the focus of a particular moment at Mass, misinterpreting and disrupting the integrity of the ritual prayer. Part two unpacked the musical moments of the ritual in the Gathering Rites and the Liturgy of the Word.
This article will take a look at the musical moments and the ritual integrity of the Liturgy of the Eucharist and the Concluding Rites.
First of all, the time between Word and Eucharist in the Mass is transitional and preparatory. Baskets are passed for the collection, the altar is prepared, and the bread and wine are brought in procession. The musicians might add either a choral piece or assembly song related to the readings and liturgical season, or simply instrumental music to accompany the movement. The music during this time should never be so dominant as to overwhelm the power of the Eucharistic Prayer to follow.
The preface dialogue that opens the Eucharistic Prayer could be chanted, as a means to heighten the involvement of the assembly as full participants in the Prayer. Often, members of the assembly think of the Eucharistic Prayer as “Father’s Prayer.” This is not an accurate understanding. The presider prays these words as the one voice of the community. His voice is the assembly’s voice, appealing to God. The General Instruction of the Roman Missal (GIRM 78) says:
“The Priest calls upon the people to lift up their hearts towards the Lord in prayer and thanksgiving; he associates the people with himself in the Prayer that he addresses in the name of the entire community to God the Father through Jesus Christ in the Holy Spirit.”
The assembly sung acclamations of the Eucharistic Prayer, (Holy, Holy, Memorial Acclamation, Great Amen), are the means by which the assembly attends to their association and participation in the Prayer. These sung acclamations should be the strongest moments within the liturgy of the Eucharist. When the prayer is finished, the assembly speaks to God in the words Christ himself instructed.
If the Lord’s Prayer is sung, (e.g., during Advent when “kingdom” language is most vivid in scripture), the musician must be sure that the musical setting is not heavier or more extensive than the Eucharistic acclamations. That would upset the balance and importance of the assembly’s involvement in the Eucharistic Prayer.
The sign of peace and the breaking of the bread should not overlap. The sung Lamb of God accompanies the breaking of bread, not the sign of peace. There is no musical accompaniment to the sign of peace. The ritual breaking and its sung response should both wait until the sign of peace is completed. The sign of peace is an act of commitment by the assembly that together they will be agents of Christ’s peace. If the sign is understood more as a time of Christian fellowship, then it loses its significance as the community’s promise to build peace, even among our enemies.
The assembly song during communion is an accompaniment to the communion procession, which is the main ritual action. At that time in the liturgy, through the sharing in communion, the assembly IS the body of Christ. “Become what you receive” (St. Augustine).
The sharing in communion is not a time of personal devotion to the blessed sacrament. The church offers an opportunity for Eucharistic adoration with its extension of the liturgy — the Order for the Solemn Exposition of the Holy Eucharist, at which we further contemplate our oneness. Devotion to the Eucharist is an extension of the communion moment in the Mass. Thus, in order to maintain the integrity of the communion rite, the assembly song chosen to accompany the communion procession needs to speak of the oneness we share in the body of Christ, rather than personal devotion to the Eucharistic presence.
All the assembly remains standing throughout the communion procession until the last person present has participated, then all sit together in silence. Communal sacred silence is a necessary part of the assembly’s prayer at Mass, and musicians must be very careful not to rob those moments by filling that silence with music. The prayer after Communion ends the time of silent prayer and closes the liturgy of the Eucharist.
Our concluding rites are simple: announcements, blessing, and dismissal. A closing song is not essential. The ritual words say: “Go in peace,” or something similar, and the assembly goes. The ritual does not ask participants to stay and sing.
If a closing song is sung, however, it should be short and simply functional, adding a bit of finesse to our ending! Remember: Music in the liturgy must serve the ritual prayer and maintain the integrity of the spirit of that prayer.
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