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Music During Mass

Let’s talk briefly about how we choose the Music that we choose for Mass.  Sometimes people get the idea that we have to plan each Mass, we have to plan the Liturgy.  We do not plan the Mass.  The Church has already planned each Liturgy, each Mass, our work is to prepare to the best of our ability what the church has already planned. 

The Liturgy of the Eucharist, The Holy sacrifice of the Mass, is planned by the Church.  This includes many of the texst that are sung during Mass like the Introit and the Communion Antiphon. The goal, if you will, is not to "sing at Mass" but to sing the Mass that has been prepared by the Wisdom of the Church. The Wisdom of the Church is the Holy Spirit alive and active in the teaching body of the Church which has planned the Liturgy through it's various Congregations like theCongregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments.

Song is prayer.  And he text of  many of the songs to be sung during mass are actually part of the Mass called Propers.    That is to say that those words to be sung are "Proper" to the mass of that particular day.   The Church takes very seriously the composition and translation of its prayers, for what we pray is what we believe and we will believe more and more what we pray and sing.

Therefore in preparing the parish Liturgy "we stick to the script," per se by using the proper liturgical books which contain the "Proper" texts and prayers for that day. In the text we find a treasury of beautiful text in the forms of prayer and psalms. the liturgical books that we use to plan what has already been prepared are: The Ordo (The Order of Prayer in the Liturgy of the hours and Celebration of the Eucharist), The Roman Missal (In the USA called the Sacramentary), The Lectionary, The Roman Gradual (Graduale Romanum), and the General Instruction of the Roman Missal (GIRM).

The Ordo is the Directory that tell the priest exactly what Mass is to be celebrated on any given day.  It contains specific instructions concerning that Mass.  The Roman Missal contains all of the prayers, text, and many instructions (rubrics) for the priest celebrating the Mass.  The Lectionary contains the scriptures for that Mass and the specific Alleluia verse which is to be sung before the proclamation of the Holy Gospel.

The Roman Gradual contains all the music for the Mass, according to the Roman rite (Latin Rite) and the revised Roman calendar. This includes the Propers for the liturgical year, the cycle of Saints, and Masses for diverse circumstances.  The General Instructions of the Roman Missal (GIRM) contains more complete instructions for the priest than those contained in the Roman Missal itself.

It would take us several pages to cover all the Music specified by the Church for each Mass.  Let’s take a quick look at what we often call the Entrance Hymn (The Introit).  Here is the instruction from the GIRM:

48. The singing at this time is done either alternately by the choir and the people or in a similar way by the cantor and the people, or entirely by the people, or by the choir alone. In the dioceses of the United States of America there are four options for the Entrance Chant: (1) the antiphon from the Roman Missal or the Psalm from the Roman Gradual as set to music there or in another musical setting; (2) the seasonal antiphon and Psalm of the Simple Gradual; (3) a song from another collection of psalms and antiphons, approved by the Conference of Bishops or the Diocesan Bishop, including psalms arranged in responsorial or metrical forms; (4) a suitable liturgical song similarly approved by the Conference of Bishops or the Diocesan Bishop.55

If there is no singing at the entrance, the antiphon in the Missal is recited either by the faithful, or by some of them, or by a lector; otherwise, it is recited by the priest himself, who may even adapt it as an introductory explanation (cf. above, no. 31).

At Saint Paul Catholic Church, when we have Masse with music, for the Introit, we use Introit Hymns For The Church Year, by Christoph Tietze, it contains the Psalms from the Roman Gradual and its accompaning antiphon as prescribed by the GIRM.

If you look at The  Order of Worship we produce every Sunday you will note the first hymn containts the text from Introit antiphon and Psalm from the Roman Gradual.  The way these are supposed to work is the entire hymn is sung through once with the antiphon being the first verse, then after the doxology verse the antiphon verse is repeated.   Note that the first verse is typically marked ant for antihhon and the last is marked dox for doxology.

The General Instruction of the Roman Missal specifies the Sacred Music selection for the Introit (Entrance), Offertory, and Communion Rite. 

Yes, other suitable Sacred Music may be used in combination with what has been planned by the church.  however, what has been planned by the church should always take precedence.  The GIRM tells us what we must do, should do and can do.  we want to to the best we can to make sure we are doing what we must do and what we shoudl do.

It is important to remember too, the liturgy belongs to the whole church - not to any particular individual or local community.  It has been handed down to us.  It is not only a celebration in this particular time and place, but it links us with the countless faithful who have gathered at the Lord's command through the ages.

Pope Benedict XVI writes: 
"Up to our own times, it has been the constant concern of supreme pontiffs to ensure that the Church of Christ offers a worthy ritual to the Divine Majesty, 'to the praise and glory of His name,' and 'to the benefit of all His Holy Church."

"Since time immemorial it has been necessary - as it is also for the future - to maintain the principle according to which 'each particular Church must concur with the universal Church, not only as regards the doctrine of the faith and the sacramental signs, but also as regards the usages universally accepted by uninterrupted apostolic tradition, which must be observed not only to avoid errors but also to transmit the integrity of the faith, because
the Church's law of prayer corresponds to her law of faith."

Furthermore, we should remember  that the earthly liturgy is part of the heavenly liturgy and that the parishioners attending Mass in the pews are in the minority of those attending Mass.  The entire heavenly host is present at each Mass.  Keeping this in mind will help our parish see beyond our own community and realize that through its participation in the Mass, it is part of the heavenly liturgy attended by all the angels and saints. This universality of worship demands that the earthly liturgy in each parish show in a clear way that the parish is part of the universal Church and not a unit separate from all others.

We do not need to "plan" something new, different or more exciting than what we did the last time. We simply have to do it again - faithfully, to the best of our ability, using the richness of the signs and symbols, confident that this living sacrifice of praise that we offer with Christ will form us and transform us.

For an in depth article on the development of  music in the liturgy follow this link: Singing the Mass.