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CNP Feedback -
Walking to Organ Music?

Q. Dear CNP:

Can you tell me if there are any rubrics on using an instrumental piece followed by congregational hymn at the time of the procession — or at any time during the liturgy — effectively using two pieces?

Principal Walker

A. Dear Ms. Walker:

As you know, the authoritative source for Mass rubrics is the General Instruction of the Roman Missal [GIRM]. The GIRM, which concretizes rubrics for the Roman Rite, assumes a sung liturgy. The Missal itself offers texts for Propers and Orations, which are just now coming to be recognized as important to musicians. The GIRM assumes that these texts will be sung, and offers options for how that will be handled.

The four options suggested (in order of preference) for the Entrance all include singing: either

  1. the Proper Introit from Graduale Romanum or Missal
  2. an Introit from Graduale simplex
  3. a psalm from an approved source
  4. another chant from an approved source

Even though the rubrics take for granted a sung text, there are some (though limited) references to instrumental music. For the sake of this discussion, I will assume that this will be organ music. Vatican II affirmed the importance of the pipe organ in Roman Rite liturgy, but gave no indication of where this might be most appropriate.

Here's what the latest GIRM says:

103. Among the faithful, the schola cantorum or choir exercises its own liturgical function, its place being to take care that the parts proper to it, in keeping with the different genres of chant, are properly carried out and to foster the active participation of the faithful by means of the singing. What is said about the schola cantorum also applies, with due regard for the relevant norms, to other musicians, and especially the organist.

Perhaps we can infer from this that those "text" moments assigned to the schola can indeed be carried out by the organist.

With that in mind, I see no reason that a processional moment, be it Entrance, Offertory, or Communion, cannot be started with organ music. One might even consider it a prolonged "introduction" for vocal music to follow. The rubrics do not mandate (and this is hard for 1970s liturgists to hear) congregational singing at these moments. A schola can legitimately sing the Introit, Offertory and Communion Proper. By extension, owing to paragraph #103 cited above, the organ can take on those responsibilities as well.

Let me be clear, however, that I am not advocating this scenario [i.e. completely instrumental processionals] as the overall parish scheme for Mass. Pastorally speaking, eliminating congregational singing at those spots for every weekend parish Mass would be close to disastrous! I could see this format, though, on a limited basis; for example, at an early morning Mass with no choir or cantor.

I have very often used a combination of organ and congregational music at Communion time. In fact, it's become my standard at non-choral Masses. An organ piece begins the Communion procession. Midway through, when some of the congregation is back in the pews, the cantor begins an antiphon/psalm Communion piece or we sing a Communion hymn. It works … and it's practical. Other options are fine, too, especially with the increased flexibility that comes with adding a choir to the mix.

The bottom line is: rubrics are meant to be followed — they exist for a reason. But one must be practical. No one, not even the rubrician, expects us to do the impossible. While it is ideal for the Latin Communion Proper to be sung by a schola immediately as the priest is receiving Communion, if the schola doesn't exist, or is not at this Mass, or needs to receive Communion early because of the physical layout of the church, then the ideal may not be possible. A feasible alternative (preferably the one closest to the ideal) needs to be substituted.

Hope this makes sense and helps your deliberations.

Gary Penkala
CanticaNOVA Publications
Article written 04 August 2013

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