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CNP Feedback - Offertory Offering

Q. Dear CNP:

At my church, the choir often sang and the handbell choir often played at Offertory [Preparation of the Gifts] time. That has changed, and word from the musicians is that there is a "national" policy (not just a parish practice) that the congregation must sing a hymn at Offertory. Is that correct? Also, apart from an Offertory Hymn, we always sing three, sometimes four, other hymns [Entrance, 1 or 2 at Communion, Closing] at every Mass.

Manny Himse

A. Dear Manny:

It sounds like your parish is "over-hymned." With three or four other hymns at every Mass, why would there be a push to sing yet another one? Let me address your concern about choral or instrumental music at the Offertory first — that's an easy answer.

The General Instruction of the Roman Missal [GIRM] — the rubrics found at the front of the Roman Missal — provides that we sing a Proper Offertory chant. This may be sung by choir, congregation, or even a cantor, and may be as brief as simply the Offertory antiphon itself [see Offertory Antiphons]. After this, the options are wide open, and certainly may include choral music, handbell music or organ music.

The 2007 document of the USCCB, Sing to the Lord: Music in Divine Worship, says this:

30. At times, the choir performs its ministry by singing alone. The choir may draw on the treasury of sacred music, singing compositions by composers of various periods and in various musical styles, as well as music that expresses the faith of the various cultures that enrich the Church. Appropriate times where the choir might commonly sing alone include a prelude before Mass, the Entrance chant, the Preparation of the Gifts, during the Communion procession or after the reception of Communion, and the recessional.

And further:

44. There are also times when the organ or other instruments may be played alone, such as a prelude before the Mass, an instrumental piece during the Preparation of the Gifts, a recessional if there is no closing song, or a postlude following a closing song.

That seems extrememly clear — the choir or the organ or instruments (like handbells) can certainly present music at the Preparation of the Gifts (Offertory). Synching this with the GIRM's rubric of singing the Propers would give us several logical options:

  1. Proper Offertory text (in Latin or in an English translation) sung to the Gregorian melody or in another choral setting
  2. Proper Offertory Antiphon, sung in simple form by the choir, followed by a choral motet
  3. Proper Offertory Antiphon sung by a cantor or congregation, followed by an instrumental piece (handbells, organ, etc)

If a mandatory congregational hymn is happening, it's likely a diocesan or parish preference, certainly not dictated by national norms.

But back to a more general issue in your question. Singing five hymns at one Mass is so far from the ideal of Roman Rite liturgy as to be unbelievably tedious. According to the GIRM the ideal music for Entrance, Offertory [Preparation of the Gifts] and Communion is the Proper Chant from the Graduale Romanum, sung in Latin or English chant, or another setting of the same text, either in Latin or an English translation. If even one hymn is sung at these places, that's already a deviation from the ideal. Compounding that insufficiency by a factor of five is rather absurd.

I would strongly suggest that, even before lobbying for choirs and bells to perform at Offertory time in your parish, you suggest to your musicians the idea of singing some of the Proper texts. Perhaps one (or more) of the five hymns at each Mass could be replaced by a chanted Proper, even in English [see Mass Propers for Advent, etc]. These can be sung by cantor/congregation or choir/congregation. Some of the most beautiful music known to the Catholic Church are the Gregorian chant Introits for various Sundays and holydays: Ad te levavi for the First Sunday of Advent, Dominus dixit for Christmas Midnight Mass, Invocabit me for the First Sunday of Lent.

Listen to a televised Mass from Saint Peter's Basilica in Rome. These Masses are long, sometimes two hours or more — and there's not one hymn. That's Roman Rite liturgy — and it applies to more than just the basilicas of Rome.

Gary Penkala
CanticaNOVA Publications
Article written November 2013

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