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CNP Feedback - "But Arthur just loved this hymn."

The "Feedback Box" on the CanticaNOVA Publications website has proven quite effective in promoting communications on a variety of subjects, and expressing concerns of liturgists and musicians. From time to time, we'll compile a few of these questions or comments and put them in public view, with the hope that others with similar concerns may benefit from their content.

Q. Dear CNP:

When a couple celebrates, for example, a 50th Wedding Anniversary or is the family who paid a stipend for the memory of a loved one (referring to Sunday Mass intentions), is it appropriate to take "hymn requests"? People are always asking me to play certain hymns for "their" Masses; I find often they are not Catholic hymns or hymns that mean much to the Sunday liturgy. Yet, people expect this service. How do I handle this?

Juke Box in Church

A. Dear Juke Box:

This question touches on a very pervasive attitude regarding the Mass. Particularly in the United States, with our "independent," pioneer mentality, people develop an incorrect sense of "ownership" of the liturgy. The Mass, indeed all the sacraments and liturgy, are given to us by the Church through the Magesterium (teaching authority). There is no "American" Mass, or "Illinois" Mass, or "Chicago" Mass, or "Saint Barbara Parish" Mass. It is the same in Beijing, Rome, Brasilia and Sheboygan. The rubrics and the structure of the Mass belong to the Universal Church, and the merits and benefits of each Mass extend to all the People of God ... ("May the Lord accept the sacrifice at your hands for the praise and glory of his name, for our good and the good of all his Church.").

Those faithful who wish may make a request of a priest (not a request of the parish) to have the specific intention for which he offers a Mass be someone they designate (living or deceased). Note that this intention is that of the priest offering the Mass, not the intention of the parish or the congregation. It is perhaps a misleading practice to announce before Mass, "This Mass is being offered for So-and-So on their 50th anniversary." The Mass is always offered for all the faithful. Mr & Mrs So-and-So are the special intention of the priest and may rightly be remembered in the General Intercessions.

That being said, it now seems a little silly that people should make hymn requests for "their Mass," when it's apparent that it's really not "their Mass." Requesting a special intention of a priest and even making a monetary offering "for the good of the Church" (as Canon Law says) gives no one claim or rights to that Mass. Canon Law is very strict about not "trafficking" in this area -- Masses are not bought and sold.

Assuming that we are speaking of a regular parish liturgy, the music should be chosen by the legitimate authority (the Music Director), using the principles found in Church documents. The music should be appropriate to the season, to the liturgical action, can be related to the readings and prayers of the Mass and should edify the entire community. The "favorite hymn" of the perceived "honoree" (living or deceased) just may not fit the bill.

I would suggest that when you are presented with a hymn request for a specific Mass that you answer:
  1. "I can't agree to any specific dates ... hymns may already have been chosen."
  2. "I'll make a note of that hymn and see if it's useful in the future." (Do what you wish with the title on the basis of it's merits).
  3. "I'll be glad to offer a personal prayer for So-and-So and privately dedicate my organ prelude to him."
This is all that can be expected of a musician who works for the whole parish, and works with the goals of the Universal Church in mind.

The notion of "non-Catholic" hymns and choosing hymns by popularity rather than relevance to the liturgy and/or the season is a whole other topic which could easily be another article.

Hope this helps!

Gary Penkala
CanticaNOVA Publications

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