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CNP Feedback -
How Much Communion Music?

Q. Dear CNP:

You've provided tremendous advice in the past. I have a liturgy / music problem I hope you can help me with.

I have been having the choir, cantor, or myself sing the Communion Antiphon. We've used the CNP's Mass Propers for Advent/Lent, the Simple English Propers, and the Simple Choral Gradual. Then we have a hymn (usually the procession is still going). The choir then sings a post communion anthem.

The problem is, my pastor tells me this is not correct according to the rubrics. He interprets the rubrics as stating that the Antiphon is used only if a hymn is not sung. My take is that we could sing a hymn after the Antiphon, as the Antiphon is the preferred option.

Style and placement aside, is it allowable to sing a hymn ("another suitable chant") and the Antiphon at communion? Thank you for your help!

Auntie Fawn Cingher

A. Dear Mrs. Cingher:

To start, let's look at exactly what the Roman Missal itself says. To do this honestly and accurately, we need to understand the presuppositions that the Missal makes.

When the Missal says "Entrance Chant," it really assumes the Latin Gregorian chant Introit from the Graduale Romanum [the Church's official choir book]. The same music is found in the Gregorian Missal. When it says "Offertory Chant," it means the music and text found in those same books. Likewise for the "Communion Chant" — the Missal is talking about the Latin chant from these official books. That's the rubric, plain and simple — that's what was in the mind of the crafters of the rubrical statement.

The U.S Bishops, in an "addendum" to the Latin text of the GIRM, have allowed for various replacements to this Latin chant during the processional moments at Mass, for language, personnel or pastoral reasons. The four options in Dioceses of the United States of America for Communion music are listed at GIRM #87:

  1. The antiphon from the Missal -or- the antiphon with its psalm from the Graduale Romanum, as set to music there or in another musical setting;
  2. The antiphon with psalm from the Graduale Simplex of the liturgical time;
  3. A chant 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. Some other suitable liturgical chant, approved by the Conference of Bishops or the Diocesan Bishop.

This is either sung by the choir alone or by the choir or a cantor with the people.

However, if there is no singing, the antiphon given in the Missal may be recited …

While there is a "purist" band of liturgists who see the antiphons in the Roman Missal to be nothing more than texts for reciting if there is no singing, it's obvious from a reading of the first option in GIRM #87 that the Missal antiphon is a highly esteemed option for Communion music (which is what this GIRM paragraph outlines). So the antiphon text directly from the Roman Missal, set to music in various ways, is fine.

Once a decision is reached to sing this "proper" music at Communion time, either by choir, cantor, congregation or a mixture, then one needs to deal with the rest of Communion.

Ideally, according to the Missal and the "Communion chant" that it envisions from the Graduale Romanum, one could sing the antiphon alternately with the psalm verses that are listed for use with each Communion chant. This could not only serve as the prescribed antiphon, but could also extend the music throughout the distribution of the Sacrament. To me, finding ways to do this, either in Latin or in English, seems ideal. There are many publications that aid in this "extension": Communio (Richard Rice), Simple English Propers (Adam Bartlett), Choral Communio (Rice), CNP Mass Propers.

If singing the proper antiphon and psalm verses throughout Communion is not feasible, I don't see much wrong with adding other music (hymn, choral motet, organ piece) after (or before) the simple Communion antiphon is been sung.

We must be practical in our music. While we are required to stay as close as possible to the rubrics (and even the preferences among the rubrics), we also must make necessary allowances for our own specific situations and church layout. If the schola must received Communion first, then it's not possible to begin the Communion chant as soon as the priest receives. Perhaps an organ piece or a cantor/congregation hymn begins Communion time, with an antiphon later. Maybe the choir sings a motet first, followed by the antiphon and then a hymn.

It could be that the Schola's chant antiphon followed by the congregation's Communion Hymn works well in your situation. I would use that format.

Two cautions, however:

  1. Don't program too many things at Communion. Unless there's a good flow in the structure, it may be that Antiphon-Hymn-Motet is too much variety. Also, never fall into the trap of programming multiple congregational hymns in a row. I've seen this fail many times — it starts to look like a "hymn sing" and can get tedious for the assembly. 
  2. Don't assume we must sing a Communion hymn. Recalling the official musical preferences (listed above), we see no hymns at all listed — just the proper texts sung to chant. We should try, slowly for sure, but very steadily, to move away from so many hymns at Mass. Start finding other ways to fill Communion time with music apart from hymn-singing — using proper texts.

What can we take away from all this? It's clear that the GIRM for the Missale Romanum was written with Gregorian chant propers in mind. It's clear, too, that very few U.S. parishes could ever sing all of those every week. Accommodations must be made.

Sing as many Propers as possible (Latin, English, schola, choir, cantor, congregation). Sing hymns, if necessary. Program choral or organ music. Don't do all of this at the same Mass, unless it's Confirmation for 100 students. Regular Sunday Mass needs a Communion time that's simple, elegant, well-structured, flowing, within the allowable options, and as close as possible to the preferred rubrics.

Hope this helps!

Gary Penkala
CanticaNOVA Publications
Article written 10 February 2013

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