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Weekday Mass

by Gary D. Penkala

I. Mass on a Weekday

In general, parish music directors are hired (and spend most of their time and energy) to plan Sunday Masses. Ample planning aids exit for Sunday liturgies, from the severely-focused in-house guides of the major publishers, to the more general, broad-based CNP Liturgical Planning Pages. Weekday Mass However, I doubt that there's a parish musician who hasn't occasionally been asked to plan a weekday Mass. Some (in school situations) even do this on a regular weekly basis. While we at CNP would love to provide planning resources for weekday Masses (particularly for Fridays during school months), it's not within our capacity right now. We can, however, offer some insight and some fool-proof musical resources for such situations.

First, a little overview on the structure and format of weekday Masses. We're pretty familiar with the Sunday format: the various parts of the Ordinary, the layout of the readings (OT / Resp Psalm / NT / Gosp Accl / Gospel), the three-year cycle of readings (A: Matthew, B:Mark, C:Luke). What happens at a weekday Mass?

The weekdays of the four seasons [Advent, Christmastide, Lent and Eastertide] have invariable set readings. Rather than three readings (like we see on Sundays), weekdays generally have two readings: a First Reading from either the Old Testament or the New Testament (Epistles, Acts or Reveleation) followed by a Gospel Reading. A Responsorial Psalm and Gospel Verse is also given. The weekdays in Ordinary Time follow the same format: First Reading / Resp Psalm / Gosp Accl / Gospel. The two readings are read in "continuous" fashion, meaning that a particular book is begun and read with continuity, the next day's reading beginning where the previous day's ended. Monday of the First Week in Ordinary Time has Hebrews 1:1-6 as the First Reading; Tuesday uses Hebrews 2:5-12; Wednesday, Hebrews 2:14-18. Not every biblical book is represented and not every verse of the chosen books are read (there aren't enough open days for this), but the most important Scripture passages are read in continuous fashion on weedays of Ordinary Time.

Weekdays in Ordinary Time follow a two-year cycle: Year 1 and Year 2. Year 1 matches with the odd-numbered calendar years (like 2013). Year 2 matches with the even years (like 2014). Because there are fewer chapters and verses in the four Gospels than in the Old Testament/Acts/Epistles/Reveleation, the Gospel readings are the same in Years 1 and 2. The First Readings change on a two-year rotation. I quoted some of the First Readings for Year 1 above. For the same First Week in Ordinary Time of Year 2, the First Readings would be from I Samuel 1:1-8 (Mon), I Samuel 1:9-20 (Tues), I Samuel 3:1-10 (Wed), etc. Everything I've mentioned pertains to seasonal weekdays, or weekdays in Ordinary Time.

Solemnities have their own structure, almost identical to Sunday Mass, with three proper readings. Feasts are similar, but generally have only two readings. Obligatory memorials (those which must be celebrated throughout the Universal Church) are similar to weekdays, and the seasonal readings or the continuous readings are generally used. Occasionally, a memorial will have a proper Gospel reading (or even both readings which are proper) — this is indicated in the weekday Lectionary with the phrase, "The Gospel for this memorial is proper" — this Gospel must be read. Optional memorials may be celebrated or not, depending on the needs of the parish community. The readings for memorials are almost always taken from the seasonal readings or from the continuous weekday readings, to preserve the inherent continuity. In special circumstances, for example, at a one-time special evening Mass for choir singers on the Memorial of Saint Cecilia, readings may be chosen from the Commons of the Lectionary, in this case the Common of a Martyr or the Common of a Virgin.

II. Music for these Masses

Whatever readings are specified or chosen for a weekday Mass, the Church always gives us song texts for our use. The Proper antiphons (given in the Roman Missal for Entrance and Communion) are where we should be looking for music at weekday Masses. Antiphons are specific for each weekday in the four seasons of Advent, Christmastide, Lent and Eastertide. Of course, solemnities and feasts have specific proper antiphons. On memorials, great attention can be focused by using the antiphons that are either proper to the memorial or come from the Common associated with the class of saint (martyrs, or pastors, or holy women, for example). Weekdays in Ordinary Time do not have their own specific antiphons; rather, the Propers from the preceding Sunday are used at any ferial (weekday) Masses that week.

Why should we search endlessly for a "perfect" Opening Hymn for the Optional Memorial of Saint Albert the Great when we've been given the text:

In the midst of the Church he opened his mouth, and the Lord filled him with the spirit of wisdom and understanding and clothed him in a robe of glory.

If we church musicians were "wise," imitating the great doctor Saint Albert the Great, then we would establish ways for our parish communities to sing these Proper antiphons with ease. One of the best formats for English chanting are the Modal Tones from the Saint Meinrad Archabbey. Introduce these to your congregations, and you can literally sing any text that the Church gives us. I've used all eight of these modal tones (and there's now a second collection of eight more) in many circumstances: as Introit antiphons between cantor's psalm verses, as Responsorial Psalms (especially for those times when no published setting is available), for Communion antiphons, and even for sung English Sequences on Easter and Pentecost, when an odd, "Latin-challenged" pastor forbade the use of Victimæ paschali laudes and Veni Sancte Spiritus.

Reserving certain of the modal tones to specific seasons is a great way to develop a link between that tone and that season. I like to use Meinrad Tone 3 for Lent; Tone 6 serves nicely at Christmastide, and Tone 8 is comforting during Ordinary Time.

Don't overlook the immense flexibility this kind of chanting brings to your music program: you can quite literally sing any text! Likewise, be aware of the gift that we have been given with Proper texts for weekday Masses. Use these for weekly school celebrations, for that special Mass for the Ladies Sodality, for the occasional Mass at the Chancery, for a Cub Scout Mass, for a Deanery meeting. Don't be afraid to put away the hymnal and open the Roman Missal!

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