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Musical Musings: Liturgy

A Holy Parade? (Part 2)

by Gary D. Penkala

Part 1 of this article explored the idea that processions in the modern Church are often misunderstood and are seen by the congregation as merely "holy parades." Of the four processions in the Mass, it dealt in detail with the first, the Entrance Procession. Part 2 will now discuss the remaining three: the Procession with the Gifts, the Communion Procession, and the Recessional.

From Tertullian and Saint Cyprian in the 3rd century come the first reports of the faithful bearing gifts. This procession fell into disuse in the late Middle Ages and following the Council of Trent in the 16th century, no rubric concerning an offertory procession is found in Church documents, although the Offertorium chant, originally meant to accompany the procession, remained.

The Novus Ordo of Paul VI (1969) restored this lay participation in the preparation of the gifts. The General Instruction on the Roman Missal itself states, "The procession with the gifts is accompanied by the Offertory song, which continues at least until the gifts are placed on the altar. The offertory song is sung alternately by the choir and people or by the cantor and people; or it is sung by people or choir alone." Modern liturgists hold varying opinions on the most effective implementation of these rubrics for music during the procession. Most agree on two points, however: that congregational singing is the worst option at this point, and that it is a fine time for a choral, solo or instrumental selection.

It should be noted that music to accompany the procession takes precedence over the prayers, "Blessed are you, Lord God of all creation...," which should be said quietly by the priest. If for some reason there is no music during the procession, these prayers and the responses to them may be said audibly.

Few worshippers realize that the walking they do at communion time is actually considered a procession. This is, moreover, the one procession that everyone in the church is invited to take an active part in ("Happy are those who are called to his table."). According to the general rule, this procession is to be accompanied by music. The General Instruction states, "The song during communion expresses the spiritual union of the communicants who join their voices in a single song, shows the joy of all, and makes the communion procession an act of brotherhood. This song begins when the priest receives communion and continues as long as convenient." Ideally it should be in verse/antiphon format to facilitate the participation of the communicants in procession. [See Communion Psalms for the Liturgical Seasons CNP Catalog #3020]. An alternative might be to have instrumental or choral music first, delaying the hymn until some of the assembly have received the Eucharist. In any case, this is a time which demands careful study and preparation.

The Recessional is a practice that has developed well beyond any rubrics. In fact, the General Instruction and the Sacramentary make no mentions of it whatsoever: "The priest kisses the altar, makes the customary reverence with the ministers and leaves." That's it! A custom has developed in Anglo-Saxon countries of singing a rousing Closing Song to encourage the assembly to carry its faith to the world beyond the church walls. In most European countries a festive organ selection accompanies the procession of the ministers from the sanctuary. Occasionally a choral or instrumental recessional may be effective, or even no music at all (on Palm Sunday, for instance).

Some general points about processions might be re-emphasized. They are more than "show"; they are meant to draw the congregation more fully into worship. Processions are sterile if they are not accompanied by music. They are symbols and as such they must be performed appropriately, effectively, and in a pleasing manner. Processions, along with gestures, are the only physical motion required of the assembly. They are an important means of involving the entire mind, body, and all the senses in the act of worship.

 Back to Part 1: The Entrance Procession

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