20 November 2012

Sing As We Go - To Communion?

I was taking part in a discussion on the aptness or otherwise of hymns being sung and mentioned that I had always thought that this was a very "spirit of Vatican 2" thing to do, and that along with the need to process (to receive Communion standing) and the notion of our "sharing" Communion, here were three things wrong with the way the distribution of the Eucharist at Mass was messing up things which had worked perfectly well unupmessed.

Looking at the GIRM, however, I find that the problem isn't due to a few unruly priests: this is the way Communion is supposed to happen!

"86. While the priest is receiving the Sacrament, the Communion chant is begun.  Its purpose is to express the communicants’ union in spirit by means of the unity of their voices,  to show joy of heart, and to highlight more clearly the ‘communitarian’ nature of the procession to receive Communion.  The singing is continued for as long as the Sacrament is being administered to the faithful.  If, however, there is to be a hymn after Communion, the Communion chant should be ended in a timely manner. 

Care should be taken that singers, too, can receive Communion with ease.

87. In the dioceses of the (sic) England and Wales the options for the Communion chant are as follows: (1) the antiphon from the Graduale Romanum either with or without the psalm; (2) the antiphon with the psalm from the Graduale Simplex; (3) a song from another collection of psalms and antiphons, approved by the Bishops' Conference of England and Wales.  It is sung either by the choir alone or by the choir or cantor with the people.

If there is no singing, however, the Communion antiphon found in the Misdsal may be recited either by the faithful, or by some of them, or by a lector.  Otherwise the priest himself says it after he has received Communion and before he distributes Communion to the faithful.

88. When the distribution of Communion is finished, as circumstances suggest, the priest and the faithful spend some time praying quietly.  If desired, a psalm or other canticle of praise or a hymn may also be sung by the entire congregation."

This really feels wrong to me: there shouldn't be a procession to receive Communion, precisely because the reception of Communion shouldn't be communitarian.  That, to me at least, gives off a strong whiff of the necessity of congregational participation in the action of the priest.  Our attitude, going to Communion, shouldn't be (or, at least, shouldn't solely be) one of "joy of heart": why Our Lord allowed himself to be the ultimate sacrifice, and what our individual responsibility for this, and our unworthy gratitude are surely as relevant as we approach the altar.  And silence, rather than some banal arrangement of the relevant proper (though "proper" scarcely seems the right word for something casually  disposable) feels to me a more adequate approach by a fallen human to the Transcendent.

But this is what the GIRM says, and, just in case you hoped it was some E&W spirit of Vatican II thing, its foornote refers to an Instruction of the Sacred Congregation of Rites of 1980.  This is the way we should be doing things.

I'm not very happy about this, but I can't see any easy way round it.  Help!


Ben Trovato said...

The easy way out is the EF...

blondpidge said...

I've been thinking about this and I'm inclined to agree re the chant.

Though Mass should not be about my liturgical preferences, I find it really distracting when only having just got back to my seat to kneel, a frantic flipping of hymn books takes place. Maybe I'd feel differently if it were a sound communion hymn, instead of the trite banalities of Mayhew et al but as you say it's hardly transcendent.

Communitarian is an odd word admittedly but I wonder if perhaps you might be over thinking this one? I guess we have to process to the altar somehow and we do so as the Body of Christ. Maybe if we processed around the church you could be right, but I don't see the element of audience participation implicit although the Eucharistic prayer is a dialogue.

benedict said...

Sorry but you have confused me a little. You stated:

just in case you hoped it was some E&W spirit of Vatican II thing, its foornote refers to an Instruction of the Sacred Congregation of Rites of 1980.

Forgive me but didn't VII begin in the 1960's? Surely the GIRM of 1980 then puts it firmly into the 'spirit of VII' camp?

Ttony said...

@Benedict: too much shorthand by me - sorry. I tend to use "spirit of Vatican II" to mean the justification of heterodoxy or heteropraxy with no justification in the documents of Vatican II. The GIRM is another order of things entirely.

@blondpidge: I think I object to anything which detracts from the sense of Holy Communion as being my (and NOT our) meeting with God-made-Man.

Matthew H said...

I think I object to anything which detracts from the sense of Holy Communion as being my (and NOT our) meeting with God-made-Man.

But I think this is a both/and issue, not an either/or one.

Of course, one's reception of Holy Communion is an intensely personal act. But in the Church, sacraments are communal as well as personal. We are all members of the body of Christ, but we are also one body, who individually and corporately benefit from the Sacrifice of Christ whose Body and Blood are eternally given for us.

Try to see the communitarian and individual dimensions as complementary, rather than have one "detract" from or supplant the other. I'm not saying this is easy - I'm sure we've all been to parishes that appear to worship themselves as a community more than they worship God - but I think it's what the GIRM taken as a whole points us towards.

(I'll also point out that the option of a "song" at this point in the Mass is the third option the GIRM gives. If more parishes did the first or second options and had their choir chant the Graduale antiphon and psalm (or sang it as polyphony or some other choral setting), I don't think you would feel quite as strongly as you seem to about this. Chant, after all, is "specially suited to the Roman liturgy" (SC 116)!)

Ttony said...

Matthew H: in a sense it's all academic, in that either the PP, the choir mistress, or the leader of the worship group will normally decide, and if there are no musicians, we get shuffling silence anyway, so I'm used to having to bear what I don't like. I was just surprised to see that something I associate with spirit-of-VII silliness was actually something mandated by the Church.