I will go unto the Altar of God
Sacred Music part II
The most noticeable change arising from the implementation of the new translation of the Roman Missal—especially from the standpoint of the faithful in the pews—will be the new music we will learn, hear, and pray. In this article, we will look at the use of Hymnody, and its proper role within Catholic Sacred music.
The new translation of the Roman Missal, speaking about the beginning of Holy Mass, states: “When the people are gathered, the Priest approaches the altar with the ministers while the Entrance Chant is sung.”
What is an Entrance Chant?
The entrance antiphon or Introit is the Sacred text and its music which accompanies the procession from the Sacristy to the Altar. Since this is the first proclaimed prayer of the Mass, each Mass takes its name from the Introit: e.g. “Requiem Mass, Laetare Sunday, etc.” In the U.S. there are four approved options (GIRM 48):
the prescribed antiphon or psalm found in the Missal or Gradual,
a simpler seasonal version,
a psalm or antiphon from another collection,
and finally a suitable hymn.
As we have seen, the last option of the hymn has become the norm. Holy Mother Church has been clear that we should no longer neglect these Sacred texts in the Roman Missal. The celebrant, as servant of the Liturgy cannot replace the prayers of the Mass at whim, neither should the musicians. Latin or English, these prayers are meant to be proclaimed, whether by the congregation, choir alone, or simply by a cantor.
“In the Beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” In this opening passage of St. John’s Gospel, among many things, we are reminded of the importance of the Sacred text. This Sacred text has been passed down to us from the very Divinity of the Incarnate Word. The Church has safeguarded these holy texts, and marked them out as Divinely inspired, and asks us to sing or say them at each and every Holy Mass. If we substitute this Truth with secular text and music from outside the temple, we “water-down” our Faith.
Giving the best to our Lord
Hymns are often associated with the beautiful wealth of Protestant hymnody. Much of what we find in our modern hymnals is in fact non-Catholic in origin. We should remember that our credo as Catholics is truly different in Theology and practice, thus we need to be mindful of the texts we are proclaiming.
Are we giving the best to our Lord? As Catholics we are blessed with thousands of years of musical tradition. As Sacrosanctum Concilium from Vatican II states: “the treasury of sacred music is to be preserved and cultivated with great care” (¶114).
Hymns find their origin in ancient prayers such as the Gloria, the Te Deum, and earlier Jewish and Eastern roots. Just as we are directed to use the proper text of the Gloria, we are also directed to use the sacred texts for the Entrance, Psalm, Alleluia, Offertory, and Communion. In choosing four hymns each Sunday, we are missing out on the beautiful heritage of prayer and song which has been passed down through the ages!
The Entrance Antiphon is more than a Gathering Hymn—especially since the people have already gathered. Like that of the Introit, similar rubrics apply to the Offertory and Communion chants. Catholics have not ever had a tradition of congregational hymnody. Hymns are certainly beautiful and have their liturgical role when used in their proper place, not as a permanent replacement for Mass prayers. Let us embrace our heritage by not just singing at Mass, which sometimes distracts us from the liturgical action; but through the profound Missal texts for each celebration, let us sing the Mass!
Moving forward (and not turning back the clock!)
As we look to the implementation of the new translation, it is helpful to recall a few musical considerations. First, the music for Mass is already “chosen” by the Missal itself, primarily in the form of Biblical antiphons and psalmody. Well-intentioned musicians spend countless hours and parish resources “choosing” music with “liturgy planners”. This is unnecessary. Think if this time was spent learning one or two antiphons per month. All the music can be found in the Roman Gradual, the choir’s equivalent of the Missal. If these chants are too difficult at first, there are countless resources of simpler melodies and English translations, the vast majority of which are free. (find a brief list below).
In conclusion, is the music principally giving praise, adoration, and thanksgiving to God? Or are we instead singing about ourselves, such as the famed “Gather Us In”, which mentions ourselves 32 times and God zero? Is the text and its style sanctifying and teaching the people of God, or more interested in catchy beats, instrumentation, and feelings? Does the text have Theologically-problematic phrases, often referring to the Most Holy Eucharist as “here in bread and wine”, or the Altar of our Lord as a dinner table?
The Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, our glimpse of Heaven on Earth, deserves all that we can give, following the directives of the Pope and the Church documents.
ENGLISH CHANT BOOKS