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SACRED MUSIC – Singing of ministers in the Eucharistic celebration (1)

admin / June 14, 2019

– Aurelio Porfiri

When we talk about a topic like that of the singing of ministers in the Eucharistic celebration, we risk seeing this theme in a distorted or incomplete way, as we often focus on how and what the choir should sing, on what instruments they would or would not be granted in the liturgy, if the people must sing everything or occasionally let them rest; in short, everyone would know the answer to these questions – it would be enough to take a look at the existing documentation. We will also talk about these issues later, basically repeating what everyone knows: there is a real and an imaginary Vatican II Council; the real Council is what one reads from the documents, the imaginary one is the one that is moved by its ineffable “spirit” which, “blowing where it wants,” often and willingly in the intentions of many new liturgists blows in their direction. Unfortunately, their direction is imbued with immanentism, relativism, historicism and so on and so forth, so as to make the true dictates of the Council a dead letter.

Now, focusing on the question of the singing of ministers in the celebration, let us observe this admirabile dictum of the Sacrosanctum Concilium: Liturgical worship is given a more noble form when the divine offices are celebrated solemnly in song, with the assistance of sacred ministers and the active participation of the people” (113).

Now let us try to understand this passage; it is said that the liturgical action has a more noble form when the divine offices are covered with solemnity. This solemnity is achieved (also) through singing; this song springs (also) from the sacred ministers and from the active participation of the people. Now, it is often and very overly stated that the people must participate and it has been widely disputed on what was meant by this participation (Porfiri, 2016). But what also seems clear and noteworthy to me is the fact that the singing of sacred ministers is necessary as the singing of the people (according to their own participatory modalities, not according to the frenetic participation in vogue in recent decades). This singing of the sacred ministers is considered so important that, in the paragraph intended for musical formation, the following is stated: “Great importance is to be attached to the teaching and practice of music in seminaries, in the novitiates and houses of study of religious of both sexes, and also in other Catholic institutions and schools. To impart this instruction, teachers are to be carefully trained and put in charge of the teaching of sacred music. It is desirable also to found higher institutes of sacred music whenever this can be done. Composers and singers, especially boys, must also be given a genuine liturgical training” (115).

As we read, formation in seminaries and studentates of religious men and women is mentioned first of all with respect to formation, although necessary, destined for other categories. We should not think that this formation is only a teaching of a cultural nature, since in these areas everything tends to form the priest in his role as alter Christus, for the Eucharistic celebration. In fact it is called “musical teaching and practice,” combining the theoretical and cultural part with the practical part, of which the singing of ministers is an essential element. In fact, this concept is even better explained by the Musicam Sacram applicative instruction of 1967, which states very clearly:  “Between the solemn, fuller form of liturgical celebration, in which everything that demands singing is in fact sung, and the simplest form, in which singing is not used, there can be various degrees according to the greater or lesser place allotted to singing. However, in selecting the parts which are to be sung, one should start with those that are by their nature of greater importance, and especially those which are to be sung by the priest or by the ministers, with the people replying, or those which are to be sung by the priest and people together. The other parts may be gradually added according as they are proper to the people alone or to the choir alone” (7). Therefore, from what we read, it follows that the parts due to the priest must be considered the most important as regards the singing.

An affirmation not to be underestimated, which must be read together with what is said a little later: “Whenever, for a liturgical service which is to be celebrated in sung form, one can make a choice between various people, it is desirable that those who are known to be more proficient in singing be given preference; this is especially the case in more solemn liturgical celebrations and in those which either require more difficult singing, or are transmitted by radio or television. If, however, a choice of this kind cannot be made, and the priest or minister does not possess a voice suitable for the proper execution of the singing, he can render without singing one or more of the more difficult parts which concern him, reciting them in a loud and distinct voice. However, this must not be done merely for the convenience of the priest or minister” (8).

This paragraph must be commented with a little more attention. It is said that the fact of reciting aloud is not the situation to be considered normal but an eventuality if the priest or minister were not able to perform the singing parts; it is also said that reciting aloud must be “declaimed,” not a mere reading aloud. Declamation requires a measured recitation and in some measure also accompanied by gestures, so it is a ritualized recitation, not a simple reading. But let us remember, this is considered a remote eventuality with respect to the fact that the celebrant or minister sings his own part. It is also said that it is permissible to recite the most difficult parts. The Musicam Sacram specifies this concept even more clearly a little later (16) when it reads:  “One cannot find anything more religious and more joyful in sacred celebrations than a whole congregation expressing its faith and devotion in song. Therefore the active participation of the whole people, which is shown in singing, is to be carefully promoted as follows: (a) It should first of all include acclamations, responses to the greetings of the priest and ministers and to the prayers of litany form, and also antiphons and psalms, refrains or repeated responses, hymns and canticles. (b) Through suitable instruction and practices, the people should be gradually led to a fuller—indeed, to a complete—participation in those parts of the singing which pertain to them. (c) Some of the people’s song, however, especially if the faithful have not yet been sufficiently instructed, or if musical settings for several voices are used, can be handed over to the choir alone, provided that the people are not excluded from those parts that concern them. But the usage of entrusting to the choir alone the entire singing of the whole Proper and of the whole Ordinary, to the complete exclusion of the people’s participation in the singing, is to be deprecated.”

Therefore this point must be considered a priority, which concerns precisely the dialogues of the priest with the assembly. What are these interventions of the sacred ministers? The Musicam Sacram comes to help us here too. Numbers 28 and 29 introduce a criterion to discern the use of music in the liturgical celebration:  “The distinction between solemn, sung and read Mass, sanctioned by the Instruction of 1958 (n. 3), is retained, according to the traditional liturgical laws at present in force. However, for the sung Mass (Missa cantata), different degrees of participation are put forward here for reasons of pastoral usefulness, so that it may become easier to make the celebration of Mass more beautiful by singing, according to the capabilities of each congregation. These degrees are so arranged that the first may be used even by itself, but the second and third, wholly or partially, may never be used without the first. In this way the faithful will be continually led towards an ever greater participation in the singing.

The following belong to the first degree: (a) In the entrance rites: the greeting of the priest together with the reply of the people; the prayer. (b) In the Liturgy of the Word: the acclamations at the Gospel. (c) In the Eucharistic Liturgy: the prayer over the offerings; the preface with its dialogue and the Sanctus; the final doxology of the Canon, the Lord’s prayer with its introduction and embolism; the Pax Domini; the prayer after the Communion; the formulas of dismissal.” Now is very easy to understand that here we are speaking of the singing of the ministers. (To be continued……)