Progressive Solemnity III: The Seven Sacraments

In the first USCCB document (1972) on liturgical music, Music in Catholic Worship, not much treatment was given to musical considerations in liturgical celebrations outside the Eucharist. The 1983 effort, Liturgical Music Today corrected that lack somewhat.

Sing to the Lord devotes a substantial portion of text (sections 200-258) to the other six sacraments, the Liturgy of the Hours, funerals, and devotions. In the case of the sacraments, each rite has its own instructions for congregational song. This blog has devoted a lot of posts to these. Check the archives here if you are looking for specifics. We also exhaustively covered the Liturgy of the Hours.

The same principles apply as they would at Mass:

1. A priority of singing the liturgy rather than singing at the liturgy.

2. A priority for dialogues, acclamations, psalmody, litanies, and hymns, in that order.

In my talk for the Loras College Liturgical Music conference, I had material asking the participants to review parish practice. I would ask my blog readers if they have the same priorities. Do infant baptisms get attention for parish music ministry? Are these liturgies sung with the importance accorded adult catechumenate rites (though granted they take place on Sundays and at the Easter Vigil) or funerals or even weddings?

We know that when the bishop comes to confirm or ordain, music is a priority. In part we can attribute the yoking of these rites to the Eucharist–not to mention the bishop’s presence. And it is more of a scarcity to find a parish not providing music for communal celebrations of penance and anointing–though again, at the latter, it is often done during Mass.

In my experience, parents and families are most grateful music is provided for the initiation of their babies. My question is: why is this sacramental event not accorded the same musical effort as other sacraments?

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Todd and his family live in Ames, Iowa. He serves a Catholic parish of both Iowa State students and town residents.
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5 Responses to Progressive Solemnity III: The Seven Sacraments

  1. Liam says:

    Well, if baptisms occur outside the regularly scheduled Sunday Masses, the choir is very unlikely to be available. Sunday afternoons may involve competition for other obligations of the professional musicians (not just keyboardists but professional cantors), as they are common times for concerts, and baptisms are not typically scheduled as long in advance as those schedules, but are scheduled at the convenience of the families.

    And, then, there is the fact that families may resist having to pay musicians for their services in baptismal liturgies celebrated that way, no matter what the ritual books envision as the norm. Would parishes be willing to pay? Most would not, I imagine.

  2. Todd says:

    It falls to me, as liturgist and music director to provide this music, and to inspire, if I can, music leaders from among the parish choirs and musicians.

  3. Liam says:

    Todd

    How and when are your efforts most successful? My parish has a big music ministry, but one-off liturgies generally are handled by the organist or assistant organist and a paid cantor; it is rare for the choirs to be involved (and it would be something of a logistical problem, because they would compete with the families for the extremely limited parking in an urban setting – yet another practical issue that tends to be part of the rudder of these things).

  4. Randolph Nichols says:

    I once served as music director at a parish with monthly scheduled baptisms that included music. My involvement was required by contract and the volunteer cantors were expected to alternate without recompense. Being a Sunday afternoon, the musicians weren’t happy about it. I had a long commute and Sunday afternoon was about the only time in the week my wife and I had to ourselves.
    We all agreed, however, that the rite was enhanced by the addition of music. Music seemed to instill a seriousness of purpose when “cuteness” can easily predominate. Even with a printed program, however, participation wasn’t strong. Visitors at these affairs are often not regular church attendees. The quality of music was another issue, particularly since the selections were reflective of recommendations coming out of our diocesan office of worship. In the Boston area that usually means trouble.

  5. Liam says:

    I’ve been in communities where all scheduled baptisms were celebrated at the main Sunday morning Mass, but these places were more intentional in nature and did not have several Masses on Sundays where a ritual Mass gone overlong might create havoc in the holy parking lot.

    Of the weekly liturgies, the most likely candidates for such treatment at regular parishes would be (1) the last Mass on Sunday morning, and (2) the Saturday evening Mass (which typically falls on the heels of confession, which in turns falls on the heels of weddings, which in turn falls on the heels of funerals (sometimes, though more typically during the week), which in turn falls on the heels of the Saturday morning Mass.) I know our archdiocese only permits one Saturday evening Mass absent grave pastoral need (such as non-English vernacular communities). Perhaps making the Saturday evening Mass the default choice for scheduled baptisms might make sense. There’s a tie-in to the symbolism of the vigil with baptism. There’s less risk of parking lot havoc. And there are usually musicians scheduled for that Mass. And I would hasten to add that it would tend to dampen the idea of the Saturday evening Mass as the quickie-to-get-the-obligation-out-of-the-way Mass (remembering that I’ve defended the Saturday evening Mass stoutly for other reasons on this board).

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