Entering, Opening, Gathering, etc.

Jeffrey alerted me to the post and discussion on the NLM site on the “Gathering Song.” Frequent visitor Liam (who, by the way, continues to gently resist my invitation to become part of the blogging team here) swims against an unsurprising tide there.

Let me first say that “Gathering Song” is a sort of lingo that has popped up over the past thirty years. The GIRM lists “entrance chant” as the official title of the piece. With chant being pretty rare, except perhaps for “O Come O Come Emmanuel” during Advent, trained and untrained church musicians adopt a different term. “Opening song” is more usual to my ears. “Gathering song” is common, but less frequent. Reading what the GIRM says about the “entrance chant,” most terms in use catch something of the purpose:

After the people have gathered, the Entrance chant begins as the priest enters with the deacon and ministers. The purpose of this chant is to open the celebration, foster the unity of those who have been gathered, introduce their thoughts to the mystery of the liturgical season or festivity, and accompany the procession of the priest and ministers. (GIRM 47)

If you had to label the song at all, entrance, opening, gathering, unity, introduction, accompaniment all describe aspects of the music. Alone, none of them really captures the entirety. Why do people use one or the other? Maybe skittish folk feel they have to say something. I would understand but I wouldn’t agree.

In writing (and speaking, by extension) I’ve been taught to show, not tell. My take is that it’s simple enough to announce the hymnal number, music title, then repeat the number. What I might say is simply this:

“Seven fifty-four, Now the Silence, seven fifty-four.”

Catholics don’t need to be told what they’re singing, nor when to stand, or anything other than the bare minimum. If parishioners are accustomed to reading from a worship bulletin or follow a hymn board, announcing the music can be dispensed with entirely. Announcing would be my third choice behind the other two.

Much is made of the fourfold purpose of the entrance chant: opening the celebration, fostering unity, introducing the season or feast, accompanying the procession. The first two would seem to point toward a high expectation of congregational singing.

In secular circles, communities are invited to sing less these days, so there would be a trend toward performers (as in, say, the Beijing Olympics) and chief participants doing the outward actions of a celebration while others watch. That’s not to say that being a spectator can’t be a moving experience. But giving the people a moving experience is not what the Church teaches the entrance music is for.

Aside from the worship of God, the sanctification of the people is mentioned as a prime reason for celebrating liturgy in the first place. Nowhere does Catholic liturgical theology describe liturgy as being for the benefit of priest, musicians, or others with a particular role. Whether they sing all, some, or not at all, the sanctification (not the edification!) of the people is primary.

Could a Catholic liturgy open with choral singing alone? Sure it could. But I would see that as the exception to a general rule. It might also be too much of a concession to the passivity encouraged in the western culture of entertainment. If I were approached to consider a choir-only entrance chant, an even stronger reason would need to override cultural expectations of passivity.

The suggestion that unity is fostered by the opening chant is an even stronger argument in favor of the assembly singing. One can go too far with a literal interpretation of these two factors, but I would think they point strongly to the involvement of the congregation in the singing. GIRM 48 offers four possible options in order of preference:

The singing at this time is done either alternately by the choir and the people or in a similar way by the cantor and the people, or entirely by the people, or by the choir alone.

Alternating between music ministry and people–choices one and two–aligns with the traditional approach to the chant antiphons and psalm verses.  In that, the people would sing the refrain and the choir or cantor would sing the verses, pretty much as the responsorial psalm is done in most parishes these days. The St Louis Jesuits, in fact, advanced past the pre-conciliar opening hymn by composing and promoting music in this dialogue form. That people usually sing the verses of SLJ songs is more of a testament to their general singability. But on practically every 70’s recording of the Jesuits, the music was performed by either option one or two. The live recordings I’ve heard of the early SLJ’s suggests to me these dialogues were intact when they led music at Mass.

By the way, another decent option would be for the choir to sing an elaborate antiphon and the people to sing the verses.

The GIRM does give musicians the option of singing a hymn, and presumably the people and choir together would sing it.

The choir alone option remains in the books as the last preference. Why? It’s anybody’s guess. You can’t make people sing if they don’t want to or don’t feel like it. But if that option is utilized, the music must still aim to fill the four reasons given in GIRM 47.

I have to remark on the sentiments expressed in the commentariat at NLM. Especially this one:

I think the GIRM leaves at least a bit to be desired. Why do we need some contrived document to tell us what we already know we are doing …?

In other words, don’t tell me what to do. I already know what to do, and whatever it is, I know it’s the exact opposite of what my ideological adversaries are doing.

The reason why I find sites like NLM less and less attractive these days and possibly even dangerous is that they promote a certain ideological inbreeding. Sensible musicians like Jeffrey Tucker can’t help but get caught up in it and tainted. The NLM braintrust has pulled his post promoting our radio appearance, I see. They probably worry he’s getting tainted by associating with me.

I still believe the traditionalist sensibility has much to offer mainstream Catholicism: a reverence for the past, a mindful approach to worship, the pooled traditions of European cultures and ages. In dialogue with other Catholics, our worship will improve on a broad scale. But the promotion of ghettoes, the encouragement of a dissent rooted in emotionalism, all point to a marginalization of some fruitful voices along with the chaff. And the face of Catholicism for non-believers? Anger, bitterness, envy, and other things clearly not the fruits of the Spirit.

Be sure to join us tomorrow at 11AM for a discussion that promises none of those ridiculous fruits.

About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in Minnesota, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
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3 Responses to Entering, Opening, Gathering, etc.

  1. Gavin says:

    Like any PC-speak, the hymn issue has too much read into it. I say “The Entrance Hymn is number X, title, X”. Towards the end, I found it less intrusive to say “The Entrance hymn (pause) number, title, number” Sometimes it’s silly when cantors say “our Gathering song is number X, title, again that’s number X, title, number X. Please sing number X, title!” but then I just roll my eyes, smile, and get over it. I actually like the idea of just announcing the hymn without titling the function, although it might come out sounding like just a string of numbers and words with no association.

    And you’re not just reading the ghetto mentality into trads, that’s really how some of them think. I recall many people saying how horrible it is that today Catholics can pray with protestants, or the ol’ line about “protestant music”, and even the great Bach gets attacked. I want no part in that “bubble mentality”, and I avoid it anywhere I go. As Sen. McCain said, a good idea is a good idea no matter who it comes from.

  2. Gavin says:

    I meant to say that it has too much read into it by both sides. The “progressives” want to induce everyone to hug by hearing what they call the music. The trads think it’s liberal brainwashing. Sometimes people just use whatever term they’re familiar with.

  3. Liam says:

    Todd was kind enough to avoid noting what I must confess here: I made my bones on Catholic discussion boards complaining about shibboleths. So shibboleths are my shibboleth, it would seem. That confessed, pay attention to shibboleths. Where two or three shibboleths are gathered in His Name, there He waits – and waits and waits – to be invited to finally come into their midst, and usually never gets the invitation.

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