Song Texts During Communion Processions

The four-hymn sandwich was already fading in the 1970’s, at least for the more liturgically progressive parishes. There remain a lot of misconceptions, especially in the reform2 orbit on what constitutes hymnody and what is antiphonal or responsorial music. My own experience was that people were singing psalms and Gospel acclamations regularly by the early 80’s. There were some organists at the forward edge of this effort. Composers like Alexander Peloquin and Lucien Deiss, certainly. My sense is that the Minnesota forum pushed things over the top. Plus OCP’s ubiquitous music by Owen Alstott.

The last parish I recall not doing Mass settings regularly was in the late 70’s. And that was corrected when the pastor began liturgy studies at Notre Dame. It’s reasonable to assume a good parish music ministry is presenting about a dozen pieces of liturgical and service music every Mass, every weekend and most holy days.

I was reflecting on a question while singing “O Come O Come Emmanuel” during Communion this past weekend: What are good texts to sing during the procession here? Other people, many of them, have weighed in on this.

  • I recall one bishop stating that a parish only needs six Eucharistic-themed songs or hymns, and rotate them.
  • Early in my music ministry, a few people counseled for only refrain-and-verse music, so as to let the people sing without holding a hymnal.
  • Reform2 folks advise a song-of-the-week: the propers. That’s too much like the 70’s for my taste.

I largely agree with #2, and think a middle ground between six and sixty a year is good. In no particular order, this is my advice:

  • The Beatitudes (Matthew 5:3-12). They appear more often in the texts for ordinary time propers than you might think, and I consider that a good impulse. The David Haas setting is everywhere. The Greif setting pulls in verse 14, and I find it sturdy when played with attention and musicianship. Becker’s “Lead Me Lord” is more often programmed at the end of Mass, but I think it works just as well for Communion. I would think of using this text during the early Sundays of Ordinary Time, or whenever discipleship is preached.
  • The Magnificat (Luke 1:46-55). Not for Marian feasts and Advent only. My new parish knows the Talbot and the Rieth settings. My last one, the Haas version. I think a parish does well with three of four settings of this passage, and of those, one set as a hymn. The others I would utilize for a song during Communion regularly, not just when the Blessed Mother makes a Gospel appearance.
  • The Bread of Life discourse (John 6:22-71). I’ve made my peace with the Toolan setting. I think the Rosania setting “The Supper of the Lord” is very good. But I think there is a good amount of untouched material in this section of the Bible. Verse 69 has never been set to a refrain that I know of: “We have come to believe and are convinced that you are the Holy One of God.” But I think that second half of Peter’s confession is wholly appropriate as believers approach the altar. Or simply, “We have come to believe.”
  • The New Testament christological canticles (Colossians 1:15-20, Philippians 2:6-11, Ephesians 1:3-10, etc.). If you’re not sure about these texts, consult Evening Prayer in the breviary. These early Christian texts were adopted by Paul, John, and Peter to assist them in communicating the message of Jesus to the early Church. We could do far worse than select a handful of these for the sung praise of God. Great texts anytime, but especially for Lent.
  • Psalm 34 is assigned to the Antiphonary a number of lazy times. The 23rd, too. But any psalm setting that speaks of longing for God, not just “Taste and See” or banquet imagery is a laudable effort. My own favorites for Communion: 16, 27, 62, 63, 103, 139, and 147. As a music planner, I would scour the Psalter first, ideally with a committee in tow. When a good psalm is found, then surface a half-dozen settings of it, choosing only the best one.

Other might want to make the case for the Didache or the early Christian writings, or medieval theology. But I think a Beatitudes setting, two Magnificats, one or two songs from John 6, three to five NT canticles, and maybe up to a dozen Psalms would take care of a good repertoire.

About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in the Pacific Northwest, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
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3 Responses to Song Texts During Communion Processions

  1. Liam says:

    Psalm 78 in its entirety is long and complex, but I’ve seen selections like vv 23-25 adapted to good effect.

    And don’t forget Psalm 84. Communion is a foretaste of the kingdom therein sung of.

    I have no principled problem with propers being part of a rotation of repertoire for this place in the liturgy; we are given several choices, why not use them all before deciding which are best and which are not? I certainly couldn’t persuasively say they were inappropriate without giving congregations some regular familiarity with them in that place; I’d much rather have the experiential data over a considerable (a few years) period of time. They wouldn’t be my preferred go-to, but neither would I exile them to the Island of Misfit Liturgical Toys, which strikes me as more peremptory than convincing.

  2. Todd says:

    Agreed. For ordinary time the biggest problem with the propers is that it seems little effort was put into providing a wide range of harmonious selections. Lots of Psalm 23 and 34. I have no objection to them either, except that a thorough and thoughtful revision of them is needed. If they’ve been exiled to that isle, blame needs to be shared by those who composed the antiphonary.

    Yes on 84–I would certainly add that as a favorite.

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