Closing Songs

stm-c-choir-at-cathedralLiturgy geeks know there is no song of dismissal or sending or closing in the official Mass. Composers after and even long before Vatican II have inserted music at the end of liturgy. Whether it be the end of Compline or the ordinary parish’s Sunday Eucharist, it seems more complete somehow to have a final song … in the thinking of some people. What kinds of words are attached to these tunes, and why, I will confess to readers, do many of them leave me uncomfortable?

The very first closing song–or at least the one with the most staying power–includes this request for the intercession of the Blessed Mother:

Turn, then, most gracious advocate,
your eyes of mercy toward us …

Don’t get me wrong: I like singing the Salve Regina. But lets be honest: it’s a closing song. One virtue: we’re not singing about ourselves. Two: we’re not singing about what we should do next. Three: it’s not really a teaching moment.

At the end of Mass in the early seventies, some sang with Sebastian Temple:

The Mass is ended, all go in peace.
We must diminish, and Christ increase.

John 3:30: good. But songs like this make me a bit nervous. Not because of the style, but because they violate the principle of good art: don’t tell; show. The cleric just dismissed the people after the final blessing. Do we need to sing it? Or, rather, does the priest or deacon need to sing it?

I was looking over my new parish’s repertoire. They used to sing this 1991 text occasionally:

Take the word of God with you as you go.
Take the seeds of God’s word and make them grow.
Go in peace to serve the world, …

Christopher Walker composed the music. I don’t know the piece, but the text was off-putting to me, maybe more so than Mr Temple’s. Does an assembly sing this, each member to the others around her or him? I respect a composer’s effort, certainly. But these words strike me more as the honest perspective of a church musician (or priest) and not so much of the people. Would it be an improvement to sing, “We take the word of God with us as we go …”? I’m not sure about that either.

Later in that decade, Ricky Manalo, a composer for whom I have much respect, offered this through Spirit and Song:

Take the Word and go out to every land:
shine the light of Christ for all to see!
May the lives of those we touch
sing praise to God above.
Let us sing, we’ll sing:
With one voice we’ll pass the Word along;
with one voice bring justice to the world …

You notice it begins with the implication of second-person language, a music ministry telling people what to take to the world after Mass. By line three it’s first-person plural. Was that shift intentional? And it’s certainly not that the content of this text is wrong. Christian believers should certainly spread God’s goodness and through personal actions give witness to Christ. That’s basic Catholic theology, affirmed at Vatican II and since. But does a song need to be a sermon?

Last example today is Christopher Walker’s text for the “Celtic Alleluia: Sending Forth.” You all know the refrain. The verses all address God. We sing petitions like this one:

Now with the strength of your Word,
send us to be your disciples,
to bring all the world to the joy of your kingdom.

Again, nothing wrong with this. It is a bit better than the other examples, perhaps. Like the Salve Regina, it addresses a specific intention. Mr Walker goes directly to God with the text of the verses, not with Mary as intermediary. It remains somewhat preachy, and might presume a separation between people singing who know what post-liturgy action needs to happen and bodies in pews who might not know. These days I reflect that people in helping professions seem to do a lot more hands-on work than I do.

Rather than pile more on these composers, who otherwise have done some exceptional work, would anyone share the kind of texts they think fit a closing song at Mass.

About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in Minnesota, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
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10 Responses to Closing Songs

  1. Devin says:

    Hmm, where to begin. Personally I don’t think there needs to be a closing hymn, but I understand why it is there. There are sparse prayers post communion and there does seem to be an imbalance, plus the natural need for symmetry.

    As for the concern about the third person singular vs first person plural which you mentioned in this text: “Take the word of God with you as you go. Take the seeds of God’s word and make them grow.
    Go in peace to serve the world, …”., it is a bit overblown. Just as in the psalms, the psalmist addresses himself in the third person singular e.g. “bless the Lord O my soul..”, so this is certainly an appropriate reading of the text. Or just like when we sing texts that have been spoken by our Lord, we could see these words spoken by the Lord or by the Church to us. Yes sometime we refer to the Church as “we are the Church”, but just as appropriately (not more so or less so) at times we refer to the Church as a Mother addressing us directly.

    My personal criteria for a closing hymn is that it continues and develops upon the last acclamation of the people: “Thanks be to God” and is a song of praise of thanksgiving. “O God Beyond All Praising” is the premier exemplar for a closing hymn.

    • Copernicus says:

      Some of O God Beyond All Praising is perhaps more suitable as a gathering hymn:

      We lift our hearts before you
      and wait upon your word

      Then hear, O gracious Savior,
      accept the love we bring,

      • charlesincenca says:

        Point taken, but one has to remember that time temporal is suspended, not confined to scripted moment of petition or ritual.

      • Copernicus says:

        Hmm… But there’s a reason why Ps 95 (Let us come into his presence, giving thanks) functions as an introit and not e.g. a Communion antiphon, to say nothing of its use as the invitatory psalm in the Office.

  2. Liam says:

    Some background on how the Salve Regina got to be added to the office of Compline and, *much* later, Low Mass:

    It should be noted that Compline immediately precedes night sleep/rest. The antiphons have a rather different feel in that context from being added to Mass during the day.

    Not being a fan of songs that catechize the ritual moment (that is, in this ritual moment of X, we sing about that we are doing X), my sense of the closing song is that acclamations of praise and thanks to God seem generally most suitable, but I wouldn’t be rigid about that. In other words, it is a sung prolongation of “Thanks be to God.” A wordy rather than melismatic jubilus? There is plenty of scriptural warrant (both Testaments) for such a reaction to the graces of God. Perhaps Monty Python’s anthropomorphizing satire has in recent generations had too much of a stranglehold on people’s imaginations about there being too much praise and thanks in worship.

  3. Melody says:

    Some good closing songs are, Sent Forth By God’s Blessing (Ash Grove), Praise God From Whom All Blessings Flow(Old Hundredth), City of God, Let Heaven Rejoice, Hail Holy Queen Enthroned Above. And a bunch of others. Seems to me that the tempo should be somewhat lively.

  4. charlesincenca says:

    From the counter intuitive corner: Hurd’s LED BY THE SPIRIT; THE SPIRIT SENDS US FORTH; GOD HAS CHOSEN ME; THANKS BE TO GOD (Stephen Dean); SHALL WE GATHER AT THE RIVER; and the least likely, best suited maybe-JESUS, REMEMBER ME.

  5. Copernicus says:

    To my mind the recessional hymn is simply the Psalm or other canticle of praise or a hymn foreseen in GIRM 88, taking place at the end of Mass rather than at the end of the Communion Rite (and I think it would be overload to have a postcommunion hymn and a recessional hymn in close succession.) Viewed in this light, the range of suitable subject matter is as broad as the Book of Psalms. But praise and thanksgiving would seem to suggest themselves.

    It’s perhaps not a huge alteration to the prescriptions of GIRM to make this move; the practical merit is one I’ve heard described by priests – the hymn creates a space for an exit procession of ministers, whereas lots of people in the pew would think of a final organ voluntary as their cue to leave, even if that means colliding with the procession. Maybe that’s just a matter of catechesis. But for a community with limited musical resources, e.g. lacking a capable organist, the final hymn might be the only available accompaniment for a procession.

  6. charlesincenca says:

    Copernicus, I laud your cosmological prowess, but I have a caveat with this “proposal.” The so-called “recessional” (whatever) is neither fish nor fowl, neither inconsequential nor necessary. That is why a hymn, in lieu of a postlude (my personal preference outside of Lent) fills the bill nicely. The use of a verbatim Grail psalm for a moment when folks can literally depart justly, if not courteously immediately following “Deo gratias” lends too much scriptural weight to, for some, a throwaway moment, or a “Should I stay or should I go now?” exercise. The prosaic content of a hymn, canticle or song, OTOH, wedded to a superb melody and harmonic structure should suffice for those who are in touch enough to stick around.

  7. Pingback: Telling The Story | Catholic Sensibility

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