Liturgy 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.