Expanding The Communion Repertoire

In Red Hook | Catholic New YorkOr, alternatively, perhaps I could suggest a different direction. Maybe some parishes–mine included–don’t need more pieces, but alternatives instead.

When music directors and music publishers compile lists for songs to accompany the Communion procession, there are go-to texts. An inheritance from the post-war/post-conciliar era (1945-1970-ish) found people singing catechetical songs at Mass, including Communion. We had a lot of songs that sang about the liturgical action (“The Mass Is Ended, All Go In Peace” or “O Lord I Am Not Worthy”). The St Louis Jesuits and others might have nudged us into more Biblical expressions like “A Banquet Is Prepared.” Psalm 23 is frequent citation in the Roman Antiphonary, so that’s a traditional vector from the Folk Mass. (Take that, proper folk!) Likewise Sr Suzanne Toolan’s chestnut citing John 6.

As post-conciliar music matured, we got a lot of good original texts like James Quinn’s “Take And Eat.” Adaptations too, like the ever-popular Didache 9 (“One Bread, One Body” among many songs) and other scripture-based or suggested pieces–the Dameans’ “Look Beyond.” Tons of settings of Psalm 34 (Taste and See) too.

Many seasonal and permanent resources lump Communion songs into a section–just page through any mainstream Catholic hymnal and there are usually a few dozen from which to choose. Are they all needed? Some bishop last century advised a rotation of six Communion songs, and no more, to encourage congregational singing. I’ve never served a parish that had a particular problem getting people to sing at Communion. Just program what they know and love. Easy.

This weekend just prayed, here are the Antiphonary options:

Communion Antiphon Cf. Ps 36:8
How precious is your mercy, O God! The children of men seek shelter in the shadow of your wings.
Psalm 36:6-10:GR, Praenotanda, no. 1

Or: Cf. 1 Cor 10:16
The chalice of blessing that we bless is a communion in the Blood of Christ; and the bread that we break is a sharing in the Body of the Lord.
Psalm 34, GR, Praenotanda, p. 12; or Psalm 116

Psalm 36 was also the psalm to accompany the entrance antiphon for last Sunday. Hence an example of my frustration with this unreformed portion of the Roman Rite. It’s like the Roman Missal committee was just getting tired, threw in a bunch of references to Psalm 34, and said, “Let’s break for lunch at the corner trattoria.”

While I love the Psalms and I frequently program my own choices at Communion, I have striven for a better blend of New Testament texts at this point in the Mass. The Magnificat is a go-to, especially when I feel stumped on an upcoming green Sunday or a special event. Contemporary music has a lot of good settings of the Beatitudes. Even though it has a strong association as a final song, I wouldn’t hesitate to program John Becker’s fine setting of “Lead Me, Lord” for a Communion Procession.

If I were a publisher, I would consider a new idea. Have a look at the Vespers New Testament canticles.

Some composers have already set these texts very well, Ricky Manalo’s “Worthy Is The Lamb,” Roc O’Connor’s “Jesus the Lord,” and Bob Dufford’s old setting of the magnificent Revelation canticle (For my money, the live recording here still beats the studio version produced for OCP for sheer feeling and enthusiasm.)

These wouldn’t be the only possible New Testament texts. From this page, #57, “A Song of the Justified,” #64, “A Song of God’s Assembled,” or #68, “A Song of God’s Love” all strike me as rich fare for Eucharistic singing. Other ancient song fragments and lyrical passages await enterprising composers. A little creativity is all that is needed.

About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in Minnesota, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
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