Singing the Consecration

And More on Liturgy of the Hours

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ROME, MAY 9, 2006 (Zenit.org).- Answered by Father Edward McNamara, professor of liturgy at the Regina Apostolorum university.



Q: I attended Midnight Mass this past Christmas Eve while visiting friends in Virginia. I do believe this is the first time I have experienced the priest singing all the words of consecration that Jesus spoke. He sang beautifully, and reverently, but I wonder if this is proper? I assume the consecration was valid. -- E.N., Richmond, Virginia

A: Until the Second Vatican Council the Latin rite was practically the only one that did not sing the words of the consecration.

Among the changes brought about by the Council's liturgical reform was to open up the possibility of singing the consecration, indeed the singing of the entire Eucharistic Prayer, in the Latin rite. As the General Instruction of the Roman Missal says:

"No. 30. Among the parts assigned to the priest, the foremost is the Eucharistic Prayer, which is the high point of the entire celebration. Next are the orations: that is to say, the collect, the prayer over the offerings, and the prayer after Communion. These prayers are addressed to God in the name of the entire holy people and all present, by the priest who presides over the assembly in the person of Christ. It is with good reason, therefore, that they are called the 'presidential prayers.'

"No. 32. The nature of the 'presidential' texts demands that they be spoken in a loud and clear voice and that everyone listen with attention. Thus, while the priest is speaking these texts, there should be no other prayers or singing, and the organ or other musical instruments should be silent."

"No. 38. In texts that are to be spoken in a loud and clear voice, whether by the priest or the deacon, or by the lector, or by all, the tone of voice should correspond to the genre of the text itself, that is, depending upon whether it is a reading, a prayer, a commentary, an acclamation, or a sung text; the tone should also be suited to the form of celebration and to the solemnity of the gathering. Consideration should also be given to the idiom of different languages and the culture of different peoples.

"In the rubrics and in the norms that follow, words such as 'say' and 'proclaim' are to be understood of both singing and reciting, according to the principles just stated above.

"No. 40. Great importance should therefore be attached to the use of singing in the celebration of the Mass, with due consideration for the culture of the people and abilities of each liturgical assembly. Although it is not always necessary (e.g., in weekday Masses) to sing all the texts that are of themselves meant to be sung, every care should be taken that singing by the ministers and the people is not absent in celebrations that occur on Sundays and on holy days of obligation.

"In the choosing of the parts actually to be sung, however, preference should be given to those that are of greater importance and especially to those to be sung by the priest or the deacon or the lector, with the people responding, or by the priest and people together."

Apart from these general indications, the new Latin Missal, as well as several officially approved vernacular translations, also provide music for singing the Eucharistic Prayers or at least the consecration.

It is important to remember, however, that all musical settings for the ordinary of the Mass must be approved for liturgical use by the bishop or, in some cases, by the bishops' conference.

While singing the entire Eucharistic Prayer is quite uncommon, and usually requires a musically capable priest, singing the consecration can contribute to forming a sense of the sacred. It is especially useful in concelebrations so as to guarantee some degree of uniformity among priests who are used to their own personal rhythm of celebration.

At this year's Chrism Mass in St. Peter's Basilica, Benedict XVI sang the entire Roman Canon (Eucharistic Prayer I), including the consecration in which he was joined by hundreds of concelebrating bishops and priests.

As far as I know this is the first time that a Pontiff has sung the entire canon since the liturgical reforms, although it is possible that it was more common during the first Christian millennium.

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Follow-up: Combining Office of Readings and Morning Prayer

A reader rightly reprimanded me for substituting "Lord open our lips" rather than the correct "Lord open my lips" in our April 25 piece on combining the Office of Readings and Morning prayer. The error was due to a momentary "lapsus" at the keyboard with no ulterior motives or hidden theological meanings.

Another reader asked: "Can one in praying the Office combine other hours as the Office of Readings and Morning Prayer? Such as doing Midday Prayer and Evening Prayer together?"

In principle, only the Office of Readings can be combined with another office. However there may be cases when time constraints require the celebration of one office immediately after another (for example, Morning Prayer and Midday Prayer).

In this case the only difference is that after praying the first closing prayer, one omits the usual conclusion of the first office and the introductory verse and "Glory be" of the second office, and commences with the hymn of the second office, which proceeds as normal.

Finally, a seminarian from Malta inquired: "Could you please tell me if it is necessary to say the verse in italics that is usually printed before each psalm during the celebration of the Liturgy of the Hours? As I understood the General Order for the Liturgy of the Hours, in No. 114, one may chose to say the verse instead of the antiphon during the year when the office is not sung. But one should not say both, especially if it is sung on feast days."

No. 111 explains these phrases: "[A] heading is put before each psalm to indicate its meaning and importance in Christian life. These headings are given in the divine office merely as an aid for the person saying the psalms. To promote prayer in the light of the new revelation, a phrase from the New Testament or Fathers is added as an invitation to pray in a Christian way."

Thus, these phrases are above all a help in personalizing the prayer. They are not usually recited aloud. However, as our seminarian points out, No. 114 allows these verses to replace the antiphons during Ordinary Time when the office is not sung. This possibility gives the option of some variety during a period when the same antiphons are frequently repeated.

This possibility may not be used on any occasion when the office is sung, nor during the major liturgical seasons of Advent, Christmas, Lent and Easter. Nor may it be used on feast days and those memorials of saints when the office is celebrated using proper antiphons.

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