here's the article as it went to press and we received the bulletins this morning. Comments are welcome, I suppose, but they won't do much good now, and my boss did thoroughly edit it beforehand...
What is Mara Singing
A month ago, as an experiment, I began singing the proper Communion antiphon of the day at the beginning of Communion.
So what IS this “proper antiphon”? The General Instruction of the Roman Missal (GIRM) gives four options for the beginning of Mass (the procession,) the Offertory, and at Communion. These are almost identical and are listed and summarized as 1) The antiphon from a book called the Roman Gradual, 2) The seasonal antiphon from the Simple Gradual, 3) A song from a collection approved by the US Bishops, 4) another suitable liturgical song. (GIRM 87)
These four choices are listed by the Church in order of priority. I am attempting to provide the first option at Communion time (when I think no one wants to sing anyhow...) along with Psalm verses. The tradition of singing Psalm verses is given as an option in the second and third listed above.
The Psalms are the inspired Word of God and they have a special place in the worship of God.
Historians have evidence of the practice of singing the Psalms during the Liturgy, and particularly at Communion as dating from the late fourth century A.D. In paragraph 88 in the GIRM, the option of singing a psalm or canticle of praise by the entire congregation is given, and that is what I have been doing over the past few weeks.
The melodies that you have been hearing recently are taken directly from the Roman Gradual. These are the original Gregorian chants which often date from the tenth century, and certainly even earlier.
This ancient form of singing is so clearly part of our musical heritage as Catholics, even if just from its age which proves its transcendence throughout time. But, I also believe that it is intrinsically beautiful. The feedback that I have been receiving from people only confirms this. Beautiful things inspire our souls to more fervently praise God. One might argue that the stained glass windows in our church are inefficient in that they let in less light, are more costly to maintain, and break more easily than other windows, but what would our lovely church building be without them?
Since singing this “proper antiphon”, I have received many positive comments. Now that I have received such encouragement, I would like to extend the invitation to those who are interested to join me as a small, experimental schola. A schola is as a small choir that perhaps has just this one part assigned particularly to them for the time being. I am already aware of two people who are interested and I hope there are more.
In Musicam Sacram, one of the Church’s primary documents on music after Vatican II, it states, “There should be choirs or cappellae, or scholae cantorum especially in cathedrals or other major churches, in seminaries and religious houses of studies, and they should be carefully encouraged.”
Currently, we just have one choir that sings on a regular basis, so it certainly wouldn’t hurt to have other groups of singers who help out at Masses! In addition to adding other people singing this antiphon, I plan to provide the congregation with translations to what is being sung in the Latin so everyone could know what we are singing.
Is this too historical? I get excited about this stuff! It’s so neat, for me at least, to think about how wonderful it is for we as Catholics to have such a rich history of music. I pray that you also will be blessed by this music.
“Beauty is a key to the
mystery and a call to
— John Paul II, Letter to Artists, 1999