ASK FATHER: Show tune priest sings Eucharistic Prayer

From a reader…

QUAERITUR:

My pastor (who likes to sing) sings from the beginning of the Canon to the end of the Consecration. It’s not a Gregorian sound, more like something from Les Miserables Broadway play. Is this a legitimate thing to do when celebrating Mass? He has a way of being the focus of the Liturgy. I could usually tune him out but this was too much for me. I avoid his masses, but pray for his conversation. Thank you. You and all Our Lady’s Warriors are in my prayers.

GUEST PRIEST RESPONSE: Fr. Tim Ferguson

The Church has long put an emphasis on music in our Sacred Liturgy. Even before the renaissance, the most skilled and gifted musicians have found employ in the Church, and the result is a long and broad tradition of some of the most transcendent music the world has known. Da Celano, Palestrina, Ockeghem, des Prez, Clemens non Papa, through Byrd, Tallis, Gabrieli, to Mozart, Haydn, Schubert, Durufle, Gounod, Franck, Faure, Monteverdi… and now? Who are the heirs picking up the musical threads of these giants? Who are the contemporary musicians whose names will be voiced in hushed reverence hundreds of years from now as collegiate choirs struggle to bring out the subtle nuances of… Sing a New Song? Eagles’ Wings? I am the Bread of Life?

Lamentation, wailing, and woe…

But back to the question at hand. For centuries, in the Roman Rite, the Canon was said sotto voce. Recited, quietly, often under the rapturous sound of a choir and orchestra, or even just a schola of men filling the hearts and souls of the congregation with sounds that echo from the heavens themselves. And then, for the consecration itself, profound and stunning silence. At the moment when the veil between heaven and earth is lifted, the church would be nearly silent, as the priest whispers those blessed words of Our Savior that make His Presence Real and Sacramental.

In many of the other liturgical Rites of the Church, the consecration was sung – the holy doors to the sanctuary being shut, the priest would offer this anaphora to the Father vocally, though the laity would not see what was happening. Which led to the old saw that in the West, the consecration was seen but not heard, and in the East, it was heard but not seen.

But we’re in the here and now.

Musicam Sacram was promulgated in 1967 by the Sacred Congregation for Rites, and encouraged, in the Latin Rite, that the liturgy be chanted – even in its entirety. When Paul VI promulgated his Missal in 1969, provisions were made for the chanting of the Eucharistic Prayer, even the Words of Institution. In the current edition of the Missale Romanum, there is chant notation available for chanting the Eucharistic Prayer. Though other melodies would need the approval of the Bishops’ Conference (General Instruction of the Roman Missal, #393), in practice, it would be difficult to stop Fr. George M. Cohan or Fr. Andrew Llyod Webber from attempting to sing a new church into being and imposing his musical sensibilities (or not) on a helpless congregation.

Were it not such a sacred moment, one might be inclined to pass out large posters among the parishioners in the front row and, when he’s done, flash a score back at him – 5.4, 8.6, 6.4, and from the Romanian judge, 1.3. One might even be inclined to throw roses, or, as the case may warrant, tomatoes.

Were it not such a sacred moment, that is.

In short, chanting the Eucharistic Prayer is now permitted, including the consecration. One must remember, that not all things which are permitted are therefore good.

Fr. Z ADDS:

Many years ago I learned from a great Church musician, the late Msgr Richard Schuler, that there is no one exclusively right way to sing the prayers.  Besides, singing the Canon is a novelty in the Roman Rite, one of those innovations that the Council Fathers warned about.  That said, there are tones which, over the years, have proven themselves and have become virtually codified.  It’s really a good idea to stick to them, because they help to keep us from makingfools out of ourselves.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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14 Responses to ASK FATHER: Show tune priest sings Eucharistic Prayer

  1. Pax78 says:

    I experienced something similar 2 weeks ago at Sunday Mass at my elderly Mom’s parish. The priest, when elevating both the host and the chalice at the consecration, sang the refrain from “O Come, All Ye Faithful” i.e., “o come let us adore Him, o come let us adore Him”, etc. He has a wonderful singing voice, but it just struck me as strange. I immediately went from thinking about the “sacrifice” to thinking about his singing ability.

  2. anilwang says:

    From the little said in the description, I think the priest means well but sadly he might not know how to chant and/or believe that chant might be rejected by the parish. IMO, if every priest who did not chant was like your priest, the second excuse would melt away and chant would return in force within a year.

    My suggestion is to just talk to the priest, but first comment that you appreciate that the priest is trying to keep to the spirit of the liturgy even if you have issues with his specific attempt. [I’m not convinced that the priest is “trying to keep to the spirit of the liturgy”.]

  3. Ellen says:

    Our pastor who has a wonderful singing voice does sometimes chant the Eucharistic Prayer. Not every Sunday, but he does on solemnities. He doesn’t get all show tunes, just a simple chant. I like it.

  4. MarcusM says:

    There is a video of Pope Benedict singing the Roman Canon, at the Holy Thursday Mass of the Lord’s Supper: https://youtu.be/wmN-gAPejAs?t=2m40s

    [Thanks.]

    Fr. Z's Gold Star Award

  5. APX says:

    The Church does actually have a proper chant setting for the Roman Canon (I presume the others as well). It was always sung by the priest when I was growing up (unless the choir decided to use one of the cheesy folk settings found in the very old Glory & Praise song book. I always felt embarrassed, as a child, for the priest being forced to sing such cheesy melodies).

  6. Fr_Sotelo says:

    Send Father a postcard of Ethel Merman. On the back, write, “This is what I think of when you sing the Eucharistic Prayer.” I guarantee you it will never happen again LOL.

    (I know. This is evil. I’ll have to go to confession).

    [On the contrary. I’ve just given you an indulgence.]

    Fr. Z's Gold Star Award

  7. Marc M says:

    “And then, for the consecration itself, profound and stunning silence. At the moment when the veil between heaven and earth is lifted, the church would be nearly silent, as the priest whispers those blessed words of Our Savior that make His Presence Real and Sacramental.”

    Reading this hammered home a reminder I just experienced today, at a parish near work for the Assumption mass. During the consecration, an usher wandered up to put the collection basket in front of the altar, and walked off. During. The. Elevation.

    I had forgotten how lucky I am to have a parish home that is reverent and orthodox.

  8. jaykay says:

    I have a cd of the Easter Vigil Mass from Westminster Cathedral, dating from the 90s, wherein the priest chants EP1 in Latin, in a relatively low tone with the organ providing tones underneath. It is profoundly reverent and, just… wonderful – but then, everything they do is, i.m.h.o. One of the best choirs in Western Europe, again i.m.h.o. The Mass setting is Dvorak in D major, and the Mass ends with a thunderous Te Deum, chant with organ (and what an organ in that glorious space!). Soul-stirring.

  9. TonyO says:

    … and now? Who are the heirs picking up the musical threads of these giants?

    Gnats. That’s what we have. Buzzing around making us irritated, distracting us from the Mass. We need some rich patron to pay several REAL church musicians, steeped in the tradition of 1500 years, to compose new stuff.

  10. The Masked Chicken says:

    “Even before the renaissance, the most skilled and gifted musicians have found employ in the Church, and the result is a long and broad tradition of some of the most transcendent music the world has known. Da Celano, Palestrina, Ockeghem, des Prez, Clemens non Papa, through Byrd, Tallis, Gabrieli, to Mozart, Haydn, Schubert, Durufle, Gounod, Franck, Faure, Monteverdi… and now? Who are the heirs picking up the musical threads of these giants? Who are the contemporary musicians whose names will be voiced in hushed reverence hundreds of years from now as collegiate choirs struggle to bring out the subtle nuances of… Sing a New Song? Eagles’ Wings? I am the Bread of Life?”

    What to say? All of the people you cite were either clergy or under a patronage system. In either case, they were responsible to an authority and could not just do their own thing. In the current state in history, there are two large classes of people composing church music and a third, smaller one: 1) serious, “artists,” who are more interested in writing a musical composition than being concerned about the words, 2) amateur hacks, who, often, write sing-along campfire songs, but sadly, were and maybe are, supported by agenda-driven bishops and musical publishing companies, 3) serious professional and lay composers who are more interested in being Catholic than being a composer. Given the presence of free music writing software, it is easy to write Mass settings, but given the poor support system for these serious Catholic musicians, both within the Church and without, it is a wonder that anyone even tries. Hagan et al., grabbed the low hanging fruit after Vatican II because their liberal sensibilities meshed with the liberal bishops who usurped control of music creation and they supported them.

    If you want good new music: 1) educate your pastors about Church music (get a musician to offer a weekly survey course on the history of Church music for the parishioners), 2) pay talented musicians to write music for your parish – many artists are employed by churches to paint the interior. Do the same for musicians. Pay them to write dignified music-, 3) learn to chant and start a Scola to both sing chant and the new music by the parish composers (if it is good). The more chant is heard, the more it will want to be heard. Music has a physiological effect on people and chant has a calming effect, which is one reason why it goes hand-in-hand with contemplative forms of liturgy, 4) most importantly, one thing no one thinks about in relation to music is the presence of silence. Get people to shut up while in church and it will drive out the hand-clappy folk music. I guarantee it. One thing we have is the Eucharist. It separates Catholic from Protestant worship. It is the loss of the sense of the sacred, of the inexpressible dignity of the One who is in the Eucharist, that has made our music loud and boring. People used to speak to God in reverent voice and song. It is the loss of that reverence which pervades the current Church and has lead to so much irreverent music. To change that? Start Eucharistic adoration and insist on silence in Church. The title for the Church in the “Modern” World is Busy. Busy, busy, busy. The music is busy, the art is busy, the liturgy is busy. We are the Busy Church. It reflects a subtle shift in theology away from being to doing. Jesus said, “Blessed are the poor in spirit,” not, “Blessed are those who are busy.”

    The Chicken

  11. Chaswjd says:

    There are a number of composers in the last few years who are writing wonderful compositions for the liturgy or concert hall. One just has to do the work of finding them and having musicians perform them:
    Ola Gjeilo:
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zvI5sNucz1w
    Morten Lauridsen:
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q7ch7uottHU
    John Sanders:
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ie1rJc-FkmE
    James MacMillan:
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FFU5GLIRP_8
    and for the East, John Tavener:
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xIkckDyba-U

  12. Giuseppe says:

    I used to play the organ and also the piano at mass back in the 80s and 90s.
    One priest wanted piano music in the background as he said the canon.
    (Probably to make it more “dramatic.”)
    I told him I couldn’t physically play the piano then, because I’d be kneeling and my hands would be clasped together, like everyone else.

  13. Elizium23 says:

    It is important to note, as Giuseppe has alluded, that playing musical instruments to support the singing or chanting of the Eucharistic Prayer is forbidden. This was observed in the breach by a parish I used to attend, that had a perfectly lovely (cough, choke) swing-rhythm piano accompaniment. If the priest wants to sing here, he’s on his own. I believe this is covered by the following section of the GIRM:

    32. The nature of the “presidential” parts requires that they be spoken in a loud and clear voice and that everyone listen to them attentively.[44] Therefore, while the Priest is pronouncing them, there should be no other prayers or singing, and the organ or other musical instruments should be silent.

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