Timing of the Communion Hymn


The entrance hymn at Mass begins as the entrance procession moves off and continues for as long as necessary to allow the assembly to gather and prepare for the celebration (not only until the presider reaches the sanctuary!)
If a hymn accompanies the procession of gifts, it begins as the preparation of the gifts gets underway and continues until the priest’s invitation “Pray, my brothers and sisters, that our sacrifice …”.
The recessional hymn commences immediately after the words of dismissal and accompanies the procession to the door of the church.
Logic would therefore suggest that the communion hymn starts as soon as the celebrant and people begin to receive communion and continues until all have been fed from the table.
Hands up all those readers where this is not the practice in their parish. Look at all those hands! As Julius Sumner Miller would have asked, why is it so? Why is the logical pattern of the other hymns at Mass not followed when it comes to the communion hymn?
According to the liturgy documents, the communion song begins while the priest is receiving the Sacrament, and continues for as long as the Sacrament is being administered to the faithful. Delaying the song encourages people to adopt an attitude of individual quiet reflection at this point rather than the union of spirit and joy of heart appropriate to this rite. (General Instruction of the Roman Missal # 86)
‘After Communion, they praise and pray to God in their hearts’ (GIRM # 45). The time for giving thanks to God and asking for the strength to be Christ in our world of family, work and community in the days ahead is the period of silence that follows the distribution and reception of Holy Communion.
Despite logic and the exhortations of the General Instruction, it is common for the Communion Procession to take place in silence or to be accompanied by quiet instrumental music and for a communion hymn to be sung after communion has finished.
The communion procession, which should be the most joyful of all, is often more like a sombre march to the communion table than a joyful gathering at the banquet of the Lamb.
Liturgy committees will come up with several reasons for their current practice: “We’ve never sung during communion! People want to say their private prayers at communion time. How can people sing and walk at the same time? But they can’t carry a hymnbook on the way to communion!
All of these objections can be responded to with liturgical formation and creative thinking. Change needs to be undertaken gently, with clear explanations of the reason for the change, and using hymns that the assembly already knows by heart.
Ordinary Time is the best time to introduce the singing of a hymn to accompany the communion procession. Songs with a short refrain are best to begin with because a cantor or choir can sing the verses while the people join in the refrain. This avoids people having to juggle hymn books or sheets on their way to communion.
Songs that focus on adoration or 'me' are not appropriate. The communion song must express the unity of the people of God as they come forward to receive and to become the body of Christ.
Good catechesis, careful planning and quiet perseverance will eventually enable the liturgical assembly to experience this most joyful of all processions as a unifying and sacred time.


Elizabeth Harrington