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Timing of the Communion Song
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, brothers and sisters, that my sacrifice and yours may be acceptable to God, the almighty Father”.
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.
The General Instruction of the Roman Missal says:
“While the Priest is receiving the Sacrament, the Communion Chant is begun, its purpose being to express the spiritual union of the communicants by means of the unity of their voices, to show gladness of heart, and to bring out more clearly the ‘communitarian’ character of the procession to receive the Eucharist. The singing is prolonged for as long as the Sacrament is being administered to the faithful.” (# 86)
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 the communion hymn not to begin until communion is almost – or completely - finished.
Liturgy committees will come up with several reasons for this: “We’ve never sung during communion; people cannot sing and walk at the same time; they can’t carry a hymnbook on the way to communion; people want to say their private prayers at communion time”.
Altering familiar practice needs to be undertaken gently, with clear explanations of the reason for the change. For example, pointing to paragraph 45 of the General Instruction which states that the time for private prayer is the period of silence that follows the distribution and reception of Holy Communion: “After Communion, individuals praise God in their hearts and pray to him”.
Songs that the people already know by heart or those with a refrain that is easy to remember are best to use when introducing singing during communion. This avoids people having to juggle hymn books or sheets as they process to the table.
Songs that focus on adoration or ‘me’ are not appropriate. It is important that the communion song 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 the communion procession as a unifying and sacred time.